"A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool gets from his friends."
- Baltasar Galcian

Chapter XXV: War Over Caliban

Federation Lexington-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
System R-751
October 8, GC 379

Blinking the final vestiges of haze, Sayla once again found herself having awakened in her quarters aboard the Ark Royal. Further on, she also, once again, found herself aboard the Ark Royal as it was in hiding, albeit now within a documented but otherwise unexplored star system rather than an abandoned city on a distant planet. She couldn't help but frown at this as she gradually rose up from her bed; such circumstances were occurring more and more often than her liking. And it didn't help that, just as the first time had been against Garma and his fleet, this one was also against an otherwise superior Zeon force. How could they keep the fight against the Empire if they were continuously overwhelmed like this?

Unfortunately it was what it was as Sayla again extended her Newtype senses throughout the Ark Royal, and the space beyond. Nearly a week had passed since the ill-fated raid on Zorres, and naturally morale was at an all-time low between her ship and the other three remainders of Wakkein's taskforce. Not that Sayla could blame her Earthborn comrades; the mere fact they were now only four ships out of originally thirteen, with the nine that had once made up their contingent having been wiped away by a single salvo, was more than enough to emphasize what they were up against. Granted part of the reason they were hiding out in R-751 was to await reinforcements, but as Sayla found herself picking up on from more than one mind aboard the Ark Royal alone, what good would they do? The Dolowa had both more in the way of firepower and mobile suit carrying capacity than entire space forces. How would tagging on more ships to their beleaguered taskforce help the situation, beyond giving the Zeon more targets to shoot at?

Sayla, of course, knew that that wouldn't be the end of it though. There was no way Fleet Admiral Revil could afford to let that monstrosity remain on the loose, whatever he himself was up to in the present. Sayla may not have been in on whatever secret operation the Federation was cooking up to turn the tables on Gihren and his minions, but she knew that something was happening. There were just too many signs not to be, up to and including the unusual concentration and movement of EFSF ships and mobile suits as of late. Not unlike the stirring of wind before a great storm, Sayla, even without her Newtype abilities, could see that something was indeed happening, its clandestine nature enough to emphasize its importance to the war effort. Just as she also had an inclination that, whatever it was, Gihren was at least aware of it as much as she, which was why the Dolowa was out there in the first place. To snuff out the operation before it could reach fruition.

Like that's going to happen, Sayla thought wryly as she got up and went about her morning routine. One thing she agreed with her former people on was that, among the Earth forces, the Ark Royal and her mobile suit force, especially the Gundams and her fellow aces, were to be feared. They had eluded her brother from Shangri-La onward, beaten Delaz at Jericho, brought down Garma at Anges and even decimated the Cosmo Babylonians, the latter while in drydock no less. If anyone could, and would, beat the Dolowa, it would be them, or at the very least they would act as the killing spearhead. No, Sayla was not deterred in the least, no matter how much anyone else aboard the ship, including her fellow pilots, thought otherwise. In the end, the Dolowa would be destroyed, and the Federation would be one step closer to bringing the weight of the galaxy down upon Gihren's inflated head. And she would take an active role in both events.

Of course, that still left the present conundrum. How did one go about hunting a beast such as the Dolowa? Tracking her alone would be difficult, considering that she possessed a Mirage Colloid, though if it came down to it Sayla knew she and Amuro could likely isolate her simply through the vast number of presences aboard. And of course, fighting her would be next to impossible; again the Dolowa by herself had more in the way of firepower and mobile suit loadout than most nations' space forces, having been built for precisely that function. That meant they would have to deliver an overwhelming blow to her, just as the original nuclear strike at Zorres was meant to do, but how would they go about that? The enemy was obviously on guard for another possible nuclear attack, and Sayla knew the Federation, rightly so in her opinion, frowned upon colony lasers and other such weapons of unnecessary destruction. Just what other weapon could they utilize against such a monster?

Fortunately Sayla had the very distinct feeling that she, and the rest of the Ark Royal with her, would soon find out. Again whatever Admiral Revil or whoever else was plotting, she knew none of them could afford to let the Dolowa roam freely, which meant it had to be destroyed now, more than ever. Thus, as she eventually concluded her shower and slipped into her uniform, and then exited her quarters proper, Sayla resolved to wait just that much longer before the awaited answer was revealed. Only hoping that it would be just enough.

It wasn't quite the first time Fraw had felt such unnerving tension throughout the ship, but she couldn't help but feel that said tension was much more acute this time around, even compared to when they had originally hid on Anges. Sitting by in the mess, a cup of steaming coffee to one side and a datapad that contained various medical reports in front of her, the young doctor only wished she was so concentrated on her work that her ears didn't quite pick up the hushed conversations around her. Conversations that, while not quite foretelling of doom, certainly were not assured of their chances in the Ark Royal's latest assignment. Many of whom could only wonder just how they were going to survive this one.

