Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY - Red Planet

Phase 12 - Hero of ZAFT

November 25th, CE 76 - Martian Liberation Army Headquarters, Deimos

Emmanuel Vargas felt panic rising in his chest as the reports streamed in. ZAFT units breaking through at no less than six points in his defense line; the ZAFT and ZMA fleet closing in, with the former punching holes in his own forces. The Beelzebub Array was rapidly becoming useless—because ZAFT's mobile fortress could stand up to its shots and his own fleet was now in his way.

Vargas glanced at an aide. "Get the Arcadia ready to depart," he hissed. The soldier saluted and headed for one of the intercoms, and Vargas returned his attention to the screen. "Why is the enemy breaking up our defensive line?"

"They haven't reached the surface yet, sir," Keller answered. "We're still in control. And there's no way their ships will last long in point-blank combat against our own."

The generalissimo stared grimly at the screen and tried to make himself believe that.

With the Sigma Astray's blows raining down on him and rattling his Sword Impulse unit to the core, Gary Talon clenched his fists around the controls and waited for his opening. The Sigma Astray leveled off its beam rifles and opened fire; Gary darted up over the shots and charged. He slammed his swords together and descended for the kill with a scream—

Instead, the Sigma Astray lunged forward, a short blade sprung out of its right knee, and the white and blue mobile suit knocked the Impulse's swords back apart. Vanfeldt followed up with a sweeping kick to the Impulse's head and sent it reeling—and with a crash, he opened fire with another beam rifle barrage to scorch the stunned Impulse's armor.

"You can do better than this, can't you?" he laughed. "I was hoping my first Gundam kill would be a little more climactic!"

The Impulse lunged forward with a scissoring sword swipe; the Sigma Astray darted back, out of range, and fired forward two anchors out of its forearms. The tips wrapped themselves around the Impulse's left-hand sword, and with a hard yank, Vanfeldt tore it from the Impulse's grip and hurled it away.

Gary risked a glance around the battlefield, even as the Sigma Astray filled the sky with more firepower. The Fortuna was nowhere to be seen—so another Silhouette pack was not an though this thing would let him swap equipment.

"Now now, don't go spacing out on me!" Vanfeldt cried, and with a crash he brought down one of his blades onto the Impulse's remaining sword. "If you do that, then you'll die!"

Beam fire filled the sky as Juarez Recardo felt his Blast Impulse hit the surface of Deimos with a solid crash. He jetted backward as the Mars Tank came down after him and deployed one of its legs, tipped with a beam claw, to swipe viciously at him.

"If I can't get through that reflector with firepower," he grunted, "then I'll do it like this!"

The Impulse skated around the Mars Tank's furious beam fire and stormed forward. It drew both ends of its beam javelin, slammed them together, ignited the blades, and charged in for the kill—

Instead, the Mars Tank effortlessly unfolded one of its legs and caught the javelin blow on one of its beam claws. Juarez yelped in surprise; a moment later, the Mars Tank whirled around with another leg deployed and pushed the Impulse aside; and then the third leg came down and ripped off the Blast Silhouette's two cannons. Juarez threw his wounded machine back to avoid the first leg's swing and felt Deimos shudder as the Mars Tank landed back in the dust, prehensile beam guns waving.

"Well," he grunted, "let's try this again."

The Mars Tank opened fire with a large cannon on its main body, sending forward a bright red beam to rip up the moon's surface. Juarez rocketed backward and returned fire with his railguns; as expected, the shots impacted harmlessly against the shimmering reflector. The Mars Tank rushed forward and shrugged off the Impulse's railgun shells—

With a crash that rattled Juarez's teeth, the Mars Tank wrapped one of its prehensile guns around the Impulse's right leg and slammed it down into the dirt. Juarez's eyes went wide as he saw the main body cannon angle towards him—

"Oh no you don't!"

