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 Post Posted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 10:26 am 
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Mysterious Masked Dude
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Gundam 0085: Wargames (Revised)

Chapter 1: Short Introductions

7 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5
Restricted Zone

Two blunt-nosed warships coasted through the infinite night, nearing their destination. Any observer able to see them would immediately recognize them as a derivative of the Federation's ubiquitous Salamis cruiser line. But where the first post-War iterations had been small and packed from stem to stern with weapons, these two were much longer, the same size as the versions used against the Zeon Principality during the War. The two vessels approaching the Earth Federation Space Force's base at Konpeitoh had quite a bit in common with the early Salamis designs, but conspicuously carried an enlarged bow with no foredeck cannon, and also mounted a pair of twin-gun turrets on the flacks, where the original models had only radiation vanes. Presently, the reason for the widened bow made itself apparent as, on the leading cruiser, a mobile suit sporting the black-and-blue colors of the Titans rose through an opening in the ship's foredeck, stepping forward to attach its feet to what could only be a catapult.

"Are you ready, Lieutenant Yelot?" the man sitting in the command chair of the leading Salamis Kai asked.

"Ready and able, sir," the helmeted face displayed on the bridge communication screen replied.

"Excellent," the bridge officer responded. "I'm expecting you to make that Federation trash void their bladders, but don't launch until our so-called escort is much closer; we want to maximize their surprise."

"I copy, sir.

Lieutenant Commander Lica Satain readjusted himself in the command chair, trying to find a more comfortable position for the straps that kept him seated in the null-gravity environment. Satisfied at last, he turned his attention to the data screens and their various displays showing the details of his command. "Well, Lieutenant Sulate, do you think these Aggressors will be much of a challenge for us?" he asked his executive officer without turning to face her.

Columbia Sulate looked up from the sensor display she had been studying. "The Konpeitoh Aggressors have a strong reputation, sir; they consistently embarrass the units sent against them."

"Yes, so I've heard, Captain," Satain replied, narrowing his eyes and steepling his fingers in front of him. "But they have yet to face a single group of Titans. Never have they confronted a unit composed, as is ours, entirely of impeccably trained Earth-born personnel; our standards are much higher than any the genetically-contaminated Space Force can possibly maintain." He paused to throw a contemptuous smile at the sensor showing the progress of the mobile suit escort approaching his ships. "We breezed through the training regimen at Luna II, and they also had a 'reputation' for defeating incompetent Federal officers. In my opinion, Lieutenant Sulate, sending us all the way out here for another round of training is but a waste of time; our skills could be better used hunting down Zeons and their sympathizers."

Satain's executive officer opened her mouth as if to reply, but closed it again quickly and returned her attention to the sensor screens without giving voice to her thoughts or reporting the fuzzy and intermittent contact she had been working on; neither of the sensor operators had the skill to recognize it and she decided that it wasn't really her problem this close to Konpeitoh.

-------------

Low Yelot breathed a sigh of relief when Satain closed the communications link, checked the feed he was getting from the cruiser's Combat Information Center, decided it was working, and flipped the switch to his platoon's communications frequency with one gloved finger.

"Tsib, Browning, we'll begin launching in eighty-two seconds," he told his two subordinates. "If all three of us aren't clear within twenty-eight seconds bad things will happen to us all."

"Don't worry about us, boss," Yelot heard Browning, six weeks out of training and full of a newbie's misplaced confidence, say over the radio. "We may be in these ass-sucking Quels, but even these out-dated ZOINKS piles are worlds ahead of anything those Space Farce jokers will be able to throw at us; we certainly cut the Luna II Feddies to pieces.

"Hell, yeah, preach it, brother!" Yelot's other subordinate added. "I couldn't have put it any better, myself. Honestly, Lieutenant, I don't know why you an' Sulate are actin' all worried and such; this'll be no different from shakedown at Luna II, and we tore those Feddies a new one.

The senior pilot winced within his helmet and ground his teeth together. "How the hell," he grumbled to himself without keying his radio, "did I wind up in this crew? Bad enough having an arrogant, bigoted martinet for my skipper, but how am I supposed to turn these willfully irresponsible, spoiled children into useful pilots?" He gave a short, bitter laugh. "Well, Low, that's why they pay you the big money and gave you another platoon; you'll figure something out."

He glanced once more at his displays. "Aw, hell, here we go. Yelot, Quel, launching," he informed the bridge.

--------------

Satain smiled again as his three mobile suits were catapulted into the star-filled void. "Time?" he inquired.

"Twenty-eight point one seven seconds, Commander," Sulate told him.

"Close, very close. But not good enough," Satain remarked coldly. "Lieutenant, you will have another discussion with Lieutenant Yelot when he returns," he ordered.

"Very well, sir," Sulate replied, forcing her voice to be even.

"You don't think he requires it, Lieutenant?" Satain asked.

The Exec paused a moment to consider her words. "Sir, I think that Lieutenant Yelot is perfectly capable of handling any disciplinary action necessary for maintaining standards within his platoon entirely on his own, sir, without our getting involved."

"Hmm, perhaps you're correct," Satain said, stroking his goatee. "Yes, yes, we'll allow Yelot a chance to show his mettle; he is in far greater contact with the pilots and mechanics, so it is only natural that he would know their failings very well. See to it, Lieutenant."

"Of course, sir."

-------------

"Aw, sir, they're only Kais; I could take all three of 'em myself," Browning said.

Yelot kept his temper in check, wishing he could afford to do otherwise. "Maybe you could, Browning," he found himself saying, "but they're not an enemy. All we've been ordered to do is try to spook them."

"Sure, boss," Browning replied, "but what better way to scare 'em than to open fire on 'em? Not hit 'em, of course, just put a few rounds next to their suits."

For what seemed like -- and possibly was -- the thousandth time Yelot struggled to keep from yelling at his inexperienced pilot. "It would indeed scare them," he said evenly, "but it could also scare the entire base into attacking us, and I don't really think two cruisers and six mobile suits are enough to defeat Konpeitoh's entire garrison."

In truth, Yelot had his doubts that his unit would be able to startle the Federal pilots except by shooting at them; the three GMs he was supposed to intercept hadn't shown the slightest reaction when the Titans mobile suits launched, continuing their course to rendezvous with the cruisers.

The pilots remained silent for the rest of the time required to close upon the Federal platoon.

"Okay, people, we'll do a few formation passes, by the numbers - no showing off," Yelot ordered. "Follow my lead."

The senior pilot adjusted his machine a little so it would pass within a hundred meters of the three Federal GMs and the two other Quels maintained their positions relative to Yelot's.

"This isn't working, boss," Tsib said after their second pass came within fifty meters and the Federal pilots still failed to react at all. "Those C-types could be unmanned on a computer script for all their response to us."

"Maybe they are," Yelot replied, "or maybe their discipline is good."

"Yeah? We'll see!" Browning called out.

"Browning, stay in - Dammit, Browning get back into position!"

"Watch this, boss, I'll wake 'em up!"

Yelot gave up on reason and watched as Browning angled to pass within the triangle formed by the Federal mobile suits and went to maximum thrust.

All three of the GMs' heads snapped over at the Quell as it approached and tracked it during Browning's trip through their formation, but that was the only reaction his stunt elicited.

"See, boss? I got 'em to move!" the rookie exulted.

"Get your ass back in formation, Browning," Yelot ordered sternly, barely holding back his temper.

"Great flying, Paul," Tsib said admiringly as the prodigal brought his machine back into its place. "Wasn't that amazing, boss?

"Oh, yes, that has to be one of the greatest displays of discipline I've seen in years," Yelot said dryly. "I was particularly impressed by the way all three of them acquired and maintained weapons lock the entire time Browning was in range. The only thing missing was the display of what happens to a Quell when half a dozen vulcans open up on it simultaneously from close range; that would have been most impressive." Yelot took a deep breath to regain control of his temper. "All right, that's enough, we'll shadow them back to the ship."

--------------------------------------

7 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5

"Hey, this looks like the place," Tip Tsib said as he, Paul Browning, and one of the pilots from the other Titans cruiser walked into Konpeitoh's main Pilot's Club.

The three men's black-and-red Titans uniforms were conspicuous among the two dozen grey-clad Space Force personnel, but few of those glanced at the Titans more than once as they stood just inside the doorway looking the room over.

"What a dump!" the third Titan remarked. "This place must have been built by Spacenoid trash; Earthnoids would have chosen better décor."

"Really," Browning agreed, loudly. "Did the Space Farce even refurbish this place when they took it over from the Zeeks?"

"If you don't like it, Tetons, you can leave; we didn't invite you," a voice with a vaguely Irish accent called from across the room, arousing a muttering of agreement from the other Federals.

"Who said that?" Browning asked angrily. "You can't talk to a Titan that way! Who said that?"

"I said it," a man in the right-hand corner said, jumping to his feet.

"And who the hell are you, Feddie?" Tsib demanded. "What's your name?"

"I am Spartacus," the Federal officer replied.

"He's lying," someone at the bar shouted, "I said it, and I am Spartacus!"

"No, I'm Spartacus, and it was I who spoke those immortal words!" another man said.

A woman shot to her feet in the far left corner. "They're all lying," she said, "I said it, and I'm Spartacus."

A loud laugh spread across the room, accompanied by a rousing round of applause.

"What the hell is going on here?" Browning shouted, trying to be heard over the noise.

"QUIET!" roared a man sitting at the same table as the woman who had last stood up, and the din quickly receded. "I appreciate yer assistance, lads and lassies, but ifin' ya'd take a looksie at 'm, ya'd see that I don't really need it; these young kiddies the Tetons sent us are hardly out of the trainin' pants, and not likely ta do more'n throw a tantrum at us."

"The hell you say," Browning yelled, getting red in the face as the crowd laughed again. "We're not afraid of you, little man!"

The large-mouthed Federal smiled down at the woman and two men sharing his table. "Did you hear that?" he asked rhetorically. "One o' these kiddies thinks I'm small! What d'ya reckon I should do with 'em?"

One of the men at his table glanced briefly at the Titans pilots and then turned his attention back to his drink. "Throw 'em back, Ketch; they're not big enough to keep."

"We can take the both of you, jackasses!" Browning shouted without consulting his companions, both of whom were beginning to shift their feet nervously and look ever more anxious.

"Ah, but you're wrong there, laddie; only one of us is an Ass, and it's not one I'd recommend kicking!" the loudmouth said, drawing a chorus of agreements from the other Federals.

"You disrespectful son of a-"

"Browning!" a sharp voice barked from behind the Titans, interrupting the rookie's next insult and causing all three to jump. The lanky, handsome figure standing in the doorway was obviously upset and from all appearances only at his fellow Titans.

"Lieutenant Yelot, I'm glad you're here," Browning said gleefully, completely misunderstanding the newcomer's anger. "We've got a bad case of disrespect to senior officers here."

"So I've noticed, Browning," Yelot said coldly. "I take it you would like my assistance in resolving the situation?"

"You bet, sir!" Browning said, relief obvious across his face.

"Very well. Browning, Tsib, you're both on report; if I catch either of you out of line again you'll receive no more liberty on this rock for the duration of our stay. As for you, Nkurmah," he continued, turning to the third Titan, "I'll be informing both Lieutenant Maint and Captain Pemco of what transpired here, so you'd better keep that sickly brown nose of yours clean, too."

"What? Sir? What are you doing?"

"I've just resolved the situation, Browning," Yelot said as soon as the laughter raised by the young pilot's anguished complaint died down, "exactly as you requested. This is a club; either shut up and order a drink or shut up and leave. Your choice." For his part, Yelot moved to the bar, ordered a drink, and walked over to the table with the loudmouth.

"Since when," he asked, staring at the loudmouth, "have you been picking on defenseless children?"

"Since they started getting a mite too big fer their britches, Lieutenant," the man replied, grinning.

Yelot winced. "Ketch, that accent is terrible."

The other man laughed. "Yes, I know," he replied in a Side 5 voice devoid of the pseudo-Irish he'd been using up until then, "but it tends to upset the young whipper-snappers when they get insulted by someone who can't even pronounce things properly. Have a seat, Low, I'll introduce you."

The Titan pulled a chair to the table and sat down between the woman who had claimed to be Spartacus and the other man who had thrown insults at the Titans.

"So, you're still Warrant Officer Meade?" Yelot asked his host.

"That I am. I see you're only a Jay-Gee; what gives?"

"I was up for promotion before I joined the Titans; now I've got the clout and perks of a full Lieutenant, but not the pay." Yelot shrugged and took a swill from his drink. "Not like I care what they pay me, anyway."

"Ah, I see," Meade replied. "Well, that's the Titans' loss, Low."

"Didn't you say something about introductions, Ketch?" Yelot asked, looking around the table.

"That I did, Lieutenant, sir. Thank you for the reminder," Meade said bashfully. He gestured to the woman on Yelot's right. "This lovely lady is Ella Steinway, Ensign Extraordinaire; she enjoys long walks in null gravity, chocolates, and proving beyond all doubt that woman have better dexterity and hand-eye coordination than men as she flies the pants off all comers."

"God, Ketch, you're such a liar," the woman said. She was short, a little heavyset, and didn't seem to spend much time worrying about her appearance; her light brown hair was cut short but wild, looking as if she had just taken off a normal suit helmet after a six-hour flight. Her face was kind and open, however, with a large smile and some laugh lines etched around her eyes. "Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant," she said, throwing Yelot a smile and offering her hand.

Yelot shook the hand and smiled back. "Low Yelot. And Ketch has been an accomplished liar for years; I think he took classes on it in grade school."
Everyone laughed at that, and the two other men at the table relaxed a bit.

"This," Meade said next, slapping the man on his left, sitting across from the Titan, "Is my platoon's so-called leader, CWO Gainer Arras. Gainer, meet Low Yelot, Titan Ace."

"Howdy," Arras said across the table. He was barrel-chested and muscular, with thinning black and grey hair atop a grizzled, weather-beaten face.

Yelot looked him over with more than a little surprise and wonder. "You're a platoon leader with only a warrant? I didn't think there was anyone like that left in the Space Force."

"We're a dying breed," Arras confirmed heavily, "but none of the officers are able to hold my yahoos in check ashore and keep up with them in flight, so they put 'em in my care."

"ZOINKS," the man on Yelot's left said.

"Now, Gainer, don't lead the Lieutenant on like that, I can do all the lying required for the platoon, thank you very much!" Meade admonished. "You can't rein us in or keep up with us in flight; instead you lead us in our trouble-making here and play sitting duck while Simon and I keep the enemy from killing you."

"Well, what else do you want in a leader, Ketch?"

The others at the table laughed at that, and Yelot found himself joining them.

"I think I see why they put you in charge, Chief," he said.

"Oh, don't call me that," Arras said. "Here at Konpei only one man is allowed to be addressed as 'Chief'; he's a bit protective of the name, and those who face his left hook only allow themselves to be a target for it once, unless they're masochists."

"Funny you should say that, Gainer, seeing as how you've been put down by it, what, six times in the last year?" the man on Yelot's left said. "Is there something you're not telling us about yourself?"

That brought another round of laughter to the table. When it was over, the still unnamed man noticed that most of the glasses were empty. "I'll get us a pitcher of bock," he said, getting to his feet.

"Who's that?" Yelot asked after the man was out of earshot.

"Oh, him? He's, ah, well, he's the unlucky third bastard in our platoon," Meade admitted. "Simon Mullet is his name, and if I were you, I'd head over to those three tenderfeet of yours and get ready to stop a fight."

"Hmm? Why?" Yelot asked, looking around.

The trio of young Titans had claimed an area of the bar for themselves and had been avoiding interaction with the other people in the room since Yelot had chastised them.

"Because I suspect they will take an objection to Simon, there," Meade said.

"Whatever for?"

"Because they're young, arrogant, and pissed off, and he's a chief petty officer."

"What's that have to do with anything?"

"How many enlisted pilots do you have in the Titans?" Meade asked.

"Half a dozen, maybe, all very good. If your man is still flying at that rank he must be good, too."

"Are yours good enough to embarrass young officers and make them defensive and status-conscious?"

"Oh, ZOINKS," Yelot said after a moment's pause.

"The hell you doin"™ here?" they heard Nkurmah shout from across the room.

No one at the table could hear Mullet's answer, though everyone in the room had stopped what they were doing to watch the second round. Yelot saw three people at another table pull out money and set it on the table before them.

"Oh, you're just a waitress," Tsib said scornfully.

"That's done it," Arras breathed.

"No, you jumped-up piece of Earther ZOINKS, I'm a ZOINKS pilot," Mullet shouted for all to hear. "If you and your moronic buddies want to lodge a complaint about my presence here all three of you can get off those stools and we'll settle it here and now, man-to-girls!"

"I suppose we should stop this," Steinway said.

"That's your commission talking, ma'am," Meade put in. "My warrant, however, says that these three need to be taught a lesson, and what better teacher could they find than Mullet?"

"Point," the Ensign admitted.

"You're just going to watch?" Yelot asked, amazed.

"No," Meade admitted. "If Nikoden gets around to us I'm going to start betting."

"Mullet sweeps 'em with five," Arras estimated.

"I agree it'll only take him five blows, but I say he takes a couple himself," Meade decided. "What do you say, Ella?"

"Mullet in thirteen, taking about seven."

"What?" the warrant officers asked in unison.

"He's going to play with them first," Steinway declared. "To make them see how out-matched they are. By a Spacenoid."

A commotion brought their attention back to the altercation at the bar. Much to their surprise, Yelot was trying to break things up.

"Aw, hell."

"Don't worry, Gainer," Meade said to console his superior, "they'll be here for a good four weeks; I'm sure there'll be plenty of mix-ups in that time. Probably even some we can join in."

"Men!" Steinway said.

----------------------------------

8 December 0084
Titans Cruiser Jintsu

"Aw, c'mon, Boss, why all these last-minute sims?" Tsib whined as he clambered tiredly out of his bunk. "This gig's gonna be easy, none of those Feddies have half the training we've got."

"And you don't have a tenth of their experience, Tsib," Yelot shot back as he finished adjusting his pilot's suit. "Some of the Aggressors have been with Keram for more than five years; Browning was still a virgin then."

"The hell you say!" the man in question shouted from within his bed. "I made my first score when I was nine!"

"You're still less experienced than anyone on this rock," Yelot continued, ignoring the youngster's claim. "Ella Steinway has only been 'killed' in three of her last hundred sorties. Ketch Meade was one of the most active pilots in the War, starting out as a Saberfish pilot in March of '79; he had five kills by April, and did even better when they put him inside a mobile suit. Heidi Brennan fought for six months in a captured Zaku, made ace in it - including the destruction of a particularly nasty Z'gok near Hatteras - and then caught a pair of Rick Doms during Star One. She's never had formal training. Neither has Simon Mullet, but he, like Meade, is driving a -79SC."

"Pfft, that's a brick compared to the Quel," Tsib sneered. "Hell, even my old Kai beats it."

"Tsib, how many kills did you get last year in that C-type?"

"I splattered a Zaku all over a Pazock," he said proudly. "It was one funny sight to see that ship plough through the rubble."

"That's it? Mullet got three or four Zakus, a pair of Rick Doms and a Gelgoog Cannon in his Sierra Charlie, despite only fighting here during Wyatt's Folly. From the gossip around this rock I gather he got one of the skirts and the Gelgoog without firing a shot; sabres only."

"So what? It's not like they'll be flying their GMs," Browning scoffed from under his blankets. "They'll be in Zakus and Doms; nothing to worry about."

"I suppose you're right, Browning," Yelot said heavily. "After all, so far as I"™ve been able to find out, only Brennan, Nikoden, and Hawke have actual combat experience against veteran Zeon pilots while in Zakus; the rest have only been simming in them for two or three years."

"Glad you see it our way, Boss," Browning said with a yawn. "Now can we forget this sim nonsense so I can get back to sleep?"

"Sure, I'll just go and vent this compartment to space," Yelot said gently, grabbing some files from his drawer and exiting.

Yelot flew along the passageways until he came near the senior officers' quarters, pulling himself to a stop outside Sulate's stateroom, and knocked. A few moments later the door opened and a bleary-eyed head looked out.

"Oh, it's you," Sulate said, brushing some hair out of her eyes. "Come in, find a hold."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"Oh, cut the formalities, Low, I'm not dressed for them."

It was true, Sulate's blouse was hanging near one of the corners overhead and a trouser leg was showing out of an improperly closed drawer. Sulate herself was wearing only a dirty t-shirt and shorts.

Yelot watched her as she floated back to her bunk and strapped herself down to avoid floating away from that position. He hooked an arm through a hand-bar and closed the door. "Did you get any rest last night?"

"Of course not," Sulate yawned back at him. "I was researching the Aggressors and Keram. How did your reconnoiter go?"

"As well as could be expected, I suppose. The only advantage we have on my end is our equipment; these pilots are a lot sharper than the ones at Luna II, and they've been together longer. All of 'em have been here for more than a year and several in the units served together in the War."

"Th-that jives with what I've discovered of the ship officers," Sulate replied tiredly. "Harlock - the same one from Loum, by the way - served as Keram's Ops officer for most of the War, and Oruma was first a ship commander and then a Squadron leader under Keram; he's been with him since the war ended, too."

"How should we tackle this, then?"

"Damn if I know, Low," she replied, putting her face in her hands. "We both know that the Commander isn't up to the task."

"Pemco on Holstein-"

"Is still junior to Satain!" Sulate snapped. "Sorry," she returned quickly, adding a tired smile. "I think the situation is getting me down a bit."

"Well, first exercise doesn't start until tomorrow afternoon," Yelot said kindly. "Don't let yourself go to seed, Columbia; we'll all need you in good shape when things start going awry."
"That's . . . kind of you to say, Low," Sulate blushed, "but there's not a whole lot I can do on the bridge."

"Every little bit helps," Yelot replied fervently. "I owe you a dinner or something for whatever you did to keep him from tanning my hide yesterday."

"It was nothing, Low."

"I've heard of a couple wonderful restaurants on Luna," he suggested.

"Really, Low," she insisted, turning scarlet, "I did what I thought was best for the ship."

----------------------

Konpeitoh, L5
S-field Docking Bay 3

Commodore Yama Keram watched as a peculiar ship ended the vaguely obscene mating ritual of a ship attaching itself to something larger in zero gravity, and slowly made his way to the main entrance hatch of the vessel, where his staff was waiting.

"Hell of a strange looking bitch," one of his senior officers said as Keram arrived at the entryway. "But it does look a bit more solid than the Lunar Patrol Buckets."

"Yes, Ray, it does. Igor claims to be singularly proud of it, and is looking forward to showing it off over the next few weeks."

"I'll bet he's 'singularly proud' of it," Commander Raymond Oruma went on, "If only because he's the only one proud of it."

"Hey, I think it looks gnarly," another officer said.

"You would, Derek; you like even the Lunar Buckets."

"They work, don't they?"

"Nothing can "˜work"™ that attracts the worst the Space Force has to offer. I"™m surprised none of those crews have mutinied and turned pirate," Oruma commented.

"Ah, here he comes," Keram interrupted. "Do behave, children."

Everyone followed the Commodore's gaze and did indeed see a group of people disembarking from the ship before them. The man in the lead was short and barrel-chested, hunched forward even weightless. As he came closer his facial features began to be discernible, though each of the senior officers knew the man's face quite well already. His hair was light and thin, showing no small amount of mottled pink scalp; the man's eyes were brown and frequently described as 'beady'. The cheeks were a sick, pasty shade of pink and pocked with a multitude of the small scars of nigh-intolerable childhood acne. Even on his best days, as this one appeared to be, the man looked unwell.

"Igor," Keram said with a smile, sticking out his hand as the man came near, "so good to see you again!"

"Commodore," the man replied, taking the hand in his own small, pudgy one and deliberately using the naval form of Keram's rank. "It's good to be in orbit again." The man looked at the assembled officers and grinned. "I see many a familiar face among your harem; I guess the rumors are true."

"Rumors? Which rumors are these?"

"The ones that say once you find someone with skill you never let them go."

Keram laughed, clear and loud, and was joined by several chuckles from his staff. "Oh, rubbish, Igor; I let you leave, didn't I? In fact, I rather think Jaburo is afraid that if they give me new personnel my, ah, 'personality cult' or whatever I'm supposedly building out here will only grow larger and more sinister; by keeping the same officers with me all the time they're hoping I'll go stale."

"Fat chance of that," the smaller man said before turning to the officers near by. "I can't believe that just to get another command I had to get sent back out to work with you clowns."
"I can't believe that they let you have another ship, Makarov," Oruma grumbled.

"At least I lost my last one in honest combat, not from a mickey slipped into the center of a beauty pageant. I trust you've been keeping busy, Raymond?"

"Naturally."

