AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the first half of a two-parter, which covers the final battle of the story - broadly speaking, equivalent to Phases 49 to 50, though for obvious reasons a very different situation despite the general similarities in setting.
PHASE 34: The Chosen Destiny
On approach to Daedalus Base
The Minerva, flanked by the Voltaire and Rousseau and followed by the cloaked Alakhshya, slowly closed in on Daedalus Base. The three ZAFT ships hugged the surface, while the cloaked Alliance carrier held a position astern and above them – a formation very similar to that adopted in the First Battle of Daedalus.
The ten ships of the First Home Defense Fleet, Third Battle Group and the Alliance's Ectorius Carrier Strike Group had peeled off previously, and would approach the base in two groups from separate vectors, aiming to surround the enemy fleet and attack them from as many different points as possible. Each of the two formations was accompanied by an Orb Izumo-class carrier – Colonel Kisaka's Kusanagi, and Lieutenant Colonel Ramius's Tsukiyomi.
In a ship-to-ship engagement, the total force could have obliterated the ZAFT lunar orbital fleet. What would make this much more difficult would be the presence of the Gondwana, with its 480 mobile suits.
Their best hope was for Athrun to quickly deal with the relay station and move in on the base itself to reinforce their force – which was indeed the plan.
"This is going to be fucking tough." Yzak glowered as he sat on the ship's bridge. At the moment, the ship was at Condition Yellow, and the bridge had already been lowered to combat position, protected by a heavy armored bulkhead. The pilots were standing by in the ready room, already wearing normal suits. The crew wore normal suits as well.
In order to maximize the ship's carrying capacity, the two Impulse Gundams would be launched from the central catapult, which left room for two additional units in the hangar itself - for a total of fourteen.
They were closing in, and soon would begin their attack. This time, however, both the base and the relay station would be attacked simultaneously, because Yzak knew that Durendal would expect a two-pronged attack, and he was equally certain that if the relay station was attacked first, he would not bother to send much in the way of reinforcements any way.
He glanced at his watch.
"Only a few more minutes…"
In the ship's ready room, Shinn, Lunamaria and Stella waited anxiously, flight suits on and helmets in hand. Ten other pilots - the pilots of the Minerva's other mobile suits, a mix of DOM Troopers, GOUF Igniteds and ZAKU Warriors - also waited, all of them wearing black-and-green flight suits, like Stella's. Shinn and Lunamaria were the only Reds left onboard.
The two reds sat a little apart, with Stella in her customary place at Shinn's side, across from Lunamaria.
Especially nerve-wracking for the two girls was the fact that the Impulse Gundams would be launching with new equipment for the first time.
Even as the fleets left the PLANTs, Shinn had approached chief mechanic Matt Aves and requested to upgrade the Impulse's defensive capabilities by replacing its traditional shield with spares of the Destiny's more advanced MMI-RGX47 Assault Shield, with its powerful beam shield and additional close-range weapons, giving Unit 1 - Lunamaria's Blast Impulse - a much-needed increase in mêlée capability. The same was done to Unit 2, which would as usual be equipped with the fast and agile Storm Silhouette.
The Chest Flyers had been off-loaded and modified accordingly, and Shinn himself had personally made the requisite modifications to the Impulse's OS from the Core Splendors, before briefing the girls on their new equipment, as the modified Chest Flyers were replaced into the central catapult's loading bays.
"Don't worry," Shinn now said. "You'll be fine. I'll be right there with both of you."
- "Thank you." Stella said softly, and she rose up and kissed him. Lunamaria made a face, then hugged him.
- "We'll watch your back too, out there." She said. Shinn smiled, despite the grave circumstances.
He knew they would.
Zala Team flagship Argenteuil
Athrun Zala stood on the bridge of his vessel, the Nazca-class high-speed destroyer Argenteuil, and glanced out the wide bridge windows as he saw the other two ships that made up his team in formation on his starboard flank - the Jouvenel, also a Nazca-class, and the older Laurasia-class frigate Gaensler.
On the port side, he saw the familiar salmon-pink silhouette of the Eternal, flanked by one dull-white Izumo-class battleship. The flagship of the Orb fleet, the jet-black Izumo, was also in the formation, abreast of and slightly behind Colonel Todaka's Susanoo. However, Athrun could not see it.
Behind the six ships, he knew, was the ZAFT First Home Defense Fleet, Second Battle Group - a fleet ten ships strong, composed of a mix of Nazca- and Laurasia-class vessels.
Abreast of them was a Eurasian Federation Carrier Strike Group led by the Agamemnon-class carrier Priam, with roughly a half-dozen Nelson-class battleships and Drake-class escort ships.
All told there were close to forty vessels in the fleet, which was making good time towards its objective: A single, abandoned O-Neil I3 Closed-type Colony, which had been converted into a relay station for Daedalus's Orbital Tactical Cannon, Requiem.
The same cannon now controlled by ex-Supreme Council Chairman Gilbert Durendal.
Their objective was relatively straightforward: destroy the colony. This meant they would need to engage a force of probably twenty to thirty ZAFT vessels.
At the same time, Athrun knew, his old friend Yzak was en route with a similar force towards the lunar base at Daedalus, with the mission of destroying the cannon itself.
