Chapter 30: The Goddess of the Moon

Inexorable, bridge, 6 July, C.E. 71

“Captain, we have something.”

Captain Jose Luis Rodriguez Miguel Emmanuel Enrique Lopez Sandoval (who cursed his parents thrice daily for inflicting such an excruciatingly long name on him), sat upright in his command chair. “What is it?” he asked, his voice carrying a faint but definite Spanish accent.

“We’re picking up a faint heat signature, sir,” the tac officer said. “It’s on the estimated course for the Earth Forces fleet.”

Sandoval nodded. “Report to Commander Strassmeier and continue tracking.”

“Yes, sir.”

The captain leaned back, rubbing his black mustache as he thought. Jose Sandoval had been tapped to command the Inexorable even before construction began. His record as a ship commander, first a Laurasia-class frigate, followed by the first Nazca-class destroyer, was excellent. He had hoped to get an independent command, but to his disappointment he and his ship had been assigned to the Strassmeier team.

Sandoval’s disappointment had not lasted long. Though no pilot, he appreciated the importance of mobile suits, and he had been impressed by his new commander’s raw skill. Strassmeier’s mania for efficiency (and “mania” was precisely the right word, Sandoval reflected with a barely suppressed grin) had been obvious from the start, yet his team was almost completely free of spit-and-polish.

“Captain, Commander Strassmeier acknowledges the report,” the comm officer said. “He says Admiral Halberton will be setting up a teleconference in an hour or so.”

“Understood,” Sandoval said. “Anything else?”

The comm officer concentrated on his earpiece. “There are hints of unusual activity in the ruins of Heliopolis. The Thunderbird is sending three Astray Strikes to investigate, and the Archangel is dispatching the Blitz.”

Sandoval nodded slowly. “Very well.” He turned to the tac officer. “Launch the GuAIZ team as a screen.”

This is strange, he thought, frowning at the screen. What could the Earth Forces want with Heliopolis? There is nothing there anymore but debris. He knew that he was not going to like the answer.

Ruins of Heliopolis

Nicol shook his head at the sight before him. Never thought I would see this place again. He vividly recalled obtaining his Gundam in this very place, almost six months before. Though he enjoyed piloting the sinister machine, it was not his fondest memory.

His board beeped at him. “Three M1As,” he said in surprise. “What are long-range Astrays doing way out here?” He keyed his comm. “Asagi, Juri, Mayura, I’ve got three M1As. Any idea what they’d be doing here?”

“Not a clue,” Mayura said. “You can bet they’re Sahaku’s, though.”

“Maybe they’re looking for something left over from the Astray project,” Asagi suggested. “I heard Gai Murakumo was supposed to destroy the factories, but his employer betrayed him, so he abandoned the mission.”

“There’s more coming,” Juri put in. “Three Strike Daggers –the basic model- and a GAT-X133 Sword Calamity.”

Nicol muttered a curse. He vividly recalled the last time he fought a mobile suit with an anti-ship sword. Battling Kira’s Sword Strike had been bad enough; the Sword Calamity had two swords to the Strike’s one. On the plus side, it was highly unlikely that this guy could match Kira’s skill.

“I’ll take the Sword Calamity,” he said at last. “You girls get the Daggers out of the way first, then take the Astrays. Don’t attack before I do.”

“Roger that,” they said in unison.

Nicol activated his Mirage Colloid. No sense letting them spot me. Carefully, using a minimum of thruster power, he boosted forward, coming to rest on one of the larger chunks of debris. Raising his Trikeros, he took aim at the Sword Calamity, waited a heartbeat, and squeezed the trigger.

He missed.

Nicol swore under his breath as the Earth Forces machines scattered. “So much for that. Take them!” Shutting down his stealth system, he charged the Sword Calamity, firing as he came. Unfortunately, the X133 proved significantly more maneuverable than its long-range predecessor and dodged without much effort.

“Is that the best you can do, space monster?” an unfamiliar voice asked mockingly.

Nicol did not waste his time replying. If he makes you mad, then he is already halfway to winning. He juked to the left, firing a blast that splashed on his opponent’s shield. The Earth Forces pilot responded by hurling one of his beam boomerangs.

“I didn’t even feel that!” he yelled.

“Then maybe you’ll feel this!” Mayura shouted, bringing her own blade down and cutting off the Sword Calamity’s right arm.

