Author's Notes:

FINALLY! I'm back. I know its been a long THREE MONTHS before I wrote something about MSGS Renaissance, and I apologize for the inconvenience. I won't give any detailed reasons for my sudden disappearance; suffice to say that real life reared its ugly head, and had to deal with a lot of things. But things are getting better for me now, and it gives me time to continue my humble tale.

Thanks again to nick2951, irishdragon, cherryheart, cajunman380, Geonitz, Greater Avenger, Blitz and Crimson Blademaster and all others that I didn't include here for their reviews. Again they give me insights about my work and inspiration to continue. I'd like to thank also all those who have read my story without reviewing them for giving me almost five thousand hits since the last maintenance of for reading my tale. I'm sorry I had to make you wait so long for this update, so I hope you would enjoy this and keep on reading my fiction.

To answer Geonitz's question about Erica Simmons: yes, she is a Coordinator. Based on Wikipedia's entry about her, she hid this fact for reasons unexplained. I've also read threads from other forums that suggests she once worked for the Asimov Design Bureau, the ZAFT-funded think-tank that designed the first mobile suit, the YMF-01B Proto GINN and it's mass produced version, the ZGMF-1017 GINN, before she left the PLANTs with her family for Orb. This bit of information, however, is speculation and unconfirmed.

This chapter would be my most action- and combat-oriented one, and I have tried my best to capture the essence of mobile suit combat and realistically portray them in my story. I am not an expert in mobile suit tactics, nor do I claim to be one. I just try to put such scenes into narrative based on what I watched on the anime and the technical descriptions of the mobile weapons that are available on the web. Orchestrating mecha battles is hard work, and I hope you bear with me with some mistake I may make.

In a different, but somewhat related matter, I have begun to adapt the Gundam SEED saga into a paper and pencil RPG format, based on the rules created by Palladium Books. I've already completed the technical readouts for fifteen mobile suit designs, mostly beginner level mobile suits and some high level NPC suits (Freedom, Justice, etc.). I've also included stats for some of my original designs featured in this fan fiction, plus standard game rules and character classes. Eventually I would put them up in a website, but for now I am finishing things up. For those who want some examples of the RPG adaptations, just give me an email or private message.

Also, I am FINALLY looking for a beta reader, someone who could stand checking for mistakes in long chapters. Again, please leave me a message if you're interested.

Please be advised however, that Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Renaissance has become slightly AU because of Gundam SEED Destiny Final Plus. While I have kept the story following official canon as much as I can, the producers' attempt to make up for their shortcomings on how Destiny ended by Making Final Plus totally screwed up my post Destiny history leading up to Renaissance. I am not flaming Final Plus: I only find it as too much of compromise by the makers of Gundam SEED to answer the criticisms Destiny faced upon ending. For purposes of this fan fiction I still follow the original ending, but due to Final Plus my story is alternate universe in canon terms. But I will still follow canon in terms of characterizations and technical issues of the storyline.

Once more, I thank everyone who has continued to read my tale, and apologize for the very long wait you had to endure for this chapter. But the story now continues, and I'm happy to be writing again. Once more I ask for you patience with my grammar mistakes; I'm not perfectly fluent with English; I'm only human, a Natural, and not a Coordinator, though I wish I was (just kidding). Enjoy.

SEED Mode On!


Disclaimers:

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is owned and copyrighted by Mitsuo Fukuda, the Sotsu Agency, Sunrise and BANDAI.


Phase Nine: Angels In A Storm
Barracuda

Somewhere in the Atlantic

January 2, CE 75

Onee-chan…

Solar found herself in the vast field again. Once more she was running, trying to give chase to her friends, who were running way ahead of her. But she couldn't find her two companions anymore; they where nowhere within her sights. Solar tried to shout out their names, but no voice escaped her when she called out. What's going on? Where did Robby and Jacob go? Why did they leave me behind? These thoughts went through her mind, and she ran through the field, her consciousness being drowned by her growing fear. But she stopped, and turned away from where she wanted to go, as she heard that voice again.

She found her standing under the bare tree once more, surrounded by what looked light a million glowing stars. She was smiling back at her, and beckoning to her with arms wide open, and Solar felt a sense of peace as much as fear at her warm and friendly gestures.

Onee-chan…

Her call was like a mother's lullaby, something so soothing that she wanted to keep listening, but comfortably lulling her to slumber. Solar fought the enveloping darkness, angrily struggling to shake away the pull of sleep. Once more it felt like lifetime to reach the mysterious girl, and Solar felt her knees collapse as she struggled to stand in front of her.

Solar felt warm hands gently hold her onto her shoulders. The sensation from the girl's touch felt like she was in heaven, and all the pain in her soul was fading away. She felt herself standing, guided by the girl's firm grip, and once more stood face-to-face with the apparition. Solar chanced a look at the girl, and soon found herself enraptured by the girl's gaze, seeing her own eyes looking back at her.

The girl smiled - a smile that promised peace and succor for all of Solar's carried chaos. The girl gently reached for Solar's cheeks, caressing them soothingly. Tears coursed down Solar's eyes, as she fought the urge to collapse on the girl's arms from all the weariness and sadness she felt. The girl nodded, understanding her pain, and spoke to her once more - her promise of a better future. A future Solar knew nothing about nor understood, but found herself wishing for. The words were singing to her, and once more she felt the grip of slumber clench around her, calling her to rest.

Soon, onee-chan. Soon. Someone is coming for you - someone is riding the storm to find you. Soon, onee-chan. Soon.

And with these words the girl disappeared in a bright supernova, and Solar was forced to close her eyes in pain. But the pain slowly faded as the darkness overpowered her, bringing her back to the light of reality.

She woke from her land of dreams back to a world of tears.


Leva heard Solar stir from inside the optimization chamber, showing signs of awakening from troubled dreams. Their bio-maintenance process was over hours ago, but it seemed that exhaustion had taken too much from the girl, who had overslept until now. Leva lifted the canopy to open the chamber, and sat down on the side of her bed and place his hand on Solar's shoulders. He shook her shoulders gently, hoping to wake her from her troubled dream, without scaring her from slumber.

Slowly Solar's eyes opened, blinking away tears from the harshness of the submarine carrier's harsh cabin lights. Leva heard a small sob escape her, and she cuddled close as more tears formed around her beautiful blue eyes.

"Hey," Leva whispered. "Good morning."

Solar looked at him for a second, before looking down at her bed. "Hey…"

Leva smiled at her. His friend was a complex one; she could be hard and ruthless as anyone of them, but she had a gentle heart that could easily be saddened by such things as dreams. "Are you feeling better now? You've been out for a long time we were starting to worry."

He heard a snort from one corner of the room, and he saw Solar's eyes hardened as they bought looked at Naki, who was keeping his silence as he watched his brother. Amusement played around his eyes, mixed with a nauseated look at Leva's gentleness. The other Extended stood up straight from the bulkhead he was leaning on. "Yeah, about time you hauled your ass off that bed. We have a lot of things to do. Adam wants to talk to you. Yesterday."

Solar wanted to say something back, but Leva spoke first. "Naki, could you please tell the commander that she's awake? We'll be there in a few minutes. Isn't that right, Solar." Solar gazed at Leva angrily, but he didn't flinch. The girl sighed and nodded, and Leva heard his brother shuffle out the room, grumbling darkly as the door closed behind him.

"Sorry about that," Leva began softly. "But Naki's right. The commander wanted to talk to you about the mission, but he didn't want to wake you prematurely." Leva stood up and walked to a locker, from which he took out a fresh set of uniforms for his friend. "You think you're up to it?"

Solar answered with a grunt. She pulled herself out of the bed, and gingerly stood up, trying to regain her bearings. She took the new clothes from Leva, and started to undress. "How long have I been out?"

Leva turned around facing away from her, as he heard her shuffle as she got out of her old clothes. "About a day and a half." He could see Solar's smooth white skin on her exposed nape, from her reflection on a nearby inert monitor. "I guess you were really tired after the flight, huh?"

Solar finished up quickly and walked pass Leva towards the door, before stopping there. She seemed hesitant to continue. "What's wrong?" Leva inquired.

Solar seemed to be pondering whether to ignore his question, but ultimately decided not too. "Nothing. Just had a bad… dream. And I had a hard time in the fight with the Impulse. The pilot was really tough. As if he had something against me."

Leva stepped close to her and looked at her curiously. He remembered his own battle during the mission, encountering a skilled mobile suit pilot himself. A pilot who turned out to be someone he just met a night ago, but he had grown to respect. Even admire.

He felt the hesitation to finish the pilot off, even though he had obviously defeated her. But he felt something different from Hitomi; he felt a bond with her that he couldn't destroy with her death. Not even their being on opposite and hostile sides could taint the feelings he felt. So he couldn't find himself pulling the trigger and ending her life. So he left, defeating her in battle, but letting her live. Hoping one day he could see her once more. Even though that day he might have to kill her. Or she might have to kill him.

But there was a mission to finish, and Leva knew he had to perform at his best to see to the mission's completion. He couldn't let these growing feelings within him be a foil to their Master's plan. But still he said a silent prayer, to whatever god that was looking over these insane creatures called humans, that Hitomi was safe. "I know how you feel, Solar. I know how you feel."

Solar raised an eyebrow to him, but Leva ignored her and said nothing more. He pressed a button and opened the door, and gestured for Solar to step out of the room and into the cold corridors of the submarine, on the way to the meeting with their cold-hearted commander.


The Pharaoh's Estate

Diego De Almagro

Chile State

Occupied South America

January 2, CE 75

He knocked softly on the ornate doors, before the Knife opened them and stepped into the dark bedroom. He walked stiffly to the room's center, before bowing in respect to the man who was his lord, his leader. "I am back, my Master."

The Pharaoh stirred briefly from his bed, tilting his bandaged head to face his loyal servant. "My friend," the Pharaoh hissed in greeting.

The Knife stood straight to begin his report. "Adam's mission was successful, Master. He has acquired the items that we need, and has inflicted considerable damage to ZAFT's capabilities here on Earth, without any losses on our side, other than for expendables."

"Good," said the Pharaoh. "Once more he has done well, that servant of mine. He has trained his teams well, and their successes please me."

The Knife stiffened, and he struggled to keep his mouth from twitching. Not that it mattered, the Master sees all, feels all. "You do not look pleased with this development, my friend," the Master said to him, reading his mind.

Steeling himself, the Knife gave his reply. "It's not that I don't approve of Adam's success - I know it will add positively to all your efforts. But I believe that the boy is reckless in his actions. He exposed his forces to counterattacks and losses - those that we cannot afford."

