Chapter V: Light of Hatred
Jericho II, Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
In relative peace, or at least what little peace he could muster in at the counter of an inner city tavern during a national holiday, Bright silently began to nurse his Newcastle brown ale as soon as the barkeep put it in front of him. It was now 1100, right after Admiral Wakkein's briefing had ended; a briefing that Bright came out of feeling as though he had been punched in the gut ten thousand times over. Thus, the alcohol was not only soothing, it was outright therapeutic.
The background music only added to the somberness that surrounded Bright like a planet's atmosphere; although he wasn't as big on more modern tunes as most others, even he recognized the mellow, rhythmic tone of Jun Hiroe's "Silent Voice". He personally found it a strange piece to be playing on a day of celebration, but then he really had no say or expertise on what the Jerichoans considered party music. At the very least it worked to sooth him as much as his glass of ale, which was what he needed right now, and as a bonus it drowned out the excess noise too. Now if it could only do something for the headache Bright felt coming on, which was yet another result of the earlier briefing.
Either way, for the time being, Bright just wanted to be left alone to drink and forget, if only for this one moment in time before he went back to being captain of the Ark Royal, for however much longer that would last. As such, when Sleggar and Mirai took seats on either side of him, he felt more disturbed at the violation of his tranquility than relieved to have friends nearby. At the same time however, he knew better than to tell them to leave him be; Wakkein had also saw fit to include them at the briefing, even though they were the only non-ship commanders to be there. An obvious jab at their presence at the meeting yesterday.
"One Blue Moon and a Jovian Iced Tea for the lady." Sleggar ordered after gaining the bartender's attention. Though not to Bright's extent, the CAG sounded like he was nursing a migraine in the making, evidenced by the way he stared at his flexing fingers. "I really want to kill something."
"Sorry, but you'll have to wait until Delaz's fleet shows up for that." Mirai commented dryly, just as the bartender returned with their drinks. She quickly took a sip from her alcohol induced iced tea and relished the flavor, before a bitter expression crossed her face. "Myself, I'm still wrapping my head over the Admiral's strategy."
Bright frowned at that one himself. Wakkein's plan was to divide the Second Fleet forces into two groups, with the first group to advance on the Zeon fleet when it appeared in Jerichoan space, and the second group to remain planetside until the given command. During the initial battle, the first group would take the brunt of the Zeon attack, but would allow the landing ships and their mobile suit escorts to slip through, at which point the second group was to launch into orbit. In theory, the landing forces would be caught against the second wave of Federation warships and MS as well as the planets defense satellites, and after they were eliminated, the second group would supplement the first in dealing with the rest of Delaz's fleet. From there, the remaining Zeon forces would either be eliminated or they would end up fleeing the system.
In Bright's opinion, the strategy would be effective against the Zeon should they attempt to directly invade Jericho II, but at the same time was also overspecialized in that area. Who was to say the Zeon would directly advance on Jericho II? There were multiple strategies for Delaz to follow in invading the planet, and it wasn't assured that was his objective. He kept such opinions to himself however, especially when his new superior would have none of his tactical expertise.
Mirai, being Bright's trusted XO, seemed to catch on to the same ideas. "It's a solid plan I admit, but it assumes too much. We don't even know if the Zeon are going to send a conventional landing force or not." she stated, before her look became darker. "And then there's his decision to put the Ark Royal in the rear of the second wave..."
Seeing her temperament, Sleggar decided to step in. "Carriers are supposed to function in the rear. That's been standard strategy since the Second World War."
"Conventional carriers perhaps. But the Ark Royal is as much a battlecruiser as she is a carrier." Mirai pointed out tensely. It was obvious she took great pride in her ship. "By all facts and logic, we should be part of the first wave, in the Magellan's battle group." she took another drink before continuing, her eyes becoming more intense. "Besides, we all can guess why he placed the us there..."
"Indeed." Bright concurred, speaking up for the first time in what felt like hours. "Admiral Wakkein has every confidence in the Ark Royal and her crew, but believes her captain inept and cowardly." he said, also taking a drink to alleviate the sting. "And the dark truth is he's not the only Admiral to think that."
"Can't be helped Bright. To the ones not in the know, or who won't bother to learn the truth, what you did at Arcturus would look like a coward's act." Sleggar said, patting his captain and friend on the back.
Mirai took a breath before she spoke up again. "Captain, if I may ask..." she started, causing Bright and Sleggar to both glance her way. "What exactly happened at Arcturus?"
Sleggar raised an eyebrow, mildly surprised. "You've been on the Ark Royal for this long and you still don't know about Bright's Retreat?"
The executive officer adopted a harsh gaze at that phrase; she also took great pride in her captain. "I've heard rumors." she said, her voice low. "But I never believed them." she then looked at Bright. "I cannot for the life of me see you running away like that, sir."
Bright let out a small, bitter laugh at that. "Your faith in me is highly appreciated Mirai." he replied, before taking another drink. "Unfortunately however, those rumors are true: the Ark Royal did run from Arcturus, and I commanded her to do so."
Again silence reigned briefly, before Mirai added. "Even if that's true sir." she spoke slowly, almost threateningly. "Surely there's more to the story than that."
Sleggar also looked toward Bright; not so much to hear the apparent truth, as he already knew about it, but to see if Bright would tell her or not. Bright Noa wasn't the type of man who liked sharing war stories, and Arcturus was far from one of his favorites to begin with.
Still, after a few moments of considering, as well as reflecting on Mirai's service to him and the ship up to the current point, Bright finally decided that she had the right to know. "Before I begin, I want you know the context of the battle." he said, looking Mirai square in the eye. "As you may recall, Zeon prioritizes sinking carriers first and foremost. We had already lost eight of the original twelve Midways in the war's early engagements; the Midway, Akagi, Yorktown, Hornet, Shinano, Kaga, Saratoga and Illustrious, all sunk. Their destruction left the Enterprise, Lexington, Soryu and Hiryu as the remaining four, until the Ark Royal was commissioned later on."
The captain then cast his executive officer a hardened look. "Thus, when Zeon received word that the last five ships of the Midway-class were gathered at Arcturus, they quickly singled us out from the rest of the fleet. With that in mind, you should have a clear picture of what we were going up against."
Mirai could only nod grimly at that statement, already imagining just how much the Zeon threw at the Ark Royal in that battle. With that accomplished, Bright went on. "The battle only lasted for a few hours, but it might as well had been days. From the onset, we were ordered to deploy our mobile suits forward into the enemy fleet, and so were left with only a small rear guard and our AA defenses for a screen. Every minute was a struggle, every enemy defeated quickly replaced by dozens more. Damage reports kept coming in, and our defenses kept being chipped away."
He looked down a little bit. "But even so, we struggled on. We obliterated every ship and Zaku they threw at us, no matter what their numbers were." something akin to pride flashed in his eyes. "For a time, it seemed like we were going to make our way through."
That pride was quickly replaced by something darker. "And then we picked up a newcomer: a single Zaku, flying over thirty percent faster than the others."
Recognition dawned in Mirai's gaze. "The Red Comet."
Bright nodded. "I knew we were all dead at that point. None of our escort suits or AA guns were touching him and he was aiming straight for the bridge. There was no time to maneuver, no time to clear the bridge. The only thing we could do was watch as Char closed in."
He knew what Mirai was going to ask next, and so beat her to the answer. "I survived, but for one reason alone: in the space preceding the attack, Captain Cassius shoved me into a turbolift and had it fast drop into the main hull." he then looked down toward the counter, recalling the image of the Ark Royal's first captain and Bright's mentor. "I just barely made it before the death blow; if the Captain had delayed for so much as two seconds, I would have perished with him and the rest of the bridge crew."
Again he sighed, trying to repress the imagery. "In the end, Char's attack didn't sink us, but it took out almost everything we had left. We lost the main bridge, the CDC, the hangar decks, the remainder of our weapons and armor, as well as the main engines. Both reactors were disabled and the auxiliaries were completely inoperable; we still had emergency power, but that was barely enough to hold the ship together, let alone keep us in the fight." he then looked toward Mirai carefully. "All that remained were the secondary engines, communication system and the warp drive. And the latter only had enough power for one jump."
Against the intensity of his gaze, Mirai could only look away. "You took the only option you had."
Bright looked toward his drink again. "Before he shoved me off the bridge, Captain Cassius gave me one last order: to get the ship out of the battle." he explained. "At that point, I was left with a ship that couldn't fight nor maneuver, and with the hangars and CDC destroyed, we couldn't recall our mobile suits even if they had been in comm. range." Mirai looked at Sleggar on that one, who nodded solemnly as Bright went on. "The Ark Royal was all but dead in space, and would not withstand any further Zeon attacks."
Bright's eyes narrowed. "So, going against direct orders from the squadron flagship, I ordered an emergency jump back to Earth, as close as we could get." He shook his head at that, starting to feel his emotions well up. "I did what I had to do to follow my commander's last order, to save my ship and crew, and damn it all, I will never apologize for it!" he declared stoutly.
Mirai wasn't shaken by that declaration in the least, but she still felt the force behind it. Seeing that, Bright calmed down. "Since then, half of Star Force sees me as a hero who ultimately saved his ship, and the other half sees me as a coward who fled in the heat of battle." he stated. "Obviously, Wakkein's one of the latter."
"Obviously." Sleggar commented dryly, taking a sip of his drink as well. "At least his word doesn't amount as much as Fleet Admiral Revil's."
Bright nodded as he took a drink as well. After all, it had been Admiral Revil's word alone that had kept him in the service, and much more promoted him to Captain and given him command of the Ark Royal. To this day he didn't know what the Admiral saw in him to do it, but at the same time he didn't question it. "Either way, the sooner we get back on track to Earth, the better."
Mirai eyed her commander curiously. "Even if it means having to take part in another major battle?"
Bright allowed himself to smirk a little. "Just another day at the office, as far as I'm concerned." he said, before letting the smirk fade. "Besides, after such battles as Arcturus and Riah, I doubt this one will be anything to write in the history books."
"That is assuming people still write in the physical sense, much less print actual books, in this day and age." Sleggar replied dryly before taking another drink himself. He did not miss the dubious glances from the other two.
Bright was about to let off a dry retort to that statement, which not only would have informed Sleggar that people still physically wrote books in the Galactic Century, but they also used things like wheels and motor engines on occasion. However, before he could speak one word of it, he felt the databand on his left wrist buzz, informing that it had received a new message. Essentially the wrist mounted combination of a datapad, chronometer and a comm. device with holographic display features, the databand was a standard facet for Star Force personnel; they were to have it on them at nearly all times, especially when off duty. Sleggar, in his usual manner, had at certain points called it an "iWatch", whatever that was.
At first, Bright was going to ignore it; whatever it was could wait until he was back on duty as far as he was concerned. But then he noticed that Sleggar and Mirai's databands had also vibrated, as did those of the other Star Force personnel in the tavern. Thus, feeling certain grimness in his heart, Bright reached up and tapped the device, causing a holographic message window to form in front of him. When he read the contents of the message, his eyes widened in alarm.
"Back to the ship. Now." he stated to both Mirai and Sleggar. The two, alarm apparent in their eyes as well, nodded and quickly got up with their captain, before hurriedly exiting with the other Star Force personnel.
Needless to say, the bartender and the other patrons were quite disturbed by this development.
Amuro Ray had never been a firm believer in the Chaos In Control theory, which claimed control and order could be born out of the most unstable and unpredictable forms and entities. However, upon standing at the side of the street, amidst a crowd of cheering Jerichoans, the cascading sounds of band music ringing out for all to hear and the tones of celebration in full and unrestricted movement, he found himself reconsidering his stance upon that theory. At least, in between the urges to ask Fraw, who was standing next to him, for quick medication; the minute headache he had felt when it all began was now threatening to turn into a full migraine.
By and large, the seventieth anniversary celebration of their planet's colonization was in full spirit as well as full volume. The entire city was decked out in lights and colored streamers. Revelers in costumes based upon various cultural themes and characters, both ancient and modern, were out en masse; in fact, there was a whole parade of them, alongside accompanying floats, running through Main Street at that very moment. People had spent the last several hours in a unified state of inebriation, the cheering and pleasant greetings constant and the food and alcohol unending. Politics were mocked (especially in the case of the Earth Federation's current President, Jamitov Hyran), formalities ignored, and wickedness could be said to having a gala affair throughout the very planet. For all accounts and purposes, Jericho II was in a state of uncontrollable bliss, and a far more intensive bliss than one would believe a non-Zeon Outer Rim world was capable of.
Naturally, this was not something Amuro wanted to be a part of, let alone stuck in the middle of it. Throughout his short life he had never been a party person; he even hated the birthday parties his Kindergarten class threw for him. No, he belonged either in his room, working on various personal projects, playing hologames or watching movies and holo shows, or in the cockpit of Unit Alpha, working out Project V's kinks; a true introvert as described in the Dictionary Galactica. And that was not discounting the fact that the sheer jubilance and celebration only played havoc on his sixth sense, making him feel the most overwhelmed he had been in a decade.
Unfortunately, none of that meant a thing to Fraw, as usual. Once again she had insisted that he get out and "live", whatever the hell that meant. At the moment she was waving toward a cartoon themed float, complete with mascots. "Come on Amuro, join the fun!" she called out to him in the middle of her waving. "You only get to live once, especially in your line of work."
