"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it."
- Robert E. Lee

Chapter XXVII: Gate of Abaddon

Titans Montana-class battlecruiser Littorio
Ananke, Bhatan
October 15, GC 379

"Captain on the bridge!" the Littorio's executive officer proclaimed as his superior exited the turbolift. Stepping aside, he allowed Om to take his seat in the Littorio's command chair. Once settled in, the Titans captain took a moment to observe the outline of the battle, as it could be depicted on the bridge monitor at least.

From what he discerned, Om allowed himself to smile in approval. Both his fellow Titans and their "comrades" in the regular forces were already well on their way toward setting up for the Dolowa's arrival, Both the ships in orbit, as well as those on the ground – which the Littorio was naturally part of – were presently going through the final checkpoints, battlestations not yet sounded but not far off as their crews went through their various tasks and preparations. The various mobile suits and pilots, meanwhile, were already on standby, waiting to be launched into the void. Again that included the 118th Titans Mobile Suit Squadron – Raven Squadron – aboard the Littorio, which naturally included its commander and her particular mobile suit. Om was looking forward to her performance namely, especially alongside the other three of her kin aboard the Ark Royal.

All that well established however, Om also knew that no amount of planning or preparation would fully strengthen the Earth forces once the Dolowa arrived. Om also admitted that, in spite of Admiral Wakkein and Admiral Forer's brilliant organization alongside the usage of the Solar System, that their chances of victory were tepid at best. The Dolowa had long proven herself to be all but outright invulnerable, and the losses she had no doubt incurred from the various systems she had stormed would otherwise be marginal at best. In fact, Om was actually unsure if there were enough ships and mobile suits in Bhatan to properly deal with the Zeon menace, regardless of their forces including two Lexington-class carriers and all four Gundams. Merely holding the Dolowa down long enough to fire the Solar System would take much time and effort, the former of which chances were Om and his affiliates would not have.

That in itself brought to mind the Federation's ace in the hole, which was on the far side of the system, well out of the Dolowa presumed way of entry. Admittedly, Om would likely not have as much in the way of doubt had his side been using a more dedicated weapon, whether it be further nukes or, yes, a colony laser. As poetic as it was to use the reflected light of the local sun against the Zeon, the Solar System was, by its very design, a slipshod and most inefficient weapon. The amount of time it took to deploy the innumerable mirrors was bad enough, but then they had to all be positioned in such a way as to reflect the sunlight to maximum effect. This generally negated the Solar System to a purely defensive weapon – transporting and arraying the components from system to system was clearly out of the question – and even then its field of dispersion was only finite enough to cover a fair amount of space, neglecting its power and effectiveness, especially in the age of the Apollo Particle. All in all it was no wonder the Solar System hadn't been used until now, even, perhaps especially, by the Titans.

Still, for all of the weapon's faults, Om acknowledged that the Solar System was really the best option to use against a massive, overpowered singular target as the Dolowa. Its narrowed range and effect would undoubtedly work best against the leviathan, as well as remove enough of her mobile suits alongside. Perhaps not destroy the Dolowa outright in the initial barrage – Om did well to keep in mind that the Zeon ship had survived a nuclear attack – but it would do enough damage to at least disable her, thereby leaving her open to follow up attacks. And once their mothership was gone, the mobile suits would be left to the tender mercies of the Earth "lowborn". Victory would most certainly be assured then, alongside the Empire's latest round of humiliation since Garma's demise.

All in all, Om gave the odds of battle a six out of ten, perhaps a seven if he were optimistic. Operation Tirpirtz might not have been a sure victory in the making, but the chances were still better than they had been otherwise in Zorres, to say nothing of the systems that the Dolowa had plundered thereafter. It all boiled down to whether his side could hold down the enemy until the Solar System could be properly deployed. Once that threshold was crossed, so too would the tide of battle shift.

For now though, Om remained in his chair, placing his chin against his clenched hands as he continued to scan over Bhatan and the fleet still waiting upon.

Federation Lexington-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Ananke, Bhatan

Doing well not to audibly exhale, it was all Bright and his crew to continue waiting for the inevitable call to come in. It had only been one day short of two weeks since the Ark Royal had gone into battle, and despite all that she, and again her captain and crew, had faced up to the present, Bright really wished he could have sat this one out. Not that he doubted the sentiment wasn't shared with the other ships and crews, but next to what he had faced at Arcturus and Anges, this would likely be the most difficult battle he would partake in thus far. A harrowing thought considering Odessa was just around the corner.

Unfortunately, it was what it was, and Bright would be damned before he turned away, as his reputation had previously claimed from Arcturus on. One way or the other, the Dolowa had to be destroyed here and now, before she could accomplish her mission to disrupt Operation Odessa, and well before she could reach Earth as the Zeeks aboard her purportedly intended. The mere notion of the juggernaut breaching passed the Sol Systems defenses and reaching his homeworld, with or without a full battlefleet alongside, sent shivers down his spine. As did the accompanying notion of his wife and kids being on Earth as well; if it came down to it, Bright would have fought the "Highborn" all on his own if it meant keeping his family safe from their aggression. Such naturally made him all the more adamant about seeing Operation Tirpitz complete and the Dolowa sunk then and there, even if it came down to him and his ship alone to do it. God only knew how many times that had happened already.

