AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, so Chapter 2 I've basically left untouched except for a few details. As before, the story picks up with the Junius Seven drop operation and is a little closer to its animated equivalent, paralleling Phases 5-6.

PHASE 02: Stardust Battlefield

LHM-BB01 Minerva
En route to the Debris Belt/Junius Seven

Yzak sat in the bridge, having ordered all machines prepped for combat, including his own. However, his primary preoccupation right now was the key part of their orders: To locate the memorial delegation shuttle.
"Bart, I want you to let me know as soon as you've spotted the shuttle."

-"Yes, sir." Came the answer from Bart Heim, whose responsibility it was to monitor the ship's extensive array of sensors. Yzak next addressed Abigail Windsor, who operated the ship's communications and coordinated with its mobile suits.

-"Are the mobile suits ready?"

-"Yes, sir."

-"Good." He said. The Minerva had a sizable hangar, but at that moment carried only six machines: Two mass-production model ZGMF-601R GuAIZ-R mobile suits, and the experimental ZGMF-X56S Impulse. The other three were ZGMF-1000 ZAKUs, a trial pre-production mobile suit developed as a replacement for the GuAIZ series as part of the New Millennium Project. Barely off the assembly lines, so far only a few dozen had been produced, issued to unit commanders to test the viability of deployment in the field, and none had seen real action yet. One of them was his own, two-tone blue machine. The other two were piloted by Rey Za Burrel and Lunamaria Hawke.

Everyone on board the ship was nervous about their assignment, but none moreso than Yzak himself. While their orders were straightforward enough, he couldn't shake a bad feeling that they were headed for trouble. And the involvement of a civilian shuttle only compounded his trouble; It was too uncomfortably familiar. The only good thing is that the Hahnenfuss Team - what had, until his reassignment, been the Joule Team, which he had left in the capable hands of his old friend Dearka Elsman along with the more level-headed Shiho, who would take overall command of the ships while Dearka led the mobile suit teams - was also en route.

They were the best ZAFT had to offer. And Yzak had a bad feeling that they would need the very best...

The Debris Belt - near Junius Seven

The shuttle had left Ame-no-Mihashira on schedule, and was on its way through the inner edge of the Debris Belt - the ring of rock, metal and debris, castoffs from the construction of the various colonies in the earth-sphere, that orbited the planet midway between the planet and its moon.
Escorting it were five mobile suits - new-model MVF-M11C Murasame variable MS, first fielded by Orb the previous year. Four of them bore the same white-and-black paint scheme as the venerable M1 Astray, the standard color for nearly all Orb mobile suits. The lead unit was red and black, with yellow trimming in lieu of the normal burnt-orange. Its pilot was Alex Dino, a veteran mobile suit pilot who had fought in the Bloody Valentine War, and who now served as Cagalli's personal bodyguard.

The journey so far had been uneventful, as usual. The shuttle had had to skirt the edge of the Debris Belt to avoid collisions, but they always did so before turning inward towards Junius Seven. He felt a shiver at the thought of the place, a place of desolation and indescribable tragedy. Even now, five years later, it seemed like the memory of what had happened haunted the remains. As the convoy progressed Junius Seven came into view, and almost immediately Alex knew something was wrong.

"What the...we shouldn't be so close to it, not yet." The colony's position was off; He had been here every year for four years, he knew more or less exactly where Junius Seven was positioned, in the center of the Debris Belt, near its outer edge. But now it was along the inner edge, nearly out of the Debris Belt entirely. He caught a barely-perceptible flash of movement, and magnified the image on his monitor.
He swore as he recognized a mobile suit - a beam carbine-equipped GINN High-Maneuver Type II. The PLANTs didn't manufacture or deploy those anymore.
"Zulu Team, this is Alpha. There are mobile suits in the colony, and they don't look friendly." Alex said as he contacted the other mobile suits. "Go to MS mode and prepare for combat; if those guys make a move, our priority is to defend the shuttle!"

He transformed the Murasame from its aircraft-like flight mode to mobile suit mode, gripping its beam rifle in one hand while the other held its shield. At that instant the GINNs spotted the shuttle and moved in to attack. Two of them fired on the mobile suits, one targeted the shuttle. Alex dropped the targeting reticle on him and fired twice, the first shot blasting off the arm that held the rifle, the second boring a hole in its cockpit block. He stored the rifle and began moving.
"Delta, Echo, stay with the shuttle. Bravo and Charlie, on me - Engage the enemy and destroy them before they have a chance to target the delegation!"