"Distance 5000 to target." He heard Aaron Webb, who monitored the ship's sensors, report.
- "What's the status of our mobile suit teams?" Athrun asked. The response came from Rick Burnett, the comms officer.
- "All Zala Team mobile suits standing by for immediate take-off. Hangar reports the Saviour's ready for you if you want to go out, sir. All other ships are reporting ready."
- "Close to within 2000 and prepare for anti-ship combat. Mobile suits take off once we reach 2500 to target." Athrun ordered.
The instant the approaching vessels were detected, the ZAFT fleet defending the Relay station began to respond.
"What's the strength of the incoming fleet?" Commander Morgan, captain of the fleet's Nazca-class flagship Hirschfelder, asked. The reply from the CIC was instantaneous.
- "There are thirteen ZAFT vessels, sir; it looks like a mix of Nazca and Laurasia-class. I am also seeing one Orb Izumo-class and an Alliance Carrier Group – single Agamemnon-class carrier, two Nelson-class battleships, and several Drake-class escorts. And…the Eternal, sir! Enemy vessels are launching mobile suits!"
The Alliance and Orb made sense. But Morgan was confused as to the presence of so many ZAFT ships, and wondered what the hell was going on there. The presence of the Eternal, a vessel that had disappeared following the Second Battle of Jachin Due almost five years earlier, was even more puzzling.
He didn't wonder for long, dismissing the question and moving into action. Whatever qualms he may have had about the continued operation and use of a weapon of mass destruction that had been used against the PLANTs, Commander Morgan was a soldier first, and his orders were to defend the relay station from any enemy attack.
- "Prepare for anti-ship and anti-mobile suit combat!" He barked in response. "All ships deploy mobile suit teams."
Immediately, the Hirschfelder's mobile suits began launching one by one as all of the other ZAFT ships in the station defense fleet did the same. At the same time, the ships themselves turned towards the incoming enemy forces and opened fire, sending a barrage of beam cannon fire heading towards the fleet.
On the bridge of the Argenteuil, Athrun had anticipated the attack, and at the moment the enemy ships fired his ships moved to evade, with the end result that the initial salvo missed except for minimal damage to the Gaensler. The more maneuverable Izumo-class Susanoo did likewise, and the Alliance vessels had already begun moving out of the line of fire, except for a single Drake-class escort which took the shot on one of its four arms, badly damaging it but fortunately missing the big missile launcher.
The reply was swift and deadly, as the Alliance's Nelson- and Drake-class ships unleashed their own missile launchers, followed by a volley from their cannons, joined by the twin beam cannon of the Priam. A second volley of cannon fire from the Susanoo and the ZAFT ships followed.
Commander Morgan ordered his ships to evade immediately, and what point-defense weapons they had were brought to bear on the incoming missiles, supplemented by suppressive fire from their mobile suits. Most of the missiles were destroyed in-flight, and the fleet was able to evade those that remained.
However, though the first volley of cannon fire was avoided by the fleet and sailed harmlessly past, the second volley had been aimed slightly differently. Only two ships took glancing blows from the second volley, while the bulk of it struck the colony behind them.
Morgan swore angrily.
Then the first wave of attacking mobile suits reached their defensive lines, and the battle began in earnest as ZAKUs, GOUF Igniteds, and GuAIZ-Rs met and engaged against machines of the same type, supplemented by Alliance Windam and Daggers.
Initially, the battle seemed to be more or less evenly matched, and the line held. But Morgan knew that this would not last long - especially as he noticed that the enemy Izumo-class had held its own mobile suits back; there were no Orb units in combat, only Alliance and ZAFT machines. He wasn't sure whether the Eternal had sent out any mobile suits either, but he thought not.
They were outnumbered. But they had their orders, and they would follow them.
On the bridge of the Nazca-class Vermeer, Heine Westenfluss, wearing his distinctive orange flight suit, had been standing on the bridge behind the captain, and as soon as the order went out he nodded.
"I will lead our mobile suit team out Captain. I'm leaving things here to you." Heine said, and he headed down to the hangar where he found his machine waiting.
He glanced up at the orange-and-brown YMF-3000 DOM Trooper, which had been fitted with the now-rare Tempest Wizard Pack. Originally created as a high-mobility and atmospheric flight equipment for the ZGMF-1000 ZAKU, production of the Tempest Wizard had ceased with only a few dozen units produced, when the Integrated Design Bureau had rolled out the GOUF Ignited.
The pack was nearly useless to the DOM in Earth's atmosphere due to the machine's high mass. In space however, it would give the already fast and maneuverable machine a significant boost to its mobility, and the added firepower of the twin "Hydra" beam gatling guns would be useful as well - especially given how badly their mobile suit forces were outnumbered.
He glanced down the row at the Westenfluss Team's other machines - three ZAKU Warriors, two GOUF Igniteds, all of them in standard green but with their left shoulder painted bright orange. Two of the three ZAKU Warriors wore Blaze Wizard Packs, the last a Gunner Wizard.
Heine boarded his machine, and soon enough was on the catapult and ready. Before long, he was cleared for takeoff.
