Land Battleship Lesseps, 26 February, C.E. 71
Andrew Waltfeld stared at the report in disgust. His request for additional BuCUEs had been denied. Instead, he was forced to make do with obsolete TAF-2 ZuOOTs. Well, ZuOOTs and a pair loaned from the Le Creuset team. Not that the Tiger was happy with that; Yzak Joule and Dearka Elsman had zero terrestrial combat experience, and he had never liked Rau Le Creuset in any case.
“What is with those guys in Gibraltar, anyway?” he demanded of his aide. “Why are they sending us ZuOOTs? Are they all out of BuCUEs?”
DaCosta shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. Maybe they think they are doing us a favor, sending us those two.” He nodded at the transport outside, where the Duel and the Buster were being unloaded.
Waltfeld snorted. “The pilots’ battle experience is limited to space.”
“They are from an elite unit…”
“I don’t like the fact that they’re part of the Le Creuset team. I could never stand that guy.” The commander gazed thoughtfully at the Duel. “There’s one silver lining, though…”
DaCosta frowned. “Sir?”
“I promised Strassmeier that I’d pass on a message to his cousin,” Waltfeld explained. “He said he wants a chance to talk before everything goes nuts. And if anyone can get that kid to see reason, it’s Yzak Joule.” He stood. “Well, let’s go greet our new teammates.”
Yzak stepped off the transport with Dearka, assessing the welcoming committee through narrowed eyes. Andrew Waltfeld was easy to spot; as ZAFT’s most famous ground commander, his face was in the news frequently. Flanking him were a red-haired man in standard green and a woman in a blue jumpsuit.
“Welcome to the desert,” Waltfeld said. “I’m Andrew Waltfeld. This is Aisha, and my XO, Martin DaCosta.”
Yzak came to attention and saluted; it was always a good idea to make a good impression on a new commander, even if the assignment was temporary. “Yzak Joule, of the Le Creuset team.”
Dearka followed suit. “Dearka Elsman, also of the Le Creuset team.”
Waltfeld returned the salutes. Then his eyes narrowed slightly, as he inspected Yzak’s face. “You know, when someone doesn’t have a scar removed, it’s usually taken as a sign of determination,” he said. A thin smile crossed his face. “Or is it…humiliation?”
The Duel’s pilot struggled to control his temper. What is it to him? he thought irritably. Still, better to not shoot his mouth off. There was no telling how the Tiger would react.
Waltfeld stepped back, apparently satisfied. “We’ll be moving in two days. Oh, and Joule.” He pulled a disc out of his pocket. “Your cousin asked me to pass on a message.”
Yzak felt a jolt. “What kind of message?” he asked carefully.
“He wants to meet with you face to face, before everything goes crazy again.” Waltfeld handed him the disc. “This contains the location of the meeting site he suggested. It’s on some pretty rocky terrain, so you don’t have to worry about your machine sinking.”
Yzak stared at the disc without really seeing it. “Can you get a signal through to the black ship?”
“Then tell Alex…that I’ll see him.” He looked off into the desert. “Maybe…I can make him see reason.”
Waltfeld nodded. “That’s what I’m hoping for. It’d be nice to only have to fight one ship.”
Neither of them was optimistic, though. Alex had, if anything, become even more convinced that Zala had to be stopped. It was unlikely that even Yzak Joule could convince him otherwise. No, they would most likely have to fight both ships once again, and no one expected that to be easy.
Valkyrie, Alex’s quarters
“All right,” Alex said. He clicked off the intercom, then sat heavily in his chair. “So it begins.”
Cagalli looked at him. “What is it?”
“Yzak has agreed to a meeting,” Alex said. “Tomorrow, on an outcropping southeast of here.”
She laid a hand on his shoulder. “That’s good. Maybe you can get through to him.”
The Coordinator snorted. “He’s probably thinking the same about me, and we’re both almost certainly hoping in vain. No, it’ll be good to see him, but it won’t change anything.” His words were almost toneless, but those who really knew him could discern the pain in his voice.
Maybe it will not change anything, but at least he will be able to see his cousin again, Cagalli thought. She herself had few living relatives; the only ones she saw very much were her father and an uncle.
“Should I go with you?” she asked softly.
