Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Disclaimer: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ASTRAY, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED MSV and SEED DESTINY MSV are the property of Bandai and Sunrise, not me. I make no money off this little venture. This is purely for entertainment purposes, and no copyright infringement is intended.

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Blah. I usually hate big long author's notes at the beginning of a story or chapter, but it would make less sense here to put them at the end, so I'll just have to suck it up.

I think Gundam SEED and, more specifically, Gundam SEED DESTINY suck. I have made this known to people. Some of DESTINY's most ardent fans have, in their own way, challenged me to do better.

So I will.

Obviously, this is an alternate universe rewrite of Gundam SEED DESTINY, and to facilitate the major changes I will make to DESTINY, I have changed the ending, specifically the last two episodes, of Gundam SEED. Go read "Seeds of Shadows," the prologue that explains those changes to SEED's ending, or else a lot of things here will be making you scratch your head. The subsequent fanfics that take place between "Seeds of Shadows" and this— "The Power to Protect," "Pain," and "Soldiers of Old"— are not exactly necessary to know what's going on here, but it would probably help, since those three fanfics all go into setting the stage that this fanfic plays itself out on, as well as explaining what a significant portion of the cast is up to in between SEED and DESTINY.

I will post a new chapter every Friday, or the soonest day thereafter should something arise on Friday to keep me from posting.

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Phase 01 - The Artist's Touch

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June 15th, CE 71 - Onogoro Island, United Emirates of Orb

Explosions rattled the sky. Shrapnel and bits of dirt went flying. Screams and blasts split the air.

Shinn Asuka struggled onward with his single suitcase, staggering through the undergrowth of Onogoro Island and scrambling towards civilization. His mother and father were right ahead of him. His mother was dragging Mayu by the arm. Far ahead, too far ahead, lay the port. Orb soldiers were directing panicked civilians into ships that would carry them to safety. Orb's M1 Astray mobile suits were falling, one by one, to the onslaughts of missiles and artillery and the seemingly limitless armies of Strike Daggers, descending from the sky on parachutes. Shinn glanced to his right through the trees, and saw an M1 fire up into the sky—and then a missile plowed into its chest, blowing it apart.

Shinn's father stopped up ahead, as his family gasped for breath, looking around nervously. Shinn raced up beside him.

"Dad!" he cried.

"It's okay," his father assured his family, "their target is just the military base, right?"

In the sky, there was a mobile suit with blue wings fighting against three others. The blue-winged mobile suit dove out of the way of beam blasts from a cerulean mobile suit, standing on the back of a black flying machine, and fired back. An olive green mobile suit with an enormous green backpack dove in, wielding a huge scythe, but the blue-winged mobile suit dodged and fired down at the cerulean machine. An explosion ripped the air, and the Asukas huddled together as the ground shook. They raced away as the cerulean mobile suit fired back. The port was down below—almost there—

"Mayu!" Shinn's mother shouted. "Hurry!"

Mayu stumbled, and from her bag, her pink cell phone went clattering down the hill. She stopped, reaching after it as it fell.

"My phone!" she exclaimed. Her mother tried to pull her forward.

"Never mind that!" she shouted. Mayu tugged at her arm.

"No!"

Shinn dropped his suitcase and leapt down the slope after it.

In the sky, the blue-winged mobile suit fired.

Shinn reached for Mayu's cell phone—

And then he was flying through the air with a burst of fire to his right. He screamed as he went tumbling down the slope, and slammed into the concrete ground down below, jarring every bone in his body.

"Shit, casualties already!" an Orb soldier shouted, as the civilians began to panic. "Keep it together! There's still room in this boat! Let's go!"

An Orb officer ran to Shinn and helped him to his feet as he grunted in pain. "Are you alright?!" he asked, helping Shinn up. "Come on, this way!"

Shinn paused and looked back. "Wait," he murmured. "Mom, Dad...?"

Shinn gasped in horror as he found the hillside a smoldering crater.

"Mayu!" he exclaimed, looking down. Mayu's arm was there, but that was all that could be seen. Shinn gasped in horror and rushed forward.

"Wait!" the Orb officer cried, starting after him.

Shinn stopped and stared down. Mayu's arm was all that was there.

He looked up. Her body lay a few feet away, in a pool of blood, burning.

Shinn gasped in horror again.

He looked onward. His mother lay in a pool of blood as well, and his father was crushed to death beneath a tree.

He fell to his knees, clutching Mayu's cell phone. Tears were coming down his face as he choked out sobs, reaching for Mayu's severed arm and finding himself unable to move. Tears fell onto his hands, into the dirt, into Mayu's blood, as his sobs came out in choking, wheezing gasps, as the smell of burning flesh and hair surrounded him and the sounds of the battle around him faded.

Overhead, the black flier and the cerulean mobile suit roared by, and the Orb officer shielded himself from a gust of air. "Come on," he grunted as he tried to pull Shinn up to his feet.

Shinn glowered up through teary, clouded eyes at the mobile suits fighting above him. He saw the blue-winged mobile suit. His cloudy eyes flashed.

At last, he lifted his head back and screamed.

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September 26th, CE 73 - Djibril Manor, Vermont, Atlantic Federation

"Perhaps you didn't understand me, Mr. President. What I mean is that the time for complacency has ended."

The man stood in a cold, chilling, metallic room, with his back to an array of monitors, a glass of red wine in his hand. On the screen was a man in a trim, black suit, with a stern look on his face.

"I fail to see how we are being complacent, Djibril," the man on the screen said. "With the world the way it is now—"

Lord Djibril turned to face Joseph Copland, the President of the Atlantic Federation. "That is the problem," Djibril began. "Those abominations in the sky have allies on Earth, and we have been too busy fighting distracting revolutions and petty wars with each other. We have lost sight of our true foe. They have pulled the blinds over our eyes, and have us at each other's throats now, exactly as they want us."

