Shane skipped back to the start of the footage as he sat at a console in the rec room.
“So you’ve said.” McDermott told him. “So you’ve been saying ever since the footage from our anonymous source came in.”
Shane just sighed in response.
“That won’t get you anywhere. We need to think of a way to deal with this.”
“But where do we start? That Mobile Armor’s a monster… and we don’t even know where she is or what she’s doing at the moment.”
“True, but I don’t expect that she’ll keep quiet for long.”
“Lieutenant Alan McDermott and Ensign Shane Yamada to the bridge. Repeat, Lieutenant Alan McDermott and Ensign Shane Yamada to the bridge.” The order came over the PA system.
“And that might be some news now.” With that, the pair headed to the bridge, where Captain Monash was waiting for them.
“I though you should see this.” She said, bringing an email up on the screen. The email showed no sender, and contained only the subject “Athene”, a set of coordinates, and a timer showing seventy-two hours remaining, and counting down. “Those co-ordinates are in Lunapact space, near Lagrange Point 2. We can make it there in time if we set out now, and nobody stops us. That is, if you’re willing to head into what, despite what happened to the Lunapact leaders, is still enemy territory for us.”
Shane and Alan looked at each other, and nodded.
“I’m in.” McDermott said.
“It’s not even a question.” Shane replied. “Let’s go.”
“Although,” Monash added, “While the sentiment is admirable, have you even thought of a way of dealing with Athene yet?”
The pair looked at each other.
“You have until we reach Lunapact space to think of one.”
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM STORM
A fanfic by Andrew Dynon
Based on “Mobile Suit Gundam” by Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yadate
Chapter 15: Trust You
I sat with Hippolyta and Ares, reviewing footage of the raid on Collins Base as we sat down to eat a meal of meat substitute and nutrient gel, an off-white, semi-solid mass that provided everything necessary for our bodies, and had no discernable taste – something not considered necessary. It was something I must have eaten every day of my life, apart from when we were undergoing sustenance deprivation, either as training or punishment.
“Hippolyta, I was aware of your talent, but you performed above expectations.” I told her.
“It’s thanks to you, sir. When I was fighting with you, I felt that I could go beyond what I’d done before. It’s as if you were guiding me, even when you weren’t giving me any orders.”
“I see. I felt the same way, like I knew you had my back. I didn’t even need to see my HUD.”
“Yes, Gabriella Wang mentioned something like that.” Ares said. “She called it the Resonance theory – the idea that enhanced humans can connect with each other mentally, and draw on each other’s psyches to share information and strengthen one another. If her ideas are correct, then you’ve just begun to awaken to your full potential as supersoldiers.”
I’d never learned any science apart from what was practical for my duties, such as how to function in space or perform a re-entry. The idea was interesting – we could share our consciousness with all of our siblings, and all of us would be strengthened by doing so – but it wasn’t immediately relevant.
“How did you like using the MUBs?” Ares asked.
“They’re amazing, too, sir. Being able to control so many weapons at once, with just a thought – we can do so much more with them than with just an MA and fighter by themselves.” Hippolyta said, sounding as if the memory of going into battle still made her slightly giddy.
“They are an amazing piece of technology.” I agreed, “Especially their versatility. It would be impressive enough if they were just guns, blades, or shields, but the utility of being able to switch them between the different modes, especially with the amount of responsiveness I get from them, puts it on another level. It seems Forge really is putting its best efforts into arming us.”
“Of course. The best supersoldiers deserve the best technology, as Miss Wang tells me.” Ares said.
“However, as amazing as they are, I wouldn’t necessarily say I like using them.” I admitted. “You know that my favourite form of combat is hand-to-hand. Nothing gets my adrenalin pumping quite like fighting with nothing but my body as a weapon. The further I get from that, the more intensity seems to be lost from the experience. Ares, you know what I mean, don’t you? You always enjoyed the hand-to-hand training just as much as me.”
“Yeah, I still remember those bouts we had for the top HTH ranking. You’d take top rank off me, and then I’d push myself even harder until I got it back, and then you’d do the same.”
