Beware the Left Eye


Disclaimer: Again, all referances to GitS:SAC are the property of Masamune Shirow and Production I.G. Ken DiFalco and Tom Delaney are creations of Solid Shark, used with permission. This is a non-profit fanfiction and sidestory to Solid Shark's Cry of the Falcon.

Chronological Note: The following chapter takes place simultaneously with Chapters 12 and 13 of Cry of the Falcon.

"Operation Meteor would go down in history as the drop that very nearly turned into a disaster on the level of World War 2's Operation Market Garden, all due to the efforts of three ships, nine mobile suits, and their pilots. Had Section Nine been able to field more Fianna variable fighters, had Mwu la Flaga and Rau le Cruset managed to sortie in DRAGOON system-equipped mobile suits, had more Section Nine snipers deployed to the scene, Operation Meteor might well have failed.

"While achieving their objectives of occupying Orb and reinforcing forces loyal to Unato Ema Seiran, Dominion's forces and the detachment from the 1st Orbital Drop Division and various special forces units failed to eliminate Kenneth DiFalco, Minerva, Odin, Section Nine, and the mysterious Major. Despite these failed objectives and the losses suffered, the result of Operation Meteor was a tactical victory for Logos… and a strategic defeat that contributed to Logos' total defeat, months later.

"Today's lecture will focus on the actions of the Section Nine operative known as Saito, and will examine the role of sniper warfare in invasion defense…"

-Commander Marcus Snow, during a guest lecture to the Orb Naval Academy, June C.E. 88.

Orb Union, 1900 hours local time, 25th February, C.E. 74
Airborne operations are steeped in deep history. Since World War 2, airborne paratroopers have had an aura of mystique and skill, and a reputation for being elite units: it was no surprise that many members of the old US Army Special Forces, the famous Green Berets, were paratroopers, as were many members in the British Special Air Service. Airborne troops are the lightning blow, the quick stroke, the rapid deployment force that seizes ground and opens the way for follow-on forces to arrive. Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy, was a prime example of this.

The bottomline was simple: for a fast, devastating strike that would catch the enemy off-guard, airborne insertions were the way to go. ZAFT had recognized this early on in the First Bloody Valentine War, deploying numerous mobile suits via orbital drop pods in their opening offensives, and in Operation Spit Break, the failed attempt to neutralize the Earth Alliance's JOSH-A headquarters in Alaska.

The Earth Alliance had returned the favor by launching Operation 8.8, the orbital drop that would be known as the Ayers Rock Landing Operation, the mission that opened the way for the capture of ZAFT's Carpentaria Base.

When the Earth Alliance commenced Operation 8.8, they were literally making up doctrine as they went along, a situation exacerbated by ZAFT's near-total space superiority; nobody had ever thought of using a mass driver to launch suits into orbit for a drop, a move which had taken Carpentaria by surprise. In the 2 years since then, their methodology and equipment had improved, and Operation Meteor was a far cry from Operation 8.8. Mobile suits from the 1st Orbital Drop Division were loaded into waiting drop pods from warships in orbit, and as they reached their drop zones, each ship disgorged her pods. As the pods entered the atmosphere they broke apart, deploying their contents: Jet Striker Windams and Dagger Ls for air cover, Launcher Dagger Ls for fire support, Duel and Buster Daggers – the sky was filled with Windams and Dagger variants…

And then, in many flashes of green light, their numbers fell.

Hidden atop a mountain, a dark shape knelt, its shape broken up by the mountain camouflage pattern it sported. That flash of light had come from the beam rifle it held in its hands, a beam rifle like no other. Except for the M1A Astray Space Type's Type 71-44 beam sniper rifle, no other beam rifle in existence had a range of 30 kilometers, or the accuracy required for such precise targeting, picking out mobile suits from abandoned drop pods and the ghost images projected by electronic warfare systems.

But then, the Caladbolg beam smartrifle was no other rifle. It was a weapon designed to give the TRVF-51A Fianna an unparalleled sniping ability. In the hands of an ordinary pilot, the beam smartrifle would have been a wasted weapon – it takes more than a long-range rifle to make a sniper, a fact not quite grasped by the Sahaku forces using M1A Astrays. But in the hands of Saito, the beam smartrifle was the perfect complement to his combat style. Few mobile suit pilots were truly snipers, even if they employed long-range weapons. As a result, the Earth Alliance and ZAFT hadn't bothered with dedicated sniping mobile suits; the chances of a mobile suit pilot possessing the right skills and mindset for sniping was astronomically low: no surprise, given the fundamental differences between the fighter jock mentality cultivated in mobile suit pilots, and the cold precision of a sniper.

The Major had immediately seen where he could take advantage of this blind spot, and had ordered Section 9 engineers to begin work on the beam smartrifle prototypes, intended to surpass the Type-71-44 beam sniper rifles of the space-adapted M1A Astray. What they had created was a weapon capable of accurate, rapid supporting fire from long range: thirty kilometers at low power at in atmosphere. While that wasn't a big deal compared to guided missiles, thirty kilometers was far beyond the range of most mobile suit weapons. But no one had ever employed such weapons on the battlefield, and while technically beam cannons could reach in excess of two hundred kilometers, they hadn't really been blessed with great accuracy at long range. Packing that kind of firepower and range into a rifle was unheard of.

Which is why the Earth Forces were completely taken by surprise as the first eight combat air patrol Windams were annihilated in streaks of green fire.

