CHAPTER.01 – AFTERGLOW OF THE RED COMET (2)

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第一章「赤い彗星の残照」2
CHAPTER.01 – AFTERGLOW OF THE RED COMET (2)

Arlette and the others hid in a back alley, peeking out to study the mobile suits as they strode through the streets. Several of Mehmet’s subordinates who had gotten separated from the team had been able to rejoin them, but there were still many they were unable to contact. Fortunately, thanks to the Minovsky particles still shrouding the area, there was no fear of their location being discovered with heat sensors or the like. It would be the end of the line if the enemy indiscriminately shot at the whole area, but they probably wouldn’t do something that reckless in such a narrow residential district.

“I never imagined a Gundam would appear… Just what in the hell is going on here?” Danton posed the question to Mehmet’s back as the latter surveyed the scene. “Think they’re after the same thing as you guys?”

“The probability of that is high, I’d say. Although we still don’t know who they really are.”

“Tch…”

“…”

Danton shrugged his shoulders dejectedly as a silent Arlette remained deep in thought beside him. There was no doubt that suit was a Gundam type. To be precise, it greatly resembled the Gundam-type mobile suits she was familiar with, but didn’t exactly match any of them.

“A type that wasn’t in the data… A new model? But, in that case…”

“So, what’re we gonna do? We can’t just sit here playing hide-and-seek.”

“Seeing that we don’t have any mobile suits of our own, these aren’t the lot we can take on with any decent chance of winning. All we can do is keep moving so they don’t find us.”

“A mobile suit, huh?”

Those words made a single thought pop into Arlette’s mind. If this place was still as it was in her memories, then they did have a way to break out of this deadlock.

“Hey! Arlette!”

Arlette suddenly ran out, and a panicked Danton chased her.

“Ugh, this girl! Always running off the moment she gets an idea!”

“Lieutenant Mehmet!”

Pushing through the fine dust, Arlette rushed over to Mehmet’s side.

“Miss Arlette! It’s dangerous here, fall back–” Mehmet yelled, but Arlette silenced him with a pleading look, then whispered:

“There’s a mobile suit hangar directly below this residential area.”

“Did you just say a hanger?”

Mehmet reflexively turned to face Arlette.

“It’s a hangar for storing prototype mobile suits the facility made for research purposes. There might be at least one still down there.”

Guessing what she was getting at, Mehmet’s eyes went wide.

“And you think…it could still be operational?”

“The power supply for everything related to the research facility is independent from the residential area.”

“Well…no, even so, it’s impossible. Even if there were a functioning mobile suit, there’s no pilot…”

“Yes there is. Right here.”

Arlette turned to look back with a bold smile. Danton shook his head, making a face as if he’d just bitten into a lemon.

“Who, me…?”

Memories of days spent with Arlette came flooding back into Danton’s mind. Their time in the facility, too, and the time after the war’s end, when he moved to Side 6.

That’s right. This little girl’s been getting me into trouble since way back in the day.

At the same time, he remembered something else: no matter how much he expressed his disapproval, she wouldn’t listen to a single bit of it.

“He’s a former Zeon test pilot. There’s no questioning his skill.”

“Yes, but that goes too far beyond merely receiving assistance from civilians…”

Danton responded to the bewildered Mehmet in a resigned tone.

“Far as I’m concerned, that’s not a problem.”

“Mr. Danton?”

“We’re already far past that point anyway, aren’t we?”

Danton shrugged as he started to walk away, followed by a smiling Arlette.

“See, Lieutenant? He’s okay with it, so…”

“Yeah, and who’s fault do you think that is?”

×  ×  ×

Arlette and company distanced themselves from the main streets, heading toward the areas connected to the outskirts. Mehmet and his troops could hold the enemy mobile suits at bay, but probably not for long.

“I’m pretty sure we can take a shortcut through here.”