"Don't remind me." Amuro replied with a grimace, trying to ignore the pulsating in his head. It only got worse. "Can we please go now, or at least take a break?"
"For the fourth time in the last seven minutes, no!" Fraw answered staunchly. "You are not going to slink back to the Ark Royal and lock yourself away from all this!"
"But Fraw...!" Amuro tried to whine.
"It's final Amuro!" Fraw interrupted, determination unyielding and annoyance mounting. "Ask me again, and I'll write you up for ignoring medical advice and recommend you be taken off the active duty roster!"
Though he wasn't sure if Fraw could actually carry out that threat, Amuro backed down regardless. It just wasn't worth getting into a conflict with her over, but then not many things were. As such, he stood back and continued to watch the parade, all the while ignoring his sixth sense as well as his instinct to remove himself from the crowd and duck into the nearest corner.
Eventually though, one float passed into the parade that captured his interest: a giant green Haro, surrounded by men and women dressed in costumes from the cartoon series Superior Defender Force. It was an old series that dated back twenty years, but it was still widely popular throughout the galaxy; Amuro had heard rumors that it had even reached as far out as Zeon, and that the Zeon had even made a mono-eyed Haro for their own mascot. Naturally, it had been one of his own favorites growing up, such that he couldn't keep from smiling at the display, as well as when one of the girls waved at him while calling out the trademark "Hello Genki."
Immediately Fraw took notice of this development and smirked herself. "Well, looks like we finally have progress." she surmised. "And here I thought you never watched the holo, much less had any favorites."
"Even I had a childhood once upon a time, Fraw." Amuro retorted, his current mood remaining. "Contrary to what my Star Force medical record may claim, I wasn't born in a mobile suit cockpit."
Fraw snickered at that. "Actually, your record claims you were born in Saint Francis Hospital in Norad." she replied, looking back at the float. "I take it you had a Haro growing up?"
"What kid didn't have a Haro growing up?" Amuro rhetorically questioned, once more smiling at the memories. "I had all sorts of fun with mine, probably a bit more than the designers intended."
Fraw could imagine that. "Let me guess, you kept taking it apart and putting it back together."
"That and I kept adding features to it through the process." Amuro said, slowly getting into it. "Did you know I was the only kid on the block who had a Haro that could fly?"
His companion raised an eyebrow. "I thought Haros could already fly."
"In minimal gravity sure, but not in Earth's well." Amuro clarified. "I got around this through a miniaturized hover drive, which I added into its base, and then programmed the wing flaps to provide stabilization. At most it could only reach five meters off the ground, but it could stay in the air for quite some time."
"Interesting." Fraw replied, before a thought occurred to her. "Do they actually make hover drives that small?"
"Not back then. I practically invented it, though all I did was miniaturize an existing design." Amuro said, now speaking with certain pride. "My first engineering triumph."
"Heh. Figures." Fraw chuckled. Inwardly she was just happy Amuro was finally opening up with her; this had been her ulterior motive in keeping him out there, such that she was willing to endure the crowd and the standing around herself for it. Indeed, they were making progress, albeit by a small amount.
Starting to feel himself get into it, Amuro kept watch over the parade, curious to see if he would see anything else nostalgic to him. However, the more he watched, the more he felt a strange sensation enter his mind; a very discomforting and familiar sensation that made his blood run cold. The feeling that something was off with the setting; the feeling that impending doom was approaching.
What is that...? Amuro thought, as he twisted his head around, trying to find the source of the sensation. Suddenly he felt a spark erupt from his consciousness, as several images entered his mind: the cloaked silhouettes of Zeon warships traveling through a warp tunnel, only to emerge within the system. A moment later, a blinding beam of light across space, which then reached out toward Jericho. And then, right before his eyes, Amuro watched that beam shoot down and blast into the surface, filling his entire world with white.
Unable to contain it, Amuro felt himself hunch over, the urge to vomit beginning to overpower him. Subconsciously he held it down, but it was still enough to cause him to breath heavy and become weak. Fraw was over him immediately.
"Amuro!?" she called out, worry now apparent. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Fraw... I..." Amuro barely managed to mouth out, reaching his hand over his head, strain visible in his expression.
Despite not understanding what was happening, Fraw was quick to act, her concern for Amuro outweighing her confusion. "We're done here." she stated straight off, before standing Amuro up and putting her hand over his shoulder. "Let's get you back to the ship."
Amuro was only too eager to acknowledge, though at that point he had effectively shook it off. Fraw saw that herself, but she wasn't about to risk any further exposure for the Gundam pilot; for all she knew Amuro had just taken as much time planetside as he could for one day. And she knew he wasn't faking it, as Amuro wasn't the type of person to fake a seizure. Either way, she would only know what to do once she got him back to sickbay, where she could analyze him properly.
Unfortunately that would not come to be. Just as they managed to reach the edge of the crowd, both of their databands vibrated, causing them to reflexively raise them up and activate their displays. Horror quickly encompassed them as they read the message. "That's...!" Fraw breathed out, to shocked to form a full sentence.
Amuro wore the same expression, only his horror was compounded. All at once, his mind recalled what he had just seen, and the message suddenly became clearer. Even so, both his training and his instinct caused him to focus. "As you said Fraw, we're heading back." he said simply.
At that, Fraw nodded in turn, and both moved quickly through the streets. Beside them, other members of Star Force also began to move, weaving their way out of the crowds, with more than one citizen noting the development. Certain anxiety quickly began to spread across New Torrington as a result.
It was the silence that greeted her first when she entered. Contrary to the city streets, which were filled with the sounds of music, jovial laughter and joyful calls, the inside of the church was quiet and tranquil, as appropriate for a place in which one found solace from the even continuous chaos and despair of existence. In fact, so peaceful did she find that the interior, that one could actually believe that God himself took up residence in this place, just as it had been written upon book and scroll thousands of years ago.
Of course, Sayla had other reasons for being there, in this House of the Lord that had endured since Jericho's colonial days. None of them had anything to do with worship, but they were just as important to her. To put it succinctly, there was a certain power that surrounded places of faith; a power that for all her own wisdom she, and those like her, could not explain. It was a power that transcended the flesh and fulfilled the soul, providing calm to the most turbulent of entities as well as causing one to feel hope where none otherwise existed. Perhaps it was the power of the Lord Almighty, perhaps it wasn't. Perhaps it was the lingering will and joy of those who frequented and worshiped in this place, perhaps it wasn't. All Sayla knew was that she needed to feel that power now, before she again returned to space and fought her crusade.
Slowly she continued to walk down the nave, past the dual rows of pews. It was midday now, and as such the Jerichoan sun shone brightly through the various stained glass windows, casting a myriad of color and shadow along her path and further augmenting the tranquility; again all too fitting for a sanctuary against the evils of the universe. She adhered to the tone of her surroundings, making sure that her footsteps were controlled and muted while body motions remained conserved. She also made a conscious effort not to touch anything, if only as an extra effort. Eventually she made her way up to the bema, from which she looked up toward the ornate, gold embroidered cross hanging down from the back wall
For a time, she stood there, studying the cross, upon which the ultimate representation of power and love was said to have been condemned. Thousands of years ago, the Son of God made the ultimate sacrifice for all of mankind, taking their sins upon himself and plunging into Death so that they may be forgiven from on high. Today, in spite of all the advancements of mankind, as well as those who questioned if that man really was of divine nature, that sacrifice had yet to be forgotten, and so its image had been placed upon this world at the far reaches of the galaxy. Looking it over, Sayla had to admit to herself that, while she was also unsure if that man as really God in mortal form, she still admired his devotion to his purpose, as well as those around him.
And then she picked up the presence of another. "Well, this is a surprise." the blonde haired, oddly bespectacled priest spoke as he himself entered. "I wasn't expecting this place to receive any visitors, at least not at this hour." he smiled jokingly as he then said. "I assume you're here for confession?"
Sayla sniffed at that. "I think you can already tell the sins I've committed, just from this uniform." she replied, continuing to look up at the cross.
The priest chuckled at that. "This is good, as receiving confessions is not something I aspire to." he said, as he came up next to her. "Though it still leaves the question: why are you here, child?"
Sayla considered her answer for a moment. "For solace, Father." she replied. "A moment of peace before I return to the Crusade."
The priest arched an eyebrow. "A peculiar reference." he answered. "Are you referring to this war that has enveloped the galaxy? Or one of a more personal nature?"
Sayla finally looked down on that one. "Both." she answered. "The Federation's war against Zeon is my own." she then looked back at the priest with a hardened gaze. "I suppose this is where you lecture me on vengeance being the Lord's alone."
The old priest merely laughed and shook his head. "Such a lecture is not mine to give child. If the Lord wishes you to relearn that creed, then he will bring it to your attention in due time."
The exile nodded in acknowledgment, before turning back toward the cross, once more studying it. A long moment of silence past before she started speaking again. "A curious notion." she said. "Not many things have survived these last several centuries, when man started colonizing the Stars." she spoke. "And yet, our faith and belief in an all powerful, all knowing force that transcends understanding still persists."
"A curious notion indeed." the priest answered, also looking up at the cross. "This church was built when Jericho II was only a colony world itself, existing in the very fringes of space." he spoke knowledgeably. "When you look back at the earliest pioneers of the Outer Rim, they mostly consisted of undesirables, such as criminals and political exiles; humans that were not accepted in the Inner or Middle Worlds. Thus, they settled upon the Outer Worlds, at the farthest ends of our galaxy, because there was nowhere else for them to go."
He shook his head. "In worlds such as this one, light is a precious commodity. The stars furthest from the Galactic Core do not give off as much light as those closer in; as such, darkness is far more prevalent here than Man is used to. And yet, humans, no matter how much they have evolved from their ancestors, cannot live without light; as such, when the stars fail, it is only natural that they place their faith into one who is said to be the Everlasting Light."
"Even though we humans have long since put an end to the era of God?" Sayla shot back in an ironic tone.
The priest chuckled at that, recognizing the famous quote from the first Earth Federation President. "Ricardo Marcenas was not the first to claim such." he stated. "You can look back as far back in human history as you wish, and you will find there were multiple occasions in which mankind attempted to distance itself from God." he looked back toward the cross. "Many times man has attempted to replace Him with another light. Sometimes it would be one of their own who rose above the rest, other times it would be a new kind of philosophy that claimed to transcend all of humanity, and even more it would be the simple desire for wealth and power."
He looked back at Sayla. "And yet, each time those institutions would fail, and mankind would find itself seeking Him once again." he stated knowingly. "And so it shall be with Zeon in the here and now."
Sayla felt herself sneer at that. "Or at least with Gihren."
The priest gave a flat smile himself. "Again, it's only natural. Zeon was once a desolate world barely fit to support life, so its inhabitants turned toward the closest light they could find." he replied. "Originally it was the Daikuns, now it has since transitioned to the Zabis."
The mobile suit ace almost bit her lip on that one. "At least neither Bismarck von Daikun nor his heirs ever claimed themselves as Gods." she said, trying to keep the defensiveness from her voice. "The people followed them not because they proclaimed divinity, but because they proclaimed vision."
"Indeed." the priest concurred, noticing a certain change in his young ward. "And a spectacular if terrifying vision they possessed."
It was then that Sayla noticed that the priest was holding a book under his left arm. At first, she thought it was a Bible, but upon closer inspection, she noticed it had a different texture and page width to it than the holy scripture. As well, upon closer inspection, she found that the title was quite different. "Is that...?"
The priest again chuckled as he held up the black book, revealing golden print on its cover. The title was Ascension, and its listed author was Markus von Daikun.
"Not quite something you would expect a someone like me to read, is it?" he asked, as he held up the book and looked it over; it was apparent that he had been reading it just before coming out to meet Sayla. "A rather long account that, despite written by a mortal man, speaks of powers and transferences beyond the imagination. Not all that different from many other texts in the past, which were written by other such men who believed they completely understood the will of God, or that they held true perception over the universe when those around them did not."
He looked up, as if considering. "And yet, unlike all those other texts, there is certain truth to this one."
"The Ascension of Mankind." Sayla quoted, looking at the book with certain familiarity. "As humanity journeys further into the void of space, their latent power, free from the influence of Earth, will blossom in order to adapt to the failing light."
The priest again smiled. "Indeed."
Sayla felt a certain weight to those words, as written by the great Emperor Markus long ago. However, she retained a skeptical front. "You believe such a claim?"
The priest smiled. "I believe that there are events in motion that are beyond human understanding." he replied, just as a familiar wave of pressure emanated from his form. "Events that even those who foresaw and wrote prophecy could not comprehend."
Sayla closed her eyes and lightly smiled at that. "Except there was one thing that they understood... One thing that Emperor Markus and his family understood..."
She then opened her eyes again, they projected power. "That our coming would mark the final days, as well as the final evolution, of humanity."
The priest again nodded. "When Man rises to the Realm of God."
Suddenly a surge of energy rushed into Sayla's mind, causing her turn away with visible shock. In her mind's eye, she could see the image of cloaked Zeon ships moving through warp, while the profile of their commander, a tall, bald headed man with a goatee, wearing a uniform with Admiral markings, instilled itself upon her consciousness. From that, it wasn't long before her memory became active and recalled everything she knew about that man.