"Heine Westenfluss. DOM, launching!" He said, and the orange machine shot forward from the Vermeer's single catapult. The GOUFs, then the ZAKUs followed. Heine ordered one of the GOUF Igniteds and two of the ZAKUs - the Gunner among them - to hold back in defensive position above the ship, as he and the remaining three mobile suits shot into the fray.
As he moved in, Heine drew the DOM Trooper's main weapon, the dual "Gigaplex" launcher that combined a 60mm beam rifle and heavy bazooka. Instantly, he drew a bead on an incoming Windam and opened fire with the weapon, taking it in the cockpit and destroying it. The other two machines in the enemy formation scattered, only to be flanked by the two escorting GOUF Igniteds and destroyed.
"That's teamwork, boys and girls." Heine commented as he accelerated. This time he found himself under fire from a mixed formation of ZAKUs and GOUFs, but he used the Tempest DOM's tremendous maneuverability to easily evade the attack, before opening up with the beam gatling guns, then a salvo from his Gigaplex's beam rifle.
To his credit, the leader of the enemy formation was skilled, and dodged his attack easily before destroying his Gigaplex with the GOUF Ignited's Slayer Whip. Two of the ZAKUs were similarly fortunate, but a barrage from his escorting Blaze ZAKU took out one of them, and the two GOUF Igniteds flanked the other, taking it out with their own beam rifles.
"Not bad!" Heine commented as he closed in and struck with the DOM's beam saber, only for the attack to be parried by the GOUF's "Carnwennan" beam sword. "Not bad at all, pal."
He pulled back, and fired the "Screaming Nimbus" scattering beam cannon. The GOUF went evasive, blocking the attack easily, and then counterattacked with the "Draupnir" machinegun. Heine blocked with the DOM Trooper's beam shield, but the enemy had been expecting the move and countered with the "Slayer Whip", damaging the emitter and disabling the beam shield.
Heine's reply was to fire the "Hydra" beam gatlings, which shredded the GOUF Ignited apart even as it closed in to once again attack at close-range. "But not good enough."
Athrun wore his red-and-black flight suit even as he sat in his seat on the bridge, just in case he needed to launch. The Knight Saviour was being held on standby for immediate takeoff, and the Argenteuil's five other mobile suits, along with the twelve mobile suits carried by its two escorts, had already launched.
Suddenly, Aaron at the CIC reported with alarm. "Sir, offensive line is collapsing in Sector Three - looks like an enemy mobile suit team is overwhelming our forces."
- "How many?" Athrun asked.
- "Just four machines." came the reply. "Bringing up a visual now, sir."
The screen, for just an instant, showed two of their machines as another mobile suit shot by like a blur before eliminating both. But in that instant, Athrun had seen enough to identify his opponent.
'Heine...' he thought grimly as he had recognized the orange colors. He glanced at the clock on the main monitor. 'Damn it. It's too early...'
Their strategy called for precise timing on the deployment of the second wave in order to coordinate the assault with the Izumo, and he knew that the latter vessel was not yet in position.
At that moment, he was reminded of an old saying. "I guess it's true that no strategy can survive contact with the enemy." He mused rhetorically. Then he turned to Rick Burnett at the comms station.
"Rick, Contact the Susanoo."
He found Cagalli standing on its bridge next to Colonel Todaka. Not surprisingly, Cagalli like himself was wearing a flight suit, indicating her intent to launch.
"Colonel Todaka. Cagalli." Athrun said. "Can we launch the second wave now? Our offensive line is collapsing fast in sector 3, and we need to reinforce them."
- "If we launch now, the Izumo will not have sufficient cover - we can't begin Phase 2 until it's in position." Colonel Todaka said.
- "I know. But if we wait, the enemy will break through and the Izumo's position will be directly threatened regardless of our deployment." Athrun countered.
- "Very well." Cagalli said. "We're launching."
Covered by the Alliance escort ships, the Tsukiyomi opened its single catapult, and first to enter the catapult for launch was the gleaming golden Akatsuki.
In its cockpit, Cagalli frowned. Their initial strategy had called for the Izumo and the Tsukiyomi to launch their machines simultaneously from opposite sides of the battlefield, hammering the attacking force from two sides.
But now that strategy was in shambles. Plus her own Kinshu Team was onboard the Izumo, so she would have to launch without them. She shook her head.
"Cagalli Yula Athha - Akatsuki, taking off!" She announced, and she grunted as the acceleration slammed her back in her seat as the Akatsuki was thrown forward by the ship's single linear catapult. The instant she was out, the next mobile suit was lined up for launch.
At the same time, Athrun had left command of the ships to his XO and headed down to the hangar, where he boarded the Knight Saviour and took off immediately.
He spotted the Akatsuki, escorted by two Murasames, and immediately moved to converge, linking up with the formation and taking up a position on the Akatsuki's starboard flank.
The four mobile suits - the Akatsuki, Saviour, and two Murasames - accelerated towards the Westenfluss Team's five-unit formation, and opened fire as soon as they were in range.
Cagalli targeted the lead unit, firing both the beam rifle and the two "Oowashi" beam cannons.
