AUTHOR'S NOTE: Suprise! Two Chapters going up this time!
This Chapter closes the curtain on the Destroy Incident, as well as setting the stage for the conclusion of this particular arc in the next chapter. So it roughly parallels Episode 33. However, while a few of the key events of that episode remain, its beginning is completely new.
PHASE 21: The World Revealed
Hamburg, Eurasian Federation
'I swore I'd protect her...and now...' Shinn thought as he held Stella in his arms, tears flowing down his face. Some part of him still refused to accept that Stella could be dead. He removed his glove and, very gently, laid his finger on her neck, checking for a pulse.
His heart skipped a beat. He felt a pulse! It was extremely faint, but definite - she was still alive!
He knew she had to get medical treatment, and fast, or else she really would die. He debated taking her back to the ship, but dismissed the idea immediately.
During the battle, he'd seen two black mobile suits he thought he'd recognized from the battle with the Alliance and Orb in the Med. A mobile suit's range was not long, so they had to have come from a base or a ship nearby. Maybe even...
He stood, carefully lifting her as he did, and clambered out of the mobile armor's cockpit. Just as carefully, he stepped off to the ground. As he did so, he heard the rumble of thrusters, and looked up as the same two black mobile suits landed, one to either side of the Impulse.
Nearby, the Minerva had landed. With the battle over, ZAFT and surviving Eurasian Forces spread out in the city, as relief efforts began. Standing at the window, his fists clenched, Yzak looked out at the devastation.
"This is just...have the Naturals completely lost their fucking minds?" He asked aloud to nobody in particular.
- "It sure looks like it." Arthur said as he walked up. "I have to say, sir, I don't know what we can accomplish by fighting these kinds of battles. I understand the Chairman wants to coexist with the Naturals instead of repeating the mistakes of the last war, but if there are people we have to eliminate, shouldn't we do it right away? Otherwise, I don't see this war ending for a long time...if ever."
- "You may have a point." Yzak said. Then he turned back to the console. "What's the word on the Impulse? Any movement?"
- "No, sir" Abby replied. "It's still stationary near the destroyed mobile armor. Two Eurasian Forces mobile suits are closing in on it."
- "What the hell's that moron think he's doing now?..." Yzak grumbled.
At that moment, Abby announced. "Incoming communication, sir! Signals show it's coming from an Alliance carrier!"
- "Put him through." Yzak said shortly, and the monitor showed an older man, a man Yzak recognized. "This is Yzak Joule, commander of the Minerva."
"A pleasure to meet you again, Captain." Brennan Marshall replied. "Though I wish it were under different circumstances. President Baum and I are here at Wilhelmshaven Naval Base. I wanted first to thank you for your assistance, and second to offer you the use of our facilities here if you need to repair or resupply your ship."
Yzak pondered the offer. The ship was largely undamaged, though had sustained some hits from the giant mobile armor's indiscriminate attacks. It was nothing that couldn't wait until Gibraltar, and Yzak was about to decline, when Athrun discreetly addressed him.
For his part, Athrun had a theory as to Shinn's curious behavior, and he wanted to play it through.
"Wilhelmshaven's not that far from here; I say let's let this play out - if nothing else, we can at least resupply before heading back to Gibraltar." Athrun said.
"I doubt this is a trap." Heine, who was also present, concurred.
"All right." Yzak nodded. "Marshall at least we know is a man who can be trusted." Yzak then returned to Marshall. "Thank you for your generous offer." he said stiffly, "I appreciate it."
"Not at all." Marshall replied. "It's the least we can do for our allies."
Meanwhile, Shinn was standing at the foot of the Impulse, watching warily as the pilot of one of the black Windams rode a lift cable down from his cockpit and walked towards them, removing his helmet as he did so.
He was dark-eyed and pale, with silver-blonde hair, and somewhat taller than Shinn.
"You're the pilot of that mobile suit?" Sven asked evenly.