It was a transmission remarkable in its simplicity and brevity. Merely three words, seemingly innocuous, repeated twice.

Yet on hearing those words, Tom Delaney's blood rang cold, as the telemetry links from a lone Section Nine mobile suit were shut off and as Odin's sensors began to pick up the multiple heat signatures of drop pods making reentry.

Yet he didn't let the shock paralyze him, and immediately began to raise the Major, intent on passing on Saito's message.

Inside the cockpit of the mountain-camouflaged TRVF-X51A Fianna Sniper, Saito nodded in grim satisfaction, aligned his rifle, and prepared to fire again. His helmet visor was raised, and the black plastic eyepatch that covered his left eye had been raised as well, revealing the cybernetic implant that replaced the eye he'd lost to the Major two years ago, during the sniper duel that had ended with his recruitment into Section Nine, the implant glowing with an electric green glow as it continued its work.

The cybernetic eye that replaced Saito's natural eye was a Hawkeye, an experimental implant that was essentially a sniping scope shrunk into an eye-sized device connected to his brain. Very similar to the full-sensing scope that Ken DiFalco had used with great effectiveness in the Equatorial Union Civil War (as Saito could attest from personal experience), Saito's Hawkeye could do night vision, trajectory projection, and of course, long-range zoom. But that wasn't all it could do. Using a jamming-proof quantum communications link, Saito's Hawkeye could interface with both Orb surveillance satellites and the Preybird's power/recon satellites, downloading targeting and positional data for each shot.

With the Hawkeye activated, Saito's already phenomenal sniping ability became godlike.

It could hardly be said, however, that the Earth Forces pilots were total idiots. Four Jet Striker Dagger Ls tasked with Close Air Support swooped down, intent on delivering death from above with their Drache air-to-ground missiles. These missiles were the present evolution of the 20th century Maverick missile, using electro-optical guidance, homing in on the image seen by their electronic brains: salvos of missiles are fired and the Dagger Ls continue on… and a hail of accurate beam fire drives into them. Ignoring the missiles coming at him, Saito continues sniping at the Jet Striker-equipped Dagger Ls, taking out all four Dagger Ls in as many seconds, silently thanking his lucky stars that the orbital drop is so far small and manageable, and not one massed wave. Not yet, anyway.

He's well aware that the mobile suits he's effortlessly sweeping from the skies are merely the pathfinders for the main force.

16 missiles are coming very close to him now, and it's time to take action. He doesn't bother with shooting the missiles; his Fianna gets up and runs forward, taking a flying leap off the mountain, rapidly transforming mid-leap into its Fighter mode. Air-breathing turbines spin to life, Saito shoves the throttle forward and pushes the stick down, and his Fianna dives down the side of the mountain, easily avoiding the missiles that had been aimed in his general direction. The Fianna speeds into the treeline, and Saito transforms back into mobile suit mode, sniper rifle pointed at the heavens, and he inputs a quick command sequence. The Variable Phase-Shift armor powers down for a moment, the Fianna's colors reverting to gunmetal gray, and then the VPS powers up again, this time in a forest camouflage scheme dialed in for Orb's forests.

Saito was a believer in being prepared. Other mobile suit pilots would look for anything using Mirage Colloid… and totally discount the value of a camouflage pattern scheme. It's something that Saito has learned in his experience as a sniper, crawling in desert, in forest, and in urban environments. Concealment is vital part of any sniper's bag of tricks, and effective camouflage adds to that concealment. No one can hit what they can't see, no matter how much they shoot.

Saito One, Earth Forces Zero. The pathfinders are down, but now the first wave of drop pods is descending into orbit, and Saito readies his rifle, aims, and squeezes the trigger. The green beam lances out into a 4-suit drop pod, with enough power to pierce through and carry on into another pod in the line of fire. The tacnet fills with the sound of panic and terror.

Yet there are pods that descend faster, single-suit pods dropping faster than their larger bretheren, pods that break away at low altitude to reveal units using parachutes and thrusters to slow their fall, mobile suits painted in the colors of special forces units, not the standard colors of the Earth Forces: the black Slaughter Daggers of Phantom Pain, the urban camouflage of the Atlantic Federation's Armor Tactics Research Corps Durandal, and the white with black trim of the Eurasian Federation's Blauer Neubel. All elite units, all more than capable of giving Saito a run for his money.

Despite their rapid HALO insertion and the ECM and decoys their spec ops pods put out, Saito maintains his lock on the special forces suits and fires with cold, deadly precision. Normal targeting systems would have gone haywire by now, but his Hawkeye and the smartrifle's sensor pod help him to visually target the approaching spec ops suits, and one by one they explode, destroyed by accurate sniper fire. The units mounting Launcher packs attempt to return fire, but Saito's rifle fires faster than an Agni hyper impulse cannon can charge, and he takes them out before they can get a shot off. One pilot's Agni almost fires, but a beam passes through his cannon and into his cockpit. If he wasn't dead from Saito's shot, the explosion from his destabilized Agni cannon finishes the job. Switching back to his mountain camo, Saito boosts up towards his 2nd mountaintop sniping point, beam smartrifle seeking targets. He's running on EMCON, emissions control: minimum transmissions, radio set to receive only. The only transmission he's made has been when he spotted the drop, coming in down almost on top of him, a coded burst sent out with his first shot: "Bounty Four-One, Bounty Four-One."

I doubt even the Major anticipated this drop, he thinks, caressing the trigger, sending another pulse of coherent light to meet his target. Of course, neither did any of us.