Alex shook his head. “Thanks for the offer, but no. It will just be Yzak and me; I trust Waltfeld enough to know that ZAFT will not interfere. Unlike Rau Le Creuset, he’s a man of his word.” He sipped from a mug at his elbow; the same coffee brew the Tiger had served, from the smell of it. “I’ll be fine.”
Cagalli reluctantly nodded. Much as she hated to admit it, Alex was right about Waltfeld. Ruthless though he might be, the Tiger never broke his word. If he said ZAFT would not interfere, then ZAFT would not interfere. Any soldiers foolish enough to disobey would be in for a rude awakening.
“Well, I’d better get down to the hangar,” Alex said, standing. “The last thing I need is for the Stormbird to fail on me.” He left; the hatch sliding shut behind him.
The princess slowly got to her feet. Moving with a vague idea of visiting the Archangel, she stopped when the picture over Alex’s bunk caught her eye. She had noticed the resemblance between Alex and Yzak before, but something else had just struck her. Yzak’s white hair and hotheaded nature, Alex’s black hair and cold personality.
They are like day and night. Yzak looks bright, and his anger is as hot as the sun. Alex is dark, and as cold as space itself. Cagalli was not sure why she was suddenly thinking in verse, but it seemed to fit. Day and night, different yet inseparable.
She hoped it would be more than just words.
Archangel, Murrue’s office
“I’m against it,” Natarle said flatly. “Going alone to meet with a member of the Le Creuset team…”
Mu rolled his eyes. “Are you thinking Alex is going to betray us?”
The lieutenant shook her head. “No, he’s finally convinced me that he can be trusted. My concern is that his intent could put him in danger.”
Mu snorted. “In danger from who? Even if he is a hothead, there’s no way this Joule kid is going to attack his own cousin.”
“I think Natarle is worried that the Tiger might set a trap,” Murrue said. “Is that it?”
Natarle nodded. “Exactly. As has been pointed out numerous times, Andrew Waltfeld is to ground operations what Rau Le Creuset is to space. How do we know he won’t simply kill Strassmeier?”
“Because he’s a man of his word, Lieutenant,” Mu said. “I’ve studied his record, or what we know of it, anyway. If he says Alex will be safe, he means it.”
“Commander La Flaga is right,” Murrue said. “In any case, we do not have any authority in this matter. If Alex wants to go meet with his cousin, that is his choice, and his alone.”
Much as Natarle hated to admit it, the captain was right. Strassmeier was an ally, but not a member of the military. He had a right to conduct operations as he saw fit; if that meant going off on his own, so be it.
“Very well,” she said at last. “I withdraw my objections. Not that they would have done any good,” she added wryly. Natarle shrugged, then stood. “If you’ll excuse me, Captain.”
“She’s sure turned around,” Mu commented when the XO had left. “Thought Alex couldn’t be trusted, and now she’s concerned for his welfare.”
Murrue chuckled. “I don’t think Natarle actually likes him, but that seems to be just a clash of personalities. They don’t have to like each other to be able to work together.”
From what Mu had seen, it was more a clash of wills than of personalities; had circumstances been different, Alex Strassmeier and Natarle Badgiruel could have been the best of friends. It was their differing views on the war that made them battle; Natarle was a loyal Earth Forces officer, and Alex, his hatred for Zala aside, passionately supported the cause of ZAFT and the PLANTs. Neither of them blamed the other for their attitudes, of course.
“You know,” Murrue said, “I actually hope Le Creuset’s G-pilots survive. At the very least, I’d like to meet Kira’s friend without us trying to kill each other.”
“I hear that,” the Hawk agreed. “Those four are a lot better than most ZAFT types; Alex tells me they’re all redcoats. Not just anyone gets to wear the red uniform.”
That was an understatement. While there were undoubtedly more of them than the Earth Forces knew about, they had been able to positively ID exactly six: Yzak Joule, Dearka Elsman, Nicol Amalfi, Athrun Zala, Shiho Hahnenfuss, and Troy Cadwallader. Four of them were with the Le Creuset team, and the other two had recently vanished from the battlefront with no explanation.
While it was true that the enemy Gundam pilots were all sons of Supreme Council members, not even the most extreme Coordinator-hater accused ZAFT of nepotism. If they were not the best, they would not be wearing the red uniform, pure and simple.
“Well,” Murrue said at last, “we can’t really do anything for the next two days. Maybe Alex will have good news.”
Not that she was getting her hopes up.