This feeling... she thought, looking upon the Admiral with great and terrible familiarity. Delaz!
Sure enough, her databand began to vibrate, reflexively causing her to lift her arm and activate the holoprojector, thereby displaying the message. The first thing she noticed was it had been sent by Jericho Command; in other words, Admiral Wakkein himself.
ZEON FLEET INCOMING
ETA THIRTY MINUTES
ALL PERSONNEL REPORT TO BATTLESTATIONS
The priest sighed as he himself seemed to know what was going on. "It would seem we're out of time." he said solemnly. "And that certain events are about to transpire."
"I suggest you find shelter, or a way off planet. Things are going to be rough in the next few minutes." Sayla replied, before turning to rush out the entryway. However, before she exited the chapel, she turned and looked toward the priest one last time. "Out of curiosity, Father, what is your name?"
Strangely, the priest laughed a little at that. "I'm afraid I do not possess such a thing, child." he replied, that smile ever present. "But if you need a word reference for myself, you could liken me to an observer. One who stands on the sidelines and watches."
Needless to say, Sayla found that very peculiar. Even so, she decided that would be enough. "I truly hope we meet again, Father." she replied before running out, mentally preparing herself for battle as she did.
No sooner than had she exited the church did the early warning sirens sound off throughout New Torrington. Alongside the rest of the planet.
Zeon Scharnhorst-class battlecruiser Ludendorff
July 1, GC 379
Watching the sheering tunnel of light continue to streak around the Ludendorff's central bridge viewport, Admiral Aigulle Delaz, commander of the Zeon Imperial Guard's Fourth Fleet, allowed a highly anticipating smile to creep upon his face. In the next approximate half hour, his forces would reach the end of that tunnel and enter the Jericho System, one of the many strongholds of Zeon's enemies. From there, he would deploy his forces and do battle with them; or more specifically, he would deploy his forces and obliterate them, period. The special unit that his fleet was shepherding would see to that.
In the meantime however, all he could do was continue to watch that tunnel of light, created by millions upon millions of stars streaking past his flagship, engulf his vision. Though it was still a half hour before time of arrival, and he had every right to retire to his office or personal quarters until then, he preferred to remain on the bridge with the rest of his crew. After all, he had already called for Level 1 Battlestations, and it would certainly not do well for him to break protocol, even if he was an Admiral. Others in his position would have done it, but Delaz hated the very thought of it; as such, he would endure the same regulations and protocols that he expected his men to. Besides, there really wasn't much else for him to do at this point.
Out of reflex he checked his wrist chronometer: twenty-four minutes until reversion now. He groaned at that, feeling as though he were stuck in a time-space anomaly as opposed to a warp tunnel, one in which time either moved more slowly than in realspace or not at all. In summary, it was the waiting before the big battle that Delaz, as with many others in his position, hated the most. Being a Zeon, he did not fear battle, especially battle against the lowborn of the Federation, but he still wanted to get into it, finish it and bask in the glory as soon as possible. If only warp travel were instantaneous. Just another thing for our Race to figure out in time. he thought bemusedly. Though it would be preferable before the war's end.
Soon enough, his genetically enhanced hearing picked up the sound of turbolift doors opening from behind the bridge. From there, a singular pair of footsteps emerged and made its way forward, until they came right next to his command chair. Despite the new presence however, Delaz didn't turn, as he already knew who the newcomer was. "I thought you would be in your Zaku awaiting launch, Commander."
Retaining a smile, Commander Anavel Gato let off a shrug. "I will return to my Zaku when the time is right Admiral." he replied casually. "Until then, I wish to directly witness our initial victory."
That earned a small laugh from Delaz. Despite the great difference in rank, they had been friends for quite some time. "I see you are already convinced of this battle's outcome."
"'Battle'?" Gato repeated, laughing himself. "With all due respect Admiral, this will not be a battle, but a slaughter. A battle would have been if we gave the Feddies a fighting chance."
"They may just have a fighting chance Commander." Delaz replied staunchly, again looking at the chronometer. "Anything can happen in the next twenty minutes or so, including Wakkein sensing our approaching and moving his fleet to respond."
"I doubt that Wakkein could sense an approaching bowel movement." Gato stated dismissively. "And if, through some miracle of the universe, does detect our approach, so what? That just means we'll destroy him in the traditional manner." He then added with confidence. "And even then, our victory remains, as there is no way the Feddies will be able to foresee our main attack. Much less respond to it in time."
"Indeed." Delaz concurred. "But that still leaves one of our main objectives unfulfilled."
"Only for the moment Admiral. What our blitzkrieg doesn't destroy will only be vulnerable to our follow up attack." Gato said with certain reassurance.
Delaz frowned. "You're assuming that whatever forces remain will be too overrun with despair to mount an effective defense." he elaborated. "In my experience, that is not always an absolute."
"Don't tell me you believe that myth; that lowborn, when cornered, will only be driven to fight on." Gato waved dismissively. "That's never happened in my experience."
"Recall the Battle of Arcturus, Commander." Delaz stated, as if warning. "We were right on the doorstep of the Federation's capital world, victory close to formulation, yet we were still denied because Star Force would not give up the fight."
Again Gato shook his head, but this time out of disagreement. "Once more with all respect Admiral, the Feddies won Arcturus because they still felt hope; hope, if only to deny our inevitable victory and continue the war. In turn, that hope was born out of motivation to protect their precious Earth."
His smile returned, taking on a bloodthirsty tone, one charismatic of a Zeon warrior. "This operation is different. Assuming our first attack does not destroy all of them, we will still have stripped the lowborn of their motivation, and therefore their hope. And from that, they will lose their will to fight in turn."
"They may still wish to avenge their dead." Delaz pointed out.
"Such desire tends to be eliminated by their survival instincts." Gato deterred. "If any do continue to fight, it will be in order to escape, not to destroy us or even hurt us."
Delaz let out a breath of air from nostrils at that idea. In truth, everything Gato said was logical and well within the underdeveloped psyches of the sub-beings they were about to face. Hell, he outright wanted the words Gato spoke to turn out as reality.
That being said however, his perspective as a fleet commander gave him a perspective that Gato, a mere mobile suit force commander, lacked. Whereas Gato had only seen Feddie mobile suits and ships run in his midst (before and after he had gained his famous epithet), Delaz had seen the Feddies stand firm against clear Zeon superiority. Whereas Gato had only seen the war from the cockpit of his Zaku, Delaz had seen it from both the bridge of his flagship as well as from tactical centers, stellar atlases, and even Emperor Gihren's private war room in Bismarck Palace. And finally, whereas Gato could get away with generalizing the lowborn to a matter of biology, Delaz could not do so by nature of his position; many Zeon commanders had paid with their commands and their lives for underestimating the lowborn, and though Delaz didn't expect much out of them himself, he still knew them to be capable of anything. It was only in battle itself did they show their full potential, and not before.
Thus was the answer he gave. "Either way." he started, once more looking at the chronometer. "We will see in the next sixteen minutes."
Gato nodded at that, before turning to look back at the tunnel of light in the bridge viewport. Indeed, they would see everything in the next sixteen minutes, much to his anticipation, which was only shared by Delaz and every other member of the present Zeon force.
Federation Actium-class battlecruiser Magellan
Jericho II, Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
"Admiral on the bridge!" an anonymous bridge crewman called out as Wakkein exited the turbolift.
With the presence of a Venusian storm cloud, Wakkein made his way through the Magellan's bridge and promptly took his seat in the command chair. At the moment the crew were still going through launch procedures, which were being rushed through for obvious reasons, and so there was nothing for him to do but sit in his chair and stew over the current situation. And stew he did.
Goddamn you Delaz. Wakkein mentally cursed at the imposing image of the bald and goateed Admiral in his mind, such that his lips subconsciously twisted into a highly infuriated sneer. He might not have been the most brilliant Admiral in Star Force, but he was not an idiot. He knew when he had been played; the Zeeks had deliberately leaked Delaz's invasion force to the Bacchus listening post, knowing that Wakkein himself would move to Jericho's defense in response. The only thing they had altered, at least from what he could tell, was the date of the attack, making it appear Delaz's force would arrive much later than in actuality.
That in itself bothered Wakkein for some reason. While it was obvious the Zeeks had wanted him in Jericho, the main questioned remained: why? Sure, he was an Admiral and the commander of Star Force's Second Fleet, making him a target of interest for Zeon, but why did they go to the trouble of luring him out for a fight? Surely Delaz wasn't a man, or more precisely a Zeek, to go to all this trouble just for one specific enemy. If that were the case, and Jericho II remained the prize as Wakkein and Star Force Intelligence had originally assessed, then why bother calling him out at all? Wouldn't the Zeeks have had an easier time conquering Jericho II without him and his Second Fleet detachment there?
Beside those, there was an additional question that Wakkein couldn't help but wonder: where exactly had the alert on Delaz's true arrival time come from? Judging by how the alert had come straight from Star Force Command, Wakkein assumed it originated from Mayfly, the Federation's top agent within Zeon. So high up in fact, that the rumors claimed he/she reported directly to Fleet Admiral Revil himself, and that only he and President Jamitov were aware of his/her true identity. If that were the case, it certainly didn't make Wakkein any more comfortable; the fact Mayfly had risked his/her cover to send a last minute alert out only meant that this was the real deal. That is, unless the Zeon had already caught onto Mayfly and were now using him/her to send a false message. But why would they do that when they already fooled him the first time?
Of course, all of those questions and inquiries could be figured out afterward. Right now, what mattered most to Wakkein was that incoming Zeon fleet and the proverbial hell on wheels, to borrow one more phrase from eras past, they were bringing with them. Best case scenario would be that his initial strategy would remain effective; while their fleets battled it out, Delaz, being the good little Zeek he was, would send his landing ships forward through the melee in an attempt to reach the surface, from which Wakkein would call up his second wave and slaughter them before they even made it into Jericho II's thermosphere. Any escort MS would also be subsequently cut down by the planetary defense batteries if not the second force's AA weapons.
And the worst case scenario? Delaz's force proves to be larger than anticipated, leaving Wakkein no choice but to abandon Jericho II, in which case he and his ships would be forced to fight their way past the Zeeks in order to reach any safe warp launch points. Obviously, Wakkein hoped for the best.
"Sir, Group One is prepared to move out." the Magellan's captain informed him, snapping the Admiral out of his thoughts.
Wakkein nodded approvingly at that. "Very well. Launch immediately." he ordered.
A moment later, Wakkein watched as the Magellan and the other ships of Group One began to rise from their resting places, before angling upward toward space.
Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Jericho II, Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
"There they go." Mirai commented as she watched the first group of Admiral Wakkein's taskforce lift off from the starport and ascend into the sky. Though she put forth an objective front, one could still sense traces of bitterness in her voice.
Taking his own chair, Bright also watched the fleet, led by the mighty battlecruiser Magellan, move out. One after another the ships took to the sky and disappeared into the sky, their forms growing smaller and smaller until they vanished altogether. Mirroring Mirai's bitterness, Bright vehemently wished he were among those going up first; better to dive into combat from the beginning as opposed to remain on planet and vulnerable. But that wasn't his call to make, and it was only a minor nuisance anyway.
The Ark Royal crew were going through pre-launch procedures now, alongside every other ship in the fleet; though she would not be part of the first wave, Bright still wanted the Ark Royal ready to launch at a moment's notice, specifically when Wakkein's order came through. If nothing else, he would focus on performing his role in Jericho's defense, no matter how miniscule or perceptively insignificant it would be, and from there surviving to continue on their original mission to Earth. Everything else, including his standing within Star Force's hierarchy, was of secondary concern.
That being, as he sat back on his command chair, watching as his crew worked, he couldn't help but feel that there was something off with the Zeon attack. While it was obvious, even from Bright's lower ranked perspective, that Delaz had intentionally leaked a false time of arrival for his invasion force, exactly what kind of advantage could he have gained from it? Strategies that usually employed those types of tactics were meant to be sneak attacks, but Bright couldn't see Delaz pulling something like that off successfully, early warning aside; even if the Zeon had remained undetected until they were orbiting Jericho II, the fact was Wakkein was well within position to respond the moment they appeared. Surely Delaz would have recognized that. Surely there had to be more than what was shown.
Out of instinct he turned to ask Sleggar his opinion, only to remember that the CAG wasn't present on the bridge; instead, he was currently suiting up with the rest of his pilots, ensuring that they would be ready to launch the moment the Ark Royal entered battle. That was rather frustrating, as Sleggar was usually the one Bright shared his inner most doubts with, as both had served on the Ark Royal since her commissioning. In that regard, Bright thought about turning the question toward Mirai; after all, she was his Executive Officer, or "Number One" as Sleggar liked to refer to her as, whatever that was supposed to mean. However, he decided against it; at the moment he needed her to remain concentrated on her duties, and sharing his doubts with her would likely throw her off.
"Sir?" Mirai's voice suddenly pierced his thoughts, bringing him back to reality.
Bright shook his head. "It's nothing." he stated plainly, before fixing his captain's hat, which he had been holding on his lap, onto his head. "Status."
Mirai nodded, deciding not to push the subject. "All checks complete. We can launch at any time, though obviously we'll need Jericho Control to give the final signal."