"I understand how you feel, my friend," the Pharaoh responded. "You know I trust your advice and judgement above others. But whatever Adam is doing is for my wishes. The same way as what you do is for my wishes too. So as long as we have positive gains, I can overlook the losses – especially if the mission was a tremendous success as Gibraltar."

Once more the Knife felt the anger in him well. He never really got along with the brash young man that the Master had rescued and adopted all those years ago, and molded into the cold-hearted warrior he was today. But he knew that he could not cross his Master, a man whose presupposition to kill was endless.

"How are the preparations on your side, my friend? Is your plan to stop the seraphim going well?" The Master had a good idea about his own plans, and the Knife had to answer him carefully.

"The plan goes well, my Master," the Knife began in reply. "The seraphim are already approaching the location that our agents had specified within the next, few hours. Your forces are already in position to deal with them. Soon they will not be your concern anymore, my Master."

"You have done well, my friend," the Pharaoh said with dark satisfaction, his voice rising with strength with every word. "Soon I will be rid of those who walk to thwart my wishes. I pity them; they all have to die because of the few among them who fuel my hate for this wretched life the most. May their deaths precede mine, which I will face in peace with their demise."


Archangel

Somewhere In The South Pacific

January 3, CE 75

"What's our status, helm?" Murrue asked. After days of continuous submerged travel across the Pacific, the Archangel had finally arrived at its first relay point. As was planned back at Angel's Point, the carrier was to surface, and send out a UHF laser transmission back to Orb via one of the island nation's military communications satellites, which was tasked to fly overhead at this point once every thirty-four minutes, loitering within the orbital window for fifteen minutes. The carrier passed out of the window twelve minutes ago, and Murrue and the crew had to endure twenty-two minutes of waiting before the satellite passed over them once more. Understanding the danger posed by staying stationary at one point for any period of time, Murrue made precautions to secure the ship from possible attack. She resolved to attempt contact in the dark time before dawn, to provide her the additional cover of darkness, and the ability to launch mobile suits for combat air patrol at first light.

There was an additional factor that they had to consider for this mission, and that was the influence of Mother Nature. They had arrived in the area while it was being lashed by a powerful typhoon, a meteorological monster that spanned almost three hundred kilometers in diameter, with strong winds up to one hundred miles per hour lashing out at the open ocean, Making the surface angry with forty-foot waves. Murrue knew that the storm will not hamper with their communications, the powerful laser system they were going to use was designed to operated under such severe conditions, but the weather will hamper the other aspects of the operation, and Murrue wanted to be ready for it. She could order this mission cancelled until when the storm breaks, but the command crew all agreed to risk it, noting that the storm provided extra cover for the ship from any preying eyes out there. So Murrue ordered a go for the mission, and now they were about to start.

"We're at antennae depth, Kanchou," Neumann replied from his station. "Depth at thirty-five meters."

"Thank you, Mr. Neumann," said Murrue. She tapped in some commands on her seat's console, bringing up the same display coming from the sensors station. "Keep your eyes and ears open, Mr. Chandra."

"Hai, Kanchou," Chandra replied. "Raising submerged radar antenna." Murrue could hear the whirring of servos as the pulse Doppler radar mast retracted out of the top of the bridge tower and break unto the surface of the rough seas. The skies above was dark; it was a little before dawn, and a weather formation was slowly moving in from the southwest. Murrue hoped that the storm clouds wouldn't interfere with their attempt to contact the satellite; she wished to finish this part of the mission as quickly as possible. The Archangel was exposed to threats in the open ocean, and their best option to succeed in their hunt for the raiders was to keep themselves stealthy. "Antenna set, Kanchou," Chandra finally replied after several seconds.

"Give me a sweep in all directions. Passive only."

"Hai, Kanchou." Chandra activated his radar screen and began to search for nearby signals located by the passive sweep. "We've got nothing on the screen for two hundred fifty miles, Kanchou, except for the storm cover. Nearest man-made signal is of commercial traffic, civilian freighter radar bearing three-ten, heading four-five, distance of two-sixty plus. No airborne signals that I can find. No military traffic within three hundred miles, Kanchou. We're in the clear for the moment."

Murrue nodded. "What about sonar?"

Again Chandra looked over his screens, this time studying his passive sonar display, showing the results from the sweeps of their towed sonar array. "Nothing within fifty miles that's man-made and moving. Several biologicals about thirty miles to northeast - probably sperm whales. But signals pretty choppy near the surface."

"Update me on the satellite," Murrue ordered next.

"It's approaching the window, and would be inside the grid in eight minutes, forty-two seconds.

Things are going well for us up to now, Murrue thought. Time for the next phase of the operation. "Mr. Neumann, rig the ship for surfacing."

"Hai, Kanchou. Setting the Archangel for surfacing. Ballast tanks ready for draining. Pumps are on standby. Watertight hatches are sealed and checked. Ten degrees up-angle on the planes. The ship is rigged for surface."

Murrue reached for her handset and opened a line all over the ship. "This is the Kanchou speaking. Archangel has now reached its destination and will begin surface operations. The ship is now on level-two combat alert, and prepare for rough seas and severe weather." She replaced the handset before she looked down towards the bridge's cavernous combat information center. "CIC, you may commence launching our first patrol as soon as the ship finishes surfacing."

"Hai, Kanchou," came Meyrin's curt reply.

"Very well. You may begin, Mr. Neumann. Surface the ship," Murrue commanded.

"Surfacing the ship. Diving planes are holding at ten degrees up-angle. Emptying main ballast tanks." Neumann announced. Murrue felt the bow of the ship tilt up, as the Archangel began its slow ascent to the surface. It took a little of six minutes, before the Archangel crested the rough seas and surfaced. Murrue saw the darkness in the heavens caused by the typhoon system that they were in the middle off, and the angry waves that crashed upon the battle carrier.

"Surfacing complete, Kanchou. We are at hull depth of twelve meters and holding," Neumann finally reported.

"Thank you, Mr. Neumann. Meyrin-kun, commence your launch operations."

"Hai, Kanchou," Meyrin answered. "CIC to hanger bay control, begin preparations for mobile suit launch. X-one-niner-Alpha to bay number one."


Athrun heard Meyrin's voice order the transfer of the Infinite Justice to launch bay one. He felt the vibrations of the servos as the maintenance gantry began to slide towards launch bay one, and he watched from his viewport the tech crews scrambling to get out of the way. This was his first combat mission since the Onogoro raid, a standard combat air patrol of the nearby skies around the Archangel. He was glad that they were about to begin the more critical parts of their hunt, as soon as communications with Orb was made and intelligence was exchanged between both sides. But the Archangel would be vulnerable to attack during the time she was making contact with the satellite, so it was planned during recent tactical meetings of the command crew, the skies would be patrolled for nearby or inbound threats.

Mission planning called for him to launch first off to the skies at dawn (reminiscent of the first combat missions done by the pioneers in military aviation in the industrial pre-Cosmic Era times), with Taisa La Flaga as primary backup, and Kira and Dearka as close in support for the Archangel in case of attack. Athrun argued to have Shinn in the rotation, but the Taisa and Ramius-Kanchou had misgivings about having someone who was still harboring hostile feelings towards their crew access to a powerful mobile weapon even when the safety of the ship and crew depended on it. Athrun lobbied strongly to give Shinn a chance, given the fact it was in their original plan in recruiting Shinn to let him fly the Destiny Phoenix if he wanted too, but at first it looked like he was going to be overruled by the senior officers.

Fortunately, for him, Kira voiced support for his plan when he was asked. His best friend opined that it would be better for them to trust Shinn with the Destiny Phoenix in case the situation was dire; what's the use of not utilizing all of their tactical options at the point when all options should be used to protect the ship? Kira said that if Athrun trusted the former ZAFT ace to be able to work with them, then he could trust him as well, since he really didn't have anything against Shinn in first place. Kira technically outranked everyone on the Archangel (he was a general officer by rank), but Athrun knew Kira would never resort to pulling rank unless he was really needed to. But Athrun wouldn't take it away from him to use subtle yet firm persuasion to get others to see his opinions and suggestions as viable. It also helped the Lacus immediately sided with Athrun and Kira when her vote was asked, even if uncharacteristically she didn't say anything much in the discussion.

So in the end, the two Taisas relented to his request. As a concession, Athrun agreed to put Shinn in as the final reserve, ready to launch when things were dire as a fresh relief unit. The Destiny Phoenix was slated to be ready for take off five minutes after Kira and Dearka, and would be under direct command of Athrun.

If, by some miracle, I could convince Shinn to fly that thing, Athrun thought. He'd been trying to persuade the red-eyed pilot to take on that responsibility, knowing that he was the best and only one suited for the job. He tried all manners of persuasion; from direct and succinct requests to a little more, subtle hinting, but Shinn shrugged them off unanswered. Athrun would have given up on Shinn long ago, had it not for Shinn's neutral way of keeping the request hanging without any hostile reactions, or the his continued diligence in tinkering with the Destiny Phoenix with Murdoch-san and the tech crews. Athrun knew that Shinn wasn't one of those pilots whose zest for working maintenance on their mobile suits bordered on obsession, to the point of eating or sleeping inside them on occasion (Kira, from what Athrun heard, was a case in point), but the attention Shinn was giving to the Destiny Phoenix indicated his interest in it, maybe even allowing himself to fly it, even though pride wouldn't let him say out loud that he was giving in to Athrun's persuasions.

Maybe miracles do happen.

Athrun cleared his mind as he felt the legs of the Infinite Justice slide into place over the massive launch catapults. The blast doors closed behind him, the massive ferro-composite metal slab that was the blast shield slid up right at the back of the mobile suit to absorb any explosive force that might be released with the catapult's firing and the mobile suit's acceleration He saw that the gigantic launch bay doors opened out to the darkness outside, and launch bay lights illuminated the launch bay in front of him.

Athrun spooled up the power flow from the nuclear reactor, and raised the throttles to the setting that would allow the mobile suit enough thrust to accelerate in speed and climb away from the Archangel safely. The mobile suit's engines increased power angrily, with exhaust gases forming ripples around the thrust vents of the Fatum-01 lifter. He made one last check of his systems, and saw that everything was in order. He sat back and flexed his hands on the controls, and waited for Meyrin's final checks, which came over the PA seconds later.

"Systems all green. X-One-Niner-Alpha. You are cleared for launch. Be careful out there, Athrun-san"

Athrun exhaled. He was ready. "X-One-Niner-Alpha confirms, CIC. Athrun Zala, Infinite Justice. Launching!"


