Gundam 0093: Casting Stones12 March 0093
Second Battle of Axis
Ashel flipped his shield up, the incoming beam diffused into nothingness against the protective coating. He rolled 180 degrees, snapping off a handful of hasty shots back at his target. The Geara Doga seemed to bow down, and then its thrusters fired, a beam axe appearing in its left hand. Switching his rifle to the mobile suit’s left hand, Ash drew his own melee weapon with the right, and charted a collision course for the more heavily-built Neo-Zeon machine.
Seconds before they would have met, Ash reversed his direction, firing his thrusters at maximum to reduce closing speed, and fired one shot from his rifle. The beam caught the Geara Doga in the top of its head. The mobile suit never flinched, but neither did it swerve to follow the Jegan as Ash changed attitude once again and began moving perpendicular to the Doga’s travel, the enemy mobile suit continuing to accelerate until he put another shot into the backpack, causing the rockets to cease operating.
Ash began scanning his panoramic displays for another target, and saw two Dogas engaged with only a single Jegan, and bent his course in that direction, giving his thrusters a long burn to create a high closing velocity, racking his still-unused beam sabre and returning the rifle to his dominant hand. His left removed one of the grenades from the storage rack along the machine’s left hip. As he neared the unequal struggle he sprayed a half-dozen rifle shots at one Geara Doga, throwing the grenade in the projected path of the other. The he was past, his relative velocity too high to remain in the fight for long, though he began braking maneuvers as soon as he was out of range, which was also about the time the grenade detected the proximity of the Neo-Zeon mobile suit and exploded. It did no direct damage to the mobile suit – by design; the grenade was a flasher
, essentially only a high-intensity, short-duration flare. Normally, such things were of no value in combat, as the intensity of the light fell off rapidly with distance. However, when the flasher
detonates only a couple dozen meters from a mobile suit’s primary cameras they are capable of burning some of them out.
The other Jegan capitalized on the distraction, steadying down enough to pump three out of five rifle shots into the dazed Geara Doga, causing it to explode. The second one began preemptive dodging and broke contact, quickly ducking around microterrain on the asteroid’s exterior. The Jegan didn’t pursue, instead its pilot angled to rendezvous with Ash, making skin to skin contact a minute later.
“Thanks for the assist; I’m Nâzgul off
Ra Chutter,” a young woman’s voice said.
“Ash, from Cailum
,” he replied curtly. “Any sign of the worker pods returning to the flagship?”
“Didn’t exactly have time to watch,
” the woman said drily. “But since the ship’s still hovering over this rock, we can guess they haven’t.
“Well, let’s go look for some more business,” Ash suggested, “unless you’d rather work alone?”
“My father likes to say that everyone in a mobile suit is alone by definition. I’ve decided he’s right. But I’d much prefer to be alone near you than not.
“Your father would get along with mine,” Ash said with a snort. “How about we head over near that Musaka
and see what’s happening there?” he suggested, gesturing with one of the Jegan’s arms.
“Fine, as long as you don’t do anything stupidly heroic; Jegans are too lightly armored to make attacks on warships.
“So I’ve heard,” Ash responded tartly, “more times than I can count. I’ll take the lead.”
Acting on his words, Ash pointed the Jegan in the direction of a Musaka
approaching Ra Cailum
’s mooring on Axis. As the pair closed the distance they could see the lights of three mobile suits covering the cruiser’s approach. Almost as soon as he detected the trio, they goosed their engines and angled to intercept the Jegans well before of the cruiser, shaking out into an equilateral formation.
Cursing under his breath, Ash nudged his attitude control verniers to give him some lateral drift, slowly taking him outside the path of the center of the enemy formation. In the corner of his eye, he saw his new partner do something similar in another direction, allowing the two Londo Bell suits to gradually separate.
“ZOINKS it,” Ash snarled as he contemplated his situation. Tossing the beam rifle to his left hand again, he surreptitiously unlimbered his beam sabre, and prepared to jink radically when the Geara Dogas came within range, concentrating his attention on the bulky green machine closest to his lithe, almost insectoid suit. He keyed an auxiliary monitor to display a countdown until the two groups entered effective rifle range.