"Good." Bright summarized as he looked over his crew. Though he couldn't see their faces, as they were all fixed on their respective stations, he could tell they were ready for battle. And Sleggar should be getting his pilots into their suits now...
Now fully dressed in his white pilot suit, Amuro settled into the cockpit of Unit Alpha, the access hatch closing in front of him. A few moments later, the cockpit instruments and the panoramic monitor lit up in their respective patterns, the latter giving Amuro a whole view of the hangar interior, which in itself was a hive of activity as technicians and mechanics went about their work of preparing the Ark Royal'smobile suit forces for battle. A few of them, Astonaige included, were even grouped around his Gundam, checking it over for any possible technical issues that may hinder it in the coming fight.
As for himself, Amuro was as ready for battle as he would ever be. Though Fraw had initially been reluctant, she had eventually cleared him for combat duty after some convincing and a rushed physical check up. The fact that Amuro himself had wanted to join the fight had a strong effect on that; after all, only a few days ago he had been adamant about not taking part in active combat, emphasizing his status as a test pilot. It was uncharacteristic of him, but Amuro had his reasons; he still remembered the fates of Fraw's parents during the Battle of Shangri-La, and he knew many more would end up like them if the Zeon invaded Jericho II. A few days ago he only had his mothership, a Star Force fleetcarrier manned by combat personnel, to defend against a small Zeon taskforce; now he would be defending a whole world, one full of innocent life, against a full Zeon fleet. In that sense, it would have been selfish, even by Amuro's standards, if he had chosen to sit this one out.
And so there he was, suited up and ready for battle. Sure, he was on Ready Five status with the rest of the Ark Royal's contingent, but there was no helping that as the invasion was imminent. If nothing else it gave him time to sit back and think about things. That was something he needed, given the vision that he had received during the parade; the same vision that he had held upon arriving to Jericho II in the first place.
Just what the hell was that light? he thought as he replayed the vision from memory. Every time he saw it there, he felt he was missing something crucial; a key point that would make all the difference in the world. What he did know, however, is that both times the vision had come on, it generated the same feeling upon Amuro as when he had detected Char's trap at Shangri-La, the one where he attempted to lure the three Gundams into the fire of that red battlecruiser. It was also the same feeling from when Amuro had detected Char's taskforce in X-145. All that taken in, whatever the vision meant to foretell, it was entirely relevant.
Again he replayed the image in his head. A white beam of light, firing down onto the planet. At first he figured it was a beam cannon shot, likely one fired from a Zeon ship commencing an orbital bombardment; that in itself was highly discouraging, even though he knew a few Zeek ships were due to get close enough. However, when analyzed the beam in his mind, he felt that it was somehow more powerful than a beam cannon shot. Far more powerful in fact, as well as much larger.
And then all at once, he felt it come over him again. He saw the Zeon fleet emerge into the system, where they faced Jericho II and its Federation defenders. Only this time, he saw something else amongst the enemy force's number; something large and ominous, its front opened up in a gaping maw. And in that maw, he saw energy collect, swirl and converge toward its center, until it was all dispersed in one shot. And as Amuro "watched" in horror as that shot lanced out toward him, blanketing everything over with light...
Zeon Scharnhorst-class battlecruiser Ludendorff
Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
"We have entered the Jericho System, Admiral." the Ludendorff's captain said, with no shortage of excitement evident in his voice as Jericho II lined up on the main monitor. That excitement was matched by the rest of the bridge crew, as well as Commander Gato who was still on the bridge. At least until the following report came up.
"I'm detecting numerous Star Force ships arrayed around the second planet, defense screen formation." the sensor operator stated with apparent shock, obviously disbelieving his own instruments.
"What?" the captain exclaimed in confusion, his previous jubilation quickly replaced with confusion.
"Magnify." Delaz ordered immediately, the only one on the bridge who remained non-incredulous.
Upon that, the bridge monitor flickered and centered upon a specific area in front of Jericho II. Sure enough, there was an entire fleet of Star Force ships, all perfectly arrayed and aligned in a defense screen above Jericho, one that directly faced the oncoming Zeon taskforce. The formation itself was perfect; no matter what direction or course Delaz may have taken, and no matter how close he got to the planet under cloak, the fleet was entirely capable of breaking up and directly intercepting his ships. And knowing Wakkein, he likely had more upon Jericho II itself, ready to meet Delaz's forces should they break through the atmosphere.
Delaz's eyes furrowed as he looked on the formation. "Is Wakkein's flagship within that formation?" he inquired to the operator.
After a few moments, the operator brought up the requested information on the main monitor, which in turn centered around a single Actium-class battlecruiser. "Confirmed. Enemy command ship identified as the Magellan."
Needless to say, everyone, including Gato, had been taken off guard by this turn of events. "How did they find out?" the ace pilot let out to no one in particular. He then turned to Delaz. "Could the Feddies have detected us somehow?"
Delaz shook his head. "Not likely. The deception was precise, and the Federation has yet to counter our cloaking devices." he estimated aloud, soon arriving to a disturbing conclusion. "If I had to guess, I would say our true arrival time was leaked to them."
That explanation ran like a cold shock amongst the Ludendorff's bridge as it meant one of two things, or even both. The first possibility was that the Federation had agents within Zeon's High Command, ones either in key positions or close enough that they could see past Delaz's deception, yet secure enough that they could report it back to their Star Force masters without detection. The second possibility was even more disheartening: Zeon had turncoats within its own forces who, as opposed to the surviving Daikunists and other race traitors, had chosen to remain aligned with the Empire and provide aid and support to the Federation from within. In another lifetime both Delaz would have believed either impossible; once again however, the war had altered their perspective on things.
"How is that even possible?" Gato asked, completely stunned by the mere thought of it. Once more, it was apparent where his perspective laid compared to Delaz's.
"That is something for the ISD to figure out." Delaz stated coldly, referring to the Imperial Security Directorate, Zeon's secret police and intelligence arm. He had no doubts that they, of all people, would be able to gleam the truth to this enigma, but that wasn't for him to dwell upon at this time. Their work remained in front of them, as he reminded his subordinates. "Regardless of these events, our mission remains unaffected and our victory assured. However Wakkein may have learned of our approach, he has still miscalculated." he then smiled coldly. "And he will pay for it, dearly."
Upon that, the predatory anticipation earlier exhibited by the Ludendorff's bridge personnel, which in itself was more akin in nature to a pack of wolves stocking a herd as opposed to human beings, made its grand return. Indeed, Star Force's defense was perfect. It would surely deflect or intercept anything, whether be it capital ship, landing shuttle or mobile suit, that the Zeon would move toward the planet, in turn either neutralizing any invasion up front or destroying enough of the fleet's numbers that full occupation would be impossible. That being said, in establishing their defense, Wakkein and his fellow lowborn had overlooked one crucial detail.
Zeon needed to deny Jericho II to the Feddies. Zeon didn't need to invade Jericho II to fulfill that purpose.
"All ships, commence operation!" Delaz ordered through his personal command channel, causing the bridge crew to shift back to work. "Move into battle formation and standby to decloak. We will engage the enemy fleet once the primary objective is fulfilled."
He then spoke toward Gato, who remained standing next to him. "It seems we will be dealing with Wakkein in the 'traditional manner', Commander." he stated plainly. "I trust you are not disappointed."
The cruel smile that flashed along Gato's lips was all the answer he needed. As such, Delaz turned back and gave the ultimate order. "Prepare the solar ray to fire."
Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Jericho II, Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
Sleggar had almost dozed off when a broadband communications window opened, revealing the frantic image of Amuro Ray. "We have to get out of here!" he called out, voice in pure panic. "We have to get off this planet, now!"
The hell!? Sleggar thought as he snapped back to the present. "Shrike Three, stay off the comlink...!"
"This planet...this entire world...will be destroyed by a storm of light! Billions will die!" Amuro continued, sounding more and more as if he were in a trance. "That light...it is a light of hatred!" he then continued on. "We have to leave! Before it's too late!"
"Shrike Three, have you gone insane!?" Shiro commented, his inquiry followed upon by the rest of Shrike Squadron, and from there, the rest of the 13th Carrier Assault Group. In a few short moments, the entire radio was filled with chatter, punctuated by Amuro's frantic rants.
"All pilots, you are to stay off the comlink until combat operations!" the sound of Kikka's voice soon stated over the various radio calls, silencing several of them. However, that was still not enough to silence Amuro, who continued to call out aimlessly in warning, like a man possessed.
Sleggar's immediate instinct was to call for Amuro's removal from Unit Alpha's cockpit, as the strain had clearly gotten to him; in fact, he had just opened his mouth to give the command when something stopped him. He remembered the previous two fights Amuro had taken part in, and how he had been able to foresee a sneak attack in the first one as well as isolate the Zeon's position in the second; both times he had been the only one to see either coming, such that had he not been in either, Sleggar and his compatriot(s) would have been caught in an ambush both times. As such, much to Sleggar's growing dread, he began to wonder if Amuro had again foreseen something with the coming invasion.
A 'light of hatred'... Just what in hell is...? Sleggar started to think, his mind coming up with several possibilities. And then, not unlike a rising winter sun, cold realization dawned on him as the most likely answer stuck out in his mind.
"It can't be...!" he murmured in pure horror, his eyes widening and skin blanching. He quickly opened a private channel to Unit Gamma. "Sayla!"
"I'm already on it!" Sayla responded. Unlike Sleggar, she had realized what was happening the moment Amuro shouted his first warnings, and so was now "looking up" into space with her special senses.
In a near instant, she moved passed the various presences of Wakkein's first battle group and extended further, until she was nearly at the edge of the Jericho System itself. It was there that she immediately detected Delaz's fleet, cloaked and ready for battle. While the Zeon cloaking device was effective in bending rays of light and sensor waves, it could not block out her special senses, as she could "see" the cloaking fields themselves, as well as the ships and various human presences underneath them.
Right away she knew something was wrong. The Zeon fleet was now in battle formation, but it wasn't advancing; rather, they remained stationary, as if waiting for something. Another thing she noticed was that they were arrayed around a certain area, with Delaz's flagship at the "top" of the formation and the rest spread out evenly, with the central area given a widen birth. And finally, upon turning her attention to that central area, she detected another cloaking field, one far larger than the ships that surrounded it; by standard measurements, the field was over eight kilometers long and cylinder shaped, as if it were covering a space colony. From there, it was only a matter of diving deeper.
Thus, upon looking past the field and seeing the object underneath, her eyes widened in the same manner as Sleggar's had. No!
With great speed she opened a comlink to the bridge.
Bright was just moving to call the hangar deck and command the techs to remove Lieutenant Amuro from Unit Alpha, perhaps with armed security support, when a second comlink opened up from Unit Gamma. A moment later, Lieutenant Sayla began speaking where Amuro had left off.
"Shrike Two to bridge." Sayla called out, her voice far more even than Amuro's but still holding a certain level of anxiety. "In approximately three minutes, the Zeon fleet intends to unleash a solar ray attack upon Jericho II! Repeat, the Zeon are going to attack with a solar ray!"
"God in Heaven...!" someone on the bridge murmured as everyone present froze at their stations. Even Bright and Mirai couldn't keep themselves from gaping as they realized the implications of that.
"If we are to survive, then we need to launch, now!" Sayla staunchly finalized, her tone completely serious and assured of what she spoke of.
Yet again Bright opened his mouth, this time to question just how Sayla could have come across such information, only for a third comlink to open, this time showing the image of a completely frantic Sleggar. "Bright, for once don't ask any questions and just do what the lady said!" he stated urgently. "If we're not offworld in three minutes, we're dead!"
Even so, Bright remained skeptical. "And just how did this...?"
"DON'T ARGUE WITH ME!" Sleggar shouted back, knowing all too well how crucial the next few moments were. "JUST GET US OUT OF HERE!"
Immediately all eyes turned to toward Bright, waiting for orders. Even Mirai looked to Bright to give the command; having known Sleggar longer than most of the crew, she knew when he was truly serious about something, and more so when he felt it was down to life or death. This was one of those times, and she knew better than to question him.
And as for Bright himself, it wasn't Amuro and Sayla's warnings, nor Sleggar's reinforcing them, that convinced him to act. Instead, it was certain realization on his own part, going back to his earlier doubts. With that one last crucial piece fitted in, a complete picture now appeared in his mind; he now knew, as late as it was, what Delaz's true intentions had been all along. And with that realization, he also now knew his ship was well upon ground zero.
"Emergency launch!" Bright declared, his crew immediately snapping into action, emergency alarm sounding in the background. "Retract all moorings and lift off! All power to engines once clear!"
Frantically Katz inputted the commands into his station. Despite that however, the helm remained locked into place. "Moorings won't retract!" he called out in growing fear.
"Control won't give us clearance to launch!" Kikka explained from her station, acting just as frantic. "They demand we wait until word from the flagship!"
To hell with them! Mirai thought as she turned toward the gunnery station. "Letz!"
"On it!" Letz responded as he activated the Ark Royal's weapon systems. Outside, several of the beam phalanx turrets on the Ark Royal's sides, meant for close-in defense against everything from ships and mobile suits, twisted around until they angled upon the docking clamps and docking extensions that held the might carrier in place. Once they were perfectly angled, they opened fired, sending magenta beams into their targets, obliterating them in single bursts.
