AUTHOR'S NOTE: Whew. Well, on the heels of last Chapter's cliffhanger, here is the continuation. I hope you enjoy it.

Shinn himself unfortunately features little in the Chapter, as the focus is mostly on other characters. Don't worry though, he's still the main character.


PHASE 33: Revelations

December 7th, C.E. 75
PLANT Homeland
Aprilius One

In the PLANTs, the report of the destruction of Arzachel reached the office of Ezalia Joule at Aprilius One less than an hour after the attack. Within minutes, she had placed two phone calls. One to call an emergency session of the Supreme Council an hour hence. A second to a private number.

An hour later, Ezalia Joule and two members of her staff, along with Diplomatic Committee Chairwoman Eileen Canaver, entered the great hall in which the Supreme Council normally met together, and took their customary seats. Only one chair stood empty - that normally occupied by Durendal.

Orson White, of the Administrative Committee, spoke first.

"Chairwoman Joule, I must say that to call a meeting of the Council in the Chairman's absence is highly irregular." He began. "Has he been apprised of the situation?"

- "Chairman Durendal is perfectly aware of the situation, Orson." Ezalia said in a brusque tone. "After all, he is the one who instigated it."

White and several others opened their mouths to speak, but Eileen Canaver stood authoritatively and the entire group fell silent.
- "Chairwoman Ezalia Joule," she said. "You called for this meeting of the Supreme Council. Please explain these allegations."

- "Gladly." Ezalia replied. "To begin with, as I am sure you are all aware, one hour and twenty-two minutes ago Arzachel was attacked by a long-range tactical beam weapon. It's still early and we don't have firm data yet, but our initial estimates are that between 60 and 80% of the base has been destroyed. We also have strong reason to believe that both President Copeland of the Atlantic Federation, and President Baum of the Eurasian Federation have been killed in the attack."

A stunned silence greeted this pronouncement, though many of them were aware that something had happened, and whispers were beginning to reach even the general populace of the PLANTs. Ezalia continued to speak.
"The calculations made by the National Defense Committee, and corroborated by several observation posts, are that the attack originated from the far side of the moon, curving around two waypoints before striking Arzachel crater directly."

- "Ezalia," Parnel Jesek suddenly said, "You cannot be implying that..."

- "No, I am not. I am stating it as fact; the attack originated from Daedalus Base, which is currently controlled by ZAFT's Lunar Orbital Fleet, led by the Gondwana."

- "You mean, that it was ordered by Chairman Durendal." Eileen Canaver said.

- "Indubitably so." Ezalia agreed. "But there is much more to it, I am afraid; Chairman Durendal's duplicity runs back even to the beginning of this war."

- "How so?" Jesek asked.

And Ezalia Joule opened her briefcase and displayed several packets of information, information that she had spent months gathering, including intelligence she had obtained through the Joule Team, revealing the extent of Durendal's deception. First and most shocking of all, the truth about Lacus Clyne.

- "Given all of this, it can be held as factual that whatever the goal of Gilbert Durendal, it is not the peace that he has so often told us he held so dear." Ezalia Joule said. "And in light of this, there is in my view but one course of action that we may take."

- "And what course of action is that?" Orson White asked. And Ezalia told him. There were rumblings of protest, but then Eileen Canaver stood.

- "You and I may have had our differences over the years." She said. "But I have one question: How certain are you of all of this?"

"Absolutely certain. I have spent months ensuring that every single thing that I have told you here is 100% correct."

- "In that event then, Ezalia Joule, you may count on my full support." Eileen Canaver said. Whatever protests there may have been died then and there. When the motion was brought to a vote among the present members of the Supreme Council, it was carried by unanimity.

Ten minutes later, the broadcast began.

Lunar orbit, above Daedalus Base
Mobile super-carrier Gondwana

"Now then," Gilbert Durendal mused to nobody in particular, "What will your response be, I wonder."

It had taken him far less time to reach this point than he had hoped - Jibril, in his fanatical desire to eradicate the Coordinators, had provided him with a tool he had not been counting on, not unless he had been able to construct it himself - and in fact, had already begun making plans to do so. Now he would not need to.

Finding and supplying the remnant forces still loyal to that misguided fanatic Patrick Zala had been easy enough - predictably, they used the resources they were able to glean through the black market to begin a ploy intended at avenging their perceived wrongs and promoting the genocidal ambitions of their late leader. One or two "lost" shipments of old mobile suits bound for the scrap heap, the occasional newer model, and some supplies was all it took.

