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 Post Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 12:03 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
Posts: 57
Location: Flying in a blue dream
Some older stuff that I'm posting here because I want to.

How The Other Side Lives.
Mission One
“Love Love Battleship”


July 15, 0086
Luna II

Commander Cassius Pomodoro nearly burst into tears as he glided across the once- gunmetal gray bow of his ship. Despite the fact that the vessel was his first command as well as the newest warship in the Federal Space Force, apparently nothing was enough to protect it from the ravages of Luna II’s in- asteroid mechanics. In the Commander’s eye, nothing could surpass the image of his ship leaving the dock under its own power for the very first time. Artificial lighting cast harsh shadows across the engine nacelles while the omnipresent natural light reflected from the hull, just barely obscuring its lines in a veil of pale gauze.

“The finish was so perfect too,” Commander Pomodoro managed between stifled sobs. His sadness quickly transformed to anger at the sight of a lone crewman pushing away from scaffolding that surrounded the vessel. “You!” His booming voice reverberated throughout the entire asteroid and nearly frightened the poor enlisted man out of his coveralls. “Why in the name of all that is holy and Zephyr Phantoms did you decide to cover the glorious and, I may mention, conventional coloration on my precious ship with such… such… horrible graffiti?”

The hapless crewman stammered and stuttered but mainly withered under the officer’s scathing tirade. Commander Pomodoro continued. “Who authorized such an offence to the eyes? I know it wasn’t you Petty Officer,” he paused to read the crewman’s nametag, “Abrams, because you are just following orders. But, for God’s sake, man, say something. You can’t even get a word out! You can deface my ship but you can’t give me an answer? What kind of bicycle- riding bear show is being run here? It’s so bad that I can’t even see any bears! Are you a bear, Petty Officer,” Commander Pomodoro stopped briefly to read the other’s nametag again, “Abrams? ‘Yes sir’ or ‘No sir’ is an acceptable answer in the land of Pomodoro, which, I might add, you are standing in right now. Maybe one of your cronies here has an answer.” To highlight his point, he made an exaggerated sweep across the vast hangar and the growing crowd that had been drawn by the morbid fascination of someone being chewed out.

Strangely enough, no one volunteered. Commander Pomodoro smoothed out his fire engine red mustache while he waited for an answer. Finally someone spoke up. “Sir, we’ve just received our orders.” Commander Pomodoro jerked his head around to find the now- familiar face of his Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Jimmy Chambers. Suddenly, like a toddler who has tired of his new toy, both officers pushed off the deck and effortlessly glided away. No one had to strain their ears to hear the Commander’s voice.

“Did you see what they did to our ship?”

**

All was quiet. Or, more precisely, mostly quiet if one could ignore the yells of angry crew chiefs and the otherworldly noises from impact wrenches, plasma torches, carbide cutters, lathing machines and innumerable other tools and devices. Only a few mechanics mulled over the hull of what was laughingly referred to as the “Pride of the Space Force” amongst the many men and women who prepared the ship for its maiden mission. Then again, no one could long resist the lure of defacing such large expanses of virgin wall, especially when such an action was fully authorized by all the right superiors. Someone, in what he or she obviously considered a joke, repainted the vessel’s name in massive multi- colored letters. To add insult to injury, a different hand scripted a nickname; “The Ship Too Tough To Win.”

Bright geometric shapes, swaths of handmade color, pictorial representations of various natural activities, grinning death’s heads, and even a massive tooth- rimmed shark mouth across the bow all served a purpose beyond morale. The ship, christened EFSF Bastard, was going on a date.

In another section of the enormous bay sat her companion, an old Magellan class warship peculiarly named Yamashiro. At over 320 meters, the aging vessel dwarfed her escort. And with her many guns proudly displayed she looked much more deadly as well. Like more than a few ships mothballed at Luna II, the crew and technicians could not leave well enough alone.

Unlike the other ships of her class, the Yamashiro could carry a mobile suit team inside the hull at the expense of the upper forward- most gun turret and all missile launchers. The lower gun turret was moved further back on the hull, replacing the re- entry capsule but, like the forward- facing flank turrets, sported three barrels instead of two. A revised engine block unique to the ill- fated 0083 version of the battleship was retained but both rear- firing turrets were removed, replaced with turrets housing the twin main guns “borrowed” from the ’83 Block Salamis cruiser. The new weaponry, integral mobile suit complement, and engine block combined with a lighter armor profile to make a large battlecraft as fast as most cruisers but with the ability to outgun all but the largest true battleships.

**

Commander Pomodoro and his XO patiently waited outside General Pluskat’s office. Though the General was not in charge of Luna II, he was ostensibly in command of the mothballed ships and therefore had some semblance of control over the orders given to the Bastard.

Minutes passed before both men were summoned into the General’s office. Both saluted smartly and were greeted by a return salute. General Pluskat gestured to two rather comfortable- looking chairs across the General’s organized but cluttered desk. “Thank you for coming, gentlemen,” the older officer said. “As both of you now know, your ship will be escorting the Yamashiro and the cruiser Thresher from Luna II to Konpei Island via L1. While the cruiser will have a skeleton crew, the Yamashiro is taking a number of cadets from the Academy. As both of you know, these cadets are important and they need to have a good experience. I wanted you to be aware of their presence before you set out.

“I don’t believe I have to remind either of you just how vital this group is. The Space Force is still reeling from the events of the past few years and we need intelligent and capable men and women to take our place. I trust that you will both do your best in this regard. Do either one of you have any questions?” There were no questions. “Good luck, gentlemen.”

**

Ensign James Warscol drifted around the interior of the Bastard and admired the sights and smells of the unsullied passageways. As the first pilot to arrive on board, he had first choice of bunks and locker space but made do with the furthest rack in the compartment. He liked things that way. He liked the quiet. People were typically not quiet; therefore, he did not typically like people. It all seemed quite simple and logical to him.

Ensign Warscol breezed through the Academy courses during his four years there, specializing in electronics engineering while training to become a mobile suit pilot. Another year passed after graduation before “Lightning” Warscol would be assigned to a ship. Unlike many of the other crewmembers serving on the PCS- 8 Bastard, he delighted in his assignment.

Without thinking, the young ensign found himself in the ship’s hangar bay. In the furthest recesses of the space stood his black and gray mobile suit. He stood at its feet for a moment and admired the machine. It was his machine. Out of twenty- four units built, his was number twelve, as evidenced by the white “12” on the unit’s left shoulder. Let others balk, he thought. He’d show everyone that he was unafraid of using a Zeon- based design.

In the midst of his admiration, young James failed to notice a coverall- clad man glaring not at the machine, but at him. “You afraid it’s gonna up and disappear on ya’?”

Ensign Warscol nearly leaped from his uniform. “N- no sir. Not at all,” he managed before he noticed the other man’s rank insignia. “Uh…umm… My apologies Master Chief.”

It was too late. No amount of apologizing could stop the older enlisted man. “Sir? You called me ‘Sir’? Son, I work for a livin’. I can’t be a ‘sir’. And don’t try any of that ‘officer automatic respect’ crap on me either, ‘cause it ain’t gonna work. I’ve been in the military longer than you’ve been eatin’ solid food, probably longer. If you think for even a minute that…”

“Good morning, Master Chief.” James turned to see a large black man floating towards them and silently hoped that he would not have to deal with two enraged people.

“What’s so good about it, Mo?” came the Master Chief’s gruff reply.

Chief Mo Pad flashed a grin of impeccably pearly white teeth before talking again. “We all woke up this morning, Master Chief. Isn’t that good enough?”

“No. I’d rather have croaked in my sleep than face another day on this ship.” Master Chief glanced over at James as if daring the young officer to move or speak. “Besides, if I didn’t wake up, I wouldn’t have had to deal with this little punk.”

“Now, now, Master Chief,” Mo said in a calm, soothing tone. “Let’s not bother about that. While he is young, he is an officer and therefore prone to make mistakes. Why don’t you go get some coffee, eh Master Chief?”

Master Chief pondered for a moment before answering. “Sure. Fine. Besides, there’s s’posed to be five more comin’ within an hour. I need to be ready for ‘em.” And with that, the senior enlisted man shoved away toward the door leaving James Warscol scratching his head at the surprising turn of events.

Before he could say anything, Mo Pad started. “Don’t worry too much about Master Chief Barnes, sir. He likes to be loud, but that’s just because he’s bitter. My name’s Mo Pad and I’m the cook. I also happen to be the Protestant lay leader on board. Who are you, Ensign Warscol?”

**

July 15, 0086
L1 Shoal Zone

Pirates. Privateers. Buccaneers. Brigands. All different names for one general class of people. Bad guys. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries A.D., pirates of every name and background ran amok throughout the waterways of the earth. It was the heyday of piracy. Some of those people were, like Sir Francis Drake, authorized by governments to capture and disrupt shipping of rival nations. Others were licensed by massive companies to defend their own merchant ships and sink competitors. Still others looted and pillaged and burned for no reason other than bloody- mindedness. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, concerted efforts put away such rampant piracy. During the late twentieth century A.D. piracy made a comeback.

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself for the sake of those who didn’t make it the first time.

Against all sane reasoning, a solitary inter- Side transport picked its way through the Shoal Zone at Lagrange Point 1. Her captain was a very repugnant little man with a reputation for bad decisions. He was the type of person who thought that the saying “Warts and all” meant he should be automatically cherished because of his many warts. In the trading circles he was known as a frog, having all the bad tendencies and looks associated with such a name. His crew despised him and his ship barely functioned within legal limits. Every man thought about mutiny at least twenty times since the ship left Side 3 two days ago. It was indeed a new record.

Somewhere amidst the wreckage, among the scorched metal and ceramic and glass sat a motley collection of machines. Most looked little better than the debris aimlessly scattered around them, but at least one looked well maintained. Still, despite the haphazard and seemingly random paint jobs every vessel had, there was one common factor between them all: each bore the skull- and- crossbones on a blood red field.

From elsewhere in the field, a crimson flare ignited and burned brightly and briefly. Every man and woman who operated under the Jolly Roger knew exactly what the apparently random light meant. Within minutes, the motley fleet began winding its way through the dangerous area of space.

Unfortunately, the lonely transport also spotted the signal and her captain, for once making an intelligent decision, ordered the craft to accelerate to the edge of the Shoal Zone as quickly as possible. After all, the disgusting captain thought, random signal flares in the middle of uninhabited shoal zones can never be a good thing. The rest of the crew, sensing danger as the rickety vessel around them began to shudder under the sudden acceleration, dashed to the cramped bridge to find out what, exactly, was happening. By the time the first man reached the bridge and broke down the locked door, the captain was curled up into as tight a ball as he could make and sobbing uncontrollably.

“What’s going on, Captain?”

No words could be made out in between the ugly captain’s gasps and wheezes, but he barely managed to point a finger toward the distance. Unnatural lights flared briefly and disappeared. Even the most vacuum- hardened spacer would have been mildly frightened by what could be mistaken for lost souls of years past. Of course, the gun- toting machines that created those flashes were very much real.

Not surprisingly, when a brilliant cylinder of coruscating illumination passed mere meters in front of the transport’s bow, only the captain was truly shocked. An indicating light began to flicker as a visual representation of an incoming message. One of the crewmembers flipped the switch to deactivate the light and open a communications channel.

A peculiar voice flooded the bridge. “This is Captain Fortune speaking. Of whom do I have the honor of conversing with?”

The transport’s first mate responded. “My name is Siebhur. Gresham Siebhur and I’m this ship’s first mate. The captain is currently… indisposed at the moment.”

The hearty laugh of someone who knows he holds the winning flush in a poker game came through the speakers. “Well, First Mate Gresham Siebhur, you are ordered to stop your vessel and stand by for boarding. And please, don’t be stupid and try something heroic. If you do, we just might be forced to kill you in a really bad way.”

**

July 16, 0086
Luna II

Every cubic centimeter of hangar bay aboard the Bastard was taken up by something. Shortly before launch, most of that something was mobile suits. And nearly every person in the hangar bay had something to say or do that happened to be vitally important and therefore, should be yelled at the top of his or her lungs.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Marionette Claire walked around the tumultuous, brightly- lit space with a sense of pride. Anyone catching a glimpse of the tall, thin woman would have been sorely tempted to dismiss her as another one of the attractive but unattainable women who are aggravatingly secure in their singleness. Anyone thinking such thoughts would not have been far from the truth.

Lt. Claire could have been a schoolteacher. Her pale complexion contrasted with her large, nearly black eyes and obsidian hair pulled tight in a bun. High cheekbones, sharp features and a delicate neck of near- legendary length all combined to form a living representation of an antique china doll. Beneath her fragile appearance lay a solid foundation of ice and stone. As the new mobile suit commander on the Bastard, she would need every bit of help she could find.

**

“PCS-8 Bastard, you are clear for launch.”

Commander Pomodoro smiled at the sound of the statement. “Thank you very much, Control.” He turned and stared through the bridge windows while smoothing his mustache. “Helm, take us out.”

Twin lane beacons led out into cold space, guiding the gaily- colored ship away from the hollowed asteroid. Following the lead ship were two other, larger craft painted in more somber colors. Bastard was starting her career while the older Yamashiro and Thresher were ending their own. The newest ship was dolled up for a date. Those ships that were about to die were attending a funeral.

For Commander Cassius Pomodoro, leaving the docks for his first mission as a “Skipper” was everything he could have imagined and more. He was even beginning to like the paint job, despite himself. Commander Pomodoro reveled in the perfect moment he had waited for since his childhood. Captaining a ship had been a lifelong goal that he had finally attained. How many people could say that?

“Yamashiro and Thresher both report they are clear and away under their own power, sir.”

“Thank you, Exec,” Commander Pomodoro said without thinking. “Helm, bring us about to one- two- zero.” Slowly the trio passed the outer buoy marking the edge of Luna II control.

“Course one- two- zero set aye aye, sir.”

Lt. Commander Chambers strode from one bridge station to another, making sure that all was going as planned. “Secure maneuvering watch; set regular space detail. Section one has the watch.”

The engineering officer, Lt. Commander Zachary McKee, phoned the bridge in response. “Secure maneuvering watch, aye aye, sir.”

“All ahead one- third.”

“All ahead one- third aye, sir,” said the helmsman while turning the Engine Order Telegraph to the ordered speed. In the maneuvering compartment near the engineroom, the standing throttleman answered the order and opened the throttles accordingly.

“Lieutenant Claire, lay up to the bridge.”

One of the on- watch sensor operators, Petty Officer Dale Mann, leaned over to the other sensor operator. “Have you seen this Lt. Claire yet?” he whispered huskily. When his companion shook his head, Mann continued. “She’s supposed to be this knockout ice queen. I have this buddy down in maintenance and he said…” A sharp glare from the XO cut the enlisted man’s comment short.

“All personnel check compartments. Report to control.” All around the ship, men and women in every division inspected every room to ensure there were no problems of any kind. On a new ship’s initial cruises, problems were bound to occur. Thankfully for the crew of the Bastard, there were no major problems during the compartment checks.

“Captain, all compartments report conditions normal. No leaks.”

The skipper gave a terse nod in the general direction of the report. “Very well. Carry on.” Everything was going smoothly, and that worried Commander Pomodoro. No major problems or defects. “The builders and precom crew must have done their jobs, eh Exec?”

“So it seems, sir.” Lt. Commander Chambers turned back to the myriad displays and gauges.

Off to one side, out of the way of the bridge crew, two men with red armbands conversed with one another. Any experienced crewmember would immediately know those men, so loved and hated in turn. Both men, a Chief and a First Class PO, chuckled at some humorous comment. As the drill coordinators, they came up with ideas for the many drills scheduled for the initial cruise.

“Sir, we seem to have gathered a crowd.” Both the Captain and the XO perked up at the news. Seeing all eyes focusing on him, Petty Officer Pious Greene wisely decided to elaborate. “Mobile suits from Luna II have joined up. From the looks of things, they’ve decided to see us off.”

Commander Pomodoro brightened up immeasurably, if it were possible for the man to smile any larger. “Let’s thank them for their efforts, then. Petty Officer Petzold!” he called to the man sitting at the communications panel. “Give me a channel to those mobile suits.”

“Open comm channel aye aye, sir.”

“Wait a minute, sir.” Greene cringed as he felt every pair of eyes on the bridge attempt to burrow into the back of his neck. “Sorry, sir. It looks like the mobile suits don’t care about us.”

“And why would you say that, Petty Officer Greene?” the captain said, biting of the last words like a curse.

“Because they’re all forming up with the Yamashiro, sir?”

Commander Pomodoro flashed his teeth. Unfortunately, his mustache covered half of those pearly whites and destroyed any chance of his visage appearing fearsome. “Are you asking me or are you telling me, Petty Officer?”

Petty Officer Greene bit his lip and hunkered down a bit in his chair. “Telling you, sir. At least they aren’t very good mobile suits.”

“ ‘Aren’t very good mobile suits’? Then what are they?”

“RGM- 79R GM II and RMS- 117 Galbaldy Beta, if I had to guess.”

“Welcome to the bridge, Miss Claire,” spoke Commander Pomodoro without turning. Before he went on, he quietly signaled his XO to speak.

“Aren’t those two types of mobile suits our newest designs, Petty Officer Greene?” Pious Greene vainly attempted to disappear from all sight and knowledge only to discover he could not. “As soon as you are off watch, Petty Officer Greene, you are to begin learning mobile suit recognition. If it is a design or variant of a design that has been in use or is in current use, you will know it inside and out.” Leaning as far over the man’s chair as possible, Lt. Commander Chambers narrowed his slate blue eyes. “And you will know all of this by the time we reach the Shoal Zone. Do I make myself clear, Petty Officer Greene?”

“Yes sir,” replied the dismayed crewman.

“Sir,” Lt. Claire spoke up. “Lieutenant Junior Grade Claire reporting as ordered.” Looking around the silent bridge slightly unnerved the newly- arrived officer.

At long last, the captain twisted in his seat and faced the young lieutenant. With a sloppy grin on his face and a lock of brown hair infuriatingly out of place, he seemed the image of everything a captain should probably try to avoid. “Good to see you, Lt. Claire. I invited you up here so you could watch us leave Luna II. I thought you might like the view.”

“It’s space, sir. It all looks the same.”

Commander Pomodoro sucked on his teeth. That didn’t go well at all, did it? “There was another reason as well. How are our mobile suit teams?”

Lt. Claire almost imperceptibly rolled her eyes. “As you know, sir, the 1161st stationed on this ship is a full platoon understrength. Because of this, Chief Warrant Officer Mitchner requested our teams not be designated by number as is common elsewhere.”

The XO raised an eyebrow. His CO caught his attention and a non- verbal exchange took place. Can we do this? wiggled Lt. Commander Chambers.

I don’t see why not, Commander Pomodoro blinked.

It is indeed odd, Chambers nodded.

I like it. It could be fun!

Yes sir. The XO’s head sagged.

Their unspoken conversation over, Commander Pomodoro turned back to the female pilot. “Sure. Why not? Anything else to report?”

By sheer force of will, the lieutenant once known as the “Puppetmaster” said nothing else. Of course there were plenty of things to say like, “How’s the weather?” or “Just a fistfight or two,” or “You look like you could use a drink.” Oddly enough, only the first did not apply and that fact attempted to frighten Lt. Marionette Claire into submission. Quickly switching to another train of thought removed all sense of danger. “One more thing, sir. My two wingmen are fresh out of pilot training and I request permission to conduct training exercises while en route to Konpei Island, especially once we reach the Shoal Zone.”

Both the captain and XO looked at each other in horror. Somehow a lowly junior officer had found out their orders without being told. “Why do you think we are traveling through a Shoal Zone, Miss Claire?” the captain managed, obviously proud of his attempts at remaining cool.

“We’re going the wrong way around Earth,” said the lieutenant as though it should have been common knowledge. When she saw that no one appeared to understand, she continued. “If we were going directly to Konpei, the Earth would be to our relative port. As it stands now, the planet is off our relative starboard. Since this is still a new ship, every possible condition should be thrown at it, including the heavy debris in the L1 Shoal Zone. Am I incorrect in assuming this, captain?” No one spoke up. “I take that as a ‘no’. By your leave, captain.” And with that, the young lady spun smartly on her heel and left the bridge.

“Exec,” the captain said brusquely. “What just happened?”

**

July 21, 0086
L1 Shoal Zone

Captain Zebulon von Ruck was bored. His ship, an aging cruiser named Donder, was steaming with her sister, the Dancer. For the Zeon crew, returning to the sight of the bloodiest battle humanity ever waged was sobering. As members of the Side 3 military, they had no choice but to return. Reports of merchant ships being brutally attacked worried the Republic’s leadership. For reasons unknown to many, two Musai- class light cruisers were dispatched to deal with the problem.

Many asked, and rightly so, why the leadership did not inform the Federation about a problem. The most common answer involved spacenoid pride and spirit, but the most common answer barely qualified as an answer at all. Captain von Ruck, a freewheeling Gattle pilot during the “Big War” knew the real answer.

Outside the mottled green hull of the Donder a Zaku II floated serenely, ostensibly serving as a lookout for the two cruisers. It’s pilot, a veteran of the One Year War, looked deep into the scrap- laden space and fought back thoughts of that destructive year. “You unfortunately survived the fight that so many lost. Coming back here, it’s like losing everything all over again. Do I really want to keep doing this?”