Not that Fraw could really blame their discouragement unfortunately, as even she could only wonder how they would live through this new enemy they were facing. Being the ship's chief medical officer, she was not privy to the overlapping details, and she certainly hadn't witnessed the fighting at Zorres in itself, but she was well aware of the new Zeon warship they were set to hunt, and how it had overwhelmed their attack just before. The mere thought of the thing, and how it had been described to her, made her body go cold; a great beast of a ship that had unmatched firepower and could hold hundreds if not thousands of mobile suits. She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised too much that Zeon had conceived, as well as manufactured, such a weapon, but that didn't help alleviate Fraw from the thought of it. Any more than it alleviated the thought of the sheer amount of destruction, and loss of life, such a thing could inflict upon the galaxy at large.

No, it shouldn't have only concerned her, she knew. She was the Ark Royal's medic; her job was to heal her wounded, not fight her battles. She could no more strategize a battle plan or climb into the cockpit of a mobile suit than Amuro could figure out which end of a laser scalpel to hold, the thought of which actually made Fraw laugh a little. That being said however, it still bothered her, and not simply because of her odds of survival with the rest of her ship. This "Dolowa" was indeed a terrible weapon, not at all dissimilar to the colony laser that had destroyed Jericho not too long ago. It needed to be destroyed, somehow and some way, but from the way the hushed conversations were carrying about, they had all been lucky enough to survive when the thing had departed Zorres. Would they still be lucky the next time?

Ultimately Fraw repeated her original thinking process. She was a doctor. Hers was not to worry about how the enemy was defeated, just to attend to the survivors afterward. Instead, it would be Captain Noa and Commander Law who would figure out how to strike down the behemoth, while Amuro, Sayla and the rest of the 13th Carrier Assault Group would be the ones to do the fighting. It was all their concern; theirs and not hers, especially when she had enough to deal with literally in front of her. Yet as more and more crewmen entered the mess and began speaking in subdued yet audibly disconcerted tones over the very same subject matter, Fraw could not help but still feel…

Zeon supercarrier Dolowa
Scharnhorst System

It was so beautiful, so spectacular. What had once been a full EFSF battlefleet and planetary installation now laid to waste before him, various images of destroyed ships and mobile suits shifting across the bridge monitor for all within to marvel. And marvel Lutjins did, for such imagery was once more indicative of the power he now wielded through his flagship. A power that only now had been brought into the war, much to his enemies' despair.

Alas however, Lutjins couldn't help but feel some melancholy, though not for any weak reasoning as lament or sympathy for the Earthnoids. This was the second Federal basin that the Dolowa had struck, and it appeared to be no more a rallying point for a (supposed) Odessa offensive than the previous one in Shetland had been. Not that Lutjins truly believed that they would have come over Admiral Revil's staging ground so quickly, but at the same time he would have preferred it. As many within Zeon were well aware, up to and including the Emperor himself, he had much bigger concerns to address with the Dolowa and her awesome power.

"Stand down from battlestations and recall the mobile suits," Lindermann commanded as soon as it was confirmed there were no additional hostiles in proximity. Though she remained as cool and collected as she always presented herself, Lutjins knew her well enough by that point to see that she shared his frustrations, as well as the desire for greater aspirations for herself and her ship and crew. "We'll cloak and set to warp once they're all aboard."

As the crew went about their new orders, Lutjins could not help but feel the vexation among them as well, the same want to face Earth itself head on then and there. By now the power of their ship, as well as their own capabilities at controlling her, had since been established. And while they were serving their Emperor and nation well, especially given the criticality of their mission, the fact remained that they, and especially their ship, were all meant for more than just picking off backworld outposts such as this. Such would have been outright wasteful had it not been for His Majesty's ordainment of their mission, and once more if the Feddies really were intending to strike Odessa in the near future, then it was best to nip them in the proverbial bud now and be done with it. Lutjins understood that, and he liked to imagine Lindermann and her crew understood that principle as well. So why were they all agitated like this?

In the end, it was of only minor irritation and concern to the Vice Admiral. What mattered was that they were gradually working their way down to their true target, and every Feddie ship and mobile suit – to say nothing of the Feddies themselves – that they removed along the way was one less Zeon would have to contend with later on. That was all well for Lutjins in itself, as it meant less opposition for when they at last struck Earth, though at the same time he wouldn't have minded facing the Feddies at their best again like he had at Arcturus. After all, there was much more glory in defeating an enemy in full form as opposed to he being lame and crippled, and there was also the fact Lutjins would be avenging those that had died in the prior battle. How disappointed they would be – assuming the dead truly felt disappointment – at their killer being defeated otherwise so easily. If it ever came down to it of course.