"Yeah." Shinn replied, eyeing the other pilot warily.
Sven's eyes shifted from the dark-haired young man to the woman in his arms, whom he recognized as one of the Extendeds that had been onboard the Jones. He wondered what she was doing here and why this ZAFT pilot had her. He briefly wondered if this was the same one who had brought her back to the Jones after she'd gone missing while back. It was a strange coincidence if so.
"She needs to get those injuries treated." Sven said flatly, "our ship, the John Paul Jones, is moored at Wilhelmshaven. Our CO's offered the use of our facilities to your ship, if you need it."
For a moment, Shinn stood there, motionless. Then he nodded. He carried Stella into the Impulse's cockpit and immediately started up the Impulse and prepared to take off. As he did so, a communication came in from the ship.
"About damn time!" Yzak said shortly as Shinn picked up the communication - sound only, which Yzak noticed.
- "The mobile armor is destroyed." Shinn replied. "No damage to the Impulse." There was something in his tone of voice that told Yzak that Shinn wasn't telling them everything.
- "Well done. The ship is going to head to Wilhelmshaven Naval Base for emergency repairs and resupply. Get the Impulse airborne and meet us there."
- "Roger that." Shinn replied, and cut the link. The Impulse, flanked by the two Windams, took off, and the Minerva followed.
The mobile suits arrived first, and Shinn immediately recognized the Jones - a carrier they had faced several times in battle.
The two Windams landed on the carrier's deck, and Shinn did likewise. He climbed down out of the Impulse's cockpit, Stella in his arms, and he saw a group of medics with a gurney waiting. His expression hardened when he recognized the woman, Kinney.
Her own shock at learning that Stella was here in Germany was compounded by the unexpected reunion with this dark young man who twice - no, three times now, she realized - had saved her life.
She realized that if Stella was here, she had to have been piloting that monstrosity, and silently cursed Rice and O'Donnell for putting her through this. Her only satisfaction was that, with that land battleship obliterated by the ZAFT ship, both of them were probably dead.
"I'm a little surprised to see you again." she said tentatively. Shinn, glaring at her, did not reply. Carefully, he laid Stella on the gurney, and stepped back. He turned again to look at her.
"I'm sorry." Kinney said sincerely. Shinn's expression softened somewhat, as he guessed correctly that the woman had not had a say in the decision to make Stella the pilot of the Destroy. She had not even known.
- "Just make sure she survives." He said sharply. Then he turned away, as much to hide his tears as anything else, and headed back towards the Impulse.
Athrun was standing outside, leaning on the balustrade and watching the devastated city of Hamburg go by as the ship slowly headed out. He shook his head, appalled at the devastation he saw. A short while later the ship arrived at Wilhelmshaven, where he was altogether not surprised to see the Jones, nor the Impulse on its deck. It struck him as slightly incongruous that a ZAFT machine looked so perfectly at home standing in between two Windams on a Spengler-class carrier's deck. It reminded him once again how similar the Impulse was in design and capability to the Alliance's own mobile suits - being so similar to the old Strike.
As he watched, the Impulse took off from the deck, and as the Minerva set down and came in to dock a short distance down from the Jones, the catapult opened to allow the machine to enter. Athrun turned and headed inside, leaning on a crutch as he did so.
Later on he, along with Yzak and Shinn, headed outside and down to the base, where they were met by President Baum himself, along with Vice-President Marshall and a battle-scarred officer of the Alliance named McCaffrey.
- "I wanted to offer you all my thanks for all of your efforts." Baum said gratefully after introductions were completed. "Particularly to you, young man." He added, addressing Shinn.
- "Thank you, sir." Shinn said, his expression neutral, though Athrun thought he caught something in his glance.
- "Well, I will be speaking with Chairman Durendal later today, and I will certainly make sure to tell him how critical your ship, Captain Joule, and your young pilot were to ending this situation. In the meantime if you need anything, the full resources of this base are at your disposal." Baum said, then turned to leave. Yzak nodded and turned to leave as well, followed by Athrun.
