Well, it's taken a lot longer than I thought to get this chapter finished. Apparently, I'm not as good at writing battle scenes as I had hoped. Combine that with more life drama than I care to mention, my son turning three, and new responsibilities at work... and I found it incredibly hard to find the energy to work on this again.

Thanks to those who have reviewed this story, though! It means it never strayed too far from my mind, and I finally was able to get back to work on it over the weekend. Here's hoping the next chapter doesn't take nearly this long...

Gundam Seed: F.R.E.E.D.O.M.
The Gravity Well of Sorrow

Phase 9: Sortie on the Burning Sand
Kira's had enough of your shit, ZAFT.

A contingent of ZAFT mobile suits cruised across the hot African desert sands, spitting clouds of dust in their wake. Most of them were the recent ZAFT model, the canine-like BuCUE. Rather than being bipedal like almost all Mobile Suits in the franchise known as Gundam, ZAFT had decided to experiment with something else for ground combat.

While the treads capable of speeding along at 90 miles per hour alone, the addition of jet-assisted boosters mounted onto the back made it a hard foe to catch. Armament options for the hardpoint on the spine could be a 4x2 missile launcher or a pair of railguns. Once one added in the standard set of beam emitters that could be found in the head of the unit, the BuBUE was a force to be reckoned with – especially in groups. ZAFT's local commander apparently wasn't taking any chances, and had taken 20 BuCUE units into combat, himself piloting a slightly customized variant while his own custom ace unit was still in the shop.

Combine this with 5 DINNs, units based on the GINN that had flight capabilities and excelled at hit-and-run tactics, and it was evident that ZAFT was marshaling their units for something big.

Or maybe a parade, with how they were running in formation.

Andrew Waltfeld took a sip of his fifth mid-morning cup of coffee as he rode in the back seat of his Commander's BuCUE. The Zadkiel, that Earth Forces battleship built in supposed secrecy on Heliopolis, had been stranded for a week in his territory. Most of ZAFT's terrestrial commanders would have attacked as soon as the dust had settled from the ship's unexpected landing, but Andrew knew that it would only make them fight even harder.

"A cornered animal fights the hardest of all," he spoke to no one in particular, taking another sip of his Midnight Special blend, "Now that they have a way to escape… the Earth crew will make mistakes. Get sloppy. Fall into our clutches."

Andy's pilot, Martin DaCosta, chuckled softly, greatly enjoying his commanding officer and friend's impromptu speech, "Now, we teach these Earthers why they should fear the Desert Tiger."

Without warning, a shrill alarm went off in front of DaCosta. Punching in a few commands, Martin's eyes bulged in alarm slightly.

"Sir?" he stammered softly, "I think they were ready for us."

A few miles off, standing on one of the larger dunes between the ZAFT forces and the Archangel, was the silhouette of the Strike Gundam. It was equipped with the Aile backpack, but carried a pair of Anti-Ship Swords taken from the Sword packs, complete with the arm-mounted armor containing the shield anchor and beam boomerang. The traditional shield and beam rifle were mounted on the storage rack of the Aile pack, but it was painfully obvious that the pilot was intending to get up close and personal with this.

The morning had started so well. The engines had gone through their final warmup processes without incident. In fact, the engines currently glowed a soft crimson while they began to ignite for the first time in a week. Thankfully, routing power through the corridor leading up through the port side engine room hadn't resulted in the entire hallway imploding with flames, debris, and more live wires than a cyberpunk Medusa.


Captain Murrue Ramius had just boarded the bridge, having let her second officer Natarle Badgiruel handle the morning shift. She'd spent the last week working with Kira and his friends, getting the Strike Gundam ready for combat on Earth. The stabilizers almost had to be rebuilt from the ground up, and Murrue still wasn't sure if the boosters on the main torso would be enough for maneuverability in the atmosphere. Murrue opened her mouth to ask for a status report... when proximity alarms began to go off.

"Well, shit." Romero Pal muttered as he read the readouts from his console, polishing the radar screen with his sleeve to make sure it wasn't an error or errant food like the last time, "It looks like ZAFT has finally decided to take notice of us."

"How bad?" Murrue looked up to Romero's seat in the proverbial crow's nest as she slipped into her captain's seat, "Is it a scouting party?"