"And I suspect you're still chasing skirts and insane battle plans, Derek?"

"Of course, sir," Lieutenant Commander Harlock replied, grinning. "If you still need pointers, sir, my offer -"

"Thank you, no, Derek; my goal in life is not to see how many diseases I can acquire."

"Well, now that everyone is all caught up with each other," Keram said, "why don't we retire to my quarters, gentlemen?"

"Is my pilot still here, Commodore?"

"He is," Keram replied, leading the group away from the dock area. "I've thoroughly enjoyed having him the past year, Igor, but if you'd like him back we can probably get along without him."

"Nah, I can't take him, the hangar's stuffed as it is with a trio of C-types and an old Sierra Papa."

"I was under the impression that you were getting special reconnaissance units, Igor; how did you end up with -79Cs?"

"The new suits aren't ready yet. But Dolvich stopped in to see me a couple months back and suggested this whacked-out shield setup he used on basic GMs during the War. We've tried them out and I'm damned if they don't work pretty well."

"You're damned, regardless, Mak."

"Stuff it, Ray, you're just upset that your ship doesn't have a trippy name like mine."

"Bastard!"

"No, that's one of the names proposed for the second batch."

"What? What are they naming your monstrosities?"

"Mule is mine," Makarov began.

"Appropriately so," Oruma interjected.

"Hey, I'm tryin' to tell a story here!" Makarov growled, glaring at his old friend. "As I said, mine is Mule, Pretentious is just about finished, while Fiddle II and Hubris are only just being laid down. If we perform well, we might get another four, tentatively named Strumpet, Harlot, Eunuch, and Bastard."

"My God, who picked those names?" Harlock asked, shocked.

Oruma cocked an eye at Makarov. "It was you, you son of a bitch, wasn't it?"

"Damned right it was!" the other man gloated. "Most of 'em, anyway, there were one or two suggested by that nutter Beard. She's slated to get Fiddle II."

"Wait, not Martha Beard?"

"That's the one, Derek," Makarov replied. "Why, didn't like her pick of positions or something? She was suggesting things like Kama and Sutra, too."

Harlock laughed. "Yeah, that sounds like Marty. She taught me an awful lot."

"Oh, she did? Guess I should ask her for pointers, then."

"Not that kind of stuff!" Harlock said, actually blushing. "At least, not much of that."

Keram chuckled, raising a few eyebrows.

"Not you, too, sir!"

"Relax, Derek, I wasn't laughing at you so much as the entire situation. It's quite nice to have so much of the old team back together, even if Igor isn't actually going to participate directly on our side. You're here as an additional Observer/Controller to test your reconnoitering, I believe, Igor?"

"S'right. I'd rather play for real, of course; O/Cing is like shooting blanks; unfulfilling and a waste of resources. What's the setup for tomorrow's match?"

"Both Jintsu and Holstein versus our choice of two Musais or one larger ship. We get more suits out of the Musais."

"You'll be taking your Zanzibar, then."

"What makes you guess that?"

"It's not a guess, Derek. The Titans probably won't expect it and with two catapults it'll get your suits deployed the fastest."

"But two Musais would give us two catapults, too," Harlock pointed out.

"Sure, but the suits are split three and five between them, and they'd all be Zakus; the Zanzibar gives you some Gelgoogs for your aces to strut in."

"It's a pleasure to see that your powers of deduction have not atrophied, Igor."

"What's for supper?"

"His stomach's still the same, too," Oruma groused.


Last edited by Black Knight on Sat Dec 26, 2009 9:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Chapter 2: Bushwhack


9 December 0084
Shoal Zone, L5
Titan Space Cruiser Jintsu


Lica Satain looked up as Lieutenant Sulate approached his position on the bridge.

"Yes?" he asked peremptorily. "What is it?"

"Sir, I"ve finished my study of the enemy"s options and possible operations," Sulate replied, trying to keep her tiredness from showing.

"Proceed, Lieutenant," Satain said quietly, his eyes gleaming.

"Keram has two possibilities for ship selection, sir. The rules for this mission allow him to choose either one of his large warships or any two of his Musai cruisers. Utilizing the Tivvay or Zanzibar would allow him to field four mid-war Zakus and a pair of either Rick Doms or Gelgoogs, depending on which ship he uses. However, if he decides to use his Musai I and his Musai III this will provide him with one Gelgoog, two late-model Zakus, one Zaku Commander, and four mid-war Zakus, for a total of eight mobile suits, compared to the larger ships" six apiece. For the Aggressors to be successful in this exercise they have only to survive to the ending time, making it most likely that the Aggressors will field the two Musais in my opinion, sir."

Satain said nothing, waiting for her to continue.

"First and foremost, sir, is the fact that this method provides the Aggressors with the greatest number of mobile suits with which to defend their forces. Additionally, it gives them access not only to more suits, but to better ones as well. Our information states that the Gelgoog carried by Capulin is a high-mobility version, nearly equal to our machines in performance. The two Zakus accompanying it on that Musai Mark III are of the final iteration, the ones at least equal in performance to a Rick Dom. Yet Cima also carries as many mid-war Zakus as either larger vessel, with an S-type thrown in as icing on the cake.

"There is also the fact that having two ships instead of one provides the Aggressors with more security than having only a single vessel; with two they avoid putting all their eggs in one basket and also increase their chances of gaining at least a partial victory.

"Finally," Sulate said, a small smile appearing on her face, "two ships would allow the Aggressors to concentrate on any one of our cruisers they stumble upon, hoping that their combined firepower would be ample to achieve victory over us. They have not, to my knowledge, encountered any of these new Salamis models yet, and so likely consider our ships as weak as the versions used in the war with Zeon, with which they are quite familiar. Our power, then, should come as something of a surprise to them."

"Recommendations?" Satain asked quietly.

"Sir, I think, and Captain Pemco agrees, that Jintsu and Holstein should split up to conduct separate search patterns; either sending the mobile suits out to extend our sphere of visual observation or holding them in readiness and using radar and other sensors to find the Aggressor forces. If one of our ships discovers both enemy cruisers traveling in concert it should contact the other vessel for a coordinated assault, but a single Musai can be attacked at will as soon as it is discovered."

"Excellent work, Lieutenant, this should be quite sufficient," Satain gloated. "I look forward to disgracing these stuck-up Federals, and I believe you have come up with just the plan to do so."

------

EFS Mule


"Sir, Lieutenant Schnell is on the line with a report," the communications technician reported to his commander.

"Put him through, Dettweiler," Makarov ordered tersely.

A face appeared on one of the small screens mounted above the forward windows. The face was lined with age, its owner surely well past forty years, possibly fifty, but the eyes were the dominating feature, filled with cunning and wisdom.

Good afternoon, Commander," the pilot said in greeting.

"What do you have, Gene?" was the blunt reply.

"My current position is approximately four thousand eighty-two meters "˜below" Jintsu, relatively speaking. I"ve been trailing this vessel for thirty-three minutes, and as nearly as I can tell remain undetected thus far."

Makarov"s navigator gave a low whistle of admiration, and there were many muttered exclamations from others on the bridge.

"Can you feed us your sensor data, or at least the logs?"

"Certainly, Commander. I will transmit my logs first and then set up a real-time feed on the reserve channel."

"Good work, Gene."

"Data incoming from Lieutenant Schnell"s mobile suit, Commander," Dettweiler reported.

"Transfer it to the floor," instructed Makarov while unbuckling himself from his chair and standing on his seat to look over the back at the floor of his bridge.

The Mule"s bridge floor, like that of the Pegasus upon which she was loosely based, served not only as a place for people to walk, but also as a screen on which to display large images. Makarov found the system extremely useful, though his had a nasty habit of breaking down inexplicably, and since it was a piece of equipment unfamiliar to his technicians and mechanics it was seldom repaired quickly.

Shortly the floor lit up with icons representing assorted objects, two Salamis silhouettes standing out prominently among the asteroids and debris. The two cruisers were moving in different directions.

"They"re splitting up?" Lieutenant Winters, Makarov"s executive, asked in disbelief. "Or are they just getting additional space between themselves to increase the volume covered by their sensors?"

"Hmm. Tough to say at this point, Win," Makarov replied judiciously, "but if I were a betting man I"d say Satain has split his force into independent units. If so, he either hopes to reunite upon locating the Aggressors or he believes that Oruma has two Musais and has split them up to maximize his chances of one surviving."

"Well, that makes sense, sir; it"s only natural for Oruma to bring two cruisers, it gives him more mobile suits and two separate hulls, what possible advantage could there be to using anything else?"

"Yup, they"re splitting completely," the smaller man declared as the icon representing Holstein disappeared from the screen. "Win, in Oruma"s shoes I"d take that Zanzibar Keram has stashed away. I"ve a shrewd notion that that"s exactly what he"s using, too. We think alike in some ways."

Winters frowned. "Why the Zanzibar, sir? I can"t see much advantage to it."

"That"s exactly one reason to use it," Makarov said calmly; "it"s unexpected. Damn near anything your enemy will find unexpected is worth doing, if only to make him doubt himself, if he survives. If you were guarding Luna II and suspected the enemy was going to attack, which would you expect, a squadron of Musais or a squadron of Salamises?"

"The Musais, of course; where would the enemy get a Salamis?"

"The very reasoning we used when Oruma and I skippered a pair of Musais under Keram on a mission to scout Side 3 itself. Worked, too, up to a point. Getting out was a lot harder than getting in.

"With this situation, though," Makarov continued, "there are a few other advantages to the Zanzibar; all the mobile suits can be launched in only three shifts, but with the Musais, unless the two suits in the Komusai aren"t catapulted it"d take at least five shifts, with a considerable delay between the third and fourth. Since the Titans can launch everything in only three shifts, taking longer would be a hindrance to the Aggressors.

"Then there is the matter of mobile suits. The single Kelgoo-B on the Musai is of less use than the two Kelgoo-Fs on the Zanzibar. The remaining machines on the larger ship are also identical to each other while the Musais have no less than three Zaku variants between them. If you want to keep your forces as a cohesive unit it"s best for them all to be the same basic model, varying only the weapons. We discovered that one the hard way in the war.

"Finally, Win," Makarov said heavily, "there is the matter of ship-borne weapons. Here the Zanzibar completely outweighs any two Musais, all the more so because the Musais have even less rear weaponry than the Zanzibar, and aren"t as fast, either."

"Hmm. I think I see your point, sir," Winters admitted, "but until we find the Aggressor units there is no way to confirm your theory."

"True "˜nuff, Win; we"ll just have to wait for Rohrbacher to sniff out Oruma and his brood."

Winters looked up from the screen. "Would you tell me about your trip to Side 3 with the Musai, sir? That sounds like quite a story, and I"d never heard even the slightest whisper of it before."

Makarov gave a short, humorless laugh. "Not much of a story; and not enough of us survived the war to talk about it. Keram, Oruma and I took a couple Musais captured near Luna II with great difficulty, blundered about for awhile trying to get ourselves accustomed to having mobile suits "“ Zakus, no less "“ on our side, and getting our pilots used to mobile suits in space."

"You used Zakus, too? Wow, I wouldn"t have thought any of our pilots would have dared to get in one of those."

"Not all of "˜em were happy about it," Makarov admitted, "but fortunately two of "˜em had prior experience with the type, though only on Earth. Getting into Side 3 was easy, at least when compared to getting out again." He looked up then, and saw the question forming on his subordinate"s mind and let out a sigh in recognition of the fact that he wasn"t going to be able to gloss over things quite so easily. "We had a pair of Magellans and about a dozen Salamis cruisers chasing us, so, like the good Zeeks that we pretended to be, we were screaming for help long before we made it to Side 3, and a Gwazine with two Zanzibars and three groups of Musais came out to "˜rescue" us. They put out about three dozen Zakus, and that sufficed to "˜scare off" our Federal "˜pursuit"."

"Wow! That must have taken some real nerve," Winters said, awestruck.

"We passed out barf bags before sending the distress signal. And changed our pants after we got in," Makarov admitted. "But I think the suit pilots were the most frightened. At that time none of "˜em had any space combat experience in a mobile suit; four had kills in Saberfishes, and one was originally an Air Force jock, but they were untried in null gravity mobile suit combat."

"So you had five pilots on board?"

"Nope, only three on each ship."

"But you only mentioned five there, four ex-Saberfish pilots, and one atmospheric type. What was the sixth?"

Makarov smiled as he recalled the memories. "The sixth poor bastard was the worst off of the lot," he remarked fondly, "he was officially rated a Reactor Technician, and wasn"t qualified in any spacecraft yet devised at the time, though he had once, I understand, helped take a Salamis capsule into reentry."

Winters was flabbergasted, and showed it. "How did an R-Tech end up as a mobile suit driver?"

"According to him, it came about after he was assigned to a mechanized infantry battalion Earthside as an APC"s gunner."

"Say what?" Winters asked, his incredulity growing. "What was he doing there? That doesn"t make any more sense than him being put in a mobile suit!"

"Yeah," Makarov said, rubbing his chin as he surveyed the sensor display again, enjoying the reactions of his exec, "that"s about what we said at the time, too. But it was him or no one, so we took him along, figuring he"d at least be another target for the enemy, for a few seconds, anyway. And so he was. Except"”" Makarov paused, staring at something on the floor.

"Except?" Winters prompted. "Except what, sir?"

"Hmm? Oh. He didn"t last for a few seconds. During what I"ll generously call our "˜escape" from Side 3 he bagged a Zaku and a Musai, much to our surprise. But when we tried to get past Solomon he was the first target acquired by a white-painted Zaku."

"A white Zaku? Wasn"t there a Zeon ace who always painted his mobile suits white?"

"Matsunaga," Makarov confirmed; "he was quite impressive."

"How much damage did he do?" Winters asked quietly.

"Well, when it got back in our hangar "“ no easy task, mark you "“ our Zaku only had one arm, most of a leg, and three rounds of ammunition. The torso had a bunch of holes and dents in it, too, naturally, but Matsunaga had spent the entire fight working that one Zaku over, and didn"t quite manage to destroy it."

Had there been gravity, Winters"s jaw would have been on the floor. "You mean that Reactor Tech beat Matsunaga?" Winters asked in disbelief. "Surely that"s not possible!"

""Course not," Makarov replied crossly, "as best we could figure, Matsunaga"s machine was undamaged at the end of the fight. Mullet had kept him occupied, nothing more."

"Mullet?"

"That"s the pilot's name, Win. One of the most useful pilots it has been my privilege to browbeat, scold, and badger," Makarov said proudly.

Someone on the bridge laughed, and Makarov turned in surprise to see who it was, narrowing his eyes when he discovered it was the senior enlisted person of his gunnery crew.

"What"s so funny, Chief?" he asked.

"I beg your pardon," the woman, whose name was Younggren, replied. "But somehow I can"t see you needing to face off against Simon Mullet very often. I"d expect the two of you to get along rather infamously, sir. Your temperaments seem complimentary, if I may say so, sir."

"You actually know Mullet, Chief?" Makarov asked, surprised. "Where"d you meet him?"

"Simon and I go back quite a way, Commander," Younggren replied. "As I recall, we met first while still in school, got into the same University, had our scholarships cut at the same time, and enlisted together, ending up in the same class at boot camp. I went with weapons while he played with atoms, but we met up again on Mindanao for the beginning of the war."

Makarov was speechless for a moment. Then he exploded. "Goddamn, Chief! Have you any idea how long I"ve been looking for someone like you?"

"Like me, sir? I"m not certain I understand what you mean, sir," Younggren said, a trace of anxiety creeping into her voice.

"You knew Mullet before the war!" Makarov exclaimed. "I"d thought everyone he knew was killed."

"Most of them were, sir," she replied quietly, "along with far too many others."

"Have you seen Mullet since the war, Chief?" Makarov asked eagerly.

"Twice or thrice, sir," Younggren allowed guardedly; "I shipped through Konpeitoh a few times while you were there with that monster cruiser of yours. I... ran into him at the bar. Why do you ask, sir?"

"Is he different from what he was like before the war?"

Younggren said nothing for a few moments. "Sir, no one alive at the beginning was the same person at the end of that war," the enlistedwoman said pointedly.

"Touché, Chief," Makarov admitted. "But I get your message."

Silence overcame the bridge again, this time broken by Dettweiler.

"Sir, Mister Rohrbacher is on the line with a report."

Makarov looked up from the floor with a grin. "Put him through," he ordered, turning back to the front of the bridge again and pulling himself into proper position in his chair to take the call.

---

Titans Space Cruiser Jintsu


"Commander, I"ve spotted something on radar in the debris ahead of us," a sensor operator shouted across the bridge.

The voice woke Satain from the nap he had been taking in the command chair while waiting for the Aggressors to show themselves. "How many ships?" he asked sharply after shaking his head a few times.

"I"m only seeing one so far, sir. It doesn"t appear to be under power, but it is coasting significantly faster than the rest of the junk on my screen, sir."

"Do we have it on visual yet?" Satain asked next.

"Negative, sir; I"m surprised I"m picking it up even on radar at this range. It"ll be a good half hour before we have a useful visual image at our current rate of closure."

Satain lifted the phone built into his chair and pushed one of the buttons. "Lieutenant Yelot? We"ve spotted one of their ships, are you ready to launch? Good. They"re not in visual range yet, but we have them on radar. As soon as we"re in visual contact I will start spreading Minovsky particles. That is when you will launch and proceed to destroy their antique mobile suits."

---

"I understand, sir; we"ll get them," Yelot replied before replacing the receiver in its cradle.

"We find "˜em?" Browning asked from his position sprawled across his bunk.

"Yes," Yelot replied as the cruiser"s engines came to life, the acceleration pushing him against the compartment"s aft bulkhead. "One of them, at least; no idea what type yet, too far out of range."

"Aww, what does the type matter?" Tsib sneered. "It"ll just be a ZOINKS Musai, and those are pushovers no matter the specific model."

Yelot sighed silently and resisted the urge to slap his subordinate. "The specific model will give us an indication of the sort of mobile suits it can throw at us. If it"s a Musai deuce it"ll probably hurl Rick Doms our way, and we"ve been training to fight Zakus. The skirted bastards are a completely different beast."

"I dunno why you"re raisin" such a fuss "˜bout all this, Boss," Browning said with a small yawn. "I got to handle Zeon crap back at the Academy; the stuff"s a bunch of ZOINKS. No accel, no maneuverability, and their weapons"d be lucky to punch through tinfoil. Even our crappy Quels have more than twice a Zaku"s acceleration, a lot more agility, and beam weapons. This"ll be a breeze."

"I agree, Boss," Tsib put in. "The Dom"s not a whole lot more advanced than the Zaku, and if that Musai does have Doms instead of there"ll be fewer enemies to distract us. We"ve got nothing to worry about."

"Browning, did it ever occur to you that half of Earth was taken over by those "˜piles of ZOINKS"?" Yelot pointed out quietly, trying to restrain himself. "The people operating them now are, with few exceptions, pilots who, unlike you, helped get them off the planet. They"re from the same generation as your instructors in school; some of them may have fought alongside your instructors; I did.

"The Aggressors, unlike you, didn"t have the luxury of learning to pilot a mobile suit in a nice, safe school where the only time they were in danger was when they tried to sneak out of bounds to get drunk." Yelot caught his younger pilot"s eyes and held them, trying to be as serious and intense with his voice as he could. "Their basic course was called Operation Cembalo, many doing advanced work in Operation Star One. Some of them even helped write the basic manuals you used in school.

"They don"t care what training you"ve had, they"ve been using mobile suits for longer than you"ve been able to drive a car. They may be using older machines, but they know more about piloting those so-called antiques than you do about using your shiny little Quel. Last year -79C pilots with three years experience were killed by Zakus like we"ll be up against, and those Zakus were piloted by men who had less practice than the Aggressors.

"You can make all the snide, disparaging remarks you want about their equipment, but the sad fact is that you don"t have a ZOINKS clue what you"re up against. You"ve never fought someone who really knew what they were doing with a Zaku. Your Quel may be more technologically advanced than an old Zaku, but do you know how to make the most of it? I don"t think you do, you"ve only been flying it for five months. Some of the Aggressors have been using mobile suits for five years. The fools we fought from Luna II"s OpFor squadron were almost without exception people who graduated Nijmegen in "82 and "83. They barely knew how to fly a Zaku, having learned in Seventy-Nine Bravos and Charlies. Some of Konpeitoh"s Aggressors began in Zakus and Doms."

Yelot turned his attention to his other pilot. "If you had ever fought Zakus and Doms in earnest, you"d know that even now it makes a huge ZOINKS difference which one you"re up against. But you only think you"re a badass veteran, Tsib; pissing your pants while watching Anavel Gato rip your formation apart doesn"t count, though. Unlike you two clueless greenhorns I"ve been in real combat. Rick Doms were designed with the idea that they might fight other mobile suits in mind. Zakus weren"t originally expected to face anything but Saberfish and warships."

He looked from one subordinate to the other. Browning seemed sullen, though his eyes were burning and his face was flushed. "Spit it out, Browning!" Yelot ordered.

The inexperienced pilot looked up. "I don"t care how long they"ve been using their shitcan Zakus! It doesn"t matter," he shouted. "You say these Aggressors are from the same group as my instructors at school, and I say good! I trashed every one of my instructors at school, regardless of the machine they used. If I had a Hizack I"d do the same to you! I can"t believe I got assigned to these ZOINKS Quels, I was the best combat pilot in my class!"

"And yet I still beat you every time we fight, Browning," Yelot remarked calmly, his ire gone. "And there are people with even more experience than I"ve got in the Aggressors. Cheering thought, isn"t it?"

"Maybe," Browning snarled, "but you use the same equipment as me; these ZOINKS Feddies only have Zeon trash. I haven"t met the pilot who can beat me with a Zaku yet!"

"I have," Yelot said matter-of-factly. "His name is Ketch Meade. He"s an even better pilot than I am. You"d better hope he"s only in a Zaku, too; if he"s using anything else he could wipe out all three of us by himself."

No one spoke for a while after that; Browning and Tsib appeared too angry for words, and Yelot decided that nothing he could say would do any good. The phone growling broke the silence.

"Yelot speaking. Aye, aye, sir," he said into the receiver, "we"re on our way. Any sign of them detecting us yet, sir? Really? I"d never have expected that." He hung up the receiver. "C"mon, boys, time to earn our flight pay and show the Aggressors what Titans are capable of."

---

Aggressor Cruiser Vesuvius


"Sir, the enemy cruiser will have us on visual soon."

"Very well," Commander Oruma replied. "have they begun distributing Minovsky particles yet?"

"Negative, sir; perhaps they"re waiting until they have us on optics, or something."

"Very cautious of them," said the man acting as Oruma"s executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Emilio Juarez.

"Yeah, something like that," Oruma replied with irony. "Communications, get me Niver."

Moments later the helmeted face belonging to the Aggressor Squadron"s senior mobile suit officer appeared before Oruma. "Are you ready to go, Lieutenant?"

Yes, sir," Niver replied confidently. "Has the situation changed at all, sir?

"No, Lieutenant, they still appear ignorant of our surprise, and there has been no sign of their other cruiser, either."

"Enemy contact is spreading Minovsky particles!" the young man working the sensor console reported. "And I believe "“ yes! I have confirmation of enemy mobile suits launching!"

Permission to launch, sir?" Niver asked anxiously.

Oruma smiled, saying, "Have a little patience, Lieutenant, remember we want them to think they"ve caught us off-guard. The mechanics are set up for the ruse?"

"You bet, sir! They"ve been practicing since we left The Rock.

"Excellent. It"s almost time."

---

[b\TSC Jintsu[/b]


"You"re certain?" Satain snapped at his senior sensor tech.

"Completely, sir," the enlisted man replied meekly. "It"s definitely a Zanzibar-class, sir, and if I had to guess I"d say it"s the late-war upgrade model."

Satain swore, but even his eyes could now see the unmistakable lines of the Zeon trans-atmospheric cruiser.

"If we dump velocity and stop spreading Minovsky particles," Sulate suggested quietly, "we could signal Holstein and rendezvous with her a good three hours before the exercise ends, sir."

"No," the cruiser"s commanding officer said coldly. "Have they launched mobile suits yet?"

"I don"t believe so, sir," the sensor tech replied. "No, sir, they"ve not yet dispatched mobile suits as far as I can tell, but"¦"

"But what?" Satain asked viciously.

"Sir, there"s something just plain wrong about the cruiser"s profile, but I can"t figure out what, sir."

"Well, just take your time, petty officer," Satain snarled, voice dripping of sarcasm. "It"s not as if there"s a battle going on!"

"Sir, I really think we should drop back and call for Holstein," Sulate put in.

