AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, so this chapter parallels/replaces Episodes 40 and 42-43, with the Battle of Orb. Par for the course, but it will be both similar to and very different from what happened in the series

PHASE 29: Golden Legacy

LHM-BB01 Minerva
Off the coast of Orb

The reaction among the ZAFT fleet to the broadcast by Yuna Roma Seiran, including the Minerva, was one of confusion - not so much at the content of the broadcast, but at the transparency of the lie.

"What?!" Arthur Trine asked, "Why is..."

- "Shut the fuck up and sit your ass down!" Yzak snapped, and the cowed XO took his place as ordered.

Truth be told, he had no idea what had possessed the Seirans to make such a broadcast; especially since he not only knew for a fact that Jibril was in their estate, but he also knew for a fact that the Seirans were no longer on the Council of Emirs, and therefore did not speak for the Orb government.
He had hoped Athrun could get something done, but apparently he had failed.

Yzak had his orders; he knew what he had to do next. With a resigned sigh, he opened up a fleet-wide communications line. "This is Sierra Antares One to all forces. Operation Fury is a go. All ships upgrade to Condition Red and begin your attack!" He ordered.
"If they insist on trying to bullshit us, then I guess we have no other choice but to go in and drag that bastard Jibril out of Orb by force." Yzak said, glowering.

The announcement was broadcast throughout the fleet, as the order went out to commence the attack.
- "Operation Fury is now under way! Upgrade to Condition Red! I repeat, Operation Fury is now under way! Upgrade to Condition Red!" Onboard every ship, the same preparations were under way as pilots prepared to launch their mobile suits, and weapons systems were brought online.

- "Confirming target locations: The Seiran estate and Orb Military Headquarters on the mainland; and the spaceport at Kaguya."
The same targets and orders were relayed to every unit.

Onboard the Minerva, preparations were also under way, but for now the ship's pilots remained on standby.
"The Faton Team's ASSH and Wheeler Team's GOOhNs are ready for launch." Abby reported.

- "Roger that. Tell them to launch immediately." Yzak replied. "Remember, our objective is to capture Jibril as soon as possible; keep collateral damage to a minimum. Relay those orders to all units."

- "Right." Arthur replied.

- "What about our own machines?" Yzak turned to Abby.

- "All DOM Trooper units are being prepped for launch." Abby supplied. "The Destiny and Impulse Unit 1 are ready. Pilots are standing by in the briefing room."

"Good." Yzak replied, and turned to face forward.

As the first wave of mobile suits was launched from the ZAFT fleet, they were immediately detected by the Orb forces and their impending arrival was reported instantly.

"Lady Cagalli!" One of the soldiers in Orb's military HQ reported. "Detecting enemy mobile suit launches! They're approaching from the air and from underwater!"

- "Damn." Cagalli swore under her breath. "Tell the First and Second Fleets to deploy immediately." Cagalli ordered. "Colonel Todaka is to take overall command of the naval defense from the Takemikazuchi."

Colonel Fumihiko Todaka, Athrun thought. He had met the man only once, but knew him to be honorable, and loyal to Cagalli.

'Shinn knows him somehow' Athrun suddenly remembered, from the battle off the coast of Crete - he had been watching from medical when the Impulse had suddenly stopped its attack on the ship. And Shinn had opened the cockpit, which had remained open for a few minutes before the Impulse finally took off.
Athrun made a mental note to ask Shinn about that sometime.

- "What about our land-based forces?" Cagalli asked as she stood.

- "Ready, ma'am." Came the reply. "The Third Home Defense Battalion has four squadrons of Astray-Fs, and two each of Astray-LCTs and Murasames."

- "Get Squadrons one through four airborne immediately and send them to defend the Izanagi shoreline." Cagalli ordered. "The LCT squadrons as well. Tell the Murasame squadrons to wait until I arrive, and to make sure one Murasame is ready for me."

- "Milady, you're taking off yourself?"

- "If a leader won't lead themselves, how can they expect their subordinates to follow?" She said rhetorically, noting an enigmatic smile turning up the corner of Rondo Mina Sahaku's mouth. She ignored it, and turned to leave when the door opened and she suddenly slammed headlong into someone, who caught her by the shoulder.

"And where do you think you are going?" Said the voice of Ledonir Kisaka. Behind him, Cagalli saw Erica Simmons of Morgenröte.

- "I'm going out there. Get out of my way, Kisaka."

- " Before you do," Erica intervened, " there is something I want you to see. It's something Lord Uzumi left for you."

- " father?" Cagalli said suddenly. Erica nodded.

Behind them, Mina left orders to Colonel Soga, the ranking officer present, to take charge of the defense forces until she returned. Then, Kisaka, Erica Simmons, Mina and Cagalli left.

Soon, they stood before a massive hangar door, and Cagalli noticed there was something engraved on it.

"A wish that the day this door need be opened may never come." She read aloud. As if in response, the doors slid open, but the hangar was dark. The group, Cagalli in the lead, began to enter and as they did so, it was Rondo Mina Sahaku who spoke.

- "The day this door need be opened - the day that once again, Orb should face annihilation." She said. "Four years ago, Lord Uzumi Nara Athha began to make preparations so that should that day come, we would be ready. And this is his legacy: The ultimate Shield to protect the ideals of our nation: The MBF-X1 Akatsuki."

As she spoke, Erica Simmons pushed a lever that activated lights inside the hangar, and Cagalli gaped as she saw the single mobile suit it held. It looked, she thought, like her Strike Rouge, but sleeker, and to an expert it would be visibly several degrees more sophisticated. And its entire body was golden, gleaming under the harsh lights.