Now free, the Ark Royal's main engines engaged and gently lifted the ship off the ground, from which Katz set her toward the sky. By now Jericho Control was in complete fury, such that Bright himself could hear the tower controller's angry voice from Kikka's now discarded headset, which she was forced to remove to keep from going deaf. For the briefest of moments, he felt tempted to warn Control of what was going on, but he gravely knew better; even if they did know the truth, there was nothing they could do now.
Soon enough, the Ark Royal's eight main thrusters ignited, sending the massive carrier rocketing into the sky at a speed well above what was necessary for breaking orbit. Within the ascending, tremoring vessel, more than one member of the crew silently prayed for God to see them through. Bright, for whatever dispositions of faith he might have held, was among them. As was Mirai.
Federation Actium-class battlecruiser Magellan
Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
"Sir..." the comm. officer stated, blinking in disbelief as he gave the report. "Jericho Control reports the Ark Royal has taken off without authorization. They claim that she blasted her way out of dock."
Instantly overtaken with rage, Wakkein nearly slammed his fist onto his chair panel. He should have known Bright Noa would cut and run in the face of the enemy, regardless of the Admiral's threats. Damn you Noa! I'll have your head when this is over!
However, before he could inquire the Ark Royal's current status, and much more deploy some cruisers to intercept her, his sensor operator spoke up as his instruments beeped in warning. "Zeon fleet decloaking! Distance fifteen thousand, orange eleven mark eighteen alpha!"
Wakkein immediately settled himself back. "So it begins..." he stated, readying himself for the coming battle; he would deal with the Ark Royal and her treacherous commander later. "All ships advance, combat speed!"
A moment later, the Magellan's main engines went to full power, propelling her forward toward the Zeon fleet's position, while the rest of the battle group were quick to follow around her. However, it wasn't long before the sensor operator noticed something wrong. "Sir, the Zeon fleet is remaining stationary. Repeat, they're not advancing."
"What?" Wakkein looked up with a perturbing feeling, an expression that was matched by the Magellan's captain and several others of the bridge crew. Without anyone speaking up, the same question ran between all of them: why would Delaz keep his ships back now, when his target was right in front of him?
Unfortunately, they would learn the answer to that question far too late. "I'm picking up something else decloaking from within their formation." the sensor operator followed up with, now with full on confusion. "Something big."
"Magnify!" Wakkein ordered instantly. A second later, a new window appeared on the main monitor, displaying the area of space where the object had been reported. The entire bridge crew watched on in growing horror as the cloak slowly faded away, revealing the source underneath.
At first glance, one would have thought the object as an O'Neill Island-type space colony, as it was large, measuring several kilometers in length and diameter, as well as being cylinder shape. However, it soon became obvious that the object wasn't a space colony, with its Zeon green hull and rear mounted fins heat dispersion fins quickly indicating it as something far more sinister. That feeling was finalized when the object completely uncloaked, revealing its great maw to the bewildered Federation fleet, which soon began to glow from its center.
"Oh my god...!" the Magellan's captain gasped, symbolizing the reaction of every officer and crewmen within the battle group. A natural reaction for those staring into the gathering light of a solar ray.
And it wasn't hard to guess what its target was. "Open fire, now!" Wakkein bellowed to both the gunnery and the communication stations.
The gunnery officer, already in tears knowing what was about to happen, could only shake his head hopelessly. "It's well out of range, Admiral!"
The feeling of hopelessness was mirrored in Wakkein's eyes as he turned back toward the ray. Even with his battle group moving at full speed, he knew he would never make it into range on time. And even if he did, it would still take additional time for the barrages to have effect. As such, there was only one order he could give now. "All ships take evasive action!" he commanded before bracing.
Moments later, after reaching full power, the solar ray unleashed a vast column of light into the void. By some miracle none of Wakkein's ships were caught in its wake, but then, they were never the intended target. In a span of milliseconds, the beam streaked across space and reached out to Jericho II, where it instantly pierced through the planet's crust and made its way down through its inner layers. Once the core itself was breached, the ray let out an additional burst of energy into its beam, which traveled all the way down to Jericho II's center in an instant. From this, an unstoppable chain reaction occurred and erupted throughout the entire planet, tearing it apart from the inside out.
The final result was very much apparent to both the horrified Star Force personnel and their gleaming Zeon adversaries. In a spectacular and terrifying finale, Jericho II exploded in a multitude of molten fragments that flew out in every possible vector.
Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
The Ark Royal had just made her way Jericho II's gravity well when the solar ray fired. As a result, while she managed to avoid destruction, the following shockwave was more than enough to knock her off balance. In an instant, the ship was thrown forward, causing control panels to spark and explode, lights and screens to flicker and shatter, and crewmen who weren't properly restrained to be thrown about.
Bright and Mirai were both thrown out of their respective chairs to the bridge floor, while Katz was nearly tossed into the forward monitor, but managed to maintain his seat through gripping the helm. Letz and Kikka also ended up being sent across the floor, while Ryu's control panel exploded beside him, showering him with sparks and shrapnel. Several others on the bridge had ended up in similar positions, as well as suffered similar wounds.
The shockwave had held an even worse effect on the hangar decks, as the mechanics and technicians that had been doing last minute work upon the mobile suits had only been given a moment's notice to reach safety before launch. As a result, several of them were grievously injured either through being thrown across the deck themselves or from having random objects collide onto them. The opposite was true for the mobile suit pilots, who were all safely strapped into their cockpit seats; the worst they had to endure was being tossed about in a similar manner to what they usually experienced in battle.
Even so, not all of the pilots were fortunate, as Sleggar soon found out. Just as he managed to gain anchorage from the continuing shock, he looked out upon his cockpit monitor, from which he realized he had left the comm. windows to Unit Alpha and Unit Gamma open. And what he saw within absolutely terrified him. "Amuro! Sayla!"
For either of the Gundam pilots, it was as if they stood upon the brink of Hell itself. While their physical ears picked up Sleggar's calls to them, neither Amuro nor Sayla were able to comprehend his words or voice, as their minds were completely flooded with the final screams and cries of Jericho II's population. Though their physical bodies were destroyed in an instant, their souls lingered just long enough for either of the two to pick up on them; billions upon billions of men, women and children cried out in terror within a field of light, their final moments accompanied by a mixture of great fear, intense heat and seemingly unending pain.
It was an absolute nightmare for Amuro, a man who had never been accustomed to human feeling and emotion. Alongside the screaming, he felt those billions reaching out to him in their last moments, as if a multitude of arms were grasping onto his body, pulling him apart. Acting instinctively he attempted to cover himself, tried to raise mental walls in order to block them out, but they managed to break through regardless and he withed at their collective touch. It wasn't long before he himself let out a scream, both in his mind and in the physical world.
On her end, Sayla experienced the exact same as her teammate. However, rather than shield against them, she found herself desperately reaching back toward the hands, trying in vain to grasp and hold onto them, as if she herself could keep them anchored to existence. Unfortunately it was completely futile; one after another, the hands disappeared into the light, their owners passing on into the abyss. She herself cried out to them, pleaded to them not to die, and from there pleaded to Death itself not to claim them. Yet in spite of the power behind her voice, an authority that had passed down through an entire lineage of emperors and empresses, even she could not sway Death from fulfilling its purpose.
And then, as the last of the screams and the hands died away, a single, god-like voice spoke out from the light. "Thus is the fate of all enemies of Zeon."
Upon that declaration, Sayla snapped back into the present, her eyes clouded with tears and whole being emanating vengeful wrath. "DELAZ!"
Zeon Scharnhorst-class battlecruiser Ludendorff
Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
Not unlike a great artist inspecting his newly completed work, Delaz sat back and looked upon the sight before him with satisfaction. With a single flash of light, Jericho II, and the Federation garrison upon its surface, were no more; only a mass of dust clouds and asteroids remained where the planet had once orbited. Alongside that, the Feddies had lost their main base in this sector, making it quite vulnerable for a full Zeon assault and following occupation. All of that, and the battle, or more precisely slaughter as Gato had observed, was only ten minutes in.
Around him, the Ludendorff's bridge crew, as well as Gato, were even more visibly elated; Delaz didn't need to turn and look to see that they all had viciously dominant grins on their faces. No matter what their role on the ship was, they all knew that they had done their Race and their Emperor proud today. Besides everything that Delaz had highlighted on, they had also wiped away billions of lowborn vermin from the galaxy, thereby taking another step toward the Ascension that Emperor Gihren had spoken of. Sure, there were still more, both Federation and lowborn in general, out there, but that didn't mean they couldn't celebrate their victory here, as well as their pride in their Admiral over it.
And as a bonus, the thrill of full battle would not be denied to them, even if against an otherwise inferior opponent. Wakkein's fleet remained in front of them, and from the sensor scans, Delaz could see that his fleet outnumbered them by a fair margin; no doubt Wakkein had left a sizeable portion of his forces on Jericho II to intercept any Zeon landing ships and mobile suits. An apt strategy, but one that had been made under the belief that Delaz intended to invade Jericho. No doubt Wakkein was still bashing his head in over that miscalculation.
To his benefit, he won't feel that humiliation for much longer. Delaz thought, as he started to give the command for all ships to advance.
However, just before Delaz could give the order, his sensor operator started up again. "Sir, I'm detecting a signal from just outside the planet's former orbit." he said, looking rather perplexed. "It looks like a ship got out in time."
"Oh?" Gato let out with amusement, just as Delaz turned to look over as well. So one of the Fedscum managed to get off Jericho II just so it could be destroyed in space. Even so, Delaz was somewhat curious to see what kind of ship it was.
"Identifying now..." the operator said as the data came in, only to look on in dreadful shock as the it was fully processed. "I don't believe it..." he murmured, before turning toward the main monitor. "It's a Trojan Horse!"
That feeling soon spread across the bridge as the monitor established a magnification upon the ship in question, followed by a data window that displayed the class schematic. Indeed, the winged equine form was a dead match for the Federation's vaunted Midway-class fleetcarrier. Even Delaz couldn't keep the surprise off his face.
"Where in Zedan's Shadow did that come from!?" Gato exclaimed, suddenly realizing the Feddies were going to be harder to kill. As a mobile suit pilot, he knew the capabilities of a Midway all too well.
Delaz also knew. In fact, he had seen firsthand how effectively a Midway could control a mobile suit contingent; their unique Combat Direction Centers allowed them to take command of up to hundreds if not thousands of mobile suits a time, and though they couldn't make up for the Guncannon's lacking performance, they could certainly organize them into an effective battle force. The fact Zeon commanders had long been directed to destroy them on sight was a testament to their power, as well as their presence in the war up to this point.
And now he was about to face such a monster once more in battle. At the same time however, he also wanted to know where this particular ship had come from; intelligence had claimed there were no Midways in Wakkein's Second Fleet. That in itself led to a multitude of conclusions, and not just Zeon's intelligence apparatus missing a key detail, again. Unfortunately, Delaz didn't have time to consider them, and they wouldn't have changed the fact he now had a different battle to fight.
Even so, if only for sheer curiosity, he asked. "Can you give me a designation?"
"Coming in Admiral." the operator reported as even more data was streamed. "EFS Ark Royal, hull classification CV-13."
Now Gato was completely astounded, as he more than recognized the name. "Impossible!" he nearly shouted. "That ship was destroyed over a year ago at Arcturus! Captain Char himself delivered the finishing blow!"
"Apparently not. And she seems to be in perfect working order." Delaz muttered in distaste, anger quietly surging behind his eyes. Not only did Wakkein have a Trojan Horse in his fleet, but one that had long been believed sunk; that in itself meant the Feddies still had five Midways within their ranks as opposed to four. Yet another multitude of conclusions to follow, alongside a mental note to have the responsible intelligence officials executed once he returned to Zeon. "Regardless of who she is, we will sink her with the rest of Wakkein's fleet."
He then looked up at Gato with a serious gaze. "That being said Commander, I suggest you return to your Zaku now."
"Sir." Gato saluted, then turned away and moved toward the turbolift.
With that, Delaz again settled back into his chair and prepared himself. "All ships advance and launch mobile suits!" he called out to the rest of the fleet. "Priority targets are the flagship and all heavy craft! They are to be destroyed upon opportunity!"
Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
"Damage report!" Bright shouted as he slowly pulled himself to his feet, his head already throbbing from pain. As he finally got up and placed his cap back on, he reached down and lifted Mirai off the floor as well.
"Coming in now!" Ryu said after he clamored over to a different post, the left side of his face covered with cuts and burns. It was a miracle that no grievous damage had been done to him, as he was literally right beside the panel when it exploded. But then, the massively built Terran always did pride himself on his luck.
A moment later, the main monitor came to display ship status. Bright was just able to spare a passing glance at it as he got back to his chair, but from what he saw, his ship hadn't suffered any real damage. However, any relief he felt upon that was soon drowned out at what happened next.
Kikka, who hadn't suffered any wounds herself, was also at her post before the others. As such, she was the first to see it. "Captain...!" she was just barely able to let out as tears began to stream from her eyes.
By that point, Bright and Mirai had both made it back to their respective chairs. A good thing, because if they hadn't been sitting down when they looked up to what Kikka saw on the main monitor, they would have definitely fallen back onto the floor. Same with the rest of the bridge crew, who all looked on in a mixture of shock, horror and sorrow.