Libyan desert, 27 February, C.E. 71
Two mobile suits stood facing each other on a rocky outcropping. One belonged to ZAFT, Yzak Joule’s GAT-X102 Duel, its assault shroud making it look like an armored knight. The other was an independent, Alex Strassmeier’s winged MBF-X108 Stormbird.
Neither pilot was in a flight suit; as this was to be a meeting, not a battle, such garb was pointless in atmosphere. Alex wore his usual black outfit, his heirloom Luger holstered at his right thigh. Yzak stood a mere five meters away, resplendent in his red uniform.
Day and night, Mom always called us, Alex thought. I never realized just how apt the comparison was.
Yzak was having similar thoughts, seeing in his mind’s eye an image of Alex in the same uniform he himself wore. He should be in ZAFT red, not that black suit. Sure, that looks good on him, but this is not how things were supposed to be!
Alex spoke first. “Hi, Yzak,” he said, managing a smile. “How’s Cassandra?”
At least he was starting with something innocuous. “She’s fine. Still cannot figure out why she cannot talk, though.” Yzak sighed. “She misses you, Alex.”
His cousin snorted at that. “Cassandra’s what, five? I’m amazed she even remembers I exist.” Alex shook his head. “No matter.” He eyed Yzak’s face. “I see you have a bit of a souvenir.”
Yzak flushed. “Your buddy Yamato gave me this,” he snarled. “He’ll pay.”
Alex stifled a sigh. “You brought it on yourself, Yzak.”
“I warned you not to underestimate Kira,” Alex said icily. “You chose to ignore that warning and paid for it. Be thankful; if Kira hadn’t promised me, he wouldn’t kill you, you would be dead.”
Yzak laughed harshly. “Come on. I’ll take him down next time.”
“Unlikely. Kira is out of your league.” The statement was flat.
The Duel’s pilot glared at his cousin. “That’s crazy. How can he possibly be better than me?”
“Because I have reason to believe that Kira Yamato is in fact the Ultimate Coordinator!” Alex took a step forward. “I can think of no other way for him to learn mobile suit combat so fast despite never having been within shouting distance of such a machine in his life. The only G-pilot who would have any real chance of defeating him is Athrun Zala, and even that is doubtful.”
Yzak shook his head violently. “If Yamato really is the Ultimate Coordinator, why does he stay with the Earth Forces? You know as well as I do what they’re like.”
“As Kira has told Athrun at least once, possibly more, the men and women on the Archangel are very different from the rest of the Earth Forces.” Alex waved his prosthetic hand. “There’s also the fact that he still has friends on that ship. And one other, a girl he loves very deeply, and would give his life to protect.”
Commander Waltfeld had mentioned her, a redhead named Flay Allster. “Fine, forget Yamato,” Yzak said. “What about you? What are you doing fighting us?”
A derisive snort. “You actually had to ask that?” Alex laughed harshly. “Leaving aside my feelings about Patrick Zala, the fact that Rau Le Creuset attacked Heliopolis without provocation is enough for me to fight him. I swore that day that he would pay for the colony’s collapse.”
“If those Orb bastards hadn’t been building mobile suits for the Earth Forces, it wouldn’t have happened,” Yzak shot back. “We positively I.D.’d an Orb noble there.”
Another snort. “Contrary to Le Creuset’s paranoid fantasies, the presence of Rondo Ghina Sahaku constitutes irrefutable evidence of the exact opposite.” Alex nodded significantly at the Duel. “The odds of Uzumi Nara Athha cooperating with the Sahakus on anything, much less something of this magnitude, rank somewhere below the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. What Le Creuset did, in my opinion, amounted to outright piracy.”
“Piracy?” Yzak felt himself gape, his face turning bright red. “Are you out of your mind?”
“I should ask you that, after what you did in the Eighth Fleet battle.”
Yzak closed his mouth, glaring even harder. “You mean where you stopped me from blowing away a troop transport?” he demanded.
“I stopped you from committing murder,” Alex said, his voice abruptly harsh. “Those weren’t soldiers, Yzak. Kira found a damaged life pod in the ruins of Heliopolis. Knowing that life support would have given out before rescue could have arrived, he brought it onboard. Except for Flay Allster, who enlisted at the last moment, all of them were on the shuttle you almost destroyed. Two of them are Coordinators.”
Yzak dropped his gaze, stunned. He had no choice but to believe; he knew Alex would never lie to him. “I didn’t know.” His head came up. “What about the princess?”