The slightly rounded man in the crow's nest scoffed as he answered, "I wish. We're looking at somewhere around 20 to 25 mobile suits. Maybe more." A few more clicks away at his keyboard before Romero continued, "We have maybe 15 minutes before they're breathing down our necks."

Another alarm sounded, and Romero groaned aloud, "Make that 45 mobile suits."

Natarle Badgiruel tossed the captain's hat over to Murrue as she ducked into the CIC's hidey-hole, "I'm gonna warm up the guns and break the seals on our missile launchers." There was a loud metallic slam as she jumped, skipping the stairs rather than going step-by-step, "I bet they're not coming to welcome us to the neighborhood!"

"Shame," mused Jackie Tonoman as he began to go through the communication channels to see if he could intercept anything from ZAFT , "I was hoping for a fruit basket from our new neighbors this time."

Settling the hat of command upon her head, Murrue reclaimed her ship from her friend. The captain took a deep breath, and held it for a few seconds, before letting it out with a slow sigh, "Once more into the breech. Sound the alarms, get our pilots to their mobile suits. Looks like today is going to be a long one."

Mere seconds had passed since ZAFT had detected Kira and the Strike Gundam. With a soft grunt, Kira pushed the Aile pack's engines into the redline. He was pushed down into the seat as the Strike took off into the sky like a rocket-powered bird. Sailing over ZAFT's incoming troops, Strike's left arm shot out, firing the arm-mounted Panzer Eisen rocket anchor into a pack of BuCUEs charging to the Archangel. A loud clunk echoed up the steel cable as the claw found purchase on a lone BuCUE's neck. Pulling back on the left stick as hard as possible, Kira made the Strike yank back as hard as it could – the winch retracting at the same time. The winch in the Panzer Eisen made a minor groan in protest, but the dog-like mobile suit was pulled into the air, "paws" waving back and forth in protestation.

Pushing the Strike back into the redline, the BuCUE and the Strike drew close to one another at blinding speed. Before any witnesses could blink, the Strike's Anti-Ship Sword struck like lightning. The BuCUE seemed unaffected, splitting in half as the Strike Gundam finally hit the ground, exploding into a dog-shaped pink explosion. As the BuCUE exploded, the Strike stood from its landing crouch, the unit's eyes glowing menacingly.

"Well." Andy dropped his coffee cup in mild shock, "This is b-" Andy's thoughts were cut off by loud curses, as the pain of the coffee in his lap finally reached his brain.

A few of the BuCUEs and a DINN had charged past the meteoric arrival of the Strike, intent on re-cripping the Earth Forces ship that had crashed in their territory. The lead BuCUE saw light glint off the bridge of the Archangel, and pushes its own engines harder to get the first strike.

"Commander Waltfeld!" Ensign Junior Grade John Smith shouted into the comm system, "Zadkiel found, moving in for the k-"

Smith's message was cut unceremoniously off by the green rush of an ion cannon blast. The shot speared the BuCUE's cockpit, bulging the armor out like a sausage left in the microwave too long. The other BuCUEs scattered from the explosion, circling off to the left or right – the DINN choosing to charge ahead instead.

There was a short pause as a mobile suit emerged from behind the bridge of the Archangel, an orange blob of a mobile suit. The GINN Orange Blossom blasted into the air from behind the Archangel, its Ion Cannon still glowing warm from the last blast. At the apex of its jump, the orange GINN raised a single fist at the DINN, a sole middle finger sticking up from its fist. Incensed, the DINN dove in even faster, a small fist-dagger pulled from a storage pocket on its wings. The pilot of the scouting mobile suit wasted no time, latching onto the Orange Blossom in mid-air like a vast predatory bird. Drawing its arm back, the DINN aimed for the cockpit of the Orange Blossom, only to punch forwa-

Another green light ripped across the battlefield, obliterating the DINN's cockpit. A shrug of the Orange Blossom's shoulders sent the unit spiraling toward the inhospitable sands below. If one followed the trail of the beam, they would be mildly surprised to see the Black Widow GINN emerging from the sands a half-kilometer away. Shouldering the sniper rifle on a recharge rack, the black GINN also flipped the bird, this time at the downed DINN, before taking off into the skies.

"I can't believe they're this stupid, Murrue," Mu's voice came up over the comm system, "These are supposed to be the best of the African forces, right?"