Heine's Tempest DOM Trooper dodged the attack, then counterattacked with the "Screaming Nimbus" scattering beam cannon and "Hydra" beam gatling guns.
The attack was halted by the Akatsuki's "Yata-no-Kagami" beam reflective armor, which dissipated the shots. At the same time however, Heine fired a shot from his "Gigaplex" bazooka, and the escorting Blaze ZAKU Warrior also unleashed a volley of missiles from its two back-mounted launchers.
"Damn!" Cagalli swore as she was forced to go on the defensive, dodging the bazooka round and using the Akatsuki's head-mounted vulcan guns to stave off the missiles.
One of the escorting Murasames likewise added the fire of its own vulcan guns to the barrage.
With two of the mobile suits tied up, the two GOUF Igniteds moved in, "Carnwennan" sabers drawn, only to be forced to withdraw as a barrage of cannonfire shot straight across their flight path.
In the Knight Saviour, Athrun had fired his machine's weapons, forcing the two GOUFs to scatter.
The two GOUFs turned to him and drew their beam rifles. Athrun's Knight Saviour, its own two beam rifles in hand, countered before they could even have the chance to fire, and within seconds, had shot off both the GOUF Igniteds' arms, taking their rifles.
Then Heine opened fire, and Athrun blocked the attack.
At that moment the ZAKU Warrior fired another missile barrage, and Athrun retaliated instantly, an attack that blasted the incoming missiles apart before they'd even gotten halfway to their target. Then he accelerated, stowing the rifles and drawing his two beam sabers.
The ZAKU parried the first strike, then the second, but was too slow to evade the third, which severed its arm, taking with it the beam tomahawk. The ZAKU attempted to retreat, but one of the Murasames was waiting, and opened fire from above, blasting the Blaze Wizard's missile launchers, which detonated, causing crippling damage to the ZAKU.
"Athrun!" Cagalli warned even as she opened fire, forcing Heine to break off even as he had attempted to attack the Saviour from behind.
"What exactly do you think you're doing here, Athrun?" Heine asked viciously as he swung the DOM's beam saber, which Athrun parried.
- "I could ask you the same thing." Athrun replied. Then he countered, with a thrust from the beam saber aimed at the DOM's camera.
Heine slipped backwards out of the Saviour's striking range, then cut loose with the "Hydra" beam gatling guns.
Athrun blocked the attack with the "Validus Fulgor" beam shield, then fired the "Hyper Fortis", waited a second, then adjusted his trajectory and fired the "Amfortas Kai" cannons.
- "Not bad." Heine muttered as he went defensive, narrowly avoiding the first attack, then blocking the second.
Athrun shook his head. The DOM Trooper was already an extremely agile machine, but with the Tempest Wizard and in space, it was almost on the level of something like the Freedom.
- "I know why I'm here, Athrun!" Heine said. "Because I have orders, and because we have to bring this war to an end, once and for all."
- "The war was over!" Athrun retorted. "The enemy was beaten, the battle over, Heine. Until Durendal attacked Arzachel!"
Heine paused for a second at that one, and had to activate his beam shield to block an attack from one of those two Murasames. He counterattacked instantly, firing the beam rifle, then the bazooka.
The Murasame dodged, but at that moment another formation of mobile suits moved in and fired.
Heine, meanwhile, was forced to evade another attack from the Saviour, which rapidly closed back into close-quarters combat.
Meanwhile, the Eternal launched its own mobile suits, consisting of Hilda Harken's three DOM Troopers and a single white Hyperion-G, escorted by two Astrays.
In the Hyperion-G's cockpit, Canard Pars grinned. The Hyperion-G was a pre-production mobile suit created by the Eurasian Federation based on the old prototype Hyperion Gundams they had created in C.E. 71, prior to the rollout of the Strike Dagger.
Canard had been the pilot of the original Hyperion Unit 1, fielded out of Artemis. He had left the military to become a mercenary later on, and ironically was hired to serve as test pilot once Vice-President Marshall commissioned the creation of a trial production type version. His sole payment had been to receive one of the machines for his own personal use – at his request.
It was less heavily armed than his old Hyperion by half but still a deadly machine, and he had further customized his own unit using spare parts he still had leftover from its predecessor. Whereas the Hyperion-G normally equipped a single "Armure Lumière" generator mounted to the tip of the "Forfanterie" cannon, his own machine had three, with an additional one mounted to each forearm.
The fleet's ships now fired a second barrage at the enemy formation, which was answered in kind by the defending ZAFT ships. They had more success this time, as the barrage destroyed the Vermeer, and even the Hirschfelder took a bad hit. Meanwhile two of the Drake-class escort ships fell to enemy fire.
Canard glanced at the chronograph mounted on his console.
"All right, let's show these bastards what this baby can do!" He said, a feral grin on his face, as the six mobile suits soared into battle.
An enemy mobile suit formation spotted the six approaching mobile suits and opened fire on the Hyperion-G.
Canard immediately blocked the attack using the "Armure Lumière" generator on his left wrist, then counterattacked by firing the "Zavasta Stigmate" beam submachine gun, riddling the nearest ZAKU Warrior with holes and killing its pilot.