Copland arched an eyebrow inquisitively. "I highly doubt local separatist movements around the globe are all the handiwork of the PLANTs, Djibril," he said skeptically. "The Muslim League is the only separatist movement so far to ally itself with the PLANTs."

"So far," Djibril pointed out. "And how many more terrestrial soldiers would you like them to have? The United States of South America have been rather friendly with those monsters."

Copland narrowed his eyes; Djibril had struck a nerve.

"No, Mr. President," Djibril continued, "the time to act has come. The world is disunited. Unite it and with our combined level of technology, the PLANTs will fall."

"The Zamzazar and the Gelzuge can't bring down a nation like PLANT," Copland protested. "And it's not as if they've been sitting up there doing nothing for the past two years either. We never did formally end the war two years ago."

Djibril smirked in delight. "No," he began, slowly striding over to his chair. "PLANT hasn't been sitting there doing nothing." He pressed a button on the armrest of his chair. "They've been very busy."

Copland gasped quietly. "These are—"

"New mobile suit models. A new battleship. And..." Djibril narrowed his eyes at Copland. "Gundams." He clenched a fist before him dramatically. "Yes, Mr. President, Gundams, the same machines that ran around the battlefield two years ago, slaughtering their enemies and destroying machines. The crested, two-eyed monsters that have captivated the public. How can we sleep at night knowing those monsters in the sky have such powerful weapons? We cannot allow them to continue possessing such things. We must take them."

"Djibril," Copland objected, "these Coordinators are still powerful, regardless of what you say of them. We would need a whole fleet to just get close to the PLANT these units are on, let alone capture them. And that will surely lead to—"

"War?" Djibril finished, smirking. "Let it lead to war. Then we will destroy those damned Coordinators once and for all." He looked away again. "At any rate, however, we won't need a whole fleet. Send that new battleship, the Girty Lue, and the Phantom Pain. We'll send him with some Special Forces troops and three of our Extended."

Copland's eyes widened in disbelief. "Djibril, are you mad?!" he exclaimed. "What if they get captured or killed?! Do you have any idea what would happen?! The Coordinators would have a field day with that!"

"They won't be captured or killed," Djibril assured him.

Copland glared. "How can you be so sure?" he asked skeptically. "Do you have an informant there or what?"

Djibril cast Copland a sidelong glance. "You could say that," he said after a moment's pause. Looking away, he went on. "At any rate, the Phantom Pain can get this job done. With an artist's touch, even." He looked back at Copland. "You look doubtful."

"This is extremely risky, Djibril," Copland warned. "I hope you realize that."

"Never mind the risks," Djibril said dismissively. "Soon, you'll see. The Coordinators will finally meet their destiny."

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October 2nd, CE 73 - PLANT Armory 1, Lagrange Point 4

"Sting, did you get us lost again?" Auel Neider complained. "I swear I've seen that store twice already."

"It's not my fault the fucking map is written in Spanish," Sting Oakley snapped back. "I didn't even know they speak Spanish up here."

Sting and Auel stood peering at a map— incidentally, written in Spanish— on a sidewalk on the PLANT called Armory 1. Sting knew he was on the half of Armory 1 reserved for off-duty troops and civilians. What he wanted to do, however, was sneak into the other half, the military-only half. Unfortunately, he couldn't read Spanish, and Auel was not being much help either.

"Okay, I think I figured this out," Sting said after a frustrated inspection of the map and his surroundings. "Get Stella and let's—"

They both paused, looking behind them at their third companion. Stella Loussier was staring blankly at her reflection in a clothing store window, and her eyes fell down towards a dress on display. She paused a moment, then did a graceful pirouette, and giggled at herself.

"What the hell is she doing?" Auel asked.

"Damned if I know," Sting said with a shrug. "Come on." He started down the street.

"But what about Stella?" Auel protested. Sting shrugged again.

"She'll catch up," he said dismissively. "Now come on. I'm getting sick of wandering around this place."

Auel glanced back at Stella, shrugged, and jogged after Sting. Left behind, Stella continued to dance by herself, lost in a paradise only she could see or understand. She giggled contentedly, as nothing else mattered, and she was lost in her own personal euphoria—

And then she ran into someone.

Stumbling to the side, she blinked at the sight of a young boy about her age, with tousled black hair and striking red eyes. He blinked in surprise right back at her.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

Stella paused, decided he was bad, and ran away.

Back on the street, Shinn Asuka blinked again, watching her go.

"Idiot," cut in a familiar voice. Yolant Kent strode into view with an amused smirk. "You should've gotten her phone number."

Shinn looked back at him. "Not after she was prancing around in the street like that," he said, looking back with an arched eyebrow at the retreating girl.

"Excuses, excuses," Yolant chuckled, turning and striding off down the street. "Anything's possible if you can get anything out of Luna."

"Hey!" Shinn exclaimed. "Dammit, I was not going after Luna! That was totally not what it looked like! Yolant, get back here!" Grumbling in annoyance, he took off down the street.

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The door opened with a hiss, throwing the room's occupants into the light. Sting and Auel entered cautiously, trailed by Stella.

Sitting in front of them was a woman in a red ZAFT uniform, wearing the insignia of FAITH on her lapel, with long, curled brown hair, three locks of which had been dyed red, for whatever reason—Sting found it rather odd, but then again, he also found military officers who liked to wear masks odd too. She looked at them both with unblinking red eyes. Standing above her was a man in a white ZAFT uniform, also with the FAITH insignia, sporting long blond hair and a distinctive facemask.

"I was beginning to think you weren't going to come," Rau Le Creuset said with a chuckle, approaching them slowly.

"We got lost," Sting said flatly. "We're going to be late at this rate. Let's get going."