Murrue leaned over her chair towards the left, looking over the small pile of intelligence they'd gathered in the last few days and raised an eyebrow at what she saw, "Apparently. Their commander is certainly decorated in combat, and singlehandedly took out an entire platoon of tanks in his BuCUE." There was a pause, "Jesus. The man has also gotten a Guinness Book of Records entry for 'most coffee consumed in a day without a heart attack.' The hell."

Kira's voice cut across the Archangel's bridge over the communications system, "I have to agree with Mister LaFlaga," there was a series of soft grunts and minor alarms erupting in the background, "Either they're horrible, or we completely caught them by surprise."

Natarle joined in from the CIC, adding in her two cents, "I'm going to pray for the latter. Waltfeld might be toying with us – last time we checked, ZAFT had over a hundred mobile suits in ready use in this area of Africa."

Silence fell on the bridge as everyone digested the rather bad news in their own ways.

Romero Pal broke the silence by spoke up, clicking away at the computer in front of him, "Hey Kira, be careful. You're a half-click out there, kid. With the sand dunes the way they are, we can't provide immediate backup or support fire." a smirk crossed the man's unshaved face as he couldn't help but add, "I mean, it's not like you've got another friend waiting in ZAFT's forces waiting to defect at literally the last second to save your ass again."

"Pfft." came Kira's reply, "They way this fight is going, it'll be over in seconds... but thanks for the advice."

"Anytime, kid."

One Week Ago…

"Fuck you guys. I'm done."

There was a long pause, though the raging battle between ZAFT and the Eighth Fleet hadn't died down in the background. Athrun Zala's GAT-X303 Aegis floated in a gap in space between a damaged Strike Gundam and ZAFT's own captured trio of the Duel, Buster, and Blitz Kreig. This was perfect timing, as Romero Pal had mentioned prior to our flashback, as Strike Gundam was currently missing its left arm, and the Aile backpack's thrusters had been cleaved off by the beam saber carried by the Duel.

The Duel also had been outfitted with extra armor, carrying missile launchers and a railgun on its shoulders, much like how Nichol had customized his own Blitz before it. It was carrying an ignited beam saber, having lost his beam saber in combat earlier.

"...what?" Yzak Joule shouted over the comm link, "What the hell do you mean, Athrun?"

The Aegis pointed its beam rifle directly at the Duel, "What I said, Yzak." Athrun's voice was unwavering, the beam rifle gesturing to the left in a motion away from the Strike Gundam "I'm done with ZAFT and all of this bullshit. Back away from my friend before I kill you."

"Athrun?" Nichol's Blitz Kreig decloaked next to the Aegis, what the pilot hoped was a comforting, albeit giant and robotic, hand on the shoulder of his friend's robot, "Are you ok?"

The Aegis jerked back from the Blitz, Athrun making the Aegis shrug off the hand, "No. I'm not ok. My father is completely lying to me, and is probably lying to the country. My friends have died in this war for completely no goddamned reason, and I'm being asked to kill one of my oldest friends just because he wanted to survive and accidentally landed on the other side of the fight. Oh, and my fiance, who I was told died is alive on the ship he's trying to protect." He paused, lowering the beam rifle to the Aegis' side, "I'm done fighting my friends."

Yzak spat venomously, his Duel's shiny new railgun flashing as it warmed up a charge. The Duel's beam rifle shot up, aimed right at the Aegis, "I never really liked you, Athrun. I don't want to kill you, but I won't hesitate."

Athrun ignored the threat, instead responding with a simple "Fuck you too, Yzak."

The Aegis shouldered the damaged Strike Gundam, like helping a limping friend carry the weight. The pair began to turn to the Archangel, which was beginning a slow retreat from what was quickly becoming known as "The 8th Fleet Massacre."

Yzak fired, twin streaks of railgun-propelled and beam powered death heading right for the Aegis. Both impacted the mobile suit one after the other, and it was devastating. The railgun shot impacted first, draining the Aegis' Phase Shift down to zero. Before the armor could lose its bright pink coloring, the beam from the Duel's rifle hit the back thrusters of the defecting mobile suit. The entire engine mount exploded, bright pink smoke spewing from the Aegis as it and the Strike were propelled forward by the trio of impacts.