“So which one of us held it when I got my first assignment?”
“That would be you. Of course, I fully intended to fix that as soon as I got the chance.”
Hippolyta glanced at me, somewhat guiltily.
“I’m supposed to be like you, right, sir? But I prefer ranged combat.”
“There’s nothing to apologise for, Hippolyta.” I reassured her. “I don’t think there’s any reason we’re supposed to prefer one form of combat. I’m sure it’s just a personal thing. In fact, some of our siblings are being trained as specialists in certain forms of combat, right? And even for generalists like us, it makes sense that we’d have different preferences. In any case, on the battlefield, we need to prioritise the best tactical option over what we like. I’m not going to punch an enemy to death if I can shoot him with an assault rifle instead. It’s the same with the MUBs.”
“Anyway, Hippolyta, I think you deserve something special.” I picked up my flavour sachet – the only one I was issued in my week’s rations, and that only because I was a gold class supersoldier, rather than a silver class like Hippolyta – emptied it over Hippolyta’s nutrient gel, and mixed it in. The sachet listed it as strawberry. Strange, I seemed to remember eating a real strawberry, once. The word “strawberry” made me think of Mars… why was that?
Hippolyta tentatively scooped some of the gel up and put it in her mouth, then made a confused expression.
“It’s strange…” she mused, then her eyes lit up and she hurriedly scooped up another mouthful. “But I like it. Thank you, sir!”
Gallipolli, Recreation Room
“ZOINKS cheap hax piece of ZOINKS!“ Shane yelled as the Black Iron Titan crushed his samurai, yet again. After an hour or so of unsuccessfully trying to think of way to take down that monster mobile armor he’d seen the footage of Athene piloting, he’d decided to go and play a video game, mainly to let off the steam he’d been building up, but also because maybe an idea would come to him if he had his mind on something else. So far, he’d been successful at neither.
“I don’t mind you swearing, Shane.” He heard Khadija’s voice say from behind him, “Just as long as no controllers get thrown. The maintenance crews have higher priorities than game peripherals.”
“How’re you holding up, Khadija?” Shane asked.
“I’m fine. I was actually going to ask you the same thing.”
“Stressing out a bit, but I think that’s normal under the circumstances.”
“Yeah, you’d be abnormal if you weren’t. Well, more abnormal than you already are, anyway. What are you playing?”
“Sword of Susanowo. It’s an action game set in medieval Japan.”
“Mind if I jump in? Maybe if we use co-op mode I can help you beat this thing.”
“I thought you hated violence.”
“I hate violence in real life. Video games are fine, and I need to blow off stress too, sometimes. Am I gonna have to pwn your arse to prove it to you, or will we skip the formalities and get on with beating that boss?”
Khadija chose Sayaka the kunoichi from the character select screen, the level restarted, and the pair began hacking their way through hordes of minions on their way to another confrontation with the Black Iron Titan.
“I really had trouble getting along with Athene while she was here.” Khadija said, “We were from such different worlds. But, looking back, I can only pray that I would have handled myself as well under the circumstances.”
“Different worlds is right.” Shane replied. “Boot camp was hell for me, and I’ve never heard anyone else who went through it say any different. I can’t imagine being raised there. Though I guess then it’d be normal for you.”
Khadija backstabbed a sub-boss, Sayaka pulling his spinal column out with her kusari-gama as she finished him.
“And she said there’s all those other ones like her. The ones she went back to save.” Shane added. “I know it’s a horrible thought, but if they’re never gonna be anything but weapons for her bosses, maybe it would be more merciful to kill them.”
“NO! THAT IS SO FUCKING WRONG, SHANE!” It was the first time in all the years he’d known her that Shane had heard Khadija swear.
“I’m sorry I said… sorry I thought that.”
“No, never mind. I can understand why someone would think that. But... while there’s life, there’s hope, you know? Regardless of what else Athene’s siblings may be, they’re people, first and foremost, and every life has the potential to do good. To kill them would be to deny their futures, and the good they might do, both collectively and as individuals.”