"Pushy, pushy," spoke up the woman. Rau glanced at her.

"Don't worry about it, Valentine," he said calmly. "Go get him."

Valentine Sunogachi paused a moment, then stood up and slowly disappeared into an adjacent room. Rau looked back at a questioning Sting and Auel.

"You can still sneak us into Armory 1, right?" Sting queried. "We need to infiltrate the hangar and find the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss."

"Of course," Rau said, holding up a keycard. "Don't worry, Sting. Your mission will be successful."

He glanced back at the door, as Valentine emerged. Another ZAFT Red Shirt with a FAITH badge followed her, but behind unruly brown hair were unnaturally dull and lifeless eyes.

"He will be sneaking you into the facility," Rau said, handing the keycard off to the third soldier. "Sting, Auel, and Stella, meet Kira Yamato."

Kira Yamato's lifeless eyes stared at them all. "Come with me," he spoke in a dull, dead monotone. He slowly strode out of the room. Sting, Auel, and Stella moved to follow, but Rau stopped them.

"When you return to your ship," Rau said, with a devious smirk, "be sure to tell Neo that Rau Le Creuset sends his regards."

He turned and left the room.

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"Man," sighed Vino Dupre as he guided the jeep across the grounds of Armory 1. "Everything's such a mess." He swerved around a parked GINN and glanced at his passenger. "You're lucky you're not a Green Shirt, or else you'd have to be doing this crap too."

Lunamaria Hawke glanced back at him. "I have other things to do instead," she answered. "The Chairman came here to see us off. Of course he'll want to see the ZAFT Reds of the Minerva before we go." She rolled her eyes. "One more headache to send us off with, I guess."

"But at least we'll finally be launching! I can't believe it," Vino said excitedly. "All that training and putting up with those jackass instructors has finally paid off! I'm finally going on a tour of duty!"

Luna arched an eyebrow at him. "I thought you were afraid to go on your tour."

Vino blinked, a hint of a blush rising to his cheeks. "Well, um, we're going to be deployed to orbit the moon, so, uh—"

"Yeah," Luna laughed. "The moon. Nothing scary." She smirked and looked over her shoulder. "I mean, sure, there's those pirates in GuAIZ and all that come from the moon, but hey, not scary, right?"

"What pirates?" Vino asked apprehensively.

"What pirates?" Luna echoed. "They're the Blood Hawk Gang! They have GuAIZ with pirated Natural OS and they come and kill people, and cut their throats and let them bleed into space!"

Vino gasped in horror. "Y-You mean they come from the moon?!"

"Uh-huh!" Luna said with a devious grin and an excited nod. "And I bet we're gonna have to fight 'em! They're Naturals, they hate us Coordinators!"

Vino pulled to a stop at a checkpoint outside a large door, and he and Luna climbed out of the jeep. "You have to be kidding!" he stammered.

"Oh no," Luna laughed, "the Blood Hawks kill anyone they see!"

"B-but are they really still there?!" Vino stuttered.

"No," cut in a third voice. Rey Za Burrel stepped up beside Luna, and Luna scowled at him. "The Blood Hawks were wiped out five months ago by the Bordeaux team." He glanced at Luna. "They're not a threat anymore."

"Ha!" Vino laughed, pointing at Luna. "See?"

"You suck, Rey," Luna grumbled, crossing her arms and pouting. Rey looked back at Vino.

"You're wanted in the Minerva's hangar," he said simply. Vino blinked and nodded, and scampered off towards the large door. Rey looked back at Luna. "Come with me. We're supposed to get our ZAKUs on the Minerva before the Chairman's inspection."

Luna sighed in annoyance. "Why did you ruin my joke?" she complained, trailing after him. "I really had him going there, and you know how funny Vino is when he's scared."

Rey only sighed. "If you get Vino to believe something, he never shuts up about it," he explained at last. "I really don't want to hear about the Blood Hawk Gang and how scared he is of them for six months. Now go get your ZAKU."

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"You're late."

Shinn paused in front of his locker and looked over at the speaker. Shiho Hahnenfuss was never a figure he wanted to see, but now, leaning expectantly against her own locker not far away, she was particularly poor in her timing.

He pulled his uniform shirt on wordlessly.

"The Chairman's inspection is in three hours," Shiho added icily. "Be ready by then." She paused. "And button your collar up this time."

Shinn glared after her as she left and buttoned up his collar with a scowl. He opened the duffel bag by his side and stuffed his clothes in, digging through his locker and cleaning it out. He still had to put his belongings on the Minerva before the Chairman arrived, and he hoped to avoid Shiho as he did it.

With a sigh, he zipped up his duffel bag, shut his locker, and headed to the locker room door. Peering around, he saw no sign of Shiho, and began his trek towards the Minerva.

As he sauntered across the grounds of Armory 1, he could see a platoon of ground troops lined up, standing stiffly at attention beside a VTOL craft. Between the soldiers was the familiar purple uniform of a ZAFT high commander, this one being in charge of Armory 1. The VTOL craft's hatch popped open, and a figure in white began to climb down the steps.

Chairman Gilbert Dullindal certainly cut a striking figure, Shinn had to admit. Long black hair, piercing golden eyes, and a smooth voice made him the most charismatic of PLANT's politicians, though Shinn did have to question his attire. That coat was one of the most bizarre pieces of clothing he had ever seen.

Rey was not far from the Chairman, and Lunamaria was struggling to catch up with him. Rey promptly saluted stiffly, and Dullindal glanced at him with a surreptitious smile as he went on his way, listening with probably half an ear as the Purple Shirt officer blathered on about something.

Rey turned and headed off, just as Luna caught up to him, huffing and puffing and out of breath. Shinn watched the Chairman go, and then looked over at Rey.