The three DOM Troopers likewise opened fire with their own weapons, decimating the formation. Then as a second group closed in, she opened up a communication line to Herbert and Mars.
"Let's go, boys." She said. The reply from the other two was laconic and instantaneous.
- "Right behind ya, boss." They both said.
In perfect synchronization, the three DOM Troopers slid into formation, while the two Astrays spread out and took up covering positions. Hilda ignited her beam shield, and the three DOMs launched their signature Jet Stream Attack, plowing into and decimating the enemy mobile suit team.
Though several of them scattered, the move took down four units, and even as the remaining machines moved to attack, the three DOMS spun on their axis even as the Astrays fired, the five machines catching the other units in a deadly crossfire.
An enemy DOM Trooper suddenly fired, taking out one of the Astrays, then turned its weapons on Canard even as he deployed the Hyperion-G's big "Forfanterie" beam cannon. Canard ignited the "Armure Lumière" generator on the cannon's tip and the one on his wrist, blocking the attack, then countered. Much to his surprise, the DOM Trooper dodged his attack.
"Well, you're just something special, aren't you you little bastard?" Canard commented, then as he stowed the big cannon he drew one of the two "Romteknika" beam knives, which had the peculiar ability to adjust the length of their blades, and activated a full-length beam saber.
The remaining Astray closed in on the DOM only to be ignominiously cut in half, but the attack left the enemy open, and Canard opened fire with the back-mounted 56mm machinegun, a move that damaged the DOM's arm and rendered its big beam saber useless. Then he countered with his own saber, cutting the arm off and before the enemy could move to counter he slipped the beam submachine gun's barrel upwards and unleashed a point-blank salvo into its cockpit.
He withdrew, stowing the saber and ejecting the spent magazine from his weapon. He seized a fresh one from the hardpoint on the Hyperion-G's hip, which left two more mounted to its rear waist, and slid it home.
Then he moved in, and suddenly found himself engaged by a GOUF Ignited, which swung its long Slayer Whip at him.
"Not bad!" Canard commented, even as he goosed the Hyperion-G's thrusters and avoided the attack, then accelerated, closing in on the GOUF as he did so. The enemy machine fired its "Draupnir" machinegun, and Canard blocked the attack with his "Armure Lumière" shield, then fired the back-mounted machinegun at the same time as his beam submachinegun. The attack tore apart the GOUF's cockpit block.
An alarm rang in his cockpit, and he barely avoided another attack from a DOM Trooper, before immediately counterattacking with the machinegun. The DOM activated its beam shield, blocking the attack, then fired a salvo that, though Canard was able to avoid major damage by activating his own "Armure Lumière" shield, still shot his machinegun off its mounting point on his backpack.
"Fuck." Canard swore.
He charged, even as the DOM did the same. Suddenly, the triangular energy field the Hyperion-G had generated folded in on itself, and even as Canard parried the DOM's beam saber with the shield he activated on his machine's other arm, drove the folded beam blade deep into the DOM Trooper's torso.
"Ha! Let's see your beam shield do that, you son of a bitch!" Canard said spitefully.
Then he glanced at the chronograph on his console for the second time, and a feral grin twisted his handsome features as he watched the timer count down to zero.
"Time's up." He said, grinning again.
Suddenly, onboard the Hirschfelder, alarms rang as a massive barrage of cannon fire seemingly appeared out of nowhere, heading in towards the fleet from its starboard flank.
Completely unprepared, the formation was decimated as one of his ships went down totally destroyed and two more suffered severe damage.
"Where the devil did that attack come from?" Morgan roared.
Within seconds, he had his answer as the Izumo deactivated its Mirage Colloid Stealth System, and then deployed its deadly, dual-barreled "Lohengrin" positron cannons. The massive weapons fired even as the central catapult opened and an additional fifteen MVF-M11C Murasame mobile suits were launched.
The fleet had scant seconds to evade, and another ship was destroyed. The others escaped the line of fire however, but again the shot slipped past them and slammed into the colony, slamming through the armor and damaging the reflection system within.
As the new formation of mobile suits closed in Morgan found his forces caught between hammer and anvil, as it were. His ships and mobile suits were caught between the larger fleet in front of them and this new force coming in from their side.
"Counterattack immediately!" He ordered, though he knew it was futile. Three of his ships turned towards the Izumo and fired, while the others launched another volley at the larger group of ships. But the vessels were spread far apart, and most of the shots either missed or struck only glancing blows, except for one volley that critically damaged one of the enemy Nelson-class ships.
The battle continued to rage as ZAFT, Alliance, and Orb mobile suits continued to engage against the defending fleet's outnumbered mobile suit force.
"Where the hell is Commander Westenfluss?" Morgan demanded angrily.
At that moment, Heine was engaged in combat against Athrun's Knight Saviour.
"Hmmm..." he commented as he glanced at his monitor. "Starting to get a little low on power. I have to end this soon."
He went mobile, firing the "Hydra" gatling guns at the Saviour, which evaded the attack and countered with its own plasma cannons.
Suddenly, Athrun fired the "Grapple Stinger" rocket anchor, which slipped just past the Tempest DOM Trooper's head and sliced the left Hydra cannon in two.