Unfortunately, this also aimed the pair of crippled mobile suits spiraling headlong into the Earth's gravity well.

"Son of a bitch!" Kira Yamato cursed loudly as he was tossed around in the Strike, hearing every single possible alarm sound off in the Strike at once. Some of them even sounded new. After several seconds of struggling with the dead controls on the Strike Gundam, he flicked a few switches on his left, then a few more on his right, and ejected what remained of the Aile pack. He paused for a moment, watching the pack tumble away somehow faster than the Strike and Aegis, a faint amber glow beginning to highlight both the pack and the monitors themselves.

Taking a slow breath, Kira tried to center himself. Failing miserably, he tried another tactic. "Athrun, can you hear me? I can't change course. We need to get to the Archangel."

The only reply Kira could hear from the Aegis was a soft groan from his best friend. Apparently, the double-impact had knocked Athrun plain cold. Looking below towards the Earth moving much too fast towards the pair of them for his tastes. A cold sweat began to trickle down the back of his Normal Suit.

"Well, shit."

Meanwhile, in the present…

Many would call what the Strike was doing a carefully-planned and choreographed dance in the air as it dodged incoming fire. Others might have noticed that Kira had simply programmed the Strike to automatically dodge any incoming fire that strayed within a three feet of the Strike. Either way, it was mostly effective, avoiding almost all of the beam fire without doing much harm to the body. It wasn't perfect, though, as the Strike was now missing some shoulder armor where the beam boomerang mount on the left would normally be.

Unfortunately, the program wasn't perfect. Alarms began to scream at Kira as the Strike's computer tried throwing up an incoming fire alert. A yellow streak of energy ripped through the atmosphere, piercing the Strike's Aile pack and ripping through the core of the unit. Kira let out a cry of surprise and frustration as all thrust power died immediately, sending the Strike crashing to the Earth below.

Landing with a bone-shaking crunch, Kira shook his head for a few seconds and tried to clear the cobwebs in his head. As the Strike lurched back to its feet, he cursed as the left leg seemed to curl slightly beneath the unit, like some of the internal structure had collapsed. Running his fingers over his keyboard, the Strike's center of balance shifted forward as the Aile pack's remains were ditched into the dust.

"Ok." Kira shook his head once more, "Maybe you had a point, mister Pal."

Rising up over the sand dunes cutting Kira off from visual sight of the Archangel, Kira could make out some of Andrew Waltfeld's elites. Five GINNs, all decked out in desert camouflage began to walk towards him. One shouldered what looked like an incredibly large sniper rifle to reload, while another thrust both arms forward to pop out a pair of…

"Ah, Christ," Kira mumbled softly as he tried to get the strike to move, "Flamethrowers."

Yes, flamethrowers. Two other GINNs made similar motions, each now sporting a pair of blue pilot flames underneath their fists. The remaining GINN unpacked an oversized battle axe from its rear skirt armor and hefted it over it's shoulder.

The three flamethrower GINN OCHER units charged forward, making use of their specially-designed desert-proofing to move faster than Kira could dream of on the terrain. They circled the Strike in seconds, flames already shooting out over the Strike's skin. Kira whipped the Anti-Ship Sword around in a circle, trying to hit one of the GINNs, or at least get them to back off for a second. The first GINN ducked under the blade, while the second didn't even bother to move.

The third GINN dodged back around the blade, grabbing it by the solid portion with both flame-spewing arms. With a fierce twist and yank, the Anti-Ship Sword flew out of the Strike's hands and was thrown across the desert floor.

The Strike's computer screamed as the reactor and internal temperature began to reach levels not meant for human survival. His fingers flew across the keyboard once more, venting any remaining coolant into the Strike's battery reactor to try and stave off complete shutdown. Curses flew from his lips as he saw his own normal suit's power levels start to drop as his own suit's temperature quickly began to match the expected high temperatures for today… and surpass it.

Another alarm went off, and Kira's hope for survival continued to dwindle like his Strike's power levels. Monitor screens began to blow out, melting in their mounts, while other systems began to shut down as well. The keyboard also began to stick to his normal suit, and the system gave out one last distorted groan as the primary power died.

Which also meant that Phase Shift had just cut out.

With his one functioning screen remaining, Kira's eyes widened with panic as he saw the GINN OCHER with the massive axe charge at him, blade at the ready.