If there was one form of silver lining to all of this, it was just the opposite of that last thought. This time the Ark Royal would not be alone, nor would she be so grossly outgunned. Yes some of Bright's "comrades" were of the more dubious quality, but the fact remained it would be his fleet against the one ship, far from the reverse it had been with Garma. Even more important was the knowledge that the Titans, once more for all of the uncertainties surrounding them, clearly recognized the threat the Dolowa represented and had brought with them their big guns, up to and including the fourth Gundam prototype that Bright had not even known existed until now. No doubt the Zeeks' "superior" bladders would drain into their trousers at that same realization. That they were to face all four of Project V's apparent horsemen instead of "merely" three.

Pestilence, War, Famine and Death indeed, Bright thought as he thought of the four Gundams and their individual colors. Indeed, if one substituted "pale" for dark blue, the resemblance was uncanny. And though Bright was unsure if the Zeon were actually aware of that brand of Earthnoid mythology, he had little doubt they would see the Gundams in that light regardless. Alongside the White Devil, Eagle and Valkyrie, and whatever moniker Unit Delta's pilot had going for her. The thought actually reassured Bright considerably, especially when he factored in the Ark Royal herself, and the Enterprise alongside, directing those very same mobile suits through the fray. All while, at the far end of the system, the real finisher would be precisely deployed.

But what it all be enough? That was one question Bright wish he knew the answer to, yet for the life of him could not find within himself. It wasn't hard to understand why. For all of the assurances he gave himself, and the accompanying knowledge within, their remained that single image from Zorres. That of the Dolowa, in all of her sheer immensity, rising above his ship like the great leviathan that she was, effectively eclipsing the Ark Royal before disappearing into her cloak, and then warping away thereafter. A single ship that was an entire fleet unto herself, holding immeasurable firepower and bastions of mobile suits within her holds, some of which being the latest in Zeon design. Indeed, would what the Federation had sent to Bhatan be enough? Would it really be enough to end the Dolowa then and there?

"Signal from the flagship," Kikka spoke up the precise moment it had come in. "Commence launching."

Nodding in response to this, Bright took a moment to straighten his cap. One way or another, he would learn the answer of those very questions soon enough. Through fire, as well as blood and steel. "Take us up Katz," he commanded his helmsman. "Ahead one-quarter."

"Aye sir," Katz responded as he entered the command into the helm, gradually lifting the Ark Royal up from her birth alongside the innumerable cruisers and battlecruisers around her. Gradually, but by no means sluggishly, did the warships move and ascend upward toward the space beyond. All as ready to face their present enemy as any of them could be, in spite.

Zeon supercarrier Dolowa

"Five minutes to reversion," the helmsman reported in an almost muted tone, more or less holding his breath with the rest of the Dolowa's crew. The tension was thick, much thicker than in any of the previous battles, and not one man or woman aboard the Dolowa failed to understand why. Whereas those previous engagements had been utterly random – though trying in their own right, especially given their opposition – this would be the battle that they had originally sailed out for. This would be the fight that would nip the Feddies' Odessa offensive in the bud, and potentially decide the war then and there. This would be their finest hour. The hour that would see Earth forever laid low and Zeon ascendent.

It was a strange mixture of anticipation and apprehension, Admiral Lutjins remarked to himself on, as well as a bit of a switch from when the Dolowa first sailed. The latter seemed like a lifetime ago, despite the fact it had only been a few weeks since the Dolowa left Zorres and began her reign of terror across the cosmos. As such, the Vice Admiral clearly remembered the eagerness of the crew as they set forth to carry out the will of His Majesty and their homeland, to see the Earthnoids sundered and broken before they could ever hope to reach Odessa. Despite the fact they had not even been given a specific target, but rather a line of possible rendezvous points that Admiral Revil may or may not have been gathering his combined fleet, the fact remained they had a mission and they were sure to carry it out. After all, with the power of their ship and her legions, what hope did the Feddies truly have in resisting?

Now however, as they moved closer and closer to fulfilling that precise mission, Lutjins could see that the mood around him was quite different, if rather subtle. No doubt Captain Lindermann and her crew still believed victory was before them, yet at the same time there was an air of caution about, and it wasn't hard for Lutjins to understand why. As uncontested as the Dolowa had been up to this point, the Feddies had been stalwart in their efforts, and a fair amount of blood had been drawn – albeit among the mobile suit forces as opposed to the ship herself – through those battles. For all of their ship's capabilities, as well as their own highborn superiorities over the Feddies, the fact was the crew had felt those losses in one form or another, as well as come to understand the very same lessons that Lutjins had learned at Arcturus. As lowborn as the Earthnoids were, they were still different from the rest of Zeon's enemies. Different enough that, as outmatched as they had been at Scharnhorst and elsewhere, they had still put up a fight. Had still resisted and wounded when others would have run or surrendered.

Those battles would be meager in comparison, Lutjins and the rest knew, compared to where they would be going now. Even if the Feddie combined fleet was not actually present at Bhatan – Lutjins did well not to dismiss the possibility – that particular Feddie base was still a key installation, and was sure to have more waiting for the Dolowa than just a handful of ships and mobile suits. No doubt the Ark Royal and her three Project V units, alongside the rest of her ace corps, would be present, along with one or two other nasty surprises. At Zorres the Feddies had been willing to use nuclear weapons to sink the Dolowa then and there. Surely that would not be the culmination of their efforts, especially when their enemy was very much an active threat.