Before the weapon could be retracted, Heine severed the cable that held it with his beam saber, then drew the DOM's "Gigaplex" launcher and fired the beam rifle, supported by the remaining gatling gun.
- "As long as the Alliance has any capability to attack the PLANTs, this war is not over, Athrun." Heine commented.
- "That's garbage and you know it!" Athrun retorted as he narrowly avoided Heine's attack, then countered with the Saviour's beam rifles. Heine blocked, and his counterattack struck one of the two beam rifles, which Athrun tossed away before it exploded.
- "Where does something like this stop, Heine?" Athrun asked. "Will Durendal destroy Orb next because Cagalli doesn't agree with what he's doing? Or the PLANTs?"
Athrun fired the Saviour's beam rifle, and this time his shot slipped past the DOM's defenses and struck the second "Hydra" gatling gun, which detonated, damaging the Tempest Wizard.
He drew the "Flash Edge II" boomerang and threw it at the DOM Trooper, and Heine immediately fired, destroying the projectile with the "Gigaplex".
But Athrun fired the "Hyper Fortis" cannons, which hit the Gigaplex and damaged it, rendering the weapon useless.
Sabers drawn, the Knight Saviour closed in on its opponent, as the DOM Trooper ejected the now largely-useless Tempest Wizard and, with its own single beam saber, closed in on the Saviour.
Athrun batted aside the DOM's thrust with one saber, then countered with the other, and though Heine slipped backwards, the attack cut a shallow groove across the DOM Trooper's armor that hit the scattering beam cannon, damaging it and rendering it inoperable.
"So this battle is going to be decided at close-range, huh?" Heine mused. Then he struck once again.
But Athrun was ready. He slipped the DOM's attack, then moved in and counterattacked. He severed the DOM Trooper's arm, then both legs.
Suddenly, the DOM's torso shot forwards towards the Knight Saviour, slammed into it, and exploded, rocking the machine backwards but doing no damage.
When the smoke cleared, Athrun saw a quick flash of orange, which he recognized as the DOM Trooper's escape pod, heading back towards the Hirschfelder.
He did not pursue.
The Priam and its few remaining escorts opened fire into the fleet one more time, but this time Commander Morgan was ready. He ordered his ships to scatter, and all of them slid out of the line of fire, the attacks harmlessly passing them by. The barrage missed the relay station as well. Though damaged, the giant cylinder remained operational.
However, the move opened a gap in their defensive perimeter. Morgan immediately ordered his ships to change their formation to compensate, but he was too slow.
Taking advantage of the breach in the fleet's formation the Izumo fired again, its four positron cannons raking down the entire length of the relay station, literally ripping away a sizable chunk of the converted colony's side down its entire length, including the propulsion blocks at the opposite end of the cylinder. The attack totally disabled the Geschmeidig Panzer system, and the reflection field collapsed.
"Izumo reports the relay station has been neutralized." Rick, the Argenteuil's comms officer reported. Everyone on board breathed a momentary sigh of relief, knowing that there was no longer any risk to the PLANTs or Earth. They had achieved their objective.
Suddenly, alarms rang out as Aaron suddenly spoke from the console where he was monitoring the ship's sensors.
"We're detecting a massive energy signature incoming, sir!" He said with a panicked edge in his voice. "Computer designates the point of origin as the lunar surface."
- "Damn!" Kurt swore. "They've fired Requiem! Order all of our vessels to fall back immediately! Jo, get us the hell out of the line of fire!"
Jo Crocker, at the helm, acted instantly. Meanwhile the same order was relayed to all the other ships of the Zala Team and the Third Battle Group, while Cagalli onboard the Izumo relayed the same warning to the Susanoo and the Eternal as well as the Eurasian Federation's ships. The massive formation began moving as fast as they could to escape the incoming attack.
At the same time, Commander Morgan on the Hirschfelder heard the news and likewise ordered his forces to get away from the colony as fast as suits on both sides also began to move as fast as they could out of the line of fire of the rapidly-closing shot from Daedalus's massive cannon.
But they were too slow and too late, as the shot reached the damaged colony and tore through it, continuing on its deadly course directly through the two formations of ships even as the vessels moved to evade it. The crippled colony, already fatally damaged by the Izumo's attack, was blasted apart by the shot it was intended to redirect, and its remaining propulsion blocks exploded almost directly behind the flank of the defending fleet.
Some of the ships on both sides escaped the attack unscathed, as did many mobile suits. A number of vessels were caught by the beam just as they escaped its line of fire, suffering differing degrees of damage. A sizable number of ships and mobile suits failed to escape the attack in time, and they were completely destroyed.
As soon as the attack was over, Athrun opened up a direct communications line to the Argenteuil and asked for a damage report. The news was not encouraging.
"Two of the Third Battle Group's ships were totally destroyed by the attack, sir. Several others suffered damage as well. We also lost roughly a quarter of our remaining mobile suits." Kurt, the Argenteuil's XO, reported. "The Gaensler has suffered damage to its starboard engine block, but this ship and the Jouvenel were able to avoid the attack and are unharmed."
- "What about the Orb and Alliance forces?" Athrun asked.