Murrue felt the starboard side shake briefly as the Infinite Justice roared out in a trail of exhaust smoke out of launch bay one. The burgundy mobile suit crested upwards and away from the Archangel, and performed a barrel roll as it accelerated away into the dark skies. Seconds later she heard the loud BOOM and soon felt the shockwave as Athrun's mobile suit broke through the sound barrier. Only the reinforced glass of the viewport of the bridge kept it from breaking apart from the impact of the shockwave, which passed through the ship in a manner of seconds. Soon all that Murrue could see of the Infinite Justice was a small blur of black, as it gradually disappeared into the weather front to the southeast.

Meyrin's voice came flooding out of the CIC. "Infinite Justice is away, Kanchou. Heading two-three-four at Mach two-point-two, height of eight thousand and climbing. Athrun-san's now on his way to waypoint one on his patrol course."

Murrue nodded. "Very well, CIC. Mr. Chandra, do we have a fix on the satellite?"

"Confirmed, Kanchou. The satellite is just entering the grid and slowing. It will be overhead for the next twenty-one minutes, thirteen seconds. It's now within the transmission window."

"Lacus-san, you may begin transmission."

"Hai," answered the pink-haired Coordinator from her communications seat to rear left of Murrue. Lacus began inputting a sequence of commands on her terminal, opening a secure link with the orbiting satellite with a ultra high frequency laser mounted on one of the antennae on the top of the bridge tower. The pulse traveled the two hundred miles between the Archangel and the satellite in a matter of milliseconds, and data transfer between both began. Terabytes of data was sent and accepted, in a seemingly uninterrupted and secure flow that lasted a quarter of a minute. It looked normal to Lacus, the transmission normal and without hitches, that there was no reason for her and the Archangel to worry about a problem as the transmission ended. Nothing seemed wrong.

But things went wrong as soon as the transmission began.


Unknown to the Archangel crew, the transmission protocol was already compromised from the start. Under the command from his handler, the agent had already instigated a high-tech plan to sabotage their mission, activating as soon as the laser transmission began. The agent had installed a 'ghost' program, a small and almost undetectable software, comprising of a few lines of advanced programming, through access to the Archangel's network.

The ghost was activated as soon as the first transmission to the satellite was attempted, which sent an additional command to the satellite to perform an additional task as the transfer was attempted, another ghost that was installed unto the satellite during one of its remote system updates. As the data transfer progressed between the ship and the orbiter, another laser transmission on a very secure frequency that was virtually undetectable from the Archangel's sensors, was sent to a location close to the Archangel. The transmission only comprised of a few lines of data, Making it short and almost instantaneous. But the information it sent was of vital importance to those nearby; their very mission to thwart the Archangel depended on this critical part of their operation.

"Kanchou, we have a signal outbound from the beacon. The signature indicates it's pulsing from a UHF laser transmission outbound to the Orb communications satellite. It's coming from grid 23-40, one hundred twenty-two miles north by northeast of us."

The captain of the mobile suit carrier submarine Piranha nodded wordlessly. The "ghosts" their agent uploaded unto the Archangel's network and the satellite worked perfectly. The outbound signal, normally almost undetectable, had succeeded in warning them of the carrier's location. It looked like the effort to place such a high-ranking traitor within the midst of the Orb forces was bearing fruit for their cause. It was now up to them to complete their mission, which was to destroy that ship before it completed its mission to search for their organization's base. The Archangel was lucky to survive when the Enforcer ambushed them in Earth' gravity that the Minerva arrived to save them, but now they were alone and without support. This time, the Piranha will finish them. "Begin operations. Come around to a heading of three hundred. Surface the ship, and begin launch operations. We've got them where we want them."

His crew began to work. It took several minutes to complete, before the massive bow of Barracuda-class submersible carrier surfaced angrily above the rough waves of the South Pacific. The Piranha was a more advanced version of the military submarines the OMNI Enforcer first deployed in the First Bloody Valentine War. Based on the transport submarines used by the Earth Forces, the Piranha and its sister ship was almost twice the size of its predecessor; this enabled the ships to perform its primary mission; to be a mobile suit carrier. The larger and heavily modified hull led to a more spacious interior, which was designed so that the submarine could carry and launch twelve mobile suits from twelve vertical catapults, plus two more underwater launch bays carried to submersible mobile suits for underwater combat. The twelve vertical launch bays was the core of the design, and everything about the submarine was built around this system.

The design of the ship, however, precluded the fact that the Barracuda-class was not designed to fight as a conventional attack submarine. It relied on its mobile suit complement and advance stealth capabilities for its defenses. An innovation that was introduced to the design was the incorporation of a Geschmeidig Panzer system as both a propulsion system and sonar-defeating stealth defense. The Piranha used the GP system as a propulsion unit for fast maneuvering and underwater speed, primarily in deep water under the thermal layer, using it for fast travel and quick escapes, when stealth was unnecessary. As an active stealth system the GP was also effective, as shown during the Piranha's participation in the Onogoro raid. A long ranged active sonar scan from a nearby ZAFT Vosgulov-class submarine was dispersed and absorbed by the Geschmeidig Panzer, allowing her to escape from detection and withdraw from the area. The Piranha's captain was relying on these systems once more to successfully complete their ambush, and escape safely towards their base in the South American coast.

But now it was time to begin their attack. Time to strike a mortal blow to those who would dare seek them out and stop their crusade. "Commence operation. Launch the attack squadron."

Twelve concealed blast doors opened out of the main deck of the Piranha, in two rows of six doors each. From the depths of the doors slid out two magnetic catapults, similar to the design the ZAFT forces used. Between the powerful flow of magnetic fields, twelve black Wraith-class mobile suits shot out into the sky. They sped upwards, increasing in speed as the distance between them and the ship widened.

The squadron reached the dark clouds of the storm system, and fought the strong winds and heavy rains as they formed a solid line and headed northeast. The Wraiths struggled to keep formation in the violent gusts, but sheer power of the mobile suits won over Nature in this fight. The black mobile suits proceeded with supersonic speeds towards their target, use speed rather than stealth to cover their approach; the mirrage colloid stealth systems' effectiveness decreased in the violent storm, relying on the electromagnetic disturbances of the storm clouds to mask their attack from the Archangel's sensors. For the first forty miles they traveled they were successful, and it looked like they were going to be undetected all the way.

But once more, Fate was going to play her trump card for this battle, turning the balance into chaos.


Athrun had just passed his fourth waypoint on his patrol; the Infinite Justice was cruising above the storm clouds at thirty-five thousand feet. He was close to operation ceiling of the mobile suit, and he was flying at a speed close to Mach three. He was not having a good time scanning the skies around him; the storm system was wreaking havoc on his sensors and most of the time he was relying on his naked eye to spot for threats. It wasn't a great day to fly; he was struggling to keep the Infinite Justice flying stable in the strong and violent winds of the storm. Only the fly by wire avionics was keeping the mobile suit aloft, but still it struggled in the strong winds. Athrun check his chronometer, and figured that the planned contact with the satellite would be complete by now; all he had to do was complete his patrol and head back, so that he could land and the ship could submerge to the safety of the depths of the ocean once more.

He was now to the southwest of the ship, about seventy miles from the Archangel, when he first something odd. He first thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him, the product of his weariness on this exhausting flight. He saw black dots seemingly moving across the storm, cloud hopping on its upper edges. He first thought that they were something natural, but it looked too much of a natural thing to just shrug off. He slowly dropped altitude to get a better look. Athrun was closing on them; about twenty miles off.

Athrun could now see the black shapes formed in a line, and moving in a direction that would take them very close to Archangel. He moved closer, hoping to get a good look at them and get a clear identification. But the black shapes broke formation, one group of six continuing on its southwesterly path, the other half forming a rough circle and climbing up towards him.

Athrun realized that they were a threat, with their aggressive maneuvering to close with him. But he also knew that they were also a threat to the Archangel now, with one group heading their way. As per training he sent forth one of the preset emergency messages back to the ship. The message automatically included his current position, and Athrun hoped that the rest of his friends could act on his message quickly.

Because the black raiders were here all along and were waiting for them.


"Kanchou!"

Murrue turned quickly at Meyrin's sudden cry. "What is it?"

"It's the Infinite Justice," the red-haired CIC officer said breathlessly. "It just sent in a preset message. It reads 'Detected unidentified mobile suits at grid twenty-thirty-five, heading for your direction'. It gives the last GPS position of the mobile suits at seventy-three miles to the southwest, at a bearing of two-zero-five."

Dammit! "Lacus-san, give the order for Level One battle stations." Murrue listened as Lacus began declaring the higher level alert to on the PA. Seeing that taken cared off, Murrue began giving orders to the rest of the bridge crew. "Neumann-san, turn the ship into the wind. Meyrin-kun, ready the plus-five mobile suits for launch, and try to raise Athrun. Ensign Pal, prepare for anti-mobile suit combat."


Athrun swore to himself as he angled the Justice away from the incoming bandits. He was outnumbered six to one, and fighting in the middle of a typhoon wasn't making things easier for him. But it didn't make things any easier for raiders too, as they were struggling to fly in this weather as he was. Athrun studied his chances, and figured that he could make it through this fight with some fancy footwork and luck on his part. And I'm gonna need all the luck I can get or I'm not going home.

Two raiders split from the other four, and charged towards Athrun, beam sabers deployed. The other four kept in formation, firing missiles and rail guns in support for afar. Athrun juked and jinked in random patterns to avoid their barrage, but the erratic maneuvering allowed the two lead raiders to close with him. He activated countermeasures, leaving it to the Justice's main computer to automatically deploy them to in its defense.

The first one slashed down, aiming for the Justice's right lifter wing. Athrun pulled back hard on the stick, and the burgundy mobile suit just edged away from the deadly slice of the beam. The second tried a forward thrust of the saber, hoping to impale Athrun just below the cockpit. With quick reflexes born from his Coordinator genes, Athrun brought up the left leg, and used it to block the thrust with the beam blade mounted on it, which he activated on the last second.

Athrun veered of to his left then gunned the engines to create distance between himself and his two nearby opponents. But another barrage from the four supporting raiders cut off his planned escape route, and Athrun barely had the time to bring his lightwave beam barrier shield to block two missiles that bore down on him.

The sudden explosions rocked the Justice, and the smoke blocked the view on his main screens momentarily. Knowing that the raiders would exploit his momentary weakness, Athrun slammed down hard on his thruster pedals. The lifter slid down from its upright position in the Justice's back, and its main thrusters flared. The Justice screamed upwards, as cleared the fireball just as four green beams lanced through it.