A brief flicker in the distance caught the pilot’s attention. In the next minute, the flicker returned and appeared to change position with each sighting. Not wanting to alert any possible hostile to their presence, the Zaku spun and faced the lead ship’s bridge. With a few hand gestures, he informed the captain of the odd occurrence. With the proper confirmation and loose orders to scout out the phenomenon, the green mobile suit took off.

Minutes later the mobile suit reached the area where the flickers appeared. The pilot searched around and had made up his mind to return to his ship when an ovoid- shaped object sped away. The mobile suit whirled around and boosted hard after the fleeing craft. Slowly but surely, the combat weapon closed and the pilot began hailing the runaway. There was no response.

Still the Zaku continued to overtake what the pilot now positively identified as a Sodon space tug used by the Zeon during the OYW. He pulled alongside and reached a hand out to initiate a “skin talk” in the event the tug had sustained some damage. Suddenly the flank machinegun turret swiveled and fired while the tug peeled away.

The Zaku shrugged off the damage, but opening fire was a clear act of hostility. With a surprising swiftness, the mobile suit shouldered its 120mm machinegun and returned fire. Heavy rounds bit into the tug’s thin steel plating and bulbous fuel tanks. The small craft had no chance of survival and quickly burned itself into oblivion. The pilot breathed a sigh of relief but quickly wished for it back.

Partially obscured by the trash and wreckage, two large transport ships sat side by side. In the Shoal Zone, seeing such things made one a bit wary, but something nagged. The Zaku pilot pondered for a brief moment before realizing what it was that bothered him.

“The lights are on.”

Deciding to investigate on his own, the pilot would later conclude, was not something he should have done. Still, professional curiosity practically demanded he take a closer look. Slowly and cautiously he went on, all the while hoping that the tug’s death had gone unnoticed. He maneuvered behind a twisted piece of metal and peeked the mobile suit’s mono- eye over the top.

The farthest transport already had a new name painted on, but it appeared the pirates had not gotten as far on the nearer ship. Outwardly it matched the profile of the latest vessel to be lost in the area. The few war- era fighters and highly modified construction pods flying point defense did not escape the pilot’s notice.

A red flare burned brightly. All around the region where the signal was sent erupted into the tell- tale signs of a battle. Seeing this, the pilot turned his Zaku and lept away from the wreckage it had been hiding behind. The pirates on patrol also saw the signal and had turned to watch the fireworks from afar. When the distinctive flash of thrusters appeared close by, everyone saw an opportunity to get a piece of the action.

“They saw me.” Not willing to coast blindly through the sometimes-deadly debris field, the pilot cut all forward motion and pivoted to face his attackers. A modified construction pod was the first to arrive. While it looked similar to the “Ball” mobile pod used during the war, there was no cannon or tiny arms. Instead four thick blocks had been placed at equidistant points around the cockpit. Explosive bolts on the blocks detonated to reveal a trio of dark holes. The pilot only fully recognized their function after the first missile lept from the tube in a dazzling display of flame.

The mobile suit evaded the first missile while targeting the source. A ragged stream of bullets connected with the pod and literally ripped the craft apart. From behind the rapidly dissipating fireball streaked another modified Ball accompanied by two Gattle space fighters. A horde of missiles sped through the void, causing the pilot to muscle his elderly mobile suit through a series of pirouettes and flips to avoid the deadly barrage. Firing a quick burst at the attackers, the Zeon dashed behind a drifting piece of metal for cover.

Two large missiles detonated hard against the makeshift shield. The force of the resulting explosions rammed the metal plate into the mobile suit behind it, stunning the Zaku’s pilot. A single fighter circled the plate and rained 25mm rounds on the helpless mobile suit. Screeches and screams of metal impacting metal forced the pilot back to consciousness. He stomped on the thruster pedal and accelerated out of the line of fire. The other two craft seized the opportunity and jetted out, hoping to catch the mobile suit off- guard.

The pilot felt more than saw the two new attackers. He quickly altered his course to take him perpendicular to all three craft. Taking aim, he loosed a heavy stream of fire that tracked a Gattle through its evasive course. The 120mm rounds moved faster than the fighter and ripped apart the entire engine assembly. A trio of missiles sped by, leading the pilot directly to the source: the last Gattle space fighter. A carefully timed burst shredded the craft’s twin cockpits, killing the pilots instantly.

Acting on instinct, the Zeon pilot grabbed the freshly killed fighter with its left hand and swung it around. With a sickening crunch both felt and heard throughout the Zaku, the Gattle slammed into the Ball, causing the unused fuel and ammunition to ignite in an expanding yellow- orange orb.

With a sigh of relief, the pilot hustled his mobile suit back to the cruisers and hoped they were still there.

**

July 22, 0086
L1 Shoal Zone

“Contact the Yamashiro and Thresher to inform them we will be conducting combat drills.” Commander Pomodoro smoothed out his mustache. “They should maintain a safe distance and expect the spread of Minovsky particles.” The radioman grunted affirmation and transmitted the message to the other two ships. In response, both the large battlecruiser and her smaller cousin slowed to widen the gaps in the formation.

Commander Pomodoro picked up the small phone nestled next to his command chair and began speaking over the 1MC. “All hands, Intelligence has informed us that a hardline Zeon officer has gone rogue taking a force of unknown strength with him. Last known bearing and heading puts them in our area of operations. That being the case, we have been ordered to find this force and determine its strength.”

Seemingly without warning, crimson light replaced the familiar white glare across the ship. Alarms blared as general quarters was sounded in every compartment. Crewmen relaxing in the galley jumped from their tables to join with those men and women already on watch. Despite the number of people moving through cramped passageways, everyone reached their assigned posts in record time. On the Bastard, however, record time meant somewhere below five minutes with no injuries.

“Sir, sensors are picking up what appears to be a Musai class cruiser and another unknown contact”

Commander Pomodoro smiled inwardly. He was well aware of the two potentially hostile contacts and knew everything about them. The exercise was one he had created himself based on an event indelibly acid- etched in his mind. Seven years earlier, almost to the day, the fiery officer had witnessed the near- destruction of a supply convoy and its accompanying escort by the Zeon. “Launch a recon unit.”

Within minutes, a mobile suit launched from the Bastard and moved off toward the nonexistent contacts. Verbal reports and real- time imagery began flooding in almost immediately, giving the command crew accurate actionable intelligence well beyond what the ship’s built- in sensors could do on their own. “Sir,” the operations officer piped up, “We have identified the other contact. It’s a Chivvay class heavy cruiser named Prancer. The Musai is Donder[/i].”

“This is Warscol!” a new voice broke in. “They’ve spotted me! Both ships are launching mobile suits.”

Commander Pomodoro said not a word, instead choosing to wait for his crew to react. As if noticing the attention, everyone spoke at once, spouting numbers and giving orders. The ship’s captain sighed and admired the chaos. “Begin spreading Minovsky particles and launch all mobile suits.” He glanced to a coverall- clad man standing in the far corner and nodded. The other man touched his red hat in an old- fashioned salute. Pressing a few buttons on his handheld computer sparked off another round of lights and alarms.

“The hangar door is stuck and not responding! We can’t launch mobile suits!”

**

Not too far away, other interested eyes looked warily upon the intruders. “And what do you think they’re doing, Mr. Siebhur?” Captain Fortune adjusted the wide brim of his plumed velvet hat while waiting for an answer to his question.

“I honestly don’t know,” Gresham responded while scrutinizing the monitor. On the display, three warships moved even further apart. When he noticed Captain Fortune’s sharp glare, he realized he needed an answer. “All three ships are a different size and class, so I assume that it’s not a full battle squadron. Odds are they’re just transiting the area and not here for us.”

Captain Fortune shook his head and turned away. “I don’t fault you for what you think. Most of my men would’ve said the same thing you did. But I disagree with you, Mr. Siebhur. Here’s what I think is really happening. The lead ship is pulling away because her companions are slowing. That first ship is of a class I’m not quite familiar with, so the others are probably staying away from it because of that. Minovsky particle density is building, suggesting that at least one of the ships is engaged in combat exercises of some sort. With those vessels separated from one another and Minovsky particles jamming communications, we can take any one of those ships.” Bringing his voice to a hoarse whisper, he pointed to the largest image on the screen. “And I want this one.”

**

Ensign James Warscol was dead. And after a few minutes contemplating the new arrangement, the young officer decided that being dead was not such a bad thing. Death allowed him to play around without being paid much attention. With a high tech mobile suit like his, there was plenty with which to play.

The “game” had not gone well for the pilot who had been killed early on. The event had been scripted, just like the malfunctions in the Bastard’s launching mechanism, but it still gnawed. Shaking the disappointment from his mind, James began to explore his mobile suit’s impressive capabilities.

“Since the Minovsky particle density is so high, I’ll try out this ‘density sunlight’ device those people at Anaheim came up with.” With the sensor selected, the cockpit’s top monitor exploded into a brilliant display of color as the computer transformed the device’s inputs into a visual representation of the surrounding space. Green- rimmed icons marked the positions of the Bastard and her companions. But something was off.

A new and unknown contact sped towards the Yamashiro from amidst a crowded morass of twisted metal and rock. Accompanied by a large formation of small spacecraft and converted worker pods, the pirate vessel Whyddah charged the oblivious battleship. By the time Yamashiro’s acting captain and cadet crew noticed the approaching force; it was too late to act.

Refitted space tugboats sidled up to the lumbering warship and disgorged squad after squad of normal suit- clad pirates. Whyddah, a converted transport, closed in and anchored itself to its victim’s hull by means of numerous lines and grapples. Minutes later, the great battlecraft Yamashiro was in the filthy hands of the buccaneers.

Switching to the predetermined communications channel took precious seconds no one could afford to lose. By the time Ensign Warscol’s report made its way through the barely controlled chaos that was the Bastard’s bridge, Yamashiro had already begun a tight turn to port to face the cruiser Thresher. The cruiser’s skeleton crew, newly aware of the threat posed by the battleship, scrambled to bring Thresher into a combat- ready configuration.

Twin incandescent beams of focused megaparticles burned through the cruiser’s bow, leaving a jagged cavity in their wake. Thresher responded with continuous bursts from her topside main guns but Yamashiro shrugged off the slight damage. Instead of two columns of light, nine pillars of blinding energy flashed across the distance. Armor plates peeled away like dead skin before evaporating in the brilliant explosion that overtook the entire ship. Gouts of orange flames issued from crevices in the charred superstructure as air left in exposed spaces spent itself in a final blaze of glory.

“Silence on the bridge! Silence on the bridge!” Every voice quieted at the command. Data from Ensign Warscol’s Action Zaku streamed into the bridge computers like a flood. The bridge crew watched in horror as the Thresher perished under the battlecruiser’s guns.

Commander Pomodoro responded first. “Secure from drill! Set Condition 1! Battle stations, all hands!” In a flurry of motion, all remnants of the battle drill were swept away and replaced with real time information from both the ships’ own sensor suite as well as the recon suit already in space. “Helm, continue present course and speed. Weps, I want a constant solution on the Yamashiro at all times.”

On the hangar deck below, a crowd of men and women dashed around to prepare the complex pieces of machinery known as mobile suits for combat. Of the crowd, only a scarce few were able to recall performing their duties under such stress. “They’re all too new,” Master Chief Senrab Barnes muttered under his breath. “Someone’s gonna **** somethin’ up, I just know it. Better keep my eye out.”

By the time the five remaining pilots sealed up their normal suits and entered the hangar, most of the earlier confusion was gone. In its place was the sound of one man’s frightful voice ordering each crewman to perform specific jobs. Lt. Claire, typically stoic, raised an eyebrow. It was as close to being truly impressed as the pilot would allow, especially considering the nigh- overwhelming task of micromanaging and coordinating so many people at once. Master Chief Barnes even stopped barking orders long enough to salute the pilots as they passed.

“Everything’s ready, ma’am. We’re ready to go when you are.”

**

Yamashiro had a new target in sight, Bastard, and slowly accelerated to catch the smaller ship. Captain Fortune made quite a show of entering the great craft’s bridge, even going so far as to bow when the pirate crew applauded him. “Today be a great day for us. After working ever so hard to make our lives better, we have finally come into our own with the single greatest act of piracy in the history of piracy! No one dared to take a warship from the Federation, but we dared and won! Finally can we come out of the shadows of a ruined Side and show the Earthbound elite that someone in space still waves the banner of independence. Helmsman, accelerate at your discretion and with all haste. That ship is all that lies between us and freedom for spacenoids.”

Cheers erupted all over the bridge but Captain Fortune brought it all to an end with a mere flick of his wrist. “Open me a channel to Whyddah. Mr. Siebhur, I trust you to take care of that ship. Are you certain the Federation will pay?”

"Without a doubt, Captain. The Federation is weak and will certainly cave to our demands. After all, not only did we take a battleship but an entire crew of Academy cadets. We’ll make a fortune and the Federation will have no choice but to sit by and watch us do as we please."

A crazy lopsided grin crept onto Captain Fortune’s face, revealing a set of crooked yellow teeth. “Very well then, Mr. Siebhur. Carry on. We’ll take care of the ugly ship in front of us and meet with you later.” The flashy pirate spun back to face the main window. “Mr. Pairette,” he yelled at a round little man serving as Weapons Officer, “Get me a firing solution on that little ship and fire at will! All forces attack!”

**

“Captain! Incoming heat sources from Yamashiro. Multiple contacts are swarming our position!”

Commander Pomodoro twirled his bushy red mustache. “Return fire and launch mobile suits. Roll us 180 degrees and depress to 20 degrees. Lieutenant Claire will have control over mobile suit operations for the duration of the engagement.” Lt. Commander Chambers turned to his captain and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Yes, Mr. Chambers. I have full confidence in the young lady. Just wait.”

“Aye, sir,” the XO said, a hint of dejection in his voice.

Lt. Claire’s GM II launched first as the ship began its roll. Another GM catapulted away, followed by three GM Kais even as the Bastard finished its maneuver. It only took a second before the “Puppetmaster” realized just why the scout carrier moved as it did. “So, shielding us from view by using the bulk of the ship. Clever, Captain. But was it worth it?” A trio of beams sizzled by, momentarily breaking up the young lieutenant’s monologue. “Just like I thought. It hid us, but presented a larger target profile to the Yamashiro. Guess we’ll have to make sure your gamble pays off.”

No audible signal was necessary. As green as the Bastard’s crew was, her mobile suit teams were considerably more experienced. Of the six pilots, four had seen combat action before. Ensign Warscol and his squadmate, John Vaughan saw the three Warrant Officers of the second squad form up in a stepped echelon and decided to do the same with Lt. Claire’s machine. It took a little effort, but was well worth it as all six suits collided with the pirate’s ragged formations.

Lt.(jg) Marionette Claire aimed carefully at a modified construction pod and fired a quick burst that shredded the pod’s thin armor and exposed the cockpit to hard vacuum. It spun out of control before colliding into a passing piece of colony debris. As both squads raced through the first wave, Lt. Claire checked her sensors and noted only two pirate craft survived out of the ten that initially met them. Not bad. “Mitchner,” she said over the comm channel, “Take your team and make some runs against the Yamashiro. Hurt them where you can.”

"Not a problem, Lieutenant, but it might go a bit better if all of us had something better than machineguns. Only Duke’s got a bazooka. But no worries, ma’am, the Running Rebels will take care of the big one for you. Just keep those fighters off us.

“Roger that, Mitch.” Switching channels to the team’s frequency, she began giving orders to her teammates. “Keep your eyes open. We’ve got to cover the other team.” Proximity alarms blared warning but the spindly GM was already moving to evade. Two large missiles streaked past where the mobile suit was seconds before. Instead of rolling to target her attacker, she continued on and destroyed another mobile pod.

Ensign John Vaughan twisted his mobile suit around and loosed a hail of bullets at the diving Gattle. Rounds pierced the two remaining large missiles and ignited the fuel, causing a chain reaction that resulted in the utter destruction of the space fighter. Instead of a congratulatory word for his first kill, all he received was a sharp reprimand from Lt. Claire.

“Stop wasting ammo.”

More incandescent columns of energy stretched out from the Yamashiro toward the fleeing Bastard. Twin beams were the only retaliation from the Space Forces ship. Suddenly the void around the battlecruiser lit up in a dazzling display of yellow streaks as AA defenses began a desperate search for the attacking mobile suits, but only served to highlight the guns.

All three GM Kais, the “Running Rebels”, worked together, expertly weaving in and out of the AA gun’s cones of fire while firing on the turrets, gun housings and fire directors. The trio of mobile suits streaked away from the ship and lined up for another attack run when a barrage of deadly beams flashed through space in front of them. “What the ****?” Chief Warrant Officer Mitchner Hines blurted out.

**

Commander Cassius Pomodoro felt as though he had stepped into a bear trap again. He didn’t like it the first time, much less the fourth and fifth times. His ship, the Bastard, was outmatched and outgunned on an almost ludicrous scale. While the original pMule hardly packed the biggest offensive punch in the Federal Forces arsenal, the Bastard had even fewer weapons, all for the sake of more mobile suits. In moments like the one Commander Pomodoro found himself in, it was not a fair trade.

“Sir, two new contacts on the other side of the field. Cruiser class.”

Commander Pomodoro pounded a meaty fist into the armrest. “That’s all we need,” he muttered. “Helm, bring us about and take us out of the Shoal Zone. Tell all mobile suits to fall back.” The bridge crew sat in stunned silence for a brief moment. “But keep firing, Weps. I want to see things blow up!”

Bastard began a tight turn to port in an effort to make a break for the edge of the Shoal Zone and the free space beyond when a brilliant explosion stole everyone’s attention.

Two cruisers, Donder and Dancer, barreled into the middle of the fight with all guns blazing, vaporizing debris and pirates alike.Dancer scored a hit on the Yamashiro’s back quarter, igniting fuel and causing the oxygen inside to leak out in a spurt of flame. Space fighters turned their attentions to the dangerous new arrivals while the battlecruiser made its own slow turn about to bring its deadly weapons to bear. The forward most turret swiveled and fired at Dancer. All three beams connected with the ship’s main hull and passed through the other side. Armor plates peeled away due to the force of the secondary explosions, causing the hull to open up like a blossoming flower before the fire consumed the entire vessel.

“Well don’t just stand there,” Commander Pomodoro yelled, “Get in close and blow this thing out of space!”

**

On board the Donder, Zebulon von Ruck watched in horror as the Dancer died under the big battlecraft’s guns. “Keep firing! Mobile suits, take out that ship! Launch the Komusai!” While the crew scurried to keep up with the veritable avalanche of orders, the task force’s remaining mobile suit contingent, consisting of a Rick Dom and a Zaku II, began a suicide run on the battlecruiser.

“Work with me, Grindle!” the Zaku pilot called out as he danced around and through the unrelenting assault. “My machinegun can’t take this thing out by itself!” When he heard no response from the other mobile suit, he swallowed down the taste of bile creeping up his throat. He fired a few rounds at the pirate ship before juking and shifting his aim to a Sodon tugboat dragging what appeared to be heavy missiles. A short burst lit up the tug while a simultaneous thought lit up in the pilot’s mind.

“Grindle, give me a hand here!” The only answer was a yellow flash and static. A hot-rod Ball sped by, hoping to catch the Zeon pilot off- guard, but quickly found itself staring down the muzzle of a 120mm machinegun. “Not today,” the pilot said as he heard the rhythmic thumping of his gun. The Ball exploded with little fanfare. Dashing through the melee, a patchwork Zaku tackled the Zeon’s mobile suit.

The Zeon machine broke free and reached for his opponent’s head. Instead of the standard Zaku II head, the pirate mobile suit had an older model Zaku I dome. The Zeon Zaku’s fingers wrapped around the other’s “snout” and yanked the piecemeal suit directly against the muzzle of an unfriendly machinegun. Heavy slugs ripped through the chest armor and killed the pilot, leaving the bastardized Zaku a lifeless husk.

Before the pilot could blink, another mobile pod appeared before him, as if from nowhere. All four blocky protrusions opened to reveal missile tubes hiding behind protective covers. The pilot’s life did not flash before his eyes, but a red and tan blur did.

The next instant the Ball was spinning away while vulcan fire ripped gashes in its armor, leaking atmosphere and depressurizing the pod. “Home run!” came a delighted voice over the comm channel. “Did you see that? It was like Fenway and that ugly little bastard was the ball.” Then, as if noticing the Zaku for the first time, it turned to face him. “You okay, man?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“We can chat later,” the Federal pilot cut in. “We’ve got a battleship to sink.”

Another GM sidled up to its partner. “That’s right, Duke. And since you trashed your bazooka with that stunt of yours, we’ve got nothing to kill it with.”

“Ah, c’mon, Mitch. There’s still a Musai out there. Let the Zeeks deal with it.”

Searching the battlefield for its original target, the Zaku’s red monoeye flared. “I hate to cut in, guys,” said the Zeon, “But I know a way we can still kill that behemoth.”

Each GM pilot, now three in all, raised an eyebrow. “How do you figure?”

“High explosives.”

Two GM Kais high- fived. “Now you’re talkin’ our language! What’s the plan, brother?”

Inside the Zaku’s cockpit, the Zeon smiled. “Just follow me and kill anything in your way.” All four mobile suits disappeared in a flash of blue- white thruster flare. A Saberfish had the misfortune of wandering too closely but had no time to rectify its mistake before being ripped in half by unrelenting machinegun fire.

“That one was mine!” Duke called out.

“Not a chance, Duke. That guy was all mine.”