"Huh..." he muttered. "Whatever."

He shouldered his duffel bag and headed off. After all, he still had to go put this thing away.

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Sting, Auel, and Stella crouched with Kira and a duffel bag full of guns behind a stack of crates. Lying before them in the cavernous hangar were the inactive forms of the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss Gundams. Guards and mechanics were clustered around the hangar grounds.

"This isn't too bad," Sting whispered. He nodded to Kira, who opened the bag, and the trio began pulling out weapons. Stella laid hands on a long knife, drew the blade, and narrowed her eyes at it.

"Get this done quickly," Kira instructed. "No drawn-out gunfights. Get into the Gundams and get out of here." Sting nodded and looked over at Auel and Stella.

"Alright," he whispered with a nod. "Let's do it."

Stella and Auel nodded, and the trio burst out of hiding with a machinegun volley from Sting. The mechanics and guards crumpled under the shots, as Auel leapt into the air, spraying machinegun fire on several more ZAFT troops from his vantage point above them. Stella did a somersault in midair and landed amidst several ZAFT troops, cutting them down with bullets and her knife.

"Auel, behind you!" Sting shouted, as he mowed down a pair of oncoming guards. Auel pointed one of his guns over his shoulder and took down two guards raising their guns behind him. Sting turned and hurled a grenade at a pair of remaining guards, and the two soldiers were lost in the explosion. The hangar fell silent as the smoke wafted out. The trio dropped their weapons before them.

"Sting," Auel began. Sting nodded back.

"Alright, let's go!"

The three pilots leapt up into the cockpits of the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss Gundams, and started the machines up. Inside the Chaos, Sting smirked in satisfaction. The Chaos was running just as they had said it would.

"How is it?" he asked into the speaker.

"It's fine," Stella murmured.

"Good as they said it would be," Auel answered. Sting smirked again.

"Good," he said. "Deactivate the transponders and reconfigure the communication codes. We'll all get going together."

The Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss stood from their transport trucks, cables and braces smashing and ripping apart, and their Phase Shift armor flashed to life. The three Gundams stomped towards the hangar doors.

Down below, a dying mechanic struggled up to the console and smacked the alarm button.

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The wailing alarm tore through the air of Armory 1, and at his VTOL craft's landing pad, Gilbert Dullindal turned, looking out at the base grounds.

"What is that?" he murmured. Soldiers rushed this way and that, throwing questions at one another.

One of the hangars exploded, and a handful of beam shots slashed through. More beam shots took out a pair of parked mobile suits adjacent to the hangar. Gilbert saw no more as a squad of soldiers dove over him to cover him, and a pall of smoke blasted over their heads.

He looked up as the smoke cleared, and saw the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss Gundams standing there. The Gaia and Abyss leapt off to the sides as the Chaos strode forward, and before the mobile suits could begin launching, the Gundams were already devastating them.

"What the hell is this?!" the commander shouted. "Shit! All forces, retaliate at once! The target's at the sixth hangar! Move!"

"Chairman, we need to get you to a shelter," one of the soldiers said urgently, as Gilbert got back to his feet. Gilbert shot a withering glare at him.

"How do you expect me to do that?!" he snapped. "I don't even know the situation!"

The soldier was at a loss, before a black-shirted officer spoke up. "At least move to the Minerva, sir. You'll be safer there than here."

Gilbert looked back at the Chaos as it blew away a pair of GINN Ceremonial Types.

Bitter as it was to watch, it was going perfectly.

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The ground quaked as a DINN came plowing down into it, and its killer went stalking forward, beam rifle in hand. The Gaia Gundam was struck by a full clip from a GINN's machinegun, and retaliated with a beam blast to spear its torso. A GuAIZ R rose to avenge its fallen comrade, but with only its railguns, stood no chance against the Gaia's next beam shot.

Stella looked around. These things weren't scary. They were easy to get rid of. Nothing scary could get her now, because she had the Gaia.

There was a loud crash, and Stella looked over to her left, wondering what it was. A building was exploding, and silhouetted against the flames was Auel's new Abyss Gundam. But even though the silhouette was big and only its eyes were glowing, while it stood over the burnt-out corpse of a GINN, Stella wasn't scared. Auel was mean sometimes, but he wasn't scary.

The Gaia rocked, and Stella blinked in surprise as her machine stumbled backwards. She looked around in confusion, finding nothing that could have knocked the Gaia around, and then the ground exploded beneath her and the Gaia was sent hurtling back.

Before her, a big red and white Gundam landed with a crash, with two huge blue swords in its hands. Stella blinked again, watching it combine the two swords and spin them majestically over its head, igniting the beam blades.

Inside the Sword Impulse Gundam, Shinn Asuka narrowed his eyes at the Gaia, standing quizzically before him.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" he growled, tightening his fists around the controls. "You want to start another war?!" The Impulse charged, swinging its swords back. "Do you?!"

Stella drew the Gaia's beam saber and charged with a scream, and the two machines came together with a crash. Shinn snarled against his foe, pushing harder, until the Gaia leapt away and fired its two beam cannons. Shinn took the shots to his shield and glanced to the Gaia's left—there was a guard tower there, though the guard's cabin had been hit by a beam shot, leaving a large, heavy-looking chunk of twisted, fused metal; and the Gaia was in the perfect position.

As the Gaia opened fire again, Shinn deflected the shots with the Impulse's shield, detaching the swords and hurling one of them to the Gaia's left. It stepped to the side, but the sword went slicing through the tower, and with a loud shriek of protesting metal, the tower came toppling down. The Gaia raised its shield in vain, slashing upwards with its beam saber as the metal girders slammed down around it.

Shinn narrowed his eyes at his immobilized foe and charged, brandishing his remaining anti-ship sword, but as he closed in for the kill, the Gaia freed itself and leapt up into the air, dodging Shinn's killing stab.