The Atlantic Federation's swift nuclear response was equally predictable, and the relevant arrangements had been in place since the development of the Neutron Stampeder. The test proved conclusive.
After that it was a matter of eradicating Logos in order to strip the Alliance of its capability to manufacture new weapons, as well as to decapitate the organization that pulled the Atlantic Federation's strings.

From the beginning, he knew one of the biggest threats he would face would be the Archangel and the Freedom, and especially Lacus Clyne. Finding her in Orb took some doing, but once he had, he sent in a team, under cover of darkness, to assassinate her and Kira Yamato.
They were only half successful, which was unfortunate. But without Lacus Clyne, her followers were a minor threat, soon dealt with.

He had been hoping to use Athrun, but far from being malleable to his designs, Athrun became suspicious. So he attempted to arrange the veteran's death at the hands of his erstwhile best friend by ordering the Saviour sabotaged.
Athrun survived, but he was no longer a threat. Although that new machine he was supplied with was a surprise, since then he had shown no inclination to follow up on his earlier doubts, and the permanent removal of both the Archangel and the Freedom in Eurasia resolved that issue in any case.

"Patrick, Rau." Durendal commented to the empty wrong. "You were both wrong. It's not necessary to eradicate your enemy; not as long as you make sure they are incapable of striking back at you."
And depending on how things played out over the next few days, he would see how the cards fell. With Requiem, he had the ability to eliminate any military installation, nearly anywhere on Earth or the Moon. He was in a position, if need be, to achieve near-total military supremacy over the Earth Sphere.

"That's one way to guarantee peace; make sure that nobody can ever mount an attack by destroying their ability to do so." He thought. "But we shall see..."

What his next move was would depend on...

- "Chairman Durendal." Came a sudden communication from the Gondwana's bridge.

- "Yes?"

- "There is a broadcast being made from Aprilius One that I think you should see, sir."

- "From the homeland?" Durendal asked, puzzled.
He knew that Marshall and his allies on Earth were already rattling their swords, but he was surprised to hear that something was coming from the PLANTs so rapidly.

- "Yes, sir."

- "Put it through. But make sure it is trasmitted only to me here."

- "Yes, sir." The officer replied.

Durendal wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but what he saw certainly was not it.
To use an actress to impersonate Lacus Clyne had been another of his best ideas, in retrospect. That he was able to find a young woman who not only was the right age, but whose voice was identical to that of Lacus had been perfect - only minimal surgical alterations and the work of the best voice-coach in the PLANTs had sufficed to create a perfect doppelgänger.

But he was surprised to see her broadcasting, especially as he had not issued any orders to make such a transmission.
The broadcast had been on for a couple of minutes already, so he missed its beginning - though he made certain that it was transmitted directly to him, and broadcast nowhere else throughout the ship or the lunar fleet. However, the words he did hear spoken next shocked even him.

"I am not Lacus Clyne."

Durendal stared in blank shock at the screen as he heard her words. Of all the possibilities he had considered, this was one he had never expected.
Meer had been perhaps one of, if not the most useful tool at his disposal simply due to her ability to so perfectly impersonate Lacus Clyne, and had proven invaluable in her tremendous influence over the population of the PLANTs. Moreover, she had genuinely admired Lacus herself, and respected her beyond all others - which had made her easy to manipulate.

Thus her influence, and the power to influence the populace that came with it, had been invaluable to him.

And she was now turning that influence against him. It could not, he thought, be something she had done of her own volition. He was trying to divine who could have convinced her to throw away everything that she had done, under his guidance since the deception began, over a year ago.

The broadcast caused mass confusion throughout the PLANTs, as the news of the months-long deception angered many who had trusted and believed in the words of the one they thought to be the daughter of the late Siegel Clyne, the same young woman who had helped to end the climate of fear that had marked the waning months of the Bloody Valentine War.

Now learning that she was a fake, many were unsure of what to do. Nonetheless, many continued to listen as the impostor continued to speak.