Two mobile suits formed up defensively in front of the shuttle, which had stopped. The other two shot forward alongside Alex, who engaged one of the GINNs in close quarters. The enemy machine had a sword, which it swung towards Alex, but he drew his Murasame's beam saber and countered. The saber cut through the GINN's physical blade like a hot knife through butter and continued its course, goring the mobile suit and incinerating its pilot. However, his teammates were less fortunate.

Within moments, Zulu Bravo was overwhelmed as two of the GINNs engaged him. While the Murasame was leagues beyond the GINN as a mobile suit, the pilots of these machines were experienced veterans, and Orb's pilots had far less experience in combat, the nation having fielded mobile suits only in the last few months of the Bloody Valentine War.
That advantage served the GINNs in good stead, as a carbine shot from one of them destroyed the Murasame's rifle.
Drawing the beam saber, the young pilot counterattacked, slicing off his opponent's arm. However while he attempted to followed up with a strike to the cockpit, the other GINN drove its sword through the Murasame, slicing it in half. Zulu Charlie, the second Murasame, fared better. Using the Murasame's speed and its heavy shield to evade or block the enemy attacks, he fired a volley that took two GINNs with shots to the cockpit.

Additional GINNs appeared and were closing in when Alex switched to flight mode and rushed forward, firing off a volley of missiles that destroyed both. His maneuverability lower in flight mode, he reverted to mobile suit mode, narrowly avoiding an attack by an enemy GINN. He counterattacked with his own beam rifle, neatly blasting off its head, then drew the beam saber and sliced off both arms before shoving the GINN into nearby debris, crushing its backpack and rendering it essentially dead in the water.

"Four of us against who knows how many of them? This is bad." Alex commented. Plus they had to protect the shuttle. He wondered who these guys were as he returned into the fray, attacking a GINN that was moving in towards the shuttle. He sliced the wing thrusters off its back and the backpack detonated, the explosion destroying its torso and killing the pilot.

Meanwhile the Minerva was, after a long trip at essentially flank speed, finally nearing its objective as it crossed slowly through the Debris Belt and approached Junius Seven. Yzak was nervous; he had hoped to intercept the shuttle long before its arrival, but their course had led them nearly to the colony. He was about to order a course change when Abby suddenly spoke.

"Confirming detection of the delegation shuttle plus three mobile suits. They look like Orb Union MVF-M11C Murasames" She began. Then her tone became alarmed as she continued. "Mobile suits appear to be engaged in combat against unknown enemy units!"

What little color there was in Yzak's pale, handsome face drained at those words. "What did you say? What mobile suits?"

-"Thermal pattern indicates GINN HMT or HMT2s. Nothing on the IFF."

-"Order the pilots to launch immediately! Get every machine we have out there and for God's sake protect that fucking shuttle!" Yzak ordered, a panicked edge to his voice. With the Chairman of the Supreme Council onboard, everyone knew they had to do everything they could, but Yzak's reaction was strange to some of the ship's junior crew members.

However, his reaction had little to do with the Chairman himself; The current situation reminded him far too much of to one of the darkest chapters of his military career, an incident that had gotten him court-martialed and nearly executed - only Durendal's unexpected pardon had saved Yzak from the firing squad. It had been in CE 71, in their battle against the Archangel and Lewis Halberton's Eighth Fleet. The enemy flagship had launched a shuttle, which had passed between Yzak's Duel and its target - Kira's Strike. Angry and frustrated, and assuming that the Menelaos's crew was fleeing in it, Yzak had gunned the shuttle down. Only afterwards did he find out the truth: over a hundred civilians had been on that shuttle, refugees from Heliopolis. He was determined to prevent something like that from happening again. "I'm going out too! Arthur, you have the bridge."

Meanwhile, Abby executed her orders immediately. "Impulse, ZAKU Unit 2, beginning launch sequence. ZAKU standby for launch with Gunner Wizard. All systems online." The red ZAKU slid into place in the portside catapults. On the starboard catapult, the same was done for the Impulse. A compartment in the side of the catapult opened, and the Gunner Wizard was mounted into place on the ZAKU's back. "Hatch open, linear catapult active; ZAKU is clear for launch."

-"Roger. Lunamaria Hawke, Gunner ZAKU. I'm taking off!" Luna announced, and her machine shot out the catapult.

From her console, Abby switched her attention to Shinn's Impulse.
"Stand by to launch Impulse; Force Silhouette selected - opening Silhouette Hangar 3." In the ship's central catapult, one of three dedicated compartments opened and the relevant equipment was loaded into launch position. "All systems online, cleared for launch. Force Silhouette standing by."

-"Shinn Asuka, Impulse, launching!"