- "The...Akatsuki?" She said.

- "Yes," Erica Simmons added. "Commissioned by Lord Uzumi four years ago. It was incomplete at the time the Alliance attacked, and so it was smuggled out of Orb and into space, where it was completed at Ame-no-Mihashira after the war ended, then sealed in this hangar. It has been here ever since."

She flipped a second switch, and from concealed speakers, the deep voice of the late Lord Uzumi Nara Athha filled the hangar.
"Cagalli," he said, "There are many things that I regret I was not able to teach you myself. But I know that you have people around you, who love and support you. From them, you can learn what you may need."

- "Father..." Cagalli said under her breath, and she felt tears welling up in her eyes.

"If you are hearing this, then it means that I have died, and yet you are now again in need of additional power. Consider this gift my answer to that need. Power is simply that, and no more. What matters is what one makes of it. Foolish are those who desire it in excess, and yet even moreso are those who resent it inherently, for no reason." the recording continued. "Even so it is with this; a shield to protect the ideals of Orb, and a sword to defend them. If you need it now, if it will help you walk the right path, then it is yours. I had hoped that the day would never come that the door be opened, and if it has, these words may be in vain. But Cagalli, my dear daughter, I wish you a long, and happy life."

The recording ended and Cagalli wept bitterly, and even the normally unshakable Mina was moved.

Cagalli wiped her tears with the sleeve of her jacket, and looked up at the Akatsuki.
"Thank you, father." She said, and steeled herself.

After a short briefing on its capabilities by Erica, Cagalli prepared herself to launch. As she returned to the hangar, she saw a row of Murasames in Flight mode, in gold-and-black command-type colors, had been wheeled in and were also being prepared for launch. She saw their pilots, and felt a wave of relief: Andrew Waltfeld and Ledonir Kisaka. With them was her dear friend Juri Wu Nien, who ran up to her as she entered.

"Lady Cagalli!" she said breathlessly. Cagalli saw the markings on the Murasame's wings, which matched a similar mark on their flight suits: Kinshu - Gold Eagle. "The Kinshu Mobile Squadron is standing by for launch on your command."

- "So, you and I will fly together again, huh?" Cagalli said, and Juri nodded. "I'm glad."

As she entered the cockpit of the Akatsuki and activated it, she saw that it was identical to her Strike Rouge, which comforted her. It would make it easier for her in the coming battle.

- "MBF-X1, Akatsuki. Activation confirmed. All systems clear. Go ahead, launch." She heard Erica say.

- "Roger that. Cagalli Yula Athha, Akatsuki taking off!"

The Akatsuki took off, and soon afterwards the three Murasames followed, one after the other, and formed up on her, one to starboard and two to port.

She immediately saw that ZAFT forces had landed at numerous points throughout the shoreline, and this in spite of heavy resistance from Orb's defenses; the battle still raged in Orb's waters, so none of the amphibious ASSH, ZnO and GOOhNs had yet been able to land, but numerous ZAKU Warriors had, using GUUL lifters to reach the shores before landing and engaging on the ground, covered from above by GOUF Igniteds that engaged the aerial Murasames and Astray-Fs. She selected a point, issued her orders, and the four mobile suits accelerated, heading towards one of the three areas being attacked.

At Orb's Defense Headquarters, the situation was dire.

"Colonel Soga, ZAFT forces have reached the Seiran estate and begun bombarding it." One officer reported. "Enemy aerial units have also broken through Aramatsubara's second defense line - if this keeps up, our defenses on the main island will collapse!"

- "Tell the Third and Fourth Squadrons to regroup and prepare to reinforce the First Defense Fleet at Aramatsubara - if ZAFT forces get any further, we'll be wiped out."

- "Report from the MPs, sir!" Came another. "They've entered the Seiran compound and arrested both Unato Ema and Yuna Roma Seiran!"

- "What about Jibril?" Mina asked. Nobody had seen her return, but not one man flinched.

- "Negative, ma'am." The same officer replied. "There's no sign of him."

- "Tell them to keep looking. Bring the Seirans here!"

- "New contact, closing in towards Aramatsubara defense line." One officer suddenly said. "Three Murasames, one unknown - IFF identifies them as Orb Union military units."

The confusion was short-lived, as a transmission suddenly came in from the Akatsuki.
- "This is Cagalli Yula Athha." she said. "I need additional forces to reform the defensive lines."

Even as she spoke, she opened fire on ZAFT forces on the ground, shooting them down using the Akatsuki's beam rifle.

- "Yes, ma'am!" Colonel Soga replied. "Third Home Defense Fleet Third and Fourth squadrons are inbound to your location." As he spoke, a full squadron of Murasames plus another squadron of Astray-Fs closed in and linked up with the four Kinshu team machines, and the group began to move in.

A formation of ZAFT GOUF Igniteds suddenly moved in and opened fire, and the mobile suits were forced to scatter. Two of them fired their beam rifles on the Akatsuki. Instinctively, Cagalli raised the Akatsuki's shield to block the attack, but one shot slipped through.

However, the Akatsuki's most distinguishing feature was its "Yata-no-Kagami" beam-reflective armor, which gave the machine its golden color. A sophisticated defensive technology developed specifically to counter beam weapons, it worked by absorbing and redirecting the energy from enemy beam weapons fire. So that when the single rifle shot hit the Akatsuki's armor, its armor absorbed the shot, then the Akatsuki's computer automatically calculated the appropriate vector and released the energy back down the firing line at the attacking mobile suit, which saw its arm destroyed by, essentially, its own attack. The entire process had taken a fraction of a second.