“Shut up, Collier. Shut up, Duke. We’ll have time later to sort out kills.”

As they neared the target, the Zaku slowed, a move that prompted the three Federal suits to slow as well. “Grab a missile and go.”

CWO Henry “Duke” Dukensport snorted. “That’s it? That’s your plan? ‘Grab a missile and go’ is some sort of plan?”

His team leader cut off any response. “This your handiwork, Zeon?” Mitchner said, his GM pointing at the burned- out hulk of the Sodon. “Not bad. All right, team. You heard the man. Grab a missile and run for the Yamashiro.” Each mobile suit grabbed a missile and accelerated hard for the renegade battlecruiser.

**

Lt. Claire took a quick moment to breath before dashing back into the battle. The fact that she was alone and no one responded to her calls did nothing but steel her resolve to keep fighting. “We aren’t dead yet.” Sighting a cobbled- together Jicco assault boat picking its way around the fight, Marionette felt she had little else to do but laugh. “I honestly can’t believe that a Jicco survived. Here, let me show you why.” The GM sped away toward her target. At long range, she fired a few shots and was delighted when she saw strikes on the unit’s starboard nacelle. The boat began heeling to starboard in a vain attempt to evade the incoming mobile suit.

Instead of continuing to fire, the Federation pilot dove headlong at the pirate craft and shuddered to a halt only a few meters away from the Jicco’s bridge. Tossing a half- hearted salute, the GM raised its machinegun, leaving the pirate boat’s crew to watch in horror as yellow- white flashes erupted from the gun’s muzzle. The Federation mobile suit spun and launched off toward the Yamashiro, ignoring the burning remains of the Jicco.

Lt. Claire watched in awe as the only surviving Zeon cruiser perished under the heavy guns of the Yamashiro. But even as the stolen battleship unleashed its deadly barrage, the Donder fired every weapon in its arsenal in a desperate attempt to sink the pirate ship. Six megaparticle beams ripped into the large ship’s upper hull, smashing both gun turrets while a volley of missiles impacted along the Yamashiro’s spine. Even from a distance, Lt. Claire could see superheated metal and white- suited forms alike blown away into the void, could see the ship’s lights flicker and go out as power was lost all over the vessel, could see the wounded behemoth reeling from the pounding it received but still moving under control. Barely.

Smaller flashes poured out of the ship’s port side, obviously trying to hit an even smaller target and the Puppetmaster recognized immediately what needed to be done. Not waiting any longer for disappearing wingmen or communication with anyone else, the female pilot burned toward the big ship. Somewhere in her mind she noticed the coruscating pink beams from beyond the Yamashiro’s stern pierce the pirate ship’s armor. The battlecruiser shuddered and slewed to one side, completely out of control. Jets of flame poured out of the injured vessel’s flank, continuously fed by the ship’s atmosphere and various fuels and combustibles.

Just as it seemed as though the Yamashiro would survive to fire at the Bastard, four massive argent explosions appeared under the great ship’s belly. The force of the explosions shoved the middle of the craft upward; but the Yamashiro’s forward end, weakened from earlier assaults, could not hold and snapped off like ashes from the end of a cigarette. Megaparticles, without the containment of an I-field, burst from the ship’s hide, furthering the damage and removing all hope of recovery. The once- great battleship Yamashiro drifted slowly off course, propelled by constant detonations, until it collided with a piece of colony debris that was surely a harbinger of what Side 5 had in store for the pirates.

**

In the rush of victory, the Bastard’s captain nearly forgot about the important addendum to his mission given to him by General Pluskat. The realization that an entire class of Academy students, enough prospective officers to fill the Space Force ranks with future captains for years to come, had been erased from the face of the universe because of some pirate and his quest for money sobered Cassius Pomodoro to no end. Not even when he received a message from a transport calling itself Whyddah and proclaiming to have young kids in Federal Forces uniforms did the red- haired captain smile.

Lt. Commander Chambers answered for his captain and thanked the Whyddah and her skipper, Gresham Siebhur, for taking care of the cadets. Asking the transport to follow, Bastard began a slow crawl to Konpei Island.

**

“Hey Zeon,” a voice the Zaku pilot now knew belonged to someone called “Mitch” filled the near silent cockpit. “You okay?”

There was no reply, and no need for a reply. The Zeon pilot sat in silence, hoping and waiting and praying for a distress call, any sign of life from the Zeon ships. None came. “Yeah,” he said weakly, “I’m okay. You mind if I hitch a ride with your ship? Mine is sort of…”

“Dead?” Warrant Officer Stephen Collier offered. Mitchner’s GM Kai floated up and smacked his subordinate’s mobile suit a few times.

“You idiot. The man just watched his friends die and all you can say is something stupid.” Collier tried to argue but was cut off. “Listen, just shut the **** up until we get back. And then, don’t even pretend to want to say anything to the Zeon for the rest of your life unless it’s an apology.”

The Zeon pilot smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It hurts, but I’ve been through worse.”

Mitch Hines didn’t need any more information. “You were here too, huh? Figures.” Then, turning his mobile suit around, he did something even he wasn’t expecting to do. The armored door slid away to reveal a comparatively miniscule figure deep in the suit’s chest. The pilot stood up and saluted the Zeon, who, upon seeing the gesture did the same.

“Thank you,” the Zeon pilot said.

**

July 25, 0086
Sea of Solomon

“Welcome back again, eh?” came Mitchner’s friendly voice across the comm channel. “I tell ya, Bakker, you showing up was the best thing that could’ve happened to us back there. We all needed to see that you Zeon aren’t the enemy anymore. Lots of things that need changing, ya know?”

Abel Bakker, resting against the harnesses in the Zaku’s cockpit, breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad to hear that, Mitch. If it hadn’t been for your ship showing up when it did, I would’ve been where Zebulon von Ruck is now, and I don’t want to die yet.” Then, as if finishing up an odd thought, he continued. “But if I keep fighting like this, I will die soon. Is it wrong that, after all this time and all this killing, that I just simply don’t want to fight any more?”

Mitchner Hines was silent as he pondered that thought. “I don’t think it’s wrong. It’s not my choice, but it’s not wrong. There are plenty who left right after the war, and they aren’t harassed. But I’ve gotta tell ya, you’ve got some talent. Are you sure you aren’t the ‘White Wolf’ or someone?”

Abel Bakker laughed. “Not a chance. I’m not even close to Shin Matsunaga’s level, and he isn’t even alive anymore! No, I’ve just had a lot of experience fighting.”

“What’s gonna happen when you get back to Side 3?”

It was Abel’s time to stay quiet. “I don’t know. Probably a review board wondering why I’m the only one who came back, but I’m not sure. Odds are, with this government, it’s not going to be pretty.”

Mitchner raised an eyebrow. “Oh? I thought it was a good thing the Republic was restored.”

“It depends. The Republic, like every government, always wants to find someone else to blame. Since I’m the only one left alive, it’ll be me. At least it’ll give me a way out.”

“And you’re okay with this?”

“Doesn’t much matter anymore. It’s not my place. I just want to get out.”

“Your ride’s here, sir. Best of luck, Mr. Bakker.”

The Zaku II turned toward the newly- recommissioned Whyddah and boosted away. “Thanks, Mitch.”


**
**
**


This story is the property of Andrew J. Smith, the writer. Bandai and its associates own Mobile Suit Gundam and this is in no way intended to challenge that ownership.

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Last edited by Zball on Thu Aug 09, 2012 10:09 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 12:09 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
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This is one of my favorites, and I usually hate what I write. Anyways, notes. Bastard is one of the second batch of PCS ships in the Mule class that Black Knight dreamed up years ago (and had a cameo in his entirely too- cool Wargames) with lineart thanks to Ryujin.

The Mule class looks like nothing so much as one hangar spar of the Grey Phantom with everything else from her squished into a more narrow ship. With only a couple MPCs and a rail gun that was dropped from PCS-5 onward, it was pretty lightly armed. They all had heavy point defenses though, with numerous CIWS turrets ringing the hull.

Anyways, I begged two off him before he could figure out what to do with them under the promise I would kill one before CCA. This actually marks the second appearance for bastard, but the first hasn't been retconned in yet.

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 Post Posted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:42 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend
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Yeah! I always loved the Mule Class, glad to see it again. Though do you still have the lineart for it, I have the specs for it but not the lineart. Or do you at least know where it is located.

As for the story, I like the beginning with the paintjob of the Bastard, and I like the idea of giving it more mobile suits. Giving it more machines then the Sally Kai is very interesting, due to it being smaller then the larger cruiser. Though I got the idea that it could carry more by the idea that the MS commander mentioning they were missing the last MS team.

Anyways a great story, I eagerly await the next chapter...

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 Post Posted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:35 pm 
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Mule-class lineart.


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 Post Posted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 10:21 pm 
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Thank you BK....

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 Post Posted: Sun Apr 03, 2011 5:18 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
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The thing about this old series is that they're more like one- shots in that they don' really follow one another in time or anything. It was just something to do and screw around with since I usually lack the patience for writing anything really long. I have, what, four of them? Five? A couple that never got posted, definitely, but I'd need my computer to be sure. They revolve around a few characters of mine. This one has the Bastard and Abel Bakker (from Hurrah! Thou Iron bride Hurrah!) and he also shows up in the third short story of this particular batch.

Anyways, I totally got a post in my thread. Happy me.

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 Post Posted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:45 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

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How The Other Side Lives
Mission Three. Unforgiven


30 November 0079
Central Austria

"Nicky left."

Bean swore. Then he swore again. And again. And again. "I bet that damned idiot's already been picked up by the Feds. Damnit."

All around the campfire, various grumbles, grunts and utterances seemed to agree with what Bean said. Even the swearing parts. Davy, a kid barely 18 years old, stated the obvious. "We're gonna have to move again and soon."

Abel Bakker, the newest member of the ragtag group, looked around in wonder. He vaguely remembered Nicky as the skinny, nervous type with shifting eyes. Not that he really knew Nicky. Still something about running away left a disgusting taste in his mouth. Were they not all Zeon soldiers? Was not the war still going on? Did they have no pride?

The sound of a clearing throat quieted Abel before he even opened his mind. It's effect was no different for everyone else around the fire. Ortiz, a dark- haired fellow everyone regarded as the leader, slowly let his gaze wander over the faces nearby. Some new, some old, but all placing their hopes on him. Faces scarred by flame, some of them so hideous as to be nearly unrecognizable as human, were side by side with clean faces untouched by flame or razor. Some stared with steely- eyed intensity so powerful as to drill holes in titanium. Some were filled with fear, red from the tears they fought to hold back. And there wer ea few who only stared into the distance, minds lost in the insanity of war.

"Moving is out of the question," Ortiz finally said. "Not only do we have wounded brothers here, but how would we make our Gouf disappear?"

Those last words stung Abel. When he left his demolished base he somewhere suspected that his mobile suit would cause him more trouble than it was worth. And still he held on to the machine.

"We've been running for months now," Ortiz continued, "And we've finally found a place to call out own. All that's left for us to do is claim it. We move in tomorrow."

Night didn't last nearly as long as the darkness did. Some time early in the morning, as the tree breath crept through the forest, Ortiz rousted Abel out of a dream-filled slumber. "I have a few questions for you, Bakker, and the first is where do you plan on going with that mobile suit of yours? Our few remaining escape routes off this planet are all east, yet when we came across each other, you were heading west. Why?"

"I've heard rumors that the 10th is still fighting in France. I want to join them."

Ortiz leaned back and shook his head. "They can't win. Everyone knows that except for maybe that crackpot CO of theirs. This war is over, Bakker. We've lost on earth and we're losing in space. So much for Deikun's Newtypes, eh?"

Abel could hardly believe what he was hearing. Sure Zeon had their setbacks, but to already declare the war over? Such things were tantamount to treason. "We haven't lost yet. And the Feddies have taken away too much from me to stop from killing as many of them as I can."

"You're an idiot, Bakker."

"Saddle up, everyone!" That must be Bean, thought Abel, glad to have something to do apart from being insulted. "Don't worry about your Gouf yet, Bakker. It's a short walk."

"Where are we going?"

Instead of a reply, the men gathered what few belongings they had left and walked away deeper into the forest. Abel hefted his duffel bag and noticed that the younger and healthier men carried the sick and injured without a complaint. For each person, helping one another was a natural thing to do. Stranded on a planet not their own with nothing of their own and little chance of going home had affected each one in ways they did not entirely recognize. With nothing else to lose, the lost and forgotten sons of Zeon discovered their only true valuables were each other.

Abel walked in silence, unable and unwilling to make a noise for fear the dream would fade and disappear. Could this be what Zeon Deikun had spoken of? Perhaps being a Newtype didn't mean anything more than caring for one another. What irony that such cooperation and understanding did not happen in space, but on earth.

The group walked for hours until reaching a clearing. A winding dirt path led away from the stone and wood farmhouse that didn't dominate the clearing so much as appear slightly out of place. Ortiz raised his hand as an order to stop just before reaching the tree line. Despite the destruction of much Federation war materiel and the offensives going on throughout the rest of the Earthsphere, the possibility of discovery loomed always. Especially since Nicky left. The only safe place on earth for the soldiers no longer seemed so safe.

Night fell once again and, under the blanket of a moonless sky, the group ran from the forest to the farmhouse. No lights came on to give away their approach though the house's occupants were wide awake and waiting. "Late night for you boys, isn't it?" came a tired voice from the dark interior.

"Sorry we were late, but there were more. We had to get them."

"Ortiz, how many more?" This time higher- pitched and gentle though still just as tired.

"Nana, there were five more. Three are pretty bad off." Ortiz leaned in close and lowered his voice until only the three of them could hear. "I don't think they're going to make it."

"And what of the other two?"

"Just fine," Ortiz said, straightening up. "We even have a pilot with a mobile suit. But Nicky left. We don't know where he went, but we have to assume the worst. I'm sorry it happened. I don't want to drag both of you into this. We'll leave tomorrow night. I'd leave tonight but..."

"Nonsense. Hermann and I always knew this day would come. We aren't leaving and we certainly aren't kicking guests out."

Tears formed in Ortiz's black eyes though they remained unseen in the darkness. "I can't thank you enough."

"You already have." The smile did not have to be seen to be felt.

***

"Back away! I'll get it!" Abel climbed back inside the familiar cockpit and looked through the open hatch. It was a beautiful day, breezy and chilly, but compared to the stifling heat of an enclosed mobile suit cockpit, the cold was heaven on earth.

Once satisfied that everyone had moved back a safe distance, the mottled olive mobile suit reached down and gripped a large evergreen tree. The Gouf creaked and groaned in tune with the tree, which refused to leave the ground so easily. Machine won out against Nature as the great tree was ripped from the earth. Abel balanced his Gouf before turning and lowering the tree down flat. The group of men tasked with cutting down the tree waved their thanks.

Just as Abel began to feel proud of his actions, Ortiz ran screaming out of the house. "Stop!" Abel poked his head out of the hatch to see just what was going on. "Why the ZOINKS are you operating that suit in the middle of the ZOINKS day?" The men around him stood dumbfounded. Not one of them could remember the man swearing quite like that before.

Abel paused, stunned as well, and wordlessly lowered the 18m tall to one knee. By the time the Gouf was shutdown and Abel finally stood on the solid earth, the men he had helped were long gone. Only Ortiz remained.

"That was completely reckless, Bakker. Do you want us to be discovered?"

"Back off, Ortiz. I was just trying to help. Besides, it at least beats hiding. Let them find us!" Abel's face could not hide the brewing anger he felt. Hadn't he done right? The Feddies never came out here anyways, especially now that they were tied up in Asia and France and outer space, right?

"I know what you're thinking, Bakker. You think you did something helpful. In the short run, sure, you've made for an easier day. In the long run," Ortiz narrowed his dark eyes, "you may have condemned us all. The Feds still fly around here, sweeping the countryside for holdouts like us. The war's over and they're trying to wipe us off the face of this planet. And y'know what? They can. We've got nothing. Even a platoon of infantry could finish us off right now."

"But my Gouf..."

"Is in serious need of maintenance. Tell me Bakker, how many rounds do you have left in those finger guns?"

Abel Bakker looked down in defeat. "None."

"Goufs have their own shields too. Where's yours?"

"Left it. It was too damaged to be useful."

"Sword?"

"Same place as the shield. Worse condition."

Ortiz sighed. "Let's go inside. It's time for dinner. Afterwards, you can tell me your story."

***

Abel Bakker didn't sleep like a baby. For the first time in nearly a year he felt comfortable. At home, even. Surrounded by peers it felt more like a campout than anything else. And still he could not sleep. The battles fought high above seemed so very far away. Even the fighting going on in the rest of Europe and Asia seemed so far away from home.

Home.

And in the end, that's really what this war is all about, Abel thought. Only a relatively few spacenoids actually wanted to live in space. The overwhelming majority were forced to do so by the Federation government. That kind of selfishness was but one indication of the corruption in the system. The Feds hadn't believed in the sanctity of earth. Instead they raped the planet and hoarded her riches like a child with the cookie jar. They proved themselves unworthy. Declaring independence was only the beginning. Surviving the embargoes, helping Side 6 actually win their independence was still just the beginning.

But now, what? Ortiz was right, Abel told himself. The war was over. Would the Feddies agree?

Daybreak came before sleep.

***

30 December 0079

"They're coming!"

Silence revealed the soldiers' disbelief. After a month of anxiety, the words no one wanted to hear finally came. Anyone outside the house dropped what they were doing and dashed inside. A lookout perched at the top of the new barn peered through binoculars in hopes of identifying their opponents. It was a vain hope.

As each able man ran to the house's living space, Ortiz was already there, unzipping duffel bags and handing out the band's remaining weapons. It was an odd assortment of sidearms and small firearms. The elderly couple shuffled downstairs and immediately realized what was going on. Hermann opened a large wooden armoire and produced a few weapons of his own, mostly antiques. He handed a large revolver to his wife and hefted a double- barreled shotgun for himself. "Feel free to take what you need from in here," Hermann told the group.

Abel, for his part, turned down both Hermann and Ortiz, patting the standard- issue pistol strapped to his right hip. Two men, bedridden and wounded beyond the help of their rescuers, heard the commotion and called for arms for themselves. Ortiz argued with them only briefly before giving in. He returned to the main room with tears in his eyes. "Hermann, Nana, please. Don't stay. Don't do this."

Nana grabbed Ortiz's forearm and squeezed as Hermann put an arm around his shoulder. "Young man, when the Federation stopped asking and started telling people to leave the earth, Nana and I ran. We came across this old house and fixed it up. Nobody bothered to find us, convinced we were too old to crowd their planet for long. So they left us alone. But if they find us here now..."

"I see. Thank you." Ortiz stared at the wood floor as the couple walked away together. "Bakker." Abel made his way over, unsure as to what the other would ask.

"What's goin' on, boss?"

"How long have you been in the service, Bakker?"

"I entered the officer training school about five years ago." It seemed an unusual question at an unusual time.

"You piloted mobile suits the whole time?"

"Pretty much." Abel paused for a moment to think. "You want me to pilot the Gouf for this?"

It was Ortiz's time to pause. "You might have to, but that's not what I had in mind. You were at the Academy, right?" Abel nodded. "Now do you know what I'm going to ask."

Realization came quickly. "We don't have much of a chance regardless, Ortiz."

"Listen to me! I'm a quartermaster. I was never trained for this, but now I've got two dying men clutching guns as they lie in bed right now. I can't let them use those guns, but I can't not let them use the guns. They need help. Hermann, Nana nad everyone here needs help that I can't give them. You can."

"I... understand."

Surprisingly enough, it took most of the day for the Federal soldiers to set up. It was quite a collection. A turreted IFV trained its multi- barreled 30mm gun at the large windows on the front of the house while a personnel carrier sat further back, a tent coming off the rear hatch and multiple antennas sticking up. Two snipers set up just inside the tree line, ready for the command to use their high- powered rifles. The negotiations were quick and one- sided. The Federal commander demanded unconditional surrender. He received no reply.

On the evening of the second day, the commander could wait no more. Orders were given by radio and whispered around the house and barn. Something had to give. Four soldiers crouch- walked their way to the front door, hoping that by staying close to the ground they would make less obvious targets. Four more of the khaki- clad troops made their way around the house, looking for secondary points of entry and exit. All they needed was the right order.

"Kickoff."

In unison, eight Federal Forces soldiers converged on the front and rear doors. Breathing came fast and shallow and sweaty hands tightened around grips as everyone tried to find comfort and security in the plastic and metal construct. Before they reached the door, it mysteriously opened. Not knowing quite what to do but suspecting a trap, all four flattened out on the ground. "Show yourself!" one said.

"Why are you here? What have we done?" came a voice from the dark doorway.

"Give up now!"

"No."

"We will use force if we have to."

A sigh. "That's your decision, not ours."

"Throw down your weapons," said the first soldier, feeling decidedly uncomfortable with the conversation. Things were going to get bad.

"What weapons?"

Those two words were all he needed. The mission clock was running and the second team waited for the go- ahead. With a grunt, he heaved himself up and was slightly reassured at the three grunts behind him. Something inside his head wrestled with reality. Why would the army be sent in if the holdouts were unarmed? Unless the command was having another knee- jerk reaction. Memories of Metz- Luxembourg had frightened the chain of command into something worse than inaction: overreaction. Satisfied that he had silenced his questions, he moved forward with new confidence. This wasn't so bad after all.