The Impulse roared backward with a blast of exhaust just as the Mars Tank fired, blowing off the Impulse's right leg at the knee. The rest of the machine lunged back and back into the sky; the Mars Tank followed up with a punishing beam cannon salvo that forced the Impulse back on the defensive.

"Well, that could've gone worse," Juarez grunted. "Come on, you bastard! Come a little closer!"

The Force Impulse quaked under the Zero Astray's relentless firepower, and Kara ground her teeth at the enemy pilot's equally relentless laughter filling her cockpit. Something had to shut the stupid bastard up.

With a blast of exhaust, the Impulse jetted aside from the Zero's barrage and went on the attack. Kara let loose a beam rifle salvo—only for the Zero to deflect her shots with its shield and burst to the side. Kara whipped around, shield ready for the next attack—

Instead, the Zero fired off a grenade from its beam rifle and slammed it into the center of Kara's shield, shattering it in a burst of fire. Kara abandoned the useless remains with a curse and darted aside again as the Zero opened fire once more.

"I didn't know it could do that!" Waid laughed. "Cool!"

Kara charged forward with a scream and drew a beam saber. The Zero darted backward, but too late—the Impulse swept its saber through the Zero's beam rifle and blew it apart. Waid snarled a curse and lunged back, just long enough to draw an anti-ship sword from the IWSP and slam it down against the Impulse's saber.

"You are not going to stop us!" Kara screamed. "We are going to destroy you, and return to the Earth Sphere, and reclaim our homeland!"

"Oh, don't start that shit with me," Waid said with a sigh. "I lived in Orb, girlie. Been there, done that," he flashed a manic grin, "and now I'm here!" The Zero flung the Impulse down with its sword and charged.

Kira Yamato stared across the battlefield at his gleaming opponent, sword in its right hand, beam rifle in its left, fury burning in its pilot's eyes, wings of light shimmering in the shifting light of the battle.

"It's strange," Agnes Brahe said quietly. "I used to be confused about you, Yamato. You came here and brought war to Mars, but you fought cleanly. I heard stories about you from the Earth Sphere, about the Valentine War and the Junius War. I thought you were maybe just misguided."

The Turn Delta's eyes flashed and in an instant it was on the attack. Kira lunged back and swarmed his DRAGOONs—but the shots passed through only afterimages as the Turn Delta closed in and brought its katana down with a crash onto the Strike Freedom's beam saber.

"But I wasn't wrong, wasn't I?" Agnes roared. Kira brought his DRAGOONs to bear, but the Turn Delta ignited its thrusters and threw both mobile suits back as the mobile weapons opened fire. "I was wrong about everything, wasn't I?" The Turn Delta spiraled up above the Freedom amid a storm of afterimages—and Kira ground his teeth as he felt its beam rifle shots pound against his beam shield. "Setona was right, we should have stayed out of this war!"

Kira's eye flashed. "Then why don't you just surrender now?"

The Turn Delta charged and threw the Freedom back with a powerful overhead hack from its katana. "Because that would be pointless!" The Turn Delta came back again with a furious katana stab; Kira parried the blade with his shield and brought his own saber up towards the Turn Delta's waist—but the red mobile suit ignited a beam saber from the forearm armor of its left arm, deflected the blade effortlessly, and then brought its left knee up hard into the Freedom's chest. "Not after what you did to my people!" Agnes brought his sword down hard onto the Freedom's saber. "No, I won't surrender to you, not before my people have been avenged!"

Kira scowled back, even as the Turn Delta sent his Gundam reeling with another powerful hit. "Don't act like a victim here! Not with that system—"

"You have no right to talk about that!" Agnes screamed, and charged again. Kira somersaulted over his foe's head and whirled around to strike its exposed back—only for the Turn Delta to whip around and fire a beam rifle shot into the Freedom's face, scorching the left side of its head. Kira darted aside as the Turn Delta showered him with beam rifle fire and swarmed his DRAGOONs around the red mobile suit; the Turn Delta effortlessly slipped out of the web of firepower with afterimages swirling around it. "You have no right to say anything!"