Less than a second before the countdown reached zero, Ash redirected his mobile suit, firing the Jegan’s engines at full in a desperate attempt change his position – but to close the distance with the nearest Neo-Zeon machine. His brain noted that the other Jegan was also firing it thrusters for all they were worth, but dismissed it as irrelevant. Based on their patterns of fire, the two Zeon pilots firing at him had clearly expected him to switch position, but to break away from them, and it took a second and a half to realize their misjudgment, and correct for it.
A second and a half, at the speed they were closing, was all that Ash required to get within melee range of the nearest Geara Doga, and the slash he made with his mobile suit’s sabre opened the new Zeon design from shoulder to opposite hip, the explosion as the reactor went critical from Minovsky Particle reactions buffeting the Jegan momentarily, throwing it into an odd spin that completely ruined the aim of the other enemy firing on Ash’s Jegan.
As he attempted to regain control of the mobile suit, Ash distantly noted explosions on the second Doga’s surface, and the cessation of its fire against him. He didn’t realize the other Jegan was anywhere near him until the collision alarm went off, barely moments before it performed the equivalent of a zero-gravity flying tackle. With the unexpected assistance, it was child’s play to get his ride back under control.
“Thanks for the assist,” he said grudgingly.
“Should I have left you pirouetting?
” Nâzgul asked, amused. “And where the hell did you come up with that insane maneuver?
“I said thanks,” Ash pointed out sharply. “What about the other Jollies?”
“The other what
“The Neo Zeon suits, what about the other two?” Ash started scanning his monitor for evidence of the other Zeon machines. “Or is there only one now? I saw some explosions on the other one shooting at me.”
“You mean the Geara Dogas? I got them both. Where did you learn to jink
into the enemy formation?
“Miina taught me that,” Ash said distractedly, still searching the sky and finding only the oncoming cruiser. “You got them both?”
For the first time, an auxiliary monitor flickered into life with an image of the other pilot’s helmeted face, though little could be made out apart from a wry smile. “I got them both; Miina
-neesan taught me, too, and I got one with the same move as you. And then I pumped the other full of lead while it was focusing on you.
Ash stared, and couldn’t hide his surprise. “She actually got you to call her neesan
“Sure, what’s the big deal,
” Nâzgul asked, puzzled. “Anyway, save that for another time; what do we do about that
?” Her Jegan indicated the approaching Musaka
“Live and let live?” Ash suggested.
“I suppose; goes against the grain, though,
” the other shot back with a sigh.
Ash’s computer chirped, and on querying informed him that the cruiser would shortly enter maximum effective firing range of the primary cannon…and he could see the cruiser’s main guns begin to train in their direction.
“I think it’s time to go somewhere else,” Ash volunteered.
“Sure you don’t want to play tag with it a little? It might call more Dogas for support, and we could bag them, too.
Ash quickly pulled up a diagnostic screen to scan damage he sustained. “Oh, the hell with it,” he said. “This is a really stupid idea, though; I only hope we live to regret it.”
“If you trained with Miina-
neesan much, it ought to be a snap,
” Nâzgul offered, clearly filled with a childlike pleasure at the thought of playing keep-away with a heavily-armed light cruiser while piloting a barely-armored interceptor mobile suit.
Ash broke the skinsuit contact by pulling away as the mobile suit equivalent of stalking away in a huff rather than respond verbally.
began ranging shots as the two Jegans accelerated in the opposite direction in order to match velocities with the cruiser, weaving all over space in order to frustrate the gunners aboard the Neo Zeon warship.
As the pair from Londo Bell danced around the Musaka
, staying always outside the range of its light defensive gun turrets, the cruiser slowly edged closer to the broken terrain of the errant asteroid in an obvious attempt to hinder the Jegans from approaching its drastically less defended underbelly; despite fifteen years of intermittent combat in space, most warship designs still lacked significant defensive weaponry on their ventral surfaces. But some ship captains were at least wise enough to learn from dozens – more likely hundreds – of their deceased antecedents.