The Impulse Gundam shot out of the catapult. At the same instant, an unmanned Silhouette Flyer carrying the high-mobility Force Silhouette launched from the narrow central catapult and, guided by its laser tracking system, homed in on and docked with the Impulse. Shinn flipped the switch that activated the Impulse's VPS, which flared to life, turning his machine from dull-grey to blue and white.

Rey's white Blaze ZAKU soon followed, along with one of the two GuAIZ-Rs. The second GuAIZ launched next, followed by the third ZAKU, this one equipped with a high-mobility Tempest Wizard. Armed with two high-velocity beam gatling guns, this particular equipment was designed for high-mobility anti-MS combat, and allowed the ZAKU to fly in Earth's atmosphere. This unit was piloted by Yzak, who took the head of the formation as all six mobile suits began heading towards their objective.

"Is there any sign of a mothership those GINNs could be using?" Arthur asked as he sat at the bridge while his CO led the Minerva's mobile suit team.

-"No, sir."

-"What's going on here? Are these guys the ones who altered Junius Seven's orbit? But why...?"

At Junius Seven meanwhile, the battle was not going well, as the four Murasames continued to fight the enemy GINNs.
"You're nothing but pests." Sato commented as he took aim at one of the Murasames and killed its pilot with a shot through its cockpit; the interfering teams may have had superior mobile suits, he reflected, but his own pilots had far greater skill. "And you will not stop us...Not now!"
There were only two mobile suits left to protect the shuttle. Alex took a shot at Sato, but the veteran pilot narrowly blocked the attack with his GINN's shield and dodged the attack, but a followup shot destroyed his rifle. He tossed the weapon aside.

Onboard the shuttle, the memorial delegation was panicking; none of them had ever seen combat except Marshall and Cagalli, and in any case they had never expected to find themselves in a battle. Cagalli looked around, she saw that Durendal alone remained calm, although she thought he appeared worried as well.
'Who wouldn't be, in a situation like this?' She thought.

The pilots meanwhile started preparing to put some distance between the shuttle and these machines that were so intent on destroying them. Then one of the enemy units slipped a shot past them and hit the shuttle's engine. They were dead in the water - figuratively speaking.
Angered, the sole remaining escort Murasame pilot aimed at the shooter and fired, blasting off its head, then charged in and stabbed it in its cockpit block.
"Echo, don't abandon the shuttle!" Alex yelled, but it was too late. Before the Murasame could return to its position, one of the GINNs took advantage of the situation to move in between Echo and the shuttle. Turning on the Murasame, it struck from behind, slicing it in half with its heavy sword. Then it turned towards the shuttle and raised its beam carbine. Alex turned and charged, but he knew he wouldn't make it...

The carbine exploded as a single shot, fired from long range, obliterated the weapon. Without giving the pilot time to recover from the surprise, Alex hacked it in half from shoulder to hip, then turned towards the incoming machines.
He saw two GuAIZ-Rs and four other machines, one of them looking similar to the Aile Strike, but sleeker, more compact. The other three were new models, two apparently fitted for high-mobility combat, and one of them for long-range bombardment and artillery. Alex saw the rifle that had belonged to one of the fallen Murasame, and with a muttered apology reached for the weapon as the six ZAFT mobile suits closed in.
Behind them, Alex saw a huge dark-gray warship, which began to approach the shuttle. Then they began to engage the attacking GINNs.

"This is Alex Dino of the Orb Defense Force First Mobile Group." He hailed over the radio. "ZAFT Units, please respond."
At the controls of the Tempest ZAKU, Yzak recognized the voice and retorted angrily.

-"Don't bullshit me Athrun, I know goddamn well it's you. Now what the hell are you doing here?"

-"Yzak?" Alex Dino, a.k.a. Athrun Zala, replied. He had been in Orb since CE 72, having decided to move there under an assumed name, at the behest of then-acting-Chairwoman Canaver to avoid any possible retaliation for his role in the war's end and the death of Patrick Zala.

-"That's Commander Joule to you, Athrun. Commanding Officer LHM-BB01 Minerva. Now again, what's going on here?"

-"The shuttle's been damaged by enemy attack; Those guys in the GINNs have attached flare motors to the remains of Junius Seven - they're deliberately dropping it."

-"We'll ensure the safe recovery of the shuttle; Additional ships are inbound to attempt to destroy the colony before it can fall." Yzak replied, and accelerated into the fray. The other mobile suits followed.