It took a few more minutes for the Dolowa to reclaim her innumerable mobile suits, but eventually Lutjins watched as the warship came about, engaged her Mirage Colloid and reentered warp, effectively leaving her latest round of desolation within her wake. Once again Scharnhorst had been but the second Federal basin and associated fleet they had struck, and there remained many more for them to seek out and annihilate. And though they would do so, Lutjins, and the rest of the men and women of the Dolowa too he imagined, again hoped that they would find Revil's pesthole sooner than later. All so that even greater concerns could be addressed.

Exiting his Act Zaku with more than his fair share of aggravation, Mallet once again wasted no time in stripping off his helmet and allowing the cool air of the immense hangar deck reach over his face. Despite the fact he had just exited combat against a fair sized Feddie combat force, the Lieutenant Commander felt more than a little underwhelmed. Yes, his body was physically taxed – the Act Zaku was a much different mobile suit to pilot from a standard Zaku after all – but that didn't stop him from feeling let down from the recent battle. As his surname would otherwise suggest, Mallet Sanguine was a man who thrived on carnage and destruction; carnage and destruction that served the ends of his Emperor and nation, but still wanton bloodshed nonetheless. Yet if those who he drew blood from proved to be so lacking, Mallet found little point in his going out to fight in the first place. Just as he did now.

Indeed, what should have otherwise been an epic battle in Earth's defense against the "Highborn Menace" had been little more than what the Earthnoids would call a "walk in the park". The Feddies had been numerous in this battle, certainly, but none of them had been up to challenge Mallet's mettle, and it well and truly bothered him. Not that he should have expected the Feddies in Scharnhorst to have been a real challenge, he knew, but he would have at least like to have fought an opponent of reasonable skill, much as he had as far back as Arcturus so long ago. Unfortunately he had not encountered any such adversary, and as a result the "battle" had been little more than a mopping up operation and, for Mallet at least, a general waste of time. Was it going to be like this through the Dolowa's whole voyage? He feared the prospect, as well as the thought that this wild goose chase for Fleet Admiral Revil's supposed base would last the remainder of the war. Mallet definitely wouldn't like that; hopping from star system to star system to slaughter Earth's least capable while the rest of Zeon went on to conquer the galaxy. No, he wouldn't like that at all…

A familiar presence soon approached him, causing Mallet to smile a little as he felt her touch down on the deck just behind him. I'm fine Lilia, he affirmed to his subordinate, the only other on the entire ship that shared his gift, whatever it was. Nothing that you need concern yourself over.

Though not entirely convinced of her commander's disposition, Lilia nonetheless accepted his claim. As you say sir, she responded. Though like you, I found this battle to be rather…pointless.

Mallet let out a small laugh as he turned to her. As you should Lieutenant, he answered back. There is no glory to be had in slaughtering the weak and powerless, no matter if they carry weapons or not.

Lilia nodded to this, having come to much the same conclusion herself. As high and superior born as they were, it hardly warranted their efforts to persecute and decimate those that could not hold against them. Granted a fair portion of the war did entail just that – the sundering of worlds and star systems of their lowborn populaces as so directed by the Emperor himself – but such boundless slaughter could be employed by others. For just like her Commander, Lilia Flaubert was a warrior, and would not lower herself to such distasteful practices, no matter how necessary they were for Zeon.

You think… Lilia founder herself posturing to her CO. You think we'll end up fighting them again?

Mallet's smile deepened as he felt his subordinate recall her previous battle with the Valkyrie. It was strangely priding to him; to see that his protégé had received a taste of true battle, and now desired to have more of it. And of course, he certainly wouldn't have minded having a go against the White Devil again, as much as either of them had brushed off their opposition at the time. It was strange how much what one realized what one had only after the fact.

Anything is possible, Mallet responded. As bludgeoned they had ended up, it's doubtful they would abandon their pursuit so easily. Any more than Sayla Mass or this Amuro Ray being opponents to turn away from the likes of us.

Lilia took some measure of hope in that, again much to her commander's pride.

No, Zorres will not be our last battleground with them, Mallet assured that much more, himself actually daring to anticipate. In fact, I dare say they're out there now, already planning toward the next encounter…

Federation Lexington-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
System R-751

"And Scharnhorst makes two," Sleggar glowered with a mixture of anger and despondence as he all but threw down the datapad. "With still so many more places for them to hit and not so much as break a sweat against, in this sector alone."