Drop pods are falling all around him, faster and faster, a rising wave of single- and four-suit pods, and then shafts of white light appear, spearing down to the earth: inbound Kinetic Interdiction Strikes fired by Dominion and her escorts.

"The journey beings, starts from within, things that I need to know…"

Major Mary E. McGlynn checked her drop pod seals, ran through her Windam's predrop checklist one last time, adjusted her helmet and restraint straps, gripped her controls and inhaled deeply, singing softly to calm her nerves.

During the First Bloody Valentine War, she'd been an Earthside mobile suit pilot who'd been one of the very first Earth Forces pilots to take part in an orbital drop, the orbital drop: Operation 8.8, the Ayers Rock Landing Operation. All the while it had happened, she'd been convinced she was going to die as her Strike Dagger fell from the sky into Ayers Rock; but she'd managed to survive Operation 8.8 and the assault and capture of Carpentaria. Which was why when the OPLAN for Operation Meteor had been put together, she'd been reassigned to the newly formed 1st Orbital Drop Division: she was, afterall, a veteran of the Ayers Rock Landing Operation, and the Earth Alliance needed experienced drop veterans to form the core of the 1st Orbital Drop Division.

And now I'm about to add the Orb Landing Operation to my resume, if the historians ever get around to naming this mission, she thought. "All units, final check. Report."

"Ishikawa, go," reported her communications specialist.

"Epcar, standin' by."

"Freeman, ready," reports the last member of her team, and she smiles and nods, sparing a brief moment of pleasure at the simple fact that after BVWI and two years, her team is still together. They'll be riding their mobile suits down in a 4-suit drop pod together, the way they've always acted: 4 limbs of the same body, four fingers of the same hand.

The chronometer counts down to zero and she feels a jerk as the drop pod separates and plummets down. The temperature in her cockpit rises slightly, but is nothing beyond the capacity of the cooling systems to dissipate; reentry with an orbital drop pod is much safer and less hairy compared to descending as-is, praying that you won't burn up in atmosphere or that your parachute will remain intact.

Focus. Control. Conviction. Resolve. A true ace lacks none of these attributes. Nothing can deter you from the task at hand except your own fears. This is your sky.

The pod hurtles down, passing the stratosphere into the atmosphere, passing 10,000 feet before separating. Explosive bolts blow the pod apart at the seams and the Windam and three Dagger Ls are flung out from the pod, falling another 1500 feet before their parachutes deploy, and their descent is slowed by thrusters, as the spears of white light rain down on the earth.

A kinetic strike? What the hell is the brass-

And then from the mountaintop a shaft of green light lances out, a coherent blade of frozen fire, sweeping across the kinetic strikes and pods entering atmosphere, and McGlynn's face blanches as her eyes narrow.

"What the hell was that? That's a beam weapon, but no beam weapon has that ungodly range!"

"Well, we've just seen the first thirty kilometer beam saber, boys," she replies calmly, controlling her shock and surprise. "Orb has always had nasty surprises hidden up their sleeves. Ishikawa, we're looking at some sort of long range beam cannon. Assume they're using a sat feed. Hack the sat and triangulate their position, then send it upstairs toCommand. Epcar, Freeman, get ready: we're going in after them."

"Copy, Major." "You're the Boss." "I'm on it."

The green beam cuts across the sky like the searchlights of World War 2, a fast-moving shaft of light destroying everything in its path, annihilating KIS penetrators and tearing through the occasional mobile suit. It would have been an impossible task, even for a warship-grade beam cannon, for there was a limit to how fast the mobile suit's arms could move the beam smartrifle and how long the beam could be sustained.

Fortunately for Saito, he didn't need to move his arms that much, and the smartrifle drew its power directly from the nuclear reactor powering his Fianna Sniper.

Mounted in the muzzle of the beam smartrifle was a particle deflection system, capable of bending the beam smartrifle's output by up to 15 degrees in any direction. Saito had been delighted with it, since it allowed him to achieve the fine, precise, godlike accuracy that he craved as a sniper, an accuracy which had been denied to him as a mobile suit pilot. Apart from the deflection system, it also had two firing modes: a default pulse-fire mode and a sustained-fire mode. While undergoing certification and workup on his Fianna, he'd come to appreciate the tactical flexibility the beam smartrifle afforded him; in many ways, it was the ultimate sniping rifle.

Still, it was slightly annoying that it had been Jack David, the definitive "happy warrior", humorist and resident compulsive gambler of Section Nine's mobile suit pilots, who'd suggested that Saito could use his weapon's sustained-fire mode (intended as a standoff antiship measure) as a giant beam saber to intercept kinetic strikes. And then he'd challenged Saito to a bet, which had resulted in Asmodeus obligingly firing several kinetic penetrators at an asteroid, which were duly melted away by Saito's giant improvised beam saber.

What had really annoyed Saito was the cocky grin on Jack's face as he said, "Well, wasn't that easier just sweeping the sky instead of shooting inbound KIS rounds one by one?"

Well, that and the fact that it hadn't really been Jack's idea, it had been Marcus Snow's idea, though Jack had been the one to go and sucker Saito (and as many people he could find) into betting on the outcome with him. (Though since that bet had proven the concept, Snow wasn't too concerned about assigning credit. His cut of the betting proceeds might have helped in that regard.)