Meanwhile in the Debris Belt, a Laurasia-class and three Nazca-class ships were also inbound, nearing Junius Seven from the other side; The Voltaire and Rousseau of the Hahnenfuss Team, and the Hawkins Team's Montesquieu and Lemaître. On the Voltaire's bridge, Dearka Elsman looked out at the falling ruins.
"Man, look at the size of that's huge." He commented.

-"No shit, Dearka. Remember, we live on one of those." Shiho Hahnenfuss deadpanned. She wore a dark-red uniform, albeit with men's slacks rather than the knee-length skirt typically issued to female soldiers. Next to her, Dearka wore green; though originally an Academy graduate in the same class as Shiho and a Red Coat himself, he had been required to reenlist following his desertion during the Bloody Valentine War, almost three years ago.

"The mission we're on right now is extremely important." He replied. "I commented on its size because it reminded me of just how important."

-"Listen, we don't have a lot of time." Shiho replied. "Yzak is already here with the Minerva; let's get this right."

-"Roger that." Dearka said with an amused smile as he entered the lift down to the hangar. In the hangar, preparations were under way to deploy. Dearka would lead the mobile suits, his Gunner ZAKU providing cover fire for the other machines, principally GuAIZ-Rs. They were primarily tasked with installing Meteor Breakers, heavy drilling units that carried a powerful, high-explosive warhead used for breaking apart asteroids, usually for transportation and eventual use in colony construction. Ironically, this time their purpose would be a colony's destruction. Shiho would stand by with the rest of their forces, for now - all the same, she ordered her GuAIZ prepped for takeoff. The CIC suddenly reported contact.

"Confirming the Minerva near Junius Seven; it looks like they're nearing the delegation shuttle. They also appear to be engaging in combat against unknown enemy MS."

-"Slow us down and make a silent approach; Get the Breaker and escort teams out ASAP." Shiho replied.

The order was soon followed as the Hahnenfuss Team's MS teams began to launch. However, as they were beginning to place the Breakers, Sato spotted them and split his forces - some of them remained to engage the Minerva's machines, most turned to target the newcomers. Closing fast, the beam carbine-equipped GINNs attacked, destroying one of the Breakers and the two mobile suits installing it.

"What the...GINNs? Where the hell did they come from?" Dearka swore as he prepared to attack, deploying the Gunner ZAKU's big "Orthros" high-energy long-range beam cannon. He targeted one of the GINNs with the cannon as he fired a volley of "Firebee" missiles from the launcher on the ZAKU's back. Occupied with avoiding the missiles, the GINN failed to account for the ZAKU itself, and Dearka took advantage of the opportunity to fire a shot from the powerful cannon that obliterated the GINN's entire torso.

Unnoticed by anyone however, an unseen threat still lurked. This was the Nana Buluku, a stealth battleship operated by the 81st Independent Battalion of the Atlantic Federation - a unit also known as Phantom Pain. Currently it was using a Mirage Colloid Stealth System, which was an illegal technology under the terms of the Treaty of Junius Seven, to conceal itself from the ships in the area.
On its bridge, mission commander Lukas O'Donnell observed the situation, noting that the ZAFT mobile suits appeared to be fighting each other. Lukas, renowned as a Eurasian Federation ace and veteran of the Bloody Valentine War, was the commander of Phantom Pain. Next to him was Ian Lee, the ship's CO.

"What do you think those ZAFT mobile suits are doing here?" Ian asked slowly.

-"I haven't any more idea than you. But perhaps this event isn't some act of God after all. Send out our mobile suits - I want a better grasp of the situation. And record as much data as possible from this end." Lukas replied.

-"Activate Gottfrieds One and Two." ordered Ian Lee. "Load launchers one through eight with Korinthos. Target the port-side Nazca-class. Disengage Mirage Colloid upon firing and take us to maximum thrust. All mobile suits, stand by for launch."

"Now then," Lukas commented, "Things are about to get very interesting. You're in command - I'm going out as well."

As he headed to the hangar, Lukas thought about what he'd seen. There were five ZAFT ships, all of them standing by.
One of them was near what looked to be a damaged and possibly abandoned civilian shuttle. And there were several groups of ZAFT mobile suits - GINNs, GuAIZ, and several new models. Lukas shrugged - they would know soon enough, one way or another.

The ship fired, critically damaging the Montesquieu's engine block, then unleashed its missiles at the other ships as its cloak dissipated and it moved forward. Then it launched three machines, which turned and headed into the fray, towards Junius Seven. Once those were out, four Daggers were deployed as well. Leading the formation was the mobile armor TSX-MA24F Chaos, designed as a successor to the venerable TS-MA2mod.00 Moebius Zero; the difference was that its four gunbarrels were controlled wirelessly, and it had two linear cannons to the original's one.