"Yes, far too many," Bright agreed as he sipped his teacup, trying and failing to hold back his own ire at the prospect. No, he wasn't in a great rush to face the Dolowa and her hordes again – especially with only one battlecruiser and two standard cruisers to fight alongside – but that didn't mean the captain of the Ark Royal was any more inclined to let the Zeeks run around unchallenged as they were. Somehow and some way they had to get back into the hunt, but for that required a plan, to say nothing of reinforcements. Two things that he, Sleggar and everyone else were waiting on now. "Unfortunately it would hardly do us any favors to go after them as we are now, Sleggar."

"Agreed wholeheartedly Bright," Sleggar replied as he himself raised his own teacup, extending his pinky finger rather deliberately as he also took a sip. "But at the same time, we can't just sit here and let that thing rip apart all of space around us. One way or the other, we have to go back after it, and soon."

"Unfortunately," Bright breathed, not for the first time wishing he were back on Earth with his wife and daughters in the present. "How are your pilots holding up on it?"

"About as well as you would otherwise expect," the CAG shrugged in a way that told Bright the situation was more or less 'standard'. "They're not despondent and anticipating the end like they were at Anges, but the fact remains we're all knee deep in it again, and there's no changing that opinion."

Bright nodded to this. "It's much the same with the crew," he concurred. "We're not cornered, not yet anyway, but…"

"How in the nine circles of Hell are we going to get out of this one?" Sleggar finished for his fellow commander, giving off a small yet very wry grin.

A grin that Bright found himself matching. "We seem to ask that question an awful lot, don't we?" he posited toward the CAG.

Sleggar nodded himself. "Since Arcturus," he said, both raising their cups to the other as they both took deeper drinks.

No sooner than when they completed the ceremony did Bright's wristcom sound. "Bridge to Captain Noa," Mirai called from the other end.

Sighing as he put his cup down, Bright tapped the wristcom. "Noa here," he replied. "This better be good news Mirai."

"Yes sir," Mirai confirmed with more than a little semblance of hope. "The Magellan reports that reinforcements are en route as we speak. ETA four hours."

All at once, Bright and Sleggar both became more interested. "Do we know what those reinforcements are?" Sleggar inquired.

"We do," Mirai assured. "The Phoenix, Anchorage, Exeter, Canberra…"

Both men knew Mirai's smile, which they were more than able to pick up through the commlink, extended as she added. "And Enterprise."

At that, Bright and Sleggar both looked at each other in full understanding. Enterprise, as befitting of her name – which remained legendary even in the Galactic Century – was one of the five remainders of the Lexington-class, effectively the Ark Royal's sister ship. For Admiral Revil to send her to join the hunt only underlined Operation Bismarck's sheer vitality, while also emphasizing another key fact.

"It has been instructed that all ship captains and mobile suit commanders are to meet aboard the Magellan upon their arrival," Mirai finished, herself all but outright stating that a plan had, in fact, been put forward. Granted that could mean anything in the present, but at least the taskforce wouldn't be going against the Dolowa in a cliched banzai charge. Unless that was the plan in question of course.

Ignoring such cynical apprehension, Bright nodded as though his XO had given the report in person. "Very well. Keep us up to date Mirai."

"Yes sir," Mirai dutifully responded before disengaging the commlink.

Allowing small laugh and a shake of the head, the ship captain then raised his teacup once again. "It seems that the game remains afoot Commander."

"Indeed Commander," Sleggar replied as he too raised his cup to match. "Follow your spirit and upon this charge…"

"Cry 'God for Harry, England and Saint George!'" Bright finished the quote as they downed the remainder of their cups' respective contents.

Zeon supercarrier Dolowa

"One more down, still many more to go," Lutjins summarized as he and Lindermann both looked over the holographic starmap, which marked the innumerable Feddie basins that lined – infested in Lutjins' opinion – the sector, any one of which could have been Admiral Revil's rallying point. Of that large number of dots, only two were marked in red, causing the Vice Admiral to sigh rather audibly. "I fear we could be at this for the rest of the war and the next, Captain."

"Short of that map somehow narrowing Admiral," Lindermann answered, her own frustration apparent. Though she had known their present mission would be a long and trying one, it still didn't do well for her or her ship to be moving around the stars like this, knocking off one backworld Feddie installation after another. Once again, the Dolowa had been meant for far more, and so had Lindermann and her crew.

And of course, Lutjins had his own opinions on what his flagship should have been doing at the moment. "Unfortunately, that's in the realm of Intelligence, or His Majesty's own powers of divination Captain. We can only go down the list they present us."