Saito was pragmatic enough to put aside his annoyance and accept that yes, a giant beam saber was very useful at sweeping the sky clear of enemies, especially a Kinetic Interdiction Strike barrage. But it still went against all his sniper instincts to project his position that way… and he was vulnerable while he waited for his rifle to cool off and recharge. A fact pointed out to him most unpleasantly, moments later, as the pods he'd ignored to focus on the kinetic strikes disgorged their contents: more mobile suits… including 8 Jet Striker Dagger Ls armed with Drache missiles.

These guys are determined, he thought sourly, watching yet another barrage of air to ground missiles heading his way. His rifle still needed another 15 seconds to cool down, and he didn't dare risk moving it while in cooldown (it being a still-prototype weapon, and he didn't want it subjected to stresses beyond what it was intended for), so he did the next best thing: crouch down, activate his CIWS, track the incoming missiles, and open fire.

The MMI-GAU5 "Phalanx" 76mm CIWS mounted in the Fianna's head was basically identical in function and purpose to Close-In Weapons Systems throughout Earth and the PLANTs: a last-ditch weapon against incoming missiles and targets. Sharing its name with the very first CIWS ever deployed, a legacy of the fallen United States Navy, the Phalanx CIWS had two things going for it: First, at a caliber of 76mm, it was the largest caliber CIWS ever deployed onto a mobile suit. Second, and far more importantly: it used lasers instead of projectiles. Rapid-firing, accurate, lasers.

The Fianna's head turned to track and spit laserfire at the inbound missiles, instantly proving its effectiveness: the laser pulses travel at the speed of light, burning into the thin shells of the missiles and causing them to prematurely detonate. The CIWS thins out the missiles considerably, but there's still a good number of them headed for Saito. He checks his readouts and nods imperceptibly as the rifle has now cooled enough for him to move; feeding power to his thrusters and turbines, he waits for the right moment…

And for the second time that night, Saito's Fianna jumps off a mountain, twisting and turning though the air as the laser CIWS keeps on firing, stopping only as it enters the fighter-like mobile armor mode and pulls a Kulbit just before the missiles hit it; pulling away from the explosion and diving back into the forest.

A good sniper never stays in the same place for too long: it's the easiest way to get killed. It's something particularly apt in this age of beam rifles, where observant pilots can track where the shots came from. In this situation, a sniper's only option is to remain hidden.

You do that by getting the hell out of Dodge when the enemy's made your position.

"New orders, Major," said Ishikawa in his deep voice. "Command wants us to link up with the survivors of a spec ops team and take out that sniper; they've suffered casualties and need reinforcement. I'm sending you the coordinates."

"Roger that. Team, we're moving in towards the nav marker and linking up with a spec ops team. Go with Formation B. McGlynn, out."

The four mobiles suits moved quickly yet cautiously through the forest, using a formation designed for careful pursuit. Epcar and Freeman went in first, moving forward 200 meters, beam rifles at the ready. Seeing nothing, Freeman's Dagger L raised its left forearm, hand peeking out from the forearm shield, making a signal, and McGlynn and Ishikawa move forward beyond him and Epcar.

Formation B is essentially the infantry tactic of leapfrogging adapted to mobile suits. It may not be that fast, but it's the best compromise between speed and protection for them to move through unknown territory.

McGlynn's team repeats the process till they arrive at a small clearing in the forest, the rendezvous point with the special forces survivors, two Wild Daggers in Phantom Pain colors and a trio of Dagger variants: a near-obselete Duel Dagger, a Dagger L with a beam rifle and a projectile-firing shotgun, and a 105 Dagger with twin shoulder-mounted 8-cell missile pods and a backpack with one large and several smaller antennas, reminiscent of infantry backpack radios. All three mobile suits were painted in the urban gray camouflage pattern known as "Urban 1", and all pilots were alert, their weapons out and ready. Painted on each unit's left shoulder was the unit patch, a white circle surrounding a gray cross, dove wings projecting above the cross, a pair of crossed rifles, olive leaves and a sword pointing up. At the top of the circle were stenciled "EA Armor Tactics Research Corps" and below, on a red ribbon, the word "Durandal".

"Members of the 1st Orbital Division, I presume?" asked the leader, the Duel Dagger's pilot, his British accent calm and unruffled.

"That's us," replied McGlynn, as her team spread out and behind her. "Major Mary McGlynn. And you are?"

"I'm Lieutenant Colonel Zead Eglar, of the Durandal unit. It's a relief to see allied units have made it safely," began the Duel Dagger pilot, and blinked as several weapons were immediately trained on his team. "Did I say something wrong?"

"The Durandal unit? What's your connection with that freak running the PLANTs?" hissed one of the Wild Dagger pilots, his beam rifle pointed squarely at Zead. "Talk fast, traitors!"

"What is ze meaning of zis?" demanded a French-accented voice, the Dagger L's pilot sounding angered, taking a step back and raising her mobile suit's hands to point both of her weapons at the Wild Daggers, her missile-armed companion standing back to back with her, rifle pointed at McGlynn's team. "How dare you accuse us of being traitors!"

Eglar sighed, raising his Duel Dagger's empty hand in a placating gesture, as McGlynn snapped angrily: "Hold your fire! Put those weapons away before you get someone killed! I don't care if you're in Phantom Pain, put those weapons away NOW!"

"But they're-

"We're the EA Armor Tactics Research Corps, Durandal," said Zead carefully. "A multinational Earth Alliance research group whose purpose is to test new mobile suits concepts and tactics. I assure you, save for an unfortunate coincidence in naming, we have no connection to the leader of our spaceborne adversaries. Elsa, lower your weapons."