Alex did not even twitch. “Princess?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Alex.” Yzak’s voice, though still heated, was nowhere near as strident. “Dearka intercepted some transmissions, and I.D.’d her with a voiceprint analysis. What is the Chief Representative’s daughter doing on your ship?”
His hawk-faced cousin was silent for several moments. “Cagalli came to Heliopolis after hearing rumors that Orb was building mobile suits for the Earth Forces,” Alex said at last. “Kira and I tried to get her to a shelter when you attacked, but the only one within reach was full. At that point, I brought her aboard the Valkyrie to keep her safe; the last thing I needed was to antagonize Orb’s Chief Representative.”
“Anyway, we didn’t hit it off at first.” Alex chuckled. “As a matter of fact, she thought I was a ZAFT spy. It was only after I read her the riot act that she was disabused of that notion.”
Despite the situation, Yzak could not help laughing at the image; he knew better than most how difficult it was to get Alex to lose his temper, and how nasty it could get when it did happen.
Then he noticed something else in Alex’s voice. “You like her, don’t you.”?
Alex shrugged. “Certainly. Our initial differences aside, we’ve actually become close friends.”
Yzak grinned slyly. “That’s not what I meant.”
Alex started to ask what Yzak did mean, then stopped and narrowed his eyes. “Really. For your information, cousin mine, there is nothing romantic about our relationship. Nothing whatsoever. We trust each other, which I will grant is a rare thing for me, but you know as well as I do that close friendships can be forged very quickly under the right circumstances.”
“Whatever.” Yzak shrugged. “We’ll keep it quiet; no reason to make things worse.”
Alex nodded. “That’s something, at least.” He sighed and turned away. “In any case, I can’t stay here any longer. In less than twenty-four hours there is going to be a major battle, and I have no doubt both of us will be in the thick of it.”
Yzak felt tears sting his eyes, his momentary levity gone. “Alex, please, it’s not too late,” he said in a pleading tone he would never have let his teammates hear. “You can still come back. Forget those Earth Forces bastards and come with us. Come home.”
Alex did not turn. “I’m sorry, Yzak. So long as Patrick Zala holds any position of power, the PLANTs are closed to me.” He reached for his zip line.
Yzak stood there for a long time after the Stormbird left, struggling with a mixture of rage and grief. No matter what he did, his beloved cousin was still committed to his insane course. Nothing seemed to reach him, not even the knowledge of what that Earth Forces officer had done with Lacus Clyne.
Alex, why? Why are you so sure Committee Chairman Zala wants to kill all the Naturals? Why do you insist on helping that Earth Forces ship? Why do you keep fighting me?
He was starting to fear that he would never know.
Archangel, Bridge, 28 February, C.E. 71
It was time. This day would define the desert war, whether ZAFT or the Earth Forces would triumph. Either the two ships and their Desert Dawn allies would escape, or Andrew Waltfeld would destroy them. Victory and life, or defeat and death, those were the choices they faced.
At Sahib Ashman’s suggestion, they had opted to make their stand in the Talbadiya factory district. It was by then uninhabited, so there was no danger of collateral damage. Archangel and Valkyrie were well-armed, and their mobile suit force would have the assistance of a minefield, which was expected to deal with any careless BuCUEs.
“So that’s the plan,” Murrue said. “Alex?”
“The Skygraspers will give us an additional advantage,” Alex said. “In addition to mounting the Sword Striker pack, Cagalli will be carrying spare power charges for the Scorpion and the Stormbird. Our other machines will be drawing power directly from the Valkyrie’s main reactor.”
Sahib nodded. “And your friend Kilgore won’t need a recharge for quite a while, since you’ll have him hidden in the sand until the time is right.”
“Exactly.” Alex nodded back. “I will keep the Duel busy; Yzak has no intention of killing me, but the Stormbird’s mobility advantage is such that even his disabling shots won’t even come close. The Buster will be a danger mainly to the ships; it doesn’t have enough mobility to threaten our suits and fighters.”
“I agree,” Natarle said. “It will be difficult, but we should be able to pull through.”
Kira slumped in his chair, uninterested in his food. He knew he had to eat, but he had no appetite. Images kept whirling through his mind, friends, enemies, enemies who used to be friends, enemies who under other circumstances would have been friends. Alex Strassmeier, Flay Allster, Rau Le Creuset, Athrun Zala, Nicol Amalfi, Andrew Waltfeld, the list was seemingly endless.
