CHAPTER.01 – AFTERGLOW OF THE RED COMET (1)
CHAPTER.01 – AFTERGLOW OF THE RED COMET (1)
“Hey, Arlette. We’re up.”
Arlette Almage opened her eyes, disoriented, as a hand roughly nudged her on the shoulder.
“T minus 180.”
“Relative velocity to the target is +30.”
“No response from the passive sensors.”
The operators’ voices buzzed about from the speakers next to her ears, as she realized she had fallen asleep. Noticing the vibrations in the seat against her back had grown slightly while she slept, she figured that the ship had begun decelerating. She turned to the large man sitting next to her.
“Yeah we got here while you were konked out.”
As Danton Hyleg muttered in judgment, Arlette’s annoyance with him showed on her face. “He’s is always like this,” she thought to herself, “I just woke up. Would it kill him to be a little more pleasant?” As she was just about to pick a fight with him, she noticed another man standing in the front of the room and quickly sat up, putting on a more professional face.
She took in her surroundings again. There were several men clad in the same normal suit as she was, sitting quietly in simple seats lining the outer wall. It was a cold, dull gray wall, without a single window. It was quite a stark sight.
“We finally come back, and we can’t even see the view…”
Just as she was regretting missing the scenery beyond those walls, a voice rang out from her helmet’s speaker. It was the young man standing in front of her.
“Ms. Arlette, I’d like you to take a look this.”
The man, Lieutenant JG Mehmet Merca, held out a tablet towards her with a peaceful smile on his face, rather uncharacteristic of a soldier.
“Are you certain this is the port you told us about?”
Arlette looked into the screen, which displayed the feed from one of the ship’s external cameras. A dock rolled out from a rough, angular rock surface, with a peculiar design drawn on it, exactly like the one she remembered.
“I’m sure of it. That’s the research facility’s private port.”
Mehmet gave her a slight smile and immediately went back to the control room. Once again, Arlette found herself staring at the windowless walls, and again she thought of the view that lay beyond them.
She was aboard an assault landing craft prepared by Mastema, a unit under the direct control of the Federation government. She knew that one more ship of the same model was traveling with them nearby. Each ship had a full Mastema company aboard. These two ships were headed somewhere that Arlette and Danton were very familiar with, but it was not the same place they’d once known.
It was Axis, once an asteroid base, a stronghold for Neo Zeon. But on that fateful day – March 12th U.C.0093 – the asteroid was split in half. Their destination this time was on one of those halves.
× × ×
“Our destination, the research facility, lies on the half of Axis further ahead in orbit – on the side where asteroid Moussa was attached.”
“Yes, but the facility is not on Moussa itself. Moussa only contained residential quarters and some defensive weapons facilities.”
“Is Moussa a special place?”
“To the people who lived on it, yes. It’s existence is… how do I put it… a symbol of sorts – a place of origin.”
This is what Arlette explained to Mehmet and the others, as they traveled there in a high-speed transport ship disguised as a civilian transport. During the discussion, Danton just stood to the side, nodding silently. Though he had also lived on Axis for a while, he had never been granted permission to enter Moussa. Newcomers such as him – who’d survived the One Year War and fled to Axis – were never allowed to even step foot in Moussa. It was treated as a kind of holy land.
× × ×
The increasing vibrations of the seats signaled that they would be docking soon. They had arranged for ship number 2 to land first and confirm that the area was safe, before ship number 1, with Arlette and the crew, would dock. The initiation of the docking sequence on their ship meant that ship number 2 had landed safely and there were no signs of danger. Before long, the light above each seat turned green, and the hatch creaked open, revealing a passage.
“This is some real VIP treatment.”
As Danton sighed, complaining under his breath, Arlette took his hand gently. She switched her speaker to touch communication, and her voice entered quietly into his helmet.
“We’ve come back.”
“It’s not like this is our home.”
“But the fact that it’s special hasn’t changed, right?”
Arlette’s voice was normal, but there was a slight flicker of emotion in it. Danton had been with her long enough to notice that much.
“I guess so. It is where the Flanagan Institute fell, after all.”
“This is where our lives were decided!”
Danton’s feelings didn’t change. They never had, and they never would.
“The only thing I’m thinking about is how to get you out of here alive. That’s all I ever thought about.”
“Just following the Captain’s orders, huh?”
Arlette gave a slight giggle and gripped his hand a little tighter.
× × ×
Arlette and the crew got off the landing ship and passed through the passage from the docking port, entering the urban district, directly beneath the area where Moussa had been attached. This was where the research facility’s personnel and families had once lived.
However, three years had passed since Axis had fallen – more than enough time for the district to cease all functions.
“It feels so different. I remember it being smaller and messier.”
“Spaces feel bigger when there are no people around.”
Arlette and Danton, along with the Mastema special forces unit, lead by Mehmet, made their way down the district’s main street. The entire residential sector was built to rotate to create artificial gravity, but the equipment had stopped functioning. The team kicked off the ground with each step, being careful not to float too high. This made the place feel even more foreign to Arlette.
“The target facility should be at the end of this street, correct?”
Mehmet’s voice rang in from the speaker.
