AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, so here's the next chapter, which is basically 90% new content. It basically parallels episode 36 or so in that it introduces Shinn's new machine, the Destiny Gundam - which is going to be similar, though in some ways substantially different from its canon equivalent. A new machine is also introduced for Athrun, and no it's not the Legend Gundam.
In a related note, I have been putting together a wiki compiling information on the mobile suits, ships, and characters in this story. You guys can take a look at that, at gsdestinyaltered-wikia-com (substitute periods for the dashes).
And now, enjoy. As always, please review.
PHASE 24: A New Sword
A sizable fleet of vessels - many of them ZAFT Nazca-class, including the Voltaire and Rousseau - was gathered. On the bridge of the Voltaire, Shiho looked down at the gray surface of the moon.
Though ZAFT had frequently maintained vessels in lunar orbit, the surface of the moon had always been held primarily by the Earth Alliance, originally from two massive bases established in the 123-kilometer-wide Endymion and the even larger Ptolemaus craters. The Bloody Valentine War, three years prior, had seen both bases obliterated, but since the war's end, the Alliance military had re-established their military foothold on the moon with three bases. By far the largest of these was Arzachel, a massive installation that spanned both the crater of the same name and its larger neighbor, Alphonsus. Then there were two smaller support bases: one in the 96-kilometer Daedalus crater on the far side of the moon, and the slightly larger Theophilus. The first two were held by the Atlantic Federation, while the third was nominally a Eurasian Federation base.
At war with their western neighbor, the Eurasian Federation had also been dealing with resistance from Logos-allied commanders within their own forces. Many of them had been arrested or killed; others had willingly surrendered. The only one still resisting was the commander of Theophilus. The Eurasian Federation space force was split between Theophilus and the asteroid base Artemis. Which was why Prime Minister Marshall had requested the assistance of the PLANTs, and why eight Nazca-class destroyers and four Laurasia-class frigates had joined the ten Eurasian Federation ships launched from Artemis in an attack on Theophilus, the intent being to recapture the base. Should they do succeed, they would then be perfectly positioned to potentially launch a strike against either of the Atlantic Federation's own lunar bases. Three Agamemnon-class carriers made up the fleet, escorted by six Nelson-class battleships. The flagship of the Alliance fleet was a long, sleek, jet-black assault carrier.
This was the SCV/XA-SO2 Alakhshya: the second ship of the top-secret Niranjan-class of heavy stealth assault carriers.
Whereas its sister-ship, the Nana Buluku, had been built at Daedalus lunar base, construction of the Alakhshya had begun at the Space Fortress Artemis at Lagrange Four; the base's commander at the time, Gerard Garcia, had been affiliated with Logos, and had provided the resources of his fortress so that both ships could be built simultaneously. However, Garcia had been arrested and court-martialed during the first, partially-successful purge of the Eurasian Federation's military and government that saw so much of Blue Cosmos and Logos's influence eliminated in Eurasia. On the orders of Brennan Marshall, construction of the Alakhshya had continued, his goal being to use the ship as the space-bound flagship of the 501st Corps.
And now was the ship's first sortie, commanded by the finest officer the Eurasian military had: Captain Natarle Badgiruel.
'It's so much like the Dominion...and yet so different.' Natarle thought. Indeed its armament, save the lack of the heavy 110cm linear cannons, was nearly identical to her old Archangel-class ship, the Dominion. Her first command. Even the ship's color scheme was similar. But in internal layout, especially of its bridge, it was completely different; more akin, she thought, to the Agamemnon-class like the Spencer.
She glanced up at the monitor. It felt so strange, to be flying in such close formation with ZAFT vessels. She shook her head. It was time.
"All hands, level one battle stations. All mobile suits, launch!" She ordered. "Begin the attack!"
The same order was relayed to the two Agamemnon-class carriers and six Nelson-class ships that formed her strike group, and from each of the eight vessels mobile suits began launching, one or two at a time, even as her CIC reported incoming ships and mobile suits - but no mobile armors - deploying from Theophilus.
At the same time, the same order rippled throughout the ZAFT forces, as GOUF Igniteds, ZAKU Warriors, and even GuAIZ and GuAIZ-Rs began to deploy from the ten ships - four Nazca-class, six Laurasia-class.
