As a supersoldier, I felt a thrill in any kind of combat, but the one I found the most exhilarating was the most basic – and the most complex at the same time. As I sparred with Ares, we were not in mobile suits, or any other kind of vehicle. We used no guns, nor blades, nor blunt objects, and we wore nothing to protect ourselves. And both of us knew we needed none of those things. We knew hundreds of kinds of punches, kicks, grapples and throws, from dozens of fighting styles, and the ways to counter any of them should an opponent attempt them against us. Hand-to-hand combat was the ultimate proof of what we were.
“Being a supersoldier means that, in your entire life, you will only ever use one weapon.” I remembered the instructor telling us. “And that weapon is YOURSELF. Ordinary humans think of a combat knife, or a rifle, or a mobile suit, as a weapon. That is not true for you. For you, those things are simply tools.”
The exhilaration of bare-knuckle sparring with Ares made it easy for me to forget about my argument with him beforehand. I became absorbed in the moves, the counter-moves, and counters to those counters. I would throw a punch, he would block it and grab my arm, I would reverse the hold and throw him to the floor, he would roll through and sweep his leg out to try and take be to the ground, and so forth. The experience was immensely satisfying, especially considering I never got to have a decent hand-to-hand session during my time on the Gallipolli – I always wiped the floor with McDermott and Yamada, even when they double-teamed me, and our HTH sessions ended up mostly being me teaching them. Against Ares, I could freely throw strikes that would be potential killing blows against either of them. I even felt a thrill when he landed a solid blow on me – the excitement of having an opponent that could compete with me. In fact, overall he seemed to get the better of me, landing more blows than I did.
We must have sparred nonstop for close to sixty minutes before we decided to take a break. Ares looked at me, smiling.
“You enjoyed that as much as I remember, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
“Good… that means the Athene I know is still in you. And now, I have something to show you.”
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM STORM
A Fanfic by Andrew Dynon
Based on Mobile Suit Gundam by Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yadate
Chapter 13: Fleeting and Everlasting Sorrow
After our sparring session, Ares headed to the simulation cockpits in the next room, and booted one of them up.
“Touch your palm to the control panel, and use your voice print to identify yourself.” He instructed, and I did so. “Athene, you can think of this as your reward for your service thus far. Open the file named ‘Storm Cell’.”
I opened the file, and saw a graphic of a machine, jet-black apart from a few jagged silver lones. It was the shape of an arrowhead, accented along the edges with vernier rockets. Wings could be deployed for use in an atmosphere, or folded flat against the surface to present a smaller profile in space. Heavy beam cannons sat on every surface, allowing a full arc of fire. According to the spec readout, the mobile armour was fifty metres long and thirty wide.
“It looks like a magnificent machine.” I said, and I meant it. The Storm Cell had too much firepower and armour for any mobile suit to handle, yet could easily outmanuver and bring down a capital ship.
“I remember back during training, you always told me how you dreamed of piloting a mobile armour.” Ares said. “And you also dreamed of fighting alongside me. Now, both of those dreams can come true.”
Such power in my hands. And with my skills as the pilot, it was difficult to conceive of anything other than another supersoldier with a similarly powerful machine defeating it. Together with Ares and the rest of my siblings, I would be unstoppable.
So, what if I needed to be stopped?
“There’s more.” Ares said. He touched the lower front section on the Storm Cell, and a panel opened up, revealing cylinder-shaped devices that danced around the MA in complex patterns, their surfaces glowing with green energy.
“MUBs, Multi-Use Bits.” Ares told me. “They can be commanded mentally, and used as shields, blades, or ranged weapons. And one more thing…” He tapped an icon on the screen, and the picture went to a wire-frame view, rendering the Mobile Armor’s internals visible, and I saw, within the Storm Cell’s protective shell, the outline of a mobile suit – one reminiscent of the Gundam I had piloted, but sleeker, more angular.
Of course, it seemed unlikely that I would receive all this while Ares’ abilities went unutilised.
“You’re getting a Mobile Armor, too, right?” I asked him “What’s yours like.”