"Nonsense, Lieutenant; we don"t need to run from these fools. We have obviously surprised them, otherwise their pathetic mobile suits would have launched to intercept Yelot by now. His GMs will dispose of the enemy mobile suits before we enter firing range and then provide an excellent distraction when we move up for the kill."

"But, sir, that Zanzibar carries a very heavy beam armament and twice as many mobile suits as"”"

"I"m aware of its compliment, Lieutenant," Satain interrupted, "but you seem to have overlooked one key factor. Apart from the number of mobile suits "“ Yelot will handle those, we"d always expected to fight large numbers "“ the Zanzibar"s chief weakness is that nearly all of its weapons face forward. The Aggressors goal is to survive as long as possible, and running away is the best way to do that. As long as they"re running, their weapons cannot harm us."

---

Low Yelot frowned at his monitors, unable to shake the feeling that something about the situation wasn"t right, though he could not decide exactly what was wrong. His two wingmen followed him closely as they accelerated towards the captured Zeon cruiser.

Is it that they haven"t begun to spread Minovsky particles yet? he asked himself. No, another part of his mind replied at once, there are a lot of sound tactical reasons for that. So what could it be? I don"t know, damnit! This hasn"t felt right since that ship turned out to be a damned Zanzibar! We should have guessed that the Aggressors would do something out of the ordinary.

He stared at the image on his main screen, dozens of possible reasons why the situation wasn"t right passing through his mind. He swore, finally coming up with a satisfactory answer and annoyed that it had taken so long. The aggressors only needed to survive to win the scenario, but the cruiser hadn"t fired its engines to run away, and Yelot was certain that the Aggressors knew his ship was in the area.

Yelot was still attempting to figure out what that meant for his attack when a blue-white glow came into existence at the rear of the enemy cruiser, its engines firing at last. Yelot sagged within his seat restraints, much pent-up tension departing from his body.

No, wait, a part of his mind said. Something still isn"t right. It"s pointed the wrong direction! It"s not trying to run away, it"s advancing!

Yelot swore again, cursing more fervently than before, but he kept his voice calm as he toggled his radio. "We"ve been suckered, guys; we"ve walked directly into their trap."

"What are you talking about, Boss?" Tsib asked in reply.

"I don"t know how they managed it, but they"ve been lying in wait for us, and now they"re moving in for the kill."

"Let "˜em! I"m not afraid of their antiques!" Browning snarled, still upset from earlier.

"They"ve twice as many mobile suits as us," Yelot reminded them.

"That just means we"ve more targets, Boss," Tsib announced dismissively.

"Here come their mobile suits!" Browning reported. "I bet I get half of "˜em.

"Not if I have anything to say about it!" Tsib shot back.

Yelot found himself hoping that the Aggressors would trounce both of his pilots. It might make them see reason. And as long as he didn"t end up disgraced, himself, his advice might be heeded more aboard Jintsu.

"Hey, Tip, did you see that?"

"Yeah, I did," Tsib said with a laugh. "One of those catapults froze in mid-launch!"

"That"s Zeon technology for you, always fails at the big moment," Browning added with his own chuckle.

Both young pilots laughed for a few moments, and even Yelot felt the ends of his mouth turn up against his will. It was certainly a good break for his team; the Aggressor catapult had stalled during the second launch cycle, which meant the Aggressors would probably arrive with more space between individual units than they would have liked. Yelot hoped this would help his team deal with their larger number of enemies better.

His optimism lasted until the fifth mobile suit was launched from the ex-Zeon cruiser. The first two had fired their thrusters the moment they left the catapult, but the second pair, including the one with the abbreviated launch cycle, had not used their engines, coasting on the momentum gained in their departure from the cruiser. But the fifth had also went to full acceleration as it left the catapult. When it approached the two machines in front of it they, too, fired thrusters, and eventually all three were traveling together as a unit.

"Damn," Yelot said without keying his radio. "So much for that."

"Hey, Boss, those two in the lead look like Gelgoogs," Tsib reported. "They must be overconfident, sending only two machines to challenge the three of us."

"Tsib, remind me to tell you the story about pots, kettles and colors when this is over," Yelot snapped back. "those are the same Gelgoog models used by the Zeon Marines last year, the ones that even took down aces in GM Customs."

"Pfft! Those were Federal pilots," Browning said. "I"m a Titan."

Yelot chose not to reply, watching his adversaries approach. When the Gelgoogs were still about ten seconds outside of their effective firing range he toggled his radio. "Go evasive!" he ordered, promptly executing his own command by sending his Quel through a complex series of rolls, twists, and jerks.

"Huh?" was all Browning had a chance to say before half a dozen red blots appeared on his mobile suit, marring the blue and black paint scheme. "Hey, what just happened? My controls are dead!"

"Tsib, move!" Yelot shouted, punching his thrusters, throwing his Quel into a spiraling charge towards the Gelgoogs.

Tsib belatedly followed his instructions, jinking his mobile suit in one direction after another.

Browning"s machine continued on the path it had been on before it was hit. "What"s happening? Why aren"t my controls working? I can"t move!"

"You"ve been killed by one of those antiques you slighted," Yelot replied savagely. "More complex, Tsib, or they"ll get you, too."

"But I"ll never get a target lock that way!"

"You shouldn"t need one!" Even as he spoke, Yelot paused in his maneuvers and snapped off a short burst at one of the Gelgoogs, then twisted away in another set of evasive movements.

The two sets of mobile suits passed each other, the Gelgoogs accelerating again, moving to intercept the Titan cruiser.

"Should we go after them, Boss?" Tsib asked nervously.

"We"d never catch them," Yelot said simply. "Their acceleration is too close to ours. Now we"ve got to worry about those Zakus."

"But what about the ship?"

"Nothing we can do for it except try to destroy that damned Zanzibar, Tsib," he replied grimly.

---

EFS Mule

"Ooh, this is int"restin"," Makarov said as he hung from the top of his bridge. "Looks as if that Titan suit commander has seen the script on the bulkhead."

Winters, clinging to a fixture near his commander, frowned down at the display below them. "What do you mean, sir? Why doesn"t he go after the Gelgoogs?"

"Because he"d never catch them before they reached the cruiser, and I"m not certain even Kelly Turner could hold off a pair of Kelgoos long enough for the GMs to come to the rescue. Maybe it could be done with a Mule, but no Salamis ever made has mounted worthwhile defensive weapons." Makarov"s face broke into a mischievous grin. "Yup, those Kelgoos should keep Jintsu"s attention away from the real threat nicely."

"Real threat?" Winters asked, confused. "Sir, I don"t know what you mean; those Gelgoogs are the closest aggressor forces to Jintsu."

"Heh, Oruma"s fooled you, too, then. How many mobile suits has Vesuvius sent out?"

"Five, sir," Winters replied. "Their portside catapult failed, so they've been unable to launch the sixth."

"Exactly what Oruma wants you to believe; it"s an easy trick to play on the enemy."

"But when did he launch the sixth, then, sir?"

"As soon as he detected Jintsu"s radar. A Zaku dropped out of the ventral hatch, which is why you didn"t see a catapult launch."

"What"s the point of sending a unit from that range, sir? If he"s moving slowly enough to not show up on our sensors it"d take quite some time to reach the Titan ship."

"Correct, Winters. But when it did, it would be completely unexpected. The mobile suit might even make it into firing range without being spotted. Especially with everyone concentrating on those two Kelgoos."

"All this assumes that Jintsu stays on the same path, sir. If it maneuvered even slightly it could throw off the entire intercept solution."

"Which is exactly why Oruma maneuvered his ship directly in front of Satain"s," Makarov pointed out. "It"s a gamble, sure, but as it only uses a single Zaku it"s one worth taking."

Winters though on that for a short while. "But there"s still proof, sir."

"Think so, eh?" Makarov turned to his communications technician. "Dettweiler, get me Rohrbacher," he ordered, pushing himself to his command chair.

A pilot"s face appeared on the communications monitor. His hair was sandy, and his face covered by a neatly trimmed beard. "Rohrbacher reporting, sir," the pilot said, saluting.

Makarov returned the honor. "Found anything yet?"

"Affirmative, Commander. Sleuthed him down about four minutes ago; the junk provided excellent cover. The pilot seems to have concerned himself with staying out of sight only of the cruiser, though, which is probably the only reason I found him. He"s good at this, sir."

"Well, he doesn"t have much reason to hide from us, certainly not as a first priority," Makarov replied. "Send us your data, Mister Rohrbacher, and don"t lose him."

"I won"t, sir. Data coming your way now, sir."

"Incoming data feed from unit four-zero," Dettweiler announced. "Adding it to the floorscreen now, sir."

"Good job, Dettweiler," Makarov said, pushing off from his chair, moving back to his position on the ceiling near Winters. "Here it comes, Win; Satain"s not even looking in the right direction."

"How did you know all this, sir? First the cruiser, and now this?" Winters asked, wonderment in his voice. "It"s not natural."

"It"s called familiarity, Win. I know Oruma and many of his pilots; Satain doesn"t know his ass from his foot."

---

TSC Jintsu


Satain was swearing so vividly and profusely that some people on his bridge wondered why the paint didn"t peel.

"Sir, why don"t we drop the Minovsky cloud and call for Holstein"s support?" Columbia Sulate suggested during a lull.

Her commander didn"t appear to hear. "Those ZOINKS imbeciles," he roared, using relatively light profanity. "Those jumped-up, low-born incompetent ZOINKS! How dare they do this to me! They"ve failed, utterly failed. I"ll break them for making a fool out of me this way! I"ll have those bastards thrown out of the Titans through the nearest airlock!"

Sulate sighed and turned to the sensor technicians. "Cease spreading Minovsky particles! Communications, as soon as we"re through the Minovsky field get a message off to Holstein. Give them our position and tell them we"re engaged in combat with a Zanzibar."

"Uh, sir? Ma"am" the senior operator stammered, unsure what to do.

"You have your orders, petty officer!" Sulate snapped, forcing the young man to make a decision, and not giving him much leeway about what it would be.

"Minovsky particle distribution ceasing, ma"am," he said quickly.

"Very well," she replied. "Weapons, we have two Gelgoog-type mobile suits inbound; I don"t want any nasty red spots on our hull."

"Don"t worry, ma"am," the weapons officer said with a tight smile. "Those two won"t get close, and they"re only armed with machineguns; we don"t have to worry unless that cruiser gets within range."

Sulate nodded, pleased to see that not all of Jintsu"s personnel were reacting like the ship"s commanding officer.

"Minovsky density low enough for radio traffic!" the radioman sang out. "Trying to raise Holstein now."

"As soon as that"s done get me Lieutenant Yelot."

"Are you sure that"s smart, ma"am?" the weapons officer asked. "He"s nearly to those three Zakus; I think he"ll be too busy to talk."

"Yes, you"re right, Lieutenant," Sulate responded. "Good thinking."

"Radar operations restored," the senior sensor tech reported, turning on the active system with his own initiative.

"Heat source incoming!" yelled the junior sensor operator from his position watching the infrared sensors.

"What? From where?" Sulate asked, her mind racing.

Before anyone could reply the ship was jarred slightly, and when Sulate looked out the bridge windows she discovered that the bow of Jintsu was now red, particularly around the mobile suit hangar.

"Where is it? It can"t be from the Gelgoogs!" Sulate shouted. "I need information!"

"Another incoming!"

Again the ship was rocked slightly.

"Damage?" Sulate asked furiously.

"Engines not responding, ma"am!"

"New contact! Mobile suit three thousand meters above us!"

"What?" Sulate asked, incredulous. "How did it get so close?"

A third time Jintsu shook with an impact, but where the first two had been distant-sounding thuds, this one was loud enough to hurt the ears of everyone on the bridge and the impact threw them all against their seat restraints.

"Status?" Sulate enquired distantly, her eyes locked on the bridge windows, which were now opaquely red.

"You"re dead, Lieutenant Sulate," the observer at the rear of the bridge informed her calmly. "As is everyone else here. Command should fall to the secondary bridge."

"Ours isn"t operational," Sulate said softly, still enthralled by the windows. "What hit us?"

"280mm bazooka rockets, I should think," the observer replied. "Nasty little things. Quite good shooting on the part of the pilot, however."

"Yes," Sulate replied automatically.

"What do we do now, ma"am?" the weapons officer asked.

"Relax," she replied. "There"s nothing else, now. Except to hope that Captain Pemco and Holstein do a little better than we managed."

Silence descended on the bridge but for Satain, who continued raving. A minute or two later, however, and a metallic clank was heard "“ and felt "“ by those on the bridge.

"What do you think that was, ma"am?"

Sulate shook her head. "Haven"t a clue, Lieutenant. It doesn"t really matter, anyway."

A moment later she noticed the view out of the center window was changing. Lines had begun to appear in the paint. Sulate watched, her curiosity growing ever stronger.

The weapons officer noticed as well. "What the hell is that?

"Someone"s drawing in the paint," Sulate replied.

"I noticed, ma"am, but what is it?"

"It looks like . . . a fish. With hair." She laughed a little, despite herself. When she looked back, letters were being formed. "W. A. S. Was. A fish with hair was . . . here. Ha, ha! The pilot who killed us is mocking us!"

"That bastard! He"d better hope he never gets in the sights of my guns!"

"Ah, I thought this was his style," the observer said cryptically.

---

Yelot flipped his mobile suit out of the firing path of one Zaku only to find another taking aim upon his GM. "Damn, these guys are good," he said quietly to himself before keying his radio. "Tsib, come at me, quick as possible."

Why?

"Just do it, damn you!" Yelot replied.

Out of the corner of his eye the senior Titan pilot saw his subordinate"s machine alter course, and he twisted his own mobile suit in that direction as well. The Zaku playing with Tsib followed the second Quel. "Good," Yelot said, "I"ve got you." He didn"t waste time to see if the two Zakus he"d been dodging were still with him; he knew they would be.

With only moments before collision Yelot ordered Tsib to break off, and jinked the other direction himself. As his GM swung away Yelot aimed his rifle and let off half a dozen rounds at the Zaku that had been tailing Tsib. He didn"t look to see what effect the paint shots had; his rifle was empty now and he reloaded it while turning back to his own trailers. The two Zakus he had avoided were once again bearing down on his mobile suit.

"Tsib, I"ve cleared your tail; come around from the side of these two bastards and put a few rounds into "˜em." When no replay was forthcoming, Yelot"s eyes flicked over to Tsib"s mobile suit for a moment. That was all it took, the GM was motionless, moving only because of inertia. "Damn!"

Yelot took a deep breath and concentrated on staying alive the next few minutes.

---

EFS Mule


"That, Winters, is how traps should be laid," Makarov stated calmly. "Ray Oruma is one of the sharpest bushwhackers in the Fleet. And it"s not over yet."

"I can see that Commander Oruma is a skillful leader, sir, but it sure looks over to me. Only one of the GMs is still active."

"Yes, for Satain"s Jintsu force, the rout is over. But for Holstein it has not yet begun. But it"ll take a few hours for the second ship to arrive. Now"s a good time to use the bathroom and get a bite to eat."

"Why will Holstein show up, sir?"

"Well, I could say it"s because Jintsu got a distress signal off, but more telling is the fact that her "˜I"m Dead" radio beacon has been activated. From Pemco"s position, this is the last known area the Aggressors were in, so it"s a natural place to start looking for them. The only question is how cautiously he approaches this area, whether he will assume that the Aggressors left as soon as they had dispensed with Jintsu, or if he thinks they may have stuck around in the hope that he"d stop by."

"Which do you think it"ll be, sir?"

"Give me your answer, first."

Winters frowned. "Sir, I hope Pemco will approach cautiously. He knows that the Aggressors were able to take out Jintsu quickly, and he won"t want the same thing to happen to his ship."

"Close enough. I fully expect to see Holstein"s mobile suits well before we detect the cruiser herself. If not, Pemco"s reputation as an intelligent, freethinking officer is pretty damned undeserved. The second half will be far more interesting than the first."

---

Yelot jinked down, brining up his shield against the fire from one of the Zakus as it sped past his position. He twisted again to shoot a few rounds at one of the Gelgoogs. A light began blinking on one of his panels, but he didn"t have the time to digest its significance. The second Gelgoog was rushing towards him brandishing its beam sabre, and that was his primary concern just then. With his mobile suit"s left hand he drew his own sabre and blocked the Gelgoog Marine"s initial swing. At nearly the same time he pointed his rifle in the direction of the second Zaku and loosed a few more shots, none of which connected. Then the Gelgoog"s sabre was coming at him again, and he had to bring his own blade up for another block. As soon as that attack was foiled Yelot goosed his thrusters to escape and emptied his rifle"s magazine in wild shots at the melee-minded Gelgoog.

He glanced around quickly to take stock of the situation again. The Zakus were coming at him once more, this time in a coordinated attack from two directions. Yelot replaced his sabre hilt in its rack and reloaded his rifle, cursing when he realized it was his last magazine. Yelot oriented his machine so that he was facing one Zaku, with the other one on his right. "Come on, you bastards, get in range; you get the first shots this time around."

The Zaku on Yelot"s right, which was a little closer to him, brought up its machinegun and took aim. Just as he thought it would open fire, Yelot rolled his GM 180 degrees, so the Zaku formerly on his right was now on the left, though the one in front stayed there; this unexpectedly presented his mobile suit"s shield to the nearer Zaku, but kept the other within his sights. Even as he felt the impacts of one Zaku"s shots upon his shield Yelot grinned, for the other Zaku was locked into his firing computer. A squeeze of the trigger sent six paint rounds hurtling at the old Zeon machine, but he blinked and it was gone.

Yelot swung his rifle to the second Zaku, but it, too, was not to be found where he had left it. Cursing, Yelot cut in his thrusters and twisted his GM into a rolling spiral, hopefully dodging attacks he could not detect.

He found the Zakus again, now some distance from him; much closer was one of the Gelgoogs. "Back for more, eh?" Yelot breathed. "Fine with me." He tried to send his mobile suit towards it, but he had only begun to alter his heading when all movement stopped. "The hell?" he shouted at his monitors. "None of them got me at this range, what happened?" In looking down at his panels, studying them closely for the first time in several minutes, Yelot discovered the blinking light. "Damn!" he shouted.

"All right, you bastards," he snapped over a clear radio channel, "I"m out of propellant, so you might as well finish this now!"

To Yelot"s surprise, the Gelgoog coming at him lowered its rifle, and began breaking and matching vectors with his own mobile suit.

When it was close enough, the Gelgoog reached out and snagged the GM"s leg with one hand.

Great flying, Low," Meade"s voice said through skintalk. "You"ve only gotten better since the last time I saw you fight.

"Are you going to shoot me or what?" Yelot demanded crossly, in no mood for compliments.

After the way you flew? Hell, no, we"re not gonna shoot you! Anyone who runs out of fuel before we can kill "˜em is worth capturing, in our book. So, just sit tight, Lieutenant, and enjoy the view. Holstein"ll show up sooner or later, enjoy the encore, with my compliments.

Yelot relented and relaxed. "Hey, Ketch, answer me this; what got Jintsu? You Gelgoogs never got close enough, and I was too far "“ and too busy "“ to tell."

Meade"s laughter came across the connection. "That was our secret weapon. You met him; Simon Mullet."

"He as good as you?"

At fighting? Naw, not by a lot. But when it comes to hiding in the junk and sinking ships he has few equals. He bagged eleven in the war, more than even the Gundam. He"s nasty with bazookas.

"The lot of you are nasty, period, Ketch."

"That we are, sir. I"ll see ya "˜round, it"s time I refueled.

---

EFS Mule


"Sir, incoming data stream from Unit Four-Three!" Dettweiler reported. "Adding it to the floorscreen now."

"Ah, the last actors finally make their entrance," Makarov announced joyously. "He"s a bit quicker than I expected, I wonder what tipped him off."

"Maybe those new cruisers are faster than you thought, sir," Winters said, staring at the new icons on the screen. "His mobile suits are already deployed well forward; I don"t think this part will be as easy as the first."

"Pemco"s certainly no fool, Win," Makarov allowed, "but it remains to be seen what his mobile suit commander is like, and a lot of how this ends up will be decided by him. If he"s good, he just might spot Oruma"s forces. That may not matter, though, if his team isn"t any better than Jintsu"s. And I was the number three guy on the panel that designed the Salamis Kai; I know what it can do, what it can"t, and how fast it is, and I say he"s here earlier than he"s supposed to be, though Oruma can"t know that, and it probably won"t affect things."

"Holstein is equipped with the new Hizacks, though, and that might," the younger man observed. "At the least they"ll out-perform the Quels."

"Maybe. Only if the pilots are equal to their equipment. Those two GM pilots from Jintsu would have gotten iced even if they were in Gundams. The machine matters little if the pilot doesn"t know how to use it properly."

"I"ve . . . never thought about it that way, sir," Winters admitted bashfully. "I"ve always assumed that a properly trained pilot would know what to do with whatever mobile suit he was using."

"It"s a common mistake," Makarov said, looking at the screen. "Well, well, very int"restin", that is. Pemco"s sharp, all right."

Winters furrowed his brow as he studied the floorscreen. "Why"s he depriving himself of his mobile suit screen like that, sir?"

Makarov looked up. "He"s not. He"s sending them in to reconnoiter the scene around Jintsu."

"But why are they curving away from the cruiser and the target like that, sir? I don"t understand it."

"Pemco is having the suits enter the area from a different direction than his cruiser, to make it harder for someone to lay a trap for him. It"s a smart move, but not enough to avoid the trap that has already been set for him."

---

Aggressor Cruiser Vesuvius


"Sir, signal from Mister Meade; he"s sighted enemy mobile suits entering the area."

"Acknowledged," Oruma replied gruffly, his attention fixed upon a tactical display.

"And now the waiting begins anew," Juarez said softly.

"That it does."

"How much reconnaissance do you think they"ll do, sir?"

"If I knew, Emil, I wouldn"t be this tense," Oruma stated. "Given that Pemco bothered to send "˜em in first, period, I"m thinking they"ll do a fairly thorough job of it."

"Guess we"ll just chalk it up to the fortunes of war, then."

"Better to hope that no one jumps the gun. But stand by to move in."

"Can we float by? Without gravity, it"s tough to stand," Juarez joked.

---


Last edited by Black Knight on Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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TSC Holstein


Allen Pemco scratched his chin as the reports came in to him.

"Still nothing except Jintsu on optics," one sensor operator said. "Jintsu is also the only contact on infrared."

"Radar warning receiver still blank, Captain," the second technician reported. "Active radar systems still disabled."

"All communication frequencies empty, sir," the radio specialist added, "except for Jintsu"s automatic distress beacon."

"What should our next move be, sir?" Pemco"s executive officer, Yaln Avy, asked.

Pemco frowned and scratched his chin again before speaking. "Radio, have Lieutenant Maint scout the area. In particular I want any disabled mobile suits investigated and typed. Make sure one of his men does a flyby of Jintsu, as well; I want to know what took her out." He looked over to Avy. "Now, Ya-Ya, we wait to see what develops. It will get a bit stressful, but it"s necessary."

Holstein"s bridge was silent then, except for completely routine matters. Pemco began tapping his knee in impatience.

"Sir, report from Lieutenant Maint: he has found four mobile suits thus far, two GM Quels, one Gelgoog, specific type unknown, and one Zaku F2. He"s sending Nkurmah to gain more info on the Gelgoog, and moving in to examine Jintsu himself, sir."

"Very well. Send a "˜Well done" to Lieutenant Maint," Pemco ordered. As that was being accomplished his hand wandered up to his chin and his eyes closed.

"Sir?" Avy asked tentatively.

"There must be more than four mobile suits," Pemco whispered. "At the very least another GM should be here."

"If we activate our radar we can search a larger volume, sir."

"No, Ya-Ya, that would give away our position, too. This was a trap, I think; it was probably Jintsu"s active systems that gave the Aggressors time to set it up. They probably don"t know where we are, yet, and I want to keep it that way as long as possible."

"I see, sir."

"Captain, Ensign Nkurmah has located another GM and identified the Gelgoog as an F-type."

"Thank you," the commanding officer replied. "Well," he told his exec, "that corrects the mobile suit tally, and confirms that we are up against a Zanzibar."

"Sir, Lieutenant Maint is doing a flyby of Jintsu now, he says the damage appears to have been caused by bazooka rockets and "“ Lieutenant Maint? Lieutenant, are you there?"

"What"s happened?" Pemco demanded.

"Sir, I"ve lost all contact with Lieutenant Maint! He dropped off in mid-word, sir!"

"Sensors, have you detected anything?"

"Nothing on passives, sir."

"Go active," Pemco ordered at last. "Helm, all ahead full, I want a near pass on Jintsu. Weapons, prepare for incoming mobile suits."

A chorus of acknowledgments answered him.

"Communications, get Ensign Torad, ask him for details of Lieutenant Maint"s mobile suit."