He never saw it coming. A brief blinding flash from the doorway and some feeling of pressure on his midsection was all his brain could comprehend. Even the warm blood quickly pouring over his body seemed perfectly natural.

The remaining three witnessed the event and raised their SMGs as training kicked in. Three loud shots rang out. The second Federation soldier collapsed, nearly headless. Another heavy blast mingled with three more bursts dropped the last two.

Hermann fell back on his wife, dead instantly from a sniper's bullet. Nana yelped and moved out from under her husband... and right into the sniper's sights. She might have been happy in the knowledge she saw Hermann again so soon.

"No!" screamed Ortiz as the back door ripped itself apart. Shouts. Flashes. The unforgettable sound of close- range gunfire. All four khaki soldiers fell quickly. Two Zeon lay dead with a third screaming in pain. The Federal commander ordered more men into the house. Fear took a far second to revenge. Revenge on those who killed friends and family. Revenge for being stuck on earth while others were taking the fight to the damned Zeeks who started the ZOINKS war in the first place.

Five more rushed through the now- empty door, ignoring the slippery crimson pools on the hardwood floor. Shots from the left. Behind the couch. First and second man down. Shots stopped. Got the bastard. Someone's crying. Harvey? Noises. Up the stairs. Two go up. Call for more. Back door is open. Gunfire, from where? Three Zeeks upstairs. Explosion shook loose all the dust. No more Zeeks.

Abel hid behind the pantry door in the kitchen. It wasn't going well for either side. And those armored vehicles...He left his pistol in its holster and ran his thumb along the edge of the kitchen knife he picked up before hiding. Bright light filtered in through the slats on the door and two forms entered the room.

One. Two. Three! Abel kicked the door open, right into the second soldier's face. Not wasting any time, the Zeon pilot grabbed the first man and slid a strong arm around his neck. With a little twist, the Fed's gun came loose. Abel didn't have to aim, the other was so close. Five rounds formed a line from the man's chest to his neck. The Zeon turned his attention back to the still- struggling Feddie. The thin flesh of his neck created no resistance to the sharp knife blade. Abel put a bullet into the back of his head to make sure and broke the knife off in the top of the second's head as he walked out the door.

One soldier in the hallway. He blessedly looked the other way and never saw the man who killed him. Bean called out from across the hall. "Bakker!" Abel practically leaped across the open hallway to Bean who stood next to the staircase. A boom rattled the house and left everyone's ears ringing. Abel lifted his gun to the ceiling and pretended to shoot it, and Bean shook his head in agreement. Bean copied the move and emptied his magazine into the ceiling. The thumps of bodies hitting the floor and the yells of pain told him of his success.

In the insanity of it all, Abel looked around. Nothing in the house looked familiar. Even faces of those he had known, albeit for a short while, were completely alien. Dark wet patches covered the floor and walls and even the ceiling in some places. Dead and dying bodies were everywhere. .

A twitch. More like a tingle or sense of pressure. Something inside said run. Abel's eyes went wide in terror as realization sprang upon him. "Get down!" But it was too late. Sounding more like a prolonged burp than anything else, the Federation IFV opened fire on the house with its 30mm gun. Most of the rounds, designed for penetrating armor plating, passed completely through the house, demolishing everything unfortunate enough to be in the way.

Bean's upper body disintegrated in front of Abel's disbelieving eyes. The world exploded around the prone pilot. Finally the burp ceased and the world settled down around him. Making a quick check for any significant injuries, he lifted himself up and ran for the back door. As he made his way out of the house, cursing his luck the entire time, he glimpsed the room where the two wounded soldiers once lay. Abel choked back his vomit but could not get rid of the taste of bile in his mouth.

Two more soldiers barely missed being tackled by the Zeon pilot barreling out the back door. The fact that he had survived the firestorm might have surprised them, had they lived long enough to think about it. Abel emptied the magazine into one and flung the now- useless weapon at the other. In one fluid motion, his pistol was in his hand with the muzzle inches away from the Fed's face. Without a trace of remorse, Abel pulled the trigger and did not even stop to watch the man fall.

Using every bit of speed he could muster, he ran for the barn, knowing some help was within. Someone yelled behind him and he only felt the bloody intentions of his opponents. A thin figure, Gotta be Davy, stepped out of the barn. "Get inside now!"

"You go!" Davy yelled back. "I'll hold 'em off!"

Abel had no time to argue. Although it had taken weeks, the homeless Zeon soldiers had constructed the large barn for the sole purpose of hiding the Gouf from prying eyes. Abel Bakker holstered his gun and scrambled up the body of the prone mobile suit. A quick tug on the emergency release and the armor plating slid out and up to expose the cockpit. Practiced hands danced over the controls to start up the dormant machine. Most of the warm-up checklist was thrown out the window and this was not a time to conduct a thorough walk- around. Hatches shut and viewscreens slid into place before lighting up the cockpit with a virtual view of the barn.

Long minutes passed, feeling like years and years to the hurried pilot. Half of the indicators were green, but not all. At least the accumulators are charged... Mostly. Saying a quick prayer to... who? Abel coaxed the half- asleep Gouf into action. With groans and straining, the mobile suit finally managed to stand. Not before utterly demolishing the barn in the process.

It must have been quite the sight to the Federation soldiers. Instead of "cleaning up" the area, they might have thought the hard work to have been done. Then the barn collapsed around a mottled green Zeonic mobile suit. Troops on the ground opened fire with their rifles and machineguns to no avail. A gunner in the command APC did his part with the .50 caliber gun.

Abel took it all in. No one could cause him trouble except for the 30mm gun on the IFV. As the Gouf took its first steps, the blocky turret turned and unleashed a withering hail of fire. Much to the chagrin of the Federal crew, most of the rounds bounced harmlessly off the mobile suit's heavy, rounded armor. With a flick of its wrist, the IFV was sliced in half, fuel and unused ammo burning off furiously. The heat whip's superheated tip carved deep furrows in the earth, electrocuting nearby soldiers and scorching the grass.

Faster than a thing of such size should move, the Zeon mobile suit crossed the gap and literally picked up the command vehicle, tent and all. A few men jumped, but others held on as they were lifted over 15 meters into the air. They did not hold on for long. The Gouf shook the armored carrier with ease, all but emptying it of occupants. Using the same programmed motion as it would with a cracker grenade; the mobile suit rocked back slightly, raised its arm then stepped forward and flung the vehicle deep into the forest.

***

1 January 0080

"Zeon pilot. You are ordered to surrender. Your government has signed a peace treaty with the Earth Federation calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities. You are expected to abide by this treaty or suffer the consequences."

The Gouf knelt and produced its occupant. "And what will happen to me?" Abel said wearily.

A platoon of armed men lowered their weapons slightly. Two Type 61 tanks flanked the battered Zeon mobile suit. "You will be sent back to Side 3 to be dealt with by your own government."

"How many survived?"

"Ours or yours? Ours? Not many. Yours? You."

Abel stared blankly across the ruined landscape. Is this really what Deikun meant when he spoke of Newtypes? We could have had something. We...

Abel fell to his knees and cried.

_________________
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 Post Posted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:48 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
Posts: 57
Location: Flying in a blue dream
How the Other Side Lives
Mission Four. Just Breathe.


10 November 0083
Sea of Solomon

At long last the first Earth Federation Naval Review in four years was beginning. Though his part required little more than sitting in a cramped a sweltering cockpit for hours on end, Lieutenant j.g. felt a bit overwhelmed. More than a bit, if he would have told the truth. Spread out across the Sea of Solomon was the combined might of the Federation Space Forces. An entire armada of the newest and most powerful vessels lined up in formation in the space just beyond the former Zeon fortress of Solomon. The irony was not lost on Gray Market.

The Federal officer unbuckled his harness and stretched out his 6’ 1” frame as best he could in the confines of the coffin that imprisoned him. He ran a hand through his short brown hair and, for a moment, forgot where he was and what he was seeing. All the cares and worries of the previous weeks fell away. The training, the inspections, the constant stress from all sides meant little.

It would have been beautiful had it not been so deadly. And each and every ship was crewed by the best and brightest minds the Space Forces had to offer. Of course many laughed at that sentiment, Gray included. Still the sheer magnitude of the Review was no laughing matter.

The fact that an entire squadron of RGM- 79C GM Kai mobile suits stood stock- still on the upper hull of an aging and ailing Columbus transport like oversized hood ornaments was pretty close.

”If I were a Zeek, I’d hit us right here, right now.” It was Ensign Marionette Claire, fresh from the Academy. Since she appeared in the squadron’s ready room two months prior, every male had taken his shot at dating the “new girl.” Her petite frame, pale skin and classical features made her an instant hit. Ensign Claire didn’t mind the attention, to a point. The point was passed after the first week. Soon names like “Ice Queen” and “Frosty the Snow Bitch” filtered into common usage among the pilots of the 213th Mobile Suit Squadron. Ensign Claire ignored them all.

Almost all of them.

“According to the reports we’ve been getting all day, they’re trying.” Gray tried not to sound disappointed. As spectacular as the view was, he could not convince himself that he was anything other than a warrior. And warriors did not parade around, trying to impress their superiors with good looks. At least, not in an ideal world.

”You don’t want to be here, Lt. Market?” The voice of the squadron commander, Lieutenant Agave Potter broke through.

“No ma’am, not in the least. There are rebels out there right now and they want nothing more than to hurt the Federation. I’ve seen what that kind of person can do and, quite frankly, I can’t stand it.”

There was a pause as Lt. Potter sighed. ”You must have a serious problem with the Zeeks. You’ve been chomping at the bit for the past four hours.” Gray didn’t have to respond. ”Admiral Wyatt does not seem to think too highly of mobile suits or their pilots. If he did, he would have given those new ships of his a hangar for mobile suits. Because of that, I don’t think he’ll miss a team. Take your people and go, Lt. Market.”

Gray Market nearly jumped for joy. He hit his head on a monitor instead. “Thank you ma’am. We’ll make you proud.”

”This isn’t for me, Lt. Market. This is for you. Just be careful. And don’t let your sights slip.”

One right after the other, four mobile suits pushed off the hull and looked away from the Review for the first time all day. “There have been reports of Zeon activity all around the perimeter. Where do we begin?”

”One of ours pickets reported running into a sizable Zeon force heading toward Ramos sector, but no one else can confirm it. All contact with the picket was lost moments after the report came in.”

“Thanks for the info, Ensign Claire.” A smile crept to Gray’s face unwittingly. “Now, does anyone know where Ramos sector is?”

**

Ramos Sector

Four GM mobile suits from the 213th Mobile Suit Squadron, the “Black Lions,” cruised through the space designated Ramos Sector. There were more than just the four, as a few mobile suits from the surrounding sectors had made their way over.

Ensign German Mesa- Colòn broke the silence. ”Any chance we’ll see some f---ing Zeek putas on this wild goose chase? My trigger Finger’s getting itchy.”

Gray was about to reprimand his subordinate when another member, Ensign Mo Adawi, stepped in. ”You think this is all fun and games, kid? This ain’t no game, Junior. These Zeeks’ll chew you up and spit you out faster’n you can blink.”

”You pay attention to me, old man. I’m the f---ing man. You just don’t know.”

This time Gray responded first. “Shut up, Mace. Pay attention. Any Zeon that survived the last war was either extremely lucky or extremely good. Either way you don’t stand much of a chance against them. That’s why we have to work together and watch out for each other.”

Flickers in the distance stopped Gray from saying anything more. Some of the others had seen it as well, because they turned to face the unusual phenomenon. In mere moments, they would be among the Delaz Fleet. The thought sent shivers down Grays’ spine. He absentmindedly scratched at his face and neck; old scars ached anew.

”…this is Defense Satellite 4. We are under attack. Request immediate assistance. Repeat…”

“You’ve all seen it, folks. Button up and fly right. These guys are pros. We’ll be there in minutes and there can be no mistakes. Stay together.”

”F--- this wait around kid’s table s---,” Mesa said through clenched teeth. ”Those spacenoid motherf---ers are killin’ our guys now! I’m gonna teach them what happens when you f--- with Earth.” Mesa slammed his throttles open and accelerated past the rest of his dumbfounded team.

It was Adawi who spoke first. ”I’ll go after him, sir. He needs someone to watch his back.”

“Go. We’ll be right there after you.” Gray swore to himself as Adawi sped off. While he could not blame Mesa entirely, the man was most definitely a bigot and did nothing to hide it. And, for a moment, Gray felt sorry for people like Mo Adawi, who had watched as the Zeon used his birthplace as a weapon to strike at earth.

Seconds ticked away and the warbling tone of the proximity alarm snapped Gray Market back to reality. He spun away as a GM died under the guns of a speeding Zaku II. Gray snapped off a quick burst and continued into the midst of the fray.

It was chaos. With no one in overall command of the defense, the Federation mobile suits could do little to stop the coordinated Zeon in their older machines.

One of the late war Zakus popped into view, spraying heavy rounds at a target Gray could not see. Without hesitation the Federation pilot aimed and fired. 90mm slugs caught the Zaku in the arm and chest, tearing through the thinner flank armor. Another burst ripped through the backpack, igniting an explosion that tore the Zeon mobile suit apart.

Another Zaku flashed by Gray’s GM Kai, followed closely by another GM. ”Chinga tu madre, puta!”

“Mace!”

Fire poured out of the GM’s machinegun and caught the fleeing Zaku in its legs, doing only minor damage. The Zaku spun quickly and calmly unleashed a controlled burst. Armor piercing rounds smashed the GM’s head and tore into its upper body.

German Mesa- Colòn had but a few short seconds left. With the main camera destroyed, he could not see the Zaku close in and slash its heat hawk laterally through the cockpit, bisecting the mobile suit and pilot in one stroke.

As the Zaku turned to face its new opponents, it exploded violently. ”You said stay close, sir.”

Gray smiled as he recognized the voice of Ensign Claire. “Good work, girl.”

The two Black Lions burned back to the fray as ever more GMs arrived. Gray was only dimly aware of the Zeon mobile suits pulling away from the Defense Satellite in a cohesive unit. “Looks like there’s about four- zero of us, counting the new arrivals.”

”Is it enough?”

A blue GM blazed by, battling and quickly destroying a Zaku as he passed. ”That’s him, isn’t it? The Mad French Bastard?”

“It is. Now stop gawking. We’ve got Zeon to kill.” Gray Market matched word to deed as he loosed a steam of fire at another Zaku. Clack- clack- clack echoed through his GM, telegraphing an empty magazine. Without hesitation, he ejected the useless magazine while accelerating after his wounded prey. As his mobile suit pulled another clip from the back of his shield, the vulcans peppered the Zeon’s steel armor.

The damaged Zaku attempted to limp away, raising its left arm to shield its vulnerable head. Gray dove beneath the Zeon and, judging his distance to be too close for comfort, pulled his beam saber from its rack and shoved it upwards through the Zaku’s beltline. The GM- C shoved off as the green Zeon mobile suit disappeared in a sphere of brilliant light.

A late- war Rick Dom raced through the burned- out remnants of its comrade. It fired two shots from its bazooka, catching another GM Kai square in its back and blowing the Federation machine to pieces. Gray snapped off a short burst and rolled out of the line of fire even as a rocket tore through the space he just vacated.

The Rick Dom charged, tossing its bazooka aside and pulling a stubby machinegun from its rear armor. It skated to its left and fired a few quick rounds. Gray lifted his shield and clenched his teeth as his mobile suit shuddered under the impact. In a burst of thruster flare, the Rick Dom inverted itself and boosted under Gray’s machine.

Instead of turning to meet his attacker and give away a larger profile, Gray jammed the throttles one and accelerated as quickly as his suit could muster. Temporarily blinded by the brilliance, the Rick Dom fired randomly at the fleeing GM.

The GM- C did not escape unscathed, however. Armor piercing rounds perforated the tan mobile suit’s legs. Gray ignored the damage indicators and swapped head for feet, loosing a stream of fire at the stunned Zeon. As well- armored as it was, the volume and accuracy of the volley negated the Zeon’s advantage.

Holes appeared in the Rick Dom’s shell from the passing rounds. A lucky shot somehow breached the cockpit, tearing a hole in the pilot’s body. The lifeless suit continued on its course.

Then the Zeon seemed to disappear. A team of new GM Customs and Cannons entered the fight, sweeping away the intruding Zeon with apparent ease. Gray didn’t know whether to be relieved or upset with the newcomers. But it wasn’t the high- performance mobile suits that gave him pause. A white mobile suit like and yet so unlike the others dashed back and forth with lightning speed.

“What the hell?”

”It must be that new prototype everyone’s been talking about. The one with the Albion.”

A Rick Dom cut short any reply Gray thought to make. He barely evaded the bazooka round aimed for his chest. Backing away as quickly as possible, he emptied his vulcans to over his withdrawal. “A little help?”

It was a long moment of juking before any reply came. ”I’m sort of tied up at the moment.”

“Damn it.” The Rick Dom spun, slamming its empty bazooka into the GM’s shield and stunning the pilot. Gray tasted the metallic tang of blood in his mouth and tried to recover.

But the Zeon was quicker. It removed the long saber from its back and charged the helpless GM Kai. The Rick Dom rammed a heavy shoulder into the tan suit’s midsection and held the glowing sword high above its head.

Gray cringed. Nothing happened. In the monitor he could see the massive Zeon mobile suit’s green monoeye move up its track. An unusual glare quickly washed out the color and features of the Rick Dom’s head.

There was no time to ask questions. Gray shoved the 90mm machinegun into the Rick Dom’s midsection and fired. The heavy suit trembled. Gray’s GM tossed the empty weapon away and shoved the Zeon off. In one fluid motion, he removed the beam saber once more and slashed the pink blade from right shoulder to left hip. The heat from the Dom’s reactor explosion melted the edges of his shield.

Then Gray remembered the strange glow that had saved his life. He turned to face Konpeito once again and saw… nothing. No flashes. No gunfire. Nothing.

”I don’t believe it. They… they actually did it.”

“What? Did what?”

”The nuke. Delaz used the nuke. On the Review.”

“…it can’t be. We’ve… we’ve got to go. Now.”

**

16 November 0083
Konpei Island

“Good morning, Lieutenant.”

Gray Market was slow to open his eyes. They felt heavy, as if iron weights were holding them down. The view, when he finally did open them, was not what he expected. A kind, yet tired face hovered above him, partially blocking the too- bright fluorescent lights above him. “Where am I?”

The face smiled a tight smile. “You’re in Medical. You’ve been out for a few days. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Gray closed his eyes once again, letting the dark close over him for a moment. “It was horrible. Those people. I tried to help them. Most were beyond help. Too many. I kept bringing them to the launches and other ships. My ship. My squadron… I never found them. I vomited in my helmet and wrapped it up with the bandages from my belt. Then… I don’t remember.”

“Not that you should, Lt. Market. What you don’t remember is staying outside, ferrying people back and forth, assisting with the rescue and salvage efforts for nearly two days straight. I hear at one point you took one of the training suits after yours practically fell apart.”

Gray shook his head and instantly regretted it. His head swam and he nearly vomited again. “Then why am I here?”

The doctor sighed and rubbed his red eyes. “You collapsed from exhaustion. Your companion dragged you here and we kept an eye on you.”

“For a week?”

“We had to keep you medicated. Were you having any dreams?”

The pilot scratched his face and neck. “I think so. Drugs make it hard to think.”

“Good,” the doctor said after a few moments. “They’re supposed to. You were having violent fits and screaming. We didn’t have much of a choice.” The doctor smiled something close to a genuine smile. “You were frightening out other patients and we had to keep you quiet.

“ZOINKS.”

“Is this a bad time, doctor?” came another voice from the doorway. A familiar voice.

“Not at all, Ensign Claire. The lieutenant just woke up. I’m sure he could use a friendly face instead of my wrinkly old ass. Have good day, Mr. Market. I’ll be back later to check up on you.”

It hurt to smile. “Marionette…”

The petite form of Marionette Claire appeared next to Gray’s bed. “Nice to see you finally awake, Gray. It’s been a while.”

“What did I miss?”

“I don’t think you want to know, Gray. They went after Delaz.”

“I don’t like your tone.”

Marionette took a deep breath before continuing. “It turns out that the nuke was just a diversion. They sent a colony. To the moon. But the Lunarians turned it around somehow and sent it to earth. We couldn’t stop it.”

Gray closed his eyes and choked back the bile. Memories of Operation British flooded back into his mind. Watching the colony explode and the pieces fall across the planet. Seeing the fires on the horizon burn for weeks. The long nights and bitter cold. Heaven help them. “Where did it hit?”

“North America.”

It was too much to bear. Tears fell from his blue eyes and choked sobs racked his body. He began to shake and shudder uncontrollably, not even hearing the words of comfort from Marionette Claire.

**

12 December 0083
Konpei Island

Gray Market closed the bottle and looked at the pills in his hand. He hated taking them; hated relying on a drug to keep him sane. But they were effective. “No more dreams.” He tossed back his head and took a large gulp from the pouch at his side.

A message had come in earlier, just for him. It was the first he had received in two years. The return address told him where it had come from and, for the first time in ages, he felt relieved to see it.

What he did not want to see was his father’s face. “Let’s get this over with, Gray,” he told himself before pushing “Play.”

“Good morning, Gray. I hope this finds you well. I don’t have much time but I wanted to let you know we’re all fine down here. All we can do is hope we don’t have more accidents like this one. Moving colonies is a dangerous job. Even the slightest mistakes can cost taxpayers trillions.