Unfortunately, the cruiser’s crew wasn’t paying much attention to the surface of the asteroid, other than making certain they didn’t run into it. Everyone was taken completely by surprise when another Jegan shot up from Axis’s surface and landed on the ventral main turret, plunging its beam sabre into the roof of the turret at its feet, and nonchalantly began shooting into the underbelly of the warship. As secondary explosions began to appear along the Musaka
’s hull, the new Jegan flexed its legs and jumped off, thrusters flaring into life, and charted an evasive course among the cragged surface of Axis.
Ash metaphorically picked his jaw up from the floor, and bent a course in the same direction as the bushwacking Jegan, with Nâzgul following suit a few moments later. The new Jegan pulled up when it was out of range from the cruiser’s main guns, distancing itself from the rock.
As he neared the newcomer, Ash’s radio came to life, though with the high static quotient common of mid-density Minovsky particles.
“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell your mother about that. That’s in your own interest, too.
Ash groaned to hear that voice.
“You know that was insane, right?
” Nâzgul put in, unsolicited. “If I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t believe it! You’re not supposed to be able to sink a warship with a Jegan!
“That was just another target, kid; anything is sinkable when it gets complacent. Including you,
” the other Jegan’s pilot said with dry tones of bitter amusement. “Nor is it sunk, yet. Give it a bit. And it ain’t my fault the Nemo Deuce can’t take on a warship in a straight fight, I argued up and down with the design staff on that one, but the bugger-crats in the Federal ZOINKS Forces wanted to pinch a few more pennies. Wouldn’t be so bad, but the Stark kits are eight months behind schedule, and prolly two years from deployment.
” The Jegan’s head swiveled over its shoulder. “Cailum’s on the rise; so it’s time to hope either that the landing party did its job or that all the bugger-crats are still in Kong-town.
Ash zoomed his cameras in the direction of Ra Cailum
, and was glad to see its engines firing, moving the battleship away from Axis.
” the new Jegan’s pilot directed, “let’s make sure no damned jollies put holes in Noa’s ark.
“And there it goes,
” Nâzgul said as the Neo-Zeon cruiser behind them succumbed to its damages, erupting into a sequence of red, orange and yellow fireballs which quickly went out as the oxygen from the ship’s compartments was consumed.
” the other Jegan pilot scoffed, “still had oh-two in the ship’s spaces. Assnavel never should have let this rabble fight. If he wanted to commit suicide-via-Ray-gun, he should have done it by himself.
“What – no, who are you talking about?
” Nâzgul asked.
“He calls Aznable ‘Assnavel’,” Ash spat out, “and calls Geara Dogas ‘jollies’. Don’t ask him why or you’ll get a longer lecture than you want to suffer through,” he advised.
“Oh, you know this guy? Is he off
“He’s off his rocker is what he’s off,” Ash commented sourly. “Nâzgul, meet my father – my foster
-father, Simon Mullet.”
“Ignore this one, kid, he’s just living proof of what Clemens said ‘bout the diff’ernce ‘tween men and mutts,
” Mullet replied with dark amusement.
“Hell of a place to meet you, sir; my father asked me to drop in to greet you if I ever made it to Anaheim’s offices. He’ll be surprised to find out you’re with the Task Force. I’m Nâzgul Mekki.
“The Witch-Queen herself, eh? I doubt your old man’ll be surprised to find me here – he knows me too well. That was not bad flying, though it’s a shame you didn’t inherit Mek’s skill with long-guns.
“The Jegan doesn’t have a long gun, sir,
” Nâzgul pointed out. “What was that about a suicide with a ray-gun?
“Stop calling me ‘sir,’ kid, I’m only a Master Chief, an’ a reservist at that, though Noa threatened me with a commission if I survive. And, yeah, damned near criminal not providin’ the Nemo Deuce with a real firearm; makes me long for my sniper. Either of them. But, no, they’re ‘obsolete’. Hah! Ashel, translate what I said for the girl; I don’t speak normal too good no more.