"During the events of the last War, Lacus Clyne was a beacon of hope in a dark time, when it seemed to all who desired peace not only in the PLANTs, but throughout the Earth as well, that such a goal was unattainable. Her strength and her commitment to that ideal is what made the end of the war possible. Many people throughout the PLANTs believed and continue to believe in the things she stood for, and the ideals that she represented. I was and still am one of them, which is why I accepted to do this." Meer said sincerely. "Because she was not here, I accepted when I was asked to take her place, to act in her stead when she did not return, so that those ideals remained and lived on here in the PLANTs. It was Chairman Durendal who asked this of me, and I accepted because I thought that he too aspired to the same ideals and the same desire for peace that was Miss Lacus's, and in which I too believed.

But now I know the truth. I know that he lied to me, even as through me he lied to everyone. Because he does not desire peace the way she did, nor the way I do. Otherwise, why would he have had her killed?"

To say that the people who heard those words throughout the PLANTs were shocked was an understatement. Since he came into power, Durendal had been the voice for peace even in the tumult of a new war, and it was his leadership that had allowed the PLANTs to eradicate Logos, the monsters responsible for the Bloody Valentine, the later nuclear attacks on the PLANTs, and the mass murder of millions in the recent destruction of the Januarius and December colonies, as well as untold atrocities perpetrated on Earth.

There were those, however, who were disinclined to believe words spoken by an avowed impostor, while others stated that since she had revealed this of her own volition, she had no reason to lie about this either.
The latter were proven correct, as the camera panned outwards and revealed someone standing behind the ersatz Lacus Clyne: Ezalia Joule, of the National Defense Committee, and Eileen Canaver, of the Diplomatic Committee.

Onboard the Gondwana, Durendal was not surprised to find the hand of Ezalia Joule behind this unexpected turn of events, though it seemed odd to him that Eileen Canaver, who had been one of Ezalia's staunchest opponents in the previous administration, should have supported her in this.
But it was Ezalia Joule who spoke next, her expression hard.

- "An investigation by the Supreme Council, conducted by the National Defense Committee, determined that in March of this year, a team of ZAFT mobile suits under direct orders from Chairman Gilbert Durendal, illegally entered the territory of the Orb Union, where Lacus Clyne had been residing since the end of the First War, shortly after the Break the World Incident." She said evenly. "These forces infiltrated Orb covertly, and assassinated Lacus Clyne."

A stunned silence greeted this confirmation from a highly respected member of the Supreme Council, as millions of people throughout the PLANTs grappled with the implications of this revelation. Ezalia, however, continued to speak.

"Moreover as you now know, the giant cannon Requiem, located at the Atlantic Federation's former lunar base at Daedalus, was fired at Arzachel, killing President Copeland of the Atlantic Federation, as well as our ally President Baum, of the Eurasian Federation." She added. "This attack was carried out by the Lunar Orbital Fleet under direct orders from Durendal, and without either the knowledge or consent of the Supreme Council."

Ezalia paused for a moment, as throughout the PLANTs the anger that had been aroused was redirected from its former target to center on the Chairman, in many cases more due to the revelation that he had not only hired an impostor to impersonate Lacus Clyne, but that he had ordered her death.
The fact that he had jeopardized the safety of the PLANTs by attacking Arzachel served to fan the flames, however, and the vast majority of the civilian population of the PLANTs turned against him, as had been Ezalia Joule's intent in making this broadcast.

It was Eileen Canaver, however, who spoke next.
- "In my time as a member of the Supreme Council, I worked closely, especially during the Bloody Valentine War, with Siegel Clyne both during his tenure as Chairman and afterwards, as he attempted to bring the war to a swift and peaceful end. I likewise knew Lacus well personally, and I know that neither she nor her father would have supported the actions taken as of late by Gilbert Durendal." She said.

"This opinion is shared by the Supreme Council, and it is for this reason that as of today, Gilbert Durendal has been removed from his position on the Council and in the government of the PLANTs."

Here Eileen Canaver stopped, and Ezalia Joule once again addressed the nation.
"For his actions in deceiving the Supreme council and the population of the PLANTs, and for willfully ordering an unauthorized attack on another nation that claimed the lives of numerous individuals including the leader of the Eurasian Federation, which is our ally in our efforts to bring about a peaceful end to the war, Gilbert Durendal and all who support him are hereby considered by the Supreme Council to be enemies of the PLANTs." She announced. "We will authorize any action, including the use of force, to destroy once and for all Daedalus Base and its cannon, and to ensure that its threat is permanently removed, so that such an act can never again be perpetrated."

