CHAPTER.04- BIRNAM WOOD (2)
CHAPTER.04 – BIRNAM WOOD (2)
Mehmet, having separated from his men, made his way toward the exterior of Axis with Danton and Arlette. After some time, they turned a corner to find their path blocked by a cold, metal gate. Judging from the identification number on it, it appeared that their destination was beyond this door.
“Just a sec.”
Arlette raised her small hand, bringing Danton and Mehmet to a stop, and walked over to a console mounted near the door.
“Good news. It looks like the electrical system is still working.”
Her fingers danced nimbly around the keypad, and the gate let out a dull groan as it slowly began to open.
Unlike Arlette and Danton, Mehmet was unfamiliar with Axis, so he just followed their lead, stepping through the gate. There was an immediate shift in their surroundings. Until a moment ago, their had been plenty of signs marking the passages. But the severe lack of signage in this area indicated that it was a special division, only meant to be accessed by a select few.
“Where are we?”
“Up ahead is a private dock for Imperial Guard mobile suits. We should be able to get to Axis’s exterior from there.”
“The Imperial Guard…”
“Publicly, it was a group of personal bodyguards for Mineva Zabi, but as I’m sure you know, the Mineva that travelled with Haman Karn was a double. In reality, they were probably Haman’s private forces.”
Danton moved along the passage as he disinterestedly explained things. Along the way, they encountered several gates blocking their path, but Arlette unlocked each one without difficulty. Finally, their view opened up all at once.
× × ×
Mehmet eyes went wide. They were in a storage dock for mobile suits, where several where stood together in a jumble.
“These over here are Galluss series models. The ones lined up in the back are Gaza series…”
As Arlette murmered away, she made her way toward the back dock, where there were a variety of mobile suits that had been developed in Axis. Though a lot of them looked as though they had been abandoned half-way through maintanence, there were others among them that appeared operational.
“This is amazing. I can’t believe there were this many mobile suits left inside Axis…”
Trailing behind the others, Mehmet looked around in wonder.
“These were developed around the time Haman was in charge. Just like the Zaku III Custom we saw, these guys probably never had a chance to be deployed in the Second Neo Zeon War. Though who’s to say what would have happened if the fighting dragged on longer…”
In the middle of his explanation, Danton came to a abrupt halt.
He lifted his head with a scowl. Directly ahead of him stood a single mobile suit.
Arlette turned around as she realized what it was.
“What a blast from the past. So this little guy’s survived as well.”
“So it would seem…”
Danton stared at the mobile suit in front of him with a sour look on his face. It had a more slender build than the others around it, and it’s figure was reminiscent of a medieval knight. Combined with a light purple-on-white coloring, it gave off a refined atmosphere that one would expect from a work of art, not a weapon. The AMX-104 R-Jarja – a prototype made for close quarters combat, which drew from the YMS-15 Gyan model from the former Principality of Zeon’s army.
“So you were left behind as well, huh?”
Arlette gazed up at the R-Jarja with a look of nostalgia in her eyes.
“It really feels like old times, doesn’t it.”
With a pout, Danton turned around and walked off.
“Let’s go. The gate to the outside is up ahead.”
As Arlette chased after Danton, Mehmet followed after them from behind.
× × ×
At last, the three of them had reached the edge of the dock, where there stood a massive gate used for deploying mobile suits. Half of the gate had been dislodged, perhaps from when Axis was split in two, leaving the exit partially open. The void of outer space peered in through the gap.
“Looks like we’ve been saved the effort of opening it.”
Arlette made her way towards the opening, dodging the rubble that had been scattered about.
“We’ll exit through here and head towards the facility, following along Axis’s outer wall. Got it?”
At Danton’s brief instruction, Mehmet gave a slight nod.
“Be careful as you step. We don’t have lifelines, so if you slip, you’ll be thrown into space.”
“Don’t worry. I’m used to this sort thing. At least more than someone who runs a cleaners would be.”
The three of them had stepped through the opening onto the outer wall, exchanging clever retorts, when the figure of a massive bird flew over their heads.
They quickly ducked and hid themselves in the shadow of the gate. The figure flew off into the distance, its thrusters scattering a trail of light in its wake.
The three of them stood baffled by what they’d just seen.
“What’s that doing here? Wasn’t it waiting to ambush us in the passage?”
Just then, Mehmet’s transmitter received a call sign. It was the the unit they’d left in the passage. He quickly worked the touch panel to begin the call.
The transmission was filled with static, so they couldn’t make out what the men were saying. We might be able to get a clearer signal from a more open location, but we’d risk being noticed. We set up some small relays on the way here, but it looks like they aren’t doing much. Mehmet switched the tuning from automatic to manual and focused his attention on the voices of his subordinates.
“Thank goodness, Commander. We finally reached you.”
It looks like they’ve been calling us for some time now. Though I can hazard a guess at what it’s about.
“The Byarlant is on the move.”
“I know. We’ve made visual contact.”
Mehmet’s eyes were fixed on the back of the Byarlant as it flew along the outer wall.