“Hey.” Mu La Flaga set another plate in front of him. “Eat up. Those go great with yogurt sauce.” He blinked when Kira flinched. “You, okay?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.” Kira shook himself. “It’s just that, the Tiger said the same thing, it goes great with yogurt sauce.”
Mu raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? The man knows his food.” He laid a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Listen, forget about him. When you are fighting for your life against someone you know personally, it’s that much harder.”
“I’m not saying you should forget about Athrun,” Mu said. “You can’t expect someone to throw away a lifetime of friendship at the drop of a hat. Besides, it’s not like you’ll be fighting him here.”
He is right about that. “What about Alex’s cousin?”
Mu laughed. “Joule’s good, but he’s no match for Alex, at least not on Earth. The Duel was unsuited for this sort of combat even in its original form, let alone with that assault shroud attached. While he is taking potshots, Alex is going to fly rings around him in the Stormbird.”
Kira sighed. “I get what you’re saying. It’s just that…Waltfeld seemed like such a nice guy, even when he was pointing a gun at us.”
“He’s the sort of ZAFT soldier I could like,” Mu conceded. “Still-“
He was cut off by an alarm. “All hands, Level One Battlestations!” Murrue’s voice said. “The Waltfeld team has spotted the minefield. This will be difficult, but we can do it.”
“That’s our cue,” Mu said. “Let’s go.”
Skies over the Desert
It was a bizarre setting for a battle. On one side were the three land battleships of the Waltfeld team, along with many BuCUEs and ZuOOTs, the Duel and the Buster, and dozens of Agile helicopters. Facing them were the Archangel, the Valkyrie, six mobile suits (only two of them airborne), two Skygraspers, and the Desert Dawn’s jeeps and artillery trucks.
Between the two forces was what was left of the Talbadiya factory district. Theoretically, the ZAFT forces had the advantage with their land battleships and BuCUEs. Unfortunately for them, no one had told Murrue and Lia Ramius, who were quite prepared to use their ships’ superior firepower.
This is it. Alex keyed his radio. “Here we go, guys. Kyle, Chris, Hiro, provide fire support from the deck. Brian, you stay hidden as planned.” He looked at the Skygrasper pacing him. “You ready, Cagalli?”
The princess gave him a thumbs-up. “You got it.”
“Here they come,” Kira said suddenly.
“Roger that.” Much as he hated to leave Kira out there alone, Alex had a different task here: keep the Duel and the Buster busy. Hitting his thrusters, he dove at the Lesseps, his beam rifle blinking all the way. The ZAFT warship was well-armored enough that his shots did little damage, but it was enough to get their attention.
The Strike, meanwhile, concentrated on the BuCUEs. Kira knew from experience that the Aile pack gave him a major advantage -BuCUEs could jump, but not actually fly- and he was making the most of it. A ZAFT mobile suit was foolish enough to jump right into his sights; he squeezed the trigger once, and the BuCUE exploded.
Several helicopters tried to swarm him, but he ignored them. They were no real threat, and soon they were less than that, as Mu’s Skygrasper flashed past, the Agni hyper-impulse cannon spitting crimson energy blasts. Three Agiles simply vanished, and their comrades fell to an almost contemptuous burst from the Strike’s CIWS.
This is too easy, Kira thought. Even with the Duel and the Buster, they cannot do much to us. What is going on?
His thoughts chopped off when Mu sped past again, drilling a hole through a ZuOOT. “Watch yourself, kid. There’s still a lot more coming!”
Kira shook himself. “Roger that.” Even as he swung the Strike around, looking for his next target, Andrew Waltfeld’s words echoed in his mind.
“So how do you determine the winners and losers? When every single one of your enemies has been destroyed?”
Back over the Lesseps, Alex was giving his cousin fits, just as Mu had predicted. Every time Yzak took aim, the Stormbird was somewhere else by the time he pulled the trigger. Laser blasts, railgun slugs, missile salvos, all were dodged with little effort.
“It would seem that terrestrial warfare doesn’t suit you, Yzak,” Alex commented, immolating a turret with his rifle.
Yzak’s face contorted in a snarl. “Shut up!” He launched another futile missile attack. “I’ll drag you back to the PLANTs if I have to!”