Ash groaned again, and let out a few expletives before keying his radio, though it was obvious from his voice that he did so only under protest. “Chief Mullet, whom we both outrank, if he’d actually deign to notice such things –”
“See what I mean? Bitin’ the hand as made him prosperous.
“Anyway, Chief Mullet fought in the AEUG, and saw both Aznable and Lieutenant Ray in action first-hand, and thinks that the Lieutenant is easily capable of kicking Aznable’s ass. Don’t ask me why he mispronounces people’s names, I’ve asked before and he pretends to not hear.”
“Assnavel’s gonna get spanked six ways from Sunday,
” Mullet agreed. “Assnavel couldn’t beat the Ray-gun when he was a snot-nosed brat getting through battles by button-mashing and only had dates with his right hand. Unlike the Ray-gun, Assnavel hasn’t learned ZOINKS in the fifteen years since then. Or he wouldn’t be pulling this Neo-Zabi act. I ain’t seen either of their suits in a while, but I’m sure Assnavel is getting bitch-slapped again.
“Hey, look at Axis!
Ash swung his main camera around to increase the detail as fracture lines appeared in the center of the asteroid, flames running along the fault lines. In silence broken only by his own breathing, the asteroid split apart, the two halves slowly but inexorably separating, a host of minor debris expanding within the gap between them.
“Yes! We did it!
” Nâzgul shrieked over the radio.
“Thank God!” Ash heard himself saying. “I didn’t think it could be done!” He collapsed against his seat restraints, a sense relief flooding his body as if he’d been holding his breath and just started breathing again.
Mullet’s Jegan twisted and shot off without explanation, intercepting Ra Cailum
at max thrust.
“Is he in that much of a rush to celebrate with other people?
Ash frowned. “Not usually.” He noticed something flashing on an auxiliary monitor, and keyed it to display on the main screen. “Oh ZOINKS!
” He keyed his radio, feeling his mouth go dry. “Nâzgul! What do you project for the back half’s course?” he asked, dreading the answer.
“It’s going to bounce out…of…or-…Oh, my god!
The Jegan’s computer chirped again. Ash almost ignored it, afraid of what new disaster portended, and was surprised to discover it was indication of a large heat source at the leading edge of the rear chunk of Axis. “Nu
Gundam? What’s Lieutenant Ray thinking?”
A green light began enfolding the front edge of the chunk, centered on the light from the Gundam’s engine. Ash felt an upsurge of anger forming in his breast, anger turning to adamant resolve. “ZOINKS Assnavel,” he snarled, aiming his Jegan at the green light and keying the removal of the safety locks on his engines.
The acceleration rocked him back against the linear chair, but with the single-minded focus he now had such mundane issues didn’t penetrate his conscious mind. It seemed but the blink of an eye before he slammed the shield and shoulder of his Jegan against the asteroid. He set the mobile suit firmly in place, judged the most efficient angle to transfer the thrust from his rockets to the decelerating rock and adjusted the machine’s position accordingly. Only then did he take the time to look around, and was surprised to see many other Jegans either already pushing against the remnant of Axis or rapidly approaching. He was even more surprised to see a trio of Geara Dogas slam their bodies against the rock, engines burning blue-white.
Dozens more machines joined the press, a mix of undamaged Jegans and even GM IIIs; Ash didn’t know where they came from, but nodded in satisfaction as they joined the desperate effort.
In his heart of hearts, Ash new it was futile. And didn’t care.
The vibration from his engine changed, the apparatus seeming to hiccup. “ZOINKS!” he snarled, just before his thrusters overloaded and exploded, sheering the entire backpack assembly off the Jegan’s back, buffeting his mobile suit out of its position, sending it bouncing wildly along the side of the asteroid fragment, the gyrations making him black out despite the best efforts of the linear seat to compensate.
