CHAPTER.02 – LOOKING BACK: AT RIAH (2)

twilight_logo第二章「追憶~リーアにて~」2
CHAPTER.02 – LOOKING BACK: AT RIAH (2)

Entering the cafe, Danton surveyed the room and quickly found the two men he was looking for sitting at the back.

As he sat down across from them, the owner came over to take his order.

“Just give him another of what we had.”

The young man who had just introduced himself as Mehmet raised his coffee cup to the owner, but as he was about to speak again, Danton cut him off.

“I’ll have the usual.”

The owner gave a slight bow and headed into the back. A few minutes later, he came back out with a cream soda and slid a straw into it. Danton cleared his throat and took a swig. The others looked at him oddly, and he responded casually.

“It’s my favorite drink.”

“I see…”

Mehmet gave a vague smile, as he pulled a business card from his jacket and slid it across the table. Danton picked it up and looked over it, straw still hanging from his mouth.

“The Ministry’s Department Six…?”

He furrowed his brow at the unfamiliar name.

“We’re an intelligence bureau that works directly under the Federation.”

“Intelligence… I run a rundown cleaning service. What do you want from me?”

“Well…”

Mehmet paused and gave a sidelong glance toward the owner standing at the back.

“Don’t worry. That man’s not the type to stick his head where it doesn’t belong, and there’s no one else in the store right now.”

“I’ll take your word for it…”

Danton set his eyes on him as if inviting a challenge. Mehmet met his gaze and slowly began speaking again.

“I’ll be frank. I’d like to ask you to be our guide… through Axis.”

“I’m sorry…?”

“Axis. I’m sure you know of the place.”

How could he forget? Danton and Arlette used to live there, under the direct supervision of Char Aznable, the commander of Neo Zeon. Danton was the test pilot for Char’s own mobile suits, and Arlette worked in development. He still remembered it all like it was yesterday.

“I don’t understand. Why would you ask me?”

“Naturally, we know all about your history there.”

So that’s why you’re here…

“How much do you know?”

Mehmet smirked as he replied.

“I know enough. I know that you were a member of the AEUG before joining Neo Zeon. And before that, you worked alongside Char Aznable, since the One Year War.

“Excuse me?!”

“It’s common knowledge that Char joined AEUG during the Gryps campaign under the name Quattro Bajeena. There’s still a fairly large amount of data on that period in the Federation archives.”

“I see…”

Danton sighed as he took in the situation.

“It wasn’t all that difficult to find the two of you after looking at Quattro Bajeena’s records. We just profiled your behavior and thought patterns from some personal data and searched all the places you were likely to be, until we came here.”

“Sounds like you went through a lot of trouble. Does the Ministry’s Department Six have that much free time on their hands?”

Danton replied sarcastically, as he evaluated the men in front of him. What are they after?

“You went through all that work to get us to guide you through Axis? There’s been nothing but ruins there since it was split in two during the war. I doubt there’s anything to see.”

“We’re going because there is something to see.”

“What?”

“To be precise, there might be.”

“What exactly are you…”

“The psycho frame.”

“Huh!?”

Mehmet’s sudden answer left Danton speechless.

“It began about six months ago.”

Mehmet brought his hands together as he began his story.

“What do you know about the Laplace incident?”

“Only what I’ve heard in the news…”

“The details have been covered up, but during that incident, a certain mobile suit equipped with a psycho frame demonstrated some remarkable combat abilities. I’m sorry – those words don’t do it justice. Put simply, that mobile suit exhibited abilities that could completely undermine preexisting mobile suit weapons systems.”

The psycho frame… a technology once developed at Axis which builds computer chips directly into mobile suit frames at the metallic particle level. Char brought that technology to Neo Zeon as well as the entire Federation, contributing tremendously to the expansion of mobile suit capabilities. However…

“That’s quite a strong statement.”

“It’s not an exaggeration. That mobile suit succeeded in neutralizing a Colony Laser, and it even displayed self-regenerating abilities.”

“Are you serious?”

Danton had previously witnessed a battle between two mobile suits equipped with psycho frames, the MSN-04 Sazabi and the RX-93 Nu Gundam. Sure, those two were extremely strong, but they didn’t have that kind of power… Wait a minute.