"Shinn!" a voice shouted. Shinn glanced at the screen, finding the Minerva's ever-insistent XO, Arthur Trine, glowering at him. "Your orders are to capture them! Those are our—"

"I know!" Shinn shot back. He didn't need Arthur's complaints, especially in the middle of combat. The Impulse leapt into the air, pulling back its sword as it chased the Gaia. "But I don't think I can capture them without inflicting damage!" he added. The Impulse swung its sword at the Gaia, trying to slice off its right arm, but the nimble black mobile suit jetted back towards the ground, and Shinn grunted in frustration, cutting the thrusters to chase it.

"Be careful!" Arthur protested. "You're going to—"

"Leave him alone, Arthur!" the voice of the Minerva's captain, Talia Gladys, cut him off. "Stop distracting him! You're going to get him killed!"

Shinn smirked as the Impulse landed. At least Talia knew not to bother mobile suit pilots in combat anymore than necessary.

"Shinn Asuka!" another voice shouted. Shinn took cover behind the Impulse's shield as the Gaia boosted back, firing its beam cannons again. He glanced behind himself, finding a pair of GuAIZ Rs and a GINN jogging towards him. The face of a grizzled ZAFT officer in a Green Shirt's flight suit appeared on the monitor. "We'll go around and hit the Gaia from behind! Distract it!"

Shinn nodded and charged again, pulling his sword back again. The Gaia turned and charged right back, and the two mobile suits slammed together again.

Another storm of beam shots slashed through the air, and the two GuAIZ Rs and the GINN were blasted to pieces. Shinn's eyes widened as the Abyss landed amidst their smoldering remains, and tried to pull back, but the Gaia was there to insistently hold their position. The Abyss drew back its beam lance, and inside the cockpit, Auel Neider laughed victoriously—

And another beam shot ripped up the ground in front him, throwing the Abyss back. With a roar of engines, a flash of crimson slammed into the Abyss, sending it grinding against the ground and onto its back.

Shinn's eyes widened, as the Savior Gundam raised its beam rifle at the fallen Abyss. The Abyss barely managed to block the shot with its shoulder shells, and responded with a volley of its own.

"Shinn!" the pilot's voice shouted, as the Savior took cover behind its shield. "You're forgetting the Chaos and Abyss!" The Abyss took off into the air, and the Savior went after it.

Shinn grunted an obscenity. Shiho was always getting in his way.

The Gaia surged forward, its pilot screaming, and Shinn tensed, waiting for the blow. At the last second he leapt up, and the Impulse kicked the Gaia across the face, sending it staggering back. Landing with a crash, Shinn raised his sword and charged, but the Gaia recovered soon enough to deflect the sword blow with its shield.

As the Gaia leapt into the air and the Impulse followed, Shinn cast a cautious glance over the scene. Armory 1 was in turmoil, as the ZAFT forces were trying to subdue the three stolen Gundams. Up ahead, a pair of DINNs came shrieking in, releasing a swarm of missiles, but before they could get out of the way, the Gaia shot off their wings and sent them plummeting to the ground. Shinn clenched his teeth angrily and kicked the booster, storming after the fleeing Gaia.

"I'm not letting you get away!" he shouted, bringing his sword down on the Gaia. The black mobile suit went spiraling back towards the ground, and with a snarl, Shinn raised his sword and followed.

The Savior, in mobile armor mode, shot through Shinn Asuka's field of vision.

"Shinn!" Shiho's annoyed voice shouted. "What are you doing?! After them!"

Shinn scowled and looked back at the Gaia as it charged, beam saber in hand.

"I have my hands full already!" he shouted back, as the Sword Impulse rattled under a body slam from the Gaia. The Gaia pushed him backwards again, but before it could swing its saber, Shinn leapt into the air over its head, and the Gaia furiously turned and followed.

Up in the sky, Shiho's Savior transformed back into mobile suit mode and fired at the Chaos Gundam with a beam rifle barrage. The Chaos responded with a shower of missiles from its weapon pods, and the Savior cut them down with a CIWS burst. The Chaos came storming through the smoke, beam saber extended, and the Savior swung its shield up to take the saber swing.

Shinn grunted as the Gaia showered the Impulse with CIWS fire. "You just don't know when to quit!" he growled, charging back with a forceful sword swing. The Gaia went reeling back towards the ground, and Shinn raised his sword to pursue, but a flash of beam shots went sizzling by. To his right, the Abyss was roaring in, beam cannons blazing. The Sword Impulse dove up into the air, dodging the Abyss's lance stab, and Shinn growled a curse, hurling a beam boomerang down at the Abyss. The blue machine deflected the weapon, and Shinn caught it on the rebound, dodging the Abyss's follow-up beam shots.

"Shinn!" Shiho yelled. "What the hell are you doing down there?!"

Shinn glared back up at the Savior as it dueled with the Chaos.

"Hang on!" he snapped back. The Gaia charged again, and Shinn ducked beneath the Gaia's saber swing and stabbed back with his sword. The Gaia barely twisted out of the way, and the Abyss charged in, its chest cannon preparing to fire. Shinn narrowed his eyes and leapt into the air as Shiho's Savior reeled under the Chaos.

The Sword Impulse rocketed in with a sword slash, sending the Chaos staggering back, and the Abyss dropped in as well, twirling its beam lance over its head. Shinn growled at the two Gundams as they backed away together, and then grunted in surprise as beam shots from the Gaia went flashing around him. He dove away, and the Gaia followed persistently, slamming its beam saber against the Impulse's shield.

"Dammit!" he growled. "Don't you just GIVE UP?!"

The Chaos and the Abyss were pulling back, just as Lunamaria and Rey's red ZAKU Warrior and white ZAKU Phantom came streaking in, beam rifles blazing. Inside the Abyss, Auel growled an obscenity.