McCaffrey looked at Shinn, who hung back a step. And the scarred old veteran addressed him. "I also wanted to thank you, young man. Also, Dr. Kinney asked me to pass along a message: her condition is stabilized. Treatment will take time, but she'll make it."
- "Thank you." Shinn said gratefully. He shook the older man's hand, then turned to follow Yzak and Athrun.
- "What was that about?" Yzak muttered, addressing Athrun as he glanced back at Shinn over his shoulder. Athrun did not reply, but he knew precisely what that was about, and there was a small smile on his face as the three headed back to their ship.
Several days passed. Repairs to the Minerva were completed quickly enough, and Gibraltar had ordered them to stand by for now. A supply ship had been sent north with replacement mobile suit parts, allowing them to repair the ZAKU. Athrun wanted to talk to Shinn about what had happened during the battle, and so he headed to his quarters and knocked at the door.
"Shinn. You have a moment?" He asked. The door opened, and he walked in. Shinn was seated at his desk, the computer on. Heine was standing behind him, looking over his shoulder. Recovered from his own injuries, Heine had dispensed with the crutch he had used, though he still walked with a slight limp.
"What are you two doing?" Athrun asked. Heine saluted briefly, which Athrun returned.
- "Shinn - it's Athrun." Heine addressed the other.
- "Yeah, what is it?" Shinn asked without looking up. Athrun shook his head. Then, as he looked at the screen, whatever he had been about to say was driven completely from his mind.
- "Is that...the Freedom?"
- "Uh-huh..." Shinn replied vaguely. Then he swore under his breath. "Damn...why can't I beat it?"
- "It reacts incredibly fast when the camera turns towards it...impressive use of thrusters as well - he flies it like it was an extension of his own body." Heine commented, thinking of how swiftly the Freedom had disarmed his own GOUF Ignited when they faced it.
- "The Freedom is more powerful than the Impulse - or even the Saviour." Shinn said thoughtfully, glancing at Athrun over his shoulder. "Yet he controls it so easily...how does he do it?"
- "Shinn, Heine...what are you two doing?" Athrun asked, concerned.
- "Isn't it obvious?" Shinn replied. "I'm running a combat simulation against the Freedom. You got a problem with that?"
- "Why would you want to do something like that?" Athrun asked.
- "Because it's strong." Shinn said simply. "I've been doing some research, and as far as I know, the Freedom is the most powerful mobile suit in existence anywhere - so if I want to improve my skills, I can't think of a better opponent to practice against." Shinn had an ulterior motive in wanting to be able to defeat the Freedom, however: Revenge. The Freedom had killed Rey, it had nearly killed Stella. And it had been the mobile suit that fired the shot that killed his parents and his little sister, years before.
- "Besides, in case anything happens, we might have to fight against him again. And I think it's important that somebody at ZAFT knows how to take him down." He said. "As it stands, nobody knows what it'll do next."
- "Shinn's line of thinking makes a good deal of sense." Heine interjected. "The Freedom is powerful; old friend of yours or not, I don't know what his intentions are, but he is not part of our forces."
- "Maybe so, but Kira is not our enemy." Athrun protested.
- "Isn't he? What makes you say that?" Shinn asked, his tone rising. "He attacked our ship at the Dardanelles, and quite apart from killing Rey, a number of our crew lost their lives because of him, remember? And he damn near killed you, too."
Unsure of what to say, Athrun did not reply.
"Ultimately, it's up to Headquarters or the Supreme Council to tell us who we fight. And I know you'd rather not fight him, but I still think we should be ready in case we have to." Heine added, "In light of your own past experience, we'd be grateful for any assistance you could give us.
Athrun hesitated. He thought of the battle, and then he remembered their conversation after the battle in the Dardanelles. Kira had made his intentions clear enough when they had spoken; And, as much as Athrun disliked it, he had chosen to oppose the PLANTs.