One of the two mobile suits was the GAT-X731 Abyss, a variable mobile suit designed loosely based on the GAT-X252 Forbidden and GAT-X255 Forbidden Blue. The Abyss was designed to be able to operate underwater like the Forbidden Blue, or in space as the Forbidden did, though it lacked the original Forbidden's aerial maneuverability on Earth. Its pilot was Auel Neider, an Extended Human - trained and enhanced into a living weapon capable of facing a Coordinator on equal terms. As was his teammate.
Her name was Stella Loussier, and she piloted the GAT-X388 Gaia Gundam, a variable MS designed for high-speed ground combat, both at long and close ranges. Whereas the Abyss could transform into a more streamlined submarine mode for higher underwater speed, the Gaia was able to assume a quadruped ground combat mode intended to emulate ZAFT's TMF/A-802 BuCUE.

One team of GuAIZ-Rs, led by an orange Blaze ZAKU, was able to leave the crippled Montesquieu, and were promptly engaged by the Daggers, which destroyed most of the GuAIZ-Rs, though the survivors - including their leader - were able to rally and attack the newly-arrived enemy. Meanwhile the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss continued towards Junius Seven.

"Where the hell did that ship come from?" Shiho yelled when they detected the ship and its attack, as well as its mobile suits. "To get that close undetected, it had to have been using Mirage Colloid. Contact the Minerva! Captain Kendall, take command for now - I'm going out too."

She ran down to the hangar, where her midnight-blue GuAIZ was on standby for immediate takeoff, and launched. As she headed into combat she was engaged by one of the Daggers, firing a short-range beam carbine. Blocking the attack, she accelerated and closed in, dodging a second shot before counterattacking with her GuAIZ's extensional arrestors. The two beam-edged claws tore into the Dagger's body and ripped it in half. With the Hawkins Team able to fend off the remaining Daggers, she shot off towards Junius Seven to help cover the demolition teams, forcing one of the enemy GINNs to break off with a rifle shot just as he prepared to target one of the Meteor Breakers.

-"The work crews have to continue demolition!" She stated, then as the GINN attacked her she neatly slid past his attack, moving inside its reach and cutting him apart from shoulder to hip with the twin beam blades mounted to her shield.

As this was happening, the Minerva's own MS team was engaged in combat with the enemy units. Dearka had also joined up with them, and they were doing their best to keep the enemy engaged and unable to target the Meteor Breakers. Both Shawn and Dale, the Minerva's GuAIZ-R pilots, had been shot down by the enemy, and despite their best efforts a total of three Breakers had been destroyed. As a pair of enemy GINNs started another attack run on one of the Breakers, Dearka fired the Orthros beam cannon at one of them; the GINNs scattered, dodging the shot, then resumed their attack.
"What's with these guys? They're fucking experts!" He exclaimed angrily.

Yzak saw the incoming attack and moved in, firing a surprise attack with the Tempest ZAKU's "Hydra" beam gatlings that tore to shreds one of the two GINNs. The other broke off and turned to attack the ZAKU with its sword, a mistake that sealed his fate.

Yzak held in hand the ZAKU's optional "Falx" beam axe, a long-shafted weapon that took the place of the default beam tomahawk normally stored in a compartment in its shield. Its long reach served him in good stead as he sliced off the GINN's sword arm before the enemy unit had a chance to close in, and followed up with a second strike that bisected its cockpit vertically, killing the pilot instantly. Then he heard Dearka on the radio.
"Yzak! We're in trouble, man. These guys have reinforcements - I just got a message from Shiho that a new ship trashed the Montesquieu."

-"DAMN IT." Yzak swore loudly. "As if we didn't have enough trouble keeping these pricks off the work crews already!" Then they saw on their displays three new machines.

-"The hell? Where did these pricks come from?" Dearka wondered as the Chaos destroyed one of the GINNs, while the Gaia and Abyss destroyed one of the Breakers and the mobile suits operating it.

-"Who cares?" Yzak retorted. "Our objective is to protect the Breaker teams - if those clowns are attacking them, that makes them our enemy."

The red Murasame, the sole remaining Orb mobile suit, pulled up as well.

-"They must have come from that ship - I guess it wasn't reinforcements for these guys after all."

-"Wait a minute, I know that voice." Dearka exclaimed. "ATHRUN? What're you doing here?"

-"Later. Right now, we have a job to do!" Athrun replied seriously, though he was glad to see Dearka again.

-"No shit! And where do you get off giving me orders?" Yzak snapped. "I'm the one in charge here. Come with me - we're focusing on the GINNs. The rest of you, keep those three pricks off us!"