"Alright, can it," snapped McGlynn. "Out there is somebody with a long range beam cannon who's sniping our mobile suits as they descend. Are we going to take him down or stand around here bickering? Colonel, what's the status of your forces?"

"This, I'm afraid, is all that's left of my team," sad Eglar quietly. "We were dispersed during the drop, and Beck was unable to raise them. Hopefully, once we've stabilized the situation, we can send out search parties."

The Phantom Pain pilots were silent at that, and McGlynn nodded grimly. "I'm sorry to hear that. My team is at full strength. We've got four mobile suits, one of which is equipped with a Launcher Striker Pack," pointing meaningfully at Epcar's Dagger L, "The rest of us are using standard equipment. Nothing like the special equipment you use in Durandal." Like what that Dagger L is doing, dual-wielding a shotgun and a beam rifle.

Saito had to admire whoever set up this plan. Someone had obviously realized that they were dealing with a skilled sniper, and that they were going to keep on losing mobile suits so long as he was active. But they'd also seen how he'd intercepted those kinetic strikes, and were now pumping a steady barrage of KIS penetrators down around him to keep him busy.

The Kinetic Interdiction Strike was the Cosmic Era's version of throwing rocks. It was basically a heavy enough object that was launched from orbit right down at the earth. With the advances in satellite-based targeting systems, KIS rounds were touted as the long-awaited surgical strike weapons that militaries and politicians had longed for.

The problem was a kinetic interdiction strike was like doing surgery with a chainsaw. Even a crowbar dropped from orbit would make a decent sized crater, what more something larger and heavier.

Saito couldn't take that chance, the risk that the Earth Forces might decide to go all out and drop heavy KIS warheads on Orb, in retaliation for the destruction of Section Nine headquarters and the loss of priceless intelligence from that building. He'd seen how Murata Azrael had ordered the nuclear bombardment of Orb, and had no desire to see his adopted country devastated again.

For all that he was a Natural, a former Earth Forces soldier, a citizen of the Republic of East Asia, and a mercenary sniper, Saito possessed all of the dislike of nukes that was shared by many of his Section Nine colleagues… more so, since he had been born and raised in Japan, the first nation subjected to the horrors of nuclear weapons.

Kinetic strikes wouldn't have the radioactive fallout of a nuke… but they were no less deadly. And if a misaimed KI strike was to hit a civilian population centre... or Archangel

It was with gritted teeth that Saito ignored the descending mobile suits and Dominion to concentrate on intercepting the inbound kinetic strikes, his rifle sending out darts of green death to meet the spears of white light.

The plan was actually working. It was surprisingly working. The KIS barrage was keeping the sniper from engaging Dominion and the drop pods. The Phantom Pain Wild Dagger pilots were cooperating. The Durandal unit survivors were moving purposefully and skillfully, and her team was doing well.

Which means that this is going to blow in our faces spectacularly, thought McGlynn grimly. If your attack is going really well, it's an ambush. Murphy's Laws of Combat were respected among infantry troops since time immemorial. In the buildup to Operation Meteor, they'd become widely disseminated among the pilots of the 1st Orbital: despite the fact that they were riding in massive 18-meter behemoths, Murphy's Laws of Combat were still relevant to many 1st Orbital pilots.

That was probably no surprise, as many of them had been infantrymen before switching to mobile suits.

Still, at least that forward controller is doing a good job at keeping the arty off us and pointed at that sniper.

Although his current assignment was with an RDT&E unit, Beck Catona had once been a Staff Sergeant in the Eurasian Federation Army, and he had been fully trained as an artillery observer. He'd kept current, and was now directing fire onto the sniper's suspected position.

Eglar and McGlynn's plan involved a 3-prong thrust onto the sniper. Her team would approach from one direction, while the Durandal unit would advance cautiously supporting them. Meanwhile, the Wild Daggers would advance separately and flank the sniper – since it had to be a mobile suit with a sniper rifle; no beam cannon could fire that fast. Her team, Eglar, and his wingman Master Sergeant Elsa Ellaine would be the hammerblow down the center, attracting the attention of the sniper, while the Wild Daggers would be the pincer.

And Beck Catona's 105 Dagger would keep him fully occupied until they got within range. The twin 8-cell missile launchers were effective weapons in their own right, but right now, the backpack mounted on Beck's Dagger L was the true key to success. N-Jammers had posed a serious problem when they'd first been deployed; not only did they plunge the world into an energy crisis, but the N-jammers also jammed radio waves, making communications near-impossible. This was one of the factors that had contributed to ZAFT's advance in the First Bloody Valentine War; without the ability to make calls for fire, artillery observers were rendered impotent… and artillery ceased to be a weapon of any use on the battlefield. Gun commanders couldn't fire when they didn't know where to shoot.

"Rockstar, Rockstar, this is Delta-Five-Nine. Standing by," radioed Beck, beginning his call for fire.

"Delta-Five-Niner, this is Rockstar," responded the crewman in the Fire Direction Center of the orbiting Nelson-class battleship. "Authenticate Victor Hotel."

"Authentication, Echo, over."

"Delta-Five-Niner, welcome to the net, over."

"Roger. Rockstar, this is Delta Five Nine. Request fire mission, over."

"Go ahead, Delta Five Niner."

"Rockstar, Delta-Five-Nine. Target in the open, request fire mission at coordinates 332195, over."