Cagalli immediately followed up with her own attack, firing not only her beam rifle, but the two powerful "Oowashi" plasma beam cannons, each attack felling one enemy mobile suit.

"Kinshu Team, stay with me! Third Squadron, reinforce the defense line; Fourth Squadron, link up with the Fourth Battalion forces and gather at Takamitsugata. We will push them back!" Cagalli ordered.

Meanwhile, reports were coming in to the ZAFT ships that the Orb forces were starting to rally, and on the monitor, Yzak saw that a new model was apparently responsible for leading the strengthened defense.

"Interesting." He commented. "It seems to be armored against beam rifles and cannons. I wonder, though."
Then, he turned to Arthur. "Give me a sitrep."

- "Our forces in coastal area twelve are being pushed back; the Doze team units are falling back with heavy damage, and we've lost the Hawker and Willard Team mobile suits."

- "How are we doing underwater?"

- "Still about the same, but we're starting to see less resistance; it looks like the enemy underwater units aren't as numerous, but they are easily a match for the ASSH."

- "Right. Anything on Jibril?"

- "Still nothing, sir."

Yzak swore under his breath, then ordered the Acatenango to deploy their reserve GOUF Igniteds to coastal area twelve. This battle was going to be every bit as tough as he thought, and he wondered how Athrun, who was probably still somewhere in Orb, either at their government or military headquarters, was taking this.

He opened up a communication to the ship's ready room, where he knew his pilots were waiting.
"What is it, Captain?" Shinn was the one who spoke, and Yzak rolled his eyes.

- "We're having some problems with a new model in area twelve." Yzak said. "I need you to launch and do what you can to pin it down. No need for everyone to launch, but I want you to take at least one escort."

- "Roger that." Shinn said, and the screen went dead.

Soon after that, he was in the cockpit of the Destiny, starting the machine up.
"Destiny, stand by for immediate take-off. Confirming all systems go. Initiating launch sequence. Catapult online, course clear. Destiny, you are clear for launch."

- "Shinn Asuka. Destiny, launching!"

The Destiny shot forward from the catapult and its wings spread as it shot upwards and then in towards the coastline.
Behind him, Shinn saw a second mobile suit launch from the Minerva, and slowed to allow his wingman to catch up. Then the two machines, flying in tight formation, moved in towards the coast.

As soon as he was in range, Shinn opened fire on an Orb Murasame from behind, shooting it down. As the Orb forces turned and began to fire, the Destiny spun gracefully out of the line of fire, avoiding the enemy shots even as he counterattacked, every shot from his rifle finding its target. Two Murasames managed to raise their shields in time to block the attack, and switched to mobile suit mode as they drew beam sabers.

Shinn raised the shield, and the EEQ8S "Grapple Stinger" extensional arrestor shot forward on its line. The razor-sharp claw buried itself in the cockpit of the nearest Murasame, slicing it - and its pilot - in half, even as Shinn raised the Destiny's other hand and ignited its "Solidus Fulgor" beam shield, intercepting the machine's beam saber. He batted the weapon aside, then fired the "Palma Fiocina" beam gun mounted in the palm of the Destiny's hand, piercing the cockpit, before kicking the dead mobile suit away, even as he retracted the Grapple Stinger.

Beside him, the second machine added the fire of its own weapons to the fray as more Murasames closed in, and the enemy unit was decimated. The two machines continued on their course unhindered, swiftly closing on the Akatsuki.

Meanwhile, the Orb military police had total control of the Seiran compound, and both Unato Ema Seiran and Yuna Roma Seiran were in custody.

"Report to Lady Sahaku and Lady Cagalli; then get these two traitors in the van and escort them back to military HQ." The leader of the force said.
The formation started to leave, when suddenly the leader was cut down by gunfire as a group of soldiers turned on them, firing at the MPs in an attempt to free the Seirans.

Unato Ema smiled.
He may no longer have been an official member of Orb's government, but he still had supporters there and even in the military. Soon, he would be able to get this situation under control, and then he could deal with that little upstart Cagalli.
In the ensuing firefight, he and Yuna attempted to flee; however, the fight separated them, and Unato, more concerned with his own life, slipped away.

However the small group of renegade soldiers, despite having initially had the element of surprise, were outgunned by their opponents and were soon overwhelmed.

Once the firefight ended, Yuna was apprehended attempting to leave and was immediately and violently subdued. Of Unato, however, there was no sign.

"Bastard." the leader of the surviving MPs spat. "You and your old man are going to pay for that, sir." he said spitefully, addressing Yuna. "Get him out of here."

The sorely diminished group left the compound, with Yuna being led out of his family's estate in handcuffs and at gunpoint. He was shoved unceremoniously into the back of a military truck, which roared off back towards Military HQ.

Orb Military HQ

At Orb's Military HQ, Athrun essentially stood unattended, near the back of the room as he watched the battle. Rondo Mina Sahaku, also present, was keeping an eye on him, but when the battle started she had ordered the MPs guarding him to go with the others for the attack on the Seiran compound.

He wondered why the ZAFT fleet had been so quick to attack, though he guessed that after that moronic broadcast from Yuna it was a logical course of action. He still regretted that he had been unable to find a diplomatic solution to this mess.

Suddenly, two new mobile suits appeared, moving fast from the Minerva in towards the shoreline, apparently headed towards the Akatsuki's position. He saw them appear on the screen at the same time as Colonel Soga reported them to Cagalli.

"Milady, be careful. ZAFT reinforcements are closing in at high speed."

"How many?" Cagalli asked, even as she continued to engage.

