AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, a couple of notes before we begin. Because I frankly thought it looked retarded, I have eliminated the Destroy's mobile suit mode, making it instead a really big mobile armor, and made one or two tweaks to its armament as a result. Also, I changed its color to black, but that's cosmetic.
Second, the Impulse deploys here with new equipment. I was originally saving this specific equipment for Phase 22, but I decided to use it here first.

Finally, you'll note that the venue for the battle has changed from Berlin to Hamburg. There is a very specific reason for this, which will become clear next chapter. With that said, here.


PHASE 20: Stella

Hamburg, Eurasian Federation

"How many live here in Hamburg, Brennan?"

The question came from a barrel-chested man of fifty-five, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and wearing an impeccably tailored grey suit, as he stood looking out at the city from the window of the office he presently occupied in the Hamburg Rathaus. He turned and faced the second, much younger man.

"2.2 million, sir." Brennan Marshall replied grimly. "We've begun an evacuation, with as many as possible heading for the harbor, but..."

- "There aren't enough ships to carry them all." The older man interrupted. "And what about defense?"

- "Every asset we have is assembling outside the city, and ZAFT is sending reinforcements as well." Marshall stated. "A number of their ships stationed in the area are already in place, and more are inbound including the assault carrier Minerva. Also, the 501st is standing by at Wilhelmshaven."

President William Baum sighed wearily. Two and a half years of careful work at trying to rebuild after the devastation wrought by the Bloody Valentine War, unraveled in mere months.

- "Thank you. And what about the rest?"

- "It was a stretch getting everyone together, but we have the necessary support in the legislative." Marshall replied. He and several of his aides had been manning the phones non-stop since the attack began. "We can move ahead."

- "Very well. Alea iacta est." Baum said in a resigned tone. The die was cast.

Meanwhile, as the Destroy continued its rampage, the Bonaparte still following, Teivel Jibril watched the gigantic mobile armor's progress from his own hiding place, a gigantic monitor showing video footage of the destruction wrought by his creation. As he watched the Destroy effortlessly annihilate yet another team of ZAFT mobile suits as they engaged, the leader of Blue Cosmos cackled in satisfaction, before addressing his colleagues, who were also visible on the monitor and whom, he knew, were also watching.

"Well, gentlemen, what do you think?" He asked. "Isn't the Destroy simply...overwhelming?"

- "That it certainly is." Replied one of the others. "There's nothing left - everything is being reduced to ashes."

- "How much do you plan to burn using this...thing?" Bruno Azrael asked.

- "As much as it takes." Jibril said callously. "As long as there is a ZAFT presence, we will torch everything in sight. Anyone being friendly with them will be taught the lesson again: We Naturals are different from the Coordinators, and anyone who betrays that basic fact will found they've bought a one-way ticket to hell."

There was silence for a moment, and then the image one of the major news networks covering the attack changed. On the screen was Claudia Bailey, the Eurasian press secretary, who stated that President Baum would address the nation, and added that he would not answer any questions. Moments later Baum himself appeared and took his place behind the podium, then began to speak.

"Good afternoon. I come before you all today on the gravest possible matter. Approximately twenty-four hours ago, an Atlantic Federation strike force consisting of a large land battleship and approximately thirty mobile suits launched an assault on the city of Warsaw, accompanied by an enormous mobile armor. This force annihilated two Eurasian Federation land battleships, as well as two entire teams of ZAFT mobile suits including Lesseps-class ships that came to the assistance of our beleaguered soldiers. The city was subsequently leveled. We later learned that Minsk had suffered the same fate. Each of these cities had a population of nearly two million. Early estimates of the death toll put it at nearly ninety percent. This weapon then continued on towards Berlin, where it was once again engaged by the courageous forces of the Eurasian Federation Armed Forces, aided by ZAFT's relief forces, while an evacuation was under way. In spite of these heroic efforts, an estimated forty percent of the city's four million souls were lost."