There was a moment's silence, and then Meer spoke once again.
"Everyone," she said slowly, "please listen. I know that I have deceived you all as to my name, for which I am sorry. But everything that I have ever said I meant from the bottom of my heart. I have always believed in Miss Lacus, and I think that if she were here, she would agree with me that the same weapon that was used against us should not, ever, be used again by anyone. And I hope that everyone who believes the same things I do, and who hopes for peace in the same way that Miss Lacus did, will remember her, and will support the Council in their efforts to ensure that peace is possible, and that this terrible war is ended once and for all."

Of those who listened, there was not one who was not touched by her impassioned plea, and throughout the PLANTs public opinion rallied behind Eileen Canaver and Ezalia Joule. In essence, they had carried out a coup d'état, without a single shot being fired.
In a matter of a few minutes, had turned Durendal from a great hero and a champion of peace to an enemy of mankind, reviled only slightly less than the likes of Teivel Jibril.

In his quarters onboard the Nazca-class destroyer Argenteuil, the vessel's new Commanding Officer turned off the screen on which he'd viewed the broadcast, and shook his head.

"A coup d'état…" He muttered, as he understood the full ramifications of what Chairwomen Joule and Canaver had said. And masterfully executed, since he guessed that the two had swayed the rest of the Supreme Council before moving to depose Durendal, while at the same time turning the will of the entire population of the PLANTs against their former leader.

His thoughts turned to Meer, and to the tremendous strength and courage she had shown in doing what she had just done. For months, she had been hiding behind a mask, claiming an identity that was not her own and using Lacus's name and image - all, he knew, at Durendal's direction, but it was her own ideals that had motivated her to do this.

Athrun understood that, from his conversations with her. And now, to throw all of that away...Athrun was, he had to admit, more than a little impressed.

"Even she's doing her part, in her own way." He said aloud to the empty room. "I wonder what Lacus would say..."

In the aftermath of the broadcast, the level of activity in the PLANTs' military facilities rose to fever-pitch, as preparations were made for the largest single combat deployment of the ZAFT space fleet since the Second Battle of Jachin Due, while at the same time the Supreme Council contacted Orb and the Eurasian Federation. Every vessel was being prepared for launch, including the Argenteuil and the Minerva.

It had been roughly three hours since the attack. Onboard the Minerva, Shinn Asuka had, like most of the crew, watched the broadcast, which had left him uncertain and apprehensive.

"I never expected something like this to happen." He mumbled to himself as he pondered this latest development.

When the war started, he had thought he had a clear idea of who his enemy was. Even after he met Stella, even though she had been one of them, he was certain who he should be fighting.
But now, he was expected to fight against other Coordinators; the ZAFT Lunar Orbital Fleet was the one defending Requiem. And Rey was there...
He wished Athrun were here. Since Athrun had left, Shinn felt like he didn't really have anyone he could talk to.

Some time later, a communication was sent to the bridge of both the Argenteuil and the Minerva.
Athrun briefly read the message summoning him to the base commander's office, summarily left Kurt Gunn, his XO, in charge and left the ship.
When he arrived at the base commander's office, he was surprised to see that he was not alone. Yzak stood outside the office as well, and so, to Athrun's surprise, did Shinn.

"Yzak, Shinn." Athrun greeted his two former shipmates.

- "Athrun." Both replied. Neither of them saluted - Yzak because he simply didn't want to, Shinn because he recalled Athrun having requested he not do so.

Then the door opened and they were let into the office. When they saw who was standing there, all three of them stood rigidly at attention and saluted.
- "Commanders Athrun Zala and Yzak Joule, and Shinn Asuka. Reporting as ordered." Yzak announced stiffly.

- "Good. At ease, gentlemen." National Defense Committee Chairwoman Ezalia Joule replied. All three of them relaxed only slightly, but lowered their hands.

Standing next to and slightly behind Joule was Eileen Canaver, in her capacity as acting Chairwoman of the Supreme Council.
- "All three of you are here because you are members of FAITH," Eileen said, "but also because of your experience up to this point in this conflict. Chairwoman Joule has your orders, but I wanted to speak to you in person because of how critically important this next engagement will be."

- "Ma'am," Athrun started to say, "If I might ask..." Ezalia held up her hand, and Athrun did not finish his question.

- "You are of course aware of the continued threat posed by Daedalus Base and its cannon." Ezalia said, and all three nodded.