The Vice Admiral then disengaged the starmap, a very apparent frown across his features. "Don't misunderstand me Captain. I am not one to question our Emperor's insight, and there is much indication that the Feddies are preparing to mount a large-scale operation, with Odessa being a critical target for them," he stated in clarification, not that he expected Lindermann to rat him out to the Stazi. "Having said that, this is all very damn frustrating."

"Agreed sir," Lindermann answered back to assure the Admiral that they were in fact on the same page. "I can understand His Majesty sending us out to obliterate this mystery base, but such should be after our target has been identified. For the latter, wouldn't it be better to assign the appropriate number recon units to probe the sector?"

"It would, Captain, if those recon units were available," Lutjins answered with a shake of his head. "Unfortunately we've reached the point in the war in which our rapid expansion has caught up to us, and forces, having long been spread thinly, are all committed to one front or another. Otherwise we would not have been in Scharnhorst in the first place."

Again did the Admiral shake his head, allowing the remainder of his present frustration to recede for the time being. "Still, that's not to say we have not been idle in our time," he spoke assuredly to the captain. "In fact, I commend you captain for your present accomplishments. Though neither star system held our target, Scharnhorst and Shetland still retained considerable forces of their own, more than enough to ward away any regular ship or taskforce. And yet you and your crew did well in sweeping them aside…"

"I would like to think the power of our ship, to say nothing of our mobile suits, had something to do with it sir," Lindermann replied somewhat sardonically, as though the Admiral had forgotten.

Lutjins merely laughed at the insinuation. "Certainly, the Dolowa's power and legions are considerable, but what makes the difference is how you utilize them Captain," once more he shook his head, this time his frustration at a different source. "I've seen too many commanders that, were they in your position, would have simply thrown their ships and suits into the crucible without any dedicated plan or strategy. You, on the other hand, are not among their number; you know how to make the most of what you are given, in such a way that you accomplish your objectives without needless waste, nor taking upon needless damage."

To emphasize, the Admiral reengaged the holographic projector, which displayed a schematic of the Dolowa. "Look here Captain. We have not so much as suffered a scratch against our hull, and our mobile suit forces have only taken the lightest loss in numbers," he again clarified before Lindermann could say anything else. "That's not to say I consider the lives of your crew and the mobile suit pilots without value; I would certainly see them all return to Zeon proudly if I could. Having said that, we could have very easily taken more damage and loss from the Feddies in either battle, and yet here we are."

"As you say sir," Lindermann responded, trying, and failing miserably, not to beam with pride. As proud as she was of her ship, very few within the higher ranks – whether Lindermann's fellow captains or the brass at large – understood that the Dolowa's power only amounted to so much. It was considerable as the Admiral said, but not the solution to every problem, and though she could have likely won either Shetland or Scharnhorst with sheer firepower and numbers, Lindermann would rather gain her victories by how she used those elements rather than relying on them entirely. That being said, she was appreciative that at least one member of the Imperial High Command recognized her efforts. "And thank you."

Lutjins himself understood Lindermann's plight, and so nodded in his approval. Indeed, there had already been far too many setbacks in this war because the supposed "Highborn" had become complicit, which more often than not resulted in their "Lowborn" opponents taking great exploitation. He himself appreciated that the captain of his flagship – especially a ship as great as the Dolowa – was not one such, as he had just alluded to.

"Think nothing of it Captain," Lutjins acknowledged. "Though we are still apparently far from fulfilling our primary mission, you have already gained a fair share of glory in this voyage," he disengaged the schematic at that point. "And as we narrow down to our intended target, I'm sure you, and your crew, will gain that much more."

Lindermann nodded once again, this time daring to anticipate in spite of the present arduousness. Though they were not any closer to find Revil's pesthole, the fact was they were killing Feddies, which the Admiral himself believed to be their most dangerous enemy. Surely that amounted to something in itself, especially as Zeon continued its drive onward to the Galactic Core.

Federation Montana-class battlecruiser Magellan
System R-751

"The situation has turned even more for the worst since Zorres," Commander Henken Bekkener, captain of the Enterprise, reported to the gathering in the Magellan's briefing room. "According to Mayfly, the Zeeks have figured out Admiral Revil's rallying point in Bhatan."

The Commander allowed the resultant swell to die down before he went on. "Fortunately, Mayfly was able to intercept and disrupt the message to the Dolowa right before she launched, and as a result is on the space variation of a wild goose chase at present. The tradeoff, however, is that this is only a delaying tactic, and eventually Zeek High Command will out Bhatan…"

"Thus we have to eliminate her before she receives the message," Wakkein summarized from his seat, a deep frown across his face. It had already been difficult enough to face that behemoth with thirteen ships, and nuclear weapons to boot. Somehow, even with his forces augmented by the Enterprise and her mobile suits, he didn't think he would fare any better with nine ships in a standard battle.