"Gottfrieds one through four, target the enemy ships ahead to starboard." Natarle ordered. "Load all tubes with Sledgehammers, ready to fire on my command."
She waited a couple of seconds, then gave the order, and the second ship of the Niranjan-class entered the fray.
The four powerful dual beam cannons tore into the incoming enemy ships, and moments later a barrage of heavy "Sledgehammer" anti-ship missiles were launched from the powerful vessel's thirty-eight VLS tubes.
Then, the Alakhshya's four linear catapults opened, and eleven mobile suits began to launch: The new CAT1-XG Hyperion-G, a mobile suit newly developed by the Eurasian Federation based on an early Bloody Valentine War prototype, the CAT1-X Hyperion Gundams. These machines were to be Eurasia's next generation of mobile suits.
The other ships, meanwhile, deployed GAT-04 Windams, many armed with the heavy Doppelhorn Striker, some with Aile, Sword, or Launcher Strikers. The Windams were evenly matched by the mix of Dagger-Ls and Windams that launched to oppose them. However, the Hyperion-Gs were a whole different story, and the eleven new models tore into the attacking formations.
The battle raged around them, and Dearka led the ZAFT forces from the front line. Their enemies primarily consisted of older Dagger-types and the occasional Windam; his Gunner ZAKU Warrior was more than a match for them, as was the bright-orange GOUF Ignited, piloted by Heine Westenfluss off the Vermeer. Other than Shiho's GuAIZ and about half the mobile suits on the other three ships, the attacking forces consisted almost wholly of ZAKU Warriors and GOUF Igniteds. The Eurasian allied forces were almost all Windams, supported by new models launched from the enemy flagship; their dark colors made them almost impossible to detect visually, and their defenses and ranged assault capabilities easily overwhelmed the Daggers.
Though both sides took heavy losses, inexorably the defense forces were beaten back, pummeled from above by mobile suits as well as the attacking ships.
The remaining enemy vessels gathered together for a final attack, targeting the ZAFT vessels on the front line. They had already lost one Nazca, two Laurasia and half of the Nelson-class ships, which were damaged or destroyed, when suddenly, the lead ship of the enemy fleet was obliterated by a massive strike from the black Alliance flagship, which fired two positron cannons mounted to the sides of its bow.
Soon after that, the base fell. The Eurasian ships landed, and its commander was arrested as the Eurasian forces seized control of the base.
Afterwards, the ZAFT forces withdrew from Theophilus's space. With the surviving ZAFT vessels on their way back, Shiho, Dearka and Heine were discussing the battle in the Rousseau's mess.
"So, now what?" Shiho asked. "I mean, you know that with Theophilus recaptured, the Eurasian Federation's in perfect position for a strike on Arzachel."
"However, they don't have enough manpower to attack the base directly - the Atlantic Federation space fleet is far larger than Eurasia's. Probably, they would need assistance from us if they were to capture it; but then that creates a whole host of other problems." Heine replied pensively.
"They might not need to, with that black carrier of theirs." Dearka countered. "That thing is one nasty piece of work; I'd hate to have to go up against it in a Nazca."
"No, a Nazca wouldn't stand a chance against that thing." Heine concurred. "But the Minerva might."
"You're right about that - especially with Yzak in command." Shiho concurred. "If he can take down the Archangel, he can probably take that thing down. It'd be harder, though."
Heine nodded. Then Dearka spoke again. "You know, since we're talking about it, did that ship remind either of you of anything?" Dearka asked.
"It's the same class as the ship that attacked us at Junius Seven, Dearka." Shiho said with a raised eyebrow. Dearka shook its head.
"I know, but that's not what I meant." He said. "What I meant was that it reminded me of the Archangel-class. think about it: A large, heavy assault carrier, armed with two positron cannons. Especially that black one that was at Jachin. D'you guys remember?"
"You know, that is a good point." Heine replied. "There are some similarities in size, armament and role, apparently.
Shiho nodded as well; they all had fought at the Second Battle of Jachin Due, and remembered that vessel, which had ultimately been destroyed by its sister ship in that battle.
"Speaking of which, if the one from Junius Seven is anywhere, it'll be stationed at Arzachel, probably." She said, before adding. "You know, I have to wonder: Why is the Minerva still on Earth? I mean, it is a space ship, after all."
To that, neither man had an answer...