“An exercise in futility.” A radar antenna melted under the Stormbird’s fire. “It is highly unlikely that you can defeat both of our ships.”
“Says who?” Shifting his aim for a moment, Yzak blasted a Desert Dawn jeep unfortunate enough to stray into his sights.
Alex sadly shook his head. “A waste of energy. Those jeeps don’t mean much.”
Thus far, it was best described as a stalemate. None of the ships on either side had moved far from their initial positions, and the mobile suit battle was at this point indecisive. That would soon change, however; both Andrew Waltfeld and Alex Strassmeier were planning their own surprises.
“Set Lokies to anti-air,” Lia Ramius snapped. “Don’t let those Agiles get through!”
Lia knew her ship had gotten lucky so far. If they got within range of any of the ZAFT ships, that would quickly change…but the same held true for the enemy. The Valkyrie outgunned any land battleship ever built; and such vessel that strayed within range of its main guns would have a quick and exciting life.
She looked down into CIC. “How long until we enter firing range of the ZAFT ships?”
A radar operator studied his displays for a moment, then shook his head helplessly. “Impossible to tell, ma’am. All this sand is messing up the scanners.”
That was what she expected. “Aunt Murrue, what about you?”
“We’re moving, slowly but surely,” the elder Ramius replied, grimacing as another hit shook her own ship. “Give us-” She broke off as the Archangel ground to a halt.
“What was that?” Natarle demanded from the other ship’s CIC.
Arnold Neumann snarled in frustration. “We’ve struck sandbank! We’re trapped!”
Murrue cursed. “It’s up to you, Lia. We can’t do anything unless we can get free.”
“I understand.” Lia found herself briefly wishing they dared use the Parsifals in atmosphere, then dismissed the thought. “Target Gottfrieds at that fuel station,” she ordered. “It’ll hurt ZAFT a lot more than us.” A beat. Then, “Fire!”
Four argent beams of green light lanced out, striking the fuel station dead on. It exploded in a giant fireball, spewing debris everywhere. A single BuCUE, unfortunate enough to be caught within the blast radius, was sent flying. It landed hard, then exploded.
“Two more BuCUEs incoming!” the tracking officer snapped. “They’re launching missiles!”
“Evade!” Lia barked.
Valkyrie’s maneuver allowed them to escape almost completely unscathed. One missile did connect, but it did minor damage, and the BuCUEs did not have another chance. GAT-X105 Strike appeared from above, its beam rifle catching both ZAFT machines off guard.
“You guys all right?” Kira called.
Lia smiled. “We’re fine, Kira. Thanks.”
“No problem.” The Strike pulled away in search of other targets.
Skies over the desert
It was still more or less a stalemate outside. Waltfeld’s BuCUEs had not been able to close with the ships, aside from the two Kira had destroyed, but the allies had not been able to push them back, either.
Kira had spotted the Archangel’s plight and was trying to assist, but a double flash of green cut him off. “What the?”
An evil-looking yellow machine had joined the party. “Hey there, hotshot,” Andrew Waltfeld said. “You gotta fight me first.”
Kira swallowed hard. There was no mistaking that voice, or the TMF/A-803 LaGOWE he piloted. “That’s no BuCUE.” He was in for the fight of his life, against his most dangerous opponent to date; Athrun Zala might have been better, but he had never intended to kill Kira.
The new battle did not go unnoticed. Alex and Yzak stopped exchanging laser bolts for a moment, fascinated by the confrontation.
“You might as well give up now, Alex,” Yzak said. “You and Yamato are both almost out of power, and there’s no way he’s taking out Waltfeld’s LaGOWE like that.”
Alex started to reply, paused to vaporize a ZuOOT, then shook his head. “You’re underestimating him again, Yzak. Not only is Kira the Ultimate Coordinator, but he also has the SEED.”
Yzak fired his rifle, cursing as the Stormbird’s shield absorbed the blast. “What?”
“Superior Evolutionary Element Destined Factor,” Alex explained. “Someone who has the SEED can go far beyond his normal abilities. I too have that power.” He gave his cousin an almost mocking look. “It is that power that gave you your little facial blemish.”
The other Coordinator felt his face heat at the mention of his scar. “So that SEED makes him better than me?”
“No, he’s already better than you are. The SEED just compounds that.” Alex blasted another ZuOOT. “As for the energy problem… Cagalli, now!”