Baum paused for a moment, before he continued. His hands were shaking, his knuckles white where he clutched the podium.

"It has been my hope and my goal since you elected me to this office to enable us to come to a lasting, peaceful coexistence with our neighbors here on Earth, as well as in Space." he said. "My opposite number in the Atlantic Federation seems to have decided otherwise, declaring war on the PLANTs, and now launching this unwarranted, inexcusable attack against us, an attack that has already claimed far too many lives. It is with great regret therefore, that I must hereby declare that the Eurasian Federation is now at war with the Atlantic Federation."

Jibril swore violently, then turned off the monitor, cutting off the link with his colleagues. After a moment, he calmed down. Both Baum and that nuisance Marshall were in Hamburg. His ultimate mobile weapon would just kill them too when it leveled that city.

LHM-BB01 Minerva
En route to Hamburg

The Minerva, having taken off from Gibraltar, was headed northeast across Eurasian Federation territory at low altitude, towards Germany - a distance of over 1,400 miles. They would be too late to reach Berlin in time. However, the enemy machine's course had made clear its next target: Hamburg, where at that very moment both President Baum and Vice-President Marshall were located, along with a select few members of the Eurasian Federation's government.

And so, the ship headed for Hamburg, passing to the west of the Pyrénées before turning across France. On the bridge, Yzak was seething as he read the reports of the ongoing devastation. They were up against quite possibly the most powerful weapon system ever created. And they would be going in with just the Impulse - none of their other mobile suits were combat-ready, and even if they were, they only had three pilots who weren't injured.

At the moment, Shinn was being personally briefed by Aves on the Impulse's new equipment, which he would use for the first time during this battle. Yzak had been skeptical, wanting to use the more heavily-armed Blast Silhouette, but Heine had pointed out that the ability to evade the enemy mobile armor's attacks mattered far more than firepower. It was a race against time to see whether they could reach the city before the gigantic thing could level it, as it had leveled Minsk, Warsaw, and now Berlin. And it was a race that they had to win.

The Destroy reached the outskirts of Hamburg, where a massive formation of Alliance tanks and mobile suits, supported by two Lesseps-class battleships and a huge number of BuCUE and GaZuOOT mobile suits, as well as DINN aerial types. The enormous mobile armor opened fire with its main cannons, the shots ripping apart one of the Lesseps-class ships as both opened fire, the shots glancing uselessly off its Phase Shift-armored body. A subsequent barrage from its missile launchers and "Nefertem" thermal beam cannons decimated the ranks of mobile suits.
Suddenly, from above a pair of beam cannon shots bore down on the Destroy, and in the cockpit, Stella activated one of several positron reflectors mounted to the machine, blocking the attack.

Then she saw the mobile suit responsible: The Freedom.

"Him again." She muttered, her feelings divided between fear and anger. The Freedom shot straight towards the Destroy, attacking successively with its beam rifle and "Balaena" beam cannons. Not a single shot went through, each one blocked by the Destroy's powerful positron reflector.
Behind the Freedom came the Archangel itself. Seeing this, Lukas's Chaos moved forward.

"Stella, watch out." he warned. "That's the Freedom - he's a tough one."

The Archangel fired its Gottfried beam cannons at the Destroy, and Stella once again blocked with the positron reflectors.

"It doesn't matter...WHAT YOU THROW AT ME!" She yelled as she counterattacked, firing not only the Aupfrall Dreizehn back-mounted beam cannons, but the triple 250cm "Super Scylla" multiphase beam cannon at the Archangel, forcing the ship to evade the attack and preventing them from either firing or targeting the Bonaparte far behind her.

"Damn." Kira swore. "To go to such extremes...What's the point of all this?" He shot forward, intending to attempt another attack on the Destroy, but a shot from the Chaos's plasma beam cannon forced him to back off.

"Don't be ignoring me now, you little bastard." Lukas spat. He deployed the Chaos's two Gunbarrels, firing their beam cannons at the Freedom, trying to catch him in a crossfire between them and the Chaos itself as he fired the linear cannons and beam cannon. The Freedom evaded every attack.