“Even though they were created as soldiers?”
“Just because that’s what the people who made them intended doesn’t mean that’s what they have to be. If they can escape from their influence, they can choose their own destinies. I can’t see condemning them to death for what they were intended to become as anything other than monstrous.”
“And that’s the last thing in the universe Athene would want, anyway.” Shane added. “After Athene killed Pallas, she nearly committed suicide out of guilt. I’m no psychologist, but if she were to go through that again, she might end up broken beyond repair.”
“And that’s something I know you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, let alone the girl you love.” Khadija said. “Heads up, boss approaching.”
“Okay, I’ll get its attention, while you sneak up behind it.”
“Got it. Now, let’s free Ten-no-Tsurugi-hime from the sorcerer’s enchantment! I think we get her unlocked if we win this. Apparently she’s a really cool character.”
“How can you pronounce those names?”
“Says the guy with the Japanese surname! Really, I thought Japanese people were supposed to be proud of their ancestry!”
Capitol House, Apollo City
Headquarters of the Luna and Allied Cabinet
“I’m glad you agreed to meet me on such short notice, Acting Chairperson.” Victoria Castella said. “The urgency of this matter notwithstanding, I’m sure the current crisis means there are many other demands on your time.” To Forge, any such demands were irrelevant next to ensuring their puppets were fully committed to following their agenda, but it was a given that Admiral Judith Nguyen understood that, and reminding her would not be tactful, especially since they preferred to let such people think they were higher-ranked than they really were. Besides, lording it over her would be nothing if not crass. So, she had informed the leader of Lunapact of her desire for a meeting in advance, and politely waited to be offered a seat.
Nguyen was all business, short-haired and attired in a crisp, white Lunapact Navy dress uniform, with the requisite gold braid and polished medals. Victoria, for her part, had colored her waist-length hair a deep indigo today, her dark tresses contrasting with her exquisite, sky-blue dress, adorned by a Forge pin in gold and ruby.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Nguyen asked, looking Victoria in the eyes and scanning her for any hint of… nerves? A hidden agenda?
“First, I wish to congratulate you on the efficiency with which you are guiding Lunapact following the recent tragedy.” Victoria said. “It would seem that most of the population supports the adoption of martial law in light of the Commonwealth’s ‘Pearl Harbor-like cowardly sneak attack on the Lunapact leadership’, as LunaNews put it. Until such time as victory is attained and civilian government can be reinstated, of course.”
“Naturally.” Nguyen replied. “And, of course, I don’t intend to remain in the military forever. Once that happens, I may well move on to other ventures.”
“Ventures which we shall, of course, support you in, provided you continue to uphold your end of our bargain.” Victoria replied, smiling conspiratorially. “However, there are more immediate concerns which need to be addressed. We have intercepted communications from elements within the Lunapact military which contradict the official version of events.”
“And obviously, any potential sedition or mutiny will need to be dealt with.” Nguyen said.
“As swiftly and efficiently as possible. Obviously, we are willing to assist you, both with intelligence and in the field. We can provide you with the location the mutinous elements are gathering, as well as a supersoldier-spec mobile armor to help eliminate them.” Forge had been monitoring the attack on Collins Base, and she herself had ensured that any video footage of the attack was edited to alter or eliminate footage of the Storm Cell and Stormrider.
Nguyen smiled. “You are very generous.”
“Not at all. Thank you for your time.”
So, the pieces are where I want them. Victoria thought as she left. But there are no guarantees as to how the game, or even the coming turn, will play out.
“Shane, I appreciate that an idea came to you, but do we have to come all the way down here for it?” Khadija asked as she and Shane entered the hangar. The maintenance crews had finished their shift now, and the mobile suits loomed over them like shadowy giants in the dim illumination of the night cycle lights.
“I noticed Athene liked to come down here sometimes when she was off duty, and just sit in her cockpit.” Shane said, pushing off the walkway and letting the zero gravity carry him toward the cockpit of the Gale Gundam. “At the time, I thought she just wanted to be alone.”