The Minovsky particle density inside Axis read very high, as if it were a lingering scent from the war. In their close formation, the radios were working fine, but if they were to spread out enough to lose sight of each other, it was likely they’d lose communications as well.
“It’s going to be a hassle if we get separated.” thought Danton as he answered Mehmet’s question.
“Yeah, it should be…”
“Understood. Thank you, Mr. Danton.”
“For your cooperation. I’d like to thank you again.”
“Oh. Yeah, no problem.”
Though Mehmet and his squad were wearing the same normal suits as Danton and Arlette, each member was equipped with some impressive heavy weaponry.
“You guys are really packing the heat.”
“The area may be uninhabited, but you never know if there are automatic defense systems still in operation.”
“I see. Good thinking.”
The soft way that Mehmet carried himself was severely mismatched with his imposing title, “Special Forces Commanding Officer.” His movements suggested that he was more used to socializing with civilians than military types. Then again, that’s if you could call Danton and Arlette civilians.
“We’ll be out of the urban district soon. We can just follow the passage from there.”
The facility, once called the “Maharaja Karn Memorial Research Facility,” referring to one of the most influential men involved in its establishment, was also where the Flanigan Institute saw it’s demise, and it was the place where Danton and Arlette’s futures had been determined. And now, Danton was here, guiding a special forces unit for the Federation that was once his enemy.
But he was seeking something that might be there – something which that man had left.
He wondered what Arlette was thinking about as he walked beside her. Danton was lost in his trivial thoughts, when it happened. There was a sudden tremor and a blinding flash of light.
His body moved instantly, grabbing Arlette in both arms and diving into a nearby building. A moment later, bullets rained down on the spot they had just been standing, ricocheting off the stone pavement, shattering lights and ripping through billboards along the street.
“Gunfire?! Here?! But why?!” Danton racked his brain, as a shiver ran down his spine. He glanced outside and saw Mehmet and his squad scattering for cover. It was clear that the name “Special Forces” wasn’t just for show, as not a single member seemed unnerved by the sudden attack.
But there was something more surprising that caught his attention. This wasn’t normal gunfire raining down on them. It was something much worse…
“No. There’s no way…”
Danton raised his head in shock, as dust clouds slowly kicked up around him. In the distance, a huge shadow stood between the buildings. There was no mistaking it. It was something he never expected to see in these long-abandoned ruins. A giant puppet, born of human technology and made for one purpose: war. As the giant rose in the dim light, Danton stared into it’s ominous eyes, and as the hair stood up on his skin, he whispered its name.
“A mobile suit…”
× × ×
In an instant, the abandoned buildings had become a living hell. The mobile suit chased after the team as they weaved through the alleys between buildings. They caught glimpses of the machine as they ran, and it was clear it wasn’t alone. There were at least two of them. Perhaps more…
No matter how much the Mastema special forces unit might excel at combat, they had no chance against multiple of those 20-meter-tall monsters. There was only one option left to them: to run as fast as they could.
“That was a Jegan… wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. An RGM-89. I couldn’t get a full look at it from the building, but I could tell that much.”
The RGM-89 Jegan – mass produced during the Second Neo Zeon War, as the Earth Federation’s primary weapon.
“Then shouldn’t it be on your side?”
“Sorry to tell you, but I’ve never seen that model before.”
As Danton snapped at him, Mehmet shook his head in response.
“There are a lot of units that slipped away during the confusion after the war.”
“That’s some pretty competent supervision you guys have got there! Make sure you relay that to your higher ups when you get back!”
“I’ll be happy to, if we get back alive.”
Just then, Mehmet received a transmission from one of his soldiers.
“Commander! Everything’s set up!”
“Alright, fall back immediately! I’ll do the rest myself!”
As Mehmet shouted orders through the radio, he looked back and saw the Jegan closing in on them as it came out from between the buildings.
“Lieutenant, what are you…”
As soon as Mehmet finished the count, the buildings on either side of the Jegan erupted in explosion.
The blast wasn’t meant to hit the Jegan itself. The outer walls of the buildings around it had been blown away, letting out a thunderous roar, and rubble and dust scattered about the area, blocking the Jegan’s field of vision.
“What was that?”
“We set up some explosives while we were running.”
“Explosives? You even brought explosives with you?”
“We thought we might need them to blow open a sealed hatch. Of course, it’s nothing strong enough to take out a mobile suit, but it can certainly bring down some buildings.”
“Man, you don’t mess around…”
“Don’t let your guard down. Here they come.”
A shadow moved about in the dust. Another Jegan appeared along with a third mobile suit. Arlette gasped in surprise at the sight of the third mobile suit. It was something she’d never seen in person, but she had seen that unique design in documents countless times before.
That white frame, those twin eyes, that v-shaped antenna…
Arlette’s whisper was drowned out by the screaming voice of Mehmet.
“RUN FOR IT!!”
A brilliant blaze of light erupted from the muzzle of the Gundam’s rifle. They instinctively leaped into a small alleyway, as a red hot beam of light passed behind them, scorching the pavement.
The next part of the chapter comes out later this month! Stay tuned