“With that out of the way, I know you’ve been in space a while. Maybe you even like it. But we want you back home.

“I had a good long talk with a Mr. Jamitov Hyman the other day. He’s the one who formed the Titans, an elite anti- terrorist group to take out people like Delaz. I told him about you and he says he has a spot for someone like you in his organization. This is a chance to make something out of your career, maybe even come back to earth. All you have to do is say the word. I even have the forms attached to this message.

“This is something I think you should do. I had to call in a few favors with some people and it might come to bite me in the end. Son, a lot of people sacrificed their lives for this. Earth can’t take much more of this spacenoid contamination. They don’t believe in the sanctity of our planet like we do. How can they? They aren’t from here. They aren’t pure like we are.

“I eagerly await your positive response.”

Gray shook his head in disgust and deleted the message. He felt the weight of the forms in his hand. “I don’t think so, father. I’ve gotten this far without you. I don’t need this now.” With some small measure of delight, he tore the papers to shreds.

Taking one final look in the mirror to ensure he was squared away, Lt. Gray Market opened the door and left his stateroom. The 36th Mobile Suit Battalion was looking for new personnel. The complete destruction of his command had left him temporarily jobless. The Aggressors had a reputation for being the best, and while Gray knew he wasn’t, he was eager to learn.

“Never again.”

_________________
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 Post Posted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:52 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
Posts: 57
Location: Flying in a blue dream
How The Other Side Lives
Mission Five. Endings.


April, UC 0087

“Full burn now! Go! I’ll catch up but you have to go now.”

”We can’t just leave you here alone!

“I said go, goddammit! Do not argue with me, Sirai. I said I’ll catch up but you are out of time. Argue later. Run now.”

”Fine, but you’re in for it the moment you’re done. Good hunting, Gray. Bakker out.”

A quick salute was the only response given. As the former lieutenant turned away from the speeding transport, his mind gave not even a second’s thought to them. It was enough that the civilians were safely away. More pressing matters were at hand and in dire need of solution. Three pinpricks of light had appeared in the distance, nearly lost in the glare from the brightly glowing colony behind them. The glare was nearly too much to stand, even safely ensconced in the spherical cockpit nestled at the heart of the humanoid machine he inhabited.

”-repeat, stand down and surrender yourself to the justice of the Earth Federation government,” came a familiar voice, tinny with distance. ”Lieutenant Market, we don’t want to do this. Stand down and make this easy on everyone.”

“I have a better idea, Jonesy,” came Gray’s reply. “Turn around and go back home. This is your only chance. I don’t want to fight you but I won’t let you harm those civilians. Turn around or I will kill you.”

Even through the distance Gray Market could hear the pilot named Jonesy sigh. ”You’re outnumbered, Lieutenant. If you do not surrender you will be dealt with.”

“Too bad. I hate to die.” And with the flick of a finger, the pilot cut off further comment from a one- time compatriot and the Federation for which he stood. Besides, there were far more useful things for his hands to do, one of which was getting out of the entire situation alive. There was no final sigh, no thought of resignation as he eased the throttle forward. Weight gathered in his middle slowly, pinning him against his shock chair while the mobile suit around him accelerated. Those three tiny pinpricks slowly grew in size and definition until they became more than just unidentifiable silver marks against a brilliant backdrop.

With a slow exhale, Gray drew a bead on the trio of targets rushing to face him. They were in a standard triangle with each identical machine remaining firmly in formation. Until- there. The mobile suit anchoring the lower left drifted slightly out of position as the unit shifted to match his trajectory. A slight squeeze on the trigger created a much larger response. The lone GMII fired a shell from the massive bazooka resting on its left shoulder then shifted aim incrementally and fired again. Tick tick tick went the seconds in his head as the heavy rounds rocketed their way downrange. Without waiting any longer, Gray shoved his throttles forward, hurtling his mobile suit at maximum acceleration.

The high explosive shells did their job well. As the targeted enemy barely juked the first round, the second caught him by surprise and forced him even further out of position. There was no time to correct the lapse in discipline as the feet of Gray’s GM filled the poor man’s monitor before a massive explosion tore him from his seat and a line of gunfire ripped his body to pieces. He was blessedly dead when a final impact sent the wrecked machine careening through space as just another piece of debris.

Shock kept the remaining two Federation pilots unmoving for crucial seconds. Their brains barely had the chance to register what they had witnessed before trained instinct forced them to move or meet the same fate as their sad companion. Not that it mattered much.

**
A few hours later

“How did you get away?” It was a single question asked in a variety of different ways for hours and hours on end by the crowded survivors of 19 Bunch’s ersatz freedom fighters. After a while the question began to grate on the exhausted pilot; granted any telling was one too many. Still Gray Market still did his best to put on a worn smile to tell and retell the events as he remembered them.

“So after I forced the weak link to break formation entirely,” he began again, “I finished the lone suit off with a bazooka round and angled just enough to plant my feet and springboard off what was left of his suit.” Pausing to take a breath, the man noticed he had even more attention than before. He caught his hand shaking again and coughed to cover it up. “The last two didn’t move properly and ended up behind one another, relative to me. So while it might have been two on one, only the nearest suit could fire at me. My change in direction forced him to dodge and left me with a perfect shot on the guy behind him. Poor bastard didn’t even see it coming. I finished off the final guy with a quick saber strike. The whole thing took less than a minute. Hell, catching you people was harder than the fight.”

There was a hearty laugh around the cabin. They certainly needed it. After a narrow escape from the Titans on Side 1’s 19 Bunch colony, the refugees had little to celebrate. Until Gray arrived, that was. Then it was handshakes and back pats and hugs all around. Though the air stayed heavy, life looked a little brighter then.

It was a late night when the exhausted group finally passed into slumber. Quietly Gray squeezed his way into the shuttle’s tiny cockpit beside a large bedraggled man. “Get some sleep, Yuller. I’ll watch this for a bit.” The man called Yuller gave the other a long look through half- lidded eyes.

“You gonna be okay? Been a long day.”

“Nah, I’m used to this. I’m a professional, remember?” Then with a smile he felt but couldn’t quite pull off, Gray continued. “Besides, you’ve got this whole thing on autopilot. I just need to keep us straight and level. No problem.” When all he received in response was a tired grunt, the pilot settled in and relaxed in the quiet and now- empty cockpit. Within minutes it was neither.

“Can’t sleep?”

Gray turned his head and noticed a petite woman slide effortlessly into the copilot’s chair. “I suppose not,” came the clipped response.

Undeterred, the woman refused to be denied. “That was an incredibly stupid thing you did today, Gray. Brave, but really stupid.” A disappointed look crossed her face when she realized the man refused to rise to the challenge. “Thank you though. If it weren’t for you none of this would have happened. I’m sure even my brother Abel is pleased.” She added “and yes, he was my brother and a Zeon. That would make me Zeon as well.”

With instruments as unchanging as the void beyond, it was hard for Gray not to turn and face the determined woman, though none of it meant he needed to speak. “What do you want from me, Gray?” Sirai Bakker leaned back in the chair and heaved a deep sigh. “It’s been years, you know. I never knew what happened to you after the war. I guess I just figured you had gone on to some... something. I dunno. Something.”

When all she received in return was a tired stare, Sirai continued. Though what was that she saw? Certainly there was something in the way he looked at her. “He’s not yours, in case you were wondering. I thought he was at one point too. But he’s not. You would have been a great father though. But Adam and I are doing good. I can’t wait to see him again. He just keeps growing and growing. He really loved Abel too. Uncle Abel always had a story for him. Adam loved him.” Sirai shifted her weight in the chair before frowning and curling up around the restraints. The cockpit drifted into uncomfortable silence.

**

"Ma'am, I've got something strange here. Sending you sensor logs."

It took only a few short moments before a reply returned. "Continue tracking. Remain undetected."

Ensign James Warscol breathed a happy sigh. Following orders was easy and safe when they entailed doing next to nothing. It was a momentary break in the constant monotony of peacetime snooping. And, for his part, the young pilot thought nothing in the Earthsphere was better for snooping than his very own Action Zaku Recon.

Zakus, while ubiquitous throughout the One Year War, were still incredibly common and could be found doing everything from construction to piracy. The special version Warscol loved so dearly had been rebuilt from the late- war Action Zaku. Eight years later, it was still a hot rod, even without the upgrades some Federal scientists ladled into the frame. With numerous sensor fans and radomes peppering the frame, it bore only a passing resemblance to its predecessor and yet remained at the absolute forefront of electronic warfare.

And it was this very ability that the young man used to catch a small transport craft and its unusual passenger. He knew that back on his ship, the Snoopy team was already hard at work parsing the data streaming in on this odd sensor contact. "I wonder if the Intel guys have this one figured out yet?"

**

Two ships glided serenly through space. Together they could have been mistaken for one of any number of assault carriers from the war. Alone they were barely half, and the ugly half at that. Of course many an unfortunate- looking ship had been rescued somewhat by a name; the Earth Federation Space Force Ships Bastard and Strumpet had no such luck.

Commander Cassius Pomodoro, captain of the Bastard stood up from his seated and restrained position, glad to be free of the uncomfortable command chair. How they could make a chair uncomfortable in zero- g is beyond me, he thought and not for the first time. "Put the data on my big screen, Exec." The ever- patient Executive Officer Jimmy Chambers gave a slight nod as the "big screen" on the floor lit up with a complicated map of the surrounding space.

"So where and what is that crazy contact our suit found?"

Lt. Commander Chambers did not even blink an eye to see his captain hanging from the ceiling like a heavy red- headed bat. "Ensign Warscol discovered it within the past three- zero minutes traveling through the area. Intelligence reports that it is a colony transport vehicle named Alqualonde last reported to have launched from Side 1 Bunch 19 yesterday. Local reports from the colony garrison claim that it may have something to do with the incident involving a rogue pilot."

For a few pregnant minutes the captain made contemplative noises to himself while twirling the ends of his thick handlebar mustache. "And what's that weird little lump there on the bottom? The Colony Corporation doesn't allow third- party modifications to transports and it doesn't even match the more common illegal additions."

"A mobile suit," came an icy voice from inside the bridge hatch. "A Tack Seven Nine, probably only a Romeo." All eyes that weren't focused on the newcomer soon were. "Even most backwater garrisons have given up on the Charlie."

"Ah! The lovely Mademoiselle Claire finally graces us with her beauty, her presence and her intelligence." Captain Pomodoro made a grandiose gesture of welcome. It did not take long for the skipper to learn one of the few ways to aggravate his mobile suit commander was to shower her with praise, no matter how deserved. "I would ask how you know that, but I'll take your word for it. You are the essence of Athena congealed and poured into a uniform. Go get them, bring them back."

Lt. Marionette Claire fought to keep her ire down but her pale skin flushed all too easily. "Very well, sir."

Still upside down Captain Cassius Pomodoro grinned like the Cheshire Cat.

He was still grinning when four mobile suits were catapulted away from his ship.

Then there were tense seconds where the transport was ordered to heave to. Captain Pomodoro stroked his luxurious mustache nervously.

And when five mobile suits came back instead of the four that took off, he nearly worried a bald spot on his lip. "Exec," he boomed suddenly. "I'm in the stateroom. Make sure some security people are there too. If you need me, well, don't need me."

"Aye aye, sir."

By the time the captain made his way to his stateroom, he was through playing with his facial hair and became the "Old Man" once again. Scowl firmly affixed to face and jaw set as though it were wired shut, he took a seat behind his expansive and expensive wooden desk. Then he realized there was no gravity and bounced off the seat of the black leather chair. With a grunted curse, he simply stood, anchored in place by magnets built into the soles of his regulation boots. Stood and waited.

Captain Cassius Pomodoro hated waiting. Loathed it. With each passing minute, his irritation grew exponentially. Thankfully he did not need to wait too long. The door hissed open and two armed security guards floated in. Then came a trim man he did not recognize, followed by Lt. Claire, whom he did recognize; and two more guards. Every weapon was trained on the newly- arrived Gray Market. "You may leave," the captain said quietly. All four security men filed from the room.

"You're a hard man to track down, Lieutenant Market, Gray Scott." Captain Pomodoro looked down at a reader pad and frowned. "Are you having fun on your little joyride?"

Gray snapped a belated salute and held it until it was returned. "Up to this point it was okay, sir."

"Allow me to explain the rules before we really begin." There was a twinkle in the redheaded captain's eyes as he spoke. "If you are honest with me, this will all be over soon and we can both be happy. But if you are dishonest, only you will be unhappy. I have in my hot little hands a couple of interesting reports. Tell me if any of this strikes you as familiar, okay?" There was some fumbling as the captain found his glasses buried deeply in his breast pocket.

"Born '56- happy birthday, by the way- on earth. Average marks in school. Academy graduate. Did things during the war." He looked back up at his captive audience. "Does any of this ring a bell?"

Gray nodded. "Yes sir."

Satisfied, the captain returned to his datapad. "Four kills at the event that shall not be named because it never happened. Some vaguely worded awards. Posting on Konpei with the 36th. Ooh. They were good. That was you?" Caught up in his stream of thought, he barely paused for a reply. "My goodness, you've done some things. I mean, from all reports you have been nothing but above average with a relatively bright career ahead of you.

"But then you go and do this." There was a dramatic sigh and long pause before he continued. "Somehow a loyal soldier betrays his government, his people and his planet to save some terrorists. Then, because he's gone completely off his rocker, he kills his entire mobile suit team as though they were paper and he was rock."

From behind Gray came a cough. "Paper beats rock, sir."

"Nonsense, Lt. Claire. Have you ever tried to stop a rock with paper? Doesn't happen."

"That's how the game is played, sir." Despite the professional tone, the strain in the young officer's voice was evident.

If the edge was just beginning to show in the woman's voice, Commander Pomodoro's face was nearly the color of his hair. "I know how the game is played. Scissors cuts paper. Rock crushes scissors. Rock tears through paper. Paper is useless. Rock wins."

Lt. Marionette Claire gave an exasperated sigh. "Sir, with all due respect, those are not the rules. Scissors cuts paper, rock smashes scissors and paper covers rock. I know the last part makes no sense to you but those are the rules, sir."

With a frown, the captain stroked his mustache thoughtfully. "What a dumb game. Anyways, the point still stands. This person from the report goes completely ape- s--- and escapes with a transport full of earth- hating terrorists. Could any of this possibly be true, Lt. Market, Gray Scott?"

"Except for the part where I snapped, that sounds like a decent summation of events."

"Good," Commander Pomodoro nodded. "You're on your way to Luna, I take it. I'd hate to delay you any longer." He glanced up past his bushy red eyebrows at the shocked lieutenants before him. "Of course there is the matter of the terrorists you have under your protection. I cannot in good conscience allow them to leave. Command would have my head and I rather like it where it is."

There was silence for but a moment. "The civilians are non- negotiable. They will not be harmed and they will not be turned over. You have me. That should be enough."

"Sacrificing yourself for a group of killers and insurgents, Lieutenant?" the Captain laughed. "A brave and noble notion, but a stupid one. I could have them killed at my whim and it is only that whim that prevents me from doing so right now. This is the same whim, mind you, that persuaded me to talk to you in the first place." Commander Pomodoro leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. "Convince me, Market. Why should I give up a sure promotion just so you can appease your guilt?"

"They didn't do anything, Captain," Gray managed through clenched teeth. "As I said, they're civilians, refugees even. Let them go."

With an obvious sigh, the captain clicked open the communicator embedded in his desk. "Well, that was underwhelming. My report comes from a credible source and says they are not at all the innocents you say they are. Weps, ready the megaparticle cannons and target that transport."

"No!"

Commander Pomodoro only yawned into his meaty hand. "I grow tired of this, Market. Titans lieutenant Luis Ng has made a very strong case against them. I am well within my right, am I not?"

Though the motion was well- practiced, by the time Gray reached for his service pistol he also remembered giving it up upon arrival. And only too late did he notice a flash of movement from his escort behind him. In the blink of an eye the door to the stateroom stood open with two armed guards pointing nasty- looking rifles directly at him. "You don't understand. There are kids on board! You can't kill them!"

"Weps, do you have a firing solution on the Alqualonde yet?" If the captain was at all fazed he did not show it.

"Yessir," buzzed the response.

"Time to make a choice, Lieutenant Market, Gray Scott." Commander Cassius Pomodoro's voice turned dark as night, which fit his expression perfectly. "You and your civilians are free to go on one condition. When you get to Luna and join the AEUG, you will not join a crew until I contact you. It's not spying or anything, so don't you worry about that. If you turn me down you will be a complete idiot and I will have you jailed while your friends are reduced to their constituent atoms by heavy megaparticle fire. Am I clear?"

Gray stammered for a response and found none forthcoming. He turned to the stone- faced woman behind him. His eyes pleaded with the force his voice could not hope to match but found no sanctuary within the cold stare he met there.

"You will find no help from her." The grin on the captain's lips would put most predators to shame. "Amongst the many of Miss Claire's positive attributes is her understanding when it is time to speak and when it is time to stay silent. It's eerie, isn't it?"

Marionette Claire blinked slowly in response, which caused the commander to clap excitedly. "She must really like you to help you out so much! What's it going to be, Market? So I extort you a bit. It's either that or I go up to the bridge to watch a really cool explosion."

Gray's only response was a snapped salute. "By your leave, Captain, I'd like to get back to my people."

This time Commander Pomodoro sat down in his chair easily. "Off you go," he said with a dismissive wave. "Oh, Miss Claire, may I have a word with you?" That old Cheshire grin crept up underneath his mustache once again. "Tell me everything you know about this Market fellow."

**

If there was a point beyond exhaustion, former officer Gray Market found it. His mobile suit drifted alongside the transport for an hour while he fought to calm his frazzled nerves. His hands shook uncontrollably and for once he was grateful there was no gravity to stand against. His legs could not have withstood it. But despite the freedom of movement granted in space, the man from earth did not feel liberated. Only when every last ounce of adrenaline was squeezed from his blood would his mind finally allow him some rest.

Inside he was met by silence. The unasked question was obvious. What happened? "Go," he growled. And that was all the response he gave.

It was Sirai who reacted first. "You heard the man. Yuller, get us to Luna and quickly." She cast a quick glance at the Federation officer and what she saw worried her. "Okay people, we've obviously been allowed some breathing room. We're going to make the most of it. We should be on the moon in a few hours. Make sure you have everything together."

Gray found an empty chair in the back and managed to fasten only one strap before sleep claimed him. It would not be restful.

**

Amman, Luna

From orbit, there seemed to be nothing special about the lunar city of Amman, unless you counted the fact that there were cities on the face of the moon to be remarkable. Blinking lights from squat buildings built into the rocky surface gave the appearance of incompleteness. And from a certain point of view, that would be correct.

Built in a crater, a substantial portion of Amman City was safely buried into the lunar crust as protection from radiation. And she was not alone. Granada and Von Braun City, the other major centers on the moon, were similarly constructed. Apart from whatever floated around far Jupiter, the lunar cities represented the extent of mankind's reach from its blue world.

Earthrise, a sight so astonishingly beautiful as to be inconceivable to those who had never witnessed it and so boring as to be invisible to the lunarians, came quickly for the tired passengers aboard the small transport Alqualonde. The children aboard crowded the viewports in wide- eyed wonder while their parents finished gathering together what little they carried with them.

"She's so beautiful." Gray Market, son of earth, could not help but stare at the fragile sphere that was his home. Drawn like an iron filing to a magnet, the man drifted closer to the windows. His outstretched hand was stopped short by the thick glass but part of him imagined passing through the skin of the ship and floating happily back home. Instead he satisfied himself with a longing gaze. Fingers squeaked down the viewport as he forced himself to turn away.

"Homesick, Gray?" The voice came as a surprise and an unpleasant end to his reverie. A small but firm hand pressed into his middle, stopping him just short of running over the woman he now knew as Sirai Bakker. "Guess so," she said with a smile.

Gray's brow furrowed, etching deeper the lines already forming from age. "I haven't been back in seven years." With a sigh of resignation, he turned his head away. "And now it looks like I might never see it again."

"What's the old saying? 'You can't go home again'?" Sirai shook her head. "Pretty much the truth... for all of us."

With a hiss, Gray's normal suit sealed, helmet and all. "I'm going to dump the GM before we get any closer. I'll see you there."

If there were well- wishes as he slowly fell away from the transport, Gray Market heard none of them. Through the spherical view granted by his GM's monitor, he saw the ship float away to a speck otherwise indistinguishable against the eternal night sky. Then he turned his attention back to the unyielding terrain rushing to meet him.

Gray breathed a silent prayer of relief as he gently set his mobile suit down on the stark surface mere moments before his fuel display flared an angry red "E". "Well," he mused for no one's ears but his own. "That was stupid. Here's hoping I don't run out of air before I get to Amman." He grimaced as he pulled his helmet off and tasted the stale air in his cockpit. The dry, metallic tang tasted little better than the dry, carbonized air in his normal suit. "Still better to drag out what air I have left."

And then he walked. Though the view barely changed, it was beautiful in it's own deadly way. On the horizon he could see flashing guide lights marking the very outskirts of the city. In the shadow of a small crater he hid the 18 meter machine as best he could and set out on foot. Rocks that had seemed insignificant to his giant robot became monstrous boulders blocking his way and sending him zig- zagging across the barren wasteland.

Not for the first time did Gray Market question the intelligence of his decision.

**

Bastard

"Sir, incoming message from the big, floating head." A young petty officer grinned as he spoke. "I mean, from Command. We're supposed to meet some Titans cruiser back at Side 1."