Then, the Destroy did the same. Mounted to the underside its body was a pair of wireless, remotely-operated "Sturm Faust" gunbarrels - one to each side. These weapons were armed with a 5-barrel beam gun and a 20cm "Zorn MkII" plasma cannon, scaled-up versions of the Chaos's own armaments. it deployed both, firing all of these weapons at the Freedom.

Onboard the Archangel, Canard watched the battle with growing apprehension.
"I'm going out there. Kira's completely outmatched, he needs backup." He said.

-"You're right." Andy said. "I'm going out too." Soon Andrew's Murasame, followed by Canard in the Aile Strike, were airborne as well.

PLANT, Aprilius One

"The Gardner Team has been wiped out. Target is presently making its way into the city of Hamburg. We have reports that President Baum, as well as Vice-President Marshall, have been evacuated by helicopter to Wilhelmshaven Naval Base." Eileen Canaver of the Diplomatic Committee reported.

- "What's going on here - burning down cities at random, with no prior warning." Ezalia Joule spoke next, her tone shaking with barely-repressed anger. "It's insanity."

- "And now, the Eurasian Federation has declared war." Louise Leitner commented.

- "Most of our forces stationed in the affected cities have been annihilated. We have to withdraw our remaining forces." Crister Oberge stated emphatically.

- "What good will that do?" Durendal asked rhetorically. "Withdrawing our remaining forces won't solve the current problem. What about the Minerva? Where is it now?"

- "It's headed towards Hamburg, on orders from Fleet Headquarters." Ezalia replied. "Unfortunately, their current battle strength is low; I'm not sure how much help it will be."

- "That may be true, but someone must stop this." Durendal said firmly, standing as he spoke. "Or else in their arrogance, they will go on to burn still more cities. This cannot be allowed."

Hamburg

Kira and the Freedom were still engaged with the Chaos, as he avoided the attacks from its Gunbarrels while at the same time blocking or evading repeated attacks from those of the Destroy. Narrowly avoiding the latest attack, Kira countered with a blow that destroyed one of the Gunbarrels.
Then, his sensors indicated new incoming signatures. Behind him, he recognized the Strike and Andy's Murasame. But incoming from the northwest, six new signatures. He checked: Four Jet Daggers, an Aile Windam, and a Windam IWSP. All six bore identical, distinctive black paint schemes.

"What the hell?" Lukas wondered, as he too recognized the incoming formation. "The 501st? Damn..."
He was forced to evade attacks from the six Eurasian machines, and as a result he broke off his attack on the Freedom. And then alarms in his cockpit rang as yet another new player entered the stage.

At last the Minerva was in range, and a furious Yzak asked for a status report as they closed in.

"No response from the frontline command post, Gardner or Lyman Teams." Abby reported.

- "Multiple heat sources detected; The Chaos and multiple Alliance Daggers and Windams." Bart Heim reported. "Also confirming the Freedom and the Archangel, as well as the Strike and a single Orb Murasame."

- "You've gotta be fucking kidding me." Yzak fumed. "Looks like these pricks take their self-appointed role of guardian angel seriously - any cry for help and they come running in."

- "There appears to be a single large battleship outside the city." Bart added.

- "Activate CIWS, Tristans, and Isoldes, load Dispars in launchers 1-4, Parsifals in 6-10. Load all bow tubes with Fafnir." Yzak ordered.

At that moment, the Bonaparte opened fire on the Minerva, unleashing a barrage of missiles at the approaching ZAFT ship.
Yzak immediately ordered a counterattack, and the ship's CIWS roared to life, intercepting and destroying the incoming projectiles.