Athrun banked hard to his left, taking the Justice towards the east. He had gained some distance and altitude from the raiders, and he fully intended to squeeze every ounce from this momentary advantage. He struggled to do barrel rolls and other random evasive maneuvers, as the deadly fire blanketed the airspace around him. Athrun knew he couldn't stand this much longer; he was totally in the defensive, and couldn't even get into any position to return fire. He needed help and he needed it fast. But knowing that threats were also headed for the Archangel, Athrun wasn't relying too much on reinforcements to come to his aid.

I just hope they can fight off the other raiders quick enough to help me out in this situation or it will be the end for me.


"Mr. Chandra, do you have anything on your screens from the last position of Athrun-kun and the Infinite Justice?" Murrue asked, worried about the young Coordinator's current situation.

"Negative," came his reply. "There's too much interference from the storm system that I can't get a clear look. Nothing on the sonar too, Kanchou."

"Keep working on it. We'll assume they've found us and are bearing down on our position."

The main vidscreen that hung above the forward viewpoint of the bridge came to life with Mu's helmeted face. "Hey, what the hell is going on?"

Murrue gave him a worried look. "Athrun-kun encountered mobile suits heading our way. We haven't made in contact with him yet and I have to assume the worst." Murrue felt her insides constrict. "We need to get you up to look for him. I'll have Kira and Dearka cover the ship. Bring Athrun-kun back."

"On my own?" Mu asked with a raised eyebrow, which Murrue answered with a wordless nod. "I guess I have to make the impossible possible again. I need –", Mu's words were cut when Shinn's face, apparently coming from the Destiny Phoenix's cockpit, took half of the screen.

"Let me go out too. The Phoenix's ready. Let me go get Athrun-san," said Shinn.

Murrue was taken aback with surprise and momentarily speechless by Shinn's sudden request. "I-I don't know, Shinn-kun."

The red eyes of the Coordinator hardened. "I'm already inside the cockpit and prepped for launch. Put me up with Neo here. Let Yamato help Dearka-san cover the ship. He's not here yet. I'm ready to go now."

"But-"

Kira's face joined the ones on the vidscreen. It looked like he was still at the pilot's ready room, getting into his flight suit as fast as he could. "Shinn's right, Murrue-san," he said. "He's in a position to go out ahead of me." Murrue saw Shinn's hardened features grow more pronounced with anger and irritation.

Murrue sighed. She had to make a decision, and quick. Time was of the essence and Athrun's life probably depended on it. "Very well. Shinn, go with Mu. But you're under his command okay?" she added before Shinn could complain.

"Hai," came his neutral reply, before Shinn cut the line to the bridge. Murrue turned to Mu for her final instructions. "Find Athrun-kun and get him back here. We'll wait for you at checkpoint November. Don't let the mobile suits follow you back. And keep an eye on Shinn. We're in enough of trouble as it is, and we don't need more. Be careful out there, okay?"

"Got that," Mu acknowledged with a slight grin. "Akatsuki out."

Murrue faced Kira once more. "Don't worry Murrue-san. Everything will be fine," Kira said in his very calm, very wise sounding voice that belied some his own doubts.

Murrue looked straight unto the purple eyes of the Coordinator. "Let's just hope you're right about that, Kira-kun. For all our sakes."


Generation

Unsubdued

Nuclear

Drive

Assault

Module

(G.U.N.D.A.M) Complex


Series SD101-O9 DP 02-34143

Z.A.F.T.

System Online

Shinn locked his helmet into place, the seals on the collar of his yellow and red Orb flight suit hissing, indicating the suit was now sealed and pressurized. He fired up the nuclear reactor, and power flowed into the various systems of the mobile suit. Indicators came to life, as displays and indicators erupted in different colors. The main viewport and HUD also opened up, and Shinn could now get a good view of the hanger bay. Shinn tested his control sticks, which flexed slightly the arm actuators, which Shinn found to be smooth and responsive to his actions. He was confident that the mobile suit would function properly and efficiently; the tinkering he did on it and the operating system had brought it to full combat readiness. All that he needed to do now was to pilot it effectively.

Shinn pondered if he had made the right choice. By going out into battle he was accepting the responsibilities thrust upon him when he volunteered for this mission. Deep inside he was still harboring ill feelings about the situation he was in; his hatred for Kira Yamato and the Archangel crew was still eating at him, albeit that a large part of the bitterness was slowly fading away.

He wanted to stay out of this fight; he was willing to wade out the battle and leave his safety to the Terminal members. Surely the Archangel could fight the raiders off; the entire crew was veterans of two wars and considered elite in the field of battle, and even Shinn could agree with that. But he felt he had to do something. It was there, the chance to act on his terms. He could take the controls of a mobile suit and be a factor in the coming battle, not because it was his destiny, but because he chose to fight for what he wanted, what he believed.

And lives were at stake. It wasn't that he had to protect these people, the ones he once called his enemies, but now were doing everything to accept him within their ranks, because they may have seen something in him that even Shinn never realized he had. And now they were risking themselves for a cause Shinn knew was right, even though the pain of old emotional wounds were still holding him back.

Those he chose to hate were reaching out to him, regardless if Shinn wanted them in pain, or worse, dead. Neo Lorrnoke had approached him a few times during the submerged run to this area of the ocean, trying to start small, albeit awkward conversations with him. He was trying to look out for him, probably much like the concern he gave for Solar when she was under his command. The man was probably doing this as a way to ask for Shinn's forgiveness for Stellar, but Shinn wasn't sure of that, and didn't really care.

Kira Yamato was also around; Shinn always noticed him watching him from afar, though the brown-haired Coordinator never really talked to him. He seemed to be studying him, assessing him as one would assess a potential ally or co-worker. Sometimes Shinn wanted to confront him and lash out, but Shinn kept his anger in check. He felt that their last encounter was enough, when Shinn first saw the Destiny Phoenix once more. Surprisingly, in the very rare times Shinn sat in on the meetings of the command crew, he was (though he would never admit it other than to himself) finding himself agreeing with the ideas and policies that Yamato was espousing, and was curious and amazed that Yamato always agreed with him in the very rare times Shinn shared something in the meetings.

And then there was Athrun. The one person Shinn could respect, because for all that had happened between in the Second War, since the time he returned to the Minerva and became Shinn's commander, Athrun was the one person who didn't give up on him, even when Shinn purposely gave him a real hard time. Even when they met as enemies late in the war, Athrun never gave up on him, bringing him back from madness as when he almost attacked Lunamaria with the old Destiny's Palmina Focina. And in the process of saving her, Athrun saved Shinn.

And now Athrun was in the thick of the fight, fighting for those he wanted to protect, and Shinn had to admit to himself, he was one of them.

Shinn couldn't let a friend like that die.

One of his overheard MFDs came to life, and a helmeted Neo spoke out from it. "Are you ready, Shinn-san?"

Shinn didn't spare the older man a glance. "I'm ready."

"Good luck then. I'll see you up in the air." Neo shut off his line as the doors to launch bay one closed, taking the golden ORB-01 Akatsuki away from Shinn's view. Shinn felt the Destiny Phoenix sway, as its cradle gantry slowly slid towards the blast doors of the portside launch bay two. He heard Meyrin's voice, doing her role as CIC, as she guided him in the pre-launch preparations for the Phoenix.

"Commencing Destiny Phoenix launch sequence. Opening bay doors to launch bay two."

The massive blast doors of launch bay two opened, and the gantry positioned the mobile suit's feet over the catapult. Shinn secured the straps of his safety belts, and readied himself for the drop of the mobile suit

"Safety locks released. Catapult connected."

Shinn's stomach lurched slightly as the feet of the mobile suit landed hard on the catapult, and heard the hissing of the securing locks grabbed the feet of the Phoenix solidly.

"Blast doors securing. Launch bay doors opening. Catapult track clear."

The blast doors closed behind the Phoenix, as the massive launch bay hatch opened up to space.

"Weight to power ratio computation complete. Catapult power optimized. APU online."

Power output from the reactor increased, and additional power from the auxiliary power unit was coursed for the catapult's use. The main thrusters in between the Wings of Light flared angrily, as Shinn increased the throttle to max power.

"Course clear. Systems, all green. X-Four-Three-Alpha, you are cleared for launch," Meyrin finally said. "Good luck Shinn."

The catapult status indicator flashed the ready signal.

For Shinn, it was time to return to skies. To his chosen path, not his predetermined destiny.

"Shinn Asuka, Destiny Phoenix. Taking off!"

Shinn felt himself slammed into his seat at the Phoenix hurtled out of the cockpit with amazing speed, clearing the exit in less than three seconds. Immediately after clearing the edge of the launch bay tunnel, Shinn pulled up, adding more speed to his ascent by pushing down incrementally on his thruster pedals.

As soon as he was at a safe distance from the Archangel, Shinn reached out to control console and activated the phase-shift armor of the mobile suit. The "Phase Shift Up" indicator on his HUD flashed, as the Phoenix changed from its uniform gray color to its red, white and blue scheme, as the advanced anti-projectile protection system enveloped the mobile suit.

Shinn began to scan the nearby area for flying bogies, and found nothing except for the Akatsuki, which flew a little higher than him, lightning flashes from the horizon reflecting on its ultra-polished gold surfaces. He brought the Phoenix to fly side by side with the ORB command suit, and opened a link with its pilot.

"We're heading south-southwest; that's the bearing of a probable group of raiders heading for the ship," Neo was saying. They were cruising at an altitude of twenty-thousand feet now, traveling two and half times faster than the speed of sound, on a heading that would put them on a collision course with any bandits that were headed for the ship, and both pilots were scanning the skies and their sensors for their presence. It was a basic fact in warfare that the side that finds the enemy first will have a decisive tactical advantage, and it applied in the same way for aerial combat, where detection was of vital importance given the extreme conditions combat was fought.

Two minutes later they found them, six black mobile suits flying through the clouds in two wedge formations, about a thousand feet below them and to the south. Or more like the raiders found them, as they were already heading for the Akatsuki and Phoenix, and were breaking up into three groups of two. Shinn was about to veer the Phoenix towards them, but the sudden appearance on his vidscreen of and order from Neo stop him from performing his maneuver.

"I'll distract them. You go find Athrun and bring him back."

"But-"

Neo glared at him. "There's no time to argue about this, Asuka. Athrun is in trouble and he needs your help. Go!"