From many miles off, surrounded by another twenty BuCUEs and seven DINNs, Andrew Waltfeld sipped away at his tenth cup of coffee this day. Watching the personal camera feed from all five GINN OCHER units at once, his smirk slowly turned into a grin.

"You got overconfident and careless, young man." another sip broke his concentration slightly, "Remote controlled BuCUEs with a few real pilots mixed in, and you think that we've all gone soft. And now you pay the price."

Toggling the comm switch in front of him, Andrew's grin faded completely, "Kill him. Now."

It felt like hours since the fight began, but Tolle could see from his GINN's clock that it had maybe only been one hour at most. While he now had a kill count that belonged in a Call of Duty game, he really could not shake a seriously bad feeling. It was almost like most of these units were charging in without regard for their own lives.

Tolle spun in place on the desert sands, piercing a charging BuCUE through the torso like a kebab. As sand spewed up in front of the crashing wreck, three more BuCUE units dashed out from behind the debris. Two took the left or right, while the third lept over the remains. The two on the sides dashed out to circle around Tolle's stolen mobile suit, dodging half-power ion cannon blasts. The third unit, however, put on the boosters and charged right in at Tolle and the Orange Blossom, mouth mounted beam sabers ignited and blaring with power.

"This is bullshit!" Tolle shouted as he drew the GINN Orange Blossom's Heavy Sword, intending to parry the BuCUE, "I think they're just fucking with us, Pal!"

"Fuck!" came an uncharacteristic curse from the radio. It was Romero Pal's voice, and something about it was unnerving to Tolle, "Captain, I think Tolle's right."

"Aaand the Strike Gundam just lost Phase Shift. It's running low on backup battery, too." Jackie Tonomura perked up, trying to add some helpful information, "I don't want to say anything, guys, but I think that our intel was right on Waltfeld."

The BuCUE's beam sabers flared with pink death as they swept towards the GINN, and Tolle screamed in panic, swinging the Heavy Sword down at the dog robot. Through what could only be considered a stroke of luck, the Heavy Sword somehow reflected some of the beam saber away from his GINN, and the BuCUE was pushed back. The rear legs of the BuCUE morphed into tank treads, spitting up sand as it tried to gain ground on Tolle.

"They're learning too," Tolle cursed as the servo motors in his GINN's left arm strained against the increased pressure. He was about to continue when he was thrown forward, his body straining on the straps and restraints. Alarms instantly rang out in the cockpit, and bright red warning lights told him exactly what had happened.

Of course, so would anyone who now looked at the GINN Orange Blossom. Unless they somehow thought that having a pair of smoking, pitted, and generally ruined slabs of metal lashed onto the GINN's back rather than wings was normal.

The GINN's arms screamed as Tolle finally shoved the melee BuCUE back, driving the solid sword into the pair of railguns on the back of the mobile suit, "Oh, come the fuck on!" A glance at the readouts told Tolle everything. Pulling the GINN slowly back to the Archangel as he took a few potshots at the pair of BuCUEs circling him, he spoke again, "Mu, I'm pinned down here. Flying's out. Can you get to Kira?"

Another three BuCUEs joined the circle, surrounding the orange GINN like sand sharks.

"And then can you save me?"


Athrun Zala shot straight up in his bed, eyes wide with panic and pain. Most of the pain came from the injuries he'd suffered in his last fight and subsequent crash. Other brief jabs of pain came from the IV needle ripping out of his arm and the catheter existing down below.

Further injuries weren't far behind, though. Athrun quickly left the land of the conscious with a flash of pink obscuring his vision microseconds before he was out cold again. The neon robot known only as Haro spun away from his face like a baseball hit out into the outfield, eventually hitting the wall on the far side of the medical bay. Cracks immediately shot along the wall as the Haro was embedded into the metal bulkhead.

"Son of a bitch! Son of a bitch!" it chanted in a cheery voice, the unit's voice coming out a little more warbly than the usual sing-song falsetto.

The only person who would be able to tell the tale of what had just happened stood not three feet away from Athrun's prone form, her whole body extended like a professional baseball pitcher. Lacus Clyne panted as her heart rate slowly approached normal, a cold sweat dripping down her forehead. She'd been sleeping calmly next to Athrun in spite of the battle raging outside. Athrun's sudden, but brief, awakening had jarred her into action based on pure instinct.