"Fire bow tube one and two. Target the enemy land battleship." Yzak ordered coldly. The two tubes opened, and the ship shuddered as for the third time in her life the 4.5-ton "Fafnir" heavy anti-ship missiles shot from the tubes towards the target, accelerating rapidly, and in a matter of seconds, both projectiles hit the Bonaparte at precisely the same instant.
The resulting explosion of a combined 900 kilograms of high explosives obliterated the front of the ship, causing fatal damage that was only exacerbated when the ship's own missiles detonated as a result.
The destruction of the Atlantic Federation's first land battleship was as complete as it was swift. In a matter of moments, there was literally nothing left of the enormous vessel but a twisted, burning carcass.

"Right." Yzak commented callously. "That's one problem taken care of."

Shinn, meanwhile, was standing by to launch, reviewing what they knew of their enemy. Heine was present, as was the injured Lunamaria, when the monitor lit up.
"Shinn." He said tersely, and the younger man looked up.

- "Yes, sir?" He asked.

- "The situation's worse than I'd expected. We can't contact any of our frontline forces, and the enemy is being engaged by the Freedom and the Archangel."

- "WHAT?" Shinn exclaimed. "The hell're they doing here?"

- "No idea what they might be planning. But remember that you only have one target. Our ship has been ordered to stop that monster, no matter what it takes. Get moving."

- "Right." Shinn replied, a simmering anger edging his voice. The screen went dead.

Heine stepped up, laying a hand on Shinn's shoulder.
"We're all counting on you, kid." he said. "Do your best." Shinn nodded, then turned to head to the hangar and get ready to take off.

Though they had initially been planning to back up Kira against the Destroy, the enemy mobile armor's reckless disregard for its surroundings had forced Canard and Andrew to play a defensive role. In spite of the evacuation having been ordered hours ago, there were still civilians in the area that were trying to flee. Canard and Andrew had thus both found themselves shielding the groups of civilians from attacks as the Destroy fired its weapons into the city seemingly at random, at the same time targeting the Freedom with its enormous Gunbarrels.

When the Destroy fired a barrage of missiles at him, Kira felt himself enter the state of expanded awareness and enhanced ability that came to him in combat, and using the Freedom's CIWS as well as the railguns and beam cannons, he intercepted and shot down the incoming missiles.

Then an alarm rang in his cockpit, as a new mobile suit approached, at a speed nearly equal to the Freedom's: The Impulse, with new equipment - it looked similar to its previous flight pack, but with enlarged, higher-output thrusters. Also, its beam sabers were replaced by heavier beam swords, and it had a pair of beam cannons deployed over each shoulder. A long canister on each wing held 12 AGM-33 "Ladybird" light anti-MS missiles.

This was the new Storm Silhouette, a high-mobility anti-MS combat pack developed as a tentative replacement for all three of its predecessors, combining improved melee capability and ranged firepower with high speed and aerial maneuverability.

With difficulty, Shinn ignored the Freedom, turning his attention on the Destroy. He fired the Storm Impulse's "Fenris" 90mm high-energy beam cannons as well as its beam rifle, but the attack was reflected harmlessly.
The gigantic black mobile armor spun about and turned to face him, and Shinn couldn't quite shake a bad feeling about this machine. He shook his head, drew one of the Storm Impulse's "Caliburn" heavy anti-mobile suit beam swords, and he shot towards it. The enemy mobile armor's cannons sent up a massive barrage at the Impulse, but Shinn dodged the attacks easily, and then dipped below its line of fire, shot upwards, and delivered a vicious diagonal slash to its lower main body, carving a gouge across its cockpit block.

"Stella!" Lukas called out as he saw what happened. Firing a barrage of missiles from his remaining Gunbarrels at the Daggers, he broke off the attack and headed towards the other combatants even as the Impulse pulled back, preparing to move in for a second attack. The barrage took out two of the Daggers, while the others pursued.

In the Destroy's cockpit, the terrified Stella opened fire with every weapon the Destroy had, causing massive collateral damage to the area.

"What is with this monster?" Shinn raged. "Why do they want to kill people so badly?"