Cursing to himself, realizing that Neo was right, Shinn turned of his link with the team commander without acknowledging his command. But he pulled the Phoenix hard to climb higher, and increased its speed to get away from the raiders, continuing on the direction that would take him to Athrun's last known position. He hoped he could reach him in time, the same time wishing Neo all the luck in fending off the rest.


Mu was pleased that Shinn did what he ordered him to do, even though the red-eyed Coordinator didn't even respond to his order. He knew he could count on Shinn to find Athrun, given his knowledge and confidence on the young man's confidence. He prayed both of them could survive their fight long enough for him and the Archangel to come to their support.

If he and the ship can survive the rest of the raiders.

The six that were bearing down on them started to react to Shinn's attempt to break off, with two of them angling in the Phoenix's direction to give chase. Mu had to stop them, and turned the Akatsuki to intercept. The other four tracked his movements, and Mu soon heard the warning signal blared out from the speakers on his jump seat, indicating that he had been locked on by a missile target acquisition system.

Mu risked a glance at his six, and saw the flash and smoke that indicated the launch of multiple anti-mobile suit missiles targeted at him. Mu was afraid of missiles out of everything the raiders could throw at him; even though the Akatsuki could reflect or block beam weapons at whim with its Yata No Kagami anti-beam coating, the mobile suit did not have Phase Armor technology, leaving it extremely vulnerable to conventional weapons like missiles.

He cut to his left, going multi-Mach in the process. The battle computer of the Akatsuki responded automatically to the threats, electronic counter measures and decoys deploying to hamper their attack. Several explosions indicated success, and Mu could also see some of the heat seekers fly aimlessly as the lost their target.

Deciding that he had to slow down Shinn's pursuers to give him a better chance to rescue Athrun, Mu fired at the two with his longest ranged weapons, the two Type 73F Kai beam cannons on the Oowashi atmospheric flight pack. Both cannons swung forward underneath the Akatsuki's arms, and erupted in a pair of deadly pulses. The twin beams lanced between the two black raiders, which momentarily stalled their pursuit by forcing them to evade the deadly onslaught.

The two pursuing Shinn broke off their chase, and instead decided that he was the more immediate threat. The crisscrossed each other to keep themselves a hard target for Mu to get a good lock, but Mu countered by another energy volley from the beam cannons, which scattered the two black mobile suits in different directions.

Mu wanted to press his sudden advantage, but the other four raiders were making life hard for him. Two crossed in between him and his targets, and Mu had to throttle back to avoid four supersonic slugs from the raider's rail guns. The other two flew in to outflank him from the rear, but Mu countered the move flying parallel to their course.

The lead flanker made a sudden change of direction, and cut across his path from the rear. The flanker was pushing hard, and launched two missiles as it rolled towards him. Mu peppered the incoming weapons with a barrage from his head mounted machine guns, which exploded the missiles four hundred meters away. Mu loosed two shots from his Type 72D5 Hyakurai beam rifle, but the flanker had already dodged away.

The second flanker had closed the gap between them, and was angling to fire at Mu's left. The raider fired four quick blasts with its beam rifle, which Mu judged as a big mistake on the part of his opponent. Mu turned the Akatsuki into the incoming fire, and then slammed the mobile suit into a hard acceleration of supersonic speeds. The beam struck the Akatsuki squarely on its head and shoulders, but the anti-beam coating absorbed the energy, dispersing them harmlessly.

Mu locked onto the second flanker, which could not react quickly to his charging run, and in seconds the sound of a positive lock greeted him satisfactorily. He thumbed his primary triggers, and the Akatsuki sent multiple green beams all around the raider. The black mobile suit moved in random directions, and blocked a few shots with its lightwave beam barrier. But two beams penetrated the defenses, one coring into the right hip of the raider, the other melting away half of its head.

Seeing a chance to finish him off, Mu went aggressively for the second flanker, but forgot about the first. It was coming towards his right, and Mu took sudden notice of it when the alarm signal went off again. Mu tried to evade, but it was too late. A hypervelocity slug slammed hard unto the Akatsuki, tearing off one of the Kai beam cannons, and punched a hole through the right wing of the flight pack.

An explosion rocked the Akatsuki's cockpit, as a small fire began above Mu, as overhead paneling were ripped from its connections and wires blew up in sparks and flashes. Mu was momentarily blinded and deaf from the blast, and lost his bearings. His disorientation multiplied as he felt the mobile suit roll and tumble uncontrolled, and from the viewport Mu dizzily saw the horizon spiraling.

Struggling to regain control, Mu pulled with all of his might on the control stick. The Akatsuki had lost is level flight and was losing altitude fast. Multiple alarms were now blaring all at the same time, as different systems were shutting down or malfunctioning. However hard he tried, the engines wouldn't respond to his controls, and he couldn't stabilize the Akatsuki's rapid descent.

He saw a glimpse of the fast moving raiders regrouping, the four continuing to head towards the direction of the Archangel, and two going after Shinn once more. Mu despaired at his failure to stop them, and prayed that Murrue and others could survive their raid. He could see the blue ocean become larger and larger, as the Akatsuki plummeted from the heavens covered by the dark storm, with Death beckoning Mu unto its dark arms.

The Akatsuki struck the water, the pull of gravity increasing its descent velocity, raising a geyser four times the height of the mobile suit, as Mu let himself be wrapped by that enveloped him in a cold embrace.


Shinn glanced back in the direction of where the Akatsuki was battling the second wave of raiders. He took note that his two pursuers had given up their attempt to chase and went back after the golden mobile suit. He wanted to turn back and help the former Phantom Pain commander, but he had his orders and he needed to help Athrun.

The Phoenix climbed higher, above the dark cloud cover. The skies were calmer up here, but Shinn could still see ionized lightning strikes firing through the storm. The eye of the typhoon was to his north, away from the battle. Athrun's last position placed him about thirty miles to the southwest, and Shinn burned hard to get there.

Two minutes later he was loitering in the airspace where Athrun sent his warning. Shinn saw nothing on his sights and sensors, and worried that Athrun was already lost, but green flashes off to his east gave him hope, since the flashes were the unmistakable evidence of beam fire from mobile suits.

Shinn turned towards the ongoing battle, and soon saw six black mobile suits giving chase and firing continuously at a lone burgundy mobile suit, which ably evading their heavy attacks. Shinn was relieved that Athrun was still alive, but in the same time assessed the capabilities of the enemy. If Athrun, one of the best pilots Shinn had ever encountered in his military career, was having trouble with them, then they were formidable opponents at the very least. Granted that they outnumbered Athrun six-to-one, but Shinn knew that those numbers were not a problem for an elite warrior like Athrun Zala.

Shinn did, however, notice a fact about the battle that he realized he could exploit as an advantage: for some reason, he had not seen the enemy attack cloaked. Whether the storm conditions in atmosphere were hampering their mirrage colloid systems, Shinn wasn't sure. But Shinn knew he could use that fact to fight the raiders effectively.

Shinn implemented his plan of attack, climbing higher but in same time coming around to put him behind the raiders. The Phoenix spread its red wings, and light red energy screen blossomed out of the Wings of Light's projectors. The light spread out, forming a red mirage in the form of gigantic bird wings, in a form like that of the legendary namesake of the mobile suit. The energy wings stretched almost a thousand meters, its shining light defeating the darkness of the clouds.

Shinn began to descend on the enemy, the Phoenix drawing one of its "Damocles" beam swords on its left hand, and its MA-M1911 beam rifle on its right. Shinn locked onto the lead raider, and sent green energy pulsating towards it. Two beams caught the raider on its wings, which were sheared off, making the raider fall helplessly unto the darkened ocean.

The other five scattered - two of them reorienting themselves to face Shinn. The Infinite Justice also changed direction, as Shinn saw that Athrun had finally noticed that he had an ally in the fight. "Nice of you to drop by," Athrun's voice came over the communications network.

"No time to stop and chat, Zala. Come around to my left and give me cover."

"Wilco," Athrun replied. The Infinite Justice was now circling around to Shinn's nine o'clock position, angling to put down fire on the remaining five raiders. Shinn went on another power dive, this time bearing down on the trailing black suit. The enemy was trying to fight back, beam crisscrossing pass the Phoenix, but the Wings of Light was interfering with the raider's targeting to make any hit on Shinn's mobile suit.

Shinn reached the trailer, and slashed inward with the beam sword on his left. The ruby blade made contact with the raider's beam barrier shield, which blocked the blade from slicing off the arm that held it. But the momentum and force of Shinn's slash knocked the raider back, and Shinn followed up with another thrust that cut off both of the raider's shoulder mounted rail cannons. The damage raider backed off, its pilot clearly assessing the damage Shinn did to his mobile suit and trying to regroup for its next strike

The Infinite Justice had also returned to the fight, Athrun beginning his counterattacks against the lone raider that stayed focused on him. Shinn watch as Athrun maneuvered deftly against the black suit, using the Justice's agility to draw a favorable position against its formidable opponent. The Justice drew both of its sabers at once, connecting both and forming one long, two-sided saber that Athrun liked to fight with. With a barrel roll the Justice began its attack, running headlong towards the raider, who had its own beam saber out, plus the lightwave barrier for defense.

The Justice continued its direct charge, before spinning at the last moment. Athrun made his mobile suit pirouette in midair, cleanly avoid the downward slash of raider's saber. As the Justice completed its three hundred sixty degree spin, the Justice struck out with the double saber, with on of its beams connecting with the raider's rear. The entire right of the raider was caught in the strike, and the wings and shoulders were sliced off. The raider was doomed, and its fate was sealed when Athrun kicked out with his left leg, the beam blade mounted there cut both of the raider legs from the body.

The raider that Shinn was fighting approached him once more in a zigzagging action, avoiding the automated fire from the Phoenix's close-in weapons system. The twelve point seven millimeter armor piercing sabot rounds impacted upon the lightwave barrier mounted on the left hand of the raider, but the energy shield took in the force of the high-explosive projectiles, without affecting the raider's approached.

The raider slashed at the Phoenix, but Shinn deftly blocked with his own drawn sword. Both blades collided several times as both combatants exchanged blows that were blocked and parried with equal skill. The fight looked to be a stalemate, but the raider gained an advantage when it skillfully returned a quick counterattack after it parried another slash from Shinn. The raider caught Shinn with his guard down, and hit the Phoenix right in the middle of the left forearm.

The severed arm went flying, taking with it the Damocles sword. The raider thought he had Shinn on the ropes, and tried to deliver his coup de grace – a forward stab at Shinn's cockpit with the beam saber. But Shinn was ready, and caught the saber hand of the raider with his right. At first it seemed that the raider could push against the Phoenix's grip, with the thrusters of the black suit flaming as it went to maximum military power, but the raider's hand exploded and was left burning and destroyed as the hand collapsed under the shining glow of the Palmina Focina hand beam.