"Sting, this is endless!" he complained. Sting nodded in agreement, as the Chaos dodged beam shots from the ZAKUs.

"We'll pull out," he said conclusively. "Stella, can you pull away from him?!"

The Gaia came back head-on, peppering the Impulse's Phase Shift armor with CIWS fire. Stella narrowed her eyes at the Impulse.

"I will tear you apart!" she shrieked, as the Gaia boosted.

"Stella!" Sting shouted. "Calm down, dammit!"

The Gaia and Impulse came together with a crash, and darted apart just as quickly. Shinn grunted in surprise as the Gaia turned around for another attack.

"Stella, pull away now!" Sting shouted, as the Chaos came roaring in.

Inside the Abyss, Auel snorted in disgust. "Well then, you can go ahead and die here!"

And suddenly, the Gaia stopped. Stella's eyes widened in horror.

"I'll tell Neo your last words!" Auel added, sporting a pugnacious grin on his face. "All she said was 'goodbye!'"

"Auel!" Sting shouted, glaring at the Abyss. Stella looked down at her hands in terror, tears forming in her eyes.

"There wasn't much choice," Auel said half-heartedly.

"Shut up, you fool!" Sting shot back.

Shinn blinked in surprise, before fighting instinct took over. He hurled both beam boomerangs at the immobile Gaia, but the Chaos dropped in to shoot both boomerangs down and return fire. Shinn cursed under his breath and boosted up into the air, drawing his sword again.

Sting and Auel both blinked as Stella let out a blood-curdling shriek. The Gaia returned to life and took off into the air, brandishing its beam rifle, and the Chaos followed as the Abyss covered their escape with its shoulder shields' cannons.

Shinn watched them go helplessly for a second. He had heard a girl screaming in terror...hadn't he?

"They're getting away!" Luna exclaimed. Rey growled as his ZAKU Phantom boosted after them, and Shiho's Savior was not long in following. Shinn shook his head and regained his senses.

"I'll stop them!" he snarled, gunning the booster and taking off with Luna's ZAKU in tow.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, outside PLANT Armory 1

"They're late."

Colonel Neo Roanoke of the Atlantic Federation 81st Autonomous Mobile Corps— the dreaded Phantom Pain— duly noted the opinion of his ship's captain, Commander Ian Lee, in the back of his mind. The Girty Lue currently waited behind the protection of its Mirage Colloid field, as its six black-painted, radar-absorbent Dark Dagger Ls, all sporting bazookas, silently and stealthily made their way towards Armory 1's port. Already, through the Girty Lue's telescopic equipment, Neo could see the lime-green hull of a Laurasia-class frigate. Two Nazca-class destroyers were cruising around the PLANT's conical hull; a third was coming out of the opposite side of the port. The ZAFT forces were stepping up security outside the PLANT—if Sting, Stella, and Auel didn't get out soon, they'd have to punch through quite a few ZAFT mobile suits, and the Girty Lue couldn't stay here forever either.

Lee glanced over at Neo. The colonel's face was unreadable behind his black helmet. At last, Neo allowed himself a smirk.

"I'll go out in the Exus and buy us some time," he said calmly. "You take care of those ships."

Lee looked back out dubiously at the two Nazca. "You'll have a hard time getting through them in your mobile armor," he warned. "The Daggers only got by because of the camouflage and radar absorption. The Exus has neither."

Neo stood, still smirking. "Come on, Lee," he said chidingly. "Have a little faith in me."

Lee studied the scene before him. "It's going to take more than a little," he said. Neo chuckled as he turned towards the bridge door.

"I'll leave the ship to you," he said. "Take care of those ships. Keep the Mirage Colloid up and keep moving. Once Sting and the others come out, drop the Colloid. I'll signal the Daggers to retreat myself."

"Yes sir."

The bridge door closed with a hiss.

——————————————————————————————————————————

PLANT Armory 1, Lagrange Point 4

Stella's sobs reverberated throughout the Chaos's cockpit, and Sting sighed in frustration.

"Auel," he grumbled, shooting a glare at the Abyss, "next time I tell you not to use Stella's block word on her—"

"Oh, shut up," Auel shot back. Machinegun fire buzzed the Abyss as it sailed through the air, and Auel fired back with the Abyss's shoulder cannons, blasting a DINN and a CGUE out of the sky. "I didn't hear you come with any better ideas."

Beam shots flashed through the air, and Sting glanced over his shoulder. "Auel, go blow a hole in this fucking thing and get us out of here. I'll cover you."

He cut the Chaos's thrusters and stared at the oncoming ZAFT mobile suits. The white and red ZAKUs and the two red Gundams were leading a pack of ZAFT mobile suits right towards him. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated, and the Chaos's gunbarrels lifted off and activated.

This isn't so hard, Sting thought amusedly. Well, time to even the odds a little!

With a flash of exhaust, the gunbarrels shot forward, and the Chaos itself was quick to follow.

Inside the Sword Impulse, Shinn yelped in surprise as a missile plowed into the GuAIZ next to him, sending it staggering out of the sky. He quickly fired up the Impulse's CIWS to cut down three more missiles before they hit his own machine, and drew the Impulse's remaining anti-ship sword.

"Shit," Shiho growled, as the Savior fired its own CIWS salvo, shooting down another missile before it struck an unsuspecting GINN. "He's figured out how to use the gunbarrels...Shinn, Luna, Rey, be careful!"

"I can't believe it!" Luna exclaimed, as one of the Chaos's gunbarrels fired at her. She deflected the shot off her shield and tried to fire back, but machinegun fire from the Chaos itself drove her back. "Impossible! How could he figure out a new mobile suit that quickly?!"