After passing through the gigantic, empty shaft of a disused freight elevator, Arlette and Danton landed in the mobile suit hangar that stretched out directly beneath the residential district.

“It’s up ahead. Hurry!”

“Hey, hold on!”

Arlette took the lead as she headed toward the hangar she was aiming for. Danton followed her, but when he noticed the identification number written there, his sour face soured even more.

“Say, this hangar, don’t tell me it’s…”

“Don’t you think this mobile suit is perfect for us?”

“You gotta be kidding me…”

×  ×  ×

With an experienced hand, Arlette opened the emergency compressed air-style knob and slipped into the hangar. Danton followed close behind her. Just as expected, there was one mobile suit still housed there.

“That thing still active? Do you realize how many years it’s been since then?”

“Hey, I made this baby. There’s no reason it’d be so weak as to get rusty in a few years.”

The huge, crimson fuselage closely resembled the high performance machine which had formerly been the symbol of Zeon during the One Year War: the MS-06. However, this one was bigger overall, and its rugged thrusters, placed throughout, made one feel its superior maneuverability. Furthermore, in many places along its body, it had various armaments the MS-06 did not.

“AMX-011S… The Zaku III Custom. It’s been a while. Have you been a good boy?”

The two of them kicked against the floor to float up to the cockpit. When they flipped the entry switch, the hatch opened easily.

“I knew it, the reserve power is still good! Come on, Danton, get in!”

“I know, I know.”

Danton sat down in the linear seat, and Arlette sat in front of him. In this position, Danton was practically hugging Arlette, but by now this caused him no discomfort. Back then, they were like this almost every day.

“Please start by activating the main fusion reactor. I’ll boot up the base system.”

“Since I don’t have my personal disk, the settings will have to stay as the Captain had them. I won’t be able to fight full strength, you know. The Captain was so picky about the settings…”

“You can take your complaints directly to the Captain. Besides, there’s no problem as far as your personal data’s concerned.”

Arlette winked mischievously, then reached into a pocket of her normal suit to pull out a well-used disk.

“Hey… I thought I told you to get rid of that thing.”

“Well, aren’t you glad I didn’t?”

“Tch…”

Upon inserting the disk into the slot, each component of the suit started setting itself up in accordance with Danton’s registered personal data. Next, when Danton activated the fusion reactor, the panoramic monitor in the cockpit lit up, displaying a CG view of their surroundings in the hangar. The light in the monoeye came on with a dull, “vwoon” sound.

“No rifle, huh? Guess I shouldn’t have expected one here.”

“It’s okay. The internal weapons will be more than enough.”

“Easy for you to say…”

The setup was completed as they continued their conversation, and all system indicators switched to green.

“Alright, we’re taking off! Hold on tight!” Danton yelled. The moment he was about to close the front hatch, Arlette suddenly stood up and nimbly exited the cockpit.

“Hey!”

“You won’t go all-out if I’m on board, right? I’ll be waiting with Lieutenant Mehmet, so make quick work of those guys then come meet up with us.”

“Hey, there’s no guarantee I won’t get killed instead! See if Mr. Lieutenant can protect you when that happens!”

Danton cursed at Arlette, who simply smiled mockingly while waving her hand as she walked away.

“You’ve got the Captain’s orders, right? Do your best! I love you as a father!”

“You little brat!”

The cockpit hatch snapped shut as if to add a parting slap.

Awakened from its transient slumber, the red giant took off with a roar.

×  ×  ×

Meanwhile, in the residential district, Mehmet and the Mastema Special Forces under his command were engaged in a battle for their lives. Hiding within the cloud of debris, Mehmet sneaked up on a Jegan from behind. Without making a sound, he leaped into the air, and just when he’d reached the Jegan’s torso, he immediately backed away.

“Alright…”

In that instant, a blazing light split the area around the Jegan’s cockpit open. The large frame of the mobile suit faltered.