- "So you intend to send a fleet to attack the base and destroy it?" Shinn asked, typically irreverently, but his tone at least was somewhat respectful.

- "Very concisely stated." Eileen Canaver replied. "Yes, our preparations are to deploy ZAFT forces in an attack on Daedalus, the objective of which is the destruction of the cannon. Complicating the issue is the fact that the enemy is also a ZAFT fleet. And I think it likely that they will not have seen the broadcast."

- "You mean that Durendal may have prevented the transmission from being relayed to the ships in the lunar fleet?" Athrun asked, and Chairwoman Canaver nodded.

- "I see." Athrun said pensively.

- "However," Ezalia continued, "your orders stand thus: Athrun and Yzak, you will lead the ZAFT fleet in the attack. Your targets are the cannon itself and the second relay station. Both must be destroyed. Shinn, you and the Destiny Gundam will focus on engaging enemy mobile suits to prevent them from attacking our ships."

- "Roger that." All three of them replied.

- "However," Ezalia continued, "We will not be attacking Daedalus alone."

- "The Orb fleet, ma'am?" Shinn asked.

- "And additional forces from Artemis." She confirmed. "You will rendezvous with them in orbit, then proceed to the two targets. I leave the specific strategy up to you." Ezalia handed to Athrun and Yzak a packet with their detailed orders.

Ezalia dismissed them, and the three left, heading to their respective ships. But as Athrun left the office and prepared to return to the Argenteuil, he heard a very familiar voice call out his name.

He turned, and found himself standing face to face with Meer Campbell.
She wore the same outfit she had worn for the broadcast, but she had removed the white-and-lavender overcoat, which he saw was draped over a chair nearby.

- "Meer," he started, "what are you doing here?"

- "You saw the broadcast?" she asked. Athrun nodded.

- "What you did was incredibly brave." he said. "But why did you do it?"

- "Because I was tired of living a lie." She said. "And because of what Chairwoman Canaver told me about Durendal...and because of what you told me."

- "Me?"

- "The last time we met, you remember?" Meer asked, and suddenly Athrun did remember. He nodded.
"I just...I wanted everyone to know the truth." She said. "I think...it's what Miss Lacus would have wanted."

- "I think you're right." Athrun said.

Meer took several steps forward, looking at him.
- "Thank you," she said, smiling. "It means a lot to me." Then she took another step forward, and kissed him. "Good-bye, Athrun." She said, still smiling.

- "Good-bye, Meer." Athrun replied. Then he turned and walked away, returning to his ship.

Soon afterwards, the Argenteuil launched, followed by the Jouvenel and the Laurasia-class Gaensler. At the same time, the Joule Team's three ships were launching. The six ships linked up in a broad wedge formation, with the two flagships at the head, the Minerva leading.

Behind them, still more ships followed.

Earth Orbit - the Debris Belt
Orb Union Space Fleet
Flagship Izumo

Cagalli Yula Athha stood on the bridge of the Izumo, the first ship of its class. The ship had left its home berth at Ame-no-Mihashira with a full complement of mobile suits, as had its sister ships - the Kusanagi, Susanoo, and Tsukiyomi.

And here in the Debris Belt, the four were joined by a fifth, smaller vessel: The FFMH-Y101 Eternal.

In point of fact, the Orb fleet was now located around the Eternal's own home port, a small but well-equipped factory constructed inside one of the larger asteroids in the Debris Belt. It was here that, after the end of the previous war, the Freedom Gundam was secretly and illegally rebuilt, before being smuggled into Orb and concealed in the hangar that had held it for so long.
It was also from here that the three stolen DOM Troopers, which were now returning to their mother ship, had been launched during Operation Fury, months earlier.

And now, Cagalli stood in an upper room in the factory. With her were Colonel Ledonir Kisaka, the commander of the Kusanagi; Colonel Fumihiko Todaka, formerly of the Takemikazuchi, now the commander of the Susanoo; and Lieutenant Colonel Murrue Ramius, whom Cagalli had placed in command of the Tsukiyomi.

Standing across from them was ex-ZAFT Commander Andrew Waltfeld, now a Colonel in the Orb military as well, as the Eternal was to become a part of the Orb fleet.