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah

Valentine braced herself as Messiah quaked under another hit from Vargas's damned Beelzebub Array. The fortress's beam shield had held up to one shot already, and it seemed to be blocking this one as well—but Valentine was not eager to see how more it could take.

"ZAFT units, this is Messiah," she said into the intercom. "All units pull away from the Beelzebub Array and Messiah's firing path. We are charging NEO-GENESIS to fire as soon as the positron reflector is down." She replaced the intercom on her armrest and glanced up at Harkill. "We should be able to catch the MLA fleet with this too."

"We'll also catch the remaining ZMA ships," Harkill warned.

Valentine shrugged at the thought. "We don't need them. Let them fry."

She turned back towards the screen and reached out to find Kira Yamato, locked in battle with the familiar hint of presence called Agnes Brahe—a fine dragon for her knight to slay.

"I wish you hadn't taken the missile launchers too," Juarez groaned, "but this'll have to do!"

The wounded Blast Impulse threw itself to the ground as the Mars Tank opened up with another withering beam gun barrage, and Juarez darted along the ground towards the enemy's exposed underside. He squeezed off a railgun salvo into the Mars Tank's belly and the hulking mobile armor staggered from the blow—but an instant later, Juarez roared away to safety as the Mars Tank brought down one of its claws, beams blazing.

"Oh, come on!" he cried. "Not even a scratch?"

A moment later, the Mars Tank folded up its legs, ignited its beam sabers, and came twirling forward. Juarez dove to the side to dodge its blades—only for one of the legs to spring out, clamp itself onto the Impulse's left shoulder, and fling the mobile suit down into the surface of Deimos. Juarez screamed as the Impulse lost its entire left arm and what remained of its Blast Silhouette.

"Dammit, that's not good," he grunted. "Come on, Fortuna, a new Chest Flyer and a Silhouette pack would be nice right about now...!"

The Mars Tank came down with a crash, leg raised with beam claws alight; Juarez flung the Impulse over its shoulder and kicked off the moon's surface with his machine's remaining foot, and rushed back into the sky to dodge another wave of beam fire.

Crashing down onto the Sword Impulse, the Sigma Astray whirled around with both its blades deployed and slammed the Impulse's sword with a punishing series of blade strokes. Vanfeldt cackled with delight and whipped the Sigma around, and with a bone-rattling slam he brought the blade down again and painfully hurled the red and white mobile suit back.

"Ha!" The Sigma followed up with a vicious knee to the chest that tore another gash into the Impulse's armor, and Gary threw his crippled machine back, sparks flying. "Is that all you got? I wanted a real challenge to test out my Sigma!"

Gary ground his teeth in frustration and watched as the Sigma drew both its beam rifles and leveled them off. He immediately backflipped over them and ejected what remained of the Sword Silhouette. The backpack hurtled towards the Sigma; Gary quickly righted himself and opened fire with the CIWS to blow the Silhouette pack apart. Vanfeldt stopped short in surprise—

An instant later, Gary blasted through the smoke with a scream and sliced the Sigma's beam rifles in two with his sword. Vanfeldt abandoned the ruined weapons with a snarl and deployed his blades again.

"Not bad," Vanfeldt snarled, "but you've only got one blade and I've got six!"

The Sigma Astray fired forward its left-hand anchor, wrapped it around the Impulse's left arm, and yanked it closer—and the Impulse shuddered as the Sigma sliced off its left arm at the shoulder and slammed it in the back with its knee.

"Dammit," Gary grunted, "I'm running out of options...!"

The Zero Astray relentlessly pelted the Force Impulse with machinegun bullets, even as Kara struggled not to let her all-important beam rifle and Force Silhouette pack get hit. She hurled the Impulse down beneath the Zero's line of fire and them stormed back up—and with a crash, she drove her beam saber through the Zero Astray's dual Gatling shield, blowing it apart.