"You're an idiot, Mann," another enlisted man whispered.

Commander Pomodoro just shook his head. "No one will get the reference, Petty Officer. Did Command say anything about Strumpet or what this is about?"

"Nosir," came the chastised response.

"Very well. Helm, set course for Side 1. I'm going to take a little break." The captain pushed himself from his chair and to the door. "Exec, my stateroom in ten. Meeting of the minds."

Lt. Commander Chambers had barely sat in the captain's chair before he jumped back up. "Yessir. Ten minutes."

Those ten minutes passed quickly. Master Chief Senrab Barnes was the last one to enter the crowded room and stood stoicly in front of the entry, arms crossed over his barrel chest. Gold and silver insignia flashed in the artificial lighting. It was an unusual collection of people representing every aspect of the ship's operation from department heads to pilots and even a few enlisted reactor technicians. Yet despite the glitter, the captain was the sole focus in the room, and not solely for the fact that he was anchored to the ceiling.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Commander Pomodoro began. "I hate to keep you all from your duties and sincerely hoped we'd never have to meet like this." He paused for laughter that never arrived. "I've been going over this message we received earlier and it looks like we're in trouble. Remember that thing that happened yesterday that never happened?" There were a few head shakes. "Good. Apparently someone leaked news of it to the brass and now we're to rendezvous with a Titans cruiser at Side 1. I do not need to remind you that this is not a good thing.

"Get your s--- together, people. Looks like we're going to have to start this party earlier than anticipated." All humor, and there was a lot, emptied from the captain's voice. "Do it now. You have two days. Dismissed."

**

Amman City, Luna

"I wanted to thank you again for sending out that buggy to pick me up," a tired Gray Market said by way of greeting.

The other two people at the little table smiled. "Not a problem," said the rotund man called Yuller. "Couldn't well leave you out there on your own; not after what you did for us." He grinned and jerked his head toward the third person at the table. "Besides, Sirai here wouldn't let us. She might've killed that little Anaheim toad if he had turned her down."

"Thanks again."

Yuller's meaty hand slapped Gray's shoulder hard. "We already ordered dinner so it should be out any minute now." He stood and stretched, looking slightly less heavy than he had before. "Gotta love this low gravity. I need a beer. Anyone else want one?" While Sirai shook her head, Gray nodded eagerly. "Be back in a minute."

The moment the large man ambled out of earshot, Sirai leaned over to the remaning man and tucked her straw- colored hair behind an ear. "You've barely said a word to me. I'm kind of worried. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," came the quiet reply.

"That's bulls---, Gray." Sirai Bakker threw her hands up in surrender. "I'm not sorry, if that's what you're looking for. I had a job to do, same as you. Besides," she added with a sigh, "We're on the same side now. Kind of ironic that you're fighting for the same thing you fought against back then."

Gray muttered something.

"What was that?"

"It's not the same thing," he said icily. Before either could continue, Yuller rejoined them, beers in hand. "Thank you," Gray said with a nod.

Yuller raised his mug high, beer sloshing out as he did so. "To better days and better booze!"

_________________
Whatever works.


Last edited by Zball on Mon Aug 13, 2012 12:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post Posted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 11:11 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
Posts: 57
Location: Flying in a blue dream
Phew. Okay. So this is just the beginning of clearing a backlog of work. I expanded the original scope of the "How The Other Side Lives" idea into something a bit bigger, if not more tightly focused. The first story way up at the top was written something like seven, eight years ago. When, after a legitimate decade- plus, I decided to start and finish this story set in the Z and ZZ era of the UC universe, it melded with the short story idea I'd already implemented. So two became one.

So some notes and whatnot.

Unforgiven. It's mission three. Notice it is set before the first story and we skipped two. There was a two, but it was trash and I scrapped it long ago. I probably won't go back and do it, so I get to keep the hole. The entire story was inspired by the Metallica song after which the title was named. For weeks I had the story run through my head when I heard the song and had to simply write it. Also, since the first time we see Abel Bakker it's as a broken- down and homeless vet, I thought it would be interesting to see who he was in the war. Presto and I had the story. Fun times. But really that was it.

Random tidbit: This is so old HDS was still writing the fourth or fifth chapter of his own fic when this came about.

Just Breathe. I love 0083 for the simple fact that all this crazy stuff happened and technically it never did happen. Lots of fun there. Inspired in part by Redcomet/Trioknight. Originally it had unacceptable timestamps. They have been removed. Also I had forgotten just how much Mace swore until I reread it. But mostly this was to get a little more insight into Gray Market. I knew he was going to end up in Black Knight's "Wargames" fic as a member of the Konpei Aggressor squadron, I just didn't know how. This was a good way to get him there (as his history had him at Konpei since way back) and also give a glimpse at the issues he had been dealing and would be dealing with in the future.

Random tidbit: Hooray Mad French Bastard.

Endings. Guess what? It isn't actually an ending. But it kinda is. Here's the Bastard once again and the crew is still up to the zany antics from before, only moreso. We see a shift in Captain Pomodoro to leave me guessing just who that guy is. This was actually one of the first things I had written in at least five years and it shows. It's super- rough and lacking. Still I love writing things for people to read because stories are important.

Random tidbit: Television references!

Coming soon! I clear out more of my backlog to further the adventures of the good ship Bastard and her crew of malcontents. You also continue to get sub- par, unedited work from me! It's the gift that keeps on getting returned!

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 Post Posted: Thu Aug 09, 2012 5:38 am 
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Yeah Zball just noticed when I was rereading the first chapter that you keep changing the mobile suit group of the Bastard. First you have Claire and her team piloting GMIIs when they launch even though you mentioned earlier with the new pilot that his mobile suit was Zeon inspired. Later you have Claire in an Action Zaku when she takes out the Jicco. Figured you goofed on that.

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 Post Posted: Thu Aug 09, 2012 10:08 am 
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Bah. And here I thought I picked out all the old anachronisms. Good eye. Correction time!

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 Post Posted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 12:34 pm 
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How The Other Side Lives
Mission Six. Mutinous Bastards.


April, UC 0087
Bastard

Side 1's 30 Bunch colony had seen better days. Since 0085, however, each day was progressively worse. All the automated functions still worked-- to an extent. It was just that the people who lived there had not been alive in two years. Two years of silence in a massive cylinder in space. No laughter. No fighting. No singing. No drunken revelry. No survivors.

None of this was lost on Commander Cassius Pomodoro and his crew. Everyone down to the poor wrench monkeys in the engineering spaces knew something was going on. The tension on the ship was thick enough to cut with a spoon. There was silence on board the ship to match the silence outside the hull. And if there was one thing the captain hated it was silence. He hated a lot more than one thing.

"I can't take this anymore," he said suddenly. "Someone tell me where these damned Titans are. They're almost a day late." The bridge went silent with even the bleeps, sweeps and creeps muted to nothing. Thankfully there was a distraction, a glimmer of hope for the poor bridge crew.

"Message for you, sir," the on- watch communications petty officer called out. "They say to hold position. Something has happened at Konpei Island and it has delayed the Tymborychos."

Rather than explode in fury at being told to wait longer, the captain merely nodded and returned to his uncomfortable captain's chair. Everyone on the bridge matched the quiet with their own version of shock. Though no one spoke, minds were racing with questions and speculations.

The very moment the watch changed, all off- going personnel dashed for the mess decks, the gym, the berthing to spread the news. Scuttlebutt spread like wildfire and it became the topic for the day. What could have caused such a sudden shift in mood? Was he really afraid of the Titans? Did he know what happened at Konpei? Was he involved in some secret plot? Had he been replaced by a robot mutant? And, most importantly, what did this mean for the rest of them? Older heads, cooler heads struggled to prevail with stories spun of old days and warnings to ignore the rumor mill.

And then the next day came with a bell. Or rather, eight bells. "Reveille reveille," came the voice through the 1MC. "All hands heave out and trice up. Proceed with the plan of the day. Reveille." Watches changed over. Men and women filled the passageways and mess decks with idle feet and idle chatter before and after morning muster. Despite the ever- present complaints from some, the day proceeded as had all others before it.

"Sir, Lieutenant Ehrenrit has detected an incoming ship."

Usually the news of something, anything happening would have brought a broad grin to the captain's face. But once again he seemed unusually subdued. "Give me the feed. Call the Snoopy Team."

"Away, Snoopy Team, away." And that was all it took for the bright minds and sharp eyes of the Snoopy Team to rush to their designated observation posts. The Snoopy Team was a special brand of person, trained to quickly identify any and all vessels at the longest range possible. They were quite good at their job.

"Snoopy calls her Tymborychos and IFF confirms."

The captain pondered for a moment, absently twirling his mustache in the very particular nervous way he developed over the years. "Have the LT track and then return once the Titans arrive. And energize the radar. I doubt they've spotted us yet."

In quite an amazing feat, the ponderous bulk of the new model Salamis cruiser altered course for the new contact with the crisp precision of a talented crew. It, too, had a team of eagle- eyed scouts peering through space. The Titans cruiser Tymborychos cut through the void like a massive shark through the oceans of the planet she was sworn to defend. She closed with the smaller Bastard quickly, crossing her over with barely tens of meters of clearance. The full size of the cruiser, from flattened bow to twinned flank guns to glowing engine block, was on display before the larger ship veered into close formation.

None of the expert ship handling was lost on the Bastard's stunned bridge crew. "Holy ZOINKS," breathed a particularly bold crewman. Everyone else thought it. "C- captain," came the shaken voice of the duty comms. "The Titans captain respectfully requests your presence." The unspoken "now" was quite clear. Titans did not ask for things nicely. They did not ask for things at all. They demanded and were given.

"Exec, have Lt. Claire meet me in the hangar. You have the bridge." And then the captain was gone.

Down in the hangar bay, Commander Pomodoro ran into the waiting Lt. Claire. The bored scowl that seemed permanently carved into her ivory face had the slightest edge. She tossed a sharp salute and held it with perfect, unflinching posture until it was returned. "Captain," she said by way of greeting.

Both parties were surprised when the captain nodded without a further response. Quietly they both floated to the front of the hangar to a tiny skiff already prepped and ready for launch. "We are cleared for takeoff, sir." Commander Pomodoro waved the junior officer and returned to quiet mustache twirling.

"EFS Bastard, departing."

**

Tymborychos

"Tell me once more about that ship and her crew, XO."

Lieutenant Maxine Peret bit back an angry response. Not only would it be remarkably unprofessional to talk back to a superior but, at least in this case with this captain, remarkably dangerous. Though the datapad in her hand held all the information the captain requested, she had repeated it so often that it was etched into her memory. "Bastard. Eighth and final ship of her class. Two guns. Six CIWS. Operational since late '86. One combat action. Destroyed an upgraded Magellan battleship taken by pirates." She took a deep breath as they rounded a corner. "Commander Cassius Pomodoro. Served before the war. Capable officer. Psych profile notes he appears to be unstable. Was selected for this post by one Igor Makarov."

He had heard the synopsis from his executive officer almost hourly during their journey from Konpei island. He had read the records and reports. He knew the command crew by name and face, had memorized interesting bits from psychological profiles and committed numerous pieces of trivia to memory. And now he was going to a meeting with the very person who dominated so much of his waking thoughts for the past two days.

"Commander Androphonos? Sir?"

The words shook the man from his thoughts. "Yes, XO?"

"Lt. Ng has requested permission to join us."

"Denied for the time being," said the captain with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I despise that little toad and will not have him ruin this introduction with his petty vendetta." After a quick breath and sudden stop, he turned to his XO. "How do I look? I never get to wear my dress uniform."

Lt. Peret looked Lieutenant Commander Androphonos up and down. His black hair was in perfect order, slicked back away from his sharp eyebrows and hatchet nose. A few light lines etched his too- thin face recently shaven. The uniform itself was pristine without lint or blemish to be found. Buttons and devices were all buffed to a blinding finish, as were his shoes. But then the captain was always fastidious. "You look every bit the model of command, sir."

"Your flattery is appreciated," he said in his silken voice. "You look acceptable, XO." The captain brushed back a stray hair from the woman's forehead. "There. Now you are perfect. Let us meet our guests."

They did not wait long. Both Commander Pomodoro and Lieutenant Claire met them nearly at the door. It was the Titan CO who saluted first and made the Space Force captain wish he had his own XO present for a quick non- verbal conversation about the oddity. "Welcome to the Tymborychos, Commander Pomodoro. I am Lieutenant Commander Nimius Androphonos and this is my executive officer Lieutenant Maxine Peret."

"Thank you, Commander. This is my MS team leader, Lieutenant Marionette Claire."

The Titan captain nodded. "Please, come with me. No doubt you are as eager to start this meeting as we are to resolve this issue quickly."

Contrasting dramatically with the austere white and gray paint covering everywhere else inside the cruiser, the interior of Captain Nimius' stateroom was blood red and opulently appointed. Frosted glass sconces cast the room in soft, golden light. The Titans commander sat quietly behind an extravagant desk with his short- statured XO standing behind him.

Another man, dressed in the same black uniform stood off to one side. A perpetual grin gave him a menacing look. Too- white teeth stood out against his dark complexion and, in the low light, made his face almost impossible to make out.

"Thank you for meeting with us."

Commander Pomodoro glanced at his subordinate. "Not a problem."

"Would you like a drink, Commander? Lieutenant?" Nimius gestured to an exquisite crystal bottle of liquor. "It is not ouzo, but I find bourbon more apropos considering the circumstances."

"And what, pray tell, are these circumstances?"

With a deep sigh, the Titans officer gestured again, this time to the unnamed officer still standing in the corner. "Commander Cassius Pomodoro, may I introduce Lieutenant junior grade Luis Ng. I believe you have met before."

Lt. Claire arched an eyebrow while her CO chuckled. "Louie? I remember you. This isn't about the other month, right?"

For a split second the Titans' grin faded. "Of course not, sir. Though I am surprised you retained command after departing 19 Bunch. My report was... not flattering."

"Bah," the captain said. "We were just having some fun. Had to blow off some steam. If you'd ever been underway for awhile, you'd understand."

Luis Ng bristled at the comment. "My duties as liaison, though not combat- related, are highly important. If you knew the trouble-"

"Highly informative, Lt. Ng," interrupted Commander Nimius. "But get to the point. We all have reports to file and duties to which we must attend, do we not?"

The unspoken threat sent a shudder through the slight liaison officer. "O-of course sir. A group of terrorists attacked the Federation garrison on 19 Bunch and, with the aid of radical Zeon agents and a traitor within the Space Forces, escaped the colony on a Longhorn- class transport. Many lives were lost, including numerous civilians."

Commander Pomodoro pondered this for a moment. "So that means you didn't catch them."

Lt. Ng rubbed at his throat like it was being squeezed by an invisible noose. "No, sir. They destroyed the pursuit force sent against them. Details were sent out and all Space Force personnel were to be on the lookout."

"And this has something to do with us why?"

Captain Nimius silenced the lieutenant's response with a wave of his hand. "Because we believe you ran across these partisans and allowed them to escape. Rumor though this may be, it is highly disturbing and so we must pursue it. You understand this."

The Federation commander looked once more at Lt. Claire. "I understand, certainly. But if we did happen across them, I know nothing of it."

All three Titans glanced at one another. The black- haired Captain was the first to speak. "Commander, this ship is the Tymborychos. A fascinating name, I believe. In the myths of my people, Tymborychos was a name of Ares. Do you know what the word means?" He paused and the corners of his mouth turned up in a deadly smirk. "It means 'Gravedigger'. How fitting that the Gravedigger floats so closely by one of the largest coffins in the Earth Sphere.

"Understand that I will discover the truth of the matter and the one or ones who allowed such a thing to happen will find out just how serious I take the name of my ship." Even in the microgravity, the Titans commander made standing up a slow and laborious action. "This ship will be the death of her enemies, even if those enemies masquerade as friends. Now answer the lieutenant's questions truthfully."

Commander Cassius Pomodoro visibly gulped at the fearsome display. His cheeks flushed and he stammered while staggering to his feet. "I- I shall return to my ship and personally pull all records pertaining to the dates and times you request. Then I'll hand deliver them to you. We, uh, have no secrets to keep from allies."

"I eagerly await your swift return and swift resolution to this misunderstanding, sir." The Titans smiled at the same time. "Ms. Peret will see you back to your launch."

**

Bastard

"Okay Miss Claire," Commander Pomodoro said once they were safe aboard their own vessel. The ride had been in silence and these were the first words the captain had spoken in half an hour. "How was I? I mean, did you see me when he got all scary?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'd been practicing that for a day straight! That was really convincing, right? Someone should give me an award for acting, like the Pulitzer."

Happy bliss wasted by this man, Marionette thought. "The Pulitzer is for writing, sir."

If there had been a way to stop completely in zero gee without running into something, Cassius Pomodoro would have done so. "Are you sure? That doesn't sound right to me. Damn stupid name for an award anyways. I mean, the first two letters are 'P' and 'U', like a stinko. Who wants a stinky prize? And who writes anymore anyways? Dictate, man! Dictate!"

"Perhaps you would prefer an Academy award or a Tony or an Emmy. They have those for acting," Lt. Claire said in her flat tone.

"Which one's the best?"

"They are all the best."

"Preposterous!" the commander replied. "They can't all be the best! It defeats the purpose of 'best'. In the end there can be only one... best."

The exasperated lieutenant remained silent until they reached the bridge. "Attention on deck!" The crew all stood at attention at once.

"Carry on." Captain Pomodoro glided over to his chair and took a seat. "What did I miss, Exec?"

Lt. Commander Jimmy Chambers looked around the command deck. "We are awaiting the order."

A little mischievous glint flickered in the captain's eye. "You have your order, Exec." A small handset appeared in his hand as if by magic. A little light showing the 1MC communication circuit was powered.

"This is the captain speaking..."

**

Down on the engineering decks, a petty officer standing watch found himself torn between listening to the captain's announcement and turning over the watch suddenly. "What's this all about?"

"...you know we are currently above Side 1's 30 Bunch colony where a great act of terror was perpetrated by..."

"Some moron officer forgot to schedule some lame training evolution for us," said the oncoming watch. "I just finished mine. Now it's your turn. Hurry up and turn over. They're meeting in the hangar now."

The petty officer nodded and ignored the captain's talk while giving up his watch. After all, he thought, if someone else wanted to deal with the stifling heat down here while he sat in A/C, more power to them. "...number 3 MCP is running a little rough. The wire biters said they would check out the power supply. You good?"

He didn't even wait for the other petty officer to say goodbye.

"...there have been plenty of rumors on the ship lately concerning what this meeting was all about. Certain decisions have been made..."

**

"No!" Lieutenant Deacon Ehrenrit cried out. Outnumbered three to one, he stopped struggling while his attackers held him down. Marionette Claire shoved handfuls of clothes into a bag. "Why are you doing this?"

"...and while we still firmly believe in the basic principles of the Earth Federation, there is simply no room in this military for those who believe as the Titans do and the rest..."

"Warscol. Collier. Take Mr. Ehrenrit to the launch." Lt. Claire tossed the bag to the crying officer being dragged away.

Newly- minted Ensign Mitchner Hines crossed his arms as he watched the trio leave. "Do we have to do this, ma'am? I mean, Deacon was a prick but Duke's a good man."

...today were are officially defecting from the Earth Federation Space Force. Those who do not wish to stay won't be judged. We believe in the rightness..."

"You don't have to beat me up, Mitch." In the doorway stood Warrant Officer Henry "Duke" Davenport, bag packed and slung across his shoulder. "You know I can't do this with you."

"I know, Duke, but dammit!"

The Warrant embraced his old friend. "Buddy, I've got a family that's in real trouble if I stay here. Y'know I love ya, Mitch." Duke Davenport smiled and pushed his way out the door to the hangar. "Besides, someone's got to pilot the launch."

"...will be joining with the AEUG at our earliest opportunity..."

"And keep the Galbaldy!" Duke called out over the mad noise in the bay. "Your old ass is going to need the replacement as bad as you fly!"

**
Tymborychos

"Sir," said the radar operator. "I'm getting some low levels of interference on my scanners."

Captain Nimius Androphonos regarded the exchange with little attention. His XO floated over to the petty officer manning the radar screens. "What's going on?"

"It looks like low levels of Minovsky pollution, ma'am." He looked up at the superior officer. "But that can't be. We're not distributing."

"Could it be from the colony? Or a problem in the array itself?"

He shook his head. "It's not from the colony. I've already accounted for any possible background radiation. Could it be the Bastard?"

"Sir!" came another voice across the bridge. "Commander Pomodoro has launched with a team of engineers. He's attempting to contact us."

"Is the interference affecting us in any way?" Lt. Commander Peret asked.

"Patch him through." The Titans commander frowned. "Commander, why are you bringing another craft? We have plenty of..."

A small flash of light caught everyone's eye. "What the hell was that?"

"Sir, one of the shuttles just exploded!"

"Commander Pomodoro said he is turning his launch around to look for survivors."

"No," said Captain Nimius calmly. "He stays on course and lands here as soon as possible." He leaned back in his chair, scowl firmly affixed. "I should have known something like this would happen. Prep our mobile suits for launch. They are to conduct search and-"

"Bastard is on the move!"

"What?"

"Minovsky particle density approaching combat levels! It's got to be them!"

Lt. Commander Nimius Androphonos swore. "It's a trick. General quarters and get me that damn ginger bastard on the comm. And someone get those mobile suits off my ship."