“Mine is called the Draco. I’ll show you when the time comes.” He replied. “It and the Storm Cell should be delivered soon. While you’re waiting, the Storm Cell’s data’s loaded in the simulator, so you can familiarise yourself with it. That way, you’ll be able to bring out its full potential when you take it into combat.”
“Bridge, this is McDermott, we’re returning from our patrol and coming in for landing now.”
“Copy that, Lieutenant, you are cleared for landing.”
As the Wildfire and Thunder Gundams made their landing, Shane Yamada sighed and turned to his commander.
“So, this would be the ‘boredom’ part of ‘boredom punctuated by moments of terror’ that people say war is.” Shane Yamada commented.
“Pretty much, Yamada.” McDermott told him. “But we still have to stay alert in case those moments of terror come.”
“Yeah, I almost miss those. We get these shiny upgraded Gundams, and now it’s all quiet on the Earth Orbit front.”
“By now, Shane, I would hope you’ve seen enough to appreciate the quiet when it does come.”
“The problem is, sir, that this holding pattern both sides seem to be in doesn’t make it seem like the war’s ending.” Shane said. “I can’t see this war just… fizzling out like that. It’s like things are building up for something really big to happen, some kind of game-changer.”
McDermott slapped him on the shoulder. “Well, I’ve seen that you’ve got good instincts, and since I don’t have anything better to go on for the moment, I’m going to trust you on that one.”
“In that case, sir, care for double-or-nothing?” Shane said as he reached the door to his quarters.
“What did you have in mind?”
The door slid open, and Shane’s gaze lingered on the bunk opposite his, which had been empty for over a week now, spick and span with no indication left that it had ever been occupied.
“Whatever’s about to happen, I bet I know who’s gonna be smack-bang in the middle of the thing.”
Ares approached me as we stepped out of the simulator pods.
“Athene, what was up with the way you were fighting?”
“The point of simulator sessions is to familiarise ourselves with our machines, and use them to their full potential, is it not? Since I am now thoroughly familiar with how the Storm Cell operates, I was simply experimenting with a different way it could be used.”
“By which you mean you were deliberately avoiding killing blows on your opponents.” He accused.
“Yes. I was practicing landing shutdown hits.” Much as there were ways of knocking a person unconscious without killing them, hitting a mobile suit in the right location could render it inoperative without blowing it up or killing the pilot. It required great precision, and more than a little knowledge of mobile suit anatomy, and so even for a supersoldier like myself, it was something to be done lightly. But then, I had learned, neither was killing.
“You are giving such things far too much priority.” Ares said. “We are unlikely to be required to take the enemy alive or capture one of their MS intact often.”
“Think of it as me challenging myself.” I said. In the Gale Gundam, I had found it easy to kill most enemies. The Storm Cell would make it child’s play. The only thing capable of controlling the devastation it could unleash would be myself.
“Athene, what is wrong with you?” Ares snapped at me in frustration. “You’ve been letting the humans you served with mess around with your head! The Athene I remember wouldn’t have concerned herself with the enemy’s fate!”
“Have you ever thought that I might not be the Athene you remember any more?” I retorted.
“We’re supersoldiers! There’s no need for you to be anything else!” With that, he stormed out.
“Shane, shouldn’t you be eating that hamburger, rather than just mutilating it with your fork?” Khadija asked. Portions of even meat substitute like the patty in front of Shane were small on board, and given the dangers Shane faced as a test pilot, she saw no point in allowing him to add to the risk by being undernourished.
“Yes, mum.” Shane said, listlessly, and shovelled a forkful into his mouth.
“Well, if you’re not going to take care of yourself, then maybe I do need to act like your mother.” Khadija replied, then her expression softened, and she pulled her chair closer to his. “It’s awful, isn’t it? Not knowing what’s happening to someone you care about.”
“Yeah, but what I don’t get is… it’s been over a week since she left. Why am I suddenly feeling it now?”
“Sometimes, these things take a while to hit us. It’s not until after the fact that we realise we miss something, or some place, or someone. Even if you love that person, Shane.”
Shane almost spat out the hamburger he had been eating. “Love? Hang on, that’s not…”
Khadija gave him a look.
“Okay, maybe I sort of do like her. But it’s not like we were ever going to be in a relationship or anything! You know as well as I do that she’s completely asexual!”