It was Shinn who made the first move, firing at the Abyss. The shot rebounded off its anti-beam-coated outer shoulder armor, and it retaliated with its beam cannons.
Lunamaria found herself exchanging fire with the Gaia, while the Chaos targeted Rey, launching two of its Gunbarrels, which Rey had to avoid before counterattacking.
He fired a salvo from the ZAKU's beam rifle at the mobile armor itself, then targeted the Gunbarrels and fired a volley from the Blaze ZAKU's high-capacity "Firebee" missile launchers, using his maneuverability to evade the enemy attacks. His gamble paid off; the Gunbarrels were Phase Shift-armored, so the few missiles that did hit had no effect. However, the attack opened a gap in the enemy's defense and Rey fired the beam rifle again, destroying one of its two linear cannons.

Taking aim at the charging Gaia Gundam with the Gunner ZAKU's heavy beam cannon Luna fired, but the nimble machine dodged the attack. Luna followed up with a volley from her back-mounted missile launcher, which hit. Unfortunately, the Gaia's PS armor protected it, and the attack did no damage. She fired another shot from the beam cannon, which the more agile Gundam dodged before plowing into her ZAKU, throwing her off-balance.

"All're finished!" Stella cried in the cockpit of the Gaia, drawing and aiming a long-barreled beam rifle.

-"Not so fast!" Luna yelled as she righted herself, then kicked the charging Gaia, literally tossing it back. She drew a beam tomahawk from its compartment in the ZAKU's left shoulder shield and threw it as the Gaia fired. The weapon hit and damaged the Gaia's right wing, throwing off its aim, and an attack that had been aimed for the ZAKU's cockpit instead blew off its right leg. Firing a barrage of missiles at the Gaia to cover herself, Luna fell back.

Meanwhile, Athrun spotted two GINNs closing in to attack and pivoted his Murasame, firing his beam rifle at one of them. The attack destroyed its carbine, and when it attempted to attack with a sword he blew off its arm. Having shaken off Rey, the Chaos returned its attention to the Breaker teams, and Athrun intervened, dodging an attack from its gunbarrels and destroying one of them with a well-placed rifle shot. He stowed the rifle and drew the Murasame's single beam saber, then headed towards the enemy mobile armor.

"Back off and let us work!" He yelled as he attacked the Chaos, forcing the mobile armor to veer away. The enemy continued the attack, firing its linear cannon and deploying its two remaining Gunbarrels. Blocking the attack with the Murasame's shield, Athrun closed in and sliced one of the pods in half with his machine's beam saber. Then Rey moved in, targeting the remaining pod with the ZAKU's rifle. Unfortunately his attack narrowly missed and the Chaos counterattacked with a "Zorn" multiphase beam cannon mounted along the top of its main body. Rey blocked the attack but the cannon overwhelmed his ZAKU's shield, destroying it and blasting off the ZAKU's left arm, taking with it the rifle. Rey deployed the ZAKU's last-ditch weapon - a short-barreled railgun mounted to its shoulder, which flipped up and fired, hitting the last Gunbarrel just as it fired a volley of missiles, which detonated explosively and obliterated the pod.

With the number of mobile suits now in combat, the work crews were able to continue positioning the Meteor Breakers, which burrowed deep into Junius Seven with their explosive cargo. Seeing this, Sato targeted one of the Meteor Breakers. Dearka, who was defending it, spotted him and fired his beam cannon, obliterating his GINN's leg.

"Hurry it up!" Dearka heard Yzak ordering. "Or else it won't matter even if we split it!"

Meanwhile the remaining ships were engaging the enemy battleship, the Montesquieu having been destroyed. Critically damaged, the Lemaître meanwhile was pulling back, covered by the other two ships.

The Minerva itself had pulled alongside the damaged shuttle, and took advantage of a lull in the combat to send an escape craft to the shuttle to retrieve the memorial delegation. Once all of them were safely aboard the Minerva, the ship began to pull away from the shuttle and move back towards Junius Seven. At the same time, Arthur ordered a message sent to the newly-arrived Alliance ship on an open channel clarifying that the ZAFT ships were attempting to destroy Junius Seven, and that the GINNs alone belonged to the enemy that had started the colony's deadly descent.