Heine left the ship soon after that, returning to the Vermeer, which soon returned to its normal post, with the forces escorting the giant supercarrier Gondwana.
The FAITH operative was informed upon his arrival that the Chairman had required his presence, and so he took a shuttle to the Gondwana, where he met Gilbert Durendal in a gigantic chamber near the top of the ship, above its bridge.
Two men were there: Chairman Durendal and a younger ZAFT officer, whom Heine recognized.
"So, how did the battle go, Heine?" the former asked.
"As well as can be expected, all things considered." Heine replied. "Though there was one troubling development: The Eurasian Federation fielded both a new flagship and new model mobile suits."
He handed to Durendal a printed report, including photographs of the new machines and ship.
"That's the same class of ship that attacked our forces at Junius Seven during Break The World, isn't it?" The other man asked. Heine nodded.
"It is. The ship's battle strength would seem to be about equivalent to the Archangel." Heine replied. "At least equal to, if not slightly greater than the Minerva. And its new mobile suits I think would prove able to engage our DOM Troopers on nearly equal terms, though they appear to be inferior in mobility."
"Well, what do you think?" Durendal addressed the younger officer, and Heine looked at him as well. "You've faced the Archangel in battle yourself. What would you say to this?"
"I made the mistake of underestimating the enemy once, and it cost me dearly." The other man said, and Heine saw a hard, bitter look in his blue eyes. "It's not a mistake I would care to make in this case; I think we should assume that these new models will be able to match us in combat, should things come to that."
Durendal nodded, but his reply was cautiously optimistic. "Then let us hope that it never will come to that." He said. He did not speak the thought that occurred to all three of them: That they would be ready if it did.
At Theophilus, meanwhile, Natarle read the after-action report for the battle. They had lost two of their eleven new models in the battle, which was a devastating loss. And three more were damaged beyond repair and would be cannibalized for parts to repair those that could be made operational.
Then, she received a transmission from Artemis with her new orders.
"Stand by at Theophilus. Two new models being assigned to Alakshya for combat testing? Pilots to be selected from available personnel at my discretion?" She asked. "What kind of..."
The question died unasked as she saw brief preliminary data on the two new machines. But she soon knew exactly the pilots she needed.
"Contact Artemis. Send the AA report on the battle to them, and request supplies be sent to Theophilus including additional mobile suits. And tell them that I want the following two pilots transferred to the Alakhshya." She ordered her communications officer, and gave him the two names she wanted. The message was encrypted and transmitted almost immediately.
A couple of hours later, she had her response. "Cornelius-class tenders being sent to Theophilus. Your request (para #2) approved. Further instructions will be communicated shortly."
Natarle Badgiruel leaned back in her chair and allowed herself a small smile.
ZAFT Forces Gibraltar Base
Lunamaria Hawke, Vino Dupré, and Yolant Kent stood in front of a hangar, located not far from where the Minerva was docked, and watched as a group of GOUF Ignited mobile suits landed, one after the other. Most were in the dull-brown colors common to the mass-produced version of the machine, but one bore striking, two-tone blue colors - the second of two original prototypes of the machine, piloted by Commander Yzak Joule.
Several weeks had passed in relative quiet while the Minerva underwent the most comprehensive overhaul since its premature launch, months earlier, before the current war broke out. Much of that time had been spent training with the new pilots who had joined the crew - a mix of GOUF Igniteds, as well as underwater-assault ASSH mobile suits.
Lunamaria herself had also been training, though the ground-type ZAKU was limited in capability compared to the GOUF. However, the next exercise was one they anticipated quite a bit, as Shinn's dark-blue Storm Impulse came up once the GOUFs had returned to the hangar.
She wondered what was next, when another mobile suit appeared, taking up a position directly opposite Shinn's on the vast open area that served as training ground for pilots on the base, and Lunamaria gasped.
It was another Storm Impulse, this one colored a deep, vivid blood-red. Like Shinn's, it held a long training weapon, intended to simulate a beam saber, and its beam rifle had been replaced by a dummy training weapon. Instead of fighting against agressor mobile suits, the two machines would be dueling each other.
"Another Impulse? Who's the pilot?" She asked.
"Athrun is." Vino supplied. "It was the Captain's idea."
