CHAPTER.03 – IN PURSUIT OF A RED PHANTOM (1)

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CHAPTER.03 – IN PURSUIT OF A RED PHANTOM (1)

“Looks like it’s time to part with this little guy. I’m going to miss him…”

Arlette spoke with a sense of sadness in her voice, as she took out the system disk from the cockpit of the Zaku III.

“It can’t be helped. This thing’s too big to bring with us.”

Danton responded quietly, as he looked at the cockpit that had carried him this far.

“I know…”

After working the console for a bit, Arlette took a quick breath and lifted her head.

“I’ve finished formatting the OS. This guy won’t be waking up any more.”

“Thanks…”

Danton murmured sympathetically, looking up at the red giant that stood silently before him. As long as Axis were to continue its course away from Earth, that Zaku III would never see a human being again. It would just drift through the darkness of space, amidst an infinite silence.

“Sorry to wake you so suddenly. You can rest now.”

“That’s not like you. First time in a cockpit in a while, and you get all sentimental?”

“Shut it.”

As Arlette crawled out of the cockpit with a grin on her face, Danton turned toward Mehmet below and called out.

“I’m done over here, too.”

“Well done. We’ve finished our preparations as well.”

Kicking aside some rubble to get through, Mehmet stood silently before the two of them.

“We’re gathering the injured from the battle and returning them to the landing ship. I’ve reorganized a unit with my remaining men.”

“Okay…”

A quick look around showed a total of six remaining Mastema members, including Mehmet. Along with Arlette and Danton, the eight of them would continue exploring.

“I’d like to avoid losing any more of my men.”

Danton gave a grunt in response to Mehmet’s wry smile.

“All we can do is pray that we don’t see that Gundam again.”

“Indeed.”

“Mehmet, any idea where that Gundam came from?”

Mehmet shrugged his shoulders in response.

“No clue.”

“How about you, Danton? Did you notice anything while you were fighting?”

“It was small.”

“Ah…yeah, I thought so too.”

At Danton’s quick answer, Arlette gave a slight nod.

“Nothing in the Zaku III’s database matched that Gundam, but it was a tad smaller that the current mobile suit standards. Smaller than a Jegan. That’s probably similar to the mobile suits that were used before the Gryps conflict, maybe even as far back as the One Year War. Though, I’m sure the parts have been tuned up to something more modern…”

“Hmm…”

Mehmet rubbed his head as he thought over the situation.

“Since the end of Char’s rebellion, Axis has been under the surveillance of the Federation, but there have been more than a few people who’ve sneaked in to make a profit. Most of them are civilian junk dealers and scavengers. I figured that was the case for the guys we just ran into… But if they have a Gundam in their possession…”

“There was a Jegan with them, too.”

“There might be more to this than meets the eye.”

Mehmet turned around and called to one of his subordinates who was about to head to the landing ship.

“Locke.”

“Yes, sir?”

The soldier, Locke, passed an injured man he had been helping to one of his comrades and walked over to Mehmet.

“Once you return to the ship, I want you to track every vessel traveling through this area. I doubt those guys left anything that would give away their identity, but just to be sure.”

“Understood.”

“Thank you.”

After sending his subordinate back out, Mehmet checked he watch on his space suit.

“We don’t have much time. We have to leave this asteroid within two hours if we don’t want to join it for a trip into an asteroid belt.”

“I’ll pass on the asteroid belt.”

“Let’s head for our original destination.”

“The Maharaja Khan Memorial Research Institute, right?”

“Yes, that was the primary location for Psycommu-related research and development.”

“Alright, let’s hurry. If you would please take the lead again, guides.”

“Sure thing.”

Mehmet turned towards his team.

“All soldiers, move out!”

×  ×  ×

Arlette, Danton and the Mastema team of six left the residential quarters and headed toward the research facility. They took as many side passages as they could, hoping to avoid another encounter with a mobile suit. Of course, there was a possibility that there were enemy soldiers nearby as well, but if it came down to hand-to-hand combat, the Mastema special forces would have the upper hand.