- "Two Drake-class destroyed by the attack, and one Nelson-class severely damaged. The Priam suffered minor damage, but they're saying it's still operational." Athrun could tell Kurt was holding back something, and he waited. After a pause of a few seconds, the XO continued. "The Eternal has been destroyed."
Athrun paused for a moment as the impact of this statement hit him. For several instants, he seemed to be unable to speak, and Kurt wondered whether they had lost the connection.
- "Any survivors?" Athrun asked, with some difficulty.
- "We're not sure, but it's not very likely. The Gaensler is closing in on the ship's position to attempt to determine if there were."
"Contact the Gaensler." Athrun said, still struggling to keep his voice level. "Tell them to focus on recovering as many of the wounded as they can – from all the ships. Tell them to send their remaining mobile suits to our ship and the Jouvenel. For now, the mobile suits are to take up defensive positions around the ships.
"Yes, sir." The XO replied, and Athrun cut the link, willing himself not to weep for the loss of so many good men and women. At least, not yet.
Onboard the Hirschfelder, Commander Morgan likewise asked for a damage report in the aftermath of the attack. The news was not good. Easily one third of their remaining ships had been destroyed, and several of the others had sustained significant damage. Half their mobile suit force was gone.
"Damn it." Morgan fumed. Durendal had fired with his own forces in the line of fire, and the fact that the opposing fleet had been almost as badly battered was little consolation.
- "What do we do, sir?" his XO asked tentatively.
- "What option do we have?" Morgan replied. "If we keep fighting in these conditions, it's a dead certainty we're finished. Besides, the relay station has been destroyed – we've failed in our objective."
Morgan hesitated for a moment, grappling with the implications of what he was about to do. "Send out a signal for all mobile suits to stand down and cease combat. This battle is over."
The order went out, and one by one the ZAFT defense fleet's ships signaled their surrender, as they began to recall their mobile suits.
In the Knight Saviour's cockpit, Athrun sighed wearily. The battle was won, but at what cost? How many had died today, he didn't want to think about.
The Knight Saviour headed straight for the Hirschfelder, and Athrun opened up a communications line to its bridge.
Soon afterwards, he was on the bridge, standing opposite Heine and Commander Morgan.
"Commander Morgan. Heine." Athrun said, saluting respectfully. The two officers returned the salute, albeit Morgan somewhat half-heartedly.
- "So then, Commander Zala." Morgan replied shortly. "May I ask why you're here, and why the hell you attacked us?"
- "Direct orders from the Supreme Council. I have here amended orders from Chairwoman Canaver for you and your ships." Athrun replied. "I am sorry it had to come to this." He added.
Morgan read the document, and the color drained from his craggy face.
- "What the hell is this?" He asked.
- "An in-depth investigation by the National Defense Committee concluded that Durendal illegally ordered an incursion into Orb territory that resulted in the assassination of Lacus Clyne. The one the PLANTs thought was Lacus was in fact an impostor hired by Durendal. Additionally, the same investigation uncovered ties between Durendal and the terrorists who orchestrated the Break the World Incident.
As a result, Gilbert Durendal has been deposed, and is no longer Chairman of the Supreme Council." Morgan and Heine looked askance at Athrun. "A broadcast announcing this was made by Chairwoman Canaver and National Defense Committee Chairwoman Joule."
- "I saw no such broadcast." Morgan replied.
- "Nor I." Heine supplanted. "Though I suppose if the Gondwana intercepted the broadcast, it could have prevented it from being transmitted to the rest of the fleet."
This confirmed Athrun's suspicions. Thankfully, arrangements had already been made to address the issue, and after requesting permission to use the Hirschfelder to send a communication to the Argenteuil, he sent a message to his ship.
Soon, a transmission from the Argenteuil to the PLANTs was relayed to the Hirschfelder, and thence to all remaining ships in the small fleet. The transmission was of poor quality due to the distance involved and there was a good deal of interference, but it was sufficient.
"Commander Morgan, Commander Zala." Ezalia Joule acknowledged.
- "Chairwoman Joule." Morgan replied.
- "You have a question about your orders, Commander?" Joule asked curtly, and he nodded. "You doubt their validity." Ezalia Joule added.
- "It is…difficult to believe that something like this might be the case." Morgan said carefully. "Although…"
- "Well, let me say this. Everything that Athrun has told you is correct. And these orders are direct from Acting Chairwoman Canaver and me. You and your forces are to be reorganized under the overall command of the Zala Team, effective immediately. Your orders are to reinforce the Joule Team's lunar orbit attack on Daedalus, and ensure the total destruction of the Orbital Tactical Cannon at that base."
- "Yes, ma'am." Morgan assented. The communication was cut.
Morgan turned to Athrun "Well, that's that." He said. "Now what do we do?"
"The Gaensler and Susanoo will remain here to recover and treat the wounded from the damaged ships on both sides". Athrun replied.
- "There are full medical facilities on the Westenfluss Team's Vesuvius as well." Heine supplied. "I can leave that vessel to provide additional assistance."
- "Thank you, Heine." Athrun said sincerely. "The other ships of both groups will form up and begin to head to the moon. Our orders are simple: Destroy the cannon."