“And this too!” Asagi’s beam saber speared through the back of the enemy’s head. “Do it, Juri!” The two M1Ss pulled away; Nicol, realizing something nasty was about to happen, did the same…

Just as Juri Wu Nien’s hyper-impulse cannon blasted directly through the Sword Calamity’s cockpit.

Nicol looked around, realizing that the Daggers and M1As were already scrap. “That was quick.”

“I took care of the Daggers,” Mayura said, swinging her Schwert Gewehr for emphasis. “Asagi handled the Astrays.”

“They were too easy,” Asagi said. “I don’t think they were ready for an M1S.”

Nicol nodded. Asagi was using an Aile pack, Juri a Launcher, and Mayura a Sword. “The Astray Strike is still a top-secret design, and since we got them all it’s unlikely that the Earth Forces know about it yet.” He turned. “Let’s get back to the Fleet.”

“Roger!” three voices said.

Valkyrie, bridge

Alex grimaced. “So, you have no idea what they were up to.”

Murrue shook her head. “Nicol and the Astrays were able to completely destroy them, but we have no idea as to their objective.”

“Maybe not their objective, but there’s only one logical destination for the fleet we were sent after,” Fredrik Ades put in.

Blank stares all around. L3 was so unimportant that nothing of significance had happened there before Rau Le Creuset’s attack on Heliopolis. After that brief spasm, the whole area had gone quiet again, aside from the occasional skirmish.

Natarle got it first. “Artemis.”

“Artemis!?” Lia said incredulously. “Why would they bother with Artemis?”

“I have to agree with Lia,” Alex said. “Artemis has no strategic value, which means its light-wave barrier is pointless, and the CO is a political admiral who was promoted to his level of incompetence.”

Natarle shrugged. “I agree that it’s ridiculous on the face of it, but there’s nowhere else for that fleet to go.”

“Precisely,” Ades said. “Besides, we’re not the only ones the Earth Forces have to worry about. They may well be planning to use Artemis as a staging area for operations against Neo ZAFT.”

“That makes sense,” Admiral Halberton agreed. “Ultimately, Patrick Zala’s thugs are more of a threat than we are.” He smiled humorlessly. “After all, we’re not planning wholesale genocide.”

Alex gave a slow nod. Patrick Zala had openly declared his intention to exterminate the Naturals, whereas Siegel Clyne and the Orb/ZAFT alliance merely desired to free their homelands. It was obvious which faction was the greater threat to Earth.

“In any case, we need to decide what to do about this,” Waltfeld said. “Any ideas?”

Alex pushed out of his chair, moving to the tabletop display on the Valkyrie’s bridge. He mentioned a map of the area, trying to refresh his memory. The Umbrella is only open when enemies are in range. If we can catch them at the right point.

He looked back at the main viewer. “I have an idea, but we’ll need to get the Archangel’s pilots in on it.”

Murrue nodded. “Just a moment.”

When Kira and the others linked up (Alex silently blessed the multiply redundant comm system), Alex began to lay out his plan. “What we need to do is catch the Alliance fleet at a point where the Umbrella can’t be activated.”

“That’ll be tricky,” Athrun said. “The timing has to be exact.”

Alex nodded. “Agreed. It would be best if we hit them when the lead units are entering the harbor. That way they probably will not be able to counterattack effectively, but at the same time the Umbrella can’t be activated.”

“There’s still Sahaku,” Nicol pointed out. “I can’t see him actually going inside.”

“Leave that bastard to me,” Cagalli growled. “He’ll pay for what he’s done to Orb.”

Alex cleared his throat. “Anyway. If we can hit them at precisely the right moment, they will be trapped. We can then mop them up at our leisure.”

Of course, all knew that it was unlikely to be quite that easy. Murphy’s Law, if nothing else, was sure to complicate things. Still, it had a good chance of success.

“Sneaky,” Dearka commented. “Kinda like a spider’s web.”

“He’s not wearing that uniform for nothing, Dearka,” Yzak said.

Alex suppressed a chuckle at his cousin’s obvious partisanship. That’s Yzak for you. He looked at Admiral Halberton. “Does this plan meet with your approval, sir?” he asked.

Halberton nodded. “It sounds like our best bet, Commander. And I second Mister Elsman’s description, by the way; it does sound like a spiderweb.”