Jericho II was gone. Nothing more than an expanding, multicolored dust cloud and darting fragments now. And with it five billion civilians and the remaining forces in Wakkein's contingent had also met their untimely destruction. Five billion innocents and the very soldiers that had been tasked to protecting them, all victims of the war's complete disregard for life.
Even Bright could not keep himself from closing his eyes and looking down, while Mirai's eyes also turned cloudy, as did several others on the bridge. They all should have been used to it; after all, countless numbers of innocent and soldier alike had died in the previous years since the war had begun, and many more would die before it would end. Bright himself had seen much of it, from the destruction of the Hood at the onset to battles like Arcturus and Riah and then the recent skirmish at Shangri-La.
Yet, upon looking at the remains of one such world and its inhabitants, who had been in the midst of life and celebration, even the most hardened amongst the Ark Royal's crew could not help but shed a tear at all that was lost. Such as it was to be human.
Upon that outlook, the rational side of Bright's rational mind again brought up Delaz's strategy, reminding him exactly why the Zeeks had done this. Yes, most of it revolved around killing "lowborn" in the name of Zeon's "glory", but much to his disgust, there was still a tactically practical side to it.
First, as Wakkein had informed them before, Jericho II had been the only major hub in the sector, which made it a priority target for the Zeon. In that sense, the Zeon did not need to capture Jericho II to deny its value to the Federation, so long as it was effectively neutralized. That, and destroying the base outright also meant conserving resources and manpower that otherwise would have been needed for full occupation. Those same resources and troops, in turn, could be used to set up a new base, or multiple new bases, in more strategically sound systems, even more so ones that did not possess rebellious "lowborn" populations to contend with. Very methodical, which Zeon liked to pride themselves as.
Second, it also presented an opportunity in eliminating one of Star Force's command staff. By leaking their invasion as well as the identity of its commander, the Zeeks had intended to lure Wakkein, who fashioned himself a "Fighting Admiral" in the manner of William Halsey, Jr. and Raymond A. Spruance, into defending the planet personally. From there, it was all a matter of timing; the Zeon had arrived two days before their communicated ETA, and had it not been for an unforeseen last minute warning, they would have caught Wakkein and his forces still on-planet and unprepared. One solar ray attack later, and both the Commander of the Second Fleet and his fair sized contingent would have been Zeon's latest victims.
All that taken in Bright, couldn't help but see the brilliance in Delaz's plan. Just as he couldn't help but feel shamed for doing so.
That said however, it wasn't long before it all came back into focus. "Zeon fleet is advancing!" Oscar shouted as his monitor began beeping in warning. "Distance one million and closing!"
At that Bright opened his eyes, and death shown from behind them. "All ahead full!" he shouted with more force than he had intended. "Bring us into formation and standby for anti-ship and anti-mobile suit combat!"
With that, the demeanor of the crew changed entirely. "Arm all cannons and phalanx! Load all missile tubes!" Mirai followed up from Bright, her voice retaining clear virulence. "Prepare to launch mobile suits!"
Suddenly, Kikka looked up again. "Captain, the Magellan is hailing us!"
The next second, a new window appeared on the main monitor, displaying Admiral Wakkein himself. Compared to the commanding presence he had held before, Wakkein looked far more downtrodden now, as if he had been punched hard in the gut. A logical demeanor, considering he had lost both half his fleet and the planet he was supposed to have defended, all because of one slight miscalculation. Even so, Bright remained attentive as the Admiral began to speak.
"So, you survived." Wakkein murmured, his voice firm but lacking in spirit. "It seems Fortune really does favor the bold, given that your ascent was in complete disregard of my orders. But that doesn't matter now."
He then looked up, past Bright toward the Zeon fleet ahead. "Now we stand at the precipice; nothing behind us, and only the enemy in front of us. We're outnumbered, outgunned and our principle weapon is completely outclassed. Even so, I'm going to attack." Rage suddenly entered into the Admiral's face. "By the fucking grace of God, I'm going to make those 'Highborn' bastards pay for what they have done, such that Hell will be standing room only by the time this day is finished!"
He then looked back at Bright, square in the eye. "That is to say, I know what I'm going to do. The question is, what are you going to do Bright?" he stated with an edge. "Are you going to run away again, like at Arcturus? Are you going to present your ass to the enemy, just as you did then?"
Without even looking over, Bright reached his right arm out and gestured toward Mirai, who was just beginning to rise from her chair. For all her professionalism, as well as the knowledge that it wasn't her place nor rank to do so, Mirai was very much ready to rip Wakkein a new one. After all that had happened, the son of a bitch had absolutely no right to speak from the high ground, on anything.
Truthfully, Bright wasn't far off from that himself. In fact, part of him wanted to twist the knife in Wakkein's gut further by reminding him that Jericho II was lost because of his inability to read the enemy's intentions. However, aside from the very idea being petty, there were far more important things than personal vindication. Five billion or so more important things, even in memory.
"This is not Arcturus, Admiral." Bright stated firmly, holding his ground against his superior. "In that battle, the Ark Royal had suffered heavy damage and was totally incapable of fighting further. To stay there was to resign my ship and my crew to certain and pointless death."
Ferocity soon entered Bright's eyes. "This time it's different. This time my ship remains capable of fighting, and I and my crew are ready to do what you just said and even more." he then added, if only for classical emphasis. "Thus into the mouth of Hell, we six hundred ride."
Bright didn't need to look around the bridge to see the responding expressions of his crew; he could feel their collective resolution against his skin, even though their gazes were all directed forward. Seeing that for himself, Wakkein, for whatever reservation he may have still held, gave Bright a nod of approval. "Move your ship into formation; I already have a spot set aside for you. And then have your CDC link with the mobile suit forces and organize them into an attack pattern."
He then let off a small but prominent smirk. "If nothing else, the Zeeks fear your ship Captain." he said with certain confidence. "Remind them why."
Bright nodded. "Any other orders, sir?"
"Just one, and I expect you to follow it." Wakkein said, again staring Bright straight in the eyes. "Leave no survivors."
Bright's eyes narrowed at that command. Any other time he would have refused the order. Any other time, he would have reminded Wakkein of Article 23 of the Mars Convention, which forbade all military personnel, Star Force or otherwise, from declaring no quarter. But not this time.
This time, the Zeon had it coming.
"Acknowledged." Bright coldly replied with. Once more he didn't need to look around to see what his crew thought.
Again Wakkein nodded approvingly. "Good luck, and good hunting. Magellan out." he said, before finally signing off.
"Enemy fleet at nine-hundred thousand, still closing!" Oscar shouted a moment later. "They're launching mobile suits!"
"Launch ours!" Bright ordered in turn. Moments later, mobile suits began to shoot out of the Ark Royal's launch decks, rocketing into the distance one after the other. The other Federation ships were quick to follow that with their own MS forces.
Seconds after its launch, Amuro maneuvered Unit Alpha and nestled it into formation alongside Sleggar's Unit Beta, while Sayla's Unit Gamma remained on the opposite side. Not much longer than that, the Guncannons of Shrike Squadron were in space as well, though the three Gundams had to slow down considerably in order for them to catch up. Not long after that, additional MS from the Ark Royal and the other Federation ships followed upon them. It now seemed as if all of the surrounding space were filled with Guncannons, with the three Gundams at the spear tip.
Well before they appeared on his Gundam's sensors and main monitor, he picked up the Zeon fleet; massive formations of green colored warships speeding to meet the Federals while launching Zakus. Their solar ray remained behind them, which Amuro could easily understand. solar rays were effective planet and asteroid killers, but they entirely inadequate in attacking smaller targets like warships and MS. With no more astral bodies to obliterate, the solar ray was little more than a lump in space, as well as a sitting target for whenever the Federals got passed the Zeon screen. Needless to say, that was for last.
Already Amuro's special sense picked up on thoughts and emotions of the ship crews and Zaku pilots; he could feel their collective anticipation for battle, their belief in their own superiorities as well as their celebration in triumph. Alongside that, he could "hear" their boasts, jeers and taunts, their degradations of those they had just killed alongside their claims that the Star Force group would soon be joining them. As far as they were concerned, they had already won; with Jericho II destroyed, the Federation fleet was of little consequence. They were going to fight the Feddies simply out of their desire to destroy and bring further glory to the "victory" they already held. So assured of their dominance that not one of them believed that the "lowborn" could even put up a struggle.
For Amuro, their jeers and taunts only fanned the fire in his mind and heart. Though the light had long faded and the Jerichoans were long dead, their screams and final acts were all fresh in his mind. Though he had tried shield himself from them, tried to push them away as well as pull himself to a place beyond their reach, he could not keep the flashes of their lives from embedding themselves into him. Billions upon billions, calling out to him in one last moment, inadvertently forcing their thoughts and memories upon him.
Men, women, children, families, friends, comrades. They had all died pushing their collective fear of death and their horror at the knowledge that their loved ones were dying with them into his one mind. They had all died with but one core thought between them: why? Why were they dying? Why had they been targeted in the beginning? Why did the Zeon feel so wronged by them that they had destroyed their world, their lives and their legacies? Why? Why? Why?
In that same frame of mind, he flashed back to Shangri-La, when the three Zakus attacked. The one Zaku pilot, who laughed and jeered as he slaughtered, who was so contemptuous of the lives around him that he turned his gun on a random neighborhood, and in one single burst struck the Bow family clinic. From that he remembered seeing Fraw there, beside her mother's corpse, crying into his chest as her mind wheeled from what had happened. She too had asked the same question within her subconscious. Why?
With their memories, along with what Amuro was feeling from the Zeon now, he realized the answer: because they were lowborn, and they deserved nothing less.
Upon that, Amuro felt the fire in his heart explode like a supernova, such that his very body rippled with fury. Yes, the screams remained echoing within him, but for the moment he didn't care; all he felt now was rage and the need to kill. He would kill the Zeon before him, because they were monsters, and they deserved nothing less.
Thus with a final roar toward the boisterous Zeon before him, Amuro gunned the throttle on Unit Alpha, shot out of the formation and directly toward his targets.
"Shrike Three stay in formation!" Sleggar called out as he heard Amuro's battle cry over the comm. and watched as Unit Alpha took off like a comet. A white one. "Shrike Three...!"
"Let him go." Sayla stated as Unit Gamma drew closer, her voice disturbingly calm and even. "Nothing is going to stop him now."
At the sound of her voice alone, Sleggar felt a chill run down his spine. As visibly enraged as Amuro was, he doubted he could hold a bearing on the pure malice Sayla was now emanating. Indeed, out of every being in the universe the Zeeks could have angered, they had chosen the one woman that they should never had crossed here; a woman that already held great, incalculable fury toward them and their despot. He almost felt sorry for any Zaku pilot that came into Unit Gamma's sights.
Almost being the keyword. Sayla and Amuro weren't the only pilots that were pissed off beyond all measure; they might have been entire forces unto themselves now, but that didn't mean the other Star Force pilots weren't feeling a sudden urge to search and destroy. He knew that many of the pilots in formation had been stationed on Jericho II for a long while; long enough to extend their relations beyond their comrades toward the locals. He could only imagine how many had lost friends and family to the solar ray, and how badly they wanted to make the Zeeks pay for their deaths in blood and fire. No doubt they would give no quarter, even if Wakkein hadn't issued the order.
For Sleggar himself, he had been fortunate not to have any long term relations on the planet; the people he was close to were either aboard the Ark Royal or back on Earth in complete safety. He was even more fortunate not to have 'felt' their deaths the way Amuro and Sayla had; that either were up and willing to fight after they the destruction of an entire planet ran through their brains only reinforced the Commander's belief that they were beyond human. But despite all of that, Sleggar was no less infuriated than those around him; the slaughter of over five billion was not something he would let pass. As far as he was concerned, if it was green and/or had a mono-eye, it was going to die.
Soon enough, Unit Alpha had reached the Zeon formation. All at once the Zeeks realized they were facing more than just a collection of Guncannons, such that the front formation instantly scattered and beam flashes became visible, alongside following explosions. Sleggar smirked at that; already the Zeon were rattled, and the main force hadn't even reached them yet. So much the better.
From that, Sleggar tapped his main monitor and accessed the special data he had uploaded into Unit Beta before. After browsing through a large selection of names, he settled on one labeled "Rocks" and tapped it. A moment later, Unit Beta's cockpit became filled with the sound of an electric guitar and keyboard riff, followed by the tapping of drums and additional instruments as well as a deep bass background voice. Despite all that was going on, Sleggar couldn't help but feel a tinge of pleasure as the track played out; though playing music during a battle, much less uploading music into one's mobile suit computer, wasn't exactly regulation, some fights just needed a background theme. In this regard, no curbstomp battle (and he knew it would be one) involving giant robots was complete without JAM Project.
"Shrike Leader to all units!" Sleggar called out over the general push. "Set up for mass barrage on my mark!"
Upon his command, the guns and missile pods of the Guncannons folded out in unison. Alongside, Unit Beta and Unit Gamma both raised their hyper beam rifles. A moment later, Sleggar already had his first target painted and locked on; a single Zaku at the front of the formation, one that held the telltale commander's fin. Sleggar wasn't sure if it was the lead Zeek, but it was obviously a higher up one regardless.