It was then that Bekkener flashed a wry grin. "Not quite sir," he corrected, causing all heads to look up again. "Once more at present, Admiral Revil has changed the rallying point to Sevastopol, with those forces in Bhatan already in evacuation. Having said that, the Admiral intends to use the situation to our advantage and has set a certain going away present for the Dolowa when she arrives."

It was then the monitor flashed, displaying a rather curious device, or collection of devices more accurately. Specifically a collection of mirrors gathered and concentrated into a cross formation, with further images detailing how this "Solar System" as it was apparently called was angled in line with the Bhatan sun.

"This is the Solar System, which in layman's terms is a poor man's colony laser," Bekkener explained, grinning sardonically as more than one head looked on in alarm. "Though the Federation frowns on colony lasers, for obvious reasons, there's apparently a loophole somewhere that allows for bringing together a couple thousand or so mirrors so that they can reflect and focus local sunlight onto a specified area. Suffice to say this is what we're going to hit the Dolowa with once she reaches Bhatan."

"I don't suppose Mayfly provided the Dolowa's itinerary for that," Sleggar exclaimed rather dryly, doing well not to fidget as he looked upon that apparent superweapon. No, it wasn't a colony laser, and so lacked all the planet killing goodness of that particular weapon, but that didn't mean Sleggar was any more comfortable with the Federation throwing things like that around. In this instance however, he knew he would make an exception, as short of Amuro going full White Devil like he did at Jericho, there was no way they could take on the Dolowa and her legions otherwise.

"More than that, Mayfly has made it so that the Dolowa will receive the 'corrected' message in four days' time," Bekkener spoke in as confident a tone as he could project, though more than a few in the briefing room could tell even he was dubious. "When she receives it, it is estimated that, at what we know to be the Dolowa's top warp factor, she will arrive in system approximately sixteen hours later. The Solar System will be more than ready by then."

Though Bright was afraid to ask, he knew he had to. "Will Admiral Revil be leaving additional ships in the system to supplement us?" Needless to say, the other captains and mobile suit commanders all took on increased interest.

Much to everyone's relief, Bekkener nodded. "A fair number of ships under Admiral Forer will remain in the system, to both supplement you and to give the illusion that the rallying point has not changed," Bekkener explained. "Worst comes to worst, Admiral Revil at least hopes to deceive the Dolowa's commander into believing that her mission has been completed, and possibly throw off the rest of the Zeek brass with them."

Both Bright and Sleggar couldn't help but smirk at this, wondering if that somehow hinted at Admiral Revil's belief in their chances. A feeling that Wakkein himself felt as he stood up and came to stand in front of the gathering, with Bekkener clearing the front for him.

"While I'm sure you all feel much the same about this as I," Wakkein explained, knowing better than to make believe that any of them thought otherwise of this setup. "The fact remains this is possibly the most viable plan we have, and so we will follow the Fleet Admiral's lead on this."

Though still apprehensive, the gathering confirmed with a collection of nods. That was more than enough for Wakkein. "One way or the other, we're going to sink that bitch before she does any real damage, and we're going to do it in a way that will make Emperor Gihren himself loosen his 'Highborn' bowels," that earned more than a fair share of laughter, which Revil smiled in appreciation of. "Suffice to say I expect only the best results from all of you on this."

No nods this time, but the Admiral knew that he would get just that from those before him. Once more that was all he required. "Return to your ships and pass the message to your crews and mobile suit forces. We set for Bhatan within the next hour."

Zeon supercarrier Dolowa

Alone in her own office now, effectively away from her superior, her crew and the war at large, Captain Sara Lindermann wasted no time in pouring the bottle of Zeon brandy into the waiting glass, savoring the sight as well as the sound of the deep brown liquid trickling into its next container. Another victory it might have been – one enough for her to earn high praise at the end of it – the day had been long and trying nonetheless. Perhaps not as long nor as trying as it had been for the Feddies, but more than enough for Lindermann to feel worn and exhausted, in spite of her being a Highborn and all. How the Earthnoids would take to seeing a Zeon as such, if any of them had been left alive to do so, she mused.