“If you say so.” Alex shrugged.

“That will be all, then,” Halberton said. “We should be in attack position sometime tomorrow.” He cut the circuit.

Alex moved for the hatch. “I’ll be in my quarters, Lia. Call me if anything happens.”


Artemis, Admiral Garcia’s office

Finally, someone actually realized that Artemis can be of use. Gerard Garcia shook his head. Took them long enough.

Ever since the Le Creuset team had attacked back in January (an attack Garcia himself had barely survived), Artemis had been even more neglected. Aside from the Umbrella, they had only token defenses; the ships that had not been destroyed by the Buster and the Blitz had pulled out.

Garcia slammed a fist into his desk. If only that Coordinator –Yamato if he recalled correctly- had cooperated. With complete data on the Strike, Eurasia would have been in a better position to influence Alliance policy. That would have been good both for Eurasia and for Garcia personally.

The comm unit on his desk beeped. He pressed a switch. “This is the Admiral.”

“Sir, the commander of the fleet is asking to speak with you,” the base XO said. “Should I put him on?”

Garcia nodded. “Yes, please.”

To his surprise, the fleet commander did not wear the uniform of the Atlantic Federation. Rather, the dark-haired, crimson-eyed man wore a long black cloak over a suit of some kind. His face was arranged in what he evidently believed to be a friendly expression, but there was no disguising the haughtiness.

Garcia frowned. An Orb aristocrat. “This is Rear Admiral Gerard Garcia,” he said. “You’re the commander of our reinforcements?”

The Orb noble gave him a slightly condescending smile. “Correct, Admiral. My name is Rondo Ghina Sahaku.”

Garcia kept his face still, but inwardly he grimaced. Sahaku was a stereotypical aristocrat, convinced of the superiority of his own birth, and filled with contempt for “commoners”. On the plus side, he understood military realities, and he was certainly no coward.

“I expect we will arrive at noon tomorrow,” Sahaku continued. “Is that acceptable?”

Garcia forced himself to smile pleasantly. “Certainly, Lord Sahaku. The Umbrella will protect us in the meantime.”

“Excellent.” Sahaku gave him an approving nod. “You’re probably surprised that so many ships are being deployed to a place like Artemis.”

“I have been wondering,” Garcia admitted. “We’ve been considered a backwater since the war began, and we’re not exactly convenient to the PLANTs.”

Sahaku nodded again. “It’s quite simple, Admiral. While you are correct that Artemis has little use when it comes to attacking the PLANTs, it is an ideal staging area for operations against the so-called ‘Neo ZAFT’ organization.”

That made sense. Earth Forces Intelligence still had not been able to pinpoint Patrick Zala’s base; all that was known for certain was that was nowhere near the PLANTs.

“I understand,” Garcia said at last. “Neo ZAFT is clearly the greater threat; say what you will about Clyne, he’s not trying to blow up the whole planet.”

“Exactly,” Sahaku agreed. “Even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t, Clyne wouldn’t dare turn against the Orb exiles.” He snorted. “Particularly since Uzumi’s daughter is engaged to Ezalia Joule’s nephew.”

Garcia rolled his eyes. “I heard the announcement. What was Uzumi thinking, anyway? He has enough problems without having his daughter marry a Coordinator.”

Sahaku laughed. “It certainly upset the Seirans. Yuna has long fancied Lady Cagalli for himself, while his father merely hates the idea of a closer relationship with the PLANTs.” He shook his head. “In any case, our arrival may well prove to be a double-edged sword. Artemis will have improved defenses, but at the same time the mere fact that we’re reinforcing you will make you a target.”

“Let them come,” Garcia said. “Like I said, we still have the Umbrella.”

“Very well.” The image winked out.

Garcia turned to gaze out at Artemis’s harbor. He had, to be sure, overestimated the Umbrella once before, but now that they knew the Blitz’s capabilities, they could compensate. This time, Gerard Garcia intended to come out on top.

Archangel, Kira’s quarters

Artemis, Kira thought. I never thought I would see it again. More to the point, he had hoped he would never see it again. He had bad memories of Artemis Base, and of Rear Admiral Gerard Garcia in particular. He was the first Earth Alliance officer whom Kira had actually hated.