"Just two, but they're moving extremely fast." Soga replied.

From the speed alone, Athrun knew one of them had to be the Destiny, a theory that was confirmed an instant later when a long-range video capture of the attacking mobile suits appeared on the screen. But his jaw dropped when he saw the second one, the machine flying on the Destiny's wing: His own machine, the ZGMF-YX29R Knight Saviour Gundam.

'But that's...the Saviour! But who the hell's piloting it?' He wondered.

Suddenly, Athrun was afraid. He knew Cagalli was a pretty good pilot, but Shinn's forte - just like Athrun himself - was high-speed, close-range combat. And he knew that Shinn was at least as good a pilot as he himself was, and that moreover the Destiny was built especially to fight fast and up close, where Cagalli was more vulnerable.

And that was without factoring in the Knight Saviour.

"Be careful, Cagalli." He muttered.

Cagalli, upon hearing Colonel Soga's report, turned to face the two incoming mobile suits.

"It's that one." She said, recognizing the mobile suit that had led the charge at Heaven's Base from the footage she'd seen of the attack. She did the briefest double-take when she saw the Saviour, which she would've guessed to have been Athrun's machine - when she knew that Athrun was at Orb Military HQ.

But she raised her rifle, targeted the Destiny, and fired.

Shinn saw the attack coming, and he immediately ignited his single "Validus Fulgor" beam shield, blocking it. He saw the enemy new model, and he saw the Murasames behind it.

He opened a link to the Knight Saviour.

"Keep those Murasames busy! I'll deal with the new model." He said, and he heard the positive reply. Then the two mobile suits split up, as Shinn focused on the gold new model, while the Saviour moved to intercept the three yellow Murasames coming in behind it.

"I guess we have to handle that red one." Andrew Waltfeld, from the lead Murasame, commented. "All right then, let's go."

- "Roger that." Came the reply from Kisaka, then Juri.

The three Murasame split up, moving jointly to surround the rapidly-approaching Saviour, then fired their rifles.
The Saviour immediately went evasive, avoiding the attacks easily, or else blocking with its own beam shields. The counterattack was immediate, but the Murasames likewise avoided the attack.

The battle continued, the three Murasame engaging the Saviour, but essentially it was a stalemate; the Murasames were far too slow to be able to close in to engage the Saviour directly, nor were any of their pilots foolish enough to seek a one-on-one engagement against a visibly superior foe; and it was far too agile for them to be able to get a decisive attack advantage from long range. However, each of the three had cover from at least one of their teammates, so the Saviour could not close in either, and the Murasame had sufficient maneuverability to evade or block its ranged attacks.

Shinn meanwhile accelerated and engaged the Akatsuki, which fired its two beam cannons immediately at the Destiny. Shinn dodged the attack easily, then decided to go for a decisive counter, arming the Destiny's two "Megálos Kerberos" high-energy long-range beam cannons. He targeted the Akatsuki, and the instant he had lock on the target he opened fire with both weapons.

Countering the twin attack pushed the limit of the "Yata-no-Kagami" armor's capabilities, but the two beams were intercepted and, much to Shinn's surprise, his own attack was reflected right back at him. He activated the Voilure Lumière, avoiding the two beams by millimeters.

"So it reflects beam cannons, huh?" He snarled. "Well, then, let's see about that!"
He stowed the two beam cannons as well as his beam rifle, and drew both of the Destiny's "Moralltach" heavy anti-ship sabers.

The sheer size of the two blades startled Cagalli, as did the unbelievable speed at which the Destiny suddenly closed in.

A pair of Murasames from the defense forces suddenly moved in, closing in in flight mode and firing their beam rifles and dorsal beam cannons at the Destiny, which easily avoided the attack of the lead Murasame before slicing it in half horizontally from front to back with one of the two blades, then bisected the second one vertically.

Cagalli drew and activated the Akatsuki's twin beam sabers, then charged in towards the Destiny, which met its attack head on. He parried the saber strike with one of his two blades.

"So you're the leader, huh?" Shinn sneered, "Though, you don't have much skill."
As he spoke, he pushed slightly back, then swept in with the second blade.

Cagalli saw the attack coming and broke off, moving backwards, but the attack still severed the heavy shield mounted to the Akatsuki's arm and carved a deep gouge in the limb.

"Damn it." She swore under her breath, as much at herself as her enemy.

She realized suddenly that she may have bitten off more than she could chew with this one, as the Destiny closed in again. She separated the twin beam saber into two separate sabers, holding one in each hand to hopefully try and hold off the enemy unit.

Shinn saw the move, and struck with both blades simultaneously. The Akatsuki parried the attack, which he had guessed it would. Shifting slightly, he saw that the angle was wrong and he could not use the Gryphon II leg blades.

In spite of this, he made his move, and the Destiny batted aside both beam sabers using the larger Moralltach blades and delivered a vicious kick that slammed into the Akatsuki's waist, damaging the armor and throwing it off-balance. Then he struck again.

Cagalli attempted to parry, but the attack severed the Akatsuki's arm, just above the elbow.

"LADY CAGALLI!" Juri yelled, and she broke formation, moving in to attempt to cover the Akatsuki.

- "Juri, NO!" Kisaka yelled, but it was too late.

The Saviour took advantage of the opening and accelerated, breaking free of the encirclement.
Suddenly, the advantage was now firmly with the enemy, as the much faster Saviour was in a position to be able to simultaneously engage both Waltfeld's and Kisaka's Murasames.
It did so immediately, deploying the two powerful "Amfortas Kai" beam cannons as well as the "Hyper Fortis" cannons and targeting each machine, then firing all four weapons. The two Murasames were forced to scatter to avoid the attack.