The Destroy deployed its Sturm Faust gunbarrels again, and even as it fired Shinn slipped out of the line of fire. A barrage from the beam rifle and "Fenris" cannons was blocked by the positron reflector mounted on one of them, but he closed in and, dipping below where the reflector didn't cover it, carved the weapon in half with the Caliburn. Then he returned his attention to the Destroy itself, just as the Chaos closed in and opened fire with its plasma beam gun and linear cannons. Shinn dodged the attack easily, and the Chaos missed slamming into the Impulse by a matter of only a few feet.

"Stop it, kid!" The pilot of the mobile armor yelled, and Shinn recognized the voice of the man Lukas. "The pilot of that machine...it's Stella!"

"What?" Shinn exclaimed. He focused in on the gash he'd cut in the mobile armor's cockpit. Sure enough, that was her. Rage flared in Shinn and he turned on Lukas.

"You...you lying bastard! I'LL KILL YOU FOR THIS!" He screamed, and he immediately opened fire on the Chaos, emptying the two wing canisters as he unloaded twenty-four AGM-33 guided missiles at the mobile armor. As he did so, he felt, as he had against the Orb fleet, and before against the Alliance fleet outside Orb, his awareness of the battlefield expand exponentially, as if everything were moving in slow motion.

The Chaos attempted to dodge the attack, firing its weapons and shooting down a number of missiles, but the range was too close and the projectiles too numerous. Roughly half the missiles impacted, and though the Chaos's PS Armor held, Lukas was thrown off balance for a short instant. Taking advantage of the opening, Shinn launched a followup strike that Lukas only partly managed to dodge, as one of its three remaining Gunbarrels was blasted off its mounting point.

Then the Freedom moved in, and Kira fired the Freedom's railguns at the Destroy, targeting the gash in its cockpit block. Stella screamed as the attack hit, damaging the Destroy still further.

Kira detected the Chaos approaching and turned to face it, but before he could do anything, four Alliance mobile suits intervened.

Sven Cal Bayan and Mudie Holcroft, in their Windams, led the assault. As much as she had admired and respected Lukas O'Donnell, the Eurasian Federation was her country, and she felt outraged at the betrayal. And so she opened fire on the Chaos without a second's hesitation.

Lukas deployed the two remaining gunbarrels, then fired at the Alliance formation. The four mobile suits scattered, easily avoiding the attack. Lukas immediately turned all his weapons on one of the Daggers and succeeded in shooting it down.

However, the remaining three machines regrouped and converged on the Chaos from above. His Gunbarrels were both destroyed by systematic attacks from Sven Cal Bayan's Windam IWSP, leaving him with only his linear cannons and multiphase beam cannons. From above, the machines were out of reach of his beam claws. Then Mudie herself fired her beam carbine, as did the two Daggers. Crippled, the Chaos began to fall, slamming into the ground below.

"Lukas!" Stella yelled as she saw the Chaos go down. Now Lukas too...she was next.

"No...I don't want to die..." she muttered fearfully, and then with a scream of terror she opened fire, unleashing a barrage from the Destroy's "Super Scylla" cannons that forced the Freedom to back off, moving out of the mobile armor's line of fire. The Impulse had not moved, the shots missing it by several feet.

"What are you doing?" Kira hailed over the radio. "You're a sitting duck just floating there!"

The comment caught Shinn's attention. The voice seemed vaguely familiar, but he dismissed it instantly.

"Shinn? What the hell's going on out there?!" He heard Yzak's voice on the comm, but he cut the link. The Destroy fired again, indiscriminately it seemed, wildly. Like its pilot was panicking.

'It's my fault...it's my fault this happened...if I hadn't...' he thought. Then he shook his head. It wasn't his fault. It was that bastard Lukas, and now he was done for. But Stella...he had to save her. He stored the Caliburn and the Impulse's rifle, dipped low, and closed in.

"Damn it..." Kira swore as he closed in, saber drawn, and attacked. "Stop it now!"