"Copy that, Delta-Five-Niner. Fire mission at three-three-two-one-niner-five. Wait one."

The backpack mounted on Beck's 105 Dagger was the key to his call for fire. It was an encrypted frequency hopping radio, designed to use the quantum communication system reverse-engineered from Chaos to contact ships. Completely immune to the jamming effects of N-jammers, this prototype radio backpack allowed him to call in a KIS barrage from the orbiting battleships tasked with naval gunfire support duties. The main flaw with his system was that it sucked up power, which was why he wasn't carrying a beam rifle, armed only with chemical propellant missiles, a 52mm machine gun and his saber.

"Delta-Five-Niner, Rockstar; Shot out! Ranging round incoming. Danger close, say again, danger close!"

"Rockstar, this is Delta-Five-Nine. We are six hundred meters from impact area, over."

"Roger, incoming five seconds, danger close, I say again, danger close. Hunker down and cover your ears, soldier-boy! Splash in five seconds!"

Up in the sky, a speck appears, growing in size, a spear of white light falling down at unbelievable speed, a solid kinetic impact round streaking towards land... intercepted by an angry green dart.

But that shot has exposed Saito's position.

"Delta-Five-Niner," asks the FDC technician, "Did you observe the fall of the shot?"

"Rockstar, roger," replied Beck, shocked at Saito's interception. "Down four five meters and fire for effect!"

"Delta-Five-Niner, confirm four five meters and fire for effect."

And following in the footsteps of her famous World War 2 namesake, the battleship Missouri commences her naval gunfire mission.

Alright, this is bad.

Saito couldn't remember ever feeling this pressured before, except perhaps during his sniper duel with Ken atop a ruined hospital. The opening salvo that he'd intercepted had been almost perfunctory, just something to be done as a matter of course while Dominion began her descent. The KIS barrage coming down on him now was a whole different matter, in terms of scope and intensity; it was taking all his skill and reflexes to keep on intercepting the incoming rounds: this wasn't the first time artillery had been used to flush him out, but this was the first time he was intercepting a fire mission instead of just evading it, and it was taxing his skills and calm. He'd barely had enough time to fire a trio of hasty shots at Dominion before the Kinetic Interdiction Strikes seized his attention.

He was in the zone now, firing as fast as his rifle would let him, taking down KI strikes like clockwork; totally focused on the task at hand, sparing no time to curse as Dominion and over two dozen mobile suits slipped through and began their descent, intent on intercepting the incoming hail of white spears…

Then the barrage suddenly stopped, and Saito had almost no time to react as McGlynn's team appeared, Epcar making his presence known by firing his Agni; the agile Fianna Sniper threw itself to the side, narrowly missing the blast, laser CIWS firing at the hyper impulse cannon; Epcar cursed and tried to toss the Agni away; he managed to loft it just as it blew up, the shockwave knocking his mobile suit flat on its back, heat warping the frame, the left arm totally melted off.

Then Elsa's Dagger L was in the fray, the Durandal machine moving faster and smoother than a normal Dagger L, her machine tuned specifically to fit its pilot, her beam rifle and shotgun both firing alternately at her target. Saito evaded her beam and took the shotgun blast on his left arm, protecting his rifle; expecting the Variable Phase Shift to hold. It did, but he was still taken aback to find that the shotgun fired not buckshot or shrapnel, but a spread of self-forging fragment submunitions, hammering noisily against his Fianna. Eye narrowed, Saito disengaged his link to the power/recon satellites and deactivated his Hawkeye; at this range, it was a liability. He jumped back, ready to bring his rifle up and fire…

And that was when the two Wild Daggers burst onto the scene, transformed into quadruped mode, their 43mm gatlings blazing away. The 43mm gatling cannon mounted on the back of each Wild Dagger was based off the late 20th century GAU-8 Avenger cannon, a 30mm gatling used on the A-10A Thunderbolt II (nicknamed the "Warthog") that fired depleted uranium rounds weighing 2 pounds, a massive cannon capable of destroying tanks. The 43mm gatling was a development of that cannon, a more advanced weapon firing larger and heavier projectiles. The VPS held against the physical attack, but the Fianna staggered from the impacts of the dense and heavy shells; Phase Shift was immune to projectile attacks, but that didn't mean it was immune to the laws of physics.

By some strange bit of luck, however – I wonder how much I could get Jack to bet on this with me – both Wild Daggers were firing from opposite sides. Which meant that the only thing between them was the Fianna Sniper.

What are the odds that both of them are on opposite sides of me, hammering away with DU shells that are keeping me upright, and in the perfect position to take each other out?

All this took no more than a second – he might be a mere Natural, but Saito was quick and adaptable – and he fed power to his thrusters and leaped back. The Wild Daggers were quick to react, leaping into the air after him, narrowly missing each other as their shells intersected. They were good. They knew their machines. Wild Daggers might not be BuCUEs, but they were a lot better than space models at fighting in gravity.

But the variable fighter that Saito flew was a better machine.

He toggled the controls and the mobile suit shifted into its intermediate form, a fusion of the fighter-like mobile armor and mobile suit modes. Using Aile packs, Strike and Raptor had easily outmaneuvered Andy Waltfeld's BuCUEs in the Libyan desert; the intermediate form of the Fianna was even more maneuverable than an Aile pack, and Saito effortlessly dodged to the side and back, increasing altitude and firing at the Wild Daggers. His rifle spat green death at his foes; it wasn't the easiest shot or the best setup, firing while moving, without using his Hawkeye…

But then, Saito didn't need a Hawkeye. And unlike his current opponents, he was used to hitting small targets with precise accuracy.