Having noticed the confrontation, another machine rushed over, but Mehmet was faster: he aimed the muzzle of the small rocket launcher he’d brought along at the wounded Jegan’s cockpit and immediately pulled the trigger. Riding the bomb blast, he got away from the scene. Behind him, the huge Jegan went limp, like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

“I trained in low gravity hand-to-hand combat countless times, but never imagined I’d take on a mobile suit like that…”

With a wry smile, Mehmet confirmed the situation. Attacking in waves with explosives set in various places and with the arms they carried, they had succeeded in immobilizing one enemy mobile suit. For having fought a mobile suit in the flesh, it was an astounding military gain. However, the losses were proportionately larger: more than half the unit had already been taken out. There were still two other enemy mobile suits. More importantly, the Gundam type remained unscathed.

“…!”

Mehmet looked up and bit his lip. There, right before his very eyes, was the Gundam type suit. Rifle at the ready, it slowly descended toward him. The muzzle was aimed dead at him.

“I knew I couldn’t stay hidden forever…”

At this point, what resources he had left were not enough to even try mounting a counterattack. With the Minovsky particles interfering with communications, he couldn’t call for reinforcements from the squad he’d left on the perimeter either.

“Well…there’s nothing else I can do.”

Mehmet closed his eyes in resignation, but then —

Suddenly, the ground in front of him exploded with a thunderous roar.

“?!”

A red flash crossed the dim airspace. In that instant, that’s how Mehmet’s eyes perceived it. The large, radiant crimson body cracked the stone pavement as it soared upward, crashing head-on into the Gundam type. The entangled mobile suits ascended until they smashed into the dome above the residential district.

Mehmet, who had automatically hidden in the rubble; his subordinates; and the Jegan type that had been after them; all of them could do nothing other than stare, dumbfounded.

“Shit! Just as I thought, this thing’s got way too much pep to use in a narrow space like this!”

Firing thrusters, Danton tried to peel the body of his suit off the dome by force. The Gundam type remained motionless, sunken into the dome. With that one blow, it had been rendered temporarily inoperative.

Trying to help its partner, the Jegan type on the ground started shooting.

“No need to get impatient, I’ll spar with you next!”

Skillfully dodging the spray of bullets, Danton closed in on the Jegan with the Zaku III Custom. Just then, Arlette’s voice rang out.

“Danton, you can’t blow up the mobile suit’s fusion reactor! Smash the cockpit instead!”

Looking down at the sub monitor, Danton saw Arlette running with a portable laser comm device in hand.

“Easier said than done! I’m not the Captain, you know!”

“The Captain’s former test pilot shouldn’t whine!”

“Dammit!”

Cursing, Danton turned his attention back to the Jegan before him. He set his sights on the cockpit at its abdomen, and pulled the trigger without hesitation. The mega particle cannon mounted on the Zaku III Custom’s chin blew out the Jegan’s cockpit with precise aim.

“One more to go…”

Turning his back on the silenced Jegan, Danton once again fired up his thrusters to soar into the air.

×  ×  ×

“Incredible…”

Mehmet could only watch on in blank amazement as the Zaku III Custom’s fierce attack brought down the Jegan in the blink of an eye. Arlette walked up to his side.

“Is that… Mr. Danton inside of that red mobile suit?”

“Yes, it’s him.”

“I’d heard it had been a very long since he piloted anything…”

“That’s right. But that’s not the type of thing that would cause him any problems.”

“Oh?”

“Because…even that person acknowledged Danton.”

×  ×  ×

The Zaku III Custom rose on its thrusters. Up ahead, the Gundam type which had been half-buried in the dome thanks to Danton’s ramming attack was just then recovering from its system shutdown. Its twin eyes lit up with a “vwoon.”

“Oh, you should’ve taken a longer nap!”

But it was already too late.

I don’t know if he’s trying to evade or counterattack, but at this range, I better fly at him before he can make a move. I’d rather immobilize the suit without smashing the cockpit so I can find out who’s behind this, but…

As Danton was thinking that, in the next instant, his overconfident smile froze on his face.