Heine was right - they would probably have to fight him again...
In the PLANTs, Gilbert Durendal was in his office. A television crew was in place, and Meer sat nearby. Then the broadcast began, and he began to speak.
"Good day everyone. I am Gilbert Durendal, the Chairman of the PLANT Supreme Council." He began. This broadcast was going out worldwide, to every nation on Earth as well as the PLANTs. "I know it may appear unseemly for me to be broadcasting such a message at this time, when a state of war still exists between the PLANTs and the people of Earth. However I must ask you to forgive me, and to listen to what I have to say."
Onboard the Minerva, Abby advised Yzak of the broadcast, and immediately Yzak ordered the monitor turned on, and the address broadcast throughout the ship. Onboard the Archangel, hidden some distance away, Murrue likewise saw the broadcast, as did everyone on the bridge, and wondered at the strange timing of this announcement.
"I would like for all of you to understand something." Durendal said. "I would like to explain the real reason this war has not yet come to an end - the truth of why we even found ourselves once again at war in the first place." The image on the screen changed, displaying images of the Destroy being attacked by ZAFT mobile suits, which it effortlessly destroyed. "These images, as some of you may know, were taken a few days ago when the Atlantic Federation's new superweapon emerged from Central Eurasia and advanced westward. It attacked without warning, and three cities were completely destroyed.. As soon as we became aware of it, ZAFT forces, alongside forces mobilized by President Baum, engaged the weapon in battle. Though we succeeded in stopping it, millions of lives were lost."
"Why did this happen?" Durendal asked, standing from his desk, his tone rising. "Who says that peace between us is not permitted, that the PLANTs and the Earth must fight?"
"It is a fact," Meer spoke up next, stepping forward into the camera, "that this war was begun with a single horrific act, one that was perpetrated by a handful of Coordinators. We will never forget that we were unable to prevent it, or the tragedies that resulted."
Watching the broadcast, Athrun frowned, remembering that Kira had told him Lacus had been killed by Coordinators. Again he wondered whether Durendal knew - whatever he had told Kira, there was a doubt.
"However, how can we allow things to remain as they are now? Haven't we seen enough suffering from this endless cycle of hatred?" she continued, and even Athrun had to admit that her performance was convincing. "I believe from the bottom of my heart that if you could please just listen to what the other side has to say, you can look ahead with hope, to a world of true, lasting peace. And I believe that this is the desire of people everywhere."
Throughout the Eurasian Federation, and even in many places in the Atlantic Federation and Republic of East Asia, the people applauded this passionate appeal. However, not all of them felt so, and in his stronghold, Teivel Jibril was panicking.
"What is going on, here? Stop that broadcast now!" He raged.
- "What's the meaning of this, Jibril?" Bruno Azrael asked over their communications line. "Where is Durendal going with this sermon?"
- "This problem is on your shoulders, now deal with it!" said one of the others. But no matter what he tried, he could not get the broadcast off the air.
"Unfortunately," Durendal now said, "there have always been those who at all costs would prevent such harmony. They have been with us since antiquity, demanding that people fight - because of the profits that can be generated. "You're a coward if you don't fight, and you're a traitor if you don't follow orders," they say as they hand you the weapons, inventing enemies out of whole cloth - and it is clear that they are the ones behind this latest tragedy."
"SHUT IT DOWN! CUT THAT BROADCAST OFF AT ONCE, DAMN IT!" Jibril screamed, increasingly angrily as on the screen Durendal continued to speak.
"The organization Blue Cosmos is well-known; a terrorist group who detest Coordinators, referring to them as dangerous mistakes or monsters who should not be allowed to exist. But what you do not know is that it was created by these same individuals, who hide in the shadows, fabricating new enemies and ensuring war is constantly raging somewhere...the very same ones whose political influence has shaped the policies of the Atlantic Federation for decades. They are merchants of death: The military-industrial complex, Logos! They are the true enemies of anyone who hopes for peace."