In addition to preparing her own vessels for combat, she had secretly corresponded with Marshall, who had said he would send additional forces to reinforce them from Artemis.
Those forces were arriving now: Two full Carrier Strike Groups, consisting of the Agamemnon-class carriers Ectorius and Priam, plus Nelson- and Drake-class escort ships.
Leading the fleet was a sleek, jet-black heavy assault carrier: The SCV/XA-SO2 Alakhshya.

The Alakhshya docked at the base, and watching it Murrue Ramius was struck by how similar the vessel was to the Archangel-class. Its lines were sleeker, simpler than the Archangel's had been, but from what she could observe its layout seemed very similar, as did its weapons.

It occurred to her that the Alakhshya's black-and-red color scheme was moreover reminiscent of that of the second ship of the Archangel-class, the Dominion.
She shook her head, trying to suppress the unpleasant memories of the last engagement against that vessel, years earlier.
But then the group moved towards the doors, which opened. And she saw who its commanding officer was.

"Natarle!" Murrue exclaimed as she recognized her former Executive Officer, whom she had thought killed years earlier.

- "Captain Ramius." Natarle replied formally, saluting her former CO - and former enemy - before turning towards Cagalli. "Representative Athha." She said by way of greeting. "It's good to see you again."

Ignoring the questioning glance from several people, including Murrue, Cagalli stepped forward and shook the older woman's hand.
- "Captain Badgiruel." she replied. "Thank you for coming."

- "Of course, Representative Athha." Natarle replied formally. Then she turned towards her former CO. "I guess "someplace other than the battlefield" will still have to wait, Murrue."

- "I guess so." Murrue Ramius replied, somewhat moved at the reference - she herself had spoken those words to her former XO after Natarle was transferred from the Archangel. Unfortunately, the next time they had met, they had been enemies. "It's good to see you again, Natarle."

The younger woman nodded. Murrue introduced Natarle to the others, and the group continued when suddenly, a younger soldier walked up to the group.

- "Lady Cagalli, our long-range sensors are detecting a ZAFT fleet incoming." He said breathlessly.

- "How strong?"

- "It's difficult to tell because of the debris field, but it looks to be more than twenty vessels - possibly as many as thirty."
Cagalli swore under her breath. The Debris Belt was far from an ideal place to engage a numerically superior ZAFT fleet.

- "Where is it coming from?" She asked, a nervous edge creeping into her voice. If Durendal had moved against them, they were finished. "Is it coming from the moon?"

- "No ma'am. Judging from their course, it's coming from L5."

Cagalli could have died of relief when she heard the response. L5 meant it was coming from the PLANT homeland. That meant it wasn't the enemy.

- "Thank God." Cagalli exclaimed. Then she turned to the young soldier. "Open up a secure communications line with the fleet, and transmit our position to them. Ask the Fleet commander to meet us here in an unarmed shuttle.

- "Yes ma'am."

- "Excuse me, Lady Cagalli," Colonel Todaka started to say, "But what does this mean, exactly?"

- "Reinforcements." Cagalli simply said with a smile.

Soon afterwards, not one but two small shuttles landed in the hangar, and two officers dressed in identical white uniforms disembarked. The two stopped at the foot of the stairs of their respective shuttles and addressed Cagalli directly.

"Commander Yzak Joule of the Joule Team, requesting permission to board."

- "Commander Athrun Zala, of the Zala Team - likewise."

- "Welcome aboard, to the both of you." Cagalli said warmly, and the two stepped out.

Yzak permitted himself a thin smirk as Cagalli introduced them to Colonel Ramius - formerly, he knew, of the Archangel.

- "Nice to see you again, youngster." Waltfeld commented, addressing Athrun. "Or I suppose I should say, Commander Zala. And you too, Commander Joule."
Yzak scoffed, but Athrun replied with an uneasy smile.

- "Good seeing you again as well, Colonel Waltfeld."

The group left the hangar, and reached a larger room in which was displayed, on a huge digital display, a map of the Earth Sphere, showing their location, that of the moon, and the four relay stations for Requiem.
"This seems strangely familiar." Yzak commented sarcastically.

- "I'm inclined to agree, Commander." Natarle supplied. "This is the second time we've been in this situation. Rather irritating."

- "Yeah." Athrun supplied. "I guess this time, we'd better make sure we do a thorough job of it."

- "So then, where do we stand in total?" Cagalli asked with an annoyed look at the three of them. "What's the status of our forces?"