The radioman went into a flurry of activity without replying to his commander. "Sir, Ensign Torad has discovered no additional mobile suits in his vicinity, and reports that Lieutenant Maint"s mobile suit is practically covered in red paint; the front of his mobile suit is red from top to bottom."

"Understood. Weps, pay special attention to Jintsu, it"s good cover for mobile suits, and they"ll still see us before we see them."

"Aye, sir!" the weapons officer replied.

"Sir, I have all six derelict mobile suits on radar," the senior operator reported. "Not detecting any other mobile suits at this time except for our two remaining Hizacks."

"Have Nkurmah and Torad rendezvous with us at Jintsu"s position," Pemco ordered the communications specialist.

"Do you think all their mobile suits are behind Jintsu, sir?" Avy asked.

"No, Ya-Ya, I don"t expect to find more than two, probably only the Gelgoog, however. The Aggressors aren"t likely to leave their cruiser unprotected, after all. They should have only one Gelgoog and three Zakus left."

"Us and two Hizacks against a single Gelgoog? Isn"t that a little extreme, sir?"

"Perhaps," Pemco replied, "but perhaps not, too. A lion uses all of its power to kill a bunny, because it never knows when that cute furry rodent will turn out to be a vorpal rabbit, rather than a meal. And if this turns out to be a trio of Zakus we could be in for a bit of a fight."

"New contact!" the radar operator reported. "Sir, I have a Zanzibar-class cruiser appearing out of the debris field on the far side of Jintsu!"

"Helm! Intercept course. Weapons, keep your concentration on Jintsu for now, this may be just a distraction. I don"t want to be surprised by whatever rabbit is in that hole."

"Aye, sir!"

"New contacts! Two "“ no, three mobile suits. They"re coming from the same direction as the Zanzibar."

"I see them, petty officer; good work," Pemco said, looking at the tactical display. "Radio, have the Hizacks intercept those mobile suits at least eight kilometers in front of us."

"Captain, Jintsu is now within range of my defensive fire-control radars," the weapons officer reported. "I"ll know if anything tries to poke so much as a monoeye out from behind that hulk."

"Good."

"Heat source incoming!" the junior sensor operator shouted.

"Where?" Pemco demanded.

"From Jintsu!"

Holstein rocked a little as the practice rocket impacted the ship.

"Weps?"

"Nothing on my screens, sir! I swear it, there"s nothing sticking out from behind that ship!"

"Recall the Hizacks," Pemco ordered calmly.

"Second heat source! And a third! Still coming from Jintsu."

"Weps, target Jintsu and open fire."

The ship rocked with two more impacts in close succession. The lights flickered on the bridge, then died. Emergency lights lit immediately.

"Status report, all sections."

"Sir, the engines are dead, the reactors off-line and the engineroom isn"t responding."

"Weapons non-functional!" the weapons officer snarled.

"Damn!" Avy said.

"Looks like the Aggressors got us," Pemco announced. "They"re very slick." He turned to his exec. "So, Ya-Ya, do you think our mobile suits will gain revenge for us? Or will they suffer the same disgrace as ourselves?"

"They probably won"t, sir," Avy admitted realistically. "They"re up against twice their number and no longer have exterior coordination. They"ve only been in those mobile suits for five months, too. I'll give them five minutes."

"I"d say three is more accurate."

Their attention was unexpectedly drawn by movement in the starfield before their windows, and everyone looked out just as a green mobile suit with a bazooka in each hand landed on the cruiser"s foredeck.

"It's a Zaku!" the weapons officer said, the only person able to speak through the shock.

The captured machine turned to the bridge and lifted one weapon. Before their minds registered the shot, the bridge windows were covered with red paint.

"I've heard of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses," Pemco said eventually, "but this is carrying it too far."


Chapter 3: Aftermath


10 December 0084
Shoal Zone, L5
TSC Holstein
Bridge



"Pardon, Captain, I"ve a report on the sensor tapes," Avy said quietly, giving his commander a gentle shake.

"Eh?" Pemco said, waking up, "what was that, Ya-Ya?"

"We"ve finished our analysis of the sensor tapes, sir. Ensign Doran and I think we"ve figured out how they got us."

"Well, let"s have it," Pemco said, yawning. "How"d they get past Newman"s sensors?"

"It"s, well, frankly, sir, it"s a bit embarrassing," Avy said, unable to keep from blushing. "You see, sir, that Zaku was right in front of us the entire time." He paused, and Pemco raised an eyebrow. "After three hours of tweaking the infrared data, we pinpointed the bazooka rockets as coming from the bow of Jintsu, Captain. From there we spent another two hours looking over the radar tapes. The Zaku was not exactly between us and Jintsu, sir; it was hiding in her mobile suit hanger."


"Inside the hangar?"

"Yes, sir."

Pemco smiled, and then broke into laughter, causing a small stir on the bridge. "Do you realize," he said between laughs, "what that means, Yaln? It"s our fault. If we"d approached from a different angle, the hangar wouldn"t have been facing us, and then Newman would have seen it coming." Pemco wiped his eyes, and brought his merriment under control. "Well, that"s a good lesson for us; pure chance is every bit as dangerous as a canny foe."

"Yes, sir."

"How are the pilots doing?"

"I believe they"re all asleep now, sir," Avy replied, stifling a yawn. "There were no problems other than when they first returned. I wouldn"t want to be an Aggressor when they hit Konpeitoh, but otherwise I think they will, well, they won"t be fine, sir, but they"ll function well enough."

"Mmm," Pemco muttered, mulling it over. "Leave a message for Maint that I want to see him as soon as he"s up. I won"t tolerate any more displays of childish anger. As Napoleon nearly said, there are no bad platoons, only bad lieutenants, and we can"t afford to have either." He rubbed his face with his hands, passing one through his hair. "All right, Ya-Ya, I obviously need more sleep than I thought. Now that the mystery of the invisible Zaku is solved, why don"t you get to work on analysis of departmental performance. Shouldn"t be hard, only Engineering, Damage Control, and Electronics did anything. I"m going to clean up and get a bit more rest." Pemco unbuckled himself from the command chair and stood with a yawn. "Wake me before we enter Konpeitoh"s environs."

"Aye, aye, sir," Avy replied, trying not to look disappointed at the prospect of several more hours without his own rest.

"You can sleep while we"re in port," Pemco said, kicking off the chair in the direction of the elevator. "For a couple hours, at least."

-------------

EFS Vesuvius
Pilot Quarters



"Ahh-choo! Ah, this sucks."

"Gettin" sick in null-gee always does," Meade said sleepily without turning to face the noise. "Sounds like you"ve got a cold or something, Mullet."

"No, ZOINKS," the other man replied sullenly. "Musta picked it up on that Teton crate."

"Serves you right for hangin" around that trash, Chief," another pilot said tiredly. "But it ain"t right you keepin" the rest of us awake with your snuffles and sneezes."

"Thag you very buch, sir. Guess this is the thanks for making your job too easy," Mullet whined. "Remind me to slack off next time so you actually have to break a sweat, Ensign Nevitt."

"Puh-leeze, Mullet, you had it easy," the officer replied. "All you had to do was hide from some overconfident asses; that Queer we tangled with was ZOINKS" tough. Last workout I had like that was against Meade."

"Wish I were a platoon leader," the fourth man in the compartment said, ""coz then I wouldn"t have to listen to your bitchin"!"

"Well, as it doesn"t seem like any of us are getting" much sleep," Meade said, "I don"t s"pose anyone is interested in a game of chance?"

"You don"t play games of chance, Ketch," the fourth man grumped before rolling over inside his bag, "you just let people think they have a chance."

"Slander, vile slander!" Meade replied, his voice a model of offended innocence.

"Don"t "“ ahh-choo "“ try any of your righteous indignation on us, Ketch," Mullet said, adding a sniffle at the end. "We"ve lost too much money to you for us to be taken in."

"Why, you make me sound like some, some cardsharp or something!"

"I"ve seen you playing with "“ ah-chk "“ loaded dice on many occasions, Ketch. Amazing how many people forget about micro gravity when it comes to tossing little cubes around in it." He struggled out of the confinement of his sleeping bag and snagged a set of coveralls. "No point in me keepin" you lot awake, I"ll go spread my misery among the others."

"Finally, I can get some sleep!" Nevitt said when he was gone.

"Have some compassion, Musk," the fourth man said quietly. "Whatever he"s got, it"ll probably keep him out of a cockpit for awhile."

"So? That means there"s a greater chance I"ll get to take more shots at the Titans, Reb."

"You"ve got a point, Ensign Moseby," Meade interjected uneasily. "Mullet without a flight assignment is not a happy person, and Mullet with a medical grounding is definitely something to worry about." He paused, considering the situation. "The way I see it, we"ve got two basic options: either we keep him out of the bar, in which case we"ll get hospitalized, or else we stay away from the bar, and let him hospitalize someone else."

"There"s a third option, Ketch," Moseby said; "we can invite the Tetons to the bar, and have ourselves a little fun."

"Ah, a man after me own heart!"

-----


TSC Jintsu
Pilot Quarters



"―so dead when we get there!" Yelot heard as he awoke.

"I"m with you, Paul," Tsib"s voice proclaimed to Yelot"s groggy ears. "You"re right, that was a dirty awful trick they pulled to get rid of you. They must have known, somehow, which suit you were in."

Yelot opened his eyes and rolled within his sleeping bag until the other two were in view. "What the hell are you two bitching about now?" he asked tersely. "What wasn"t fair?"

"Those bastards knockin" me out of the exercise before I knew we were bein" attacked," Browning said fiercely. "They musta known which machine I was in, and specifically targeted me to keep me from kickin" their asses!"

"Oh, poor wittle Paulie gwot beat in his verwy fwurst exercise, so obviously the other side cheated," Yelot patronized. "Suck it up, Browning, you got beat because you"re still so wet behind your ears that you don"t even know how inexperienced you are. You have talent, I admit that, but thus far that"s all you"ve got going for you, and against this crowd, raw talent isn"t enough, even when coupled with mechanical superiority."

"The hell you say! I"m better than any three of those ZOINKS, just as I"m better than you, sir," Browning sneered. "I"ll show you next time! I"ll take out a platoon of Feddies myself, along with their ship!"

"Browning, shut your ZOINKS stupid mouth," Yelot ordered. "I got beat by those bastards, and I've got as much talent as you and a hell of a lot more experience. Even their Zaku pilots are tough, but that damned Gelgoog pilot would destroy you without stretching his machine or breaking a sweat. Now shut up and go to sleep, or at least shut up, because I"d like to sleep! If you want to keep whining like a baby, save it for the morning!"

Yelot pulled the sleeping bag over his head, and rolled over, trying to go back to sleep, but found himself tossing and turning for several minutes.

"ZOINKS this! Bitch all you want to Tsib, Browning," he said as he climbed out of the sleeping bag. "You"ve got me too riled up to sleep, so I might as well float around the ship for a while."

Without turning on a light Yelot found his uniform and climbed into it, though he left his shirt unfastened, the tails streaming behind him as he glided out of the room and down the corridor beyond. Aimlessly he wandered for awhile as he calmed himself down, and then he morosely meandered through the ship"s passages, wondering how he could repair relations with his subordinates and fix their deficiencies until they were an effective fighting unit.

As he prepared to bounce around a corner he was startled when a pair of legs shot around it and hit him squarely in the chest, closely followed by the torso, arms and head of the person to which the legs were attached.

"Oh, I"m terribly sorry," the other person said swiftly as they floated apart, "I didn"t see you com―why, it"s you, Low! Oh, my, I"m really sorry!"

Yelot looked up through the pain of the impact and recognized Columbia Sulate. He saw her push off the back wall when inertia put it within her reach, and she gently caught him, carrying him to the side of the corridor where there was a handhold to steady them.

"Are you all right, Low?" she asked anxiously.

"It "“ it"s all right, Lieutenant," he replied through clenched teeth. "Powerful kick you have, ma"am."

Sulate laughed a little at that, taking his ability to make a joke as a good sign. "We"re near my stateroom, Low, why don"t you come in and we can take a look at your injuries."

"I don"t really think that"ll be necessary," Yelot said, though he winced from pain as he moved. "Don"t mean to be rude, ma"am, but I"ve got a lot on my mind right now, stuff I"m trying to figure out."

"Well, that"s no surprise," she smiled back, "seeing as how we just got our asses kicked and your team performed like a bunch of pregnant women at a discotheque dance competition."

"Thanks for the compliment," Yelot replied bitterly. "Now if you"ll excuse me, ma"am, I"ll be on my way."

"Wait, I"m sorry," Sulate said softly, placing one hand on his shoulder. "Please, Low, don"t be angry with me, I didn"t mean it. Lord knows we didn"t do any better on the bridge than you did in your Quel, and probably a good bit worse. Please, come to my room, and I"ll fix you a bite to eat, or something."

Yelot wavered, looked back at her, and capitulated. "I suppose I"ve had enough rambling tonight," he said, "and I"m not figuring anything out by myself, either."

Sulate brightened, though the tired cast of her face ruined the effect somewhat. "Well, then, you can bounce your ideas off me, and maybe we can come up with a solution . . . together."

"It"s worth a shot," Yelot agreed simply.

It was a short trip to Sulate"s stateroom from their meeting place, though with every turn Yelot flinched in pain while Sulate bit her lip in concern.

"In you go, Lieutenant," she said while opening the door to her room. "Find somewhere comfortable and secure, I want to examine your chest."

"I didn"t know you"d had medical training, ma"am," Yelot remarked as he drifted into her stateroom. He looked around for somewhere to perch that would not cause him pain.

Sulate entered behind him. "Take the bed, Low," she said, giving him a gentle push in that direction, "it"s the only place you can belt in securely in your condition. And get that shirt off."

Yelot eyed the bed uncomfortably, but reluctantly pulled himself onto it and applied the straps there to his waist and legs until he was immobile. Sulate was on him, then, gently pulling at his shirt and undershirt, causing him to wince occasionally as she removed the garments.

"To be honest, I haven"t had any specialized training, Low," she said while her hands gently rubbed his chest, "but I"ve seen my share of bar fights. Help enough medics examine the aftermath and you"ll get pretty good at diagnosing certain ailments. Like cracked and broken ribs. Does this hurt?"

"Yes!" he groaned as she pushed on his ribcage.

Sulate nodded. "I was afraid of that. I think I"ve cracked a few of your ribs, but at least it doesn"t seem that any of them are broken. But if the flight surgeon gets wind of this you"ll be out of the cockpit for a couple weeks. You want to tell him or suffer?"

"Suffer," Yelot said grimly. "It can"t be any worse than dealing with my two wet-noses."

"What"s going on with those two, anyway?" Sulate asked him quizzically, moving to a nearby chair. "They didn"t perform too well today "“ or yesterday, I guess it is now. The Aggressors creamed you, even with their outdated machines."

"They"ve a bad case of overconfidence," Yelot remarked. "Browning particularly; he"s always competed against others, never worked on a team. It"s one of the problems with a training system that singles out individuals as particularly great or skilled. Our instructors at Nijmegan have either forgotten or never learned that individuals don"t win battles; teams do."

"That's true. I think we"d have won this battle if the Commander had called Holstein to support us. But he wanted it to be his victory." She shrugged and sighed. "The wartime propaganda was too effective, I guess, with all the stories about how important individual soldiers were to the war with Zeon. Can I get you anything to drink?"

"Have anything with alcohol?" he asked. She smiled and jumped up to rummage through her cabinets. "Yeah, Browning seems to think that a handful of people like Ray, Backmeyer, Jung, Wolf and Rogers fought and won the whole damned thing. And he doesn"t think the opinion of those who fought along with them, but out of the limelight, matters for ZOINKS."

"So he"s acting like a rookie; is it really a surprise?" Sulate put in. She sent a drink pack his direction. "Careful with that, it"s brandy," she added, breaking the seal on her own beverage.

They drank in silence for a little while, and then Yelot cocked his head to one side and gave her a sly look. "What got you all riled up that you started turning corners at full speed, anyway?"

She blushed. "I"m sorry about that, Low, I really am," she said softly, her voice growing husky with discomfort. "I"d just gotten word from the surgeon that he was not prepared to list Satain as medically unfit for command, despite all the evidence to the contrary."

"Afraid of the political backlash, eh? Om is rather fond of Satain for some unfathomable reason." Yelot shrugged and took another drink.

------------

EFS Vesuvius

Mullet wandered throughout the ship, zigzagging his way from one porthole to another, coughing and sneezing his way through the passages as he stared out at the speckled sable sea through which the ship traveled.

"Morning, chief," a tired voice said behind him.

The pilot turned around and discovered Commander Oruma, his hair tousled and eyes heavy, leaning against a bulkhead. Mullet nodded back.

A smile appeared on Oruma"s tired visage, and he moved forward until he was next to Mullet. "During the war, chief, I thought Igor was too soft with you. I felt you had no respect for rank, treated discipline as if it were something good for other people, but pointless for yourself. I was annoyed at the way Igor allowed you to behave. Imagine my surprise, then, when you joined the squadron proper and the Commodore allowed your behavior to continue." Oruma looked down at the man next to him, who had gone back to staring at the heavens before them. "It occurs to me that the Titans you despise act in a similar manner; they have little internal discipline, a surplus of arrogance, and no respect for anyone not a member if their own little clique." He paused again, as if he expected Mullet to say something.

The pilot turned his head away, let out an explosive cough that he was unable to suppress, glanced at Oruma and then turned his focus back to the stars.

"You arrogant bastard," Oruma breathed. "I"d throw you in the brig for insubordination right now, chief, if not for one other little epiphany I had a few months back. You"re different from the Titans in one key respect: you may not appreciate rank, but you do care about ability; the Titans seem to care only about power. Om is a madman who couldn"t stop a single Zeon squadron, but because he runs the Titans for Hyman a host of officers grovel at his feet. He has political power that few military officers could ever dream to command.

"You, on the other hand, chief, are just like Igor. You couldn"t care less about political power, the ability to order people to do things the way you want. The biggest criterion of respect in your view is how good a commander is at keeping his people alive. Isn"t it?"

"That"s what you look for in a superior, too, sir," Mullet stated after a few moments of silence.

Oruma gave a short, barking laugh. "Chief, you"re a right bastard, just like Igor; it"s no wonder you two get along!" He paused and collected himself a moment before turning away. Oruma had only gone a few meters when he pulled himself to a stop, and turned back. "You did a damn fine job in the exercise today, chief. Make an appointment to see the surgeon in the morning, we"ll be needing your services against the blackshirts in the future."

---

10 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5
Pilot's Club


Yelot looked up when several bodies came up next to him at the bar.

"S'up, Low?" one of the men asked, clapping him on the shoulder, drawing a wince.

"Gaahh! Not much, Maint. I heard you had as much trouble as we did yesterday."

"What's with the reaction there, Low?" Maint asked, though without much real interest. "Yeah, we got mauled; if I hadn't been taken out before we knew there was anything goin' on it'd have been a different story, but I got zapped first thing, and Nkrumah an' Torad were too split up to work together. We'll get their asses next time."

"You sure abou' that?" a voice asked from behind. "Won't they "“ ah~choo! "“ have to get the red paint of your suit, first?"

"An' just who the ZOINKS're you?" Maint snarled, turning around.

"I'm the one who sent your Hizack in for a new coat of paint, Teton. The way your team operated you'd be lucky to take down a team of Balls; you ain't got what it takes to deal with Zeons."

"You son of a bitch! No jumped-up--"

"Is it really worth getting into a fight over, Maint?" Yelot said, turning back to his drink.

"Shaddup, Yelot!" Maint sneered. "If this damn upstart wants to pick a fight with me that's fine; I'll finish him good."

"Suit yourself," Yelot said listlessly. "For me, I'd rather save my energy for where it matters: tomorrow's exercise. There's no use trying to settle anything with them here."

"Nice train o' thought, Earthnoid," the Federation pilot commented, massaging his right fist with his other hand. "But I don't think your pals have that much sense. Let me guess, you're all green, aren't ya? Or is yellow y'all's preferred color?"

Maint shot something angry and venal back, but Yelot ignored them and meandered further down the bar so he would be away from the area when the fists began flying. He was surprised when a lone Federation officer waved him aside to a table.

"Do I know you?" Yelot asked.

"Not at all, Lieutenant," the officer said with a smile, "but I think you made a good decision by avoiding that little confrontation."

Yelot looked back; Maint was looking ever more irate, and his wingmen were getting involved in the shouting, as well. "Looks like it's going to be three on one," he mused. "But judging by the air of expectation in here, I get the feeling that no one finds it unfair."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," the officer replied, "though I suppose there are many who wish you had joined in the, ah, fun."

"Damn straight," someone at a nearby table added. "If'n you'd've joined in, Teton, it'd have been closer to a fair fight; Mullet's going to beat your boys down even faster than in an exercise!"

"Mullet?" Yelot asked, sitting down. "I think I met him when I arrived; does he run around with Ketch Meade?"

"That he does," his host replied. "I, however, am glad you bowed out, sir; how did you crack your ribs?"

Yelot couldn't keep from staring. "How'd you figure that one out?" he blurted.

The other man smiled. "I'm a doctor; the unit flight surgeon, as it happens. Rolando Gaultier. From the appearance of things," he went on with a significant look to the bar, "I'm going to have a busy night; but with your prior injuries, I'm glad you won't be joining me in the trauma centre."

As if on cue, Maint roared and threw a punch at Mullet, who deflected it easily with his right arm and snapped a left jab into the Titan's nose in a swift counterattack.

Yelot turned away from the brawl as Torad charged in to his superior's defense. "So, you just happened to be in here, eh?"

"Actually, I have an appointment scheduled for this time. With our Mullet over there. Commander Oruma apparently scheduled it, and whenever anyone schedules an appointment for Mullet, he always keeps them "“ but never in the office, only in the bar. Though I dare say we'll make it to the infirmary yet -- with four patients." Gaultier gave a martyr's sigh. "Well, at least he isn't going to bring a whole company with him this time around; if the MP's don't get their panties in a twist, that is."

Cheering erupted from the other patrons of the club, and the two disinterested parties looked up to see Mullet sporting a cut cheek, but with two of his opponents down and failing to move. Maint was struggling back to is feet by holding onto the bar.

"Are fights common here?" Yelot found himself asking. "This is only my second visit, and I broke up a pair of fights my first trip, too."

Gaultier pursed his lips and considered the question a moment before answering. "Not common, no; but Mullet's been feeling under the weather for some time now, and only just got caught by a superior. He doesn't believe in visiting the doctor for mere sicknesses, you see, and so if he has one he makes certain that he has to visit me for another reason, too. Your men were handy, so he took advantage of them." He paused again. "And I believe th-- yes, that's it!"

Yelot turned quickly enough to see Maint fall atop Nkrumah. The other Titan mobile suit leader struggled for a few moments, as if he wanted to stand up again, but quickly gave up.

"ZOINKS, I've had more competition from hippies in a honky-tonk," Mullet spat, walking to the bar.

A moment later a quartet of men in the light blue uniforms of Federation Forces soldiers, with "MP" stamped on their helmets ran through the door, and quickly took stock of the situation.

The leader motioned his men towards the supine Titans, and approached Mullet himself. All the spectators watched eagerly to see how this second encounter would play out. "Good day to you, Chief," the MP leader was heard to comment.

Mullet looked up from his whiskey. "Eh, maybe for you, Caesar," he replied with a sniffle, "but not for me; those Tetons didn't provide much competition."

"Doesn't look that way, no," the SP "“ whose uniform read 'Nowakowski' "“ replied. "You going to come quietly, Chief, or do I need to call for backup?"

"Your shoulder healed up yet?" Mullet asked conversationally.

"Still in therapy sessions, I'm afraid, so I'm definitely not in top form."

Mullet sneezed, and made a sound of disgust. "Guess I'll go quiet-like, then, Caesar."

Yelot looked a question at Gaultier, who smiled. "Only about half the time; when the MP's are in good shape and in want of some exercise, Mullet has a penchant for resisting arrest; the MP's do not always respond as quickly as possible to reports of fights in the bar. But Mullet dislocated young Octavius's shoulder six or seven weeks ago." He stood up. "Octavius, I'll give you a hand with the fallen," he called.

"Oh, Dr. Gaultier, I didn't see you there!" Nowakowski replied genially. "Thank you for the offer, sir, I'd appreciate it." The young man looked again at Mullet. "You got somethin', Chief?"

Mullet coughed. "I reckon' it's bronchitis."

"Ah, that explains a lot," the SP replied sagely.

Gaultier looked down at his table partner before moving off. "I believe you should come in to be surveyed, as well, Lieutenant. But fear not," he added quickly when Yelot looked to protest, "I won't inform your flight surgeon of the injuries, but you should get them checked over."