"General quarters, general quarters. All hands man your battle stations. The route for general quarters is..."

"Incoming heat sources from Bastard!"

"Evasive maneuvers!"

"Mobile suits away."

"I want a firing solution on that ship! Weps, I want that ship as nothing but a bad memory."

"Transmission from Bastard."

"Commander Pomodoro," the Titan said above the cacophony on his bridge. "You are a dead man."

"Buono sera, you Turkish moron."

"I am not a Turk!"

**

Bastard

"That got his attention, sir."

Commander Pomodoro just laughed and laughed. "That it did, Exec. It's a killer, I just hope not our killer." He turned to the big floor screen to watch events unfold. "Tell Miss Claire that nothing gets through. Those Titan whackadoodles will not mar my ship with their guns and missiles and suchlike.

"Now get us the hell out of here. All ahead flank, Mister Chambers."

**

"Ma'am, I've got incoming missiles from the Titans followed by four mobile suits. Flight profile matches Hizacks."

"Thank you, Warscol. Now stay clear." With a flick of her thumb, Marionette Claire switched back to her squad's comm channel. "After we clear these missiles, we're going in. Mitch, we'll distract their screen and you keep that cruiser off our backs until we're clear." A chorus of affirmatives was much more than she needed to hear.

A quartet of missiles sped toward the Bastard but had to pass straight through the mobile suit team to get there. Three pairs of vulcan guns opened up as one, spraying the approach path with a hail of high- velocity metal. Half the missiles exploded under the gunfire, but the survivors continued on.

"Evade!" Lt. Claire cried out. Of her five mobile suits, four were already moving. "Pela! Move your ass!" But too late. One of the last pair of missiles, designed solely to kill other battleships, collided with Pela Gibraltar's GM II and vanished in a brilliant display of explosive force.

**

Bastard

"One missile got through! We're tracking it now."

If the captain was at all nervous or giddy, he did not show it. With unusual calm, he shifted his bulk in his chair. "Weps? Those damn Artoo guns better work as advertised."

"Impact in two zero seconds!"

Rather than a verbal response, there was only a chattering report in the bulkheads as the CIWS guns opened up on the remaining missile.

"Impact in one five seconds!"

"Hit! Hit! Missile destroyed."

**

Lt. Claire juked her GM II out of a line of machinegun fire from the Titan mobile suits. "We've got to give that ship something else to think about!" She fired two blasts from her beam rifle at a Hizack that dared get too close, forcing it to back off. "Mitch!" she grunted as she rolled her suit over to avoid another burst. "Grab my bazooka and make your run!"

If there was a word of protest, it was lost somewhere in the desperate battle. A collision alarm blared to life. With a flick of its wrist, the GM tossed the shipkilling weapon to the waiting hands of the speeding Galbaldy Beta of Mitch Hines.

"C'mon, c'mon," she muttered while throwing her mobile suit through another gut- wrenching series of maneuvers. "Split up. Split up." Outnumbered two to one against the elite Titan pilots was not where Marionette wished to be. When she saw one Hizack break off the attack to chase the faster Galbaldies, she smiled and squeezed off three shots after it.

The first missed wide but the last two holed the Titan suit in the leg and back, sending it spinning out of control. It twitched briefly until the leaking reactor overloaded and tore the Hizack apart from the inside out. Unfavorable odds still, but three on two was far more manageable. Far in the distance, the ever- shrinking Titan Salamis opened up with all guns. Beams and roiling spheres of light made the menacing ship appear more the center of a fireworks display than a warship in a battle for survival.

And that was when, as if by plan, simultaneous flares erupted from both Tyborychos and Bastard. The message was undeniable. Retreat and return. For the pilots embroiled in the bitter fighting, the signal was a blessing and a curse. A few more blasts of covering fire were all that was left of the spent warriors conflict as they all retreated.

**

Tymborychos

"Sir!" That was Lt. Peret, the cruiser's XO, with barely restrained shock and frustration. "We can't just let them go!"

For his part the captain had remained still and mostly silent for the entirety. Only when turned into the focal point of all the questioning stares did he stir. "And what would you have us do? Chase them in some foolish attempt to salvage some small amount of pride?" Commander Nimius looked at his bridge crew one by one yet fixed his sharp glare on his second- in- command. "We have lost, XO, at least for now. I shall not spend my ship and my mobile suits on some futile quest to salve my ego. That ship is faster and stealthier than we. More to the point she is undamaged. We cannot catch her now."

The tall man pushed himself from his chair. "I believe we have not yet seen the last of the Bastard."

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 Post Posted: Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:46 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
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Location: Flying in a blue dream
Rise, my ancient thread. RISE!

How The Other Side Lives
Mission Eight. Widening Mysterions.


June, 0087
EFS Bastard

"How does she feel, sir?"

"Like a dream. Flying this machine is like ballet dancing on the edge of a razor."

"She's a handful, huh? You gonna be good?"

"Oh yeah. Oh hell yeah."

"Hey Mikey! I think he likes it!"

**
The atmosphere in the ready room was light and jovial. How could it be anything else? There were grins all around, even from the typically stoic Marionette Claire. "What did you think about your first flight in our Galbaldies, Market?"

"It's a damn sight better than anything else I've ever flown, Mitch." Gray Market shook the hands of the two men who had been introducing him to the beauties of the Galbaldy Beta. "I appreciate your help getting me familiar with it. I've never touched anything like it. I feel like I could fly it with a thought."

Ensign Mitch Hines brushed off the thanks. "We all need to keep our proficiencies up. You should be thanking LT for letting us play tag with her new Rick Dias monstrosities."

"It's nothing, really."

"Speaking of, how are those things?" This time it was Stephen Collier, the third Galbaldy pilot on board Bastard.

Lt. Claire looked around, as if hoping someone else would answer for her. When she found no one else willing, she relented. "It's big."

"We know that, LT!" Mitch broke in with a laugh.

"I mean, Mitch, that it's big and never lets you forget it. Sure it can move and dance with anything out there, but it never lets you forget that it is really big." She smirked and drifted to the door. "Grab some sim time if you can today. We've got more playtime scheduled tomorrow morning." And then the slim pilot was gone, disappearing through the door.

"Y'know, Market," Mitch said. "She's been a lot more talkative since you came aboard."

Gray turned to question but was interrupted. "I think she likes you, man." Stephen gave a sly wink. "So c'mon, sir, be honest. You two have a thing?"

"No." It was a simple response quickly made less so. "We flew together years ago. She saved my life more than once. We're friends. That's all." Gray's stern expression rendered silent any further comment.

Except for one. "Hey! Did you see the way LT looked at him? Looks like she's got a heart after all!"

"Shut up, Warscol. Don't make me hurt you."

Stephen laughed. "Mitch, if there's violence to be dealt out to the kid, you're gonna have to do it. I'm just a Warrant."

"I swear to God, Stephen, that I will make you a full- blown officer before I die just so you can deal with this kind of ZOINKS."

James Warscol, completely confused, just stood by dumbfounded. "Wait, what?"

"Shut the hell up, kid!" both men came back.

"Wait, where'd Market go?"

**

Commander Cassius Pomodoro, captain of the EFS Bastard, the Old Man, master of all he surveyed inside the skin of the ship, grumbled. For all the fun he was meant to be having, he was stuck in the middle of nowhere doing nothing in the Earth Sphere's most uncomfortable chair. Orders from the "Anaheim overlords", as he was fond of describing AEUG command, were slow in coming. What am I supposed to do with patrol, he wondered, if indeed there was little to patrol. The Titans were still busy, still powerful and still doing nasty Titan things almost assuredly.

"I want a briefing or something, Exec," the ginger captain decided out of the blue. "I want one so we're going to have one and figure out just what in the name of wild bill yonder and Mercury Meteors we are going to do with these orders."

"Briefing, aye aye, sir." Jimmy Chambers, ever- present and ever- patient nodded slowly and spoke even more slowly. "Where do you want this meeting to take place? And with whom?"

Captain Pomodoro pondered this new information for a moment, as evidenced by the focused twirling of his mustache. "Here. Bring up our mobile suit folks, OpsO and IntelO. And I want thinking caps! Everyone brings thinking caps!"

"As ordered, sir."

Thankfully for everyone's sake, the summoned personages arrived in a timely fashion. None wished to the be the focus of an ill- timed arrival. Of course no one wanted to be the first to arrive either. There were simply too many awkward moments. Rather the seven or eight of them crammed into the same lift in order to show up at exactly the same time.

"Thank you for coming." The captain bounced from his chair, performed a bizarre cartwheel and caught the toe of his boot underneath the chair's armrest to stop in a dramatic display of acrobatics. "Okay, our orders are to patrol and it bothers me. No one really seems to know what the Titans are up to and we're not in any position to find out just cutting circles in space. Suggestions."

One pristinely- attired Lieutenant Embry Nathe, the Intelligence officer, was the first to speak. "The Titans do seem to be focusing on earthbound operations. Our Karaba allies have been keeping them busy, not to mention there are all manner of rumblings in Europe."

"So what?" the captain interrupted. "That's hardly all of the Titans. But these guys are just being lazy. Why aren't they hunting us? I need excitement and adventure!"

"A Jedi craves not these things." There was snickering from the two petty officers sitting in the high chairs over the big screen.

Captain Pomodoro grinned under his bushy mustache. "There. People will get that one, Mann." A soft thank you sir filtered down from above. "But it does nothing to alleviate my boredom. I mean, hells, not even the Argama is getting action, and she's this great big white thing! Shouldn't the Titans be chasing her like Captain Nemo chasing Moby Dick?"

So close, thought LT Claire. "Captain Ahab chased Moby Dick, sir."

"Then who was the white whale Captain Nemo chased?"

"I always knew he was a chubby chaser." The petty officer peanut gallery snickered once more. A stern look from a collection of brass brought a swift end to the chuckling. "Captain Nemo chased Jaws, sir. Great white shark. Hunted it with a submarine, he did. But some fisherman killed it before he got there so he retired and made records with someone named Tennille." Somehow Dale Mann, the sensor operator managed the claim with a straight face.

"Right." The captain nodded once for emphasis. "Shark, whale. It's a water thing. Same idea." Satisfied at his assumption, he became serious once more. "Look, the point of the matter is all the Titans are doing is being a general pain to some shipping and fighting some lame skirmishes."

"Also the Titans now have A Bao A Qu and have moved their Gryps colony to Luna II."

The tense look on the faces of some of the bridge crew, captain included, showed just who had experienced the sheer terror of the menacing last bastion of Zeon power. There was silence enough on the bridge that one could hear a pin drop, if a pin could fall in microgravity. Then came the muttered curses. "We'll burn that bridge when we get to it." The Old Man had spoken.

Seeking to break the tension, it was Market who next spoke. "If they were moving all that stuff around, it would explain why they haven't shown much fleet activity. It would mostly be tied up escorting a colony."

"So let's annoy them a bit," Ensign Warscol piped.

"Bad move, junior," Mitch cut in before anyone could chew the young pilot's head off. "You don't go rattling a cage like that, not without some serious firepower. Like an orbital fleet's worth."

A chorus of nodding heads agreed. "Sir," this time it was Marionette. "With all due respect, we should be playing to our strengths here. Let's find some Titan supply vessels, waypoints, forward posts, anything, and destroy them."

"I agree with the Lieutenant," the XO said while nodding. "We're lightly armed and our pilots are still learning their mobile suits. I do not see a downside to this."

Commander Pomodoro ruminated on the suggestion like a mental cow chewing information cud. Wheels turned slowly. Clocks ticked, or would had they not all been digital. "Okay. Ops, get with Intel and you geeks give me a list of targets by 0800 tomorrow. And I want this list to be in exacting detail." He turned to the pilots and made a stern face. "Market and Miss Claire, be here at 0800. This is going to be your show and I want something amazing. So amaze me."

In unison everyone gave the heartiest "Aye aye" they could muster and began filing out. "And Market," the captain said, almost as an afterthought. "This is the first combat sortie of many you're going to have here. I expect you to show me exactly why I wanted you on my ship in the first place."

"Of course, sir."

**

The pilot's ready room was, like practically every other compartment on the Bastard, was a relatively austere affair. Plush chairs covered in faux leather were arranged in two semicircles, the second raised a bit higher than the first. All faced a simple lexan lectern behind which a screen hung against yet another gray bulkhead. Emblems from all three MS teams stationed aboard were painted directly on the metal walls. Otherwise fluorescent lighting cast its harsh glow down from the overhead. Yes, spartan, but efficient enough.

Six pilots took their seats, though without gravity the gesture was more tradition than necessity. Idle chitchat quieted immediately the moment the two remaining pilots floated into the room. One, tall and lean; the other small enough to make anyone standing next to her appear larger than life. Lt. Gray Market took a long look around the space, drinking in the unfamiliar sights and smells, the slightly less unfamiliar faces of the men and women he had only begun to meet.

"Thank you for coming," he began. "I know we're all anxious for some more seat time so I'll be as brief as possible. I know you've had Lt. Claire here in command for awhile. She and the captain both have graciously allowed me to step into her boots as squadron commander. Believe me when I say I have some big shoes to fill. But I won't stop ever stop trying to fill them each and every day.

"But enough of the boring stuff. We've got our first mission and since this isn't quite the military we've all come to know and love, I expect plenty of input." He gestured toward the woman to his side. "LT?"

For Bastard's original pilots, Marionette Claire's cool monotone was as familiar as it was devoid of passion. "We have identified a satellite used as a stopover point for cargo shuttles coming from earth. It receives regular traffic from Titan and Federal Force bases earthside to the colonies. There are no Titan ships scheduled to be in the area during our time of operation, but there is always room for error. And there is a higher probability that at least Space Force cruiser will be on station.

"The satellite does maintain a single mobile suit team of GMs, though reports vary as to if they are Charlies or Romeos. The primary target is the station itself. Everything else is to be considered a target of opportunity. The pilots are green."

"Ma'am," interrupted Mitchner Hines. "What's the point?"

Gray stepped in to answer. "It will serve to disrupt opposition operations while hopefully giving us a chance to combat test our mobile suits."

Ensign James Warscol raised his hand nervously. His voice was as shaky as his raised hand. "What if there's a cruiser there? I mean, sure, this seems like a cakewalk for you guys but a Salamis is a big deal."

"That's why we've got you, junior." Stephen and Mitch both broke into laughter.

"They have a point, Ensign." Gray glanced at Marionette before continuing. "I don't know how much experience you have with the coordination aspect of your mission, but we're going to be relying on you heavily. And since your newbie here isn't even fully qualified, you're running all our missions until you get her up to speed."

"And remember that it's a relatively low orbit geosynch," Claire cut in. "We can run out of room quickly and die a slow and painful reentry death." She took a hard look around. The two Galbaldy pilots seemed almost eager. The rest paled. "We'll be coming in sunside, toward the terminator. It should cut down on their ability to detect us and respond unfavorably."

Gray pointed to the veteran pilots. "Galbaldies will be going in first to-"

"Running Rebels."

Marionette smirked. Gray cocked a brow. "Excuse me?"

"Running Rebels, sir." Now both Mitch and Stephen were grinning ear to ear. "We're not Galbaldies. We're the Running Rebels." Both pointed to an emblem painted on the near bulkhead. A cartoonish Southern gentleman in a maroon suit leaned on a cane while giving a tip of his rakishly- angled hat. "See? That's us. And the bouquet of swords in the mobile suit hand on the other side is the 'Sixteen Sabers'. That's LT's team."

"And the dragon with the monoeye is mine!" Warscol chimed in excitedly. "Or, ours now. We're the 'Dungeon Dragons'! I designed it myself."

"No one cares, kid!"

Gray looked back at his new XO who only grinned and shrugged. "Well," he muttered, "I've dealt with worse." He straightened up and cleared his throat. "Now, if I can continue. The Running Rebels will go in first..."

**

Commander Cassius Pomodoro was nervous. Or rather he was anxious. He stared out the forward viewport at the flickering dot that was the waypoint satellite. And yet he could not stop his gaze from drifting to the sharp shadow the bridge tower cut across the elongated prow of his proud vessel. Without turning from the sight, he asked, "What does our friendly neighborhood eye in the sky have to say?"

"Sir, two shuttles are at the station now. No sign of any other combat vessels in the area though he does say he is detecting a large amount of transmission chatter."

"Have they given any indication they have spotted us?"

"No, sir."

Only then did the captain turn his head away. "Sound general quarters. Launch mobile suits. Commence operation."

"Market. Galbaldy. Launching."

**

Shielded as they were from visual scanning by the sun, six decidedly Zeonic- looking mobile suits descended upon the satellite like wolves on sheep. Three aging GMs launched in response, though too late. Bravely they charged the predatory Galbaldies with guns blazing. Their fire was inaccurate at range, yet they kept firing as the enemy closed rapidly. At the last moment, the lead trio of AEUG suits broke apart like an orchid in bloom. And each GM continued to track the evading Galbaldies, not even realizing there was something far deadlier.

Hidden from sight by the sun and the slender frames of their brothers, the three Rick Dias's blazed by the unsuspecting defenders in a blur. By the time the Federal pilots turned to track the newcomers, they were rapidly dissipating spheres of light.

Shortly thereafter, the satellite was belching fire from the growing cracks and massive craters left by the speeding Rick Dias team. Within minutes it began spewing pieces of itself while rapidly descending into the earth's atmosphere. After ten minutes it was an unrecognizable piece of char.

**

"Sir! One of the shuttles managed to break away from the station."

Not betraying the elation he felt, Captain Pomodoro ordered the transport craft detained.

**

With a half dozen guns pointed at them, the crew of the shuttle regretfully heaved to. One suit moved in to initiate a skin talk with the transport. "This is Lieutenant Gray Market of the AEUG. You have been captured. Cooperate." There was no need to add an "or else", not with half a dozen guns pointed at them. Big, angry guns on bigger, angrier mobile suits was more than enough "or else".

"This is the Transport Pieta. We are a noncombatant craft. Does that change your mind at all?"

"Not in the slightest, Pieta. What's your cargo and destination?"

"Rare earths and repair parts for Side 7."

There was a pause as Gray beamed the information back to the Bastard. "Transport Pieta, you have new orders. You are to immediately proceed to Luna. If you do not have enough fuel to make the journey, you can be carried."

Now the pause came from the other side. "Do we have a choice, AEUG?"

"Not a one."

"We copy you loud and clear, AEUG. Setting course for Luna."

**

Luna

Surprising everyone but himself, the excited Commander Pomodoro burst into the room where his pilots were relaxing. "Great news, everyone!" he boomed while beaming. "I think we've found our calling in life!"

"We're being stationed on a nudist colony?"

For a moment a worried frown crossed the captain's face. "Okay, not that great but still great! Men, and ladies," he hastily added, "we are going to be pirating!"

The looks the pilots gave ranged from Mitch and Stephen's giddy grins to Marionette's utterly impassive mask. "Can we wear patches and say 'arr' a lot?" came a request from the far corner.

"Absolutely not! Eyepatches are right out. As are any anachronistic pirate expressions. I will flog and keelhaul anyone who makes such utterances or wears such silly affectations." The captain glanced about worriedly while trying his best to stuff his own eyepatch back into his pocket without anyone noticing.

"I hate to be the voice of reason, sir." Lt. Claire did not bother to hide her disdainful head shake. "Again, at least. But we aren't going to be very efficient if we have to escort every transport ship and shuttle back to Luna. It isn't like we have a great deal of room in the hangar bay."

Commander Pomodoro waved aside the comment. "That has already been taken into consideration, Miss Claire, though I appreciate the thought and feedback. Truly your genius rivals that of our top minds." Though his bushy mustache hid most of his giant grin, the bottom row of teeth sparkled brilliantly against the lush red lip fur. "As we speak some shipwrights and engineers are hard at work increasing our capacity to accomodate cargo and extra crew to improve our ability to fulfil our new mission requirements as privateers."

And just like that he was gone, sweeping out the door like a red- headed tasmanian devil and leaving his pilots to ponder their new mission alone together.

"Hey Gray."

Gray looked in the direction of the call. "What is it, Mitch?"

"Two questions. One, what did you think of your first combat mission in the Beta?"

There was no hiding the goofy grin. "I keep saying it, but that suit is a dream. But I almost lost it on that break. I pulled it too hard and overturned it. Nearly lost control. That would have been really embarassing. Almost as much as Collier over there not tagging his GM. How could you miss that? Really? I swear, apart from this crazed Japanese woman I know, you are the worst shot I've ever seen."

Even the typically stoic Marionette Claire found herself suppressing a smirk. "Hey Stephen!" It was Mitch... again. "You gonna take that? This guy just compared your shooting to Sakamura's!"

"I am light years better than that cheerleader!" Stephen Collier retorted.

"Is that how much you miss by?"

"I can take it from Mitch because his old ass can't keep up with my hot flying, but not the rest of you yahoos!" With mock anger, Stephen wagged his finger at the rest of the pilots. "All you owe me a drink. That's one from each of you!"

Mitch managed to contain his laughter enough to ask another question. "I guess that leads me to my second question. Are you going to paint those kills on your suit?"

"I was thinking of having Stephen do it. It's the closest he's going to get!"

That brought another round of laughter. "Fine, you ZOINKS. I'm going drinking. I don't have to take this grief from you ingrates!"