The advance continued silently for some time, following Arlette’s signals.

“Huh?”

Feeling Arlette’s hand on his shoulder suddenly, Danton looked back.

“Danton.”

He heard Arlette through his helmet speakers. When she had been talking with Mehmet a moment ago, she had kept her voice to a whisper, but now he heard her clearly. He looked at his viser display and saw a message reading “touch channel.” She was talking with him directly, instead of using the Mastema shared communication.

“I wonder where the Sazabi is.”

“What!”

Danton heard exactly what she’d said.

“Wait a minute. What are you talking about?”

“The Sazabi. Did you forget about it?”

“How could I forget? You’re looking for it?”

“Yeah. Honestly, that’s more important to me than the research facility.”

“What are you thinking?”

“I remember where the Sazabi was when its signal was cut off. We might find some clues there.”

“Clues about the Captain?”

“Of course. Why do you think I came back here?”

“Why are you telling me this through a touch channel?”

“I don’t want them asking questions about the Sazabi.”

“Ah, the Sazabi was equipped with a psycho frame. If any of the wreckage remained, I suppose it would be the perfect target for them.”

“I don’t want them interfering.”

“You don’t want them stepping on your memories of the Captain…”

“Do you think there’s any way we can split up from the squad?”

“Are you crazy, Arlette? Do you realize the situation we’re in?”

“What? The time limit? Two hours is plenty.”

“There are enemies out here! What are you going to do if the Gundam shows up?! This isn’t some comfy trip home anymore.”

“That’s why you’re here.”

“Arlette…”

Danton scratched his head in desperation.

“We don’t even know if the Sazabi is still on Axis. It might have been thrown into space.”

“Maybe.”

Arlette gave a slight smirk.

“But there might be some hints about what happened to it.”

“I can’t believe you…”

Danton sighed, at a loss for words.

“In any case, we’re heading for the research institution right now. If you insist on looking for the Sazabi, you can figure out how to do it on your own. I’ll pass.”

“Fine. I’ll do it by myself.”

Arlette released her hand, and the “touch channel” message disappeared. Danton’s helmet went silent.

“Goodness… this is going to be trouble.”

×  ×  ×

Around the same time, a strange light that had dashed out from the residential quarters was soaring along Axis’s outer walls. It was the Gundam that had fought with Danton’s Zaku III Custom. In the cockpit, a young man was biting his lip in irritation.

“Son of a bitch! What the hell was that damn Zaku?!”

He punched the console in frustration.

“That geezer, Meitzer, said the enemy wouldn’t have any mobile suits!”

A portion of his panoramic monitor displayed battle data from the encounter with the Zaku III.

“That tackle he hit me with had a force of over 300G! If I weren’t a Cyber Newtype, I’d be out cold and foaming at the mouth right now…”

The angry young man wore a purplish-blue normal suit. It was different than one’s used by the Federation or Neo Zeon, but it was clearly not a civilian suit. It had the distinct wear of battle experience.

“Jeez. Ever since I fled the Federation, everyone I run into is trouble – friend or foe.”

Muttering to himself, he fixed his grip on the control lever.

“I know, Tristan. We haven’t shown them what you’re really capable of. We’ll take them out this time for sure.”

As if in response to the man, the Gundam type known as the Tristan, gave a roar of its verniers.

“Still, this is bad. Bailey and Gibson were both taken out. If Walter finds out about this, I’m going to get a mouthful… Ahh, this sucks!”

The man changed his monitor display to a structural map of Axis and confirmed his destination.

“For now, I’ll leave the search for the psycho frame to him. I guess I’ll head back to Echinacea once before we finish up. I didn’t think I’d actually need that special precaution I brought, but it looks like I might get to use it.”

Staring out at the deep, empty space on the other side of his monitor, the boy grinned viciously.

“That damn red Zaku pilot. I don’t know who he thinks he is, but he’s going to regret making a fool of Quentin Fermo!”

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