Rey grunted in frustration, and his white ZAKU Phantom drew one of its beam tomahawks, storming forward with a roar of its engines. The tomahawk came down against the Chaos's shield, and inside the stolen Gundam, Sting growled back, surprised.

"You've got balls, pal!" he laughed. The Chaos's eyes flashed, and a quick CIWS burst forced the white mobile suit back far enough for Sting to open fire with the Chaos's rifle.

The entire PLANT rattled with a low, rumbling explosion, and Sting cursed. The Girty Lue was attacking the PLANT's port—that was their signal to leave.

The gunbarrels flashed around the ZAFT mobile suits, and a CGUE nearby was speared on a beam shot. Shinn cursed under his breath, pulled back his sword, and charged back in with a yell. The Chaos dove back, switching to its beam saber, and the two mobile suits clashed in midair as the gunbarrels took down another GuAIZ R.

"Sting!" Auel shouted. Sting glanced over his shoulder in aggravation. "You'd better hurry up! Those ZAFT guys are coming over here now, and Stella's no help!"

"That's your fucking fault!" Sting snapped. The Chaos charged back against the Impulse, and the two mobile suits clashed again. "Shit, get over here and we'll take care of these guys, and then work on that wall!"

A flurry of beam shots slashed through the approaching ZAFT mobile suits, and Shinn cursed again as the Abyss returned with a blast from its chest cannon. Both stolen Gundams began to pull back.

"Surround them!" Shiho shouted, as the Savior reverted to its mobile armor mode and tried to rocket ahead of the retreating Chaos. Shinn gunned the Impulse's booster and raised the sword—

And in a flash, the Chaos transformed to its own mobile armor mode, and its beam claws snapped the Impulse's sword in half. Shinn's eyes widened in surprise, before he furiously tossed the remaining shards of the sword away.

"Minerva, Force Silhouette!" he called. The Chaos came back down on him, spewing missiles, and Shinn drew the Impulse's beam rifle to fire back and force it off.

——————————————————————————————————————————

ZAFT battleship Minerva, PLANT Armory 1

"Captain Gladys, we cannot afford to allow this battleship to be damaged! Do something about those black mobile suits!" the men shouted.

They'd come from nowhere, and they were really the last things Talia needed. They were dangerous, they were angry, they were destructive, and they were interfering with everything.

Those six black mobile suits that were demolishing the dock were pretty annoying too.

Talia glared up at the entourage of Chairman Dullindal. The whiny, obnoxious politicians apparently thought that telling her about those six mobile suits four times wasn't enough, and were starting on the fifth. Talia was just about to ask them to go deeper into the ship, far away from the bridge, possibly even off the ship entirely, when Chairman Dullindal himself spoke up.

"Gentlemen," he said, calmly and smoothly like always, "I'm sure Captain Gladys figured out the first time you said it that there are six enemy units in the dock. Perhaps you should take refuge deeper inside the ship. The bridge is liable to be dangerous."

Gilbert's tone was not one to be questioned with, and the councilors and officers shuffled away reluctantly. Talia allowed herself a sigh of relief as the politicians disappeared.

"Minerva, Force Silhouette!" Shinn Asuka's tinny, garbled voice shouted through the speakers. The operator, Meyrin Hawke, jumped in surprise, and Arthur looked over, startled.

All eyes turned to Talia. She narrowed her eyes at the specks in the sky above her—the Impulse, the Savior, and the Minerva's two ZAKUs were up there, trying to stop the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss.

"I approve," she answered. "Launch it!" She glanced back at Gilbert. "It's no longer classified, is it?"

Gilbert sighed quietly. "No, it's not," he agreed.

Meyrin set to work launching the Force Silhouette, as Talia glanced over at the six black mobile suits. They seemed to be retreating, having wrecked several docked warships and dozens of mobile suits.

They were Daggers, Talia could tell; specifically, they were the Earth Alliance's latest mass-produced unit, the Dagger L. She hated to think that the Earth Alliance might be responsible for this, and struggled to remind herself that the Earth Alliance's Dagger Ls had also fallen into the hands of many mercenaries and space pirates.

With that unsettling thought, she sat back into her chair and waited impatiently as the Force Silhouette took off with a roar.

——————————————————————————————————————————

The Impulse quaked as the missiles came down around it, and in the cockpit, Shinn cursed as his visibility was cut down by palls of smoke. The Impulse dove backward, and the smoke cloud erupted outwards as the Chaos followed, beam saber ignited.

A blast of plasma ripped through the air, stopping the Chaos's charge, and the Savior dropped in with its own beam saber.

"Shinn!" Rey shouted, as his ZAKU Phantom came in as well. Up above, Luna's ZAKU Warrior was fighting off the Abyss Gundam, and more ZAFT mobile suits were coming in from the base.

The Force Silhouette rocketed overhead, and Shinn ignited the booster to follow it. The Chaos opened fire with its gunbarrels, aiming of the Silhouette, but Rey and Shiho were there to block the shots and return fire. Shinn discarded the empty Sword Silhouette, and with a hiss, the Impulse's Phase Shift vanished, the dull gray mobile suit spiraling up into the air to meet the new pack. The Abyss opened fire as the Impulse rose through the air, but Luna and Rey's ZAKUs came in to deflect the shots.

All eyes turned towards the Impulse as it became the Force Impulse, reactivated its Phase Shift as a brilliant blue and white, and opened its shield.

"What the fuck did he just do?!" Auel shouted. Sting growled in frustration.

"That's not gonna do you any good!" The Chaos rocketed up towards the newly formed Force Impulse, and inside the Impulse, Shinn clenched his teeth and drew the Impulse's beam saber.