"Goddammit!" Waid screamed; the Impulse leveled its beam rifle off for a point-blank killing shot, but the Zero drew its second sword with a flash and tore the rifle in two. Kara backed away and drew her second saber, and ran her tongue over her teeth with a grin.

"Now to get rid of the rest of those guns," she said, "and we'll make this fight fair!"

"Like hell you will!" Waid shot back; with a crash, the Zero opened fire again and pounded the Impulse with artillery shells. The Impulse darted aside and rushed towards the Zero's back; Waid whirled around with swords raised and slapped the Impulse aside, and Kara hissed a curse as Waid let loose the Zero's twelve missiles. She backed away with her CIWS guns blazing—but the Zero Astray charged through the smoke and pounded its swords down onto her sabers, and the Impulse shuddered under the blow.

Kara scowled back at the Zero as it opened fire again. "Just need to outlast you..."

"You just don't understand," Kira snarled, as the Turn Delta showered his machine with beam fire. "You weren't at the Earth Sphere. You have no idea what's waiting back there!"

Agnes came roaring down with a furious scream and pounded the Strike Freedom with a powerful overhead swing. "There is nothing there that could possibly be worse than you!"

"I haven't committed genocide—" Kira began.

The Turn Delta rushed him again and Kira ground his teeth as his white Gundam took a vicious katana swipe to the torso, rendering useless his Callidus cannon. "Tell that to my people!" Agnes shrieked. "Tell that to my people as I send you to hell!"

Kira somersaulted over the charging Turn Delta and whipped around, deploying his beam rifles to open fire—but the Turn Delta was there in a flash to slash them both in two with its katana and then drive the blade down onto the Freedom's beam shield. Kira deployed his railguns—but the Turn Delta cut their barrels in two. Kira swarmed his DRAGOONs around the Turn Delta, filling the black sky with beam fire—but the Turn Delta effortlessly slalomed out of his fire. And in Agnes' dull, furious eyes, Kira could see that he had seen the seed.

"If you're going to stand in our way, then you're going to have to be destroyed!" Kira snapped, even as the Turn Delta whirled in for another swordfight. "I have too important a cause to let you stand in its way!"

Agnes' eyes flashed in fury. "What could possibly be so important that you had to destroy my homeland!" The Turn Delta flung its adversary away and opened fire with its beam rifle. "Never forget this, Kira Yamato! You did to us what Blue Cosmos did to the Coordinators!" The Turn Delta brought down its katana with a crash. "Never forget that you're no better than Djibril!"

The Freedom jetted backward, eyes flashing. "If that's what it takes..."

"What do you mean?"

Kira snapped his eye open as the seed burst. "If I have to become evil to create a better world, then so be it!" The Freedom roared forward, beam saber blazing. "I'll become the Devil himself if that's what it takes!"

Martian Liberation Army Headquarters, Deimos

The panic was rising as Emmanuel Vargas quietly made his way for the warship dock. He willed it down and glanced around the soldiers accompanying him. He would get to the Arcadia, his personal ship. He would escape in all the confusion. Keller would hold the fort for as long as he could, but he, Vargas, could not afford to be caught.

How could it be failing? How could ZAFT be breaking through his fleet—his full, combined forces—and the Beelzebub Array? How could they have something that could stand up to its shots? How had his plan failed?

He shook his head. He would get to the Arcadia and escape in the confusion. He would travel to the arms cache near Phobos; he knew it was still undisturbed. There he had the equipment to turn the Arcadia into an interplanetary transport vessel, and there he would use it to escape to the Earth Sphere. As long as he still lived, he could return, with a better army—an army of Turn Deltas, even—and finally claim the Red Planet for himself.

Vargas rounded a corner and stepped out towards the dock. Outside the windows he could see the Izumo-class battleship Arcadia in the final preparations for launch.

As long as he still lived, this war would not be lost.

Beams filled the sky and Juarez Recardo ground his teeth in frustration as he threw the sparking Impulse towards Deimos' surface, then pulled up to dodge a ferocious beam salvo from the Mars Tank.