“On my way!” The princess’s Skygrasper swooped in, dropping a peculiar cartridge into the Stormbird’s free hand. Apparently not satisfied with that, Cagalli deployed the Panzer Eisen grappler, latched onto the ZAFT warship, and sliced through two turrets with the Schwerht Gewehr. “Take that!”
Yzak frowned, not sure what had just happened, then cursed in shock as the Stormbird body checked his Duel, knocking him off the ship entirely.
“See how you handle the sand!” Alex called, his machine already shrinking in the distance.
Yzak swore repeatedly, trying in vain to get the Duel to move. What is going on here? I cannot move! He tried jumping, only to sink again when he landed. Swearing again, he pounded his controls in frustration, then glared at the retreating Stormbird. “It’s not over, Alex,” he whispered.
By then, the only major fight left was Kira’s duel with Waltfeld. The second half of Alex’s surprise had appeared, in the form of Brian Kilgore’s MBF-X304 Scorpion. He had made short work of the remaining BuCUEs, then tricked Dearka into freeing the Archangel with a shotgun blast.
Kira fired repeatedly, cursing as the infernally fast LaGOWE dodged his attacks. He is even faster than a BuCUE. “This is crazy!”
“I think someone’s going to run out of power soon,” Waltfeld said, grinning. He knew Cagalli would not be able to recharge the Strike; the sort of melee they were in precluded it.
“You’ve already lost the battle!” Kira shouted. As if to emphasize his point, the escort ship Henry Carter exploded under combined fire from the Archangel and the Valkyrie.
“Like I said, there are no clear rules for ending a war like this.” Waltfeld fired again, this time hitting the Strike’s beam rifle.
Kira swore, taking cover behind his shield as the weapon exploded. With his rifle gone, he drew a saber, sidestepping and slashing one of the LaGOWE’s wings off. Waltfeld skidded to a halt, then came around for another pass.
“Don’t do it!” Kira shouted desperately.
“I am not done with you yet, kid!”
Kira jumped and slashed again, this time destroying the ZAFT machine’s right foreleg. “It’s over, Waltfeld! Surrender!”
In the skies near their two motherships, Alex, Cagalli, and Mu watched the fight. Waltfeld had ordered a retreat, so even the Duel and the Buster had stopped firing (not that they were able to fight in any case). With them gone, the three pilots found themselves mesmerized by the unfolding drama between Waltfeld’s LaGOWE and Kira’s Strike Gundam.
“Shouldn’t we help Kira?” Cagalli asked nervously.
Mu shook his head. “If we tried to interfere in that melee, we’d risk hitting Kira instead of Waltfeld.”
“Mu’s right, Cagalli,” Alex said. “There’s nothing we can do.” For some odd reason, he found himself wishing he could touch her, give the kind of reassurance mere words could not. He shook it off. “Kira can take care of himself.”
She reluctantly nodded. “You’re right.”
Kira jumped away from the LaGOWE yet again, slicing off its beam cannon. “Why keep this up? You’ve lost, and you know it!”
“Maybe I’ve lost, but so have you,” Waltfeld responded.
Kira started to speak, then looked down at his panel as an alarm blared. “No-!”
“There’s no other way,” Waltfeld said softly. “I’m not giving up…until one of us is destroyed!” He lunged at the Strike one last time, the double beam saber leading…
And behind Kira’s eyes, an amethyst seed burst.
Discarding the now-useless Aile pack, Kira drew an Armor Schneider and charged to meet the LaGOWE. He stabbed down into the enemy machine’s neck, and then both mobile suits were blown backwards. The Strike landed on its posterior in a sand dune. The LaGOWE was not so fortunate.
Aisha unstrapped from her forward gunner’s position. “Andy!” The Tiger pulled her close…
The LaGOWE exploded, spewing shrapnel everywhere, peppering the Strike. Kira, breathing heavily, stared at the conflagration in horror. “I…I…” He felt tears streaming down his face. “It didn’t have to end like this!”
Valkyrie, Alex’s quarters
Alex sighed, closing the file. “So much for the Desert Tiger. Gone, just like that.” He clenched his fists, cursing in German under his breath. “I am so tired of this.” He leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes.
Cagalli laid a hand on his shoulder. “Are you all, right?”
“Of course not. Why would I be?” Alex shot back, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be taking it out on you.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s easy to see what’s eating you.” He looked at her questioningly, and she shrugged. “Since we were fighting the Duel out there, it’s obvious that Yzak didn’t listen to you.”