The fact that Lacus Clyne's first instinct upon being frightened awake was to grab her Haro and hurl it at near-lethal speeds at her attacker spoke volumes for how well Lacus was adjusting to life on a warship. It also spoke to the fact that her father once had dreams of her pitching for the professional baseball league of the PLANTs, the ZLB. When she was six, Siegel Clyne had tried to get his daughter to play catch with him. Estimates placed her fastball at 110mph at the time.

Biting her lower lip in embarrassment, Lacus' brain finally caught up with her body. Oh. Shit.

Unfortunately, Lacus now couldn't chase this icy chill that now gripped her heart. Athrun's broken nose and another concussion aside, she couldn't help but feel that Kira was in horrible danger.

Before the axe could meet its mark, the GINN OCHER was unceremoniously shoved aside. Hard. Kira barely got a glimpse of bright pink and light purple in a mobile suit's shape, a battle cry erupting over the comm system as the three flamethrower-equipped GINNS also retreated to a safe distance. As Kira began to get his bearings again, the Strike struggling back onto its feet, he saw a flash of silvery light. Just as fast, it was gone, a saber driven through the GINN's cockpit ending the pilot's life.

A flash of thrusters, and the pink mobile suit was back on its feet. Now that it was standing still, Kira could see it was one of the older model of GINNs, a GINN Trainer used for training ZAFT pilots. The corpse of the axe-weilding desert GINN was wedged onto the blade, and the GINN Trainer kicked it off the blade without hesitation. As the body fell to the desert sands, the blade was pointed into the air above its owner, and a voice came up over the comm system on both sides.

"My name is Cagalli Yula Athha," she pilot of the pink GINN Trainer announced, waving the blade sharply through the air to force the oil off her blade, "And this unit is under my protection, as the Princess of Orb and leader of the Desert Dawn."

"Oh, shit." one of the tan GINN pilots could be heard over the comm system, "It's the Lioness of Dawn!"

"Is that what you're calling me now?" she continued, sheathing her blade, but making sure that her mobile suit's rifle was now aimed at the nearest desert GINN, "I like it. Now, who wants to make trouble, and who wants to live?"

"Get us off the ground!" Murrue shouted out, buckling the seatbelt in her chair as she tried to keep something resembling composure, "How fast can we get into the air and provide a counterattack?"

Arnold Neumann's hands flew across the consoles in front of him, "I'm going to try bypassing the warmup, Captain." Rapid clicks could he heard as he tried jump-starting the massive engines that could defy gravity itself.

A new shrill alarm echoed throughout the bridge, giving everyone there a migraine in seconds flat.

"Shit." Arnold muttered, flipping one stubborn switch back and forth a half dozen times before cursing and hitting the steering wheel in front of him, "Looks like the constant impacts have thrown the Kanooten Valves out of alignment. We've gotta go the slow way if we're going to be moving anytime soon."

Murrue let out the growl of a disgruntled mechanic, palming her face. She screamed internally as she limited her reaction to "I just fixed those goddamned valves!"

A soft, rapid beeping erupted from Romero Pal's console. Raising an eyebrow in confusion, Romero spoke up, "...what?" His fingers flew across the screen, triple-checking the information in front of him, "Ma'am? We've got incoming."

The Lieutenant Commander's eye began to twitch.

Soaring high above the battle, a small fleet of large cargo planes could barely be seen several hundred feet above in a flying v formation. A scattering of shapes began to appear from behind the half-dozen planes, deploying in a similar fashion. The tip of the v began to deploy smoke, orange streams trailing towards the burning sands below. As the thirteen blobs came closer, it became incredibly easy to make out what they were.

Ten red mobile suits shone brightly in the morning sun, GINNs that were incredibly plain in design. An experienced eye might have been able to tell that these were trainer GINNs, used by ZAFT to train their newest pilots in basic space and Earth combat. However, their left shoulders had a bright yellow sun painted across in a stylized design. They all toted the basic M68 Cattus 500mm rifles, with mobile suit sized scimitars strapped to the backs or hips of their suits.