"I'm only gonna have one shot at this," he muttered, "so let's make it count!"

He reared back and hurled the upper part of his beam javelin forward, disconnecting it as his arm extended. The javelin sliced up through the Mars Tank's fire and past its prehensile guns, and slammed straight into the hub connecting the beam guns to the mobile armor. The mobile armor staggered as the assembly exploded, and Juarez seized his chance to charge forward with a scream. The Mars Tank raised one of its legs, beam claws alight—

Too late to stop, Juarez slid underneath the Mars Tank and jammed his remaining javelin into its underside, punching through the reflector and straight up into the mobile armor's body. Sparks flew as the mobile armor twitched in its final death throes; at last it sank down and exploded, directly over the Impulse.

Juarez closed his eyes as the smoke and flames cleared around his battered mobile suit, now missing its javelin, and watched as the Mars Tank's flaming wreckage drifted away.

Kira felt the Strike Freedom shudder and groaned as the Turn Delta refused to let up with its ferocious sword blows. The Freedom jammed its saber forward; the Turn Delta slapped it aside with its katana and pummeled the white Gundam with a kick to the chest. Kira rocketed upward as the Turn Delta followed up with a beam rifle shot; but an instant later, the Turn Delta was above him to smack him back down with the katana.

"Don't think you can justify yourself to me!" Agnes roared; the Turn Delta scorched the Freedom's pristine armor with a volley of beam rifle shots. "Nothing will ever excuse you!"

"I'm not going to let you make her sacrifice meaningless," Kira snarled—but Agnes perked up with a sadistic grin.

"Oh, you've lost someone too?" he cried, and the Turn Delta slammed down the Freedom's saber and delivered a punishing kick to its chin—and another to its chest. "Tell me, was she a murderer! Would she be happy with what you are now? Would she have done as you did?"

"Shut up!" Kira shrieked; the Freedom surrounded the Turn Delta with furious DRAGOON fire, but the red and white mobile suit easily ducked through an opening and charged back into the fight. "You're wrong!"

"Then don't invoke someone's memory to justify genocide!"

The Turn Delta came down with a heavy sword blow; Kira surged forward to catch Agnes by surprise, but the Turn Delta darted out of harm's way as he followed up with a vicious saber slash.

"The only way this world will change is if it suffers enough to want to," Kira snarled, "and if you're going to stand in the way of that, then I'll kill you!"

"Getting low on Gundam there, swordfighter!" Vanfeldt laughed as he slammed the Sword Impulse's Excalibur with a rapid and ruthless succession of sword strokes.

Gary glared back up at his enemy, even as sparks flew and his Gundam began to creak under the strain. "I've still got enough to kill you!"

"At least your mouth hasn't stopped!" Vanfeldt shot back, and the Sigma Astray rammed its knee into the Impulse's head—and speared its head on the knee-blade. Vanfeldt victoriously yanked off the Impulse's head and tossed it aside. "Seriously, if you'll just sit still, I'll just kill you nice and quick—'cuz we both know that's where this fight is goin'."

The headless Impulse leveled itself off with the Sigma, and Gary cracked a smirk. "You're from Earth, aren't you?"

"Yeah, what of it?"

"Then you must not know," Gary said, "never underestimate a Martian!"

With a sudden crash, the Impulse hurled its sword headlong into the Sigma. Vanfeldt deflected it with his blades and looked up in surprise—

...just in time to see the Impulse's combat knife plunge into the Sigma's cockpit and take off his head.

Gary dropped down in front of the stricken enemy, seized his sword, and slashed the Sigma in two. It burst apart in a thundering explosion and Gary's abused sword finally shattered—but as the force of the blast hurled him back, he smirked up at the Sigma's wreckage.

"Damn you, why won't you die!" Waid screamed, and poured artillery shells after the Force Impulse. It disappeared beneath the smoke, its armor blackened and Phase Shift straining—but Kara only smirked and ducked down beneath the cloud, beam sabers blazing in the darkness. "Don't think you can beat me with only—" He looked up in horror as the IWSP pack's guns went silent, and felt his blood freeze as his eyes fell on the ammo gauge—and the zeros.