With a scything roundhouse kick, the Impulse sent the Chaos staggering back, and with a roar of its engines, the Impulse went charging away. The Abyss showered it with a volley of beam shots, but the Impulse took the shots to its shield and charged into the Abyss's face, ramming it with its shield. And as the Abyss reeled back, the Impulse charged up towards the Gaia as it blasted helplessly at the PLANT wall.

Inside the Gaia, Stella gasped in horror as the Impulse came raging up towards her, and backed away as Shinn swung his beam saber wildly.

"Goddammit, DIE ALREADY!" Shinn screamed, as the Gaia raced away. More blasts came flashing by him, as the Abyss poured its firepower into the wall, and it still refused to budge.

"They're trying to blast the wall open!" Luna exclaimed. The Savior rushed in, in mobile armor mode, beam cannons blazing.

"Dammit!" Shiho yelled, ramming into the Abyss and sending it staggering away. "We have to stop them before they—"

More blasts sizzled through the air, this time from the Chaos, and with a thunderous explosion, they hit home. In a flash of fire and smoke, the PLANT wall was blasted open, and the air began to rush out. The Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss rode the airwave out, as the ZAFT pilots helplessly watched them go.

"Dammit!" Shinn screamed. "You're not getting away that easily!" With a yell, he boosted after the retreating foes.

"Shinn!" Shiho shouted after him. "We don't know about the enemies outside!"

"We are about to find out," Rey said quietly, as his and Luna's ZAKUs boosted after Shinn. Cursing all the way, Shiho went with them.

——————————————————————————————————————————

On the PLANT wall, Neo Roanoke watched amusedly from inside the mobile armor Exus as the wall was blasted open, and the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss Gundams rocketed out. His curiosity was piqued when he saw a fourth Gundam, looking not unlike the Earth Alliance's famous Strike Gundam, come flying out after them with a drawn beam saber.

"Ah well," he said dismissively, "I guess anyone can miscalculate." He smirked as the crosshairs passed over the fourth Gundam. Two ZAKU mobile suits and a fifth Gundam came flying out as well. "Another one. Well, let's see if we can go five for five."

The Exus jetted off its hiding place on the PLANT wall and engaged the booster.

——————————————————————————————————————————

ZAFT battleship Minerva

"What are they doing?!" Arthur exclaimed, staring at the screen before him, as the Impulse, Savior, and both ZAKUs exited the PLANT. "We don't know about the enemies outside! What if there's a mothership?! What will they do?!"

"The Da Vinci and the Montesquieu are on patrol nearby, and the Galileo is coming in too," the sensor officer, Burt Heim, reported. "The Laurasia-class frigates Carnegie and Hudson were destroyed in port, but the Nazca-class destroyer Locke is on its way as well."

Talia bit her lip in thought. If there were raiding parties, there had to be a mothership—but where?

Burt gasped in alarm, and all eyes turned towards him. "Detecting a ship outside Armory 1! The heat signature is similar to the Archangel-class!"

"Archangel-class?!" Arthur echoed in disbelief. "How did it get this close?!"

"The Mirage Colloid," Gilbert observed dourly, from his seat near Burt's station.

Talia looked back resolutely at the port. The three stolen Gundams had already blown their way out of the PLANT, and the six black Daggers had escaped as well. The action had moved outside...and so, she would have to do the same.

"All hands, go to Condition Red," she announced. "The Minerva will launch."

All eyes turned to her.

"C-Captain," Arthur stuttered.

Gilbert looked grimly at her, and Talia looked back, hoping he wouldn't protest. At last, Gilbert sat back, his body language indicating that he had no objections.

"While the lift is descending, charge up the Tannhäuser and prepare the rest of our weapons," she continued, staring authoritatively at Arthur. "All hands prepare for anti-ship and anti-mobile suit combat!"

Gilbert settled into his chair and watched as the Minerva began to descend.

The time had come.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Near PLANT Armory 1

Beam shots surrounded the Force Impulse Gundam, and Shinn let out a yelp of surprise, switching back to his mobile suit's beam rifle and twisting out of the way. He boosted upwards as a purple mobile armor blasted by underneath him with a shot from two beam cannons.

Inside the Exus, Neo allowed himself a smirk as he wheeled around for another pass. The gunbarrels flashed around the battlefield, spewing beam shots at everything with the ZAFT insignia—these amateurs would see how gunbarrels were really used.

Shinn looked around frantically, trying to find the source of beam shots that came out of nowhere. Rey's ZAKU dove in behind him, shielding him from a blast from behind. "Rey!" he exclaimed.

"What are you doing?" Rey exclaimed. "If you zone out, you'll just be a target!"

Neo paused in surprise as a voice sifted through his mind, and he could almost see the white ZAKU's red-uniformed pilot.

"This enemy is different from the rest!" Rey shouted.

Neo frowned.

What is that...?

The Exus roared back into battle, surrounding the combatants with more beam fire. Luna's eyes widened in shock as one of the gunbarrels came blazing towards her, sporting two shimmering beam blades. She quickly gunned the booster, diving out of the way, as Shiho's Savior deflected the gunbarrel with her shield. But before she could fire her follow-up beam shot, the gunbarrel darted away again, and the two red mobile suits were forced back on the defensive.

Neo glanced over his shoulder and smirked as the Girty Lue came up behind him. The Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss were almost in the hangar, and the Dagger Ls were right behind them.

Now then, he told himself, to attend to these four loose ends

And then there were explosions everywhere. Neo blinked in surprise as two of his gunbarrels were wiped out by a storm of missiles, and four thick beam blasts came flashing across the battlefield. Machinegun fire pelted the Exus mercilessly, and Neo looked angrily at the source.

He sighed in disappointment. "Best not be too greedy," he told himself, "or we'll lose everything." He recalling his remaining gunbarrels and rocketing away towards the Girty Lue.

Behind him, the Minerva spread its wings.

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To be continued...