As tedious as she and Lutjins found their present mission, hopping along from one star system to another and all but hoping and praying to whatever deity that they come across Admiral Revil's stomping ground, the truth was also that it could have been much worse for Lindermann and those she led. As the Admiral himself had recognized, they had faced considerable odds that would have severely bludgeoned, if not outright destroyed, any other Imperial ship or taskforce, and not only had they triumphed over those odds with exemption, but they had done so with as little harm taken as they could possibly get away with. And while Shetland and Scharnhorst may have been "backworld" star systems to the non-appraising eye, Lindermann knew that the garrison forces in either system had been considerable threats, especially if they were in fact among those forces that were to rally under Revil's banner for Odessa, wherever he was gathering them. As far as Lindermann was concerned, every Earth ship and mobile suit scrapped was one less that Zeon would face later, especially if and when the war at last returned to Earth as Admiral Lutjins so wished.

Though she was not quite as zealous, for lack of better word, in her own apprehension toward the Earthnoids, Lindermann could agree with Lutjins on one thing: the Earth Federation and its denizens were Zeon's primary foe. And not simply because Earth was perhaps the foremost among the Inner Powers. Lindermann couldn't put her finger on it, but there was indeed something different about the Feddies, something that, if left unchecked, could prove detrimental to the Empire later on. Perhaps it was their seemingly unyielding spirit? Whether it had been at Arcturus or when the beaten and battered Ark Royal had stood her ground against Admiral Garma on Anges, the Feddies never gave up the fight so easily, and they certainly loved to fight to the end at that. Or perhaps it was because they were so willing to face Zeon directly, in spite of all their biologic and technologic inferiorities? Lindermann had seen this for herself repeatedly, all the way into the present. Despite their being so outmatched, the Feddies at Shetland and Scharnhorst had not shirked away from facing the Dolowa and her numbers, seemingly dead set in at least taking some of the enemy down with them. An admirable, if mistaken mindset, the captain admitted to herself.

Taking a sip of her brandy at last, Lindermann ultimately decided that it was impossible to isolate the point of interest. That, for whatever universal traits the Feddies held among themselves, the result was all the same. They were the natural enemies of herself and her empire, and they needed to be subjugated or destroyed when and where possible. Anything less than that conclusion would only result in Zeon's weakening, later on if not within the present, as though the Feddies' daring to strike Odessa wasn't indicative of that alone.

It was a strange mindset, Lindermann knew, for she recalled an old Earth naval commander, whose name she could not remember at the moment, having the same mindset toward the particular nation he and his navy would face in that planet's Second World War. Though the exact quote had been construed and misaligned as history progressed, one point that had been remembered throughout was the Admiral's intention to completely dominate that nation, in such a way that he proclaimed that his military would have to march on that nation's capital and accept the terms of surrender then and there. Somehow Lindermann could see that being much the same with the Feddies in the present, such that their defeat would only be finalized when His Majesty, Grand Admiral Dozle or whoever else would go onto Dakar and accept President Hyran's formal surrender on Earth's behalf. Short of that, the Earthnoids would fight to the very end, Lindermann could believe, and they would do so with the same intent as those forces she had previously engaged. The intent to wound Zeon as much as they could before their inevitable demise.

The thought was quite sobering, despite the present alcohol. Though the willfulness to fight to the last, to simply "scar" the enemy if one could not kill them outright, was far from unique to the Earthers, Lindermann had once again seen firsthand that it drove them more than any other strain of humanity. Perhaps that was the Earthnoid trait she had been searching for, the trait that made them her enemy. Or perhaps such was only one element to the whole, and that the Feddies had even more going for them than even His Majesty himself truly realized. Lindermann actually found herself dreading the thought even more as a result.

Again ultimately however, such could, and would be dealt with another day. For the time being, the war would continue without Sara Lindermann, at least until the Dolowa reached her next point of destination. Only then would the game restart, and the next line of Feddies would be eliminated. Themselves to be followed with more of their brethren until the true target was at last reached.

Federation Lexington-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
System R-751

The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, Amuro recalled from somewhere as he again found himself on the Ark Royal's observation deck, staring out into the surrounding space. Or more specifically the ships that filled the surrounding space, from the immense Enterprise in the fairground to the battlecruiser Magellan and one or two of the Chicago-class cruisers that Amuro didn't really care to identify at present. If anything it was a point of difference from the usual emptiness of space, and as a proud technophile, Amuro certainly appreciated the presence of those ships and the crews within. Both for the abundant familiarness of technology – Earth technology at that – and because, unlike at Anges, it was a reminder that he and his ship would not be facing the Zeon alone this time around. Amuro hadn't fought alongside other Earth forces since Jericho, which might as well had been ancient history now, and so was quite glad that he and the 13th would not be going against the Dolowa by themselves.