Despite the destruction of its gunbarrels, the Chaos pressed the attack, engaging Athrun's Murasame at close range, while Shinn continued to fend off the Abyss. Completely disregarding the loss of his ZAKU's arm, Rey remained in combat, using his Blaze Wizard's missile launchers in conjunction with the railgun to defend the Breaker Teams. One GINN closed in to attack and Rey fired twice, blasting off its legs before taking it out with a shot to the cockpit. Behind him, the Meteor Breaker he'd been defending was at last deployed, and the first set of the devices detonated. The explosion split Junius Seven in half, with one half slowing down its descent, while the other, larger half continued falling.

"Come on! We're not done yet!" Athrun exclaimed as he formed up with Yzak and Dearka's machine, the latter moving one of the remaining Meteor Breakers. Suddenly, two enemy GINNs appeared, moving to attack the Breaker.

"Let's go!" Yzak exclaimed, targeting one with his beam rifle as Athrun targeted the other. In short order, both were destroyed.

"There's more of them!" Auel in the Abyss Gundam exclaimed when he spotted them, incorrectly identified the two ZAKUs and the Murasame as enemies, and fired. His attack missed, and Yzak and Athrun both attacked immediately, closing into close range combat. Athrun switched back to his Murasame's beam rifle and fired a volley at the Abyss, which blocked it. Taking advantage of Auel's distraction, Yzak moved in and attacked with the "Falx" beam axe, slicing off its leg. Pinned between the two, the Abyss fired its torso-mounted "Scylla" beam cannon at the Murasame, then turned to the ZAKU and attacked with the paired beam cannons on its back. Both Yzak and Athrun dodged the attacks.

As the Chaos also moved in and fired, Yzak immediately turned his attention to it, leaving the Abyss to Athrun. Dodging the attack, he moved into close range and sliced its remaining linear cannon down the entire length of its barrel, splitting it in two. When the Chaos attempted to retaliate, igniting the beam claw on its leg and attempting to hack the ZAKU in half, Yzak slipped sideways and severed the limb, then unleashed a withering hail of beam cannon-fire from the Tempest Wizard's beam gatling guns that forced the now nearly-weaponless Chaos to fall back.

-"Awesome..." Shinn, who'd been closing in, suddenly slowed as he saw the two of them, awed by their skill. "So this is the skill of veterans of Jachin Due..."

Meanwhile, Dearka positioned and deployed the Breaker, as did another of their remaining work crew mobile suits. Suddenly, the Alliance ship sent out a retreat signal flare. Seeing it, the Gaia and Abyss withdrew, following the Chaos back towards their ship.
"Finally, they're backing off." Dearka commented.

-"Maybe, but there's a good reason for that." Yzak replied, "If this keeps up we won't be able to escape Earth's gravity." Then he opened up a line to the Minerva. "Have we recovered the memorial delegation?"

-"Yes, sir. The delegation is safe aboard the ship."

-"Excellent. Recall our mobile suits. The Minerva will descend with the remaining fragment and attempt to destroy it with the Tannhäuser."


Dearka meanwhile had already broken off and was headed back towards the Voltaire.
-"We're out of time. Shiho! We have to get back to the ship!" Both the ZAKU and the GuAIZ began their retreat. At the same time, Rey and Luna began to head back up towards the Minerva. But one mobile suit had not retreated, Shinn noticed, and he turned back to look for it.

"Where is he...there!" Shinn spotted the red Murasame, still working to position one of the Meteor Breakers. He hesitated briefly, remembering that he had overheard Captain Joule on the radio identify its pilot as "Athrun". The name of Athrun Zala was legendary among ZAFT's younger recruits, but he didn't really know what to expect.
"What're you doing?" He asked, closing in on him. "We've orders to withdraw."

-"Yeah, I know. You should head back...I'm going to at least get this thing going." Shaking his head, Shinn moved around, taking up a position on the Breaker's other side.

-"What is someone like you doing in Orb, anyway?" Shinn asked. Athrun heard a condescending edge in the tone of the question, and was about to reply when they came under attack from three GINNs - the last ones, apparently. One was missing an arm, another a leg. The third was apparently undamaged.

-"I won't let you cause any more damage!" One of the GINN pilots screamed as they charged.

-"They're still here too!" Shinn exclaimed as he drew his beam saber, then moved in to attack.
One of the three GINNs fired at the Meteor Breaker and Athrun blocked it, countering with the Murasame's rifle. As Shinn sliced in half the GINN that was attacking the Breaker, a transmission sounded from one of the remaining two.

-"No! My daughter's tombstone must fall! It's the only way this world will ever change!"

-"What? his daughter..." Shinn muttered. The leader shot past the Impulse and attacked the Murasame, while Shinn engaged the other.