“?!”

The Gundam forcefully fired up its thrusters, heading toward Danton.

“He’s fast!”

The Gundam closed the distance between them in a flash, bearing down on the Zaku III Custom. Danton had planned on flying into its chest, but at this rate, he would end up being rammed into it instead.

The Gundam raised its free arm as if in an uppercut, aiming for the Zaku III Custom’s head.

“Like I’d let you hit me!”

Danton immediately bent over backwards to evade. But right then, the armor on the Gundam’s arm slide back without warning, and a dimly gleaming muzzle peeped out.

“…?!”

In an instant, a glaring flash filled Danton’s field of vision. The hidden weapon built into the Gundam’s arm — probably a beam cannon — unleashed its fire.

×  ×  ×

“Mr. Danton!”

Mehmet, who had been watching with bated breath, screamed.

At point-blank range, no matter how capable Danton was, not even he could have evaded that…

“It’s okay.”

“What…?”

Mehmet turned around without thinking.

“It’s okay. He… won’t lose.”

At Mehmet’s side, Arlette watched over the battle unfolding high above with a gentle smile on her face.

×  ×  ×

As if in shock, the Gundam type froze for a second. Its beam had barely grazed the Zaku III Custom’s nose.

The Zaku III Custom balled up its fists, and started whaling on the Gundam’s arms.

“!!”

The beam cannon mounted on the Gundam’s arms let out violent sparks.

“Hmph!”

From that position, Danton twisted his upper body to deliver a roundhouse kick.

“!!”

Although the Gundam immediately guarded with both its sparking arms, it fell out of its stance, and fired up its thrusters to put some distance between them.

“I…won’t lose.”

Danton muttered to himself without realizing it.

He’d made a promise. There was absolutely no way he could sully that person’s name while fighting in their mobile suit. Especially not against a Gundam type!

“Danton!”

Arlette’s voice rang out from the communications device.

“Hyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

With a roar, Danton stepped on the throttle, fired his thrusters again, and charged at the Gundam.

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The front armor at the Zaku III Custom’s waist sprang up, revealing a beam cannon which served as a saber loaded within .

The two mobile suits closed in on each other. The Gundam immediately tried to aim its beam rifle, but the damage it had sustained earlier seemed to be slowing down its movements. At about the same time, the Zaku III Custom’s beam cannon blasted the Gundam’s rifle away. Having lost its weapon, the Gundam type shook violently, losing its balance, but it fired its thrusters to rise up into the upper airspace.

“You’re not getting away!”

Danton was about to give chase, but a transmission from Arlette made him stop short.

“Wait, Danton!”

When he looked, he saw the Gundam gaining altitude, escaping toward the hatch that connected to the interior of Axis.

Danton didn’t try to pursue it. If he tried to fight there, he would put Arlette in danger. He was curious about who his opponent had been, but right now, her safety was the top priority.

By the time Arlette and Mehmet had run over to the mobile suit’s feet, the Gundam had already flown out of the area.

×  ×  ×

“A red mobile suit…”

Mehmet muttered under his breath as he stared at the Zaku III Custom standing still in the abandoned streets.

“It really took me by surprise… That form, it’s exactly…”

Next to him, Arlette smiled quietly.

“This mobile suit… A certain woman made it for the person she loved.”

“Eh?”

“Poor woman, just pushed around by the waves of destiny, the future of Axis left in her hands… She developed that mobile suit just to try to get the person she loved to pilot it.”

With that, Arlette closed her eyes, as if to remember something.

“She said it was so that he would stay on Axis… forever by her side.”

“That’s…”

“Of course, he left this place behind without piloting it even once.”

It was exactly as if she were talking to her past self rather than explaining things to Mehmet…

Meanwhile, Lieutenant JG Mehmet Merca listened to her words absentmindedly, while staring at the huge crimson machine towering above him.