"It kinda makes sense. I mean, we had a spare Core Splendor, plus spare parts for the Impulse; so why not use those to deploy a second Impulse?" Yolant added. "To be honest, I'm wondering why they didn't think to do this ages ago."
They watched as the two machines took flight and engaged, at first at long range, but very quickly closing in to face each other in mêlée, sabers clashing furiously. For a moment, it looked as if Shinn had gained the upper hand, when he delivered a vicious kick that threw his opponent off-balance - a move he had used before, and which had always served him well.
However, Athrun's recovery was nearly instantaneous, and when Shinn's follow-up strike with the saber came, the red Impulse parried the attack, then brought to bear its rifle at point-blank range, a shot that in real combat would have destroyed the cockpit.
The duel had lasted roughly ten minutes. When both mobile suits had landed, Athrun opened up a communications link with Shinn.
"Nice work, Shinn." He said. "You did pretty well."
- "What are you talking about?" Shinn said, but there was no hostility in his tone beyond just a hint of resentment. "You beat me."
- "I have the advantage of being more experienced and knowing precisely how you fight." Athrun said. "And you know as well as I do how much of an edge that can be in combat."
Shinn knew what he meant, having used the same advantage in combat once before.
Athrun added "That said, I still think you did well."
- "Thanks." Shinn answered. "Want to go again?"
- "Sure thing." Athrun replied, smiling.
The two mobile suits took off once again, and as before the duel very rapidly moved into close range. This time, Athrun pressed his opponent harder, denying Shinn the opportunity to use the same move again.
But Shinn was learning, and when Athrun came in with a horizontal strike from the saber aimed at the cockpit, he jettisoned the Leg Flyer and shot upwards over the attack, immediately countering with a vicious diagonal slash that connected with the second Impulse's upper torso and would have taken off its head had they been using real weapons.
"Excellent." Athrun muttered; reviewing the footage from Operation Angel Down, he had seen Shinn use the same move before, and had been expecting the counter to come from behind as it had that time - but it had not, and Shinn had counterattacked immediately, not giving Athrun enough time to defend against the attack. The swiftness of his follow-up showed just how much the young man had learned.
They were done for now, and Athrun landed his machine. Shinn redocked and landed as well.
Below, Lunamaria was clapping, impressed with the performance of the two pilots and somewhat jealous that her own ZAKU could not come anywhere close to that level of performance.
Athrun and Shinn steered their machines into the hangar and both pilots left the hangar together. The two had become close in recent weeks, and Athrun suspected that later in the day, when the two of them would face Yzak and the GOUF Ignited pilots in their next exercise, Shinn would improve still more.
They were surprised, however, when overhead they saw a shuttle flying at low altitude, coming in for a landing on the long runway on the other side of the base.
"I wonder what that's about." Athrun commented, recognizing the shuttle as a PLANT-made long-range type of the kind usually used to travel from the PLANTs to Earth, especially by Supreme Council representatives - Durendal himself had used the same one when they had last seen him on Earth.
Shinn merely shrugged. "I guess we'll know soon enough." He said.
"Man, you guys were awesome!" Vino said as he ran up to them.
- "You really were," Lunamaria agreed, "especially since you were both using the exact same mobile suit."
- "Yzak and I thought it would be a good way to train." Athrun said. "And thanks. You didn't do so badly yourself in yesterday's exercises." He added towards Luna.
- "Well, thanks! Still, the ZAKU's nowhere near the Impulse in performance. That was totally intense."
"The kid is getting better, isn't he?" Yzak said as he walked up as well. Athrun and Shinn both saluted, as did the others.
- "Yeah, he is. We'll see how he does in team formation training this afternoon." Athrun replied.
- "As long as he doesn't run off half-cocked and get in over his head." Yzak said. Shinn frowned, but had the sense not to reply - after all, if their previous engagements were any indication, he was right.
But he determined that he would show the Captain just how much better he'd gotten.
"It's good to see you again." Cagalli said sincerely. "I'm sorry I haven't been able to come by earlier, but I've been busy - this whole situation is just..."
- "I understand. It's been difficult for you." Murrue Ramius replied. She looked care-worn, Cagalli thought, and there was a weariness in her expression that was new. It was understandable though, given the devastating losses they had suffered not so long ago. They had been more than just soldiers under her command - many of them had been with the ship since Heliopolis, and not a few had been good friends, especially the late Kojiro Murdoch.