Shinn thrust and buried the Palmina Focina down into the chest of the raider, and the high energy melted through the armor plating of the black mobile suit. The cockpit area was exposed, and the pilot inside was burned to a crisp from the extreme heat and energy of the deadly beam. The mortally injured mobile suit slid from the Phoenix's hand, and dropped lifeless towards the ocean. The dead mobile suit exploded after free falling a thousand feet, debris flying in all directions in rails of flames.

The other raiders saw the death of three of their comrades and began to take on new tactics to deal with the double threat of the Phoenix and Justice. They quickly joined up in close formation, and turned to concentrate their attacks on the Phoenix. Shinn dodged left and right as he avoided the withering fire of green energy beams, and his CIWS worked close to overheating, targeting multiple missiles that were volley at his direction. Several explosions heralded the death of the guided weapons, and Shinn used them as cover as he tried to break away from the raiders. The black suits charged through the dissipating fireballs like raging bulls, and continued their vengeful pursuit. Shinn rechecked his options, and found that he was running out of them.

"Shinn, draw them to your right, then drop altitude quickly," came Athrun's voice. The Justice was now a little ways from him, at a point in the sky were it had an open shot at the enemy. Shinn studied Athrun's maneuver, and figured out what he intended to do. Shinn flew hard to his right, the black mobile suits in hot pursuit. He egged them along, flying several miles before dropping down suddenly. The black mobile suits could not follow his movement, passing the point Shinn was before and suddenly gone from.

"Now, Athrun!" Shinn shouted over the tacnet.

The Infinite Justice stopped in the air, hovering and tracking the movement of the three mobile suits as they vainly tried to go after the Phoenix. The Fatum-01 lifter twisted ninety degrees up, and the twin Hyper Fortis beam cannons adjusted their aim towards the raiders. The M1911 rifle went up to, tracking a third raider in its sights. The three main ranged weapons of the Infinite Justice erupted in deadly fire all at the same time, and the red and green beams lanced with a vengeance at its three targets, as Athrun completed his devastating Blitzkrieg attack. The three beams reached their targets within a second, and three gigantic fireballs erupted around them, breathing fire and light in the heavy rain.

Shinn stopped to watch the midair explosions die out, expecting to see debris from the doomed mobile suits fall from the sky. But in his horror he saw the glimmering aura of three lightwave beam barriers shining in the darkness, as the three black shapes that crouched behind them stretched out to show their defiance to the Infinite Justice's attempt to eliminate them. And to compound his problems, two more raiders were coming from the northeast, indicating to Shinn that Neo had failed and the raiders had eventually overpowered him.


Murrue was getting worried. She already had that bad feeling as she watched Mu and Shinn lift off several minutes ago. They still had not sent word, and it was getting to long a time for Murrue to be in the blind. But Murrue had not been complacent. Immediately after the Akatsuki and the Phoenix disappeared into the horizon, she began to deploy the ship for battle. She kept the Archangel in a course that sent into the wind, and had ordered the Corinthos launchers armed with sulfur canister missiles to counteract their mirrage colloid defenses, plus air-to-air ones for the Wombat launchers. She had also ordered the GAT-X103 Buster out, and Dearka was now standing on the main deck above the primary cargo bay of the ship. The ZAFT officer was now scanning the skies, his mobile suit locked and loaded with both its rifles deployed and ready to fire.

Dearka was now reporting in. "There's nothing out there as far as I can see, Kanchou. No sign of bogies or the others."

"Keep your eyes open, Dearka-kun," said Murrue. "We'll be going under cover as soon as the battle begins, so you may have to rely on your thermals."

"Copy that, Archangel. I'm gonna shift my – Wait! I got movement coming from the southwest horizon," Dearka said excitedly. 'Four dots bearing in at two-four-five!"

Murrue spun at her sensors station. "Mr. Chandra!"

"Confirmed, Kanchou. Bogies are at a distance of twenty-four miles, closing in at a speed of Mach one-point-nine. I could barely see them on the thermals."

"Mr. Pal, cover the ship with smoke! Then fire a round of canister missiles and Helldarts! Battle stations everyone!"


Dearka tracked the bogies with his with his thermal imaging system, the typhoon interfering with his radar. The bogies were giving off a measurable amount of heat signatures, but the conditions still made it dicey at best. His primary job now was to assist in defending the ship, using the Buster's weapons to augment the already impressive defenses in anti-air and -missile support. He knew by experience that the Buster was best suited for these kinds of missions, and he was happy to get a chance to pilot the old war machine again.

But he also wanted to be up there in the skies, moving offensively against these raiders, but the Archangel did not have any other subflight lifters like the GUULs ZAFT uses to allow him atmospheric flight capabilities. So Dearka had to settle on fighting on the main exterior deck of the carrier. It wasn't really a problem, since the deck provided for a stable firing position, even in rough weather and high waves the Archangel was traveling in now, and an umbilical routed to the main reactors of the ship could be attached to the ninety-four millimeter energy rifle and the Buster itself for a nearly limitless amount of energy that could be used. If there's one thing Dearka liked about the Archangel-class carriers, they were designed around to support the GAT-X series of mobile suits, so however one may consider the Buster as obsolete, the support facilities of the Archangel more than compensates for the fact.

And given the seriousness of the coming battle, Dearka knew he had to utilize all the advantages he had.

The battle started with a frenzy, as Dearka felt the ship wobble as it turned hard to right. The Buster slid a bit, but the gyroscopes compensated for this and kept the mobile suit upright and stable. Dearka heard the rumble of a large volley of Corinthos missiles launching from the carriers portside missile tubes, followed by an equal volley of Helldarts corkscrewing towards the black dots, which the computer now tagged as mobile suits of the same class as those he encountered with Athrun on Orb.

Dearka witnessed via the heat signatures on his sensors how skillfully the four raiders went into evasive actions and avoided the Archangel's first volley. They didn't look like they were being affected by the sulfur missiles; in fact, they didn't care if the sulfur clouds rained on them, which would have prevented them use of the mirrage colloid system for protection and stealth. They must have been supremely confident to attack without stealth protection, or the mirrage system couldn't work on these bad weather conditions. Whatever it was, Dearka knew these raiders were an enemy to respect. The Wombats' signatures disappeared one by one as they were shot down by the raiders or encountered enemy countermeasures, and Dearka watched as the raiders began their own counterattack after surviving the withering missile barrage.

The four raiders split up into two groups, a pair moving to their right to circle towards the Archangel's stern. The other two slowed their approached and began launching missiles, some targeting the ship, the others locking onto the Buster. Dearka ignored the warning signals his battle computer was ringing, and concentrated on the missiles. Getting a good, quick lock on his acquisition system, Dearka fired back, with four shots from three hundred fifty millimeter gun launcher, which roared like an angry lion as it launched its deadly ammunition into the sky.

It took a split second for the missile to encounter the gun launcher's bullets. The VT proximity fuses ignited the charges in the hollow bore round, which cracked them open and release several hundred flechette fragments that scattered all around the air. The fragments rained down on the raider missiles, pummeling them. They cut into the warheads, igniting their own fuses and detonating the warheads two-thirds of kilometer away from the ship. A few got through the murdering rain, but were quickly cut down by the ship's seventy-six millimeter close-in anti-missile Vulcans.

Grimly satisfied, Dearka shifted his fire towards the two other black raiders, and he was shocked to see them too close for his comfort. The raiders started firing their rail guns and beam cannons, all of which struck the Archangel somewhere above the stern view deck. The explosions rocked the ship violently, knocking Dearka around in his seat. Once more the gyroscopes kept the Buster from toppling over, but Dearka could hear them groan from the stress. He saw the explosions die away, and was relieved in the fact that laminated armor protection of the carrier held, showing now penetration of the armor's skin. Dearka launched a counterattack, blanketing the raiders with beam fire from his energy rifle. The raiders easily evaded the beams, but they were forced to end their attack run.

Dearka didn't have time to return fire, as he shifted his attention once more to the first two. They were a lot closer to the ship now, braving the blanket of AA fire from the portside Iglestellungs. One kept pounding the laminated armor above port wing, while the other headed right for Dearka. The blonde-haired Coordinator rippled off six two hundred twenty millimeter missiles at it, and this was responded with six raider missiles. The missiles collided, and the shockwave hit the Buster, once more forcing Dearka to shift his balance by stepping back.

The raider didn't let up on his attack, and continued to dive for the Buster, beam saber drawn out. The raider slashed at the Buster twice, but Dearka leaned back to avoid the attacks by a matter of feet. The raider was attempting another melee attack, but Dearka beat him to the draw by bringing up the gun cannon and fired point blank at the raider. The cluster munition scattered flechettes all over the raider, and the impacts exploded in charged eruptions. The raider toppled over the side of the ship, and Dearka hoped that was the last he would see of that enemy. But the black suit survived and flew away while firing two rail slugs at Dearka. Both slugs struck the Buster, and the explosions knock the mobile suit down.

Dearka winced in pain as the Buster crashed unto the ship's deck. I'm not cut out for this close-combat crap. He felt disoriented, and tried shrugged it off as he struggled to make the Buster stand up. But two more raider missiles rammed into the Buster, forcing it down once more. Dearka was glad that the phase shift armor was holding, but he knew it couldn't hold out much longer. Echoing Athrun's thoughts at the start of the battle, he needed help fast.

And as if the heavens heard his prayer, Dearka felt the rumble of machinery working inside the ship, and saw the doors of the starboard launch bay open out into the raging battle in front now playing around the beleaguered battle carrier.


Generation

Unsubdued

Nuclear

Drive

Assault

Module

G.U.N.D.A.M. Complex

Series SD100-O9 SF/IJ 01-34152

Z.A.F.T

System Online

As the mobile suit's suits systems came to life, Kira punched in his last minute updates to the OS, optimizing the mobile suit for atmospheric combat. He hadn't flown the suit since the end of the war, and though it was auto set to fight within Earth's gravity, the brown haired Coordinator expertly finished the last settings to the OS to allow the mobile suit to respond smoothly to his every move.

CPU settings complete. Linear linkage, ionic concentration, normal. Meta data processing, stable. Power flow from the ultra-compact nuclear fission reactor, nominal. Thrust vectoring system and gyroscope, one hundred percent. Weapons systems, safeties off. Lightning multiple targeting system, set on standby. High maneuverability aerial tactics system, ready. All systems green.