"Ha! Out of ammo, are we?" Kara laughed, and with a crash she slammed her sabers down onto the Zero Astray's swords.

"You act like I can't fight with the swords!" Waid screamed back, and began swinging them wildly at the Impulse, angling for a hit.

Kara grunted as the Zero's sword strokes drove her back, and squinted through the sparks for an opening. She saw her chance, lunged back, and Waid followed with a furious roar—

Instead, Kara threw herself forward with a scream and drove both beam sabers into the Zero's chest. Waid stared in terror as the sparks flew and his mobile suit began to die.

"D-Don't think you have me beat!" he screamed. "My courage won't allow me to—"

Kara squeezed her eyes shut as the Zero exploded and hurled her back—and when she looked again, she could only grin at the smoldering ruins.

"Won't allow you to what?"

With that, the blackened and scarred Impulse turned and headed for home.

Agnes turned in surprise as the sensors blared, and found a warship driving towards him. He recognized the ship immediately as the Arcadia—as Vargas's personal ship—and in an instant he knew what was going on. His blood flashed hot, and the Turn Delta backflipped and rushed towards the oncoming vessel's bridge tower.

"As for you, Vargas," Agnes said with a snarl, "I have a score to settle with you, too."

On the auxiliary screen, Vargas's face went white. "Brahe? What the hell are you doing with that thing? What happened to Janelin?"

The Turn Delta raised its beam rifle. "You're going to where he is, Vargas."

"Wait, Brahe—"

Agnes opened fire and scowled as the Arcadia's bridge tower disappeared with a flash of fire. He looked up, towards where the Strike Freedom had gone—to find that it had seized the opportunity to turn its DRAGOONs on the positron reflector protecting the Beelzebub Array.

"All ZAFT units, this is Marshal Yamato!" he heard Kira's voice cry. "Get away from the Beelzebub Array now!"

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah

Valentine stepped forward with a victorious grin as the words rang through Messiah's control room. Once again her knight had slain for her a dragon.

"NEO-GENESIS," she ordered, "fire!"

The brilliant column of excited interstellar gas flashed to life as the NEO-GENESIS system activated, and the dazzling beam slammed head-on into the center of the Beelzebub Array. The satellite splintered into pieces and vanished in the center of a titanic fireball, and Messiah's control room filled with cheers.

Valentine crossed her arms and smirked. First Raclyffe, then Schroeder, and now Vargas...yes, victory would undoubtedly be hers when they returned.

"I can't believe you're still fighting me!" Kira snapped, as the Turn Delta harried him with beam fire. "Your fleet is surrendering, your base has fallen, and your superweapon is destroyed! What more do you want?"

"None of that matters to me!" Agnes roared. "No, you don't understand—but maybe you will one day!" The Turn Delta charged. "Maybe you'll know what it's like to have nothing left to lose!"

Kira hurled the Strike Freedom back, away from the Turn Delta's swiping sword; he stopped short and charged forward himself, ramming the Turn Delta hard with his left shoulder. The red and white machine backflipped over the Freedom's finishing saber swipe and stormed forward itself, and the two mobile suits slammed their blades together again with a shower of sparks.

"Agnes Brahe," Kira growled, "I know full well that what I did to the Austral Colony was evil!" Agnes blinked in disbelief. "I know full well that whatever I say to justify it, it was evil! And you don't know, but we are going to do even more evil things in the Earth Sphere! But you don't understand what we're going to do, and why we have to do it—and since you refuse to understand, I'm going to destroy you!"

Agnes cracked an insane grin. "I think I finally understand you, Kira Yamato."

The sparks flew as Kira narrowed his eye.

"They said you were a hero and you seemed like you would only fight cleanly, but now I understand!" He laughed, and his terrible laughter rattled through the Strike Freedom's cockpit and into Kira's soul. "Yes, now I understand! You were never a hero! You were just weak!"