"Damn." Waltfeld swore. "We had him on the ropes, and now we're the ones who're in trouble."

At that moment, he detected a large formation of mobile suits closing in, and let out a sigh of relief as a full squadron of Murasames moved in and attacked both the Saviour and the Destiny, forcing them to break off their attacks.

Then he saw the ship moving in: The Takemikazuchi.

- "Colonel Todaka!" Waltfeld broadcast to the ships. "Thanks for the support."

- "Don't mention it, Colonel Waltfeld." Todaka replied.

By common consent, Kisaka and Waltfeld linked up with Juri and the Akatsuki before the Saviour could break free and potentially attack them, then the four mobile suits retreated.

Shinn too, recognized the carrier, and he also saw the Akatsuki retreating towards Orb's military headquarters. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the three Murasame that had been attacking the Saviour link up with it and all of them fall back.
He ignored them, turning his attention instead on the Murasames attacking them now, as both machines blocked the attacks with their beam shields. Stowing the Moralltach, Shinn drew his beam rifle, then fired into the approaching formation.

The Murasames scattered, avoiding his attack.
At that moment, his sensors detected something, and he saw what looked like a ZAFT-type orbital drop pod, falling towards them at high speed.

- "Orbital reinforcements? But where'd they come from? and why only one?" He wondered, and he moved in towards where he estimated the new mobile suits would land.

The pod split apart, disgorging three YMF-3000 DOM Troopers, which Shinn saw were in distinctive two-tone violet colors instead of the standard green.
Then, to his surprise, the three DOM Troopers moved out and opened fire on ZAFT forces.

- "What the hell?" He wondered, suddenly angry at this development. "Those bastards..."

But he could not pursue them, not with a sizable formation of Murasames currently attacking him. So he turned his attention back to them, barely managing to parry an attack from one of them, then moved in to retaliate.

In the cockpit of the lead DOM Trooper, Hilda Harken contacted her two teammates - Mars Simeon and Herbert Von Reinhardt.

All three of them were ZAFT deserters, who had fought in many of the major battles of the first War, and who had opposed Patrick Zala as members of the Clyne Faction. And now, they opposed ZAFT and Durendal once again in memory of Lacus Clyne, murdered even as her father had been. They had followed him, then her, and now continued to fight in her memory.

"All right, boys." Hilda said. "You know what to do."

- "Right." Mars answered.

- "Ready when you are!" Herbert supplied, as the other two fell into formation exactly behind her, then she drew her beam saber and ignited her beam shield. Then she fired a shot from the torso-mounted scattering beam gun, then all three started moving at exactly the same speed - a coordinated attack pattern they called "Jet Stream attack", which they had initially used during the Bloody Valentine War when piloting GINNs, then later GuAIZs.

The concept of the attack is simple; any enemy evading one attack was automatically in line for two additional attacks, making it almost impossible to evade sucessfully. And so it proved, as protected by Hilda's beam shield, the three DOMs, moving as one, tore through enemy forces one after the other.

On the Minerva's bridge, Yzak saw what happened, and he swore angrily.

"Someone wanna tell me who the fuck that is tearing apart our forces with next-generation ZAFT mobile suits?" Nobody had a clue, and so nobody replied.

"Arthur!" Yzak snapped. "Take the conn! Abby, I assume my DOM Trooper is ready?"

- "Y...Yes, sir!" She replied.

- "Good. Tell Lunamaria that she's to take off immediately. I am taking the rest of our DOM Troopers as well."

- "Right." Abby replied, and immediately relayed the orders to the pilots standing by.

Within minutes, the Blast Impulse was out the catapult and closing in. Yzak's blue DOM Trooper followed, then two others, in standard green and equipped with Blaze Wizard Packs.

Yzak was fuming. As far as he knew, only maybe a dozen DOM Troopers had been produced so far; and somehow, three of them had fallen into enemy hands. Because he knew, deep down, where those three had to have come from; a covert drop from the Eternal.

"Bastards." He mumbled again. He opened up a line to all four of the other mobile suits. Lunamaria saw with some surprise that he hadn't even bothered to put on a normal suit, but said nothing.

"All right, here's the situation; Somehow, the enemy has gotten a hold of three DOM Troopers, and they're tearing apart our ground forces. We are going to engage those three sonsabitches and at least prevent them from doing any more damage. Ideally, we just take them out. Clear?"

- "Yes, sir!" Lunamaria replied, and the other two did the same.

The four mobile suits then moved in, rapidly closing in on the targets.

At Orb's Military Defense Headquarters, Athrun had also seen the three DOM Troopers, and made the same deduction as Yzak, which brought a wry smile to his face as he considered the fact that ZAFT's biggest current problem stemmed from ZAFT mobile suits. Again.

Then he saw the four mobile suits launch from the Minerva - three DOM Troopers, one of them Yzak's. And the Blast Impulse, which he knew was Lunamaria's machine.
Process of elimination then dictated who the pilot of the Saviour had to be, and Athrun shook his head. Still smiling.

At that moment, a group of MPs entered the room, leading at gunpoint a handcuffed Yuna Roma Seiran, who glared askance at Athrun as he entered. Athrun saw that Yuna had apparently been beaten rather badly by the MPs, and wondered what happened.

He also wondered why so few of them, and why several of them were sporting gunshot wounds.

"Report." Rondo Mina Sahaku ordered.