The Durandal, Phantom Pain and 1st Orbital pilots weren't slouches. Saito's first shot drove through the Wild Dagger's battery, detonating the mobile suit spectacularly; intent on avenging his death, the second Wild Dagger pilot flushed his back-mounted missile pods, emptying them in one fell swoop, before leaping up into the air and transforming, snatching up its beam rifle and aiming at Saito. He jumped into the path of a beam from Saito; a beam which cut trough the head and the back; unable to see, the Wild Dagger fell to the ground, backing away cautiously. Saito's next shot lanced out toward McGlynn: unable to evade, the Major raised her polygonal forearm shield to protect herself.

Unlike the Navy or normal ground forces, the 1st Orbital drop troopers mounted smaller shields on their mobile suits, the shield covered just the forearm, leaving the left hand free: space inside drop pods were limited, and as fast strike forces, the EA drop forces took an entirely different approach from their ZAFT counterparts: ZAFT drop forces were essentially standard mobile suits deployed as is, typically as reinforcements or as a massive hammer blow; the 1st Orbital were intended to kick the door open and secure an airhead through blitzkrieg tactics, relying on speed and maneuver for protection. The only concessions made towards protection were thicker anti-beam coatings on their shields; despite being smaller, a typical "drop shield" had more anti-beam coating per square foot than a full-sized normal shield. It covered less, but it could take more punishment than an ordinary shield.

The Caladbolg beam smartrifle was a lot more powerful than a normal rifle. It had to be, in order to fire a beam that traveled thirty kilometers and still had enough power to destroy its target, no mean feat. It was a purpose-built weapon, crafted to take advantage of Saito's skills, superior to the Type-71-44 beam sniper rifles modified from standard Astray rifles. Plus, it was directly powered by the nuclear reactor in the Fianna Sniper… and this beam traveled only 400 meters instead of 30 kilometers.

The result was that the beam plowed into McGlynn's shield, burning out impotently against the anti-beam gel coating… but not before making an impressive furrow in the shield, an ugly black mark where heat had scorched the shield.

Saito continued moving backwards, firing his beam smartrifle, and if the Earth Forces pilots were disconcerted by how fast it fired, they didn't show it. Elsa might have been young and inexperienced, but she'd been trained by Zead Eglar, a veteran of the last war, and she had skill and talent in spades, keeping the pressure on Saito by alternating between her beam rifle and self-forging fragment shotgun. Saito classed her shotgun as the more serious threat: beamfire he could evade, and the VPS could absorb it in limited quantities, but he didn't care to think of what would happen if a stray armor-piercing SFF submunition went into his turbines.

The next few minutes were ones of frentic dodging on both sides, as Eglar fired his railgun and missiles in the manner of an experienced support gunner, Elsa continued moving in close to employ both her weapons, and McGlynn's team spread out. Whatever Saito would have done was interrupted by a message scrolling across his screen: OMEGA OMEGA OMEGA.

"That settles it," he said decisively. "No more playing around. And I know just the place." His lips curved, recalling Ken's words to him 2 years ago: "Lesson Thirty-eight: Only seldom is true surprise achieved in battle; usually, it is simply that the commander misinterprets what he's seen all along…"

Unlike Unato Ema Seiran, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn was expecting a cornered fox, not a jackal, which was why she led a cautious pursuit of the Section Nine mobile suit – it had to be Section Nine, since it was a design she hadn't seen before – towards the cliff edge. The sniper was running, that much was certain, but something bugged her about what he was doing…

She called up a map display and frowned. It made no sense. Why was he leading them to a cliff overlooking the sea? Something just wasn't right… he had Phase-Shift Armor, he could fly, he had a beam sniper rifle that was like no other rifle she'd ever seen… what was going on?

"I zee 'im!" called Elsa eagerly, the Frenchwoman's Dagger L seemingly twitching with excitement. "'e's lost 'es PSA!" Indeed, the Fianna was now kneeling at the edge of the cliff, camoflage faded to gunmetal gray, rifle pointed to the ground, yet still grasped in the mobile suit's hands.

If your attack is going really well, it's an ambush.

Still… that rifle would have sucked up a lot of power, as would the Phase Shift Armor…

There was a time for carefulness and subtlety, and there was a time for a fast strike. And the drop troopers were supposed to be the Earth Forces blitzkrieg units deployed in coup de main assaults anyway. And while she was good at cunning, subtle maneuvers and sneaking about, at the heart of it, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn had a strong inclination towards direct action.

"Should we try and capture it, Major?"

"Do you really want to try it, Ishikawa?"

"No, ma'am. Somebody had to suggest it," shrugged Ishikawa. "It'll be a loss, but something tells me that that pilot would rather hit his self-destruct than let us take him in alive."

"Yeah. Alright! Colonel Eglar, on my mark, we'll hammer that mobile suit with everything we have! Can you provide fire support?"

"Elementry, Major," replied Zead, getting into position, Beck flanking him. "Just tell us when you want to attack."

"Fire when ready," ordered McGlynn, her Windam already running towards the gunmetal gray mobile suit, as salvos of missiles streaked towards it, her team flanking her, Elsa in her tuned Dagger L coming along…

That was when the Fianna pointed its smartrifle at Elsa and snapped off a shot. It made sense, as the Durandal Dagger L was the only unit not equipped with a shield.