Satisfied with the final settings, Kira sat back as the mobile suit rumbled into full idle power. He felt the mobile suit sway gently as its maintenance gantry began to slide into the launch bay. Taking the small amount of time to complete the process, Kira opened a line to the bridge for a final pre-launch update of the situation.

"We've got no word from Mu-san or Shinn-san," Lacus was saying over the net, her face showing signs of fatigue and fear from battle, but trying to keep a strong and determined look for him. "We don't know if they made contact with Athrun yet. The typhoon is hampering with our thermals and magnetic resonance scanning, and radio communications as well." She looked away from the screen for a moment, before facing Kira once more. "Dearka is doing all he can from the deck, but the raiders are all over him, Kira."

"Tell Dearka to cover the port side of the ship for me. I'll cover the starboard side as soon as I clear the ship." Kira could hear Meyrin's voice over the PA indicating that launch bay one was ready for his mobile suit for take off. "Okay I'm going now."

"Be careful, Kira." Lacus' face disappeared.

Kira mentally tuned off Meyrin's voice as she continued her announcements. He concentrated on relaxing his muscles, and evening his breathing, as the mobile suit was gently settled upon the catapult system that would slingshot him out of the carrier. Kira expected to be in the thick of the fight as soon as he reaches the skies above the Archangel, and he was Making sure it wouldn't be like the last time when they were ambushed in Earth orbit. This time he was ready for them.

The mobile suit's power had rose to its required levels for a cat-launch, and Kira saw all the indicators on his cockpit report readiness for action. Kira sat back unto his pilot's seat and held firmly the controls, as he heard Meyrin announce the final checks for take-off.

"Course clear. Systems, all green. X-Two-Zero-Alpha, you are cleared for launch!"

"Roger, Archangel control. This is Kira Yamato, Strike Freedom. Launching!"


Dearka watched as the a gray blur leapt out of the Archangel's launch bay and climbed sharply beyond the starboard side of the ship. The blur glimmered, as its color changed to a motley collection of red, white, black, blue and gold. The ZGMF-X20A Strike Freedom spun gracefully in the air, before it stopped at a height of ten thousand feet. The mobile suit stretched out its massive, blue wings, forming out into something like an eight pointed shuriken star. The Strike Freedom vented out waste energy and dust from its intakes and thrusters, surrounding the mobile suit with an aura of red and gold like an avenging avatar of war waiting to flex its power.

The Strike Freedom climbed higher, before it turned and started a power dive aimed straight at the raiders. Dearka watched the raiders, who had just noticed the sudden appearance of the new mobile suit, maneuver frantically to prepare for its attack. The Strike Freedom added to their panic by firing its twin Xiphias Mk. III rail cannons, whose hyper-velocity rounds exploded in the midst of two black mobile suits. Dearka smiled, and relief came flooding slowly into his chest, as he knew the tide of battle was now changing in his and the Archangel's favor. He felt very sorry for the raiders. Tough luck, you bastards. You're in a lot of trouble now.


Kira felt his spirit being free as the Strike Freedom climbed the atmosphere as it began its attack run. He embraced the strong power flowing into his mind and body, and channeled it with his resolve to defend and protect the Archangel and his friends. The power energized Kira, as he saw in his mind's eye the purple seed explode in front of him, in a hail of starlight that illuminated his expanded senses as Kira once more entered the realm of the SEED, and saw the truth of universe's reality with his iris-dominated eyes.

Kira dove the Strike Freedom towards the raiders, announcing his presence with fire-linked shots from his rail cannons. The slugs exploded upon two raiders, one ripping off a part of its dragon-like wings, the other turning its beam rifle into slag metal. Kira concentrated on his first target, which was flailing as it lost stability from the damage on its wings. The Strike Freedom drew both of its Super Lacerta beam sabers and rushed forward, bearing down on its wounded opponent like the terrible storm they were fighting in. Kira caught the raider with a double outward slash of the sabers, which mutilated the raider, cutting off both legs and the head from its moorings. The doomed raider crashed into the ocean, and its remains exploded from beneath the angry waves.

He didn't want to kill whoever flew the black raider, but Kira understood that he didn't have a choice. The raider probably was trained to choose death over capture, as was the case in the raiders they had already encountered in the past. And Kira understood that these were threats to the safety of Lacus and his friends, and the circumstances prevented him from not sending the raider pilot to his death.

The other three mobile suits had started to regroup, and were beginning to approach the Strike Freedom threateningly. The raiders fired their beam rifles and rail guns, but Kira blocked their every attack with his left beam barrier. One raider tried to charge towards him, but backed off as energy fire from the Buster hindered his path. More Helldarts from the Archangel began corkscrewing around the raiders, who were now in the defensive from the combined fire from Kira's friends.

Kira resumed his attack, and dropped the Strike Freedom between two more raiders, who were caught in surprise. One tried to push Kira back with burst from its head mounted CIWS, but the Strike Freedom's phase shift armor held against the ineffective fire. Kira kicked out at the raider, ripping off the raider's head with the right foot of the Strike Freedom. The raider was knocked out the sky, and it exploded before it crashed in the water, its chest cored by a vicious lance of red energy from the Buster's docked hyper impulse rifle.

The second raider countered more effectively than the other, blocking Kira's first few attacks with its own drawn sabers. Kira had known that these pilots were among the best he had ever encountered, and that they were dangerous opponents. But in this battle Kira's determination and enhanced skills, plus the immense power of the Strike Freedom once more turned the tide, as Kira found a sudden weakness to the raider's attacks. The raider was leaving his chest area exposed, which Kira targeted with point blank shots from his hip mounted rail guns.

The two slugs exploded violently on the lower part of the raider's body; even though its own phase armor held, the raider's right leg was smashed by the impact. Once more the Strike Freedom's leg came up, pushing upon the raider and sending him flying away out of control, before the pilot regained control before the black suit could hit the water.

At last Kira turned his attention on the final mobile suit, the one with its beam rifle the Strike Freedom melted away. Kira tracked him on his HUD, and was satisfied when his beam rifles locked on. But the raider afterburnered away from him just before he could fire, and Kira saw that it was accelerating away in southerly direction, apparently not wanting to engage the threat presented by Kira and his friends. The other damaged raider followed suit, and with their sudden retreat the battle around the Archangel was over. Kira let the two go, knowing that they were no longer a threat to them.

Dearka exhaled deeply, the blonde haired pilot's relief in surviving the battle mixed with fatigue. He opened a comlink with the Strike Freedom, and on his vidscreen a determined looking pilot looked back at him with iris-filled eyes. "Nice timing Kira. Those guys are bugging out scared," Dearka said to the Strike Freedom's pilot.

Kira nodded back at him. "You did good too, Dearka. Cover the ship for me while I go find the others."

"Hai."

The Strike Freedom adjusted its wings, retracting it back as it prepared to fly off in high speeds. Dearka watched as the mobile suit climbed higher in the dark skies, and saw it disappear into the storm clouds in a blaze of blue light.


Murrue monitored the conversation between Kira and Dearka, and quietly prayed that Kira would find the others safe. Now that the immediate threat to the ship was gone, she could turn her attention to the search for her missing comrades. She felt responsible for their safety, being one of their commanding officers, and worried that they may have been hurt or lost. She was especially worried about Mu, who had not reported back ever since he and Shin had lifted off to rescue Athrun. It was not like him to keep her waiting; Making Murrue pray that the worst had not happened to him.

Whereis he?
Mu slowly opened his eyes, the loud alarm that was sounding inside the cramped cockpit of the Akatsuki waking him from his slumber. The darkness that greeted him first caused him to think he was blind, but soon the soft panel lights of the controls and instruments told him otherwise. He could hear groaning from the outside, like metal straining from pressure. Stretching a little on his cockpit, Mu felt the pain shoot out from left arm, indicating that he had broken it when the Akatsuki crashed into the water.

The crash.

Mu suddenly remembered were he was, and his current situation. First off Mu check his current location underwater, the depth gauge showing that he was currently at sixteen hundred meters and still dropping at a rate of fifty meters per minute. Mu knew that the Akatsuki could survive the pressure at these depths, but he wouldn't dare chance it in deeper waters.

Instinctively Mu reached for the start up controls for the Akatsuki's battery, but the main power provider for the mobile suit failed to stir to life. Mu turned off the red emergency lights, and activated the main illumination system of the cockpit. He found the main computer still working, all though dormant in its stand-by mode. Mu opened an MFD, and brought up a display showing the damage status of the mobile suit.

The report indicated that the battery was damaged, probably in the impact of the crash, and was unusable. But the APU working; in fact, it was supplying the emergency power the mobile suit was now using. Mu checked the other systems, and assessed his situation. With the APU he could get back to the ship, but could not engage in combat against the raiders, without power for his main weapons. Also, the Oowashi pack took heavy damage, and was unusable at this point. He could travel underwater, but he had to avoid combat at all cost. Communications only gave static, but Mu hoped that this was because he was currently underwater.

Mu made his decision. First he activated the emergency signal beacon that the Akatsuki carried, hoping that the Archangel and other friendly forces could pick up its outbound signal. Next he jettisoned the flight pack; it was useless to him now and just adding to his weight underwater. Slowly he started up the thrusters on the back and legs of the Akatsuki, which groaned against his efforts. But the thrusters were winning, and slowly Mu felt the Akatsuki change direction, the descent stopping and the climb to the surface beginning. Mu let out a deep, long breath; he wasn't going to die deep in the cold ocean. All he had to do now was get back home. Back to the Archangel. Back to Murrue.

It took ten minutes, before the Akatsuki's head finally crested above the angry waves of the storm beaten ocean. The Akatsuki rocked with the movement of the waves, and Mu began to feel the effects of seasickness. I didn't feel anything like this on the Archangel. I guess the size of what you're riding on counts. Mu vectored the mobile suit towards the north, hoping to come into contact with someone soon. He didn't want to spend the night out here in the rough ocean, however safe he might be inside the Akatsuki.

He didn't need to wait too long. Warning signals blared from the internal speakers, and Mu tracked the skies above for possible threats. He found them in the form of two raiders, moving at high speeds. He thought they were coming to attack the Archangel, or worse spot him, before he realized that they were traveling to the south of him, not to the north were the ship was. Also, he could see that they were trailing smoke, which indicated that they had taken damage. Mu raised his arm in the air in celebration, and the appearance of the red, white and blue Strike Freedom added to his jubilation. The mobile suit dipped down towards him, apparently detecting his emergency signal. Mu heard Kira's voice calling out to him on the comnet. "Mu-san! Mu-san! Are you all right? Please respond."