“This is unexpected, but perhaps it’s a blessing, seeing as we have one less enemy to deal with. Are the two Jegans still there?”
“Then continue monitoring them. We’ll stick to our plan and head towards the destination via the outer wall.”
Cutting the transmission, Mehmet turned to Danton and Arlette.
“You caught all that? Let’s hurry.”
Danton looked off in the direction the Byarlant had flown.
“What about that guy?”
After a moment in thought, Arlette suddenly looked up at them.
“You don’t think they’re after the landing ship?”
Mehmet clutched his fists.
“Why wait us out with an ambush, when they can just eliminate our means of escape?”
“The landing ship is equipped with some basic defensive weaponry, but they’re not prepared for a mobile suit. We’ll have to hope they can stay hidden.”
Mehmet tried to reach the landing ship with his transmitter, but all they got was static.
“Damn… so it’s come to this, huh?”
Dropping his shoulders, Danton begrudgingly turned back towards the mobile suit dock they had just left.
“Lend me that disk one more time.”
“Are you serious?!”
“I’ll do it. I’ll get rid of the Byarlant.”
Mehmet shouted out in surprise.
“The mobile suits here have been on standby, ready to be sent into battle when needed. They’ve got weapons; they can fight – as long as they have a pilot, that is.”
Arlette looked like she wanted to say something, but Danton grabbed her by the shoulder and raised his voice.
“I’ve already fought once. There’s no point turning back, anymore. Now, give me the disk!”
× × ×
Danton leaned back into the cockpit of the R-Jarja and continued checking the gauges. Everything was in shape – all parts functioning normally, like time itself had been frozen since they left. The White Knight of Axis was about to return from the dead.
Arlette sat between Danton’s legs, fiddling with the console, just as she had done earlier in the Zaku III Custom.
“Are you sure you want to use this one? There are other functioning mobile suits…”
“I’m sure. I’m taking this guy.”
Danton cut off Arlette, who was showing a rare display of consideration.
“This is the machine you took care of.”
As he watched the monitor icons light up one by one, Danton sunk into thought about the last day he had piloted this mobile suit…
× × ×
It was all shaking. Countless stars were shaking violently in front of Danton. For a brief moment, his mind had gone blank. It took him some time to realize that it wasn’t the stars that had been shaking but his mobile suit. The R-Jarja he was riding had lost its balance and was trembling non-stop. Sparks crackled and leapt from the thruster on its back, and its usual jet stream had been replaced by a plume of black smoke. There was no doubt that the propulsion system had been damaged. In front of the staggering machine was the entrance to a familiar facility, the gate open.
“Danton! Can you hear me?”
“The test has been aborted! Can you make it back to base?”
“I’ll see what I can do…”
He glanced over his monitor, checking on the condition of each portion of the mobile suit. Firing the remaining thrusters on the arms and legs ever so slightly, he regained control of the machine using AMBAC. Alright, looking good. Now I’ll just direct this guy to the gate. The mechanics and engineers that had been waiting for him looked like specks, as they scattered about in a fuss. Finally, the mobile suit landed on the dock with a crash. Shaking violently, it collapsed, and the mechanics all came bustling back towards it. Danton felt a bit like Gulliver among the Lilliputians.
“Hey, Danton! You still alive?!”
The hatch began to open from the outside, and a flustered mechanic peeked his head in.
“I’m in one piece.”
Extending one hand to the stunned mechanic, Danton crawled his way out of the cockpit, and stumbled over to the corner of the dock.
“Why didn’t he just abort…?”
Hearing a bewildered mechanic muttering in the distance, he rested his back against the wall of the dock, and dropped to the floor as though he had just let out all the tension from his body.
He sat there for some time, eyes closed.
Suddenly feeling a gaze above him, Danton lifted his head. His eyes met with Arlette’s, as she looked down at him unhappily.
“Don’t look at me like that. We managed to get some good data.”
Danton offered her a broad grin, as she was clearly worrying about him.
They were in the Maharaja Khan Memorial Research Institute on Axis, the forefront of Neo Zeon’s weapons developments. Though it might seem strange for a young lady to be hanging around a place like that, the researchers that frequented the area paid her no heed. Indeed, they were two of the longest-serving members of the facility.
“Why didn’t you abort?”
Arlette pressed him with a critical tone.
“I warned you it could get dangerous this time if there was too much strain on the thrusters. That’s why I told you to get out of there if something happened…”
“If I pulled out, we would’ve lost control of the R-Jarja, and it would’ve crashed into Axis’s outer wall. It would’ve all been for nothing.”
“And if you made one mistake, you would’ve gone down with it!”
“I wouldn’t screw up like that.”
“Enough. Go fix that guy up, already.”
Arlette looked like she still had something to say, but she let out a sigh of submission and raised her head.
“Fine. I’ll fix it for you.”
“In the meantime, you’d better at least rest yourself a bit. I’ll talk to you later.”
Danton gazed at Arlette’s back as she stomped off, and he muttered to himself.
“If I destroyed the machine you built, I wouldn’t be able to face you. Nor him.”