“So? Regardless of what all the teen drama vids say, love doesn’t have to be about sex! I may not agree with everything the conservative Imams say, but I think there are good reasons not to have sex until marriage. You should get to know someone, and make sure you really do love them, before you get into that stuff! If you have love, you can enjoy that kind of intimacy, but it’s not something that’s necessary for there to be love between you.”
“Okay, okay, you don’t need to get on your soapbox about it.” Shane said. “But you have a point. If we ever get a chance to be together again.”
I’d barely had time to compose myself after my argument with Ares when there was a flurry of activity around the base. I asked one of the technicians what was going on, and she told me that another transport vessel was docking, before rushing off elsewhere – I suspected as much to get away from me as to perform her duties. Out of curiosity, I headed to the hangar area, and saw the shuttle dock with an ease that would take a great amount of skill on the part of the pilot of such a large vessel. After a few minutes for the post-flight check, the cockpit door opened, and the pilot disembarked, pushing off from the doorframe to zero-g float straight in my direction.
The pilot could almost be described as a version of myself, only four years younger – shaven-headed, muscular despite her smaller frame, and serious. The only differences were my dark skin and her facial features, which were a more pronounced version of Shane’s. During my time on the Gallipolli, I had heard such features described as “Asian”, although I did not know precisely how they related to that Earth land mass – after all, Khadija also traced her ancestry back to that continent, and her facial features were quite different. That didn’t matter, though – her face had lit up as soon as she recognised me, and mine lit up in response. She caught the handrail, stood at attention and saluted.
“Ensign 2nd Class Hippolyta Silver reporting to Spearhead, Ath- uh, you’re an officer now, so I should call you Sir, right, Sir?”
“At ease, ensign.” I told her, and then smiled and embraced her. “It’s good to see you.”
“I missed you too, Sir. But I remembered all the things you taught me! That’s how I became the top-ranked silver generation supersoldier, and was given this assignment!”
“And what’s the assignment that you were honoured with?” I asked.
“Transporting your mobile armor to Spearhead. I was even told that I might get to fight by your side.”
“And who told you that?” No doubt Hippolyta was very skilled, but we Golds had four years of training on her. Surely if another supersoldier was needed, the logical choice would have been one of my generation.
“That would be me.” While I was speaking to Hippolyta, a passenger on the shuttle had disembarked. She bore an uncanny resemblance to the woman I had spoken to a while ago via the viewscreen, Gabriella Wang, save for the fact that she only appeared to be about my age. And the fact that her posture and expression were, if possible, even more self-confident. “Head to the briefing room. I’ll speak with you and Ares there.”
The young woman strode to the head of the table, and gestured for Ares and myself to take the seats nearest to her, with Hippolyta sitting beside me. She waited for a while, letting the tension build, before she spoke.
“First things first, introductions. I know who you are, but you do not yet know who I am. I am Gabriella Wang, junior. I am authorised to act on behalf of my mother whenever she is not herself present. And I am living proof of her, and her organisations’, commitment to spurring humanity’s evolution. As for how I am to be addressed, I believe ‘elder sister’ would be appropriate.” I felt somewhat uncomfortable using the term for her, but she was technically my superior, thus I should obey.
Seeing our curiosity piqued, she continued. “Forge has developed more than one type of Upgraded Human to bring forth the future. There are the Soldier types, such as yourselves, whose enhancements are mostly physical, the fists that enforce Forge’s will. There are the Leader types, the ones with mental enhancements, who will govern, as well as overseeing the development of new technologies. Athene, I believe that you have met one of them, Miss Victoria Castella. And then, there is me.”
“I was created based on the genetic stock of Gabriella Wang, and as her daughter, I represent, to use an old expression, the best of both worlds. I am enhanced both physically and mentally, combining the strengths of the Soldier and Leader types. In summary, I am the pinnacle of our new humanity.” As she spoke, her expression became even smugger, convinced that she was superior even to other Upgraded Humans.
“It is inevitable that most humans shall not understand the benefits that Forge will bring.” She continued. “Rather, they will cling desperately to obsolete ideologies, and we will be forced to drag them into this new world. Even our allies among the Commonwealth and Lunapact take part hoping for power and position, rather than in the name of the evolution that we, the chosen few, understand.”