- "Unato Ema Seiran escaped, ma'am." the leader of the battered group reported. "a group of renegade soldiers opened fire on my men as we were preparing to escort the prisoners back here, and they got loose in the confusion. We recaptured Yuna Roma Seiran, but the old man got away."

- "Old man?" Yuna ejaculated, "Show some respect, you..." He was suddenly silenced as one of the soldiers slammed a fist into his solar plexus, and he fell to the floor. Superbly disdainful, Mina glared down at him as he lay there.

- "Respect?" She said haughtily. "Traitors don't deserve respect, Seiran."

At that moment, the Akatsuki landed outside, and Cagalli entered just as Yuna was dragging himself to a standing position - a rather remarkable feat, as his arms were bound behind him by handcuffs.

"Cagalli." Athrun said as he saw her enter, and Colonel Soga turned and saluted her.

- "Cagalli! It's awful...this is too much - the way I've been treated."

- "SHUT UP." She barked, and Yuna shrank back as if she'd threatened him. She turned to Colonel Soga and nodded.

- "Lady Cagalli." He said. "As ordered, Yuna Roma Seiran has been arrested; unfortunately, Unato Ema was able to evade us, and we still have not found Lord Jibril."

- "I see." She said, and she turned and glared at Yuna.

- "Spit it out, Yuna." She barked at him. "Where is Jibril? And don't lie to me!"

- "I...I don't know!" He said. "Let me...Let me explain!"

- "What's to explain?" She retorted angrily. "I know you, your father, and his ilk differed in their opinion; But until recently, I had thought that in spite of this, our desire to protect this nation was the same. But not only you violated my direct orders when you sent our fleet out a few months ago to interfere in battles between the PLANTs - who at that point were not an enemy of Orb - and caused the loss of several ships and hundreds of our forces. But now, you sheltered an international criminal, an enemy of our ally, the Eurasian Federation, as well as of the PLANTs. This battle is YOUR fault! And now you're going to continue to shelter him?"

- "I...I..." Yuna Roma Seiran stammered

- "Tell me where he is, Yuna!" Cagalli ordered, her voice rising.

- "I don't know! Yes, he was at our place, but now I don't know where he is." He said. He seemed to regain some confidence then, and he looked down at her as he continued. "And I don't know how you can accuse me! Everything I did, I did for the sake of Orb!"

At that, Cagalli lost her temper. She drew a service pistol from its holster on her belt, and she shot Yuna Roma Seiran cleanly through the head.

The single gunshot rang throughout the room like a clap of thunder, and the corpse of Yuna Roma Seiran slid to the ground.
The gun fell with a loud clatter. Athrun stepped forward, and he saw that Cagalli's hands were shaking.

"I shouldn't have done that." She said. "I...I don't know what came over me, I just..."

Athrun took her in his arms, and she simply stayed there, her hands still shaking.
- "It's all right." he said. "Don't..."

- "No, it's not!" she protested, "How are we supposed find Jibril now? And I...I..."

- "As to Jibril, do not worry, Milady." Rondo Mina Sahaku said kindly, and Cagalli looked at her with some surprise. "We will find him - and Unato Ema Seiran, as well. But as for what happened here; Yuna Roma Seiran was a traitor. Any court of law would have condemned him to die for his crimes. And I, for one, believe that you did the right thing, as does everyone in this room."

Colonel Soga nodded. Several people applauded.

- "Thank you." Cagalli said haltingly. She still felt bad about what she had done, but as Mina ordered the corpse removed, she knew that the best way to atone for it was to find Unato, find Jibril, and contact the ZAFT fleet to try to negotiate a ceasefire.

- "Athrun, do you think you can work with Colonel Soga to attempt to contact the ZAFT fleet?" She asked him.

- "Of course." Athrun said. "We'll contact the Minerva, to see if we can get them to stand down."

- "Thank you." Cagalli said. "Mina, I need you to find Unato, and find Jibril, whatever it takes."

- "As you command, milady." Mina nodded, and then the group set to work attempting to bring the battle to an end.

Meanwhile, Hilda Harken continued to lead her two teammates against the invading ZAFT forces, preventing them from moving in, and even forcing them back. Suddenly, alarms sounded in their cockpits, and all three DOMs pivoted to face the incoming attack and activated their beam shields. And not a moment too soon, as a massive volley of cannonfire slammed into the three shields.

"Oh, damn it." Hilda swore as she saw four enemy machines closing in, and she knew that things had just gotten a lot harder: three of them were DOM Troopers, like their own machines. And the fourth was the Blast Impulse Gundam, which while it lacked the DOM Trooper's beam shield, still had it beat in terms of firepower as well as at least matching its mobility.

Worse still, while all three of their own units were in base configurations only, as was the blue lead DOM...the other two equipped Blaze Wizard Packs. But that two-tone blue DOM Trooper, in her judgement, was the worst news of all. Because she knew those colors, she knew who that pilot had to be.

- "Guess it's time to get serious, huh?" Simon commented.

- "You bet." Herbert supplanted. "But don't get cocky - I recognize the colors of that lead machine."

- "It's Yzak Joule." Hilda commented grimly. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and facing quite possibly the single most skilled pilot in ZAFT, barring Athrun Zala himself. "We're in deep shit, boys."

The two rear DOM Troopers in Yzak's team opened fire, unleashing a volley from their Blaze Wizards, and Hilda and her team scattered, evading the attack and countering with their own fire, which was blocked or evaded.

- "Let's go!" Hilda ordered, and the two other DOM Troopers fell into formation once again for their Jet Stream attack.

Yzak guessed what was coming - he'd seen the footage of the attack when the enemy DOMs had first used that formation.