"Thirty seconds to reversion," the helmsman proclaimed once more, all but snapping Lutjins out of his thoughts and turmoil through the imminentness. Strangely the Vice Admiral found some solace in that. For all that could be waiting for them at Bhatan, they would still be completing their mission, and if not then at least knocking out a major Feddie basin. Alongside, Lutjins also did well to keep his mission well in mind. The sooner that this one was over and done with, the sooner he could complete the wrongs made at Arcturus. Once and for all.

With that in mind, the Admiral settled back into his seat and stared up at the countdown on the main monitor. It would be a long thirty seconds, undoubtedly longer than the span up to the present, but eventually the numbers would reach zero, one after the other. And from that, the reckoning would truly begin.

Federation Montana-class battlecruiser Magellan
Bhatan System

Hello beautiful, Wakkein snidely thought as the Dolowa at last emerged from warp, appearing as monstrous as he remembered her from Zorres. Barely a few moments after did her forward batteries light up, firing neon yellow beams straight into the Earth formation and already striking several ships. As the reports of which ships were hit came in, the Admiral concentrated on his target and began giving orders. "All ships fire at will! Launch mobile suits!"

No sooner than he had given that command did the first Zakus begin to emerge from the Dolowa herself, all advancing through their mothership's fire toward Earth fleet. Again Wakkein sneered toward them. Unlike at Zorres, there was no reason for the Dolowa to conserve her mobile suits while a planetary garrison did battle. In fact, the positions were effectively reversed now, with Wakkein and his taskforce, among many, many others, forming the defensive line as the green behemoth approached. A rather ironic switch the Admiral couldn't help but feel, even though he doubted the Dolowa was carrying her own nuclear arsenal. And even if she had been, or some other superweapon, it would be dealt with all the same.

Such was emphasized as Wakkein caught sight of Guncannons emerging from their own motherships and moving in to face the Zeeks head on, the resultant dogfights soon following. All while the capital ships continued to exchange beam and projectile of their own, the Earth ships now within range to retaliate against the intruder, even as the latter's guns fell upon them one after the other. Somehow Wakkein managed not to glower, at least too deeply, as a Chicago-class cruiser off the Magellan's starboard side – he didn't know her name – was instantly obliterated in that fashion.

This really is going to be a long one, Wakkein thought as his eyes adjusted to the flare of the cruiser's demise, still concentrated on the supercarrier directly ahead. Indeed, there would still be some time yet before the Solar System was fully aligned, and his forces had to hold out through that span. Until then, it was exactly as it appeared; a large but still quite motley collection of ships and mobile suits against the largest, most powerful vessel in Zeon's muster, alongside the seemingly infinite mobile suits she carried with her. Exactly the scenario Wakkein had hoped to avoid since the onset of Operation Bismarck, now brought to fruition. Funny how that tended to work throughout this damned war.

Regardless, the Admiral was not about to be beaten, not even as another one or two ships near the Magellan caught fire. Somehow and some way, Bismarck's legacy would be fulfilled then and there. Somehow and some way, they truly would sink the Dolowa, and bring Earth that much closer to victory alongside. Wakkein silently vowed that resolution to himself as he continued to glare after the beast, which intensified its fire as it drew that much closer to the opposing fleet. All as the mobile suits continued their own bouts, with several more then launching from the Federation side.

Titans Montana-class battlecruiser Littorio
Bhatan System

"I trust you will give us a grand performance?"

Somehow and some way, Emma managed not grit her teeth in disdain toward Captain Om's question. She knew it was not one of condemnation or doubt, but rather anticipation, which made her insides burn that much more. Even without her powers to pick up on her superior's negative character traits, namely his beastly obsession with chaos and destruction and complete disregard for any form of life, she knew that Captain Om looked upon her, and by extension the rest of the Titans and Federal Forces, as not human beings but rather instruments of death. As much as it was with Unit Delta, she was a tool, a weapon to the red eyed ghoul. One meant to strike at any and all enemies, real or imagined, and be dispensed with thereafter as necessary. Her status as a Newtype emphasized that belief, much to Emma's spite.

Regardless, she knew it would have been bad form, especially to her squadron, not to answer the captain's inquiry. So Emma responded.

"I promise nothing," she stated coldly as she brought her Gundam onto the catapult. "Nothing but death for our enemies."

Her answer seemed to amuse Captain Om, who let out a short laugh in response. Again falling back on her powers, Emma knew that her superior was assured of just that. A weapon she may have been alongside her mobile suit, but a prized weapon she remained. After all, she had killed many enemies, Zeon or otherwise, before this present battle. Surely she would kill that much more, especially as she fought alongside her "brethren" from the Ark Royal.

"And death you shall bring, Commander," Om resounded, his tone of clear approval. "Good hunting," he finished with before terminating the commlink.

Shaking her head, Emma dismissed the ogrish captain for the time being and focused on the battle ahead. As with most battles, there was no clear sign of victory for either side yet. Only death in various forms as mobile suit fought mobile suit while the capital ships exchanged beam and projectile fire. Already several of the latter, and most certainly of the former, had been destroyed, but their collective demise had little sway at this stage of the fight. Especially as the Dolowa continued to draw further into the system, with the Earth fleet already breaking formation to encircle and attack from all angles. Once more just long enough until the Solar System, which appeared to remain unnoticed presently, continued to be comprised.