Ash was surprised to wake up. Doublely so, on consideration, to wake up inside a sleeping bag within what looked like a stateroom aboard a ship. He looked around, his eyes wide with wonder, his mind fogged with confusion. Someone yawned nearby, almost on top of him from the sound, and he tried to turn to see who.
It was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, dusky-skinned woman, lying with her stomach against the bulkhead in another sleeping bag positioned ‘above’ his, her head only a couple dozen centimeters from his. “Took you long enough to wake up,” she said, a hint of annoyance permeating the sound.
“Am I really alive?”
The woman laughed, the motion sending the tresses of her hair swirling around her head. “Would you be asking that if you were dead?”
“I don’t know,” Ash replied, his eyes unfocusing as he considered it abstractly, “I’ve never been dead before.”
“Well, you’ll have to wait a bit to carry out an experiment,” she responded, still amused, a wry smile spreading across her face. “You’re alive and well, though the crew’s split down the middle on whether you’re a brave hero to be lauded or an overeager idiot to be shunned.”
Ash considered this, but his train of thought was derailed by the motion of the woman’s hair. “What do you think?”
The woman cocked her head to one side and appeared to give the idea some thought. “You’ve got balls, Ash, I’ll give you that. What the hell you were thinking, disengaging the safety restrictions on your engine, I don’t know. But it was certainly brave.”
“Is that what I did?” Ash asked. “Christ, that’s stupid! A surefire way to blow up a mobile suit.”
“Which is exactly what you did. I’m split down the middle, on that, too. With the way you handled yourself during the fight, I thought you were level headed. I wasn’t expecting that reckless side.” She smiled at him, her eyes half-closing. “You’re a very interesting man, Ash,” she said.
Ash’s mind was slipping rapidly down the roof in the rain when a memory resurfaced and he stiffened.
“What happened to Axis?” he asked quietly, just managing to keep his voice from cracking.
The woman looked at him curiously as if he’d asked something strange. “Oh, that. Some crazy Newtype thing happened, and both chunks bounced safely out of orbit. The brains are still trying to figure out where they’re going to settle in orbit. But Lieutenant Ray died in the process.”
“So the planet’s safe?”
“Yep; the surviving Neo-Zeon forces have retreated towards Sweetwater for now.”
Ash relaxed inside the sleeping bag in relief. “Who are you, anyway?”
The woman gave him the quizzical look again, as if she was having trouble understanding what he was asking. “Um, Nâzgul Mekki? Remember? Your erstwhile wingmate? We destroyed a bunch of mobile suits together?”
“Holy ZOINKS!” Ash said. “You’re way more beautiful outside a normal suit.”
“That better not be an invitation,” she replied warily.
Ash blushed, but was saved from answering – if not from further embarrassment – when the hatch cycled open and a man wedged himself into the opening.
“Damn, I don’t get to wake you up,” the man groused.
Ash sat up and started to struggle out of the sleeping bag until he realized that to continue would be even more embarrassing. “Where’re my pants?”
“No one knew your stateroom,” Nâzgul chuckled, “so when we got your derelict butt to the ship, which was no easy task, the surgeon who checked you over said to just throw you into any pilot room and wait to see if you woke up. Your suit stank something awful so I sent it to the cleaners as soon as I got you out of it.”
“Hers didn’t smell nearly as bad,” the figure in the door way remarked helpfully, causing Ash’s head to snap around and stare at the man. “What? You thought she was in that sleep-sack because she likes you?” The man grinned. “She’s naked as the day she was born in there, based on what was in the bundle she passed me.”
“And you call yourself my father?” Ash asked, exasperated.
“Don’t think I’m not, kid,” came the amused reply.
“So why did she
“Caring for infants is women’s work,” Mullet replied. “And I wasn’t here, anyway; Noa needed me to help straighten out the mess all those extra mobile suits caused. There’s Nemo Deuces an’ GMs stuck all over this ship at the moment.” He paused and shrugged. “And I guess she thought your suit would look better on the floor.”