- "Scatter!" He ordered his machines. Beam shields engaged, the three DOM Troopers fell back, with two of them sheltering the Impulse, as Yzak broke off and stowed his Gigaplex launcher. Then he drew his favorite weapon, the "Falx" beam axe; an optional weapon carried over from his old ZAKU Warrior, the long-shafted weapon had a greater reach even than the beam saber of the DOM Trooper.

The three machines slipped past unopposed, and before they could react, Yzak struck, sliding forward just as the third machine passed him by, barely outside its reach and, slipping inside its defenses, neatly severing its leg with the axe.
The DOM collapsed, and its pilot swore angrily.

- "HERBERT!" Hilda yelled, and the two DOM Troopers immediately about-faced and moved to cover their fallen comrade, just as the Blast Impulse opened fire from behind them both with a volley of missiles, supplemented by fire from its railguns and beam rifle. Both DOM Troopers ignited their beam shields, blocking the attack, even as the three enemy DOM Troopers moved around them, encircling the group. She turned her machine around to keep an eye on Yzak's machine and one of the other two, while Mars covered the Impulse and the third DOM.

But she knew that the best they could hope to do was to hold off the enemy at this point. They were pinned down.

At that moment, a GOUF Ignited approached from above, and opened fire on the DOMs with its arm-mounted "Draupnir" beam machinegun, and Mars Simeon immediately retaliated, firing the Gigaplex's 60mm beam rifle from behind cover provided by Hilda's beam shield.

The stricken GOUF Ignited fell.

Little did any of them know that not far away, Unato Ema Seiran, guarded by soldiers still loyal to him, was in his car and on his way to a spaceport where his private shuttle waited, with Jibril onboard.

Unato Ema Seiran regretted having to leave his son Yuna to his own devices, but hoped that once he'd gotten out of here, he could try to do something about that, unaware that his son was dead.

He was also unaware that his own life was about to end, as the falling GOUF Ignited crashed on top of the car, crushing it under its weight, then exploded.
Unato Ema Seiran and the car's driver, as well as the soldiers in the car, were killed instantly.

Orb Military HQ.

Cagalli paced back and forth at the back of the room, increasingly agitated. So far, their attempts at contacting the ZAFT fleet had been unsuccessful, nor had they been able to locate Jibril.

"Hayamatsumi has been destroyed, and the Toyomatsumi is immobilized." one officer reported. "The Sixth Mobile Corps is en route to reinforce the Izanagi shoreline. The battle line is holding at Aramatsubara, but ZAFT forces are moving in again."

- "What about Jibril?" Mina asked.

- "Sections three, six, and nine are reporting no sign of him at this time." replied another officer. "Nothing in one, two and four, either. five, seven and eight are still moving in."

- "Wait!" Athrun suddenly spoke up. "Do the Seirans own a shuttle?"

- "They do." Cagalli said slowly. "Just like the Athha and Sahaku families." Neither of them voiced the fact that the Athha shuttle had been damaged and abandoned in orbit nearly a year earlier - both knew it.
She suddenly realized why Athrun was asking, and mentally berated herself for not thinking of it herself, even as she heard him ask the question that occurred to her.

- "What section are those shuttles stored in?" he asked. "Where are their hangars?"

- "In different areas." Mina answered. "The Athha shuttle, for instance, was always stored at Kaguya. The Seiran shuttle hangar is in section three, not far from their compound."

- "Then the soldier who reported from there was lying." Cagalli said, clenching her fists. "That's where Jibril is, and probably where Unato's headed as well. Send every available unit there immediately! We have to stop them before they take off."

- "Ma'am!" Colonel Soga suddenly said. "We have contact with the Minerva!"

"Tell them we've determined Jibril's probable location, and send them the coordinates."

Athrun immediately relayed the message to Arthur, who communicated it to Yzak.

- "They found him!" Yzak jubilated. "About fucking time! Lunamaria, we're closest - go NOW! If that shuttle takes off, shoot the fucking thing down!" He ordered, then opened up a link to Shinn. "Lover boy! You and your girlfriend haul your asses over here and back up Lunamaria!"

- "Right." Shinn replied flatly, though his voice shook with trepidation. He and Stella had been engaged against the Takemikazuchi's Murasames, nearly half of which had been destroyed by either him or the Saviour, but he immediately broke off combat, as did she.

The Saviour shifted to flight mode, where its speed was highest, and Shinn pushed the Voilure Lumière to maximum output. The two machines crossed at high speed towards the coordinates they'd been transmitted.

Meanwhile, Jibril was seated in the Seiran shuttle, which was ready to take off. All that was left was for the Seirans themselves to arrive.

- "What's going on?" One of the soldiers in the shuttle asked his colleague. "Lord Unato and Lord Yuna are awfully late."

- "They sure are." Assented the other. "I wonder where they are."

Jibril stood and approached them.
- "That's enough! We cannot wait any longer: launch the shuttle, now." he demanded.

- "But sir..." One of them protested.

- "I'm the important one here, not the Seirans. Nothing must stop me from getting to the moon! Surely you can all comprehend that."

- "R...Right." The soldier replied, and minutes later, the shuttle and its lone passenger took off.

The launch was detected instantly, and the closest mobile suit - the Blast Impulse - immediately targeted the shuttle. Her orders were simple: shoot it down.

No matter what, that shuttle could not be allowed to escape to space.

She locked on, but before she could fire, alarms rang in her cockpit as a formation of Astray Flight Types moved in and opened fire on the Impulse.
Lunamaria was forced to break off to evade the attack.