"What are you—"

"You don't get it, do you?" Agnes chuckled. "You keep telling me that you're going to build a new peaceful world that justifies all this bloodshed, but you really don't get it, do you?" His eyes flashed, and Kira felt his blood begin to boil. "You just don't want to go back. You don't want to let go of your power. You're afraid, or stupid, or—who knows, but I understand now. You're weak."

Kira scowled as Agnes began to laugh, and seized his chance; with a crash, he flicked his wrist up and knocked Agnes' katana skyward; with another flash, he drew the Freedom's second saber with his Gundam's left hand and swept it through the Turn Delta's waist, chopping the mobile suit in two before Agnes could react—

And yet, as the Turn Delta exploded, all Kira could hear was Agnes' hysterical laughter.

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna

Juarez Recardo could only smile as he stepped out of the cockpit of his ruined Impulse unit and found Kara and Gary there to greet him, both sporting the characteristic grins of victorious soldiers.

"So I guess you killed those Astray things," he started with a smirk.

Gary merely shrugged. "It wasn't that big a deal."

"Then why'd your Impulse come back with no head and only one arm?" Kara asked, nudging Gary in the ribs. She turned back towards Juarez with a grin. "Yeah, it's over, Juarez. This stupid war is finally over."

Juarez clapped a hand on both his subordinates' shoulders. "Either way, I know you two fought hard today, and I'm proud of both of you."

They both squirmed for a moment, before Gary cracked his most smug grin. "Like I told you," he said, "it wasn't that big a deal."

"Now we can get back to work," Kara said with a sigh, "so we can go fight the real war."

Juarez did not let his smile fall, but inwardly his joy began to fade away.

Yes...the real war. He glanced aside as Kara and Gary made their way over to the celebrating mechanics. The worst war.

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah

They had only lost three ships and about thirty mobile suits. It was not a welcome casualty report, but all things considered Valentine was willing to accept it. They could still be replaced.

She sat back in the command chair and smiled. She closed her eyes and reached out—and found Kira, still in space, still in his mobile suit, doubt and pain swirling around him. But he was hers—that she knew. Nothing would wrench him from her. He had thrown himself into the inferno at the Austral Colony for her, and come out so stained with blood that they both knew he would be hers forever.

Their work in the Earth Sphere would be bloody. Thousands, if not millions of people would die. But so it had to be. Humans had always required pain and trauma to make the kind of change that would be demanded of them now. Perhaps they had grown decadent, perhaps they were simply doing as their natures demanded—but when ZAFT returned to the Earth Sphere, they would know fear. And Kira Yamato would burn into their nightmares the emblem of ZAFT.

Valentine ran a mental finger over the contours of Kira's flickering presence. Yes, as always, he would be her knight...and he would build for her a glorious new world.

You're weak!

Kira closed his eye as he slowly guided his mobile suit back to Messiah. "Weak?" he asked, and his own voice in the cold cockpit felt hollow in his ears. "Hypocritical? Evil?"

Yes, he was. He had demanded that Schroeder's troops obey the Corsica Treaty, and then he had nuked a colony off the map. He had insisted on striving for a better world, after he had killed Lacus Clyne and his own sister. He could never leave this life he hated, the life of a hero to a shattered and embittered people. He could never leave undone the work he had started out to do with Valentine. He was going to go to the Earth Sphere and bring upon the already-suffering people of the world vengeance spoken of only in their most ancient scriptures. He would become a demon, and everyone—even his descendents—would curse him for what he was going to do.

But he felt Valentine up there, inside Messiah—and through her, pulsing under the surface, he felt Fllay.

She had not died because of cruelty or chance. She had died to put him on a path, and though his heart still ached for the losses, he knew that there was so much more to be done. the time we're done with the Earth Sphere, the world will be changed...or there won't be a world at all.

With steel in his heart and ice in his veins, Kira opened his eye and guided the Strike Freedom Gundam back home.