These ten were lead by another three GINN trainers, however. Bright orange and atomic yellow in color, each unit seemed personalized to the extreme. One GINN featured a hilariously oversized left arm, enhanced with armor and an extended reach. Sharp claws at the tips of the fingers made it clear that it was a deadly weapon in its own right, despite also toting a hilariously large battle axe in addition to the Cattus rifle. The opposite GINN featured heavier shoulder armor that draped around the unit like a royal cloak. The middle GINN Trainer also had heavy armor, but featured a pair of nasty-looking cannons mounted atop the shoulders.

The GINNs landed between the Archangel and the remaining ZAFT mobile suits. As the dust settled, a voice crackled up over the radio on a public channel.

"Attention ZAFT." the voice of the heavily-armored GINN spoke up, "This is Abdul al-Radi of the Desert Dawn. The Archangel and the crew onboard are under our protection." Abdul's suit stepped forward, loading a clip into his Cattus rifle, "Please. Try us."

The clawed GINN Trainer's unique hand spun in its socket like a drill, its pilot sounding bored as he spoke, "I've been wanting a workout. Don't disappoint, ZAFT."

Off in the distance, a yellow flare could be seen rising up over the horizon. As if on queue, all of the ZAFT forces that remained alive immediately reversed course into retreat. All of the Desert Dawn's friendly GINNs remained battle ready until the last bit of retreating smoke could be seen fading into the distance.

"...of course. The minute they have a fair fight, they run like cowards."

Kira Yamato had only blinked.

The GINN Trainer had lowered its blade, and was moving over to assist the Strike Gundam back to its feet like nothing was wrong. The four remaining GINN OCHERs all somehow looked frozen, each one stopped as it had tried to attack the Lioness of Dawn. Two of the GINNs even looked like they were stopped in mid-air, their weapons ready to strike.

Slowly, Cagalli Yula Athha and her GINN Trainer slid the blade back into its sheath, mounted on her unit's hip armor. As soon as the hand guard clicked with the sheath, each of the GINNs began to simply fall apart. It wasn't like some magic gremlin had pulled the screws of the GINNs, though. Each piece was like a blade had sliced through metal and wires easier than it could have gone through a stick of butter.

And to have done so in the blink of an eye?

Kira was impressed, if not outright in shock.

"Are you unharmed?" Cagalli spoke up over their shared comm connection, concern evident in her voice as the cockpit hatch on the GINN Trainer popped open. The pilot leaned out of her cockpit, sunlight hitting her features.

Kira froze again. He hadn't been hearing things, it really was Cagalli Yula Athha. And she had literally just saved his ass.

The Strike lurched down to one knee, although it felt more like falling to the ground. Kira popped open the hatch, and could feel the temperature difference as the outside air cooled his skin… despite what remained of the Strike's computers telling him the outside temp was around 100 degrees Farenheit in the shade. Kira left the Strike, though if he was honest, it was more like letting gravity take control of him and falling to the dunes below. Those flamethrowers had been worse than crashing through the Earth's atmosphere with Athrun last week.

Lurching up to his feet, Kira pried off the helmet of his Normal Suit. He breathed in sweet air as sweat dripped off his face. Looking up at Cagalli, Kira waved lamely and smiled at her, completely exhausted.

There was a long pause as several emotions flew across the face of one Cagalli Yula Athha.

First was confusion. This was swiftly followed swiftly by the look one gets when they feel like they know someone, but can't remember where or when they'd last met.

After this, a dawning of recognition crawled across her face, her eyes widening as she began to remember that, yes, she had met Kira before.

This was almost immediately replaced by a blazing rage, her eyes almost turning red as she remembered him.

With nothing short of a scream of fury, Cagalli threw herself out of the cockpit of her mobile suit. Her trajectory had her aiming right for the exhausted Earth Forces pilot, her left arm drawn back and hand cocked into a fist. She landed inches from Kira Yamato, dust and dirt kicked up into the air. The cloud around them created an odd shimmering effect around the pair of them in the afternoon sun. Before Kira knew it, however, he was now laying on the ground, looking up into the sun, his face feeling like a colony had been thrown into it.

Cagalli Yula Athha straightened back up, cracking the knuckles of her left fist and shaking it out. She'd never punched a Coordinator before, and was surprised to feel how solid his face was. Still, she'd gotten her point across.

"That," the Princess of Orb stressed through gritted teeth as she glared down at Kira, "was for stealing my first kiss, asshole."