“But now you think she might have been doing something there.”
“It’s just a hunch, but I’m kind of desperate by now.” Shane punched in a series of numbers on a keypad next to the cockpit, and it slid open.
“How did you get the access code?” Khadija asked.
“McDermott gave it to me when I said I thought I might find a clue in here.” Shane replied, and swung his body into the cockpit, sitting down in the pilot’s seat. Khadija moved to stand beside him, then Shane closed the cockpit, and the pair looked at the blank main monitor.
“Uh, hello?” Shane said out loud. “Metis? That’s your name, right? This Mobile Suit’s AI? It’s Ensign Shane Yamada. You’ve probably heard me talking over the comms before. Hello? Anybody there?”
“Um, Metis, I guess I should introduce myself.” Khadija added. “I’m Khadija Akram. We’ve never met, but maybe Athene mentioned me to you or something? Oh, and my personnel file should be in the ship’s database. I’m a Rescue MS pilot and trainee medic with the IPMC.”
“Anyway, we really need your help.” Shane said. “Did Athene leave anything with you before she got transferred? We’re kind of really hoping she did.”
“Please,” Khadija said to the still-blank screen. “We want to save her. If there’s anything you can do, please help us to help her.”
For long moments nothing happened. Then a computerised, feminine voice spoke in the cockpit.
“Greetings, Ensign Shane Yamada and Trainee Medic Khadija Akram. I am Metis, partner AI of Ensign Athene Gold.”
“Uh, okay. Pleased to meet you, I guess.” Shane said. “You heard my question just now, right? Is there anything, anything at all, that could help us?”
“Affirmative. There is a hidden folder that can be accessed by Lieutenant Allan McDermott or Ensign Shane Yamada. Access requires voiceprint and retinal scans. I have your voiceprint. Please look at the spot now showing on the main monitor for the retinal scan.”
As Shane did so, Khadija grinned. “All right! You always did have good intuition, Shane.”
“Along with my many other good points.”
“Don’t get cocky.”
Shane started to reply, but the words caught in his throat as the monitor flashed into life. The face there had only been gone for a month or so, but already the visage of the young woman with black skin and buzzcut hair felt like it had come from an impossibly long time in the past, and yet only a moment ago. He tried to blink the water from his eyes as she began to speak.
“Lieutenant McDermott, Ensign Yamada, if you are hearing this message, I am no longer serving on the Gallipolli. I have left because the organisation responsible for creating Pallas and myself has also created several other supersoldiers, and I consider these supersoldiers to be my siblings. It is my hope that I will be able to make contact with them, and prevent them from being used as tools by that organisation, the way they used myself and Pallas.”
“I know that attempting to do so is not without risk. Either Pallas, I, or both had our memories altered before we were dispatched to fight, and I know of no reason why the people responsible would not be able to do so again. If that happens, it’s possible that I may be sent into combat against you, not realising who you are.”
“It has been an honor to serve alongside you, and I have no desire to kill you, especially not in the service of those I wish to stop. Therefore, I have asked Metis to conduct a comprehensive analysis of my combat records, and develop strategies with which you can counter me. Initially, the only way I could think of for you to stop me was to kill me. Thankfully, though, Metis suggested another possibility.
“Metis has been recording my brainwaves and analysing my mental state while I was in the Gale Gundam’s cockpit. She believes that if she is able to re-establish contact with me, she will be able to revert any tampering with my mental state.
“However, this will require Metis to be in physical contact with either myself or the machine that I am piloting for a minimum of 21.5 seconds. Given my abilities, this is likely to be a difficult task even with the analysis of my pilot data provided. I ask that you only attempt this if you believe there is a realistic chance of accomplishing it. If not, I request that you use the more practical method of defeating me.
“It is my hope that we will not end up fighting one another, but if the worst comes to the worst, know that this is what the real me wanted.
"Fight to win,
As the screen went dark, Shane sat there, tears welling in his eyes.