“But you are already a traitor to your fellow Coordinators, are you not? The fact that you’re a Coordinator siding with the Earth Forces makes you unbelievably valuable.”

Those words had depressed him, until Alex and Cagalli had reminded him that he did not owe anyone loyalty simply because their genes were similar to his. Kira’s loyalty belonged to the people he could trust, be they Natural or Coordinator.


He turned, smiling. “Hi, Flay.”

She sat beside him on his bunk. “Now what are you looking so depressed about?”

Kira wrapped an arm around her waist. “I never thought I’d see Artemis again,” he said quietly. “I didn’t exactly enjoy our last visit.”

Flay winced; Kira had gone through that because she had blurted out that he was a Coordinator. “I’m sorry, Kira. I shouldn’t have-“

Kira cut her off with a quick, firm kiss. “Flay, don’t worry about it. You were scared, and it probably would have happened anyway.”

She rested her head on his shoulder. “Thank you.”

“What really bothered me was when Garcia called me a traitor to my fellow Coordinators,” Kira said. “That really hurt, since I’d just been fighting Athrun, and had to fight Nicol on the way out.”

“But that’s past you,” Flay reminded him. “Athrun and Nicol are both right here on the Archangel, so you don’t have to fight them anymore.”

“Yeah.” Kira tightened his grip, just a little. “Yeah, you’re right.”

She looked up, smiling. “Just one thing, Kira.”

He raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

“When we hit Artemis, see if you can make that bastard Garcia squirm.”

Kira laughed, the image of Gerard Garcia standing transfixed by the Freedom’s beam rifle flashing through his mind. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good.” Flay sat up and kissed him long and hard.

It was an odd place for a fleet action. Artemis had long been considered a backwater by both sides; its Umbrella shield a complete waste. Gerard Garcia was generally thought of as an incompetent, and as such had been banished to the middle of nowhere.

“Many in ZAFT were already calling Commander Strassmeier the next Rau Le Creuset,” Vesalius captain Fredrik Ades said after the war. “Artemis proved them right.”

Artemis nearspace, 7 July, C.E. 71

The huge Earth Forces fleet seemed incongruous next to Artemis Base. Until very recently, Artemis had lacked any strategic value; now, it was abruptly bustling with activity. A seemingly endless swarm of mobile suits accompanied three Agamemnon-class battleships and scores of lesser vessels.

Then one of the mobile suits blew up.

Alex smiled like a shark, watching his DRAGOON system reduce a GAT-01D1 Duel Dagger to molten slag. Two more Duel Daggers tried to avenge their partner, but he blew them away with single shots.

“You bastards are just copies!” Yzak Joule shouted, firing all his ranged weaponry. “No Dagger can beat the original!”

Surprise was effectively total. The Earth Forces began scrambling their machines, but it took precious minutes. In the meantime, the First Fleet’s mobile suits had a field day; two Nelson-class ships exploded under fire from the Buster and the Aegis.

Alex turned his attention to a pair of Buster Daggers. Though they were better at close range than Dearka’s machine, thanks to their beam sabers, they still were not much of a threat to the Anubis. “Try this,” he said softly, snapping his sabers together.

They saw him coming, not that it did them any good. A handful of hasty gun-launcher shots bounced harmlessly off the Anubis’s PSA, and then Alex was in range. Two saber slashes later, they exploded. A stab impaled an irate Strike Dagger that charged a second later.

The battle seems to be going well thus far, he thought. Not that he was foolish enough to think it was already over.

He jerked back abruptly as an enemy M1 flashed past. A red mobile suit chased it, spitting laser fire from a rifle. Both of the M1’s arms evaporated, along with its head.

“Sorry, but I had no choice,” Athrun Zala said. A swift kick sent the M1 in the direction of the Kusanagi, where the pilot would be given a chance to mend his ways.

Alex shook his head. Normally, he did not believe in using disabling attacks unless he wanted to capture his opponent, but he made an exception for Orb forces. He had a certain amount of sympathy for soldiers who had been betrayed by their leaders.

Speaking of which… Alex spun, blocking a laser blast from one of Sahaku’s M1As. He deployed his DRAGOON system, destroying the Astray’s limbs and head.

“I’d suggest another line of work,” he told the hapless pilot.

Archangel, bridge

“Twenty degrees to starboard,” Murrue snapped. “Watch out for debris.”