"Death shall I bring," Emma recited to herself as the CIC indicated that her launch path was clear. Thus taking one more breath as she knelt her Gundam down for the rush, the Titans Commander called out for all to hear. "Emma Sheen, Gundam Unit Delta, launch!"

"Sleggar Law, Gundam Unit Beta, launch!"

"Sayla Mass, Gundam Unit Gamma, launch!"

"Amuro Ray, Gundam Unit Alpha, launch!"

One after the other, the three Gundams took off from the Ark Royal's catapult decks, followed immediately by the various Guncannon types that rounded out the total forty-eight. As with the rest of the present Federals, the men and women of the 13th Carrier Assault Group easily saw that they were going to be in for the long haul, perhaps even a longer haul than anything outside of Anges. From the looming yet quite active Dolowa in the foreground to the seemingly endless number of Zakus directly ahead, there were certainly enough enemies to go around, even for Commander Law and Lieutenants Mass and Ray. And though they all remained aware that their objective was not to wipe out the Zeeks in their entirety, but merely hold them until the Solar System was up and running, the fact remained that it would still be an intense fight. One that a fair number of them would likely not return from.

Regardless, the forty-eight Earth mobile suits accelerated toward the enemy all the same, as did those from the other ships within the Earth armada. For Amuro, it took little more than an instant for him to bring Unit Alpha into the fray, from which he just as quickly selected his targets and attacked. Already two Zakus were felled by his beam rifle shots, while a third quickly followed as he swooped in and riddled it with his vulcans, effectively tearing the Zeon suit apart. He would have gone after a fourth then and there, but Amuro's Newtype senses quickly kicked in, causing him to duck behind his beam shield as no less than five Zakus came after him at once, all firing their machine guns in tandem. It took quite a bit of maneuvering for the White Devil to both evade and deflect the beams, but he managed to force his way out of the killzone all the same, and even shoot down two of the offenders in the process. Sayla and Commander Law were just as quick in obliterating the remaining three, thereby allowing Amuro to proceed with them through the melee.

Once more falling back on his Newtype senses, Amuro scanned the battlefield for select targets, trying to weed out the more skilled Zeon pilots from the baseline, if only to make things easier for the Guncannons. He only got so far in this however, as there were just too many human presences to sift through, especially in the middle of battle as he was. Even so, he was quick to note that, among the various Zeek psyches that he scanned through, neither those of Mallet Sanguine nor that girl that Sayla fought prior were not to be found. Was it just possible that they had both been killed in the Dolowa's previous engagements? As Amuro again engaged his left beam shield to deflect oncoming fire, the reluctant ace found himself doubting such a quaint possibility. More likely they were just in another part of the battle zone, and that he had not extended his senses far enough. Not that it really mattered in the present, as again Amuro had more than enough enemies to shoot at. And not all of them were in standard Zakus, as Amuro's sensors soon indicated.

So this really is Zeon's latest model, Amuro thought as he caught sight of an Act Zaku team, all adorned in standard Zeon green, advancing toward him. Evading the oncoming beam rifle shots while retaliating with his own fire, the Act Zakus were nonetheless quick to dodge themselves, once again maneuvering at speeds no regular Zaku could ever hope to match. Even through the fighting, Amuro couldn't help but marvel at the three mobile suits and the sheer efficiency of their internal mechanics, once more as perceived through his Newtype powers; the Zeeks could really innovate, as much as it galled him to admit. Still, that didn't change their being enemies for him to kill, and so Amuro remained evasive himself, reversing his Gundam back to gain some distance while continuing to fire his hyper beam rifle after the three aggressors. It took a bit more effort than he was used to, but he managed to score one kill in short order, striking one of the Act Zakus straight through the center. The remaining two seemed to take the death of their comrade to heart as one stepped up its own fire while the other switched its rifle out for a yellow bladed beam saber, then going to full burn.

Amuro was just able to raise his left beam shield when the Act Zaku came upon him, knocking aside its intended axe strike, and then evading the following beam rifle shots from the supporter. A single responding shot of his own beam rifle dispatched the latter, blasting it square through the cockpit, while the sword wielder quickly launched upon him again. Not at all wanting a drawn out melee at that stage of the battle, it took but a single gauntlet blast into the Act Zaku's torso, right as the latter was in the process of attacking him again, to finish that one off as well. Rather than explode, the now pilotless Zeon mobile suit simply floated away, its beam saber eventually flickering inactive.

Of course, Amuro knew better than to believe that would grant him a pause, as both his Newtype senses and Unit Alpha's sensors soon picked up additional enemies moving upon him. Thus he again raised his hyper beam rifle and fired, the White Devil shooting down or at least maiming several more Zakus as it launched across the void. The Battle of Bhatan well underway, as it were.