Moments later, his sensors indicated he was in firing range. And if he was in range, then so were the rest of the formation. "Enemy in range." Sleggar said, just as the song went into the final notes of its prelude. "LET'S ROCK!"
With that he depressed the trigger and launched a beam, which was instantly complimented by the rifle shot of Unit Gamma and the cannon and missile fire from the rest. A moment later, the beam shot its way through the target Zaku and obliterated it before it could raise its beam shield. Additional units fell from the barrage as well, but that only lasted for so long before the remaining Zakus scattered like a cloud of green locusts and continued their advance. From there, the Zeeks moved into their own firing range, with the initial units firing beam bazookas, and then the rest fired their machine guns.
"Haritsumeta shunkan ni niramiatta POWER to POWER...!" the speakers blared as Sleggar repeated Amuro's act and went full burn, sending Unit Beta barreling through space at a speed that the Zakus couldn't dream of matching, dodging the oncoming fire with ease. He returned fire in several bursts, destroying several more Zakus as he shot into the Zeon mass, adding to the number that had just died and the ones Amuro had killed beforehand.
In response to his assault, a particularly daring Zaku team attempted to hem him in. Unfortunately for them however, Sleggar's machine was far more maneuverable, and he deftly spun Unit Beta out of the feeble trap while firing his beam vulcans. The beam spray instantly tore through one of the Zakus (which Sleggar assumed was the team leader) before it could raise its beam shield, blasting straight into the cockpit block. By some miracle the Zaku didn't explode, but that hardly mattered as the pilot was obviously dead. The second Zaku fired off a pair of missiles in response, but Sleggar simply deflected them with his left arm beam shield and returned fire with his beam rifle, obliterating the Zeon suit in yet another single shot kill.
As the third one moved to avenge its two comrades, Sleggar decided to have a little fun with this Zeek. As he dodged the machine gun bursts, Sleggar lanced a shot right through the Zaku's machine gun, causing it to explode. It then attempted to fire its missiles, but Sleggar shot out both hip launchers before the projectiles could exit their tubes. With both its main weapon and its back up destroyed, the Zaku moved to draw its beam axe, but Sleggar shot off the right arm before it could reach it, and then the opposite arm. He then blasted away its head, followed by its shoulders and finally its legs.
Just a flesh wound. Sleggar thought as he watched the remaining torso attempt to turn around and retreat. He finished it off with a shot through the back.
From there, Sleggar watched as more Zakus emerged from the conflagration and approached him, raining beams at him from their machine guns and bazookas. Again he went into a full charge, banking around the collective fire with impunity, while scoring direct rifle hits upon his would be attackers. He managed to kill five of them before the rest scattered and attempted to envelope him. Once more however, the Gundam was much faster than the Zeon mobile suits, and it was no great effort for Sleggar to shoot past the Zakus before they could even take aim. A moment later, those same Zakus were caught in a firestorm of beams as Shiro's Second Team moved in, shooting down the Zeon mobile suits with their beam cannons and rifles in a matter of seconds.
"Yami wo tsuranuki hashiru hikari dare yori mo hayaku...!" the female singer sang in as Sleggar continued his assault. By this point the Zeon machines were keeping a fair distance from him, trying to rain fire upon him from different vectors. This didn't bother Sleggar in the least, as he continued sniping them, one after another, with pinpoint beam rifle shots. Unfortunately he didn't get all of them, and it nearly cost him; one Zaku, another one bearing a commander's head fin, managed to evade his killing shot and, in an expert display of maneuvering, flipped over him and move to strike him from behind. Sleggar responded by snapping his rifle arm back, so that the rifle was now aimed rearward over the Gundam's shoulder. This time the Zeon pilot was caught entirely off guard, and one blast later, his Zaku was nothing more than exploding debris.
From there, another Zaku came charging in from the left, its beam axe drawn to strike. Without even thinking about it, Sleggar had the Gundam reach out with its left arm, seize the Zaku's axe arm, and then twist around to perform a zero-g judo throw. This sent the green mobile suit and its obviously surprised pilot sailing into another Zaku, which had the misfortune of flying right into its path. Before either could recover, Sleggar fired a rifle shot through both of them. That accomplished, he gunned his thrusters again and set after additional targets.
"ROCK ALRIGHT! Dare yori mo oretachi ha toberu hazu... Eien no sora wo...!" JAM Project played on as Sleggar continued gunning down Zeon left and right, turning the space battle into a virtual shooting gallery. As it went on, more and more Zakus turned and fled from his presence rather than engage him. "ROCK ALRIGHT! Jikuu sae... Tsukinukeru SPEED de... Moeagare SAGA!"
By now, Sleggar was imagining the Zaku pilots were pissing their normal suits, regardless of any superior bladder control their "highborn" genetics gave them, at the mere sight of him. Indeed, it seemed like they were now more hesitant toward engaging him. "How does it feel you Zeek bastards!?" he bellowed as he continued his rampage. "How does it feel to fight something BIGGER and MEANER than you!?"
Yet another line of obliterated Zakus emphasized his point.
Hurtling through the battlefield, Sayla, having switched her rifle for her beam saber, was quick in cutting down three of the incoming Zakus with impunity. The first two attempted to attack her with their machine guns, thinking that they could strike her down before she drew close, only for her to effortlessly dodge their fire and slash them apart. Upon seeing his comrades wiped out, the last one switched tactics and came at her with his beam axe; it made no difference however, as he too was cut down without hindrance. She sped on from there.
Fear. Yes fear was, slowly but surely, spreading amongst her enemy, such that she could practically feel it against her skin. She relished the feeling, alongside the change it indicated. Since the war began, the Zeon had instilled fear upon those she fought beside, their more advanced weaponry combined with their superior genetics making the Empire appear as a juggernaut to the weary fighters of the Federation. For a time that fear had made them all but invincible predators who stalked helpless lowborn prey, such that only the strongest and most daring amongst Star Force were willing to challenge them. But now it had all changed; against her wrath, they were the fearful and weary. They were the prey.
That fact was further clarified with her next kill. Just as she cleaved two more Zakus into superheated halves, their remaining teammate just managed to catch the Valkyrie head sigil on Unit Gamma's left shoulder; added with the Gundam's crimson color scheme, it took but a short moment for the hapless Zeon pilot to realize who she was. For that, she allowed him to live just long enough to despairingly yell "It's the Valkyrie of Riah!" out to his comrades, right before promptly impaling his mobile suit cockpit with her sword.
Upon that declaration, she felt fear ripple even further through the Zeon ranks. Now her enemies realized just how outmatched they were; alongside three new high performance machines with unknown capabilities, they were also dealing with an ace. Two of them, as it wasn't long before Sleggar was recognized as the Phoenix of Arcturus.
Even so, they kept coming. Two more Zakus came streaking in, firing off their missiles as a distraction while they moved to flank her. In response, she let loose her vulcans and shot down the missiles, then twisted around as the first Zaku came at her, slicing it across its back. The second attempted mimic her and cut at her exposed back, but again she evaded, turning out of the way as the axe came down. From there she reversed her saber and stabbed it from behind, left palm planted against the saber hilt for additional force, then kicking it away before it exploded. For a moment she wondered where the third of that team was, only to sense it come at her from the left; she deftly cut away its axe arm, and then finished it with a follow up slash.
Not long into the battle, several Guncannons arrived in her area and proceeded to slaughter several Zakus with concentrated fire. As inferior as the Guncannon was to the Zeon monstrosities, they were still effective killing machines in the right conditions, and it helped that the Zakus were too distracted by her presence to maneuver effectively. Both the present Stormers and Hellfires let loose a spray of beams and missiles, which took out more Zakus and caused several others to scatter, which made them easy targets for the standard Troopers and Commanders. Sayla herself slashed down several more Zakus before proceeding onward, all in such a stylish manner that she felt the Guncannon pilots were mesmerized by her display. Some even thought her combat style was more akin to dancing than just waving an energy sword around.
At the end of her latest onslaught, only one Zaku remained. Its pilot, a rookie fresh out of the Imperial Guard Academy that lacked the internal strength of his comrades, immediately turned and ignited his thrusters to full power, flying back toward the Zeon fleet as if Mephistopheles Himself were chasing him. Sayla immediately sneered after him. After all that had happened, the whelp had no right to run away.
Thus, she withdrew her beam saber and went to full thruster power herself, easily shooting over the retreating Zaku. She then twisted around and, in a particularly brutal display, slammed her right hand beam gauntlet clear through the Zaku cockpit block, such that the hand went straight through the Zaku and out its back, leaving a gaping hole through the green mobile suit's torso. Its pilot didn't even have time to scream, with the last thing he saw being the Gundam's fierce yellow eyes.
Unfortunately, she didn't have time to feel satisfaction over her kill, as she picked up a newcomer flying toward her; one whose resolve was far from a rookie's. Withdrawing her hand, she immediately jumped back as a spray of beam machine gun fire rippled across where she had been, in turn striking the Zaku corpse which exploded thereafter. At first she moved to redraw her beam saber, but she realized that the machine gun burst was far better aimed than her previous opponents, such that she would not be able to get close so easily. As such, she instead drew her hyper beam rifle back up and returned fire.
It was then that she saw her challenger for the first time: another Zaku obviously, but at the same time something different. Rather than the standard green color tone, this one was painted in dark blue with a neon green torso, while a commander's fin stretched out from its head. As well, it seemed somewhat faster than the standard model; not as fast as her brother's unit, but one that easily indicated the pilot as an ace. And if the latter wasn't enough, she saw another indication when the enemy presented its beam shield projector: the sigil of a rose and crossed swords over a white escutcheon.
Recognition dawned on her as she identified both color scheme and insignia. The Nightmare of Solomon!
As if on cue, a comm. channel quickly opened, followed by a voice speaking out. One that possessed the deep metallic accent of Zeon. "Well, this is a surprise." Commander Anavel Gato spoke out with visible interest as he continued attacking. "I had heard reports that the Valkyrie of Riah had been sighted upon the field, but I did not initially believe them. Yet here you are, piloting a red mobile suit and fighting against me." he then added with a smirk. "Perhaps you will provide a fair challenge."
Sayla felt her teeth grit at that. "Amusing." she replied in a tone that was anything but. "After slaughtering five billion civilians that had no means of defending themselves nor escaping their planet's destruction, the Nightmare of Solomon wishes for a challenge. Most amusing." she nearly managed to blast the machine gun out of the Zaku's hand that time, but Gato managed to deflect the blow with his shield. "But then, I guess killing powerless civilians would make for a boring experience, especially for a 'true' warrior of Zeon like yourself."
Gato laughed at that. "On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy watching lowborn peasants die their well deserved deaths." he stated as he continued firing. "While not as thrilling as combat, it is still worthwhile to see glory made unto Zeon."
Sayla felt her already palpable rage suddenly stir. "What glory is there in killing five billion powerless innocents!?" she growled in turn. "How can the death of an entire planet serve toward Zeon's betterment!?"
Gato sniffed. "A lowborn whore like you wouldn't understand." he stated condescendingly, as if he were explaining the concept to a lower lifeform, which in his mind she was. "In this war, there are no such thing as 'innocents'. There are only we Highborn who are set to establish dominion over the universe, and there are you Lowborn, who are set only for extermination. Only when both come to pass will humanity set upon the right course toward Ascension."
Sayla's eyes widened as the event her ancestors had envisioned and preached of for generations was spoken of here, in a corrupted and unrecognizable form. "The Ascension is for all of Mankind to embrace, not just the highborn!" she shouted before she realized her words.
Gato was visibly surprised that time. "Intriguing, I did not know there were lowborn who had heard of what is to come."
Upon that, he switched from his beam machine gun over to his beam axes (his custom Zaku carried two), and then charged at the red mobile suit. In turn, Sayla deflected his initial strikes with her beam shields, and then used the pause in between to redraw her beam saber and fight back. They exchanged slashes from there.
Gato only continued to speak on. "If you have heard the truth, then you know that it is your kind's fate to die away, so that only the chosen of Zeon may ascend."
As much as she had been infuriated when Jericho II was destroyed, Gato's words only served to ignite the fire in Sayla's heart further. "You fool! Those were not the words of Markus von Daikun, nor those who followed him!" she nearly shouted in bloody murder, unleashing a flurry of precision sword strikes. "That is only the propaganda of a tyrant. One who believes himself to be following the footsteps of another tyrant!"
Gato only laughed at that as he deflected the Valkyrie's offense. "Again, a lowborn like you wouldn't understand." he continued to explain, before retaking the offensive with an overhead chop, which Sayla again deflected. "The Daikuns, as enlightened as they were, were only meant to deliver one part of the vision." he said as he followed up with additional attacks with his axes, only for Sayla to yet again regain the offensive with a thrust. "It is only through Emperor Gihren that the vision is now complete, and that the whole is given."
"The only ascension Gihren has foreseen is his own!" Sayla retorted, not wanting to believe what her ears were telling her. It was one thing for Gihren to twist the words of her ancestors to serve his own agendas, but it was another for someone to believe them so reverently. It was outright sickening to listen to, such that she could barely even respond to it. Not that someone as indoctrinated as Anavel Gato would have listened to her. "His is not the words of a prophet or seer, but the drivel of a false god, whose only faith is to power! He is no different from the Fuhrer he idolizes!"