“Aim Valiants at the nearest Drake,” Randall Tucker said crisply. “Fire!”

So far, the battle had been mostly between mobile suits. The Archangel had only just entered the maximum range of its own weapons.

Murrue looked over her shoulder at Flay. “Give me an open channel to the Izumo and its mobile suits.”

Flay touched a key on her board. “You’re on, Captain.”

“This is Captain Murrue Ramius of the mobile assault ship Archangel,” Murrue said. “Though you are almost certainly unaware of it, your leader, Rondo Ghina Sahaku, is guilty of treason. The Earth Alliance is little more than a front for the terror organization Blue Cosmos, and Sahaku knows it, yet he continues to work with them.”

“Captain, we’re receiving a transmission from the Izumo,” Flay said. “It’s on a secure channel.”

Murrue frowned. What does Sahaku want? “Put him on.”

Rondo was smiling mockingly. “Quite an eloquent speech, Captain,” he said, managing to sound both condescending and genuinely impressed. “It was a waste of time, however. Both the Izumo’s crew and our mobile suit pilots are very loyal to me.”

“So why bother calling us?” Murrue asked, eyes narrow.

The renegade Orb noble shrugged. “Call it curiosity. I must admit, I did not expect someone like you to want to give my people a chance. You’re so very loyal to Uzumi, after all.”

“It’s because of that loyalty that I’m giving your people a chance,” Murrue shot back. Without waiting for an answer, she slashed her hand. Flay, recognizing the gesture, cut the transmission.

Sai shook his head. “What’s with that guy, anyway?”

“I’ve heard he wants to rule the world,” Tonomura said, never looking away from his displays.

“No wonder Cagalli doesn’t like him,” Mir said. “Talk about ego.”

Artemis nearspace

Nicol pulled the trigger, sending emerald darts into a 105 Dagger. What is with these guys, anyway? He started to shift to another target, but something slammed into him before he could make a move. “What the!?”

A winged mobile suit, blue in color, hung in space a few meters away. Despite the assorted color scheme, and the lack of certain weapons, it bore an uncanny resemblance to a Gundam that had first seen action at Orb.

GAT-X333 Raider Full Spec, Nicol thought, recalling an Intelligence briefing. A mass-produced version of the Raider. Like the Daggers, it is inferior to the Gundam it is based on, but it is still fast. No energy weapons, though.

He raised the Trikeros, fired, and missed when the X333 dodged. Cursing under his breath, Nicol tried to correct his aim, but the Raider Full Spec was not making it easy. Nicol ignored the machine gun blasts his opponent sent at him, knowing that they were useless against PSA.

The Orb pilot, apparently realizing that his attacks were ineffective, opted for a ramming attack. Nicol tensed, knowing that he could be in trouble. There were three ways to damage Phase-shift armor: Energy weapons, superdense melee weapons/projectiles, and weapons that had PSA, like the Blitz’s Gleipnir. The X333’s pilot, lacking both energy weapons and a spherical breaker, had opted for the third method.

Of course, such an attack would only work if the target stood still, and Nicol had no intention of doing so. At the last instant, he flung the Blitz to one side, launching the Gleipnir at the same time. The piercer lock impacted on the X333’s left side, smashing a wing off. When it began to spin, Nicol triggered a blast from his rifle, drilling the Raider Full Spec’s cockpit. The Orb machine seemed to hang in space for a moment, then exploded.

Mu La Flaga was having the time of his life. For quite possibly the first time, his side actually had a clear advantage, and he was making the most of it. The Strike was equipped with a variation of the Gunbarrel pack, based on data from the Moebius Zero. It did not have the overwhelming firepower of the Anubis’s DRAGOON system, but it was more than enough to take out any Earth Forces mobile suit.

“How could the Hawk of Endymion betray us!?” a Dagger pilot yelled incredulously.

Mu’s rifle flashed, coring through the unfortunate Dagger. “I’m not fighting for scum like you anymore,” he growled.

“You traitor!” Five more Daggers appeared, all of them 105s.

Mu shook his head sadly. “Stubborn bastards.” He fired twice, taking out one Dagger; the second shot missed. The second Dagger returned fire, but the beams splashed on the Strike’s shield. Mu’s next shot connected.

Two down, three to go. Mu drew a saber, bisecting the next Dagger. His gunbarrels disposed of the fourth, and a precisely aimed rifle blast eliminated the last one.