Yelot smiled ruefully. "I suppose you're right."

"Naturally," Gaultier replied, grinning, "I'm a doctor."

---

11 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5
Aggressor Squadron Offices


Keram looked up as his office door opened, and the squat figure of Makarov stumped in. "Good morning, Igor," he began pleasantly.

"Bah, what's good about it?" Makarov shot back. "I looked over your plans for tomorrow's exercise. Struck me as a might familiar."

"Aah, yes," Keram said smoothly, leaning back in his chair, "I rather suspected you would be in to register a complaint regarding that. Your specific issues?"

"You don't have a -14C, and you're sticking your Kelgoo Bravo on Capulin. When I fought this engagement my pilots were up against a trio of Zakus, and that ship-killer gave us a nasty shock."

"Valid points, both, I admit. However, as you say I do not have a Gelgoog Cannon, nor a Jicco, which you've neglected to bring to light. Much as I'd like to shift even that sole Gelgoog to Cima for the exercise, however, doing so would deprive me of a viable complement for the ship to be used for the second component of the exercise. As such, I'm doing the best that I can, and improvising."

"Pfah," Makarov sneered. "If'n you're gonna to do this historical reenactment crap, Commodore, why don't you take the gloves off, launch Vesuvius with six Galbaldies programed to mimic Gelgoogs and have these bastards deal with that historical gem from our campaign records!"

"Because I'm planning that for post-Christmas fiesta, Igor," Keram said, smiling. "Though, we've never used the Galbaldies to imitate Gelgoogs before; as I'm not directly involved in planning, I'll have to see about prompting Harlock to that idea. But first we must work through some of the easier scenarios from the war. They will have to reconnoiter A Baoa Qu, which they will be led to believe is only lightly patrolled, perhaps by two or three Musai cruisers, and so forth." Keram smiled. "I am not being deliberately light upon the Titans, Igor, I assure you. Far from it. I expect to spring a circumstance or two upon our dear comrades in black and scarlet that I have never used before. I suspect it will be rather interesting, to be quite honest."

Makarov looked thoughtfully at his old friend. "Damn, that sounds fun! Any way I can convince you to let me try my hand at running a ship during one of those? I didn't think I did too badly as a Musai skipper."

Keram smiled. "I shall consider it, Igor; there is still much that you might perhaps teach my other commanders, in addition to your instruction of the Titans." He paused and turned pensive. "Of course, if you were to run a ship during some exercise, I would expect you to keep Mullet under some modicum of control."

"What, has he gone and gotten himself into trouble again? Typical of him," Makarov said, shaking his head ruefully. "That boy needs a strong leader he respects, I guess you don't have anyone like that to pair him with here?"

"Alas, I do not. I could stick him under quite a good platoon leader, I have several to choose from. But while Market is an effective company commander, he does not have the assertiveness to properly handle Chief Mullet. He may have served with Garden, but he has not earned the same respect from our Hardass."

"Ah, I gotcha," Makarov said. "So, what's he done this time?"

"Raymond arranged for Mullet to see a physician upon their return today. It seems he has acquired an illness which is hindering his performance. Being Mullet, however, he could never do something as pedestrian as show up for the appointment. Instead he went to the pub and thrashed Holstein's pilots. I'm expecting Lieutenant Pemco to arrive in a few minutes."

Makarov chuckled. "I damn well don't miss having to deal with those complaints."

"Heartless wretch."

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in!" Keram called. "This is doubtless the man now."

When the door opened it was Lieutenant Allen Pemco who entered. The two Federation officers rose to greet him, and returned the salute the Titan offered.

"Lieutenant Pemco, have you been introduced to Commander Makarov?"

"No, sir, I have not," Pemco replied, turning to the squat commander. "A pleasure to meet you at last, sir, I've read much of your exploits during the war."

"Eh? I didn't realize that anything had even been written about me, unless it was complaints," Makarov replied with a sickening smile. "Where'd you dig up stuff about these exploits you claim I had?"

Pemco smiled back. "Here and there, sir; it was not easy. I convinced some of your subordinates to write their recollections of your wartime experiences. A great number of them, I believe, mentioned a Chief Mullet who had a remarkable predisposition to answer insults with violence. I take it the man who, ah, disciplined my pilots is the one who formerly worked on your ships, Captain Makarov?"

"Heh, heh, you're a sharp one, all right," Makarov chuckled. "Yes, your people got smacked around by my old pilot. But don't expect me to be able to give you any advice on how to keep him from acting up, the only thing that works is to keep him in protective custody."

"Yes, many of your erstwhile subordinates said much the same thing," Pemco agreed. "Allow me to be blunt, gentlemen. From what I have seen of the preliminary reports and testimony, I am more than convinced that this was a case of mutual antagonism. I'm willing to call it a wash if you are, Commodore."

Keram's brow wrinkled as he considered this proposal. "I thank you for the offer, Lieutenant Pemco, but while you may be willing to absolve my pilot of guilt, I can not in good conscience do so. Regardless of the feelings of your own personnel, I believe Chief Mullet was deliberately searching for a fight. For this he deserves some form of reprimand."

"As you wish, sir," Pemco replied with a small shrug. "I think that your man has already punished my pilots enough, both in the exercise and personally. Besides, you can replace your man for your section of the exercises, I have no one to act as substitutes."

---

13 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5
Enlisted Personnel Brig


Lieutenant Yelot walked hesitantly down the cell block looking for the room holding Chief Reactor Technician Mullet. He wasn't certain why he was visiting the uninhibited Federal pilot, but nevertheless found himself unavoidably drawn to the man. Getting permission to visit had been child's play with his Titans commission. As he approached the middle of the corridor, a flat baritone broke into song from one of the cells ahead of him.

The voice "“ which Yelot thought he recognized as belonging to the sharp-tongued enlisted man "“ sang loudly, and eventually Mullet came into view at the end of the block.

"Oh, well if it isn't one of the prissy Titans boys!" Mullet said, abruptly ceasing his song as Yelot came near. "So," he asked conversationally, "are you here to gloat or beg for advice?"

"Neither, I think," Yelot replied slowly. "I'm not certain myself why I came," he admitted.

"Oh, really. Well, now, I haven't heard that one in awhile, Lieutenant Earthnoid."

Mullet's cell was small, with only the most primitive sanitary facilities and an uncomfortable-looking bed across which the Chief Petty Officer was sprawled, his feet pointed toward the barred wall and door through which Yelot was looking. On the floor next to the bed was a tray with a couple loaves of bread and a large liquids container.

The two pilots looked at each other in silence for a few moments, Yelot becoming ever more nervous and less certain of himself, while Mullet simply appeared to be waiting for the Titan to get whatever had brought him to visit off his chest.

Yelot began to wish he knew what was on his chest.

"I hear you guys got your asses handed to you again," Mullet said in a attempt to break the ice. When it failed to make Yelot speak, Mullet went on. "Amazing how you bastards seem to need us to help you find them, isn't it? I'd have thought you'd know how to make fools of yourselves on your own by now. It's pretty easy, after all."

"Just what is it you have against the Titans, anyway?" Yelot accused. "What have we ever done to you?"

"Nothing," Mullet replied easily. "And you know what, that's the ZOINKS problem."

Yelot stared, unable to follow what his ears had just reported. "What?"

The prisoner made a show of rolling his eyes. "Look, pal, I don't have anything against the Titans in general that I don't also hate about Federal Earth-centrics with attitude problems."

"Then why all the antagonism toward us? You can't have figured out which of us are like that in the brief times you met us before you got locked up in here!"

"The hell I didn't!" Mullet snarled. "You've all volunteered for those snazzy black uniforms, so you must be ZOINKS Earth Firsters, and your actions upon arrival demonstrated which of you have attitude problems. I don't have a beef with you except your poor eye for clothing, but that skipper of yours is a catastrophe waiting to happen. If he was only going to get your shipmates killed, I wouldn't care," the enlisted man said nonchalantly, "your teammates are nearly as bad as your CO. But that skipper of yours is the kind of disaster which won't just contain itself to military casualties, ain"t he?"

Yelot nearly agreed, but held back for some reason he couldn't place. To cover his indecision he redirected the conversation. "So what is it you do want from the Titans, Chief?"

"Oh, that's simple," Mullet replied with a huge grin. "I want you to get me tossed out of the service."

The muscles in the Titan's jaw went slack. "If you want out, why don't you just resign?" he managed to ask after a few moments.

Again Yelot was presented with the eye-rolling extravaganza. "I'm not an officer, remember? The damned personnel weenies never so much as considered offering me a warrant, to say nothing of a commission. Unlike you, I don't have that option."

"Well, when's your enlistment up?" Yelot asked, growing uncomfortable again.

"Fifteen March, double-oh eighty-two," Mullet replied bitterly. "Obviously that's no solution."

"My God, no wonder you're such a pain in the ass to everyone!" Yelot blurted out, amazed.

"ZOINKS, that's nothing," Mullet said with a dismissive wave. "At least they still pay me and let me play with suits. The Federation's done much worse."

"Like what?"

"Are you stupid, or just blind? Ever hear what happened at Loum?"

"But that was the Zeons!" protested the visitor.

"The hell it was! I was there, greenhorn!" Mullet barked back, jumping off the bed and moving up to the barred wall with an angry light in his eyes. "I saw the ZOINKS nukes being loaded into our missile tubes! Don't try to tell me that it was only those Zeek bastards who nuked whole colonies!"

Yelot involuntarily took a step back as the chief's eruption reached its peak, but regained the lost territory almost immediately, his own temper flaring. "It had to be done, damn it! It was the only way to keep that colony from being dropped on Earth and killing innocent civilians! That's what militaries are for!"

""˜Had to be done'? Get your God-damned ass out of here you cocksucking Earth Firster and have someone teach you to ZOINKS count!" Mullet roared contemptuously. "I don't believe there are 'innocent civilians' on Earth, but for the sake of argument, how many Earthnoids would have died if that colony had landed on your precious planet?"

"If it had hit one of the big cities like Hong Kong or New York," Yelot shot back hotly, "the death toll would have been in the tens of millions! 320 million died from Operation British. That's why it had to be stopped!"

"And how many spacenoids died on 15 January?"

The color drained from Yelot's face as comprehension broke across his consciousness.

"Simple math, isn't it?" Mullet asked rhetorically. "What's a billion or so spacenoids compared to a few dozen million of the elite, after all."

"So you approve of colony drops?" Yelot asked, finding his voice again and filling it with as much menace as he could to curb his sudden feeling of sympathy.

"No," Mullet replied coldly. "I despise all wantonly destructive tactics and anyone who uses them. My ship joined Tienam's attempt to stop British, and we were at Loum to prevent it from happening again. Believe me," he said intensely, "I'd have liked nothing better than to kill every last one of those ZOINKS Marines who 'defected' last year. One of the big reasons I haven't deserted is so that I'll be around to prevent any more such massacres."

"That's what the Titans are here to stop," Yelot said confidently.

Mullet looked at him curiously then slowly walked back to his bed, shaking his head and muttering under his breath.

"What's that?" the Titan demanded. "I couldn't quite make it out."

The chief flopped back onto his bed before rejoining the conversation. "Have you ever listened to your own organization's propaganda?" he asked wearily.

"What the hell's that got to do with anything?"

Mullet's eyes rolled again. "I'll take that as a 'no', then," he said crossly. "Why don't you go back to your silly little ship, with its incompetent crew, and dig around through the library -- if it has one, not many of you Tetons seem to be literate "“ and look up the ZOINKS which comes out of your leadership"s mouths. I don't expect you to take a spacenoid"s word about the content of their speeches." Mullet's eyes flickered momentarily as something behind the visitor caught his eye. "Now if you'll excuse me, I believe my next appointment has arrived."

Yelot, caught off-guard while preparing an angry retort, turned around and was startled to discover Dr. Gaultier lounging against the bars of the cell opposite Mullet's. "Hello, Doctor, I didn't notice your approach.

"That's quite all right, Lieutenant Yelot," Gaultier said lightly. "It's always a pleasure to listen to the chief bend someone's ear about the failings of the Federation. Particularly," he added wryly, "when they react as you did. Which, of course, they always do; Chief Mullet is indeed a pain in the ass," the flight surgeon said, causing the man being discussed to toss a one-sided grin at the officer, "but he saves his rhetoric for those who fight back."

Yelot frowned. "You mean, he doesn't assault other spacenoids with his views?" he asked dubiously.

"Of course not," Mullet replied scathingly. "Too few spacenoids know how--" he stopped suddenly when Gaultier raised a hand.

"The chief realizes that, at least with his Loum diatribe, his perspective is not entirely unbiased, and certainly has its share of bad assumptions and falsehoods."

Mullet spat into one corner of his cell. "Why are you always trying to make me sound more intelligent and rational than I actually am?"

"Chief, you're a reactor tech; by definition you can be neither stupid nor rash."

That made the incarcerated pilot smile and, after a short internal struggle, laugh. "I certainly walked into that one, didn't I?"

"You did," agreed Gaultier, adding his own smile. "You seem somewhat surprised about something, Lieutenant; would you care to tell us?"

Yelot shook his head as if to clear it. "Um, well . . ."

"Come on, spit it out," Mullet urged.

"Perhaps later, then, Lieutenant," Gaultier said quickly, "after you've had more time to think. How are your ribs feeling?"

"They're a little better, Doc, whatever you did really helped," Yelot said, grateful for the change in topic. "I was expecting them to be a real torment during the combat sims yesterday, but they weren't much trouble."

"Excellent. I've had a lot of experience dealing with bruised, cracked, and broken ribs since I became a flight surgeon," Gaultier said, "I'm glad to know my treatments are getting better. Do drop by if you feel the need for a checkup, Lieutenant, I'll be in my office all afternoon. And with Mullet here in the brig again, I'm not expecting much business."

"He causes a lot of it, eh?" Yelot asked.

"More'n my share," Mullet shot out, grinning. "So, Doc, what'ch'ya got for me this time?"

Gaultier opened the cell door and moved inside. "A little more ointment for your hands, Chief, and more penicillin; how you managed to get pneumonia out here I do not know, but at least it isn't the measles; that'd have half the base in the infirmary."

"I'll see you later, Doctor," Yelot said, turning to leave.

"Have fun cleaning the paint off your machine, Lieutenant Earthnoid!" Mullet called after him. "So, Doc, what's the news from the outside world? I already heard that Holstein's Hizacks got their world rocked in both sections of yesterday's exercise, but showed better coordination than Earthnoid's team, both among themselves and with their ship. And that if Holstein fell on their collective faces, Jintsu and crew, with the exception of Earthnoid, here, should have fallen on their swords. There anything else fun going on out there?"

"Kalin replaced you in Capulin's roster, and did well enough; Reb was able to keep him alive most of the time, at any rate. All the real damage was done by the usual suspects, Ketch, Masters, Nevitt and Hawke. Gainer and Lieutenant Niver were taken out both times."

"Eh, normal enough. Ketch musta had fun putting holes in the cruisers."

"Given how soused he got last night, I believe you're correct," Gaultier said. "We finally found out which ship will be replacing Retribution in the squadron roster. We can expect the arrival of Hotspur in four days, under the command of Lieutenant 'Wild Bil' Bush. His ship is said to excel in gunnery, there is a lot of hope that his staff will adjust to using Musais well, but Capulin is not expected to be used much for the remainder of the Titans' stay."

"Thanks, Doc, it's nice to know what's goin' on."

"Not at all, Chief," Gaultier said, packing up his bag. "Do try not to be sent back here too quickly after you're released."


Last edited by Black Knight on Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chapter 4: Before the Clarion

20 December 0084
Shoal Zone, L5
An RGM-79Q


Yelot cursed as the Rick Doms blew past his team with an extremely high velocity on a direct path to Jintsu; his sensors could just barely make out the two Musai Mk IIs which had carried the attack mobile suits. "Browning, Tsib, they don't give a ZOINKS about us, they're just after the cruiser!" he shouted over the radio, hoping the Minovsky particles were sparse enough for the transmission to get through to his subordinates. "Try for long-range hits on them, they'll only need one pass!" He spun his own machine and opened his throttles fully, trying to dump the velocity he'd built up in an attempt to intercept the ex-Zeon mobile suits as far from Jintsu as possible, and lined up his targeting reticule on the nearest Rick Dom, rapidly emptying the rifle's magazine of paint bullets. As his suit was loading a new clip into the firearm, he checked his rear screens for the progress of his wingmen. The two other Quels were mimicking his movements, as he looked on Browning's rifle ran out of ammo, too, and began to reload.

Ahead of them, the quartet of Rick Doms split into two pairs, obviously planning to pass along different sides of the Titan cruiser before them. As he watched, however, one of them flailed around uncontrollably and then just as suddenly cut its thrusters.

"Ha! I got the bastard! Eat ZOINKS and die, ZOINKS!" Browning's voice said over the speakers, muffled with light static. Yelot ground his teeth, but said nothing in return; he knew that no scolding of his would impress restraint upon his arrogant subordinate. Instead, he watched his screen, where the dots representing the Rick Doms began a seemingly random set of slight maneuvers, not enough to eat up much propellant but more than enough to make continued attacks upon them a waste of ammunition. Yelot quickly made a decision.

"Tsib, stop breaking; go after the Musais; aim for the weapons with your rifle and once you've suppressed the defensive fire, use your sabre on the engine pods, but watch out for the reactor explosion when you do. Browning and I will keep after the skirts."

"But I want to keep after those damned Zeek toys!" Tsib argued.

"I don't care if you want to suck Bask Om's cock, Tsib," Yelot snarled, "but if you want to make this exercise a tie, you'll go take out those cruisers! Jintsu is dead, it'll never survive even one pass by three Rick Doms. That means we don't have a ship to return to. The best we can do is kill the enemy ships and then the suits; then we'll technically win. But if you don't get the cruisers we're gonna lose again!"

"Fine, I'll do it," Tsib replied petulantly, turning his GM around and making a beeline for the distant Musais.



EFS Mule

"Hmm, I think that's the first bad call I've seen Yelot make in the whole session," Makarov grumped.

"Sir? I think he's making the best of a bad situation," Winters said, looking up from the composite sensor display. "One suit should be enough to knock out those old Musais, and if Jintsu manages to survive the first pass from the Rick Dom unit he'll have enough strength to wipe them out before they can finish the ship off."

"Pfft, I know what's running through his head, Winters," Makarov said, "but it's a bad move. A lot of veteran Salamis cruisers don't survive against a pass by one of the Aggressor skirts, and Jintsu isn't up their standards. S'a dead boat, and there's nothing those GMs can do to stop it, so they should've all attacked the Musais; sending one dilutes their forces. Yelot has enough to either take out the skirts or to take out the ships, once either is accomplished he can move on to the remaining target. But attacking both is not the right move."

"You really think so, sir?"

Makarov sighed. "I'll explain it using small words, Lieutenant. In '83 at Konpeitoh my Salamis, a large, up-gunned version with the best set of gunners I've ever seen aboard a ship, got knocked out by a single skirt on just one pass. If it hadn't been larger than the typical cruiser, and carrying more armor, I wouldn't be here today. I'll be surprised if Jintsu destroys even one of those skirts with its defensive fire, their AA has been pathetic all along. An' they don't have enough suits to make use of a Keeper, so they're going to get reamed."

"A 'Keeper'? What's that, sir?"

"Oh, a personal term of mine. It's a mobile suit kept back to guard the ship while the main unit is off doing the traditional ZOINKS. During the war it was a hell of an effective way to supplement the ship's native defensive fire. The idea never caught on with other units, though, even ones with enough suits to make it practical."



An RGM-79Q

Yelot cursed himself as Jintsu exploded in the distance. "All right, Browning, we're going after those damned suits! Time for you to put your money where your mouth is."

Neither Titan tried to communicate as they closed with the Rick Doms, though both adopted the same style of approach by not even attempting to match velocities with the Aggressor units, instead going for the same high-speed pass for which their Dom counterparts had been specialized. The Aggressor pilots had begun braking so that they could rendezvous with their motherships and return to base. With Jintsu gone, the Titans could afford to expend their own propellant in any manner whatsoever.

Minutes passed in silence for Yelot, but eventually the chunky enemy mobile suits appeared on his forward screen. He opened up at extreme range with his rifle, and watched his tracers come ever closer to one of the skirted suits; Browning followed suit a half-dozen seconds later. As his suit quickly reloaded, the senior Titan switched his targeting to the enemy unit Browning had been after, as it had stopped maneuvering when Browning's tracers stopped appearing, the Aggressor pilot correctly identifying the pause in Browning's fire as the result of an empty magazine. But Yelot, having opened fire first, and begun reloading first, was prepared to recommence firing earlier than his young subordinate. The Dom previously under his own fire had never stopped taking evasive action, and Yelot gave its pilot a nod of approval; the Dom's wingman was not so fortunate, as seven of Yelot's nine-round burst hit, neatly bunched in the target's upper-left torso.

There was no time for Yelot to celebrate his kill, however, as the mobile suits were about to interplane, and one of the Doms -- Yelot's first target -- unexpectedly and expertly angled next to Yelot's Quel and slashed with its heat rod. The Titan was trying to line up a shot and had no time to dodge away from the blow, but the high closing speed meant that the Dom's weapon didn't have the time required to slice completely through the GM, shattering the ceramic blade as the two suits passed each other. The Dom had done its duty, however, as the damage alarms in Yelot's cockpit quickly made clear. The blow had nearly torn off the right arm, and left it useless, while the head and left shoulder had sustained shock damage from the impact, and one of the casualties was the computer handling AMBAC. As the distance opened between the mobile suits, Yelot's Quel was convinced that it was out of balance and attempted to correct for pressures which did not exist, sending the machine into a minutes-long spin that only ended when the vernier propellant tanks ran dry. But by that time, Yelot was so distant and disoriented that he had no idea what had happened to either of his subordinates.

---

EFS Mule

Winters and Makarov watched without comment as the icons denoting the Quels of Browning and Yelot met the icons of the Aggressor Rick Doms. Makarov acknowledged the disappearance of one of the Dom icons with a grunt, but Winters asked the recon pilot to determine which Titan had scored the kill. Before the question was out of his mouth, however, one Quel began arcing crazily away from its prior course track, while the other icon disappeared altogether, along with another Rick Dom.

"Ensign Lopresti reports that Yelot scored that first kill," Radioman Dettweiler reported in response to Winters' query, "and he says that Browning and Mittler were victims of mutual destruction."

"So, it's all down to Ensign Tsib," Winters announced without prompting.

"Pfeh," Makarov said with a look of disgust. "These Titans make me sick. All that top-line equipment, and they don't have the personnel to make use of it decently. 'Political reliability' has no ZOINKS business being part of the criteria to decide how to distribute personnel. Yelot 'n Pemco aren't bad leaders, but they ain't been given the material needed to fulfill their duties. God help us all if the Titans are ever expected to perform against serious resistance."

The exec choose to ignore the sentence, instead putting a different question on the table. "How does one defend against something like that, sir? The high-speed attack run with bazookas?"

Makarov looked up and gave the other a measuring look. "With a Salamis? You hope that your gunnery crew is as competent as ours an' open up with long-range beam fire to make the pilots sweat. In the mean time, you muster all the damage control parties in the center of the ship and vacuum the air out of the compartments. Then you start praying to the deity of your choice."

Winters said nothing for a moment, his face turned to the floor but his eyes not seeing the screen. "How much help does a 'Keeper' provide, sir?"

"Some," Makarov said, his tone stating his reservations more than his words. "Depends on how good a shot the pilot is, and how good a beam rifle the suit can support. Aimed mobile suit fire is a lot more effective at discouraging enemies to come in close enough to have a good chance at hitting, and I've known 'em to intercept incoming bazooka rounds with vulcan fire."

"So you would consider keeping Mr. Rohrbacher back to act as our Keeper? His suit is the only one in our team to mount a long-range beam rifle."

Makarov nodded curtly. "I told the brass he was around to snipe in conjunction with the scout abilities of the rest of the team, but that was just smoke to blow up the asses of our so-called superiors at Jaburo. I head-hunted Rohrbacher and his machine based upon this crate's need for a Keeper. Course, at the time I didn't realize how effective our defensive weaponry would be, but I sure as hell sleep easier at night knowing that Four-Zero will be around to thicken this baby's defenses, even if they're damned good to begin with."

"Sir, contact expected between Holstein and Capulin in fifteen minutes," sensor operator Cutter announced, fiddling with her equipment

Winters looked down at the floor as a new tactical display was brought up. "Well, skipper, what are your opening predictions on this one?"

A grunt was his first reply, and nothing was added to it for several minutes. "The mobile suit action is a foregone conclusion, Win," Makarov said judiciously. "The Titans still haven't figured out how to use their Hizacks properly. Even if the Titans get a mobile suit or two through the Aggressor lines, though, it won't matter. The lot of us are about to be treated to a master's display of ship-board fire control."