She pressed the attack again. "How can you believe anything that scum says!?"
That one struck a chord in Gato's spirit, such that his face twisted with anger. "With all my being, as do all of Zeon!" he declared in response, angered that a lowborn would dare speak ill of his Emperor. He pressed on the attack, now unleashing an entire series of axe strikes. "You lowborn have long poisoned and corrupted the universe with your presence, ever since you were cast out of Eden! Do you really believe you vermin have any right or favor toward Ascension!?"
For a time, it seemed that Unit Gamma was being beaten back by the Zaku. "And now you wish to drag those who remain uncorrupted down with you!" he was shouting now. "That is why those five billion Jerichoans died! That is why their deaths gave Zeon glory! And that is why the rest of you will die, until the last lowborn is exterminated!"
He then shouted out a thunderous cry. "So that Zeon can move Beyond!"
At that, Gato jumped away and let loose his hip missiles. In response, Sayla fired back with her vulcans, swatting them out of the air. They then crossed the gap again and attacked with their respective melee weapons, only now a deadly and disturbing calm had entered in between them. For a time, it seemed that no more words would be spoken between the two aces.
And then, upon crossing his axes with her sword once again, Sayla finally spoke up. "Is that what you believe, Anavel Gato?" she questioned, her tone far more minor now. "Is that what the Nightmare of Solomon truly believes?"
Though Gato didn't understand it, he felt a chill run over his heart now, feeling as though he had just instilled the wrath of a being he should not have; he almost felt his instincts screaming at him not to say any more, and to simply turn away and hope Sayla Mass did not pursue. He shook his head at that; how could he feel like that to a lowborn woman? As skilled a pilot as she was, she was still an inferior being to him, hardly anything to feel fear toward. As such, he answered. "With complete faith. Something else you wouldn't understand, wretch."
"I see." Sayla replied. It was then that she looked up, pure bloodlust shining through her eyes. "Then I will enjoy watching you die."
With that, in a clear imitation of her brother, Sayla had Unit Gamma kick Gato's Zaku in the torso, sending it flying back a certain distance. From there, moving much faster than the Nightmare of Solomon expected, she drew her second saber and charged to strike.
Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Jericho System, Outer Rim
July 1, GC 379
Again the bridge shook as fire from a Zeon ship struck the outer armor. Bright Noa grimaced at that; one of the main downsides of the Midway-class was that their size made them hard targets to miss, and it didn't help that the Zeon, in standard doctrine, were concentrating their fire upon the mighty fleetcarrier. Fortunately, the Ark Royal's heavy armor was quite capable weathering whatever blows the Zeeks threw at her, such that even a battlecruiser would have difficulty penetrating her hull. Bright knew the latter from experience.
"Take out that forward cruiser!" Bright ordered, spotting a lone Dresden in the distance, one that had apparently wandered away from the pack. A bad move, as Dresdens were only efficiently defended in numbers.
From there, the firing of the Ark Royal's two dorsal mounted beam cannons was perfectly timed. In a matter of moments, four magenta colored beams streaked across space and blasted their way straight the Zeon cruiser's hull, causing it to buckle and explode instantly. Unfortunately that mattered very little, as there were plenty more where that came from; three more Dresdens quickly took position to avenge their comrade, beginning pelt the Ark Royal with their own cannon fire. Again Bright grimaced; it was almost like pulling weeds back in the family garden.
"Damn they're putting up a fight." snarled Mirai from beside him. "At this rate, we're going to end up closing in and going at it in full melee."
"So be it. We would hold the advantage anyway." Bright stated. Indeed, the Ark Royal would be a juggernaut at close range, where her full firepower could be brought to bear. "And in light of the circumstances, it would be a pleasure."
"Heh." Mirai let out with a staunch grin, one that was secretly matched by the other bridge crew that heard him. "Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead then, Captain?"
"Not just yet." Bright replied with a wave of the hand. "We'll follow the Magellan's lead when that happens; undoubtedly Wakkein will order it soon."
At that, Mirai cast at absent glance toward the fleet formation screen on the main monitor, looking upon the Magellan's position. She had to admit, as big a scum bag and a screw up Wakkein was, the Admiral definitely knew how to fight. The Magellan was taking just a similar amount of fire to the Ark Royal, yet the "little" Actium battlecruiser remained in the battle, and was dishing as much out in kind. The rest of the fleet was not far behind her either; in fact they hadn't taken heavy losses yet, which also said a lot.
On the other hand, Bright was worried. They had already sunk several Zeon ships up to this point, yet the Zeon still possessed the edge in firepower and numbers, even without the solar ray; if the Federation force engaged them conventionally, they would quickly be overwhelmed. Thus, he surmised there were two possible means toward gaining the advantage: first, having the mobile suits break through the Zeon lines and open the way up for the fleet to move in, or two, they locate the Ludendorff and sink her straight away.
Unfortunately neither seemed plausible at this point. Despite the massive effect the three Gundams were having on the mobile suit front, the Zakus still remained abundant, and as long as that were the case, Sleggar and the others would have to deal with them before proceeding to the ships. As well, while the Ark Royal had detected several Scharnhorst battlecruisers up to this point, none of them were identified as the Ludendorff. If Bright had to guess, Delaz's infamous flagship was kept well away from the front battle line, as well as defended by perhaps an entire squadron of Dresdens.
Overall, the Star Force fleet could only fight the Zeon on the standard level, with the mobile suits dogfighting while the larger ships slowly moving in, exchanging cannon and missile fire with each other and witling away at each other's numbers. Thus the worry on Bright's end.
"All tubes reloaded!" Letz shouted out from the weapons station.
Bright was quick to reply. "Set for full spray!" he commanded. "Fire!"
Barely seconds later, the Ark Royal's bow erupted as missiles showered out of their respective launchers and blasted their way toward the Zeon line. Several were shot down before they could reach their targets, but it didn't matter as there were so many of them. A fair number of ships were struck as a result.
Seeing that, Bright resolved to put aside his worries and concentrate on the fight. After all, it was a long way from being decided.
Damn it, does this ship NOT have an emergency power system or something!? Fraw thought angrily as the ship shook violently yet again, causing the lighting in sickbay to flicker out in the middle of her work. It was getting worse by the minute, though not yet enough that it seriously jeopardized her operation.
A moment later, she finally finished repairing the last damaged arteries of her latest patient, yet another hangar mechanic that got too close to a control panel when the shockwave hit. Another moment later, the nurse handed her an autosuture, which Fraw used to close said arteries. From there she took one last look at the holographic monitor board over the operating table, which showed that the patient was in stable condition.
Good. One down, several to go. she thought, then closing the patient's chest, she nodded at the orderlies, who quickly set to work transferring the man out of the operating room via hoverbed. In spite of her current work load however, she was grateful for one thing. While the Ark Royal's time on Jericho II was quite short, its base had a large abundance of medical staff on hand, transferred in from Cyrus IV in expectation of the Zeon invasion. It took some convincing, but Fraw had managed to get enough transferred to the Ark Royal to replenish her medical personnel numbers; this ended up having a huge impact, as she was no longer the only medic onboard the ship. She was still the CMO however, which nobody seemed to mind, or more accurately had a chance to mind.
Seconds later, her old patient was brought out, and a new one, an engineer covered in third degree burns and lacerations, was brought in. Rinse and repeat.
And yet, even as she mentally prepared for surgery again while a nurse applied an anesthetic, Fraw's mind was not on her current work. Rather, it was on the earlier afternoon, before Jericho II's destruction, and what she saw in the one who had been beside her. Amuro...
With a roar, Amuro throttled his Unit Alpha to full power and shoulder barged his target Zaku with a jarring crash. In a swift motion he activated his left hand beam gauntlet, reached out and grabbed the enemy mobile suit's head, obliterating it upon contact. From there, the physical shock from the impact, combined with the sudden loss of the enemy suit's main camera, gave Amuro ample time to maneuver behind the Zaku, stick the barrel of his hyper beam rifle into its back, and fire off a single shot. He jumped away just as it exploded.
"You're going to have to do better than that!" Amuro yelled at the top of his voice to any Zeon who were listening. He was far more invigorated now than he had ever been in his life; even the rage he had felt at White Base was tranquil compared to the full blown battle lust he was feeling now. He wasn't just fighting because he had no choice; he literally wanted to slaughter as many Zeon as he could lay his hands on, and he wasn't going to stop any time soon. At the time it was an experience both terrifying and exhilarating in scope.
Suddenly feeling warning run through his mind, Amuro reactively engaged his right beam shield. Sure enough, beams quickly bounced off the barrier, to which Amuro turned to see more Zakus approaching, their red mono-eyes flashing with vehemence. He sneered at them, having the Gundam's own camera eyes flash back before he engaged his thrusters again and set after them.
Immediately he fired off several more shots from his beam rifle, the beams tearing through two of the Zakus while the rest evaded. Those who survived were quick to return to fire, to which Amuro again activated a beam shield, this time on his left arm. As before, the Zakus' beam machine gun shots were too weak to penetrate, and so Amuro waded and maneuvered his way through the barrage until he was practically on top of the Zakus. So close, in fact, that he chose to stow his rifle and draw his beam saber.
Letting out another battle cry, Amuro slashed a fatal wound into the closest Zaku, a diagonal cut that went right through the cockpit. He followed that up by slashing another Zaku across the waist and then stabbing another one afterward. This only left one more Zaku, which happened to be the one with the commander's fin. That one was a little harder to take down, as it was able to draw its beam axe right before Amuro could land the killing strike.
Bellowing a roar of pure rage, Amuro continued his offensive, not giving the shaken but experienced Zaku pilot any opening to exploit. In a swift slashing motion, Amuro hacked off the Zaku's beam shield projector from the right arm, costing it its main means of defense. He then attempted to cleave the cockpit, but a snap maneuver on the pilot's part caused Amuro's attack to land short, "only" cutting away the right leg. The Zaku then attempted to flip over the white mobile suit and strike it from the back, but Amuro was faster in twisting around, this time slashing away the Zaku's right arm, the one holding the beam axe entirely. As a last act, the Zaku pilot was about to fire his missiles at point blank, but again Amuro was faster, finishing off the Zaku with a vulcan burst into the cockpit block.
And yet, even as the Zaku finally gave into its wounds and exploded, Amuro's rage still was not sated. It was all far from enough for him; he wanted to see the whole fleet burn. As such he again gunned his thrusters to full power and shot out into the sea of metal and explosions, looking for more Zeon to kill. From there, it wasn't long before he lost himself amongst another Zaku team, his white Gundam striking down its new targets without hindrance.
All throughout, from the back of his mind and memory, the screams only continued to echo with terrifying pitch.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Author's Notes: Now to answer Ben-01's questions. First, Zeon doesn't have a nobility system, at least not in the standard European line. Rather, their government is set up like the Roman Empire or Nazi Germany, in which power, influence and prestige are determined based upon offices and duties held as opposed to titles; this is just the more practical method of government, as it allows for power and prosperity to be achieved by anyone who possesses ability and ambition. Very important here, since this Zeon emphasizes Nietzscheism (to an extent) and Social Darwinism as norms. Plus, it follows along with the theme set by the Principality.
That being said though, Zeon does have historical "elite" families (also like the Principality) who descend from the original settlers of Zeon, and as such have amassed large amounts of wealth, power and recognition (such that they are denoted with the nobiliary particle "Von"); this is where the von Daikuns and the von Zabis come from. There are about fifteen of these High Families, who generally administrate different parts of the Empire, and more often than not have family members in key government and military positions (though again, positions are earned mostly by ability over political favor). As well, they have a secondary function that's similar to the Elector Princes of the Holy Roman Empire; generally, they elect the "new" Emperor/Empress (and by extension ruling dynasty) from one of their number, who in turn holds the position either for life or until he is voted out, from which the High Families elect a new monarch, and so on.
As for the fleet setup for either the Federation or Zeon, there's a little bit more to explain. Both primarily use a number system similar to most modern day navies, but with certain name changes in organization. At the top of the spectrum are the space equivalents of a modern day oceanic Fleet; these Fleets are made up of thousands upon thousands of ships, and span over multiple star systems/sectors and outposts. The Earth Federation Star Force has thirteen Fleets while the Zeon Imperial Guard has ten Fleets, each of which holding authority over one-thirteenth or one-tenth of their resident nation's whole territory. From there, both sides break down to smaller Groups or Taskforces, then Squadrons, and finally Elements.
Additionally, sub-units such as mobile suit forces are also identified by numbers (a la the EFSF 105th Mobile Suit Squadron "Shrikes"), though depending on their formation they can either be a singular unit (i.e. the defense squadron for a ship) or part of a much larger force. For example, since ships of the Midway-class usually hold four squadrons of mobile suits (forty-eight MS overall), those squadrons are typically unified into a single cohesive unit called a Carrier Assault Group (CAG), which is then numbered off from the ship's own number (i.e. the unit belonging to the Ark Royal (CV-13) is labeled the 13th Carrier Assault Group). As well, Zeon will at times form autonomous units labeled Corps, which as you can guess are designed to operate outside larger forces for special missions (for example, Char's unit is the 300th Independent Corps). As such, they have no set standard in number or formation, as they are formed entirely upon mission profile.
Hope that answers your questions Ben.