“You’re not getting past me,” he said, watching yet more Daggers approach.

Izumo, bridge

“Lord Sahaku, our mobile suit forces are in disarray,” the Izumo’s captain said. “ZAFT and the Athha loyalists are inflicting heavy losses.”

“I see.” Rondo stroked his chin. “What of Artemis?”

The captain touched his board. “They can’t activate the Umbrella with our fleet in this position,” he said.

“It would seem, then, that I will have to teach these commoners a lesson myself.” Rondo stood, pressing an intercom switch. “Prepare the AMATU for launch.”

“Yes, sir.”

Artemis nearspace

The Freedom’s weapons erupted, unleashing a storm of beams and heavy projectiles. Scores of Daggers and M1s were disabled in a heartbeat; even now, Kira made a point of avoiding deadly force when possible.

Then a red mobile suit, startlingly similar to the Calamity, appeared ahead of him. “Ah, so you’re Kira Yamato,” the pilot said. “They call me Ed the Ripper.”

Kira winced. “Kind of a disturbing name.”

“Yeah, I don’t much like it either; it makes me sound so vicious,” Edward Harrelson said. His machine, a GAT-X133 Sword Calamity, raised both blades. “Nothing personal, Yamato, but I can’t let you go any farther.”

Kira sighed. “I guess I don’t have a choice.”

The ensuing engagement was short, and decidedly frustrating for Ed the Ripper. His initial attack, a blast from his Scylla energy cannon, missed completely. Realizing that he would have to get in close to do any considerable damage, Harrelson hit his thrusters, trying to close the distance.

Kira, however, had no intention of allowing that, and with the Freedom’s superior mobility he had the advantage. Keeping out of the Sword Calamity’s reach was child’s play; Harrelson threw both beam boomerangs, only to have them shot down by the Freedom’s rifle. Two additional shots destroyed both swords –and the hands that gripped them- and a double railgun shot reduced the Scylla to slag.

“Please, just back off,” Kira pleaded. “I don’t want to kill you.”

Harrelson grimaced. The lightning-like attack had rendered his Sword Calamity helpless. “I guess you’ve won,” he said. The admission was ungrudging; Edward Harrelson, a native of South America, was not exactly the most loyal Earth Forces pilot.

Kira watched him go, his feelings decidedly mixed. He had no regrets about his decision to fight the Earth Forces, but he could tell Ed the Ripper was not a typical Alliance officer, and he had hoped for a chance to convince him to leave the Alliance.

A green blast flashed past the Freedom’s head, snapping Kira back to reality. Seeing several Duel and 105 Daggers, he activated his multilock system. When the last Dagger entered his effective range, he opened fire, disabling all of them in a matter of seconds.

I am so sick of this, he thought. But I have no choice; there are some things you cannot protect without fighting.

Cagalli smirked as she blasted yet another Strike Dagger into flaming dust. “This is for Orb!”

She had made a point of not engaging any of the Izumo’s people; despite their loyalty to Sahaku, Cagalli could not bring herself to fight them. Fortunately, there were more than enough regular Alliance targets; she had already destroyed two Drake-class ships.

Then her proximity alarm went off, and she swore at her display. “That’s the AMATU!”

A laugh sounded over the comm. “Daughter of the Athha family. What can you do?”

Cagalli glared at the demonic Astray. “Rondo, I won’t let you have your way with Orb!” She snapped her rifle up and fired. “Take that!”

Sahaku caught the blast on his Trikeros. “Did you really think it would be that easy? I am no ordinary foe.” The AMATU vanished.

Cagalli snarled something vicious under her breath. “You can’t hide forever,” she muttered.

He did not intend to. Less than a minute later, the AMATU reappeared behind a GINN. The tip of a beam saber protruded from the ZAFT machine’s torso. “Ha, ha, ha!” Sahaku crowed. “The terror of AMATU, savor it as you die!”

“You bastard!” Cagalli put on a burst of speed, firing all the while.

Sahaku dodged and blocked. “Not enough, Lady Athha,” he said, smiling a superior smile.

“Don’t call me that!”

The AMATU met the Akatsuki’s charge, beam saber clashing against the Golden Gundam’s shield. “It’s actually a pity,” Sahaku said. “Despite your impulsiveness, you are very strong, and your fiancé has much to recommend him as an ally.”