Mu opened the line on his end. "I'm fine, kid. Just some cuts and bruises plus a bum shoulder."

"Thank God for that," the brown haired Coordinator replied. "I'll get you back to the ship."

"No!" Mu answered immediately. "I can get back myself. Just send my coordinates to the Archangel and give me a heading towards them. You go find Athrun and Shinn. They're in a lot more trouble than I am."

A moment of silence greeted his words, as if Kira was weighing what he had to do. "Understood, Mu-san. I'm sending your coordinates to the Archangel now. Head north twenty-seven degrees. They're about twenty-five miles in that direction. Good luck."

"Go get 'em, Kira. And thanks, kid."

In a flash, the Strike Freedom ascended to the heavens and rocketed off to the south. Mu watched the mobile suit disappear into the horizon, before resuming his northerly swim towards Murrue and the Archangel.


Murrue felt like she could breathe again. The message from Kira was an answer to her prayers; Mu was hurt but alive, and was limping home, apparently waterborne at the moment traveling on the surface of the rough ocean. Murrue had already ordered the Archangel to head for his current position, and soon they located the signal from the Akatsuki's beacon. Now all that was left was to find the other two boys, but Murrue had faith in Kira in locating them in time. It's all up to you now, Kira-kun. Bring them back alive.

Shinn was getting really tired. Human bodies were not inherently designed to survive the rigors of very high altitude flight, regardless of pressurization of aircraft and the use of G-suits. Different factors like thinness of oxygen to the strain to the human anatomy adds to the limitations for a normal, Natural human being. Even enhanced persons like Coordinators have their limits, even though they received alterations in their genetic make up to allow them to survive better in such a harsh environment. But again there is a limit to everything, and when you add that you are flying in an environment of war, were a pilot would perform extreme maneuvering to ensure his survival, the capacity for fragile human bodies to succumb to exhaustion is magnified tenfold.

Shinn was feeling the strain of such extreme maneuvering, but he couldn't let up. The five raiders that were still engaging him and Athrun were relentless; they were not giving any quarter to the two Terminal pilots. Both sides have spent the last few minutes jockeying for position, with Shinn and Athrun sticking together, relying on their speed and mobility to counteract the enemies' advantage in overall firepower. This resulted in brief exchanges of long ranged fire, followed by hard evasion and turning, ending in one group using the clouds as cover, while the other follows in pursuit.

"We've got to fight through back towards the ship," Athrun called in on the net. "If its still there we might have a chance to fight them off. If they're gone, well – "

Shinn nodded grimly. "I guess we don't have much choice, eh, Taichou?" The raiders were beginning a new attack, beam fire were already flying around the Phoenix and the Justice.

A slight grin played on Athrun's face. "No, I guess we don't. Let's use Tactic Zephyr twelve from the ZAFT books."

Shinn took a moment to remember what tactic from the ZAFT standard mobile suit combat tactics manual his companion was referring too. "Got that. You fly at my back, since you've got the cannons. I'll fly cover."

Both pilots pulled their mobile suits into a one hundred eighty degree turn, coming to fly in a direction that would put them in a collision course with the raiders. Shinn took the lead, deploying the lightwave beam barrier from his remaining functioning arm actuator to block the raider's fire, which was intensifying as soon as the Phoenix and the Justice turned to face them. Shinn provided cover for Athrun, who flew on the same path as Shinn' staying with the Phoenix on its jet stream, evening their profiles and presenting a harder target for the raiders. Athrun, who was returning the raider's fire with sporadic blasts from his lifter mounted Fortis cannons. The two mobile suits kept pushing towards the remaining raiders, who were bunched close together in their chase.

Each side closed the distance traveling in supersonic speeds, and the gap between disappeared in seconds. At the point that they had to pull out to avoid a fatal collision with the raiders, Athrun and Shinn kept on, forcing the raiders to be the first to break off, and the process scatter from their formation. The two ex-ZAFT aces didn't break to attack, but kept on going, on a heading that sent them flying north, in the general direction of the Archangel.

Seeing themselves in this simple yet tactically effective game of aerial chicken, the raiders zeroed in once more on the duo. But Shinn and Athrun didn't relent on their reckless high speed run, determined to get closer to their battle carrier and help. If we could just hold on for a few more minutes, we could make it!

The detection of two more black dots approaching from their front changed the tactical scenario drastically. The pair had come from the north, from the general direction of where the Archangel was. To Shinn it only meant two things: either the raiders failed in their strike upon the battle carrier, or that they were successful in sinking her. Shinn wanted to believe the former, but he couldn't discount the other possibility. But their arrival signified that the odds against him and Athrun just increased exponentially, and that made things a lot worse for them. Shinn risked a comlink to his wingman to ponder their options.

"We're going to be sandwiched, Taichou."

"Fight our way through!" Athrun answered back.

With a howling battle cry, Shinn began firing at the blockaders with angry green beams from his MA-M1911 beam rifle, which the raiders immediately evaded with random jinking. But the two black suits didn't fire back, and seemed more inclined to break off from the fight. As they got closer, Shinn got a better look at them, and found that they were heavily damaged and trailing smoke from burnt sections of the machines. Shinn was surprised at this development, and was more surprised at what happened next.

Breaking through from the darkness of the storm clouds, two green and one massive red beam struck the two raiders, follow up by the penetration of silvery rail slugs that punched through their ravaged bodies. Explosions rocked the point of impact by these powerful weapons, and both black suits ended up ravaged and mutilated, with their suddenly lifeless bodies dropped rapidly from the skies. Shinn risked a glance to where their sudden salvation came from, and his eyes grew shock as the white blur flashed out of the clouds, and rushed past the Phoenix and Justice towards the other pursuers, the shockwave of its passage striking the Phoenix a second later. The blur slowed and took a more noticeable form, and Shinn's surprise turned to a mix of relief and anger as the Strike Freedom stopped in between them and the enemy.

Yamato! Shinn watched the mobile suit, flown by the man his heart and soul hated the most, prepare for battle against five equally surprised raiders.

At first both sides didn't move, sizing each other up and waiting for the other to start the fight. Athrun had taken a position on Kira's left, ready to back him up when the shooting started. With some irritation and annoyance Shinn found himself sliding to the Strike Freedom's right flank to cover that side. Both sides circled in the dark skies, watching each other's movements with a distance of a kilometer and a half between them.

Shinn eagerly wanted to start the fight; he wanted to take out these raiders who have been giving a hard time, and he wanted to make sure Yamato didn't get any glory. So as surprised as he was when Yamato suddenly appeared, he was more shocked with what Yamato did next.

The Strike Freedom stretched both its arms fully to the sides, exposing itself to the raiders. Yamato's voice boomed from his mobile suit's external speakers, in an obvious effort to contact the raiders. "Unidentified mobile suits, this is the Strike Freedom. Your mission has failed and the Archangel survives. The team you sent to attack her has been defeated. You are all that's left of your forces and you have no hope of winning against us by continuing to fight. Surrender now."

Shinn couldn't believe what Yamato was doing, and he angrily opened a line to the other pilot. "Baka, what the hell do you think you're doing? They're just going to shoot you and take you out!"

But Yamato ignored him and didn't respond, which irritated Shinn all the more. By the looks of things, Shinn seemed to be right. The raiders were beginning to move, apparently timing their next move against this new threat in front of them. And Yamato had taken notice of the movement too. "We don't have to fight anymore. Just give up. This is your last warning."

Shinn knew the raiders won't accept Yamato's offer, and was grimly satisfied when the black mobile suits made the first move and started their attack, all five of them targeting the Strike Freedom, multiple missiles corkscrewing angrily towards the still immobile Yamato. Shinn started to move the Phoenix to intercept the missiles, but the Strike Freedom beat him to the punch.

Angry particles of energy massed around the center of the stomach of the Strike Freedom, and these were propelled through the air in the form of a massive, red, angry beam. At the same time the Strike Freedom fired both of its beam rifles together with the twin rail guns protruding out from the side of the mobile suit's hips. The devastating rain of fire from Strike Freedom tore through the missile volley, melting some and exploding other, which caused a chain reaction of explosion as the proximity fuses on the warheads were ignited. A large cloud of explosions covered the view to the raider, but Shinn could see the red phase beam continue towards were the black suits where. The beams and slugs cut through the middle of their position, each striking a different target, which were incapacitated when their primary weapons or sensor arrays was destroyed by the sudden barrage of accurate fire.

Kira tracked the withdrawing raiders, all damaged from the devastation caused by his Blitzkrieg attack. The Lightning multi-targeting screen had slid down, giving Kira full view of the Strike Freedom's HUD once more. The raiders were now flying away, and were putting some distance between them and the three mobile suits. Kira shifted his mobile suit along its arc, keeping his sights on the black mobile suits, until they disappeared in the clouds.


The surrounding skies had settled down a bit that Kira could now hear the heavy rain pounding on the outside of the Strike Freedom. He heard the rumbling noise of another mobile suit to his left, and Kira saw at the edge of his eyes the dark silhouette of Athrun's Infinite Justice, settling into hover, covering his left flank. Shinn's Phoenix was to his right, covering that side with its beam rifle out on its lone functioning hand. Kira didn't want to ignore Shinn call just before he fired the Blitzkrieg attack, but he didn't have the time to respond

Athrun's face appeared on one of Kira's overhead MFDs, a look of exhaustion evident behind the helmet's faceplate. "About time you showed up," the Infinite Justice pilot said.

Kira grinned back at his best friend. "Had to help Dearka with some uninvited guests." He glanced on his thermal sensors for any signs of the raiders, but the cloud cover was interfering with the displays. "You guys all right?"

Athrun nodded. "Thank heavens Shinn arrived in time, or I would have been a goner. Those guys are pretty good, and fighting in this heavy rain messed up our sensors."

"We better keep our eyes open then," Kira said, and Athrun responded with another nod before killing the line. Kira scanned his HUD once more, before he turned the Strike Freedom to face the Phoenix Destiny.

The Phoenix was floating at Kira's back fifty feet away, hovering in place and doing nothing. The mobile suit looked like it was staring directly at him, as if assessing Kira if he was a threat or not. "Everything OK over there, Shinn-san?" Kira asked.

The Phoenix remained motionless and silent, and remained that way for some time. Suddenly the right hand went up, its beam rifle pointed directly at the Strike Freedom's cockpit. Kira was caught unawares by the sudden movement, and was still frozen in place as a green beam flared from the end of the rifle barrel directly towards him.