Federation Lexington-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Bhatan System

Reflexively turning away from the resulting glare, Bright sneered as another Chicago-class cruiser exploded not far off the Ark Royal's port, the latest addition to an ever increasing number. As opposed to her remaining in the distance at Zorres, the Dolowa was very much in the center of the onslaught now, and already he and the rest of the Earth forces were struggling to keep her contained, let alone wound her. As resilient as she was immense, the green behemoth was taking fire from virtually every vector, yet was plowing through all of it with little hindrance while obliterating anything that fell within her crosshairs. In fact, it wasn't long before another Earth ship, this one a Montana, was obliterated from Bright's line of sight, the resultant detonation all but blinding him. Obviously this was going to be a very long slog, and unlike anything he and the rest of his crew had fought through to that point.

"Right full rudder!" Bright commanded to Katz, who immediately brought the helm about as the Dolowa fired her next barrage. More allied ships were undoubtedly snuffed out at that point, but for the moment Bright's remained untouched, especially as his helmsman remained on the ball. Had the commander not been so concentrated on keeping ahead of the enemy fire, he might have found it strange that the Dolowa was not target his ship or the Enterprise in particular, despite their both being much feared Trojan Horses. Not that Bright would have wanted the alternative of course. "Main cannons, fire!"

At that, the Ark Royal's six bow cannons unleashed their fury, sending twelve magenta beams straight into the Dolowa's own starboard side and part of its underbelly. Bright doubted the resultant damage amounted to much, once more given the sheer size of the monster, but he liked to think that it had been substantial enough to remove some of the Dolowa's weapon ports, and perhaps one or two of her launch decks. Regardless however, neither that attack nor those shots that followed were enough to slow down the behemoth, which quickly responded to the Ark Royal's attacks with its own. His instincts kicking well in, Katz immediately threw the carrier into a full evasive pattern as yellow bolts of opposing energy lanced out, nearly striking and obliterating the Ark Royal as spectacularly as it had those other ships caught in its wake. Between those maneuvers and the still relative distance, the mighty Ark Royal remained in the fight, but that could only last for so long Bright knew all too well.

At least, Bright mildly thought, the enemy didn't seem to have noticed the Solar System yet. Indeed, as the Commander did well to note, the Dolowa remained wholly concentrated on the fleet around her and not the collection of oversized mirrors in the great distance. A very fortunate turn of events, as there would have been no way to defend the Solar System had the Dolowa attacked it, and Bright didn't want to so much as entertain the possibility. No, they couldn't destroy the Dolowa themselves, but so long as they could hold her down until their secret weapon was literally brought to light, they could yet win. Would win, if Bright himself had anything to say about it, especially as he still remembered Earth itself being the Dolowa's next target.

One way or another, Bright thought in full resolution, glaring up at the giant warship as Katz brought the Ark Royal into a narrow dive, where the carrier would cross the behemoth's underbelly. The transition caused Bright to flash back to Zorres, and the last image of the Dolowa before it engaged her Mirage Colloid and went to warp. He and those around him hadn't sunk her then, but they most certainly would this time. You die today, monster.

Such vehemence was only emphasized as the Ark Royal fired another barrage upward, adding her phalanx and missile batteries on with her cannons. More hits her struck against the Dolowa, and more of her own fire was returned, with the lone Trojan Horse again maneuvering out of harm's way, even as others around her were struck down. Even so, the fighting remained well in place, showing no sign whatsoever of concluding. All as the mobile suits continued their own grand waltz around the capital ships.

This is more like it! Mallet called out from within as he drove his Act Zaku through the Feddie horde, Esser Squadron doing well to keep up. Far from the random garrison of some backwater world, the enemy before Mallet was both well numbered and adept; even without his special powers, the Zeon pilot could tell that this would be a harder fight for him, as well as those he led, than anything short Arcturus and those similar. The thought made Mallet swell with anticipation as he selected a random Guncannon, a baseline Trooper, for his first target, aiming and firing his beam rifle in little more than a split-second's time. As he intended, the beam shot straight through the Earth mobile suit, causing it to explode rather brilliantly, only for its two wingmates to move in and target Mallet in its place. Lilia and Gusta's Act Zakus quickly moved in to support, but Mallet barely paid them any mind, instead snapshooting either Guncannon and striking them down as easily as the first.

"Disperse and engage at will!" Mallet commanded as he and his wingmen launched deeper into the melee, the remaining three teams of Esser Squadron following the command as well as their leader's example just after. By that point, another pair of baseline Troopers had targeted Mallet, but the Lieutenant Commander was hardly impeded. As his higher end machine maneuvered through the enemy rifle and cannon fire, only having to employ a beam shield just once, he closed in on the first and fired a shot through the cockpit at near point blank. The enemy mobile suit didn't detonate right away, though the glowing hole that had been drilled into its torso indicated that the lowborn within had since been rendered to charred remains. The second was dealt with just as quickly, with Gusta evading its own rather haphazard fire before maneuvering his Act Zaku just behind, firing a shot straight through the back and out the front. That one exploded, allowing the team to proceed further.