- "Very well." Morgan agreed. "I will broadcast to our ships and relay to them their new orders."
- "I also have here a recording of the broadcast that was made by Chairwomen Canaver and Joule." Athrun said, handing the disk to Commander Morgan. "I suggest this be transmitted to them as well."
- "Right." Morgan said.
- "I'm returning to the Argenteuil. Let me know once your forces are ready to go." Athrun said.
Once Athrun was back on board his ship, he relayed orders to Arnie Bergstrom on the Gaensler to remain in place while Zack Freeburg's Jouvenel formed up on his port flank. Then the remaining vessels of his ten-ship fleet began to gather around the two ships that would lead the group, even as the Hirschfelder and the remaining vessels began to regroup into a similar wedge formation, except for the Nazca-class Vesuvius, which moved into a position beside the Gaensler. By mutual agreement, the two ships would be placed under Heine's overall command until the recovery operations were complete.
Athrun then contacted Cagalli, now onboard the Izumo. Cagalli then confirmed that Colonel Todaka's Tsukiyomi would remain in place until the wounded had been gathered from the damaged and destroyed ships, including the unfortunate Eternal.
Athrun looked out the bridge window for a moment, and he felt a pang as he gazed at the charred remains of the vessel that had been Lacus's flagship during the First War.
Then he turned away.
"Captain," Rick reported from the comms station, "The Hirschfelder and the Jouvenel report that all ships are ready to move out. That's twelve ships, with a total of 60 mobile suits; Our forces have sixteen ships left, not including the Gaensler, with 120 mobile suits."
"What's the status of the Alliance forces?" Athrun asked.
- "The Priam reports that they have two Nelson-class and two Drake-class ships ready for deployment in addition to their carrier; roughly 36 mobile suits still left." Rick replied.
Then without being asked, he continued. "The Izumo is ready as well, and carries 16 mobile suits, including a number of mobile suits from the Susanoo and the Eternal's four remaining machines."
- "So all told, we have 34 ships and about 230 mobile suits." Kurt commented. "But will it be enough?"
Athrun sighed, but steeled himself and gave the order.
- "It will have to be. All forces, prepare to move out." He said. "We are now headed to the moon to reinforce the Joule Team's attack on Daedalus."
And the sorely diminished fleet, reinforced by the vessels that remained of the fleet formerly defending the now-destroyed Relay Station, began to move forward, with the Argenteuil and the Izumo leading the flight – leaving three ships behind with orders to rejoin them once recovery of the wounded was completed. The latter activated its Mirage Colloid system, disappearing from view and from their sensors, but Athrun knew it was still there.
With this relay station now destroyed, there was no longer any way for Requiem to be redirected, not without first moving one of the four remaining converted colonies. And they could not do that as long as the battle was ongoing. Even if Durendal fired again, the damage would be minimal, and Athrun had taken care to position his fleet outside the cannon's direct line of fire.
This was the final battle, and it would end with either the destruction of the cannon and the defeat of Durendal…or in failure, with potentially devastating consequences.
He only hoped it was not yet too late…
Daedalus Lunar Base
ZAFT Lunar Orbital Fleet
"Excuse me, Chairman Durendal." The Gondwana's commanding officer entered the office tentatively, and when Durendal nodded, stepped forward.
"I have a report here that the nearest Relay Station was destroyed when we fired the cannon." He said. "At this time, it is unclear exactly what caused its destruction."
- "But presumably, Commander Morgan's fleet failed to stop the enemy from either destroying the relay, or else causing sufficient damage that the relay was destroyed by the shot we fired." Durendal said evenly, though there was a hard edge to his voice.
- "That seems to be the case, sir."
Durendal did not reply for several moments, but when he did, he spoke slowly and carefully.
- "And what of the battle here. What is the situation?" He asked.
- "At the moment, a stalemate; we are able to use our mobile suits to halt the enemy force's advance, but we cannot penetrate their lines to reach their ships."
- "And it is those ships that pose the biggest threat." Durendal commented. "Very well, Captain. Thank you."
The officer, understanding himself dismissed, left. Durendal sighed, his eyes closed. They were come to the final gambit; this was the last move in a global geopolitical chess game that had lasted for eleven months, with the fate of mankind in the balance. He had been checked, for now. But he still had his King in play...
"Rey." Durendal said when he summoned the young soldier to him. "Is the Legend ready to deploy?"
- "Yes, sir." Rey replied flatly, respectfully.
- "Then I would like for you to launch immediately. You understand your role in this, don't you?" Durendal asked, looking carefully at the younger man, whose expression remained inscrutable.
- "Of course, sir." Rey said, and saluted.
- "Then go." Durendal said.
Rey left, heading straight down to the massive supercarrier's spacious ready room, where he changed into his flight suit. That task accomplished, he headed to the cavernous hangar, where he pushed off the wall and floated towards the dark, dormant form of the Legend Gundam.
He boarded and activated the machine with barely a second's consideration of what he was about to do. Soon, the Legend was ready. And so was he.
"This is Rey Za Burrel. Legend Gundam, I'm taking off!"
And the dark Gundam launched through the Gondwana's enormous catapult and shot forward, into the fray.
TO BE CONTINUED...