I wasn’t sure I did understand all these grandiose statements about human evolution and such, but I did feel that I understood something about Gabriella Wang, Jr, from her speech.
“Elder sister, you criticise our allies for acting out of a desire for power and position, but is that not what you and the other leaders of Forge will receive if this new world of yours comes to fruition?” Hearing this, Hippolyta whispered my name in a shocked tone of voice, while Ares looked at me disapprovingly. Gabriella, junior, also glared at me, although she kept her voice level.
“It is true that we shall receive such things. However, we act not out of the desire for power for its own sake, but because, in order to forge our future, we are the ones best qualified to take those positions. Ordinary humans will never understand that. Upgraded Humans were originally conceived as mere servants, intended to work and fight for them. If they remain in power, that is all you will ever be, Athene Gold – they will continue to fight each other in petty wars, and you and your siblings will be fated to be their tools. Only a few, like my mother, saw your potential to bring forth humanity’s future.”
I remained unconvinced, and I think she could tell, because she sighed in disappointment.
“Athene, please try and understand that this is what is best for you and all your siblings. Ares, may I speak with you in private?”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed the… difficulties Athene has been having since she returned to you.” Gabriella said, pointedly.
“She’s not like I remember her.” Ares replied. “She changed, during the time she was away from me.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, her experiences serving in the Commonwealth forces have done that to her. They have caused her to develop in undesirable ways, and they also show signs of affecting her commitment – not only to Forge, but to her siblings, and to you.”
“Athene would never betray us!” Ares protested.
“That was Athene as you knew her. I’ve been monitoring her, and as you said, she’s changed now. Fortunately, she can be reprogrammed. The errors that have accumulated can be corrected.”
Ares looked sceptical.
“I don’t know if that’s…”
“Trust me, it’s what’s best for all concerned. I can be sure of her commitment to Forge, she can fight without being burdened, and you… you can have Athene back the way she was. The one you remember, and admire for her skill and loyalty. The one that’s the way a supersoldier should be.”
I found it odd that I should receive instructions to report to for a medical examination at such a time, but I followed the order, reporting to the infirmary. I found Ares waiting inside, too, and one of the boxlike full-scan chambers opened in the wall, like a whitewashed plastic coffin. The door slid closed behind me, and the lock light turned red.
“Athene, you’re scheduled to go first.” Ares told me, and I took a step towards the chamber, before I remembered something. I had been in a chamber like this once before, just before I was transferred to the Gallipolli. That was where I was…
“No.” I told him.
“Athene, this is what’s best for you.” Ares told me, sounding so sure that he was right.
“Ares, I don’t want to be brainwashed.”
“You don’t really think that. Not the real you.” He assured me. “I’m sorry, but this is for your own good.” With that, he moved to grab my arm, trying to force me towards the open chamber.
Shamefully, I was not prepared for him to do such a thing. After grabbing my arm, he followed up with a knee to my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I attempted to fight back, and managed to hold him off for several minutes, but against an opponent of Ares’ caliber being unprepared for his initial strike meant that I was at a disadvantage, and I never really managed to turn the tables. Eventually, bruised and dazed, he grabbed me in a half-nelson chickenwing and forced me into the chamber.
“I’m sorry I had to do this.” I heard him say, and then the door of the chamber closed, and I heard a hiss and felt an oddly-warm breeze. In a few seconds, the gas entered my lungs, and everything faded to black.
I awoke to see Ares and Hippolyta standing over me, smiling warmly.
“Did you sleep well, Athene?” Ares asked.
“Yes, very well. What happened?”
“Elder Sister said you were sick, but you’re fixed now.” Hippolyta said.
Elder Sister… that would mean Gabriella Wang, junior. One of the leaders of Forge, and proof of her mother’s commitment to the future that upgraded humans like ourselves would bring.
“Well, you’re rested enough for now.” Ares said. “We’ve got work to do. It’s good to have you back.”
I agreed – I was back where I belonged, and I felt good. Forge was about to begin their operations in earnest, and I, supersoldier Athene Gold, would serve with pride.
END OF CHAPTER 14
Next Time: INSTRUMENTS OF DESTRUCTION