"I was under the impression that this was the first exercise Hotspur's crew would be participating in since joining the Aggressor squadron."

"That's what I heard, too," Makarov agreed, evilly, "and I made certain that the ZOINKS Titans knew about it. But unless they've done their homework, they won't discover that this isn't the first time Hotspur's XO has been in charge of a Musai's weapons. And it's a veteran Aggressor crew in the suits, anyway, which is what'll probably be the deciding factor. Unless Bil Bush decides he wants to humiliate the Titans even in a ship-to-ship fight, which he might."

---

TSC Holstein

Pemco morosely watched his mobile suits as they were thrown off the ship.

"Do you think we'll win today, sir?" Avy asked quietly from his place by Pemco's shoulder.

His answer came in the form of a derisive snort. "Maint couldn't lead a mobile suit attack against a lavatory," Pemco said to forestall other questions. "Over the holiday cease-fire we'll have to try a new style and keep him under close supervision around the ship. I don't relish tying down a whole team to our apron strings, but the man simply isn't up to independent assignment. Maybe I can convince Commander Satain to trade suit teams with us, or at least team leaders; Yelot's wasted in his present billet."

"Well, sir, at least the men are getting accustomed to defeat," Avy put in philosophically. "I think they're handling the constant string of embarrassing losses fairly well, and efficiency in damage control has certainly gone up since we arrived at LaGrange Five."

"Our gunners have gotten more accurate, as well," Pemco said approvingly, "even if it has yet to significantly impact our performance in any of these scenarios."

---

Aggressor Cruiser Capulin

The tall man in the uniform of a Federation Lieutenant gestured to the enlisted man working the communications console. "It's time. Tell Moseby to get his sorry ass of this ship."

"Aye, aye, sir," the technician replied.

The Lieutenant turned to the woman working the late-model Musai's weapons. "I hope running this bucket's weapons is like riding a bicycle for you, Kelly," he said, only a trace of anxiety creeping into his voice.

The woman, her uniform also sporting the insignia of a Federation Lieutenant, laughed gently. "No need to worry, Captain. No sooner had we arrived then I got a message from the Commodore suggesting that I reacquaint myself with Musais. A 'suggestion' from Keram usually has a purpose behind it, so I spent several hours refreshing myself on the fire-control system. Have no fear about my abilities, Captain Bush. If you want to worry, I suggest doing so about these crazy pilots the Deathgod has given us."

Bush nodded, accepting her confidence, but did not noticeably relax. The ship shuddered as the first mobile suit was hurled off the ship.

---

TSC Holstein

"There goes Torad," Pemco commented evenly. "So much for the mobile suit battle."

"Fire-control, be ready to track enemy mobile suits," Avy ordered. "Concentrate on the Gelgoog, it's beam rifle will be considerable."

'Sir, the enemy mobile suits are moving wide around us," the sensor operator reported.

"Why aren't they closing in?" Avy wondered aloud.

Penco frowned, thinking silently for a few moments. "Status of the enemy cruiser?"

"Enemy cruiser is . . . moving on an intercept vector, Captain!"

"Bush is as aggressive as rumored," Pemco commented softly. "Lieutenant Doran, prepare for a ship-to-ship engagement. "Avy, go below and supervise the damage control parties. With a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, we might be able to put a reverse on the Aggressors. This commander is perhaps more rash than is safe."

---

EFS Mule

"So Bush is going to slug it out with Holstein," Winters said, disapproval strongly coloring his voice.

"In his position, I'd probably do the same," Makarov replied maliciously. "Not many skippers would have either the balls or the skill to take a lone Musai up against one of these new cruisers, but while Bush's movements look rash and ill-considered, he's got a gunner who, alone among Federation officers, has combat experience in a Musai." He looked at his subordinate. "She's also the best damn gunnery officer in the Space Force, and I'll bet'cha Pemco doesn't even know she exists, or if he does, has no clue that she's working for Bush now."

Winters paused. "Just how good is she, sir?"

Makarov gave his understudy a dose of the sickly grin. "Chief Younggren," he called out, "what is your assessment of Kelly Tuner's gunnery abilities?"

The woman manning Mule's weapon console looked up from her tactical plot. "Lieutenant Turner is the best, sir. She had more mobile suit kills in the war than most mobile suit companies, and bagged more than her share of ships, too. Taught me everything I know, Mr. Winters," she concluded.

"Pemco's probably thinking that Bush is bein' over-eager," the Hunchback cackled. "Hope he's not gettin' too discouraged by his losin' streak, 'cause it ain't over just yet."

"I think, sir, that you're deriving too much pleasure from what you anticipate as his approaching discomfiture."

"Winters, Holstein has about as much chance to come out of this in one piece as a snowflake has of landing on Oahu."

---

TSC Holstein

"As soon as they get within range of the main batteries, Lieutenant Doran, open up with all turrets and the missiles. I want everything we can throw at them to be used. If I thought it might help, I'd put the mechanics on the hull with rifles. Don't worry about hitting at first, just try to shake them."

"Consider them shaken, skipper," the weapons officer replied confidently.

---

Aggressor Cruiser Capulin

"Helm, execute maneuver on my mark," Bush ordered serenely, hovering over the shoulder of the sensor tech, his unblinking eyes fixed upon the tactical display. "Five, four, three, two, one, mark."

The young officer responsible for moving the old Zeon cruiser fired the dorsal and port attitude thrusters, moving the warship down and to the side of its previous course without pulling the bow of the ship away from its prey. As the thrusters flared into life, the magnified image of the new Salamis cruiser spat fire from all its forward-firing turrets and the bow was wreathed in flame as missiles sallied forth from the tubes mounted in front of the mobile suit hangar.

"My, our friend must have thought we were going to continue in fat, dumb and happy," Bush said with mock surprise. "Fire at your discretion, Lieutenant Turner."

Turner didn't reply immediately, her eyes as intent upon her screen as her commander's upon the main tactical display. She gently touched a key. "Mega particle guns firing," she replied calmly. "Firing missiles . . . now," she said, pressing another button.

---

EFS Mule

Makarov didn't even try not to gloat as four of Capulin's mega particle beams intersected with the Titan cruiser. None of Holstein's weapons made contact with the Musai, the minor maneuver initiated by the Aggressor craft as it entered weapons range having been significant enough to ruin the detailed fire-control calculations. "That, Winters, is what happens with a veteran command team!" he sniggered. "Pemco shows promise, but he still needs some seasoning."

---

24 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5
Warship Dock #3
TSC Jintsu


Lieutenant Sulate found Yelot in the wardroom, opening a drink pouch from the dispenser; his clothing was all awry, his tunic unfastened and the tails streaming out behind him in the microgravity. He didn't look up as door opened, didn't know she was nearby at all until she touched his arm.

"Oh, good morning, Lieutenant, if it is morning," Yelot said tiredly. He tried to pat his hair down, in vain, but nothing he could do would be able to hide his baggy red eyes or the gaunt, exhausted look in his face.

"I'm sorry to trouble you so early, Low, especially since we only got back into port a couple hours ago. You did as well as could be expected in the exercise, though . . ."

He winced. "Can we strike the last exercise from the list of possible conversation topics?" he asked plaintively. "This is the wardroom, whatever happened to not talking politics, religion or shop in here?" Yelot took a deep breath and let it out slowly, followed by a long pull from his drink pouch "“ lite beer, Sulate noticed. "I know you mean well, Columbia, but I'm fine. Really, I am." A bitter laugh escaped his lips. "I'm getting quite used to losing to the Aggressors; I've had a lot of practice at it." He looked up again at her. "But, damnit, we should have had them that time! Pemco came up with a ZOINKS brilliant plan . . . except for the fact that our dear Captain ZOINKSain had to actually execute the thing."

"I didn't come here to console you about yesterday's exercise, Low," Sulate said quietly. "I came to warn you . . . we're getting a new pilot in a few days."

"Great, just what I need," Yelot snarled bitterly, "another dipshit who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. Or are they sending me a vet'ran?" he asked eagerly.

"I "“ I suppose he's experienced," Sulate began, then paused, biting her lip. "But he "“ he won't actually be your problem, Low," she said cautiously.

Yelot looked at her uncomprehendingly. "Not my problem? If he's a pilot he's my problem."

"No, Low," Sulate said miserably, "he's a pilot, but he won't be your problem . . . you'll be his. Satain's placing him in command of the MS team because he's not satisfied with your competence."

"My competence. [/i]My[/i] competence?" Yelot asked furiously. "Who the ZOINKS is he to question my competence! That . . . damnit, I don't have good enough adjectives to express my thoughts about his competence! Where the hell does he get off, questioning my abilities! He's the one who couldn't lead a group of kid scouts on an outing to sell popcorn!"

Sulate let him work everything out, and when he was calm she gave him the rest of the details. "Cypress is coming, bringing out our new pilot, and one for Holstein. Command evidently feels that three-suit teams aren't cutting the mustard on these new Salamis-types, so we're tossing in an additional unit. The Space Force is starting to lean that way, as well.

"Cypress is still working up to combat readiness, when we shipped out here from Luna Deuce she only had half a MS company, so either it's been filled out or they stole some personnel from somewhere else. A Lieutenant Bate is going to be senior MS officer, but I don't know much about him."

"Bate? Last I heard he was on Al Giza, has been since she commissioned," Yelot mused. "Well, at least he's a real combat vet, from the war. Hope he has fun getting our lot to follow orders; it's not my business any more." Suddenly he laughed, drained his drink, and laughed again.

"What is it, Low?"

"I just realized that it really isn't my business any more how our two delinquents behave; I hope Browning and Tsib give this new ZOINKS as rough a time as they gave me; I sure as hell won't be sympathetic." Yelot fastened the snaps to his shirt and pushed the tails beneath the waistband of his trousers. "Permission to leave the ship, ma'am?" he asked formally.

"For what purpose," Sulate asked suspiciously.

"For the purpose of getting drunk, ma'am!" Yelot said with a desperate sort of cheerfulness.

Sulate sighed, but nodded. "Permission granted," she said wearily.

---

24 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5



Low Yelot awoke from his musings and looked up, wondering where his thoughtless rambling had taken him. He frowned at the signs on the wall. "What the hell," he muttered to himself. "It's not going to make me feel any worse."

He turned, following the signs to the brig, nodded to the poor bastards who'd drawn guard duty on the holiday evening, and made his way down the rows of cells. Down the hall, roughly where he recalled Mullet being housed, he saw a Federation officer, female. As he shuffled closer, he recognized her as the XO of the Musai which had slaughtered Holstein. She was sitting with her back against the wall opposite Mullet's cell, a take-out box with the remains of a simplified Christmas Eve Dinner on the ground beside her.

". . . --madore was down to see me earlier today, it seems that a new cruiser, the Norway, is coming this way, due in on the 29th or 30th. Want to guess who her pilots are?" the officer was saying, oblivious to Yelot's approach. "Nope, keep guessing. Oh, all right, spoilsport," she said teasingly. "Actually, I only know the lead pilot, Deathgod wouldn't give me the names of the other pilots, though he got that look in his eyes that he has when he knows a surprise is about to blow up in the face of someone else. Mel Doherty will be joining us for a few weeks of fun and games.

"Oh, and while we're on the subject of old shipmates, I had a letter from Rick yesterday; it seems he'll be assuming command of the refitted cruiser Sichuan in early February,"

The Titan couldn't make out the reply, though he heard a low voice respond.

"No, nothing yet," the woman said, glancing down. "I've only been XO for a year or so, can't expect things to move too quickly."

Yelot halted.

"Thirteen months," he could hear Mullet say, and even catch the sober tone of voice.

"Hmm? What's thirteen months?" the woman asked quizzically.

"You've been XO of Hotspur for thirteen months, one week, and a few days," Mullet's voice said quietly. "And you've been a full Lieutenant for three years, seven months, and eleven days. Or twelve, if it's past midnight."

"Has it been that long already?" she asked a bit dreamily. "God, it seems like it was only yesterday that I made jay-gee on Mindanao."

"That's six years ago now, almost to the minute."

"So it is . . . so it is . . ."

"When they give you a ship again, ma'am, let me know. I'll ask for a transfer."

"You'd leave the Aggressors?" Surprise blossomed onto the woman's face, quickly followed by a hint of suspicion.

"To serve under your command again, yes, ma'am. You did pretty damned well as a ten-day-old jay-gee, and you've had some better teachers than . . . what's-his-name."

"What's-his-name? Chief, Mindanao's skipper was a woman!" the officer said reprovingly. "Purcell, first name began with an 'A' or an 'E', I think."

Yelot chuckled without realizing it, but the woman heard the sound and finally noticed his presence. "Is there something I can do for you, Lieutenant?" she asked warily.

"My apologies, I didn't intend to interrupt," Yelot offered.

"My ass," Mullet grumbled. "I recognize that insincere voice. That's you, isn't it, Earthnoid?"

"Yes, Chief, it is," the Titan admitted, ignoring the insolent tone. "I found myself wandering through the corridors, lost in thought, until I noticed I was right outside your, ah, quarters. Figured I'd drop by and say hello."

"ZOINKS, I can hear you squirming in your boots," Mullet quipped.

"Language, Chief," the Federation officer warned. She stood, straightened her tunic and extended a hand. "We haven't been introduced yet, though I know you're Lieutenant Yelot, leading the GMs on Jintsu," she said graciously. "My name is Kelly Turner."

Yelot jammed his hands into his pockets, his back against the wall, and slid to the ground. "I was the leader of the Quels, yes," he said morosely.

Turner lowered her hand and dropped to the ground, letting no acknowledgment of the Titan's snub show in her expression. "You're being transferred?"

"Betcha he's not," Mullet intoned. "Are they shippin' you out, Earthnoid, or shippin' someone else in to superceed you?"

Yelot worked a flask of amber liquid free from his pocket. "Neither," he said, pulling the stopper. "They're bringing someone junior to me in and putting me under his command." The now-open container made a jittery path to his lips. "Snot-nosed bastard arrives in three days on Cypress," he said after a pull at the bottle. "Maint's getting a fourth Hizack, too, but is staying in command. Bastard."

Turner looked helplessly at Mullet.

"I see," the prisoner drawled. "Welcome to my life, Lieutenant Earthnoid. Screwed in the ass by the people you are forced to obey."

"Chief! That's not helping" Turner whispered fiercely. "You of all people should be able to empathize with Yelot!"

"Empathize? With a ZOINKS' Titan? With a jackbooted masturbater who ain't even smart enough to question the ZOINKS his superiors want him to believe? I'd rather--"

Yelot was dimly aware of Turner sending a whithering glare at Mullet, then heard a martyr's sigh come from the cell.

An awkward pause ensued.

"Y'know, I really don't get you, Earthnoid," Mullet said suddenly. "From what Meade's said about your behavior in the war, and from everything I've seen of you here, you're a mystery."

"Wha'd'ya mean, Spay'noid?" Yelot slurred back, his recent alcohol intake already affecting him.

Mullet appeared in the front of his cell, leaning forward against the bars, staring at the Titan. "You're an officer and a gentleman, Earthnoid, much as it pains me to admit it. I wish the Federation had twenty just like you; in my years, I've run across about five. You threw away a promotion in the Space Force to join the black shirts, and now they've ZOINKS on your face 'cuz you've been saddled with an incompetent skipper who probably doesn't even know how to answer a call of nature, to say nothing of a tactical problem. What the ZOINKS are you doing in the Titans? You're no true-blue Earth-supremacist; you only look like one 'cuz you ain't put the effort into thinking about it yet."

Yelot tried to raise his head and meet the stare coming at him from across the way, but his head fell to the side. "If I wasn't in the Titans, Mullet, then it'd be everything you accuse it of being. I don't think the concept of the Titans is wrong, though I wish the execution was a bit better."

"Keep tellin' yerself that, Earthnoid, an' maybe you'll come to believe it," Mullet said, shaking his head sadly and retreating back into the depths of his cell. "I hope you remember where you stashed your tans, though, 'cuz one o' these days you're gonna want 'em back."


Last edited by Black Knight on Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chapter 5: The Sound of the Clarion




28 December 0084
Konpeitoh, L5



Keram, Oruma and Makarov watched from the control room outside the Aggressor's docking bay as the heavy cruiser Cypress began the final act of docking with the asteroid fortress.

"This ain't what you wanted to deal with in the new year, is it, eh?" Makarov said darkly. "Another batch of arrogant black shirts."

"No, it isn't," Oruma replied, shortly. "They even went through with their threat to bring a platoon of their own MPs 'to maintain order.'" He sighed. "Well, I don't expect one Alex and another dozen suits to make much difference in their overall performance. It just means we get to use larger forces against them. That'll make our pilots happy, they rarely get to operate in company-sized formations."

"Cypress's Hizack team is quite good," Keram warned softly, "and while their normal Quel unit is new, formed almost entirely of recent graduates from the Academy, they've stolen the command team from Al Giza for their jaunt here, since that ship is in spacedock for repairs. That trio has been together since the war, and saw quite a bit of action against Delaz's forces, as well. And don't forget that the teams on Jintsu and Holstein are being augmented."

"Niver, Market and Masters don't seem overly worried, especially since you're bringing out the 'Clarion' scenario," Oruma put in. "Hell, even I'll get to have some fun in that one now that I get to exchange salvos with an Alex. I'll be curious to see how that thing stands up against Vesuvius."

"Are you gonna let my pilot out of the brig?" Makarov asked.

"He'll do his time, same as anyone else," Oruma shot back, a little hotly.

"Ain't what I meant, Ray," Makarov said, a note of annoyance in his voice. "Are you gonna let him out after he's payed his debt to the service? These new arrivals, what, triple the Titan presence here? Much more, if'n you include their MPs."

Oruma looked blankly at the 'Hunchback'. "I hadn't considered that," he admitted.

"That's 'cuz you always play by the rules, Ray. Me, I'm gonna feel bad for those poor, unsuspecting MPs, even if they are Titans."

"We're letting him out," Keram said firmly. "He's one of the few pilots who heard the original Clarion, and I find it fitting that he pass along what he learned from that experience."

"How do you propose to keep him out of trouble until we start the exercise, sir?"

"You know, Raymond," Keram said, smiling at his old friends, "I've found that one of the benefits of being a commodore is that one does not have to concern oneself with petty details of that sort; one has the power to delegate. I trust you and Market to handle the matter."

"Oh, thanks, sir," Oruma groaned, causing Markarov to guffaw gleefully.



TSC Jintsu
Mobile Suit Hangar


Yelot watched sourly as a freshly-painted GM Quel was ferried down the elevator, but no matter how hard he looked he was unable to find any fault with the machine, or by extension its pilot.

"So, this is the new boss, eh, Yelot?" Browning snickered from behind. "High 'n mighty Yelot replaced by someone fresh from the Zero-Gravity Advanced course. Out with the old, in with the new."

"Yeah, maybe this guy'll appreciate our talents, Paul," Tsib remarked, as happy at the prospect of a new leader as Browning.

Yelot ground his teeth and ignored the younger pilots.

The cockpit hatch opened, and a figure emerged as the mechanics swarmed over the mobile suit. The pilot was on the tall side of medium, and muscular. When he removed his helmet, shoulder-length brown hair spilled wildly out. The man looked around, spotted Yelot and the others, and pushed off his mobile suit to rendezvous with them.

He muffed the landing, smacking stomach-first into the railing of the walkway on which Yelot waited, bringing a nasty smile to the veteran's face.

"Good morning, sir," Yelot said, intentionally overdoing the cheerfulness in his voice. "Welcome to Jintsu, my name is Low Yelot."

"Ah, hello," the other man said, his face red from his embarrassing landing, "I'm Trevor, Trevor Howard. It's, er, nice to be here. Are you in command of the mobile suit team?"

"No, sir, I am not," Yelot said brightly. "You are, sir. These," he turned sideways, gesturing to the men behind him, "are the other members of the team, sir, Ensign Paul Browning, and Ensign Tip Tsib. When you're ready, sir, I'd be happy to take you to Commander Satain, who is waiting for you on the bridge."

"Th-thank you, Lieutenant," Howard stammered, obviously flustered. "I was told that this crew had an experienced suit leader, has something happened to him?"

"Oh, no, Lieutenant," Yelot said earnestly. "But Commander Satain has decided that your qualifications surpass those of our previous commander. If you're ready, sir, I'll take you to the Commander now."

"Uh, sure. Thank you, Lieutenant, please, ah, lead the way?"

---

Aggressor Planning Room
29 December 0084


Oruma was surprised to see Harlock and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Sally Masters already hard at work when he arrived for the scheduled planning session.

"You could have let me know you were starting early, Derek," he harped, sitting down.

Harlock looked up, taken unawares by the comment. "Sorry, Ray, it was kinda spur-of-the-moment. I'd intended to get here early to go over the previous uses of the 'Clarion' scenario, but Sally beat me to it. Things just took off from there."

"I see," Oruma replied, mollified. "What has your sifting of old after action reports told you?"

Harlock glanced at Masters, who took a moment before fielding the question. "Well, sir, mostly we decided that Zakus and Rick Doms are poor substitutes for Gelgoog B and C types. And we were considering sticking governors on the One-Seventeens, to create a better simulation of the Ace Corps machines."

"Interesting idea," Oruma mused. "I've always thought that our simulations of this scenario paled in comparison to the real thing."

"I felt the same way," Harlock said, "which is why I like the idea of using our half-dozen Galbaldies. With them, our two F-types, and the B-type, we can give a much nastier surprise to our adversaries."

"And yet still justify it as merely getting closer to the actual battle." Oruma smiled. "I like it. Suggestion approved."

"Thank you, sir," Masters said, smiling in return. "There is, however, a downside. It takes several of our regular pilots out of the line-up, since we only have six people familiar enough with the Galbaldy to do justice to the operation. Normally, Mittler and Togra pilot the second pair of skirts on this scenario, and I've been taking the second F-type. With Mittler's and my teams in the One-Seventeens, we've holes in our line-up."

"But we can fill those with the people who now won't have to pilot Zakus in this one," Oruma noted. "Steinway and Brennan can still take out a pair of Rick Doms, so all we'll need to do is find another MS-09 pilot, and someone to take over the Gelgoog Marine you're leaving empty, Masters."

"That's right, the problem is figuring out who to put where." Harlock looked Oruma dead in the eye. "I want to put Mullet in the F-type; he and Meade work great together. And, if possible, I'd like to put Arras in Lieutenant Niver's slot."

"Hmm, I can see some benefits to that," Oruma said, mulling the idea over. "Who do you want for the third skirt, then?"

"We were thinking Pitts, sir," Masters replied. "He's put a lot of time in on Rick Dom simulators, and is the primary alternate for that type."

"Good choice, then, Lieutenant." Oruma walked to a communications panel built into one of the walls. Picking up the phone, he dialed the brig. "This is Oruma. Would you please bring the prisoner Mullet to the planning room? Thank you, Corporal." He looked back at the other officers. "The only hurdle I can see is that Mullet's sworn that he'd never pilot a Gelgoog."

"Really, sir?" Masters asked, obviously surprised. "I can't imagine why."

"I don't know the reason, either, Lieutenant, except that I've heard he took the original Clarion attack poorly, and hated Gelgoogs after the bloody mess at A Baoa Qu. That's why I sent for him, so you could make your pitch for putting him in one." Oruma returned to the table Masters and Harlock occupied. "Have you given any thought to the warship crews? Or even which ships you'll use?"

Harlock grinned. "Well, after a long, brutal argument, we decided that Vesuvius, under the command of some ignorant bastard named Oruma, would more or less have to be included in the assault, as none of our other ships can properly handle half a dozen Galbaldies."

"I appreciate that, Derek," Oruma announced wryly.

"As for the Musai contingent, it pretty much has to be Cleveland, Fuji and Capulin, since they're they only ships able to handle the big-frame suits. Figure we load the skirts on Cleveland along with Crystal and the kids from Lydia, let Emilio and his people from Sutherland take the 14-Fs on Fuji, and put Bush, Turner, and the Hotspur folks back on Capulin, to cover your ass in the Z-bar, and to carry the third skirt and the B-type. With a setup like that, you ought to burn through the Titans like the Delaz squadron through the advanced force."

"I'm not sure I like your choice of analogies, Derek," Oruma said, eyes narrowing, "but nevertheless I find it somehow appropriate. That takes care of the force structure for now, then. How do you want to conduct the operation itself?"

The three spent the next ten minutes hammering out a rough draft of the proposed operation plan, and were annoyed when the door opened. Two men wearing MP brassards stepped through, with Mullet between them.

"Commander, the prisoner is here," one of the MPs announced.