**********************************

Okay, so yeah, the thought struck me (as thoughts tend to do) that I needed something new to do. All the cool war stories were taken and it was getting hard trying to do something no one else had done; something distinctly me. Everyone upguns, upgrades, up- suits, up armors, powers up their ships. And that's totally awesome and typically badass.

I, however, am neither awesome nor badass. So I hit upon something different. Inspired by the Nelson-class art I've seen, I have found a most delectable way to inflict more torment upon the ugly little ship called Bastard.

I threw this whole thing together in half a day. There was originally some dialogue in the earlier parts that, while hilarious and appropriate for the characters, would not have been so appropriate for everyone, so I cut it out and used the break for something else. Maybe I'll drop it in one of the little "Conversation" vignettes I've been writing in between cycles here.

Also I love Miina Sakamura. Seeing as how Mitch and Stephen are both Galbaldy drivers and those folks tend to be a close- knit bunch, having them know everyone's favorite cheerleader seemed appropriate and fitting. Also references to Zeta, Zine's super- old "Warriors in the Shadows" and HDS' George R.R. Martin- esque "In Vain Doth Valor Bleed" (the ever- unfinished). Inspiration!

*******

Also the completion date on this particular chapter was August of 2012. Yeah, it basically just sat there. And you know what? I don' care. Even the little post- script notes are from the original copy from years ago. I thought to keep it in for old times' sake.

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 Post Posted: Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:57 pm 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
Posts: 57
Location: Flying in a blue dream
Bonus stage!

How The Other Side Lives
Mission Supplemental. Conversations 1


Series of conversations between characters spanning different times

October 31, 0083
Side 3

"Abel!"

Just hearing the sound of his name was enough to snap the man in question back to reality. Sirai Bakker had caught her brother sleeping again, and while conducting an expensive call no less. "What? Sorry. I zoned out there for a second."

Through the video link, Abel watch his sister fold her arms and give that silly stern look she inherited from their mother. It looked as intimidating as a growling Pomeranian and never failed to elicit a chuckle. "I'm being serious, Abel. You need more rest than what you're getting. You keep spacing out on me!"

"I'm sorry, sis. I'm back here now, okay? I'm here." Abel felt quite proud at not even letting a grin break through, much less a laugh.

This seemed to satisfy the young woman. "I miss you, Abel. When are you going to come see us?"

Ah yes, the man thought, the visit. "Soon, I hope. It can't be anytime in the near future though. I'm sorry."

"Why? What's going on?"

"Everyone's on eggshells over here. Hells, it's the only reason I'm back in the Republic. All patrols are recalled save for the sad few stuck on picket duty. Blame that stupid moron Admiral Delaz. If he isn't careful he's going to get us all royally ZOINKS."

"Aguille Delaz? I thought he was dead."

"I hoped he was, but he deserted when things started getting bad at A Bao A Qu. Now he's back. He's been pretty quiet though. We all know he's somewhere. It's gotten so bad Command has curtailed our operations and we've gone through too many meetings and training seminars telling us about the dangers of rebellion."

"It's gotten that bad, huh?"

"You're the one with the intelligence contacts, Sirai. This can't be new to you."

"Okay, you got me. I try to stay away, Abel. I really do. Just some things really strike me."

"Are the rumors true? Delaz has a nuke?"

"Yes, according to what I've heard."

"Stay away from this, Sirai. Just be Adam's mother, okay? None of us need you running around. Family comes first."

"That didn't stop you from running out on us to join the damn military."

"That's different. You know I had to."

"And you staying in? Do you have to do that too?"

"If I had left after the war, I would've just been another homeless and jobless vet like too many of us. Half the guys I knew who made it through the war alive killed themselves within a year. They couldn't adapt to life as a normal person anymore."

"So you think that's going to be you when you get out?"

"It scares the hell out of me, truth be told."

"You know what scares me, Abel?"

"What?"

"Bringing my son up in a world where independence means serving this corrupt government."

"The Republic isn't bad, just young."

"ZOINKS. You know that's not what I'm talking about. The Republic is a puppet. It's this Federation that's the problem. They don't get it. They never have. We as spacenoids, as Zeon, have to make them see the futility in oppressing us."

"Do you seriously buy that line of trash you spew? And watch your language."

"Huh."

"Huh?"

"Speak of the devil. Admiral Delaz is on the news."

"What? Where?"

"Everywhere. Hey look! It's Gato."

"Just a crazed madman. Let the Federation deal with him. Stay out of it, okay? Promise me?"

"Yeah. I've gotta go."

"Love you."

"Uh huh."

**********

I did these little conversations just because one day and actually kinda liked just writing straight dialogue. Sometimes they're meaningful. Sometimes they're apocryphal. Sometimes they might actually be readable. We'll see.

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 Post Posted: Sun Jul 13, 2014 12:27 am 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend
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YEAH! Some Gundam stuff.... There has been some sad lack of stuff for Gundam lately. Glad to see this back.

That said you are going to take a Mule and slap some hanger pods on either side like the Nelson Class right? Interesting. I really want to see some sort of sketch of that.

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 Post Posted: Sun Jul 13, 2014 10:47 am 
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Lackey GM Pilot

Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:51 pm
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Location: Flying in a blue dream
How The Other Side Lives
Mission Nine. Coping, And Other Drugs.


July 0087
Bastard

Plying the spacelanes between Sides had taken on a measure of paranoia for the renegade crew of the Bastard. Before that fateful day a couple months earlier, cruising through space was almost a restful experience. Most renegade groups preferred to stay hidden, especially when it came to anything flying the Federation flag. Peacetime cruises were exercises in boredom punctuated by short periods of simulated stresses from drills of all types. Sure the random galley fire or other emergent activity gave the crew a chance to put practiced skills to action, but they were few and far between.

But that had been before when deployments were scheduled and sanctioned by the legitimate governing body of the Earth Sphere. Whatever their personal reasons for defecting, the very title of the fledgling rebellion proclaimed them all to be acting under the banner of the Anti Earth United Government. Legitimate rule looked upon armed dissidents with disdain.

Now every piece of debris, every course change, every port carried with it the very real possibility of combat. Nothing was scheduled. Fighting against former comrades had no entry on the plan of the day. There were no trenches behind which to hide and shoot at enemies you knew were hiding and shooting from their own trenches. It was harrowing work. No amount of training could prepare anyone for it. So you trained anyways for the day and hour when the terror of war gripped the heart and mind and Death waited patiently behind you. You trained so there would be something upon which to hold when fear held onto you.

The very same thoughts and feelings were common to every fighting man regardless of side, faction or branch of service. Coping with the stress became an exercise unto itself. Cough medicine to sleep, coffee to wake, cigarettes to ease the moments between all seemed valid means of avoiding actually dealing with the unimaginable.

And so it was aboard the ugly ship Bastard. The engineers on Luna had done their job well and the large protrusion grafted onto the ship's keel looked almost as though it belonged. For the crew, it was a godsend. Pressurized and powered, it gave the bored crew somewhere new to look and stretch their legs. And there were already a couple spaces fully given over to the vice of an ever- growing number of crew. Smoking spaces, utterly prohibited elsewhere, were crowded and messy affairs. But, separated as they were from the ship itself, they found at least a tacit acceptance by command.

Looking at the vessel from far away, James Warscol found himself spending time studying her new lines in between glances at his sensitive instruments. He decided early on that the new addition didn't hurt Bastard at all. In fact, he kind of liked it. But a flashing light in the cockpit took his eyes from the ship. "Warscol here," he said, keying his comm.

"Report, Delta Delta One."

"I'm picking up an anomalous reading at the edge of my visual range. Requesting permission to take a look."

"Permission granted. Avoid contact and report back as soon as you have anything."

With measured bursts of his thrusters, Warscol drifted further away from the Bastard. Even though his Action Zaku was heavily modified with the very latest bleeding edge sensor systems, it took nearly twenty minutes for the suit's advanced optics to discern the nature of the contact. A transport, haze gray with a broad red stripe around the engine block, waited patiently in the void. Countless broad spectrum sensors and cameras provided all the data needed for identification. Within minutes that data was packaged and sent directly to the Bastard.

On the bridge there was silence. Until the duty radarman spoke up. "Sir, it's a Columbus class, Block II. Records call it Cigno."

"Thank you, Petty Officer," Commander Pomodoro said. "Tell Warscol to keep his eyes on it. We are moving to intercept." Hearing the enlisted man's affirmative, the captain smiled. "Can you believe it, Exec? Our first big score. I'm getting excited. Aren't you?"

Lt. Commander Jimmy Chambers did not raise his head from the instruments. "Absolutely ecstatic, sir."

**

"Look, I want you to go. I got the last one. It's only fair."

Lt. Claire's helmet fastened with a solid click. "Of course, sir."

"We'll be right here in case you need us."

The dark- haired woman rolled her eyes. "I see how it is. Send the women out for milk." She kicked off the deck toward her Rick Dias. "Wish us luck, Lt. Market," she yelled as she floated away.

Gray spun and found himself standing nose to nose with a grinning Mitch Hines. "Jesus, you scared the hell out of me."

"Situational awareness, sir."

"And you were just testing mine, were you?"

Without missing a beat, Mitch replied "Oh, you were certainly aware of something, sir. Only it wasn't a situation."

Dropping his hand on the other man's shoulder like a pivot, Gray slid past and further down the passageway. "You're delusional, Mitch."

Mitchner Hines would not be bested so easily. He easily caught up with the lieutenant to continue his badgering. "It's fun to needle you over it though. Besides, she's really loosened up. That's a good thing. We were all taking bets as to when she'd lose it."

"That's a bit cruel."

"Hey look, there's nothing wrong with the LT. We all liked her well enough before. And she's pretty damn good at this whole command thing. But her demeanor doesn't quite endear a person to other persons, y'know?"

"Everyone has their things, Mitch." Both men stopped at the ready room. "Being in charge is difficult sometimes."

"One more reason I'm glad I'm not in charge."

"You are an officer though."

"Through no fault of my own! I was happy being a Warrant!"

**

"Something's not right." James Warscol wasn't in the habit of talking to himself. But safely alone, especially cocooned inside his mobile suit, he found the sound of his own voice reassuring. It helped to organize his thoughts more easily than if he just thought them. And the words slipped out before he could think to say them. So he said them again, just to be sure.

As far as he knew, the Cigno had yet to discover him, though there was little doubt they had noticed the thruster flares of the Rick Dias team. Already the aft end of the transport began to glow in both visible light and infrared. Lt. Claire's team must have seen it as well, for they accelerated as well.

Even though the mobile suits were still a few minutes out, Lt. Claire began transmitting. "Cigno, this is Lieutenant Marionette Claire of the AEUG. You are ordered to heave to and stand by."

"This is Cigno. We cannot and will not cooperate. We do not recognize your authority."

"Heave to or you will be fired upon." Even in the cold of space, the chill in Claire's voice was colder still.

Ensign Warscol felt his eye twitch. The exchange was not going well and the transport continued to accelerate. Then he noticed it. Or rather, them. "This is Warscol!" he yelled into his comm, not caring that he risked detection by doing so. "Four bogeys! LT, you have enemies inbound 9 o'clock high relative! They're coming in really hot!"

Simultaneous swearing erupted and the comm channels exploded to life. All three Rick Diases turned to face the intruders. Three Hizacks led by a more fearsome red mobile suit opened fire at once without attempting to slow. Moving so fast they were almost a blur, the Titans were hardly accurate, but their volley made up for accuracy with sheer volume. Missiles, beams and 120mm slugs tore through space. One Rick Dias died almost immediately, pierced by two lances of light. Another raised an arm to shield itself from the hail of fire. A missile caught the hand and the resulting explosion tore the limb from the shoulder and sent the suit spinning away.

The Titans braked as one and banked around for another pass at the survivors. The two remaining AEUG suits turned and fled, streaking for the safety of home as quickly as possible. The Titans were undeterred and pursued, though they could not gain on their targets.

But Bastard had not been idle. Three Galbaldies launched within a minute of Warscol's alert and were burning space to assist. Bastard herself changed course and accelerated to intercept the fleeing Cigno. Two massive megaparticle cannon blasts across the bow of the transport forced the cargo ship to pause.

"I have a cruiser incoming!" Both the recon pilot and sensor operator reported at the same moment. "Not friendly."

"Time!" Captain Pomodoro snapped.

"She's coming fast. Ten minutes. Maybe less."

"Let the pilots know. Weps, Cigno's engines. Get rid of them. Helm, put her between us and that cruiser."

**

This is a very bad thing, Gray thought darkly as he raced to what remained of the Sixteen Sabers. "Claire, brake and pass through us then back us up."

"Brake?" cut in Phae Birdsong, the other Rick Dias pilot.

"Roger that, sir."

"Mitch, Stephen, let those two pass through then get tight. We're going to punch through those Titans and go straight at that cruiser." The trio of Galbaldies loosened up their formation just as they rocketed by the two heavy suits. Just as quickly as they opened, they closed again, their thin mobile suits nearly touching one another.

Not to be outdone, the Titans bunched together in a finger- four, showing no intention of slowing or breaking away. Fire lanced out, filling the emptiness between the two groups with bursts of deadly brilliance. One unlucky Hizack caught a direct blast that drilled through the crown of its head deep inside. It fell away from the Titan group and vaporized itself in a fit of unrestrained physics.

Gray shifted his beam rifle to his left hand and pulled a beam saber from the rack on its back. As he passed beneath the Titan formation, he swung the saber at the Hizack nearest him. Not caring to look back to see what damage had been done, if any, he aimed his Galbaldy at the fast- approaching Salamis.

"That ship's getting mighty big, boss."

For a moment it seemed as though space itself erupted in flame as every weapon the Titans cruiser had opened up on the attacking mobile suits. The AEUG suits needed no order to loosen up and return fire. Gray's Galbaldy dove beneath Collier's and began to spiral around the enemy ship like it was tethered to the hull. The other two Galbaldies followed, ducking and weaving through the deadly fire. Each one returned fire of their own, magenta beams seeking the turrets pouring deadly energy toward them.

Into the wild display drove the remaining heavies, boring down on the cruiser head- on. Their heavy bazookas caused more damage than their escort's beams, ripping up armor plating and cratering the prow. A lucky shot caught Birdsong's Rick Dias in the leg and sent it tumbling out of control. Her cries cut off the moment her helpless suit crashed into the foredeck, though what remained of her mobile suit did not. It cartwheeled, spraying shards of armor and glass as it cut a blazing furrow down the spine of the ship before impacting at the base of the tower and exploding so violently the Salamis shuddered.

**

Bastard

A blast caught the transport on its rear quarter, wrecking the entire bank of engines and slewing the lumbering ship around just as the Bastard crossed in front of it. Four heavy beams from the cruiser's main guns punched immense holes through Cigno's superstructure. Armor never designed to absorb such energy wilted away under the onslaught. Everyone on the bridge covered their eyes from the blinding flash of the dying transport's last gasp.

"Return fire!" the captain bellowed. "Helm, bring us about! Four bells! Full speed ahead!"

Though the amount of damage the Bastard could deal was paltry compared to even one of the cruiser's two main gun turrets, it was made to telling effect. The bridge crew saw an explosion wrack the cruiser though no one noticed the marker for one of their own disappear from the radar. A split second later the Bastard's cannons thrummed their report and the crew watched with delight as their shots obliterated the Salamis's starboard battery.

"Incoming mobile suits!"

"No one touches my ship. MPCs keep on that cruiser. CIWS will take care of those suits."

**

Two passes. Two passes were all that Lt. Gray Market allowed on any ship. One coming and one going. The remnants of the AEUG squadron made their second pass, blowing more holes into the battered and burning cruiser. But the ship was large. At close range accuracy didn't matter. Only Marionette paid any attention, placing her few remaining bazooka rounds into holes already punched through the Titan's armor.

As the ship passed by beneath them, all attention turned to the enemy mobile suits attacking the Bastard. The smaller vessel veered away, making sure to pass the Salamis's demolished starboard side. One Titan suit, a Hizack, perished under the Bastard's unrelenting point defense fire.

Then the AEUG suits arrived and set upon the suicidally desperate Titans like a pack of wolves. Outnumbered though they were, the Titan resistance could not stand against their angered opponents. No quarter was given. There would be no surrender.

**

Bastard

The damage reports were blessedly light. Only a few casualties and minor damage that could be repaired underway. It was fortunate and no one on the ship believed otherwise. They had been incredibly lucky. Not even Commander Pomodoro was immune. He did not cheer or boast. He simply slumped in his chair and remained silent.

"Sir, the Titan ship managed to broadcast a distress signal but there doesn't seem to be any other response from her."

"Helm," the captain said tiredly, "Get us out of here."

Seven mobile suits had left that day. Five returned. Only one was pristine and that one had only seen combat, not actually engaged in it. Ensign James Warscol was the first one to return and the first one to leave his mobile suit.

"Ensign!"

James turned to face the call only to see a man speeding toward him. He could barely brace himself for the impact that came as his assailant barreled into him. "Whuh?" The sound of fist hitting face echoed through the hangar bay.

Lieutenant Gray Market was furious. He grabbed the young ensign by the collar and pulled the flailing man close. "What the ZOINKS was that, Ensign?"

"Sir?" was all he could manage.

"Two pilots died today, Ensign! Two good people who didn't have to die did because of you." Gray's voice turned hard as gravestone. "Tell me why the hell you let them die. I want to hear it."

James stammered, eyes wide in fright. "I- I didn't s-see..."

"Your suit has the best eyes in the fleet and you didn't see?"

This time no sound came out. "Is your suit defective in any way, Ensign?" When he saw the young man shake his head, Gray continued. "So it's you who ZOINKS up. Do you know why you didn't see those suits? Why you didn't see that cruiser? It's because you weren't paying ZOINKS attention." Without turning his head, the irate officer pointed to the other pilots gathered behind him. "Now LT and I have to write condolence letters to two families. What should we tell them? That nothing could have been done?"

"I-I'm sorry, sir! I'm sorry!"

"Sorry doesn't bring Birdsong and Baretta back, does it? You think because you say 'I'm sorry' that those families won't be sad? That they won't mourn their loss because the kid who got them killed apologized?" A heavy hand on Gray's shoulder caused him to pause. Marionette didn't speak. She didn't have to. She just shook her head.

That simple touch cooled Gray off. He let the young pilot go. "I want condolence letters for both Baretta and Birdsong on my desk by 0800 tomorrow. Now get out of here." Warscol didn't need to be told twice. He disappeared around a corner.

"Damn, sir."

Finally, with a heavy sigh, Gray turned around. "What, Mitch?"

"No offense, sir, but do you really think the kid deserved all that?"

"No, I don't." He held up a hand to stop the comments he knew would come. "I've checked his records. He's the only one here who hasn't lost a squadmate. It's not real yet. This is all still just a game to him."

Somehow the four pilots found their way to the bridge where the captain was waiting for them. "Good work out there," the commander said without moving from his chair. "I mean it." There were some muttered you're welcomes. "Get some rest. We'll debrief in the morning."

It didn't take long before they were all back in the wardroom, sitting in silence and taking long draughts from the drink pouches someone had passed around. No one spoke or even looked at one another for a long time.

**

In the earliest hours of the morning, James Warscol slinked his way into Gray's stateroom with two folded pieces of paper in hand. As quickly and quietly as he could, he glided to the desk and slid the letters under a magnetic paperweight. "Thank you." James lept in surprise but hit his head against the ceiling with a resounding thud.

"Relax, Ensign." The voice was tired and rough and slow. "Come here. Let me make sure you didn't crack your skull open."

Inertia led the young pilot to the deck, where he thankfully stayed. Red- faced from embarassment, he stood hunched over and found an interesting spot on the floor upon which to focus his gaze.

"You're fine," Gray said after a cursory look. "A nasty lump, but no blood. You should put some ice on it though. Same goes for that eye, by the way."

"I-I'm fine, sir. I didn't think you'd, uh, be here."

"You'd be surprised. Still, relax." The older man made his way to the door and closed it. "I'm glad you're here, actually. I wanted to apologize for hitting you."

James shook his head and grimaced from the pain. "I deserved it, sir."

"ZOINKS, Ensign. I crossed the line. It won't happen again." The look of utter bewilderment on the ensign's face was more than questioning enough. "Sometimes we need to get our teeth kicked in to make necessary changes. Tonight was one of those times. There were a lot of mistakes made, a lot of places we can improve. And that's not just you; it's all of us.

"I need you to take this seriously though. I've never had the kind of resources available that you bring to the table. I don't know how best to utilize them." A ragged smile to match his ragged voice crept in. "So I need you to speak up more. No one knows what you and that suit can do as well as you do. If we're going to get through this and make any difference at all, it's going to come down to you, Ensign. You're our ace in the hole."

Despite the swollen eye and a growing knot on the back of his head, Ensign Warscol looked up a bit and smiled. "Thanks, sir. I really mean it. And I will, sir. You'll see, sir."

"Ensign Warscol," Gray managed with a chuckle. "Shut up and get out of my room. Get some rest. Another busy day starts in a few hours."

**********************

I think is most of my backlog I never got around to posting back in the day? Bits and bobs of other things I haven't actually completed yet. What can I say? Mojo is a fickle thing. Now that I'm in a better spot, I feel better about doing creative whatnots. I think there is a conversation or two floating around I'll post.

Also hello Deathzealot. Yes, I was inspired. I tried to think of the ugliest way I could do it so, in my head I just slapped a box car on the bottom of the ship. A more legitimate (and prettier) option involves half a Columbus sitting underneath. And I'm glad I get to provide a little something you're glad to see. Woot!

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