Naturally it wasn't long before Mallet's special perception forewarned him that he was being targeted again, this time by a Hellfire flanked by two additional Troopers. A moment later, his mobile suit's own sensors caught up and bleeped in warning as the Hellfire fired a full barrage after him and his fellows, all the while its own teammates attempted to shoot the Zeon team down with their cannons. It was rather irritating, Mallet had to admit as he threw his mobile suit into another evasive pattern, shooting down the guided warheads as they drew in. As advanced as the Act Zaku was, especially from Feddie derived technology, Mallet did truly wish that the designers at Zeonic had given his steed vulcans, if only so that he could deal with lesser threats like that more efficiently. Alas however, it wasn't too hard for him to dodge the whole, right before turning back toward the Hellfire, which was not trying to take aim with its own beam rifle. As Lilia and Gusta both dealt with the Troopers, Mallet put his own machine to near full burn, bringing the blue and white mobile suit right up to its target. Only then did the Hellfire shoot its rifle, its pilot snapfiring from sheer panic, which again Mallet had little trouble evading. Another singular shot through the cockpit block took out that Feddie as well.

Eight mobile suits destroyed – five by his own hand – already, yet such meager pickings would not satisfy Mallet beyond the moment. And while the chorus of death and fiery destruction did well to ring through space and into his special perception, that too did little to assuage him. No, as he drove his mobile suit onward, picking off Feddie after Feddie as he passed, the Zeon knew that, in the end, there was only one Feddie he wanted to contend with at Bhatan. The very same Feddie whose blood he had yearned for since Zorres, somewhere out there, deep within the onslaught. And undoubtedly bathing himself in the blood of Mallet's own "comrades" as well.

Where are you White Devil? Mallet thought, feeling an all too familiar hunger begin to extend throughout his form. He forced it back with some effort; now was not the time to give in, at least not until he found what he was looking for. Until then, he once more had the multitudes before him, which would sate him for a time. Such was enough for Mallet – again if only for the moment – as he forewent his rifle for one of his sabers, launching after another Guncannon team with exhilaration. Lilia and Gusta doing well to follow.

Titans Chicago-class cruiser Pittsburgh
Bhatan System

So that's the big bad Dolowa that we've all heard so much about, Titans Commander Jamaican Daningan thought with a distasteful frown as he watched it all play out in the great distance. He had always known the Zeeks had no taste in aesthetics, but damn was that an ugly hulk of a ship. In fact, Jamaican found it less a ship and more like a giant green "brick", for lack of better description, albeit one that had immeasurable firepower and could carry enough mobile suits and support craft for a fair sized colony. It was no wonder the weaklings and idiots in the regular forces had barely held it together against that thing wherever it showed up, and were in fact doing now, albeit with the love and support of Captain Om and those with him. Ugly she may have been, the Titans Commander could see that the Dolowa truly lived up to her infamy, even from the virtual opposite end of the Bhatan System.

No real matter, Jamaican thought almost dismissively as he settled back into his command chair, waiting for the time to come to pass and the real show to begin. By now the various mirrors of Solar System had been extended and compiled, and it was all a matter of calibrating the collective assembly at that time. That in itself would take some time longer, which was obviously why Jamaican had not had the Dolowa blasted to fiery oblivion then and there, but so long as that green behemoth was properly held down, and more importantly well away from Jamaican and his taskforce, it would all eventually come to pass. The thought of having to participate in such an engagement caused Jamaican to shiver. The Zeeks made a real bitch of a ship this time around, and seeing her sweep aside the opposition in front of her with each burst of her weapons clusters, Jamaican was ever grateful that he was where he was and not in that thing's crosshairs. Best to leave that to the peons in the EFSF as far as he was concerned, again Captain Om and his own fellow Titans notwithstanding.

Ironically, while Jamaican was far from inclined to engage the Dolowa himself, just observing it run rampant made him want to see it sunk even more. Not simply because of the boost his career would inevitably get – after all, there was little doubt Admiral Connery and the rest back home would forget who fired the Solar System in the Battle of Bhatan – but also because such a monster could not be allowed to exist anymore than the "highborn" themselves. Indeed, Jamaican recalled the briefing Captain Om had given in regard to Mayfly's report, and that the head Zeek aboard the Dolowa intended to take her straight to Earth at the first opportunity. As dismissive as a man like Jamaican Daningan was, even he could not allow such an advent to take place, especially after how close the bad guys had come the first time through Arcturus. Earth had done well enough without having to be a battleground in itself, and as a Titan, Jamaican was sworn to protect it, and its inhabitants, first and foremost.

Besides, someone has to remain to write my name in the history books, Jamaican sardonically remarked to himself, an ironic smile forming behind his thick brown mustache. Better that it be an Earthnoid than a Zeek.

Of course, such a thing was dependent on the good guys, i.e. Earth, coming out of the war triumphant and the bad guys, i.e. the Zeeks and their entourage, laid low. Though that would take much longer, and with much more fighting than what Jamaican was presently observing, the Titan knew that the Dolowa's destruction would also contribute to that outcome greatly. After all, it wasn't as though Emperor Gihren had made the thing on a steep budget, and with the barest of resources. Surely the Zeeks had gone without the proverbial lion's share of ships and mobile suits to build the thing, and that was before one remarked on the hundreds of thousands that undoubtedly crewed her. How much would the Empire hurt when such time and effort literally went up in smoke? And well before the Dolowa could even hope to complete her mission? Let alone reach Earth?

The prospect alone made Jamaican's blood run warmly through his veins, alongside the image of Gihren's head exploding from the accompanying anger. Perhaps even he would come to learn who was in command of the Solar System at that time? That would certainly be the cherry on top as far as Jamaican was concerned, once everything was over and done with of course.