Cagalli too had liked the irascible CPO Murdoch, and she knew how much his death meant to Murrue, who had known him for years.
On the television screen not far away, an address by Chairman Durendal was being broadcast, speaking from the PLANTs and once again discussing the subject of Logos, the enemy against whom he stated they should all be fighting.
"I have no intention of doing something so foolish as to deploy our military in pursuit of the people I have listed," he said, "though it is true that, through the efforts of our friends in the Eurasian Federation, people who believe as I do that these men are true enemies of mankind, many of them have already been apprehended. But that is not what I meant when I said we must defeat Logos. My wish is that this time we are able to put a final end to this system of perpetual war which they have created."
They both glanced up at the screen. Unusually, the young Lacus Clyne impostor who so frequently appeared with him in these types of addresses was absent.
"They say Coordinators should not exist, that we are an aberration, or monsters with whom you can never reach an understanding." Durendal continued. "Why is that? Or more importantly, who was it that started saying those things in the first place?"
At that point Durendal's image disappeared, replaced by grisly footage of some kind of lab where experiments had been conducted, many of the subjects visibly children, all of them dead. This footage had been taken at the Lodonia lab, which had since been burned to the ground by the Eurasian Federation military. Then, footage of the recent rampage of the Destroy across Eurasia. Both women looked at the footage, their disgust clearly apparent on their faces.
Durendal was speaking over the footage, saying "To me, the real monsters are the members of Logos, who endorse atrocities such as these. Everything they do and say is with one purpose: To increase the animosity and fervor that divides us and leads to wars such as the one we now find ourselves fighting. A world at peace is not profitable, nor can it be controlled or manipulated. And that is why they attack us, forcing us to fight back, and they will never cease in their attempts to do so. But we can live without fighting; we can find common ground, so that we can finally escape this world of constant conflict they have fashioned for us."
Exasperated, Cagalli turned off the television. In the ensuing silence, it was Andrew Waltfeld, standing nearby, who spoke next.
"I have to admit, theoretically I agree with Chairman Durendal. That's what makes this so difficult. But it's all well and good for him to talk about ending this, but how would we go about doing that?"
- "I don't know." Cagalli answered honestly. "But what will you all do now?"
- "Well, Canard's headed up to space; probably once he's done whatever he needs to he'll get back to the Eternal. I will probably head up there myself eventually." Waltfeld answered.
- "As for me...well, I don't know." Murrue said. "But it was Kira who said that we should return, and so I will stay here. Though I don't know how much help I can be, considering the circumstances."
Cagalli was grateful for their help. She knew that, whatever had happend and whatever mistakes had been made, they all truly believed as she did. And she was glad to have them at her side.
'If only Kira were...' she thought. She shook her head, then after chatting with them a while longer, she left, heading back to her office.
ZAFT Forces Gibraltar Base
The Minerva's pilots were congregated in the base's mess hall having dinner, and generally talking, when Shinn looked around and started to speak, addressing Athrun primarily.
"I wonder...what they've got in store for all of us." He said pensively.
- "I'm not sure." Athrun replied. "But something tells me it will have something to do with the Chairman's address."
- "Huh? You mean attack Logos?" Lunamaria injected. "But even Chairman Durendal said that's going to be a pretty difficult job."
- "Doesn't matter." Yzak retorted. "Difficult or not, it's gotta be done. And you can bet we'll be first in line when the shit hits the fan...we just gotta find out where the fuckers're holed up first."
- "Fine by me." Shinn said, a dangerous edge in his voice. "Because if we ever want to end this war for sure, this is the way to do it."
At that moment, an MP stepped up and approached Yzak.
- "Excuse me, sir. I have orders from Command for Shinn Asuka and Athrun Zala to report to hangar six."
- "Right." Yzak said. Then he turned to Athrun and Shinn. "You two - you heard the man."
Shinn and Athrun nodded and stood.
They followed the MP to the hangar, at the entrance of which a woman stood. Slight, with short silver hair, piercing blue eyes, and wearing a long, dark blue overcoat. Athrun immediately recognized Ezalia Joule, mother to Yzak and current Chairwoman of the National Defense Committee.
"Chairwoman Joule." Athrun said, saluting. Shinn likewise saluted, but did not speak.