It was debatable as to who was more surprised, McGlynn, or the sniper, when Elsa threw her Dagger L to the side, the mobile suit sidestepping the beam smoothly, as if it were a Windam and not a Dagger variant – which, to an extent, it was, being the testbed unit for the prototype Windam. The sniper mobile suit raised its rifle for one more shot…

And that was when the missiles, railgun rounds, beam shots and self-forging fragments slammed into it: multiple detonations were heard as the machine staggered back, obscured by a cloud of thick smoke. Moments later, the smoke cleared, revealing nothing at all. No trace of the mobile suit, no scattered parts, no broken and burnt debris. McGlynn approached the cliff edge, Elsa by her side, and both women peered over the edge, staring at the churning water below.

"Ishikawa. Connect to the satellite and check the thermal imagers. See if you can pick up anything."

"Visual sat records the target falling into the water, Major," reported Ishikawa crisply. "Thermal imagers are inoperative due to an explosion at Objective Alpha."

"Nothing could have survived zat," said Elsa, and McGlynn found herself agreeing with the young Frenchwoman. Nothing could have survived that barrage without Phase Shift…

…or could it…?

Underwater, a smooth shape moved through the sea. It was a mobile armor in the shape of an atmospheric fighter, with vertical stabilizers canted outwards, propelling itself through the water, VPS now set in a predominantly blue water camouflage pattern first used in the old Soviet Union.

Inside his cockpit, making his way towards the Odin, Saito leaned back and, for the first time since his fateful transmission, relaxed fractionally, a slow smile appearing on his face as he recalled one of Ken's sayings: "Lesson Twenty-one: If you cannot win by numbers, remember: even the smallest of creatures can nibble the largest to death."

Against all odds, Saito had blunted the force of the Earth Alliance storm. His efforts had not been enough to stop Operation Meteor… but he had destroyed almost two-thirds of the Earth Forces' mobile suit strength while neutralizing their kinetic strikes. It was a feat of unprecedented shooting, in one of the biggest upsets of the 2nd Bloody Valentine War, and he'd pulled it off. He hadn't expected to be facing down an invasion of mobile suits, just local Orb units, and he hadn't even anticipated using his weapon. But he'd known his duty, and stuck to it, facing over five dozen mobile suits and countless Kinetic Interdiction Strikes… and had come out with the advantage.

It was thoroughly ironic. Saito was a foreigner, who owed no allegiance to Orb. He was a mercenary, a man loyal only to his paycheck. Through and through, he was the kind of person who would be viewed suspiciously by the Seirans, for a man who'd turned his coat against his former employers could do so again.

And that mercenary stood his ground and fought for the defense of the island nation that had become his home, for the colleagues he'd worked with and known, and for the commander who held his loyalty and respect. He had danced with death, and he had led the dance.

"Welcome back, Saito," said Tom Delaney's voice, as the Fianna Sniper came closer to the Odin's hangar access. "We're glad to see you here in one piece."

"Thanks, Tom. It's… good to be home..."

Dividual 2 END


Final Notes: And thus is Behind the Left Eye completed. While Operation Meteor still goes on, and though they've suffered a terrible price in winning the 1st phase of their engagement, Section Nine has a fighting chance, all due to a sniper and his left eye...

I would like to extend a warm motion of thanks to Solid Shark and Ominae, for allowing me this chance to play in their universes: it's been good fun, guys. And to think that it all started with me going, "Hey, Solid, are any Ghost in the Shell characters – specifically Batou and Saito – going to make an appearance?"

Observant readers will note several cameos by certain people, and certain units... including a cameo by the talented Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. She sings, she acts, she voices charecters, she directs English dubs of anime and games. Mobile suit piloting was the next step. XD

The 1st Orbital Drop Division does not exist in canon, and is my creation: my reasoning is that after all the trouble ZAFT's drop forces have given the Eeath Forces, it wouldn't make sense for them to ignore drop operations. The 1st Orbital suits mentioned above are but a fraction of the Division's total firepower: at full combat strength, the division has 864 mobile suits arranged into four Regiments of 216 mobile suits each, each regiment having two Battalions made up of three Companies. 1st Orbital unit colors are generally similar to standard Earth Forces colors, but in a darker shade, with a thick maroon stripe painted on the left shoulder. Each Regiment is denoted by card suits (pades, Clubs, Hearts or Diamonds on the maroon stripe, and 1st Orbital drop troopers wear maroon berets instead of standard Earth Forces headgear.

While typing this fic, there were a number of songs that were in my playlist. First is From the Roof Top Somewhere in the Silence (Sniper's Theme), track 8 of the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society OST. This song plays prominently in Episode 14 of 2nd Gig, and is very much Saito's theme song. Second is a remix of the MGS, MGS2 and MGS3 themes, entitled "Legend of the Snake 2: Snake vs Dragon". In the words of the remixer, Reuben Kee: "My inspiration for this one is once again, fighting. A heroic build up, the pre battle-meditation, remembering why he fights, and then the fight, a setback, gathering the strength to stand up again, and then finally the victory." This song was on repeat for much of this fic as I was typing it, and can be found at the OC Remix website.

Beware the Left Eye is now finished, but that does not mean that Saito's story is over just yet. I have another project regarding Saito and Section Nine, and while work will be slow due to increased focus on my college studies, it will be steady. Until next time, comrades!

Solid, Dragoon: This one's for you guys. Semper Fi.