- "The Orb fleet is standing by and ready for deployment, ma'am." Colonel Todaka, as the most senior Orb officer present, began. "The Izumo, Kusanagi, Susanoo, and Tsukiyomi report full readiness. Each ship carries its full complement of sixteen machines."

- "The Eternal is likewise ready to go at any time, with six mobile suits onboard." Andrew Waltfeld reported.

- "Thank you." Cagalli said, then turned to the others.

- "The Alakhshya has a complement of twelve machines." Captain Badgiruel reported. "Additionally the Priam and Ectorius, plus their escorts, are at full combat readiness. All told, 15 ships, 70 mobile suits."

- "The Joule Team is likewise - three ships; the Minerva, plus the Voltaire and Rousseau. Twenty-six mobile suits onboard, ready for combat. Plus the Zala Team - three ships and eighteen mobile suits." Yzak said formally. "Additional forces number twenty vessels, with a total of 120 mobile suits."

Cagalli took some notes and ran through the numbers.
- "So that's 58 ships, 368 mobile suits." She said. "Do we have an assessment of the enemy forces."

- "The Gondwana alone carries a possible maximum of 500 mobile suits." Athrun commented. "The escort fleet has taken severe losses due to the First Battle of Daedalus, and reinforcements from the PLANTs prior to the attack were minimal - right now, 30 to 36 ships is the most they could have."

- "Which still amounts to an additional force of close to two hundred machines." Yzak replied. "We're outnumbered two to one."

"In mobile suits, yes." Captain Ramius replied. "But we do have an edge in terms of both total number of ships and overall firepower."

- "Additionally, two of our ships are fitted with Mirage Colloid Stealth Systems." Cagalli revealed. "Captain Badgiruel's Alakhshya and the Izumo."
Cagalli had not been pleased to learn that the illegal technology had been fitted to an Orb vessel - even if its installation predated the end of the previous war, which it did.
However in their situation, she was determined to make use of it. But when this was over, she would prevail on Mina to have it removed.

- "Here is what I think." Natarle replied. "Given the Gondwana's size and capacity in terms of mobile suits, it is probable that the bulk of the Lunar Fleet will be tasked to defend the relay stations, with the Gondwana's own mobile suit forces providing the ship with most of its defenses."

- "I agree." Athrun commented. "So we can count on maybe ten to twelve escort ships around the Gondwana, and say twice that number at the relay station."

- "How that helps us," Captain Badgiruel continued, "is that we have more than enough firepower to overwhelm those kinds of numbers in ship-to-ship combat, while our mobile suit teams can focus on dealing with the enemy mobile suits. At the relay station, the odds would be in our favor anyway."

- "So for example the Izumo, the Susanoo, the Eternal and half the ZAFT and Alliance fleets attack the relay station." Colonel Todaka picked up. "While the Kusanagi, Tsukiyomi, the Alakhshya, and the remaining Alliance and ZAFT ships attack the base itself and target the Gondwana and the cannon."

- "That's the same strategy that was used in the first attack on Daedalus." Murrue protested. "He'll be expecting it."

- "What choice do we have?" Cagalli asked. "If we attack the relay station first, he'll have time to charge the cannon; he fires, and our fleet is finished. But if we attack Daedalus directly, what forces he has at the relay stations can move in and catch us in a pincer movement."

- "There is no other choice." Yzak spoke up. "The Gondwana and that cannon are priority targets, but the forces at the relay station have to be dealt with."

- "Then are we all agreed?" Cagalli asked. "We pursue a two-pronged attack strategy?"
Around the room, each one nodded in turn. "With one Mirage Colloid-equipped ship in each fleet, we have some possible options there as well." She added.
The group spent another two or three hours working out their strategy, which ended up being along the lines of that proposed by Colonel Todaka. The meeting adjourned, each returned to his or her own ship and relayed the orders to their crew.

Slowly, the twenty-six-strong ZAFT fleet, the Minerva and Argenteuil at its head, began to head out first. Following it was the Eurasian Federation fleet led by the Alakhshya, with the smallest force, the Orb fleet led by the Izumo and Eternal, bringing up the rear.

The vessels slowly left the Debris Belt and moved out into open space, fearful of enemy attack, but determined to move forward.
They all knew that this was perhaps the single most important battle they would ever face; rivaling the Second Battle of Jachin Due, four years earlier.

And just like then, each and every one of them knew that failure was not an option.