He aimed an attack at the Destroy with the saber, but its positron reflector activated, blocking the attack.

"Back off, you bastard!" Shinn yelled viciously, and he turned his attention to the Freedom. He drew one of the Impulse's beam sabers and shot towards the Freedom. slashing across its torso, but Kira dodged the attacks easily. However, he'd been forced back, and just then the Destroy deployed its remaining "Sturm Faust" gunbarrel, firing its weapons at the Freedom.

That gave Shinn the opening he needed, and he moved back in towards the Destroy.

"No...I don't want...to die..." Stella muttered, her hands shaking as she grasped the controls. Lukas gone, everybody was gone.

"STELLA!" she heard a voice call her name. She knew that voice, somehow. "You're not going to die!"

She looked up. There was something strangely comforting about the voice, but she couldn't...quite...

"I promised...I gave you my word! I will protect you!"

The words stirred something in her mind, and suddenly she remembered. He had saved her when she almost drowned. When she was prisoner, dying, it had been him who was at her side, him who returned him to Lukas and Dr. Kinney, who saved her life again. Him who had shown her something that she had never known before.

"Shinn." she whispered, and she released the Destroy's controls. She saw a dark blue mobile suit moving towards her, and somehow she knew that it was him. "Shinn." She said again, and her face lit up as she smiled.

"Stella...I..."

But then behind him, she saw the Freedom. That mobile suit had attacked Lukas. It had attacked her. It tried to kill her. She screamed in horror as it closed in, and she grasped the controls.

"Stella...NO! Don't do it! STELLA!" Shinn yelled, fearing the worst.

But as the cannons on its torso began to charge, the Freedom moved in, and drove its beam saber deep into the center cannon. Kira drew his second beam saber and prepared to strike the finishing blow, when alarms rang in his cockpit.

"I SAID BACK OFF, YOU MURDERING BASTARD!" Shinn screamed in rage, beam saber in hand as he struck, the blow catching Kira by surprise and severing its right arm. Then Shinn delivered a vicious kick that threw the Freedom back.

Reflexively, Kira counterattacked with his remaining beam saber, but Shinn parried the attack with his own. Then he fired the "Fenris" shoulder beam cannons. At such close range, Kira was barely able to block the attack. Putting some distance between himself and the Impulse, he fired a barrage from the Freedom's beam cannons. Shinn brought the Impulse's shield up just in time to block the attack and prepared to retaliate. He never got the chance.

The damage to the Destroy's central Scylla caused an explosion that threw the Impulse, rocking Shinn as he fought to steady his machine. At the same time, the shots from the Freedom, dodged by Shinn, struck the Destroy's knee, a weak spot as it was uncovered by its anti-beam defenses, and its Phase-Shift proved unable to ward off the blow. The already damaged mobile armor's leg collapsed under its weight, and the behemoth began to fall.

Slowly, the Impulse landed behind the fallen mobile armor, and Shinn left the cockpit. Climbing into the Destroy's cockpit, he found Stella, unconscious and bleeding.

"Stella...Stella..." he called her name, tears flowing from his eyes as he spoke. "How...how could this happen."

Stella stirred at the sound of his voice, and her eyes opened, albeit slowly.

- "Shinn..." she said weakly. "You...came to...see me."

Shinn nodded, unable to say anything. Stella reached slowly upwards, and he clasped her hand in his own.
"Shinn...you said...you'd protect me." she said, and she winced in pain from her injuries.

- "Stella!" Shinn cried. "Stay with me, please. Don't..."

- "Shinn." Stella said softly. "I...love...you." Her eyes closed, and her head fell back. Her arm went limp, and as Shinn released her hand it fell slowly to her side.

- "STELLA!" Shinn yelled helplessly.

It was just like when his family died, and he had been helpless to save them. Just like when Rey was killed, and he had been unable to prevent it.
And there, amidst the ruins of a city, with the woman he loved in his arms, he screamed in anguish as he was powerless to stop her from slipping away.