Seeing Danton’s stunned expression, Mehmet nodded heavily.

“You saw it too, didn’t you? During the Second Neo Zeon War, when one half of Axis was falling towards Earth. A power that lifted that giant rock back into space. And that mysterious light…”

“Are you saying that was caused by the psycho frame?”

“That’s what we think.”

Mehmet’s gaze pierced Danton.

“Currently, the pyscho frame manufacturing techniques that were brought to the Federation are under tight security. But what if the research materials on Axis are still there? What if someone got their hands on those materials? What if they recreated it? Deployed it?”

“There’s no way…”

“It’s not impossible. Our duty is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Would you be willing to help us with that, Danton?”

Mehmet and his subordinate bowed deeply as they made their request. Danton didn’t know how to respond. On that fateful day when Axis was destroyed, he had prepared himself to die at Char Aznable’s side. He was sure Arlette felt the same way. But that’s not how things turned out.

When the battle between the Sazabi and the Gundam came to an end, Char Aznable disappeared. They couldn’t be there for him. Even now, Danton felt a sharp pain in his chest at the thought.

“Of course, we’re prepared to compensate you for your troubles with an appropriate sum. Further, we’ve arranged to have both of your criminal records completely erased. You can start over. A clean slate.”

“Hmm…”

Danton crossed his arms as he considered the proposal. He couldn’t swallow everything he’d just heard. The risks were too high. But given how much they had on him, backing out would be difficult.

More that anything, Danton was resistant to going back there, back to Axis. He didn’t like the idea himself, but more importantly, he didn’t want put Arlette through that experience again. He didn’t want to lose the quiet life they’d finally found.

So, how am I going to get out of this one… Danton’s hesitation was cut off by a voice from behind him.

“We’re in.”

“Huh, wait a second!”

He didn’t even have to look to know who it was. Arlette, wearing one of the store’s aprons, smiled as she took a seat next to Danton.

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“Arlette, what are you thinking?!”

“Don’t worry. I punched out for my break.”

“That’s not the issue here!”

“I know, I know. Relax for a minute.”

After calming a flustered Danton, Arlette turned to face Mehmet.

“I was just thinking about how I’d like to take a trip back.”

“Really?”

Mehmet’s eyes widened with surprise at Arlette’s eagerness.

“Arlette…”

“Just kidding. I was actually trying to forget about the place a moment ago.”

Arlette gave a roguish grin, but her eye’s didn’t show the slightest hint of hesitation.

“But if we have a reason to go back…then I want to do it. Really.”

Danton grasped her small hand under the table.

“I want to know what happened to the Captain and the Sazabi…”

“…”

Danton watched her intently for some time and finally resigned with large sigh.

“Fine. You win, my princess.”

“Meaning you’ll…”

“We’ll do it. We’ll guide you through Axis.”

Though Danton dropped his guard in defeat, Mehmet maintained his gentle smile and offered a handshake.

“Then let me reintroduce myself. I’m Lieutenant Mehmet Merca, commanding officer of the Mastema Special Forces under the Federation. I look forward to working with you.”

“Arlette Almage.”

“Danton Hyleg. Don’t forget about our payment.”

At that, Danton gulped down what was left of his melon soda. He savored the unnatural taste of artificial sweetener. It’s going to be a while before I can taste this again. He enjoyed this sort of thing – experiences unrelated to war.

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“Danton?”

Danton lifted his head as Arlette’s voice rang in from his speakers.

“Are you okay? That was your first battle in a long time. You must be tired.”

“No, I’m fine. I was just recalling how we got involved in all of this.”

He pressed some buttons on the console, opening the cockpit. He poked his head out the Zaku III’s cockpit and saw Arlette and Mehmet below, waving to him.

“It really feels like home now, huh?”

He turned back towards the cockpit and whispered to himself.

“I’m sorry, Captain. I ended up bringing her back here.”

Those words were meant for the man who should have been sitting in that seat – the man he had looked up to for so long but could never reach – Char Aznable.

“But I’ll look after her. I’ll protect Arnette. That was your final order, after all…”

He gave a small salute.