"Thank you, Corporal," Oruma said. "Mullet, are you going to be reasonable today?"

"I s'pose, Commander," Mullet said, looking around. "Don't see no black shirts in here."

"You two wait outside, then. We'll send him out when I'm finished with him."

"So, what's the to-do, Commander?" Mullet asked when the soldiers had excused themselves. "You ain't one to let me out on good conduct."

Oruma glanced at Masters. "It's your idea, Lieutenant, you sell it to him."

"Oh, this'll be good," Mullet said, crossing his arms expectantly.

"I think it is, Chief," Masters replied. "You've heard, no doubt, that we're running the 'Clarion' against the Titans on the 2nd. I want you to take my place in one of the Marines. Now, I know you're not familiar with the type, Mullet," she said quickly when he opened his mouth to speak. "However, you've logged more flight time than anyone else, and you've fought Gelgoogs on more occasions than anyone else in the unit. In short, you know more about the capabilities of the Gelgoog than any of the other pilots who haven't flown one personally."

"**** NO I'm not using one of those Kelgoos!" Mullet snarled. "You can take that idea, Lieutenant, and shove it up a Titan's ass."

"Chief! You will keep a civil tongue!" Oruma fired back.

"And you, Commander, will give that ****ing Kelgoo to another pilot," Mullet shouted. "I'll burn in hell before I so much as step inside one. I fly Zakus and GMs, thats it. I don't give two ZOINKS if its the 'needs of the Service' or if you throw me back in the brig for another three weeks!"

"Calm down, Simon," Harlock said, "and you, too, Ray; yelling and screaming isn't going to do any of us any good."

Mullet, startled, looked appraisingly at Harlock. "What gives, sir? You ain't the mediator type. Norm'ly you'd let me and 'Ragin' Ray' rip each others heads off."

"Well, Chief," Harlock said, smiling again, "that's because normally you don't mean anything by it. This time, however, I think there's something behind this. You really don't want to fly a Gelgoog."

"**** no, sir," Mullet said, emotion charging his voice. "I lost too much to those machines to ever want to use one."

"Why not?" Masters asked. "Sure, they did a lot of damage. But so did Zakus and Musais, but you don't have problems with them, do you?"

"Ma'am, I cut my teeth with Zakus, and a Musai was the first ship I operated from in Ought-Gee. And it wasn't a stinking Zaku that . . ." He pointedly snapped his mouth shut, glaring at the officers.

"We seem to be at something of an impasse, then," Harlock delicately said. "I'd really like you on this operation, Chief; you're the only pilot we have on-site that was there when it happened. Are you willing to pilot a Rick Dom? I'd much rather you were in one of the Marines, but if it's a choice between having you in a Dom and not having you at all, I'm willing to settle for a Dom."

Mullet immediately opened his mouth for a snap reply, but closed it without saying anything. "Why won't you let me fly a Zaku?" he asked, suspicion in his voice. "We usually run half a dozen in the Clarion scenario."

"We aren't planning to take any Zakus this time around, Chief," Harlock said.

"That's in'restin', given that we only have seven machines that aren't Zakus, and 'Clarion' calls for a dozen suits. What're you doing, stealing some from somewhere else?"

"Something like that," Masters admitted, grinning. "We're installing governors on the two Galbaldy teams, to mimic Gelgoog capabilities."

That caused Mullet to blink and turn thoughtful. "So, instead of hitting the black shirts with three Gelgoogs, they'll be facing nine. Now that's a plan worthy of you, Commander Harlock. But why are you taking Skirts for the three remaining suits, sir? Wouldn't, say, the Ought-Six-Ess and the pair of Zaku Kais be a better bet? Or, since I suppose you want Ensign Steinway and Heidi on this op, keep their two skirts, but take a Zaku FZ instead of a third skirt. Between nine Kelgoo-wannabes and two skirts, you've got plenty of anti-ship capabilities. Wha'd'you expect to gain from a third skirt?"

"Interesting suggestion, Chief," Harlock said distantly, mulling the suggestion over. "The FZ does have better performance than the skirts. In some ways, it's even a better machine than the Gelgoog-F. What do you think, Sally?"

Masters rubbed her chin for a moment, then cast an appraising glance at Mullet. "You'll fly the FZ for us?"

He shrugged. "If you want me to, ma'am."

That raised a snort of amusement from Oruma. "Pretending that you wouldn't jump at the chance to be in the 'Clarion' against the Titans, Chief? That doesn't seem like you."

Mullet turned on the commander. "I don't take the 'Clarion' lightly, sir. Maybe the original didn't look so bad from where you were sitting on Sendai, but it was pretty damned terrifying from the cockpit of a mobile suit." The chief abruptly stood up and walked to the door of room. Upon opening it he said, "Take me home, Corp, I don't feel like being charged with assaulting an officer today."

"I thought it was only A Baoa Qu that he hated to relive," Harlock mused, almost to himself.

"You know, Derek," Oruma said thoughtfully, "one of these days I'm going to have to stop underestimating him."

"Not completely your fault, Ray," Harlock replied firmly. "He's too good at pretending to be less than he is. I think he enjoys playing the part of the hard-assed, uncomplicated knuckle-dragger who'd slug you as soon as look at you."

"Sir, what happened to him at the 'Clarion'?" Masters asked. "He's never talked about it. Come to that, he almost never talks about his experiences in the war."

"I don't know what's still eating him about the 'Clarion', Lieutenant," Oruma admitted. "He had a longer, rougher war than most. On a ship, you don't usually have to suffer watching your friends slowly die one by one, because either all of you survive, or all of you die. Mobile suit pilots aren't so lucky."

---

31 December 0084
Aggressor General Mess


The party was already well under way when Mullet walked in at 22:47.

"ZOINKS, they let you out on schedule?" Meade, the first person to spot him, asked rhetorically and loudly. "I figured they'd retain you another day in protective custody or some such ZOINKS."

"Nice to see you, too, Ketch," Mullet shot back, grinning. "Nah, they let me out right at twenty-two hundred; I cleaned up before I came here. How are our dear friends from outside the Space Force hierarchy doing?"

"The black shirts are sticking mostly to themselves, those that actually showed up at all, anyway." Meade gestured towards one of the temporary bars set up in a corner. "Most of 'em are over there, and they don't look too keen on mingling."

"Which of them came?"

"Yelot and Lieutenant Sulate from Jintsu, Pemco and his exec from Holstein, and most of the pilots from Cypress. Three of them were stolen from Al Giza: Bate, Monsha, and Adel, once of EFS Albion, and egotistically known as the 'Immortal' 04th Team."

"Monsha . . . isn't he the dumbass with a reputation for attempted womanizing?"

"That's the guy," Meade affirmed. "He's already gotten slapped at least three times a day since he arrived. Nothing's happened tonight, yet. He's been hitting the booze hard for more than an hour; I'm hoping that he'll pass out soon, so we can get through the night without incident."

"I could go for that," Mullet agreed, surprising his friend. "Anyone from Norway showed up yet?"

"The skipper, exec, and most of the command crew; her pilots have been strangely absent. Some of our people aren't in yet, either."

"Anyone we know flying off Norway? I heard that Lieutenant Doherty was their leader; she's a known quantity. Who else they got?"

"I'm not familiar with either of the others, though Nikoden said he knew at least one of them during the war. A Lieutenant Sakamura."

"ZOINKS, they promoted her again? Guess someone on the promotion boards had the hots for her," Mullet said, annoyed. "Well, she may not have any leadership skills, but she's a damn fine pilot." He grinned suddenly. "This is certainly going to be an entertaining party if she shows up."

"You know her, too, eh? Well, I guess that makes sense, you and Nikoden did serve in the same task group in the war. The other pilot is a big, quiet warrant named Theodore Mekki."

"Mekki? No ZOINKS?" Mullet asked surprised. "How the hell did Doherty cop a pair of wingmen like Sakamura and Mekki? And it's Teodor, not Theodore. He's a hell of a fire-support guy. Whoever ends up skirmishing Norway is going to have their hands full."

"Well, that's looking like Market and Nikoden's teams; everyone else is being thrown into the 'Clarion'. Gainer and I are even getting saddled with Niver, while you're being sent to play with Steinway and Brennan. I dunno if assigning an FZ to a pair of Rick Doms will work, but that's certain to be an interesting team."

"They caved, eh?" Mullet said, soberly. "Oh, well, the FZ is a hotter stick than what I flew the first time."

Behind them the door opened, and half a dozen people stepped through. "Simon!" a high-pitched and very feminine voice nearly shrieked. The two Aggressor pilots turned around just before a petite, painfully cute Asian woman with long, rich black hair slammed into Mullet's midriff, giving him a large, joyous hug. "How has my dear simple Si-mon been the last few years, hmm?" she asked in a sing-song voice, grinning up at his face.

"Permission to speak freely, ma'am?" Mullet asked with uncharacteristic formality.

"Ma'am? Ma'am?" she pouted theatrically. "You're going to call me ma'am after all we've done together? Si-mon, that's not nice! I may be an officer, but we still bunked together once upon a time!"

"The hell?" Meade gasped.

Another of the newcomers walked up. "Don't let 'em bother you, Mister Meade," the tall, dusky man said. "They're just old friends."

"Just old friends?" Meade asked, obviously unbelieving.

Mullet smiled at his friend, slipping one arm around the woman at his side. "Just old friends, Ketch. But surely you've already met Lieutenant Sakamura. You must not have told her that we're in the same team, though, or else she'd have been all over you, too."

The woman smacked him playfully on the chest. "I would not, Simple Si-mon! I'm not as easy as I've let you think I am! Just because you took advantage of a poor, heartbroken and emotionally traumatized petty officer for nearly a week doesn't mean--"

"It's good to see you, too, Mek," Mullet said, interrupting Sakamura's rant and extending his free hand to the man at Meade's side.

"Likewise, Mullet," Teodor Mekki replied, grinning. "I somehow contained my surprise upon learning you were in hack when we arrived yesterday."

"What the hell is going on here?" Gainer Arras asked, having been attracted by the commotion. "Damn it, I should have known you were at the center of this, Mullet," he said by way of greeting his subordinates.

Mullet simply grinned. "Gainer, allow me to introduce two of my oldest friends. Teodor Mekki, who has now apparently joined the ranks of good-for-nothing warrant officers but otherwise doubtless remains at the apex of the fire-support community, and Lieutenant Miina Sakamura, the sharpest, most off-color and innuendo-given tongue in the Space Force."

Sakamura hit Mullet again. "I am not sharp-tongued! When I next get you alone, Simple Si-mon, I'm going to do things to you that would make even Derek Harlock blush!"

"I'll look forward to that, ma'am," Mullet said, obviously unconcerned.

She frowned, realizing that her threat hadn't had any effect on its target. "Harlock is still a playboy, isn't he?"

"Yes, he still wears a cravat," Mullet responded, causing Sakamura to hit him again, following it up with another hug.

"Miina told me that she knew of you, Chief," another of the newcomers said, walking up to stand next to Mekki. "She failed, however, to explain the, ah, depth of your relationship."

"Nothing to explain, ma'am," Mullet said, switching back to a formal persona. "The Lieutenant and I were in the same squadron during the latter part of the war, and we helped each other out from time to time. Until I destroyed her mobile suit, that is, after which she refused to speak to me, but rather communicated only in slaps, punches, and boot heels."

Mekki smiled at the memory. "She certainly was upset when you broke her Light Armor."

"I'm still upset at you for that one, Simon!" Sakarmura said sharply, scoring a rare laugh from Mekki for the overdone severity of her tone.

"So, Chief, who are your friends?" Doherty asked, glancing at Arras and Meade.

"I'm Gainer Arras, Lieutenant, the poor bastard who got saddled with attempting to lead this unrepentant troublemaker," Arras said, extending his hand. "I wasn't here when you were on Swiftsure, but Nikoden and Market speak highly of you."

"Nikoden? Is Nicky-poo here?" Sakamura asked Mullet earnestly.

He grinned in response. "Somewhere around here, yes, Lieutenant Sakamura."

Sakamura narrowed her eyes. "We'll talk about your insistence on unnecessary formality later tonight," she said suggestively. "For now, I must investigate why Nicky-poo has failed to inform me of his presence. Anata ja ne." She left as precipitously as she arrived, stalking through the crowd like a predatory cat.

"Another, ah, 'old friend,' Chief?" Doherty asked archly.

"Indeed, ma'am," Mullet replied, unfazed. "Lieutenant Turner is also here. Someone should probably warn Spiro, too."

"She was gone by the time he reported back to the squadron," Mekki said. "I don't think she ever met him."

"Well, then, Mek, we'll have to correct that," Mullet said mischievously.

"And who might you be," Doherty said, addressing Meade.

"This is Ketch Meade, ma'am, the third pilot in my team," Arras said quickly, glad to be back on a topic he understood. "Hottest pilot in the company, with the commensurate ego to go along with that status."

"Don't let him fool you, ma'am," Meade said easily, "I'm actually the hottest pilot on the rock. They put me in with these two malcontents so that none of the officers would look bad flying with me."

"Interesting way to introduce yourself to an officer, Mister Meade," Doherty said dryly. "I hope I won't be going up against your team any time soon."

"No need to worry about that, ma'am," Mullet put in, "You'll be dealing with Nikoden and Market's teams for the next week or ten days. The rest of us'll be too busy coping with the augmentation of our dear comrades in black, so you'll get some free shots against us."

"Perhaps, Chief," Doherty said, smiling wanly. "Well, I think I need a drink. If you gentlemen will excuse me..."

After she walked away Mekki took Mullet by the shoulder. "Are you blind, Mullet?" he asked bluntly, "or just playing stupid?"

"I don't follow you, Mek," Mullet said taken aback. "What's goin' on?"

"Maybe I am wrong, Simon, but I would say that the Lieutenant was a tad shocked and unsettled by your antics with Miina. Moreso than I'd expect a mere former CO to be."

"Well, she wasn't the only one unsettled by that," Meade stated plaintively. "What the hell was that about?"

"What's so hard to understand," Mullet asked, now throughly confused. "Sakamura and I are just old friends. C'mon, Mek, you know that there's nothing between Sakamura an' me."

"Yes, I do, Mullet, but it damned well doesn't look that way from the outside with the way you act, and I think Lieutenant Doherty wasn't just confused by it."

The door behind them opened again, and another gaggle of personnel walked through, this time headed by the squat, chunky figure of Igor Makarov.

"Well, well, well," he chuckled. "Lookee who we've got here. Nice to see you again, Mekki, have they finally gotten you out of those spherical coffins?"

"Yes, sir," Mekki answered. "I've a Cannon II now."

"Well, I hope you'll be providing a fire-support exhibition soon; my youngsters could use an object lesson on how it's done." Makarov gave Mullet an appraising glance. "I enjoy seeing you outside of the brig, Chief. Try to stay that way more often, will you?"

"Yessir," Mullet responded snappily. "Providing the black shirts cooperate, sir, I have no objection to remaining outside the brig for at least a month, sir."

Makarov began laughing along with the warrant officers, but stopped when one of the women from his group abruptly pushed past him, stopping in front of Mullet and glaring.

Mullet's eyes when wide, but before he could speak the woman slapped him hard enough to make him stumble to his knees, then immediately turned and strode away.

"What the...Younggren!" Makarov shouted after the retreating form.

"Let her go, sir," Mullet said, rubbing his jaw. "I deserve a lot more than that from her."

"What was that about, Chief," Makarov asked suspiciously.

"The past, sir. It's my trouble, not yours. Is she on your ship?"

"My leading Gunner's Mate," the Hunchback replied. "What'd you do to her? And when? She said she knew you, but I'm going to take a wild guess here and say that she's left out a lot of her dealings with you."

"It was a long time ago," Mullet said morosely. "Practically a lifetime ago."

"That's nice and poetic, Chief," Makarov said sharply, "but it doesn't tell me a damned thing."

"Maybe, sir, because it isn't any of your business. I must say I'm surprised she let me off so easily, though," Mullet admitted ruefully, standing back up. "I was expecting much worse; I guess she's saving that for the encore. Wish I'd known she was on your ship, sir. You've been here, what, nearly a month? ZOINKS."

"What'd you do, Simon? Leave her at the altar?" Meade joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Mullet shook his head. "It'd be a lot easier if things were that simple, Ketch."

"May I suggest a new topic, gentlemen?" Mekki interjected smoothly. "Tell us about your new ship, Commander," he continued before anyone could react. "What are its weapons, its mobile suit complement?"

Makarov shook his head, tossed a final not-quite-piercing glare at Mullet, and turned to Mekki. "She's a nasty li'l bugger, Mek. Primary weapon is a twin 380mm railgun turret. Not quite the projectile size of some of the mounts from the war, but the extra velocity and effective range of a railgun make for one helluva punch. Also have a pair of single mega particle cannon, for that additional long-range kick," Makarov said, his face twisting into a maniacal grin as he talked. "That's it for anti-ship weapons, though; not even a single missile tube made it into the final design cuz the rest of the bastards on the design team thought they were useless. As for close-defense, I've got eight high-velocity 60mm vulcan cannon, mounted in turrets. If suits want to get up close and personal with Mule, they're in for a nasty little surprise."

"What range do you get out of the railguns?" Mekki asked.

"Depends on Minovsky density; I've three GM Kais carrying an EWAC suite built into a shield, and they can relay targeting data back to the ship. If necessary, they can relay the data first to another GM, allowing for some quite long-range battles," Makarov said, grinning.

"So you've only three suits, and they're stuck doing recon most of the time? Don't sound too useful to me," Meade announced disdainfully.

"Weeell, I've also got a 79SP for when things get hairy," Makarov admitted coyly. "Officially the Mule line can only support three mobile suits, but I made sure there was enough extra space to stick a fourth on board, and now I'm doing 'compatibility trials' with four machines; I ain't intendin' to give it back when I'm done."

"Guess having a Sniper II does make up somewhat for being stuck with GM Kais," Arras mused.

"You could say th--"

"Hunchy-bunchy!" Sakamura's voice squealed delightedly from across the room.

Makarov's eyes bulged, shocked, then he turned on Mullet. "You son-of-a-bitch! Why didn't you warn me?"

Sakamura impacted Makarov, making both of them fall to the ground, with the diminutive female delightedly ending up atop the Hunchback.


Last edited by Black Knight on Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Mysterious Masked Dude
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Chapter 6: Clarion Call




1 January 0085
00:00 hours


"Happy New Year!"

Yelot didn't join the crowd singing auld lang syne. Despite the occasion, he had been more introspective than festive all evening. As he drained the remainder of his large bourbon he felt someone fill the stool next to his.

"My, it looks like someone is enjoying them self," Sulate said to him, her voice dripping with irony.

"I've been trying to think of a resolution," he replied without looking at her. "It's not going well."

"You want my advice? Resolve to do two things: first, to stop feeling sorry for yourself. It's never done anyone a lick of good, Low. We've all been victims of REMF injustice a time or two. It's time to move on."

"I'll think about it," Yelot said, waving at the bartender to indicate that he wanted a refill. "What's the second thing I should resolve to do?"

"Dance with me."

Yelot looked at her in surprise. "You've been drinking," he announced after a moment.

"When in Rome," she said, smiling mischievously. "What gave it away, the bourbon in my hand? Come on, Low, it's New Years. You've been working hard at the drinks department, yourself. But at New Years you're also supposed to dance with the ladies. Especially those ones who've been turning down all other offers in the hope that you'd come along. Now," she said, standing up, "put the drink down and dance with me."

"You're drunk, Columbia," Yelot decided, still on his stool. "No more drinks for you."

"If you want to hold me to that, Low, you'll have to dance with me the rest of the night, because I'm going to have a drink every time you let me off the floor."

Yelot sighed and slid away from the bar. As they were fending their way through the crowd he felt her take his arm.

"Get off me you -- aiiee! Help!" they heard a woman shout, largely drowned by the background noise.

Yelot pushed more violently through the press of bodies, looking for the voice. "Make a hole!" he commanded, hearing the woman shriek again, louder.

The bodies of the other party-goers coalesced into a wall, and as he elbowed his way through, hampered by Sulate still hanging on to his arm, Yelot heard a short series of dull thuds.

"What the hell's going on?" Yelot roared as he broke through the crowd into a small clear space on the floor.

A petite young woman in a Space Force uniform was collapsed across the floor from him. Nearby a Titan was heaped on the deck, a Space Force uniform advancing on him menacingly.

Yelot shook his arm free of Sulate's grasp and interposed himself between the Regular and the crumpled Titan. "Stop! Enough! What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.

The Regular didn't like being stopped and tried to shove Yelot out of the way; he was visibly surprised when Yelot didn't move. "Stay out of this, Earthnoid," the man said.

"I can't let you do this, Mullet," Yelot replied after recognizing the Regular.

"Step aside, Earthnoid, your blackshirt buddy needs to learn that 'No' doesn't mean 'Yes, please, and quickly'."

"No, Mullet. You can bring him up on charges if you want and--"

"Charges? You think charges will stop that piece of ZOINKS from doing this to--"

"Allow me to handle this, Lieutenant," a silken voice said from behind Yelot.

"Wha?" Yelot said, but as he turned to look at the interloper he felt someone lift him and then the deck twelve feet away was quickly approaching his face.

"This is the problem with the riffraff," he heard the silken voice say dispassionately. "Allow them a moment of distraction and they will attempt to seize control."

Yelot shook his head in an attempt to clear it but the combination of alcohol and unexpected physical violence resisted his basic efforts.

"It is time, spacenoid, for you to learn your place," the silken voice continued. "Ah, no stomach for the fray now that you face resistance? How charmingly predictable."

Yelot rolled over to get a view of the standoff, and felt someone's arms lifting him up in the light gravity.

"Are you all right?" Sulate asked quietly.

"Never better," Yelot replied automatically, wincing as he tried to free himself from her. "Who's the bastard that sent me flying?"

"Warrant officer off Al Giza is all I know. An MP, I think."

"You really want to take the molester's lumps for him?" Mullet asked quietly. Confidently.

The MP smiled disdainfully. "Worry about your own lumps, spacenoid," he mocked.

Mullet glanced at the crowd, spotted a face he knew. "Heidi, get the woman out of here. If anyone tries to lay a hand on her, make 'em sing soprano."

Brennan nodded, lifted the petite woman and forced a way through the spectators.

"Simon, bend that stiff neck of yours, apologize, and stop making an ass of yourself," a woman called from the crowd.

"Oh, at this point I do not think I could settle for a mere apology," the Titan said with a large, knowing smile.

Mullet's face twitched in a flash of something that could have been amusement. He made a 'come on' gesture with his right hand.

The Titan smiled more broadly and gave Mullet a short, mocking bow before assuming a fighting posture.

Whispers began around Yelot, only a few at first, then a torrent.

"They're betting?" Sulate asked, aghast.

"If you hear someone giving odds against Mullet, put me down for twenty," Yelot replied. "The people here at Konpei bet on fights all the time."

The opening movements were one-sided -- in favor of the Titan. Mullet threw a series of punches and kicks, most of which were deftly avoided, the rest blocked by the Titan with apparent ease. Mullet, meanwhile, avoided only a few of the MP's swift attacks and blocked the rest only with obvious difficulty.

The woman who had earlier been attempting to get Mullet to avoid the fight called out again. "For Christ's sake, Simon, that's Shujumi you're fighting. Champion at the EFF martial arts tournament last year."

Yelot heard the odds against Mullet soar among the amateur bookies.

"I also placed fifth in the world tournament," Shujumi said condescendingly. "and third in the world Judo competition. You get full marks for bravery, spacenoid, and if you do not yield now, as your female admirer so plaintively desires, you shall also get full marks for stupidity."

Mullet replied by charging, but his blows were blocked and the Titan threw him more than a dozen feet.

"My, this low gravity certainly makes things more... spectacular, doesn't it?" Shujumi said, drawing laughs and catcalls from the crowd.

"Yodan," Mullet said, rising from the crouch in which he'd landed.

"Pardon?"

Mullet advanced cautiously. "You've achieved yodan rather young. Congratulations. It is not easy to advance in Tsuki-tsui-ryu."

Shujumi smiled and performed another mocking bow. "Always a pleasure to demonstrate my skills to an admirer. I wonder, however, why a gross amateur such as yourself would challenge me thus despite knowing so much about me and my skills."

Mullet laughed, surprising the crowd. "I didn't know anything about you before you tossed me, Earthnoid. But you've demonstrated skills consistent with a tsuki-tsui-ryu yodan. It's rare to find even a godan who can so smoothly execute Tsui-han-ryu's signature throw, but Mori-sensei has a reputation for being stingy with dan ranks. You should, however, listen more to what he has to say about the benefits of blocking a blow over avoiding it."