“Alex would never join you!” Cagalli snarled. “He’s not like you!”

“True, sadly.” Rondo hurled a PSA-equipped spear, grazing the Akatsuki’s right shoulder. “His fanatical devotion to the PLANTs blinds him to reality.”

“What reality!?” Cagalli released a mobile turret long enough to destroy the spear. “We’re fighting for our people, not that you care!”

Sahaku laughed. “But I do care. I want what is best for Orb.”

“You want what’s best for yourself, you traitor!” Cagalli shot back. “And I won’t allow it!”

“There is nothing you can do to stop me,” Sahaku said. AMATU’s saber ignited once more.

For several minutes, the two machines clashed blades; Cagalli was unable to use the mobile turret system because the AMATU was too close. Though Cagalli was overall a better pilot, Sahaku was a far more difficult opponent than any she had faced before.

Sahaku yawned. “This is boring. I think I’ll kill you now.” Before Cagalli could react, the AMATU had grabbed her. “Miss Strassmeier was kind enough to design an energy-draining system for the AMATU,” he said conversationally. “I know I can’t force a nuclear-powered machine to shut down, but it will still hurt.”

Cagalli struggled furiously. “Rondo, you bastard!”

Behind her eyes, a gold seed burst.

Akatsuki’s thrusters flared, temporarily blinding the AMATU. Now free, Cagalli spun around, deploying her mobile turret system even as she mentioned her rifle. Her machine’s other handheld the double beam saber.

“So, there is more to you than meets the eye,” Sahaku said. “Like your brother, you possess the SEED.”

“That’s right,” Cagalli said icily. “And now you’re going to die!”

Rondo’s lip curled. “You think you can best me?” His voice dripped contempt. “Very well. Show me your dance.”

The Akatsuki’s mobile turrets spread out in an attempt to englobe the AMATU. Sahaku tried to shoot them down, but the AI system kept them moving in an intricate pattern, denying the renegade a solid targeting lock. He then activated his saber and charged, but the mobile turrets quickly surrounded the Akatsuki, encasing it safely in an energy shield.

“Enough! Down you go!” Cagalli drew her double beam saber. An upward slice removed the AMATU’s right arm; a follow-up attack destroyed the left. Then she reversed, preparing deliver the coup de grace. “It’s over, Rondo,” she snarled, and plunged the glowing weapon into the AMATU’s cockpit.

Rondo Ghina Sahaku died instantly.

“Don’t let him-” The Earth Forces pilot was cut off in mid word as Alex’s beam saber cut him in half. He then spun, leveling his rifle at the bridge section of a Nelson-class warship, and fired a single shot.

These guys are pathetic, he thought, unleashing his DRAGOONs on another Dagger. “Or not,” he amended as a familiar sensation filled his head. “Only one person that could be.”

As he had expected, a Gunbarrel 105 Dagger was visible nearby. “You wanna see tough?” Morgan Chevalier asked mockingly. “I’ll show you how a soldier really fights!”

Alex sighed. “You again.” He recalled his DRAGOONs. “I suggest you back off, Lieutenant,” he said. “Your 105 Dagger is no match for the Anubis, even with a Gunbarrel pack.”

“We’ll see about that, kid!” Chevalier’s gunbarrels spiraled out, spitting laser fire.

The Coordinator shook his head. “You have guts, I’ll grant you that. It won’t be enough, though.”

It was the first time two machines with remote weapons clashed. Alex had the advantage, with his Anubis Gundam and greater experience with mobile suits in general. Nevertheless, Chevalier was far from a normal opponent, as he was putting up quite a fight.

Alex muttered a German curse when Chevalier fired, narrowly missing the Anubis’s head. He deployed his DRAGOONs in an attempt to surround the Eurasian, who unfortunately proved impossible to corner. None of his units were destroyed, but the Mad Dog came away without a scratch.

“You’re good,” Chevalier acknowledged, “but not good enough!” His gunbarrels opened up again, spraying the Anubis with emerald beams.

Alex swore again. His return fire took out one gunbarrel, but he was forced to dodge immediately after.

“Come on, can’t you do better than that with that fancy suit?” Chevalier taunted.

“I’m just getting warmed up, Mad Dog!” Grinning suddenly, Alex energized the Shirasaya beam sword hidden in his shield.