Of course, that still belied the quote that had come to mind, as well as what the next "best-laid" plan would be. If they couldn't go against the Dolowa with nuclear weapons, then what other options did that leave? Certainly High Command didn't think nine ships, even if two of them were of the much feared Lexington-class, could face that juggernaut by themselves! Of course, considering what that very same High Command had made Amuro and his comrades do up to the present, he couldn't help but wonder if that's what the brass back home on Earth truly thought. His gut clenched at the notion, as well as the idea of their now one-hundred forty-four mobile suits – assuming that the new ships were carrying full loadouts – being pitted against the Dolowa's probable thousands without some kind of leverage. Even he, the White Devil, found that idea to be…

Obviously that will not be the case, Sayla spoke as she came to her usual place beside him, her own gaze out toward the gathered fleet and the presences therein. Even our High Command wouldn't be so foolish as to throw away two Trojan Horses, as well as the three Gundams, so wantonly.

Amuro sniffed at the notion, but ultimately decided Sayla was right. As she usually was. So what do you think we're going to do then? he asked her. Another concert like on Anges?

Sayla actually laughed at the thought of it. As amusing, and as admittedly entertaining as that would be, no, she responded. It will probably be another nuclear attack, or some other wonderweapon that the people back home have concocted. Something that will destroy the enemy at whole in an instant.

Amuro visibly frowned. I see.

Though he tried to conceal his despondence, Sayla was more than able to pick it up. You don't approve? she posited.

Of putting an end to that beast? Most certainly. But… Amuro trailed off somewhat, memories of Jericho emerging from within his consciousness. The thought of they, the supposed "good guys", having to employ something similar to the Zeeks…

Again Sayla laughed, this time in soft understanding. I highly doubt it will be a Colony Laser, or anything to that effect, she assured. In fact, considering the short amount of time given, it will probably be something created for a singular use.

In this instance sure, Amuro admitted. But technology, no matter how baseline, does have a tendency to be reused later down the line, he stated, this time bringing images of nuclear weapons being used throughout the centuries – well into the present – despite their "only" having meant to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Sayla conceded the point. Perhaps, she admitted, eying Amuro curiously. Do you truly fear that prospect?

Amuro raised an eyebrow, suddenly unsure. What do you mean?

The thought of technology being used for such widespread destruction, Sayla emphasized. Do you actually fear that?

Amuro was even more unsure now. What was Sayla alluding to, despite the apparent simplicity of the question? As much as he wanted to figure it out however, he answered regardless.

Of course I fear it, Amuro responded, considering. That's not to say I believe all technology should be non-destructive, and I certainly want our side to win the war, but…

He again frowned, this time more deeply. But I never did like how we humans keep coming up with more inventive ways of killing each other, he admitted. Nor do I want another Jericho to occur, no matter how far down the line.

Without turning to face her, Amuro couldn't help but feel Sayla was transfixed in that particular moment. As though she taking extra time in deliberating over his answer.

Do you not agree? Amuro questioned in return.

Blinking once, Sayla shook her head. Quite the contrary, I not only agree, she responded, then turning to face forward again, this time with a small smile across her lips. But you continue to impress me Amuro Ray.

Blinking more than once, Amuro attempted to inquire over that. What about his answer had impressed Sayla so much? Surely any real human being – even among the Zeon and their allies – would have given that kind of answer!

Knowing that he would not receive anything so direct in kind however, Amuro simply shook his head and decided to just continue on with the moment. Regardless of everything, including his usual antisocial character, there was nothing more he wanted now than to be there with Sayla. Looking out to space beyond, and all that lay therein…

Federation Montana-class battlecruiser Magellan
System R-751

"To the success of Operation Bismarck," Wakkein toasted, clinking his glass to the two Commanders before him. "And that we may all go onto return to those waiting for us."

"Indeed," Bright concurred, feeling more than a fair share of melancholy as the image of Emary, as well as Margaret and Cordelia, entered his consciousness. Doing well not to dwell on those images for too long, he took his drink alongside his fellows.

"If I may Admiral," Sleggar spoke up after he downed his own glass. "What do you think our odds are?"

Wakkein's grin was quite wry on that. "You don't want to know Commander," he responded with a shake of the head. "But at the least it's better than no plan at all."

He then nodded toward the nearby monitor, which presently displayed the next stage of Bismarck at its fullest. "And who knows? Maybe we'll actually get the bitch this time."

Both Bright and Sleggar nodded in agreement, themselves looking upon the monitor with muted interest. Both toward the fleet's placements and arrangements, as well as the Solar System's positioning some distance away.

"It would certainly allow us to make that return that much faster," Wakkein admitted, raising his glass toward the monitor. Not having, or desiring, to add the always present 'if' to that statement. Not that either Bright or Sleggar would believe otherwise of course.