Again however, the Dolowa had to be destroyed first, and for that to work, the Solar System had to be properly utilized. Thus, without turning away from the battle, Jamaican made a corner glance toward the system's status screen, which showed the ongoing calibration as they took place. It wouldn't be for much longer before the first shot would be heard – again proverbially speaking – and hopefully that would be enough to end the monster then and there. And not simply because Jamaican had his heart set on having his name in the history texts either.

Until then however, the battle remained well in progress and entirely undecided. Just as the Dolowa and her mobile suits were all but wholly unhindered.

Sleggar cursed as he saw another Guncannon unit end up gunned down, the latter having been cornered by a far more numerous Zaku force. Twisting Unit Beta about, he fired two snapshots from his hyper beam rifle, striking down a Zaku apiece, before having to maneuver around the responding fire. And indeed, the beams were very much raining from all around him; not only was the enemy numerous, but they were also a cut above the average Zeek, such that Sleggar had to put even more power into his Gundam's drive systems just to keep ahead. Fortunately, a single cut above was by no means equivalent to the Eagle of Arcturus' level, and it didn't take long for Sleggar to find an opening through the machine gun and bazooka shots, from which he shot down no less than three additional Zakus, one shot apiece. That seemed to dissuade the others, as they scattered and launched away from the blue Gundam, clearly not wanting to press their luck with the ace.

For a moment, Sleggar considered pursuing one or two of them, but that quickly proved to be unnecessary. While those particular Zakus fled from him, a whole new set began to converge, spearheaded by a team of Act Zakus. Sneering after the newcomers, Sleggar veered Unit Beta to the right, narrowly evading the opening beam rifle fire, right before employing his right beam shield to deflect the follow up machine gun bursts. He responded just as quickly with his vulcans, but that only caused the Zeeks to scatter and then move to ensnare him with a multi-pronged pincer attack. Again however, Sleggar's reflexes – superior not by genetics but by battlefield honing – came into play as he reversed and then entered a full power ascent, easily escaping the trap. One of the Zakus attempted to intercept him with its beam axe, to which Sleggar simply dodged the slash before reaching out and obliterating the Zeon suit's head with his left gauntlet. Another burst of vulcan fire took down that particular nuisance, while a second followed almost immediately with another beam rifle shot through the cockpit. Some of the Zakus chose to flee at that moment, but more than a handful, including the Act types, remained.

Again did Sleggar curse to himself as one of the Act Zaku – which possessed a command fin – lunged after him with its beam saber. Deflecting the initial attack with his left shield, Sleggar quickly took the opportunity to swap his rifle for his own sword, right as the enemy mobile suit came at him again. Magenta and yellow blades immediately clashed, while the Act Zaku's mono-eye glared straight into Unit Beta's dual eyes. Again however, Sleggar was far from cornered, easily knocking the yellow saber blade away and then planting his gauntlet into the torso. A single burst of beam energy ripped a very large, very open hole in the Act Zaku, which Sleggar left to float away as two of the finless variety then came after him. Systematic usage of his beam shields kept their rifle shots at bay, while a sweeping burst of vulcan fire also prevented them from closing in. From that, it was all too easy for him to rush one and cut it down through the middle, and then repeat the process with the third. Both Act Zakus were dead and fragmented as the commander switched back to his beam rifle, shooting down yet one more "standard" Zaku in the process.

This really will be a long one, Sleggar thought as his sensors picked up more Zeon lining their sights upon him, seemingly from every vector. More yellow beams quickly lanced after him as the originating Zakus and Act Zakus charged on, once more attempting to overwhelm and ensnare him. Not that that would end him, of course, as Sleggar put Unit Beta back into overdrive, dodging and deflecting the attacks as they came while responding in kind upon every opening. Several more Zakus were obliterated as a result, all while the blue Gundam blazed further on through the melee.

The axe swung downward, only to be intercepted as Sayla raised her left arm and ignited the beam shield there. Following that, it was all too simple for her to trigger her vulcans, ripping the offending Zaku's head to shreds, and then finishing it off with a point blank beam rifle shot. Not the most elegant form of execution she admitted, but it completed the task, and it wasn't like there weren't more Zakus out there for her to obliterate. Indeed it wasn't long before two beam bazooka shots lanced out against her, her Newtype senses detecting them, and the Zakus who fired, well before her conventional sensors did. Again it was a simple matter for her to reverse and dash left around the two beam blasts, right before swapping her rifle for her saber. From that, the enemy was dealt with far more elegantly this time, with Unit Gamma launching back toward the Zakus and cleaving them down, one slash apiece, before proceeding onward. Their pilots dead well before they could ever realize it.

Is this what the endgame will feel like? Sayla thought as she extended her senses across the field, picking up on the various human presences – both Terran and Zeon – throughout. The best she could describe it all was a maelstrom; a great storm of continuously shifting, flickering light. Even compared to the relatively grand battle of Juno, this battle was a particularly fierce torrent, one that saw life end swiftly and rapidly for either side's participants. In several ways, it reminded her of Riah, though obviously she herself had come a long way from that debut.