“All too true.” Alex grimaced. “Oh, I’m fairly sure I convinced him about Kira’s motives, but he’s still determined to bring Kira down. He also didn’t believe me when I insisted the Orb government wasn’t involved in the G-weapon project.”
Cagalli snorted derisively. “As if my father would work with the Sahakus on anything.”
“That’s more or less what I said.” Alex laughed softly, but there was no humor in it. “He also knows who you are.”
The princess’s eyes widened. “What? How?”
“The pilot of the Buster, Dearka Elsman, intercepted some transmissions between us, and ran a voiceprint analysis.” Alex wanted to kick himself. “Luckily, they have no intention of telling their superiors; he said they don’t want to make things worse.” He snorted. “He’s also starting to sound like Mu.”
Cagalli had no trouble figuring that one out. “He thinks we’re together?”
“Or that we’re headed that way, at least.” Alex rolled his eyes. “I have no idea what put that notion in his head, but it doesn’t really matter.”
“Did he say anything else?”
Alex sighed, closing his eyes again. “At the end, just as I was leaving, Yzak begged me to come home to the PLANTs. I’ve never heard him talk like that before.” He stood and moved to the window, gazing sightlessly out at the desert. “I replied that so long as Patrick Zala holds any position of power, the PLANTs are closed to me.”
Cagalli joined him at the window, not saying anything.
“Is this all there is?” The Coordinator’s voice had dropped to a whisper. “Is there no turning back? I have killed so many ZAFT soldiers since we left Heliopolis, I have fought against my own cousin so many times. I’ve sided with an Earth Forces warship.” He leaned his forehead against the glass. “Will I… will I ever be able to go home?”
She touched his arm. “Don’t worry about it. Keep up what you are doing, and everything will work out. I saw the look on Waltfeld’s face when you told him about Zala’s goals. If you can make the Desert Tiger think, then you still have a chance. It’ll take a while, but don’t give up.”
He looked down at her. “You’ve sure changed. Back at Heliopolis you thought I was a spy, and now you’re trying to cheer me up.”
“Hey, I didn’t know you then.” Cagalli smiled. “In the meantime, you’ll be welcome in Orb. I’ll make sure of that.”
Alex smiled back. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
He would indeed be welcome in the Orb Union, more than even Cagalli realized. Alex had a gift for anticipating others’ next moves, enemy, and ally both, but he had no idea what would happen when they neared Orb. The events immediately preceding their arrival would change his life forever…
Archangel, Kira’s quarters
Kira tossed aside his uniform jacket and collapsed on his bunk, even more exhausted than Alex was. Going one on one with the Desert Tiger piloting a BuCUE was bad enough, taking on Waltfeld’s LaGOWE had been his biggest challenge yet.
“There’s no other way. I’m not giving up…until one of us is destroyed!”
He moaned softly, hearing that voice in his mind. It was unlikely that he would ever forget Waltfeld’s last words, spoken just before the Strike’s knife stabbed into the LaGOWE. And then the explosion, marking the final resting place of two brave people. There probably was not enough left to bury.
Why? Why does this keep happening? Why do I have to keep killing? Kira rolled over, burying his face in the pillow.
The hatch slid open, and Flay Allster stepped in. She was worried; Kira had not even tried to talk to her after the battle, and that was, to put it mildly, unusual. “Kira?” When the Coordinator did not respond, she moved closer to the bunk. “Kira, what’s wrong?”
He finally stirred. “I… I am so tired of this. All I wanted was to live in peace, but I cannot. I have to fight, or people I care about are going to die.” Kira half rose, slamming a fist into his pillow. “But to protect them, I must fight other friends, or people who might have been friends. Athrun, Nicol, Waltfeld…” He choked, unable to go on.
Flay sat on the bunk and gently embraced him. “It’ll be all right, Kira,” she whispered. “We’re going to make it, no matter what. We’ll put an end to this, and you won’t have to fight them anymore.”
Kira looked up, eyes glittering with unshed tears. “Flay…”
She caressed his cheek. “Let it flow, Kira. I’ll be here, no matter what.”
Kira gave in at last, sobbing quietly, while Flay cradled him, not saying a word. No words were necessary, not now. It was painful, but at the same time a relief. When the time came to fight once more, Kira would be ready.