Then, with a scream of rage, Shinn, who had seen the attack, drew one of the Destiny's two "Shining Edge" beam sabers and skewered the nearest Astray, impaling its cockpit, then drawing the blade upwards, bisecting it from hip to neck. When another moved in, he evaded it, accelerating upwards even as the Saviour, behind him, attacked. Exponentially faster than an Astray, the Saviour deployed its wings and activated the two "Gryphon" wing beam blades, then shot forward, bisecting one Astray before she switched to mobile suit mode, instantly drawing the beam rifle, and opened fire on the remaining machines.

Lunamaria, meanwhile, fired from below and, caught in the crossfire, the enemy formation was obliterated.

Immediately, she deployed the Blast Impulse's "Kerberos" beam cannons and the beam rifle, and at attempted to draw a bead on the rapidly-rising shuttle, but it was moving too fast to get a firm lock-on. She fired anyway, and narrowly missed it. She adjusted her aim in a second, even as above Shinn deployed the Destiny's "Megálos Kerberos" beam cannons and did the same. But by then it was too late - the shuttle had escaped beyond the range of their weapons.

"DAMN IT!" Shinn swore angrily, slamming his fist into the console.

In the cockpit of his own machine, Yzak was no less angry. He immediately sent a broadcast to the Minerva, which relayed his orders to all ships and mobile suits in the ZAFT fleet.

- "This is Commander Yzak Joule of the Minerva to all units. Cease combat operations and fall back beyond Orb territorial waters immediately." He cut the link.
"FUCK IT!" He swore at the top of his lungs, enraged at their failure, and dreading the possible consequences.

Jibril had escaped again, this time back into space. Who knew what he had planned now? Whatever it was, Yzak knew it would not be good.

Several hours later, the ZAFT forces had fallen back; the wounded were still being evacuated back to their ships, but the bulk of the fleet and its mobile suits had retreated beyond Orb territorial waters, including the Minerva.

One DOM Trooper stood on the runway of Orb's space port. Next to it, the Blast Impulse, Destiny, and Knight Saviour, as well as one Core Splendor.

Athrun Zala, Yzak Joule, Shinn Asuka, Lunamaria Hawke, and Stella Loussier stood in front of the mobile suits. Athrun had changed out of his civilian clothing, and once again wore his red-and-black flight suit, helmet in hand; Except for Yzak, all of the others wore flight suits as well, but had left their helmets in their cockpits.

Across from them, Cagalli Yula Athha, Rondo Mina Sahaku, and Colonel Fumihiko Todaka.

"I'm sorry we had to meet again under such circumstances, Commander Joule." Cagalli said sincerely. "I appreciate your sending Athrun to us to try to end this peacefully."

- "Pity it doesn't seem to've worked." Yzak said flatly. "Truth is, it was his idea, and Chairman Durendal approved it."

- "Is that so?" Cagalli asked. "I'm not surprised. He's always been like that." Yzak had to smile at that one.

- "That he has." He said, and Athrun rolled his eyes, which prompted both of them to laugh.

- "I want you to know, Commander," Cagalli said once the laughter subsided, "that I am sorry things have turned out this way. Additionally, if you ever need any assistance in hunting down Jibril, you have but to ask, and Orb will be there to assist you."

- "Thank you." Yzak said, somewhat surprised at the statement - a surprise reflected in the faces of Athrun and Shinn.

- "Commander Joule," Mina cut in, "There is one other thing you may find useful to have."

She stepped forward, and handed to Yzak a sealed envelope. "It does not have any direct bearing on our current situation, but I believe you should find the information contained herein interesting."

- "Thank you." Yzak said, his brow furrowed at the cryptic statement. He put it out of his mind, for now.

Then, Colonel Todaka stepped forward. But he was not looking at Yzak, nor even at Athrun.
He was looking at Shinn.

"It's been a long time, Shinn." He said warmly. Shinn nodded, unable to respond. "Well, not really all that long, actually - if you include the Med."

Shinn smiled, almost sheepishly - he had come within seconds of killing the man in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Crete - and both knew it. But Shinn also knew that Fumihiko Todaka did not hold that against him.

- "It looks like our meeting had to be on a battlefield again." Shinn said wryly, echoing something Colonel Todaka himself had said previously.

- "Seems to be a thing about us soldiers, unfortunately." Todaka replied. "But next time, hopefully we'll be on the same side of the battlefield - or not on one at all."

- "I'd like that." Shinn said. Then, Todaka glanced over at a very pretty young girl, blonde, who was looking at Shinn.

- "Is she..." he started to ask, and Shinn nodded.

- "Her name is Stella." He said. "Stella Loussier. Next to her is Lunamaria Hawke, who's another very good friend of mine." Then, Shinn turned towards the others. "Colonel Todaka is the man who took me in after my family...after my family died. He helped me get to the PLANTs."

- "It's a pleasure meeting you all." Todaka said, and they all replied in kind.

Then he turned to Shinn. "You have some good friends, Shinn. I'm happy for you - you hold onto them, you hear?"

- "Yes, sir." he said.

- "I'm proud of you, kid." He said, then snapped a sharp salute. Shinn returned the gesture, then turned away to hide the tears he felt starting to flow. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and the group turned to leave.

Athrun alone lingered for a moment.

"I hate that you have to go so soon." Cagalli said.

- "So do I." Athrun said. "But we each have our parts to play; and beside, it's not the end. But the path you follow and mine are still the same - we'll see each other again."

Then he too turned back, headed towards the Core Splendor.
Soon afterwards, the single aircraft and four mobile suits were on their way back to their ship, and within another hour, as the sun set, the ZAFT fleet was gone.