- "Athrun, Shinn." She replied. "I've been reading the reports - you two have been doing an excellent job."
- "Thank you, ma'am." Shinn replied.
- "I trust you kept abreast of current affairs - you saw Chairman Durendal's latest address?"
- "Yes, ma'am. It was...inspiring. I know he said this was going to be difficult, but I'm ready. If it means bringing this war to an end, I will fight any enemy, anywhere." Shinn replied, and the same hard edge crept into his voice again.
- "Good. And what about you, Athrun?" She turned. Shinn she had never actually met, though Chairman Durendal had and spoke very highly of him. But Athrun she knew personally.
- "When you draw your sword, the most important thing is that you have a just cause." He said. "Something one of my instructors at the Academy taught me."
- "Absolutely correct." Ezalia agreed. "Nobody can fight unless they have been given an enemy to defeat, and a good reason - as you say, a just cause. And now thanks to Chairman Durendal, we have a crystal clear image of that enemy and the reason they need to be defeated. So, can I...can we count on you, Athrun?"
- "Nobody wants this war to end more than I do, ma'am." Athrun replied.
- "Fair enough." Ezalia motioned for them to follow, and they entered the hangar, leaving the MP outside.
Once inside, Athrun saw two mobile suits of a type he'd never seen before. One of them was dark, drab green and black. The second was more viivdly colored, primarily two-tone blue and black.
"That is the YMF-3000 DOM Trooper," Ezalia said, noticing where Athrun was looking. "A high-speed mobile suit developed in the same lineage as the ZAKU and GOUF. It's a trial production model eventually intended to replace the BuCUE and GaZuOOT in our forces on Earth, though it can also operate in space."
"That one is in Yzak's colors." Athrun said, before the mobile suit standing some distance to the side of the blue DOM caught his eye. That end of the hangar was in total darkness, though the outline of the mobile suit could be discerned, and there was an odd familiarity about its lines.
A second mobile suit, less distinct, stood next to it.
- "Yes, it is to be assigned to the Minerva as his machine. But this is not the real reason I called you both here. Take a look at these - though I can see you've already noticed them."
Lights suddenly illuminated the end of the hangar, showing in full view two mobile suits. The first one Athrun noticed was a variant of the Saviour, with enlarged thrusters and wings on its back. Though visually not that dissimilar to its predecessor, its lines were sleeker, and to Athrun's eye even more evocative of the Justice than the Saviour itself had been - which explained the odd familiarity he had already noticed.
Then he saw the other, and his immediate reaction was blank shock - for a second he thought he was looking at the Freedom, but looking at it again, the resemblance to Kira's old mobile suit was superficial.
"The ZGMF-YX29R Knight Saviour Gundam, and the ZGMF-X42R Destiny Gundam. These two machines incorporate state-of-the-art technologies, and are currently the most advanced mobile suits produced to date. Chairman Durendal and I foresee that they will play a pivotal role in the upcoming battle."
- "Ma'am," Athrun asked. "Do you mean..."
- "They are yours." Ezalia replied, guessing - correctly - what Athrun's next question would be. "They are your new machines."
- "My...new machine." Shinn said softly, looking up at the sleek new mobile suits with an ecstatic expression, his eye especially drawn to the Destiny. "Thank you very much, ma'am!"
Ezalia nodded, then looked up at the Knight Saviour, then the Destiny. "The Knight Saviour of course is an improved version of the Saviour Gundam, with enhanced close- and long-range capability and improved mobility. It also served as a prototype to test several new technologies." She said.
"The Destiny incorporates those same experimental technologies. It was developed based on all of the accumulated combat data of the Impulse, and just as the Knight Saviour draws heavily in its design from the Justice, the Destiny was also closely based upon the Freedom."
- "The Freedom?" Shinn asked, somewhat uneasy.
- "Yes. In its speed, mobility, defensive capability, and firepower it is a successor to it as well as to the Impulse, and was specifically tuned to fit your style of combat." Ezalia said. "So, what do you think?"
- "It's...amazing." Shinn said, looking up at the sleek new machine.
Yes, he thought. With this, he could fight. Even more than the Impulse, this new machine would become a sword with which he would fight, so that this war could finally be brought to an end, and the ones responsible brought to justice. So that nobody ever had to suffer again the way he had.
He would fight, so that at last Stella could be safe.