“Hmm, nice trick.” Chevalier stowed his rifle and drew both sabers, letting his gunbarrels keep the Anubis honest.

Alex snapped his own sabers together, holding them in the Anubis’s right hand while the left arm swung the Shirasaya. “En guarde, Mad Dog.”

Chevalier was hard put to keep up. His left saber kept the combined weapon at bay, while his right clashed with the shield weapon. That went on for several minutes, until Alex’s saber staff hooked Chevalier’s left-hand saber and sent it flying into the ether. An instant later, the Shirasaya cut off the Dagger’s right hand.

“It’s not over yet!” Holding his rifle somewhat awkwardly, Chevalier resumed firing.

“No more games.” With the Dagger already maimed, Alex was able to use his DRAGOONs to maximum effect. A rapid succession of beams took out the rifle and all three remaining gunbarrels. “You lose, Mad Dog.”

Chevalier sighed in resignation. “Finish it.”

“I think not.” Alex grabbed what was left of the Dagger. “you’ll be coming with us. Perhaps you will see the error of your ways.”

Artemis control room

Rear Admiral Gerard Garcia stared in disbelief at the carnage outside. “How is that possible!?” he shook himself. “Get the Umbrella up, NOW!”

“Can’t, sir,” a tech said apologetically. “The Blitz destroyed too many emitters. It’s just like last time.”

Garcia swore sulphurously. “We have to do something! Our fleet is getting slaughtered! Prepare to-” He broke off, staring in shock at the huge shape just outside the viewport.

ZGMF-X10A Freedom loomed before them, beam rifle aimed directly at Garcia’s head. More than one person swallowed hard at the sight; Orb and ZAFT saw the Freedom as a sort of mechanized guardian angel, but to the Earth Forces it was evil incarnate.

“Admiral Garcia,” the pilot said. The admiral winced; he knew that voice. “This is Lieutenant Commander Kira Yamato, Orb Navy. Your defenses have been destroyed; the surviving Alliance ships are retreating.” His voice hardened. “Surrender, or I will have no choice but to open fire.”

Shaking uncontrollably, Garcia nonetheless managed a bit of bravado. “Just who do you think you are!?” he demanded, unable despite his best efforts to keep his voice from quavering. “You can’t just-“

“I haven’t forgotten what you did to me,” Kira cut him off coldly. “This is your only chance.”

Defeated, Garcia’s shoulders slumped. No choice. “Very well.”

Archangel, hangar

Murrue felt cold satisfaction as Garcia was escorted off his shuttle by two armed guards. It is about time. This is no more than he deserves, after what he did to Kira. In the corner of her eye, she saw Kira standing with Cagalli and Alex, who had come over from the Valkyrie. Alex was expressionless as usual, though there was a cold gleam in his eyes. The twins were much less restrained; both looked at Garcia with contempt.

The Eurasian admiral stopped in front of Murrue, pointedly not offering her a salute. “Captain Ramius,” he said tonelessly.

“I commend you for surrendering, Admiral,” she said. “it undoubtedly saved not only your life, but the lives of your people as well.”

Garcia glared at her. “Spare me, you traitor. If you had not betrayed the Alliance, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“If we hadn’t turned against the Alliance, the PLANTs may well have been destroyed by now,” Murrue countered, letting her own voice cool. “I for one have no intention of fighting for Blue Cosmos, Admiral.” She gestured for the guards to lead him away.

“I don’t believe I’ve seen you like that before, Murrue,” Alex murmured. “Not that I’m complaining; Garcia is a fool who deserves whatever he gets.”

Kira nodded. “Alex is right. Normally I do not like that sort of thing, but I know from experience what Garcia is capable of.”

Murrue squeezed his shoulder. “It was hard, I know.”

Kira smiled; he knew Murrue saw him as a little brother. He reciprocated the sentiment. “It’s thanks to my friends that I was able to get through it.” He nodded at his future brother-in-law. “And it’s thanks to Alex that we were able to pull this off.”

Alex merely shrugged.

With the loss of Artemis, Eurasia ceased to be a space power for the remainder of the war. Alex Strassmeier, who had masterminded the attack, became known as the Spider of Artemis. Among Orb and ZAFT, at least; the Earth Forces had a far more ominous nickname for him: Silver Death.