Regardless, she wasn't so focused on the whole that she didn't pick up on the oncoming enemies in her vicinity, once more reversing her Gundam while dodging and deflecting the encompassing beams. It took another split moment for her to withdraw her rifle, to which she fired back at the aggressors, shooting down at least two of them before the formation broke and scattered about. Once more not the most elegant of kills – though highly skilled in her own right with a firearm, she was no sharpshooter in the league of Commander Law – but still more than enough to keep her alive and the traitors before her dead. Thus she drove Unit Gamma onward, continuing to fire into the horde, blasting down Zaku after Zaku as they struggled to evade her. Their efforts almost comical to her perception, though she again did well not to become complacent. After all, there remained innumerable rabble to one of her, and it only took one lucky shot to…

Such very nearly came to pass as Sayla again detecting an oncoming enemy taking aim at her. Specifically one of the Act Zakus, which trained its rifle upon her and fire in almost a third of the time it would have taken a normal Zaku and its pilot. Jerking her controls back as well as transmitting her thoughts through the Psi System, Sayla evaded fast, the rifle shot missing deceptively wide as a result. Her reflexes confused the enemy pilot for a brief moment, as she was quite sure she had had the Valkyrie of Riah dead to rights, which granted Sayla enough room to bring her own rifle about and return fire. Again however, she was nowhere near Commander Law's level of marksmanship as the Act Zaku entered the evasive itself, then firing three more shots after her. Two dodged and one deflected as Sayla maneuvered as well, a high-speed gun battle erupting between the two pilots and their machines.

You're good, but you're clearly not her, Sayla thought as her Newtype senses again scanned over her enemy, revealing a female Zeon pilot of relative skill, though obviously not Lilia Flaubert. Not that that would save her enemy, as Sayla again switched out her rifle for a beam saber. Seeing that, the Act Zaku pilot moved to do the same, anticipating an "interesting" swordfight with the Valkyrie. Unfortunately for this Zeon however, Sayla, whose skill with the blade was uncontested, was not interested in a drawn out duel. Again she came upon the Act Zaku well before its pilot ever realized it, the higher end mobile suit bifurcated with but a single strike. One more for the kill count, Sayla mused, yet so many to add on still.

Indeed it wasn't long before she picked up more "lights" rush from the maelstrom upon her, their respective firearms drawing beads upon her red Gundam. Again however, the attacks fell all too short as Sayla evaded them, right before bringing her hyper beam rifle back up and responding in kind. Several of the "lights" flickering into oblivion thereafter.

Federation Montana-class battlecruiser Texas
Bhatan System

So this is the fruit borne of Project V, Admiral Blex Forer thought as he observed the Federation's latest superweapons – the mobile suits as well as their ace caliber pilots – in action. In many ways it was indeed terrifying, despite the fact the Gundams and their pilots were on the same side as he. How could any single mobile suit, regardless of who was at its helm, be so powerful as to decimate entire legions of Zeon contemporaries? And how could there be four of these machines in one place, each piloted by the very best Earth had to offer? Blex actually shivered at the thought, but again, such discomfort was mild as it was transient. After all, the Gundams were again on his side, and it wasn't like the Zeeks didn't have their own world ending instruments of death.

Such was only emphasized as another Chicago-class cruiser was obliterated not far from the Texas' starboard flank, the latest victim of the Dolowa's sheer firepower. This time Blex allowed himself to visibly grimace as he turned his attention back toward the green behemoth. Even with an entire opposing fleet concentrating its firepower upon her, the Dolowa was all but wholly unscathed, moving through the coordinated beam fire as a veritable juggernaut as her weapon clusters continued their work. Beam and missile fire lashing out through the Earth ranks and destroying or damaging ship after ship still, while Blex and his fellows could only struggle to hold the line.

"Maintain fire!" the Texas' flag captain commanded, her guns then launching another barrage of magenta beams at the monstrosity of a starship, yet having seemingly as negligible effect as the rest of the force. The Dolowa again responded with another barrage of her own, though by some miracle or just the fact she may have been overlooked, none of the beams came close to the Texas. That being said, another number of Space Force ships went up in proverbial smoke regardless, causing Blex to glower back toward his principle enemy with as much hate as he would allow.

It shouldn't be much longer, the Admiral assured himself, knowing that the Solar System was still out there, still unnoticed by the Zeon. And though he didn't have too much faith in the Titan Commander overseeing the weapon, Blex still had belief that the weapon would remain effective once it was employed. There would be, could be, no escape for the Dolowa and her mobile suits at Bhatan. This time she would be sunk, and with her any possibility of the Zeeks tracking down the Combined Fleet and preventing Operation Odessa.

In the meantime however, it remained paramount that Blex and the rest keep the Dolowa tied down. Thus did the Texas' guns again make their presence known with her sisters, followed by a line of missiles exiting her bow launchers. More and more did the beams and projectiles strike that massive green hull, and yet the Dolowa did not so much as slow down against them. All the while ship after ship fell to her own guns, their signals repeatedly flickering out of the Texas' sensors and oft accompanied by glares of light and fire.

Not much longer, Blex again affirmed through the onslaught, remaining focused on the task at hand. In spite of the literal immensity of that task, and the rapidly declining number of ships he had to implement with. Somehow and some way, it would all be ended then and there. Somehow and some way, they would win. Regardless of the great beast before him and his fleet, which yet still thunder with unhindered rage through the whole of Bhatan. With more and more of the system's defenders falling before its wrathful bellows.