As Durendal spoke, Jibril and his cohorts watched in helpless horror as the screen changed and each and every one of them was identified on the screen, their image and their name plainly visible.
"He did it," Yzak mumbled, remembering their conversation long before in Bandirma, "The crafty son of a bitch actually went public with this."
Elsewhere on the ship, the reaction was mixed, most surprised, many optimistic. With the true enemy revealed, perhaps now the war could be brought to an end. The screen changed again, once more showing Durendal and Meer.
"From the bottom of my heart," Durendal concluded, "I wish for a world that never again knows the scourge of war. And so since Logos continues to block our efforts, I will take this opportunity to announce a global military campaign, with the specific goal of eliminating it and its members!"
The broadcast ended, and Shinn smiled. These were the monsters responsible for everything that had happened. They were the ones who had done those horrible things to Stella, and to countless others. And now, they would finally get what was coming to them. A global military campaign, the Chairman had said. With the Minerva on Earth, it seemed a sure bet that they would be asked to take part. He hoped it would be soon.
While the mood onboard the Minerva and in all of ZAFT's installations on Earth was positive, and the people in the Eurasian Federation - especially the survivors of the recent attack in the Western Eurasia - were likewise throwing their support behind Gilbert Durendal and his stated goal to eradicate the warmongers of Logos, in Orb, the broadcast had a very different effect, especially at the estate of the Seiran family. Unato Ema Seiran, his son Yuma, and many of their supporters within the government were gathered at the family's palatial villa, where months before the reception had taken place after the treaty was signed with the Eurasian Federation.
There was worry etched in every line of Unato's face, as he considered recent events. After the near-destruction of the Orb fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, their influence within the Council of Emirs had all but evaporated, and it had taken considerable efforts on his part and on that of his remaining allies to dissuade Cagalli from arresting the both of them on the spot. However, she had used the incident to strip them both of their positions on the Council. Although as the patriarch of one of Orb's Ruling families he continued to enjoy the discreet support of many within the military and political structure, their own ability to steer the course of government in Orb was nearly gone.
Unato sensed Rondo Mina Sahaku's handiwork, and seethed at the reversal; the Seiran and Sahaku families had never been allied, but as an enemy of Uzumi Nara Athha in his own right her late brother had at least tolerated the Seirans' own machinations. But Mina had proven an even more devious political manipulator than he had been, and by allying herself with Athha's brat she had made it possible for that treaty, severely undercutting his own efforts. And now...
"What's going on, Father?" Unato asked in an undertone, stepping up to him as he did so. "They've even identified the Ritter Group and the Gröht Family on that list." Two of the Seirans' strongest remaining supporters had been the Ritter Group, which manufactured equipment and weapons for Orb's police and military forces, and the Gröht family - not one of the Five ruling noble families, but still of some influence, and like the Seirans one with ties to the Alliance. Many other prominent figures in Orb had also been identified, including the Seirans themselves, and Unato Ema Seiran was not sure what to do...
Neither, for that matter, was Cagalli Yula Athha, who at that moment was in Orb's Cabinet building, meeting with the Council. She too had seen the broadcast, and as the screen was turned off she saw the general consternation of many members of the Council.
Her expression worried, she turned to Rondo Mina Sahaku, who sat nearby.
"The Seirans are on that list. Along with a lot of Orb's most influential citizens." She started to say.
- "Not just that either - many of these are multinational entities with strong ties to a number of nations on Earth, including the Kingdom of Scandinavia and the Equatorial Union." Mina replied. Cagalli nodded, her expression apprehensive. If Durendal's stated goal of a global military campaign was correct, then that could only mean...
- "This is going to be big trouble." She said apprehensively. She only hoped that she was wrong, and she wondered with some dread what Kira would do next...