-"Have you forgotten the innocent lives so mercilessly ended here? You're living in a damned dream world, laughing with the butchers who caused all this!" Sato screamed as he attacked the Murasame again, and Athrun blocked the shot, countering again with the rifle. He destroyed the carbine, but Sato drew his GINN's sword again and charged in. Reflexively, Athrun used the Murasame's shield to block the attack. "Why can't you see...The only true path for Coordinators was the one that Patrick Zala had chosen for us!"

For an instant, Athrun faltered at the sound of his father's name, as memories flashed past him; his mother, murdered in the Bloody Valentine; GENESIS; Patrick Zala, his father, dying in his arms still desperate to accomplish his genocidal ambitions.

-"Never..." He said coldly, as a newfound determination steeled his resolve. "NEVER AGAIN SAY MY FATHER'S NAME!" He kicked away the GINN. Suddenly, he seemed preternaturally aware of his surroundings, the GINN's movements, and even the exact location of the Impulse and its opponent as well as Junius Seven itself. He once more stowed the beam rifle and drew the beam saber instead. Thrown off balance by the sudden attack, Sato hesitated for a split second as he heard Athrun's yell, momentarily stunned by the implication of his words. Could his enemy really be the son of Patrick Zala? He wondered as he righted himself and prepared to attack again.

"My name is Athrun Zala," Athrun said on an open frequency, confirming Sato's suspicion as he discarded the mask of "Alex Dino" behind which he had hidden for so long, "and I will not allow you to cower behind my father's name as an excuse for your crimes!"

It didn't matter, Sato decided. he moved in and attempted to slash at the Murasame, the attack aimed for the torso. But to Athrun it was almost like it was moving in slow motion, and he dodged the strike easily, slipping to the side and bringing his beam saber around. His attack slashed off the GINN's blade mere inches above its hilt.

The second GINN attempted to charge the Murasame from behind, but Shinn was ready, slicing off its remaining arm. With a scream, the pilot wrapped his machine's legs around the Impulse and self-detonated, rocking the Impulse and stunning Shinn, but doing no real damage: Equipped with Variable Phase-Shift Armor, the Impulse was protected from conventional attacks.
The remnants of the GINN's torso struck the Breaker and triggered it, allowing it to bore deep into Junius Seven.

Athrun attempted to fall back, but Sato's GINN latched onto his Murasame's leg. Left with no other options, he adjusted the beam saber and sliced off the Murasame's leg, then increased thrust through the remaining leg and the back-mounted thrusters. Pulled down by gravity, the GINN slammed into Junius Seven and exploded just as the sole breaker detonated, breaking the remnant into two pieces as both the Impulse and the Murasame, firmly caught by Earth's gravity, began to fall through the atmosphere.

In the Impulse's cockpit, well clear of the falling debris, Shinn frantically altered the Impulse's settings so he could make the descent.
-"Adjusting angle of entry; cooling systems all green, attitude control and BCS are good. Okay, now where is he?" As he turned the Impulse forward, he spotted the damaged mobile suit. He adjusted his trajectory to intercept it as inside his own cockpit, Athrun reviewed his own machine's status.

-"Maybe it's because of the damage, but that right leg is really heating up..." He muttered as the intense heat began taking its toll. Alex knew the Murasame was not designed to be able to reenter the atmosphere on its own. He ejected the Murasame's weapons, which detonated far behind him. If he'd been able to switch to flight mode he might have had a slim chance of survival, but like this...
Just then the Impulse intercepted the Murasame, deploying its own shield in front to protect both machines. On the Minerva, Yzak had returned to the bridge. Cagalli had also come up to the bridge, but he had not spoken to her - he had more important things on his mind.

"Descent sequence, stage two." Arthur announced as the ship's wings began to close.

-"Any sign of the Impulse and that other idiot?" Yzak asked.

-"No, sir. I can't get a fix on them." Abby replied, sounding stressed.

-"Captain, we're approaching stage 3! Any longer and we won't be able to fire!" Arthur exclaimed.

-"Activate the Tannhäuser." Yzak ordered, somewhat reluctant. "We have to destroy that thing, no matter the consequences." To himself, he added 'I just hope those two were able to get clear.'
The ship rotated to face towards the falling colony fragment as the bow opened and the cannon deployed. "FIRE!" Yzak ordered. The cannon fired, breaking away a large chunk of the debris, which began to shatter. They fired a second time, and the massive chunk of debris shattered into small pieces. Many of them burned away in the atmosphere. Most did not.
-"Entering descent sequence stage 3!" came the cry from the bridge as the screens went blank, and the cannon retracted, the bow closing over it.

It was over; they had done everything in their power to stop Junius Seven from falling...

...and they had failed.