Nâzgul’s laugh rang out sweetly. “Not at all, Chief; I wanted to have something juicy to tell Miina-neechan
the next time I see her. Disrobing your son and then stripping down to the buff and slipping into a bag next to him seemed the most devastating thing available at the time.”
,” Ash groaned. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” He shot a sharp glance at Nâzgul. “How the hell
was that even something you thought of planning for?”
“Some people are just naturally devious,” Mullet shot in with approval. “There’s a lot you could learn from her, Ash. And it’ll be good for you to have someone your own age to play tricks on.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly
what I need,” Ash grumped, settling back into the sleeping bag.
“Chief Mullet, was this fight really worthwhile?” Nâzgul asked soberly.
“There’s millions of people on Earth who’d say it was,” he replied. “Do you think they’re wrong?”
“Not exactly, sir,” she hazarded, “I mean, clearly we saved countless lives, now and in the future...but are people really worth saving? It was other people trying to kill those millions of folks they’d never met before, many of them innocent of all the crimes Captain Aznable drummed up against the Federation.”
“And we killed the ones who were trying to do that,” Ash pointed out fiercely. “And the next time someone tries, we’ll kill them, too. We’re here to protect the people who can’t protect themselves. We hunt monsters so they can’t hunt people.”
“But those monsters are people, too,” Nâzgul pointed out.
“Anyone who tries to destroy a large portion of humanity has clearly decided they aren’t human – else they’d start decreasing the size of the human race with themselves, first.”
“So certain, son?” Mullet asked, amused. “It’s good to be young and idealistic. Humanity has come within a hair’s breadth of destroying itself many times, often defended by only a handful of ornery bastards with no support from the fat, dumb and happy majority.”
“We haven’t killed ourselves yet,” Ash stated, “and we won a big victory here. It’ll be a few more years before anyone crazy enough to try is able to build sufficient power for the attempt.”
“Victories like this we need to avoid,” Mullet said with a derisive snort. “The Ray-gun dead, Londo Bell gutted of both ships and pilots – son, the Federation’s emerged weaker from every fight it’s had in the last fifteen years. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t have to make you stronger – sometimes it sets you up to be killed by the next attack. You don’t always know the difference between a real attack and something designed just to distract you, either, just like the flasher you used on that Jolly, or Assnavel’s surrender ruse. The crazies only have to get lucky once to kill Earth; the defenders of that pile of mud have to be lucky every time.”
“So we’ll continue to be lucky,” Ash said defensively.
“Better to be good enough to not need luck,” Nâzgul suggested.
Mullet chuckled. “You really are your father’s daughter, kid. I’m glad you lived through this.”
“I’m rather pleased with that, myself, Chief,” she replied smugly. Her expression turned quizzical. “Can you explain what the hell happened there at the end with Axis?”
“No,” Mullet said, scowling, “nothing I know can explain that ZOINKS. I heard Oktober saying something about wanting to experiment with some new gear designed for freaks on the Nu
Gundam; I told him that if he was cheeky enough to ZOINKS with the Ray-gun’s personal design for a mobile suit, that was his business, but that if anything bad came of it, he’d answer to me.” His brow furrowed further. “Not sure if I should go beat his ass or not. I don’t know what he did, but that funky green light seemed to be coming from the Nu
, so maybe there’s really something to these newhypes, and then I’ll have to thank him.”
“All’s well that ends well?” Nâzgul suggested.
“This isn’t over until I get my clothes back!” Ash snarled.
Any errors in the sequence of events are of course mine; I was unable to find a copy of CCA in Afghanistan, and so had to rely on memory. Mullet referring to the Jegan as the "Nemo II" is deliberate, just like all his other rechristenings of mobile suits and characters. Otherwise, I tried to fit this as seemlessly into the CCA story as I could. The timeline feels a little compressed, but that's for dramatic purposes.
If you liked this, or are wondering who the hell some of the characters are, try reading Gundam 0085: Wargames
and Gundam 0083: False Dawn