"I've never seen the advantage to blocking rather than dodging, and failing to connect, I've found, tends to knock my opponents off-balance. Perhaps you are not the amateur you seem," Shujumi chuckled, "but however well-read you are, your grasp of the physical skills leaves much to be desired."

"Twelve to one on the blackshirt, Simon," the woman called out. "I don't think it'll go any higher, so I'm in for one-twenty. Don't take all year."

"You know, I believe she expects you to defeat me."

"Sounds that--" Mullet moved, sweeping Shujumi's legs. The Titan jumped to avoid the attack and visibly registered surprise when he didn't land immediately. Mullet jumped himself and kicked Shujumi into the floor.

Mullet waited for the Titan to warily regain his feet. "The low gravity does indeed make for spectacular moves," the chief intoned. "Those accustomed to the full gravity of Earth -- and EFF-ing -- martial arts tournaments, however, often make something of a... spectacle of themselves in it."

Shujumi attacked again, and again Mullet could not -- or would not -- dodge, blocking the blows. As Shujumi's sequence of attacks lost steam, Mullet used the force of one of Shujumi's attacks to swing around to the side and knock the MP down the length of the clear section of floor.

He immediately jumped up, but as before misjudged the imitation gravity and nearly fell again.

Yelot jumped into the center of the clearing. "Enough! Shujumi, Mullet, this stops now" he snarled.

"Damn right!" Raymond Oruma yelled, joining Yelot. "End it now, before someone gets hurt."

Mullet shrugged and turned away, his face toward the bar.

Yelot and Oruma began encouraging the largely disappointed crowd to disperse, urging officers to take charge and usher personnel back to quarters.

Shujumi charged Mullet from behind, but when he was only a few steps away Mullet did a forward roll, and as he came out his feet caught Shujumi in the midriff and sent him flying up into the air. The arc was interrupted by the ceiling, and then by the floor.

Silence reigned. Neither Oruma or Yelot said anything as Mullet recovered and walked up to Shujumi's crumpled form. He felt for a pulse, nodded in satisfaction at what he found. Then he walked to the cluster of Titans, who collectively took a step back.

"Tell that ZOINKS -- when he's lucid again -- that if he wants to fight outside the tournament setting, he should ZOINKS well study something besides the competition moves." He paused, visibly thinking. "Preferably, he should study a martial art that's actually designed to hurt people, not one designed to score points and avoid injury. Oh, and tell the drunk molester on Al Giza that we can settle up, too -- outside. I'll be easy to spot, I'll be in a Zaku. The Zaku. If he can see straight, he won't be able to miss me." With that, Mullet turned around and walked away, the people on the other side of the floor making a path for him.

Sulate found Yelot leaning against a table for support. "Are you all right?" she asked him, pushing him into a chair and bending down to examine his pupils.

"That was quite an event, wasn't it?" he said with forced brightness in his voice bending on hysteria.

"Excuse me, Lieutenant?"

Yelot turned. A female Space Force chief gunner's mate with a hand full of money had walked up.

"You're a brave man, Lieutenant," the woman announced judiciously, "but if I were you, I wouldn't make it a habit of jumping between Mullet and trouble; a man as smart as you, Lieutenant, ought to have figured out by now that they're inseparable. Happy New Year, sir."

She was gone before either Yelot or Sulate could recover.

---

2 January 0085
Shoal Zone, L5
Low Yelot's RGM-79Q


"Goddamn they're quick!" Browning's voice snarled scratchily through the Minovsky interference.

"Those two Galbaldies are coming back around," Tsib remarked, panic in his voice.

Yelot grimaced; Howard had frozen when the trio of Galbadies-posing-as-Gelgoogs had attacked their section of the defense line, and been efficiently dispatched by one of the enemy machines. Yelot himself had bagged one Galbaldy in what he secretly knew had been a lucky shot, preventing the Aggressors from turning numerical inferiority to parity, but the faster responses and superior teamwork of the Galbaldy/Gelgoogs had kept the Quels still on the defensive.

"Browning, Tsib, stick together and concentrate your fire on one target; I'll keep the other one busy until you've eliminated that one."

"Like hell! It's all I can do just to avoid their fire!" Tsib whined.

"Then that should give Browning plenty of opportunity to nail the one shooting at you!"

"On it, boss!" Browning called back.

Yelot acted to carry out his part of the plan, catching the attention of one of the Galbaldy/Gelgoogs with a series of close shots. The enemy pilot accepted his obvious challenge, returning his fire, though missing wider than Yelot's attacks. The Titan grinned. "You're pretty good," he said softly to the image on his monitor, "but I think I'm better."

---

Aggressor Cruiser Vesuvius

"All Gelgoog teams have made contact with the Titan defenses, sir," the technician at the sensor screens reported.

"Very well," Oruma replied gruffly. "Derek, this is your plan. You make the call."

"Thank you, sir," Harlock replied formally. He turned towards the crew positions. "Communications, order the squadron to advance according to variant 2-bravo, and clear Capulin to fire at will. Navigation, prepare to execute flight plan. Weapons, target Holstein."

Vesuvius's engines fired, propelling the Zanzibar-class cruiser on a vector which would send it through the center of the Titan ship formation.

"Communications, please contact the 4th Platoon," Harlock continued, "and release Steinway from standby."

---

Low Yelot's RGM-79Q

Yelot flinched as a brilliant beam narrowly missed his mobile suit, and continued to jink in multiple directions. He'd long-since concluded that while his reflexes were better, his Aggressor opponent was more canny; several times Yelot had been certain he was lining up a killing shot, only to lose target lock just as he fired; in two exchanges the Galbaldy/Gelgoog had turned the tables and nearly hit him.

Browning was faring little better; Tsib had been taken out barely forty seconds into the skirmish, though Browning had shot off the Zeon mobile suit's arm in return. Ever since, that pair had been at an impasse, just as Yelot and his adversary.

Slowly, never able to move in a direct path for long, Yelot worked his way closer to Browning's battle.

"Paul," Yelot called out, "when I give the word, burn hard towards my target, and I'll hit yours."

"Yes, sir," Browning replied distractedly.

Yelot concentrated on dodging, pantomiming reloading his rifle to give his enemy an excuse for not firing. "Now, Browning!" he called out over the radio, suddenly breaking off from his target and rocketing towards the one Browning had been dueling.

"On the w--" Browning's transmission broke off in mid-word.

Yelot threw a glance at where the younger pilot had been and saw a computer-generated cloud of expanding gas, flame and debris. He didn't have time to swear, instead concentrating on his foes. A moment later his monitor showed target lock and Yelot squeezed the firing button, sending six paint rounds directly into the Galbaldy's chest. As soon as the monitor registered the Galbaldy exploding, Yelot turned around, checking on the position of the machine he'd been fighting before, and was shocked when he saw it rocketing away, dodging as it went.

"You're supposed to kill them, not waste time dancing with them," a voice said over the radio.

Yelot searched his monitor, and was surprised to see a trio of Quels in formation. "Thanks for the help," he said. "Those pilots knew what they were doing."

"You might as well fall in with us," his savior said. "Cypress has detected another incoming unit, and they think it's Doms.

"Where's the stinking Zaku, that's what I want to know!" another voice cut in. "I'll bet that prying sonofabitch won't even show. A ZOINKS Zaku's no match for me.

"If Mullet hasn't shown up yet, it's because he's waiting to make his appearance more spectacular," Yelot said.

"What the ZOINKS would you know about it, loser? If you'd known what the ZOINKS was going on, you wouldn't have gotten replaced by a puppy right out of school!" the second Titan snarled back.

"Ease up, Monsha; Yelot may be a ZOINKS, but he's the guy who kept the Spacenoid scum from smashing your drunken head in.

"I've also had a little more experience with the Aggressors in general and Mullet in particular," Yelot said dryly.

"Bah, we fought through the war and against Delaz; we're good at killing Spacenoids!

"That's nice, Lieutenant Monsha; Mullet is himself rather skilled at ending human life. I understand his war started on the first day, as did mine. Tell me, when did your war begin? September? October?"

"Where was he in Eighty-Three?" the third Titan asked quietly.

"He was at Konpei; his ship was out on perimeter guard, and between the three suits and their Salamis cruiser they bagged two warships and more than a dozen suits, including several Doms and a Gelgoog. Approximately half the kills, including the Gelgoog and two Doms, were credited to Mullet himself. I don't know why he wasn't issued a November; maybe he didn't want to give up his wartime Sierra-Charlie."

"There they are," the first Titan said. "Enough chitchat, we've got two Doms in close formation heading on a fast attack run against the ships."

"They'll break as soon as we get close," the third Titan said quietly.

"Right, so we'll be expecting it. Chap, you and Yelot take the closer Dom, Monsha and I'll take the more distant one.

"Let's get the spacemen!

Yelot rolled his eyes, but fell in with the third Titan's Quel and concentrated on the pair of Doms. He noticed that each were carrying two bazookas, one the traditional Giant Bazooka, the other a smaller model, but didn't have time to give the matter much thought.

When the Titan mobile suits got within extreme firing range... nothing happened; the Doms kept going, just as they had since the Titans had made visual contact with them, not even bothering to twist, juke, or make any other attempts to avoid possible fire.

"Fat, dumb and happy!" Monsha trilled gleefully. "Typical spacemen! These Aggressors are really good at imitating the Zeeks!

"This is... uncharacteristic of them..." Yelot muttered to himself. He was perhaps three seconds from a weapons lock when the Doms finally broke formation, each heading off in a different direction, spinning wildly. Yelot and the other Titans were expecting it, however, and each pair managed to track their target, but all of them were caught unaware by the streams of tracer fire coming at them from the place where the Doms had been in formation. The lead Titan went down first, two lines of paint stitched across his Quel's shoulders and torso. Barely a second later the second Titan took several hits to a leg. By then Yelot and his new wingmate were ignoring the Doms and dodging the fire they expected from this hidden adversary.

"Where the ZOINKS did that Zaku come from?" the second Titan whined.

Yelot found himself grinning despite the rough handling his side was taking. "Gotta admire the bastard," he said over the radio, "he knows how to play dirty!"

The Zaku was apparently ignoring Yelot and the third Titan, and flew in pursuit of the second, wounded Quel. Yelot took off after the Zaku, himself. "You're good, Mullet. Hiding behind the Doms was a damned effective, underhanded move; no one would ever see it coming. But you shouldn't be so damned single-minded about getting that Quel," he added grimly.

"'Ware the skirts, Yelot," the third Titan radioed softly, startling Yelot. He glanced around his monitors and saw what his wingmate meant; both the Doms were moving in his direction, brandishing their bazookas. As he rolled his mobile suit to face this new threat, his monitor showed another explosion.

"This is one of those times when discretion is the better part of valor," Yelot called out.

"Agreed. Back to Al Giza?

"Yes; we're going to need more suits."

---

EFS Mule

"What's the score now, Cutter?" Lieutenant Winters asked the senior sensor operator.

"Sir, the Titans have lost six Hizacks and five Quels at this time, while the Aggressors have had only two Galbaldies destroyed and one Gelgoog damaged."

"Three mobile suits and two warships to go, then," Makarov commented. "And they can afford to lose another mobile suit and have two more heavily damaged."

"Sir?" Winters asked, confused.

"The actual Operation Clarion, Lieutenant, cost the Space Force fourteen mobile suits and two cruisers, and only cost the Zeons three mobile suits destroyed, with three more severely damaged. Well, we also lost more'n twenty fighters and a transport ship, but we don't have a way to simulate those anymore."

"Oh, so you're comparing the way the Titans are performing to the historical result."

"In a matter of speaking, Winters; really, though, I'm comparing the Titans performance to mine; two of the mobile suits we lost flew off my cruiser, and one of the ships destroyed was in my squadron. 'Course, it ain't goin' to matter; the Titans'll find some way to rationalize their defeat, and probably stick it to the Space Force in the process."

"Captain, why is Oruma moving his cruisers in?"

Makarov leaned back in his chair. "He wants to give the Titans something besides mobile suits to worry over. Niehaus was smart enough to keep one of her better teams of suit jockeys in reserve, and now she'll likely decide that Oruma's warships are a bigger threat to her squadron than the Aggressor mobile suits. That being the case, she'll throw them at Vesuvius, only to have them swatted down by the Galbaldy and Gelgoog units." He gave a short, barking laugh. "In the mean time, while Oruma has their attention, the Doms and Zaku will rip the Titan ships apart."

---

Titans Cruiser Holstein

Pemco watched as the the four dots representing the fifth and final Titan mobile suit team moved inexorably further from the center of his tactical display. Another quartet of icons, the remnants of the first four teams, held position in the vanguard of the small squadron. "Who does Neihaus think she's kidding?" he whispered softly

"Sir? Did you say something?"

Pemco shook his head sadly. "I didn't say anything, Ya-Ya, but that's because there's nothing I can say at this point which can affect the outcome. We've played our hand, and come up short. Again. We've already lost as many mobile suits as the Aggressors had at the start, and I'll be quite surprised if Swift's team is able to so much as muss the paint on any of those warships; more likely, they won't even get within targeting range before the Aggressor Galbaldies pounce. And those four survivors from the other teams are unlikely to stop whatever other mobile suits are thrown at us."

"Sir, high-speed objects approaching the squadron!"

"You see, Ya-Ya? The Aggressor warships are merely bait to draw our defenses away; now the true strike comes."

---

Low Yelot's RGM-79Q


"Fast," the other Quel pilot commented dryly.

"Al Giza reports two Gelgoog models and two Rick Doms," the senior Hizack pilot relayed. "Huh. They had surprise before, but such outdated junk won't stop me now!

"Gable, you're an idiot," Yelot announced to his monitors.

"Yelot and I have unfinished business with the Doms," announced the other Quel pilot.

"Fine, we'll play with the Gelgoogs," the Hizack pilot pronounced.

Yelot grinned in anticipation "“ of how that overbearing blond idiot would be forced to eat his bluster after the Aggressors defeated him again. He activated his thrusters and maintained position next to the other Quel as they raced toward the Doms.

"I wonder where the Zaku went," Yelot's new partner asked.

"God only knows," Yelot returned. "But it's probably not the same trick as last time."

"Evidently not; the Doms now have only a single bazooka each, the standard model. And the fun little 90mm Zeon machinegun.

The closing rate of the mobile suits was high; the Gelgoogs began decelerating, copied shortly by the Hizacks; both pairs obviously wanted to have a real mix-up, not a single all-or-nothing high-speed pass. The Doms, however, were originally designed expressly for the high-speed pass. Yelot began decelerating, anyway, knowing that if he survived the first pass it would give him a better chance at catching the Doms before they had completely destroyed the Titan warships.

Yelot survived the high-speed pass; so, it appeared, did the other Quel, along with both Doms. As Yelot tried to coax more power from his thrusters, the rear proximity alarm began blaring. He glanced at his rear monitor barely in time so see a blur move quickly across it, and just as quickly through his forward monitor.

"It appears the Zaku has unveiled itself," the other Quel pilot commented. "Too fast for us to target; I wonder how he'll do against the warships.

"What he misses the Doms will pick up," Yelot pointed out. He found himself shaking his head in wonder. "Only you would be so crazy, Mullet," he said without activating his radio.

---

Titan Cruiser Holstein

Pemco watched the monitor, enthralled by the fast-moving dot heading for the center of the Titan ship formation.

"Do you think we'll see it through the window, sir?" Avy asked.

"It'd only be an indistinct blur, at that speed, even if we're close enough to make anything out," Pemco replied distantly, all his concentration on the tactical display. "I hope he doesn't ram anyone; at that speed his suit would cause a lot of damage."

"Heat sources incoming, sir, probably bazooka rounds," the sensor tech reported. "God, they're fast."

Pemco waited until the mobile suit was safely on the far side of the formation before looking up. "Status of the squadron?" he asked.

"Al Giza showing multiple bazooka strikes, sir. Two on the dorsal hangar, one on the port wing nacelle, two on the bridge superstructure."

"Pretty good shooting." Pemco turned to the observer/judge lounging in the rear of the bridge. "How would you rate that, sir?"

The officer considered his reply a few moments before pronouncing a judgment. "Well, unofficially, since it's not my place to decide the fate of Al Giza, I would be rather surprised if she wasn't listed as 'heavily damaged' at the least; possibly even 'disabled', though that depends largely on the performance of her Damage Control teams."

Pemco nodded in acknowledgment. "And here come the Doms to finish everything off."

---

3 January 0085
Konpeitoh, L5
Pilot's Club


Yelot had heard the shouting from the corridor, and rushed inside immediately. He was not entirely surprised to find the room neatly divided along uniform color, but was startled to discover that Mullet was not at the center of the commotion; that position of honor was held by Ketch Meade, with able assistance from Holstein's MS commander, Stree Maint.

"The proof is in the pudding, genius," Mead was shouting. "You lost nineteen of 20 mobile suits, all three ships, and only managed to destroy two Galbaldies and damage a Gelgoog and a Dom. We win, you lose."

"Using your ZOINKS Galbaldies was illegal!" Maint screamed back. "I don't know how you bribed the 'impartial' judges to allow that, what did you offer them, as much time as they wanted with every woman in the Aggressors?"

Silence enveloped the room, even the most hot-blooded recognizing that things had just taken a turn in a potentially disastrous direction.

"Shut your mouth, Maint!" Yelot shouted as he stalked from the hatch to where the confrontation was taking place. "If you're so ZOINKS embarrassed at your performance that you're going to throw accusations like that around, why don't you spend your energy trying to get better?"

"ZOINKS you, Yelot," Maint snarled. "I don't need the advice of someone so incompetent that they got replaced."

"I may not be in command of a team any longer, Maint, but I'm still senior in rank to you," Yelot said coldly. "And since you seem so caught up in performance metrics, I suppose it would be bad form for me to point out that while Satain seems to feel I'm incompetent, I was the only Titan to kill what he shot at yesterday. I got two kills alone, while your team was busy collapsing in self-pity!"

Maint's face went red with rage, and he swung at Yelot, taking him by surprise and knocking him down. "You ZOINKS spacenoid lover!" Maint spat out, looking down at Yelot.

"Earthnoids," an venomous voice said. "God damned gravity-supremacists and mud turtles."

"Who said that?" Maint snarled, echoed by several other Titans.

"Tell me, earthnoid, do you know what day it is? Today," the voice went on without pausing for an answer, "is the sixth anniversary of the day when piddling tin-horn, ham-handed earthnoids caused a group of spacenoids to murder billions of other spacenoids just to get at a few tens of thousands of small-minded pricks like you."

Maint stormed into the Federation Forces side of the room, walking towards the voice, the other Federation personnel clearing a path before him. He stopped cold when he saw Mullet sitting at a table, an empty scotch bottle and a near-empty glass his only companions.

Mullet drank the last of the liquid in his glass and stood up. "You reap what you sow, earthnoid."

---

5 January 0085
Konpeitoh, L5
Aggressor Squadron HQ
Office of the Commander


"So, what are you going to do with him?" Makarov asked.

"There's the possibility he'll be court-martialed," Keram replied, pouring drinks for his guests.

"Part of me thinks he has it coming," Oruma said morosely. "The other part of me wishes more than just Maint and that idiot Hizack pilot from Al Giza had been hospitalized."

"It's likely," Keram said softly, passing the drinks around, "that part of the fallout from this series of exercises will be a considerable number of personnel transfers out of the Aggressors. If Mullet escapes a court-martial, he will doubtless be among them."

"By 'series of exercises,' sir, you're not only referring to the brawling," Harlock observed.

"Correct. It seems we have somehow or other raised questions about the combat effectiveness of the allegedly elite Titans." Keram sipped his brandy. "One can't imagine how we might have done that."

Makarov laughed at the irony in Keram's voice.

"So it's going to be a case of 'if you can't beat them one way, do it another'?" Harlock pursued.

"Indeed. Doubtless once most of our personnel have been transferred out another little match between the Aggressor Squadron and a rather larger, more powerful Titan squadron will be arranged."

"And how do you plan to handle that?" Oruma inquired.

"That shall depend on exactly who I have left to use," Keram stated softly. "But we'll think of something."

---

Titan Cruiser Jintsu
Least-time course from L5 to L3


Lieutenant Sulate settled more comfortably into the chair in the Captain's office. "Send him in," she ordered over the intercom.

Yelot was shown into the room. He saluted, then smiled down at her. "I haven't had the chance yet, ma'am, to offer my congratulations."

"Thank you," Sulate responded, nodding. "I'm afraid, despite Satain's relief, Low, that I've bad news for you."

"I'm not getting the platoon back, am I?"

She shook her head gently. "And that's not the worst of it, Low. Neihaus has added a letter of reprimand into your service jacket. Word just came down from Command that you'll be detached to duty at Luna II as soon as we arrive there. A replacement will be sent to the ship as soon as one is available. I'm sorry."

"Ah, well," Yelot sighed. "I wish you'd gotten the skipper's chair earlier, but I can't in good conscience regret anything I've done. Did they say what they'll have me doing at Luna Deuce?"

"No, no word," Sulate said softly. "I'm sorry, Low; I...was hoping to keep you aboard, at the least. Eventually I'd be able to get you back in command of the platoon in that case. As it is..."



Fini


------
------

Special Thanks to Trioknight, His Divine Shadow, V2Buster, and doubtless several others for help on this one over the years (it was halted at 60% completion to be entirely re-written due to new information). If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out Gundam 0083: False Dawn, as well.


Last edited by Black Knight on Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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The rewrite was for the better, I say. I thought, after reading the old version, that the "Let's lose to Hizacks to make the Titans want them!" plot was a little weak.

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I'm frankly surprised you remember it, Draco!. But, yeah, I'm a lot happier with this version than I was with the original.


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Now I have to read the completed version and see where you messed up in retrograde?? :wink: :lol:

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Good Jesus, even I didn't remember editing this, that's how long it has been.

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 Post Posted: Sun Nov 29, 2009 10:21 am 
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Always good to re-read the favorites, now and again. B) I didn't remember the final bits from before, glad to get all 100% of it. I can tell why Black Knight is pleased with this version.

BTW Black Knight, do you have any Gryps War adventures of Yelot and Mullet planned for the future? I'm pretty sure I know where Mullet is heading, but Lowe Yelot's journey through life would be interesting. He is a good underdog character, in this story and Beta Testing he gets the short end of the stick. I find myself wondering if 0087 would find him in the same situation again.

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 Post Posted: Sun Nov 29, 2009 1:53 pm 
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Stories planned? Sure. Lots and lots of them. Stories likely to be written....? Well, that's the rub, isn't it?

Low Yelot is indeed something of a whipping boy; I feel a bit sorry for him because he was supposed to be the star of Wargames. He gets somewhat better and somewhat worse treatment in the Gryps Conflict, should I ever get around to detailing that out. I really doubt I'll have any time for writing in the next 15 months or so, and given it took me in the nature of four and a half years to slog through this short story, I don't foresee anything coming from my mind in a reasonable time.

On the other hand, one never knows when the muse will strike....


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 Post Posted: Sun Nov 29, 2009 7:57 pm 
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I don't think Low lost anything by being the anchor character of Wargames. His perspective as the dedicated Titans lead man really makes the story. Mullet is the foil character, and there is a nice contrast with Sulate, who is "go along to get along" despite the hassles. Yelot's experiences as the elite Titan who gets rudely diabused as to his elite ranking in skill, teammates, equpment, and motivation, really makes the story more than just an exercise in Titan-bashing. Beta Testing seems to put Yelot in even more of the same quandry, since he has to intermediate the situation he found himself participating in during Wargames. Unlike many other Titans, Yelot has learned how little street cred his group has with the EFSF, with a hint of how the average Lunarian or Side colonist must feel about them. It would be interesting to see if Yelot's desire to be a successful omsbudsman would survive the begining of the Gryps War.

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 Post Posted: Fri Dec 25, 2009 9:51 am 
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And can anyone tell me why there is all these "”" symbols?


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 Post Posted: Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:22 pm 
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It would seem that the forum software probably updated recently, or else browser software did, but my money is on the forum software, as when I went back to remove those symbols -- which were in place of some of the quotation marks -- I got an error saying one chapter had too many characters to post.

There was also a problem with apostrophes. Why this problem didn't occur consistently, I do not know. But it should now be gone.


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 Post Posted: Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:44 pm 
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Yeah, it's from the forum software. BK posted all this stuff back in January, and we did an update back in April, which affected all those symbols for whatever reason.

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 Post Posted: Fri Jan 01, 2010 9:02 am 
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Why do I feel like Mullet would be a perfect AEUG Member...


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 Post Posted: Fri Jan 01, 2010 12:32 pm 
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Everyone thinks that, seemingly under the assumption that Mullet will stop being anti-authority when the authorities are largely spacenoids. I'll just say that the AEUG finds him about as hard to control as everyone else does.


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