He let out a small laugh and clenched his fists.
“There’s nothing else I can do for you right now…”
× × ×
At the sound of Arlette’s voice, Danton came back to his senses.
“I’ve finished with the activation sequence.”
“All thrusters are operational. Weapons as well.”
On the weapons control monitor, a graphic flickered on and off; it showed the link between the R-Jarja’s bayonet-equipped beam rifle in its right hand and the operations system. Danton stared motionlessly at the light.
“Are you sure everything’s okay, Danton?”
“What do you mean?”
Smiling, Arlette stood up and stepped away from Danton.
“Don’t do anything too reckless, Pops.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll wrap this up quickly and be back in no time.”
After Arlette exited the cockpit, Danton closed the hatch and made sure she had backed up far enough.
“Alright, then. Here we go!”
Danton put the throttle to max, and a sharpened beam sword surged out from the R-Jarja’s bayonet beam rifle. Destroying what was left of the damaged gate, the pure white frame flew out into the jet black of outer space.
× × ×
Meanwhile, the Byarlant Isolde, piloted by Walter Fermo, was flying along Axis’s outer wall, scouring the area with its sensors. The monitor displayed a map of Axis obtained by their employer, Meitzer Ronah. It didn’t show the particulars of the inner passages, but it was more than sufficient for finding the many space ports that dotted Axis’s outer wall. Synchronizing the map with the visuals from the main camera, he intended to scan every inch of Axis’s surface if necessary.
“Laying low for an ambush isn’t my style, anyway. Bringing the fight to the enemy is how we Birnams do it. Am I right, bro?”
Chuckling, Walter looked at the monitor, and his eyes narrowed, as though he had just seized his prey. Isolde’s sensors had picked up on a faint temperature reading that ran straight to the space port ahead of them.
“Looks like the traces of a combustion agent. Bingo!”
He changed the Isolde’s flight path to follow the temperature reading, but it quickly split into two directions.
Walter cursed as he hit the brakes, and he considered the situation.
For now, the trail heading upward leads into the port. I’ll start there. If I can wrap things up quickly, I should be back before the second trail fades. Just as he fired his thrusters to enter the port, a series of continuous blasts shook the Isolde’s armor.
He quickly took evasive action, gaining distance and turning around. That was gunfire. That won’t cause much damage, but whoever fired it must realize that as well.
“What game are you playing at?”
He fired up the thrusters again and plunged into the space port. In that moment, a blinding light covered his panoramic monitor.
In that moment of confusion, a shadow flew through his field of vision. No doubt about it. That’s the landing ship.
“You think you can stop me with some fireworks!”
The monitor’s dimmer system quickly adjusted for the light from the flash chaff that the landing boat had scattered. The bright light that had engulfed him returned to normal, and the monitor showed the landing ship as it tried to escape into the shelter of a rocky area.
“You’re not getting away so easily!”
He skillfully maneuvered, chasing after the fleeing ship. As long as I have sight of them, there’s no way a landing ship can outmaneuver this Isolde. He caught up with the ship in the blink of eye, passed over the head of it, and hit them with several shots of his beam rifle from close range. Inertia continued to carry the landing ship along its path for a bit, but the back boosters began emitting flames, and it soon erupted in an explosion, pieces scattering in all directions.
With a grin of satisfaction, Walter veered the Isolde around.
“No mobile suits on guard? What a thoughtless bunch… Time to take care of the remaining one and head back.”
Suddenly, an emergency call rang through the cockpit.
Walter instinctively leaned into the lever. With the sudden push from the g-force, the Isolde lost its balance, and a ray of light grazed its head.
Regaining its posture, he turned toward the direction of the attack.
“So you finally showed up, huh? The Zaku type Bro told me about!”
Isolde’s base model, the Byarlant, was originally developed for atmospheric use, but the Isolde had been tuned for special missions and could make full use of its maneuverability in zero gravity environments. There’s no way I’m going to be outdone by a dated model like the Zaku. Or so he thought…
By the time he had turned around, the enemy mobile suit had already closed in on him.
He dodged the incoming beam saber by a hair and gained some distance before confronting the enemy. Before him stood a slender white mobile suit in the resemblance of a knight – the R-Jarja.
“That’s no Zaku…”
Walter scowled suspiciously as he kept his eyes locked on the enemy in front of him. That’s not the mobile suit Quentin reported. Are the enemy numbers larger than we’d thought? Or perhaps…
“Ah, screw it.”
Rather than thinking about it, Walter decided to make a move. Using my head isn’t my strong suit, anyway. Let’s deal with this guy first.
“Think you can entertain me for a while, Whitey?”
With a piercing roar, the black bird swooped savagely down at the white knight.
× × ×
Around that time…
After seeing Danton off, Arlette and Mehmet made their way along Axis’s outer wall toward the research facility, as planned. They moved with caution, so as not to lost their footing.
Arlette’s foot slipped on a crevice in the rocks and she lost her balance, but Mehmet was quick to catch her hand.
Offering a smile to Arlette who was hanging her head low, Mehmet looked into the distance, in the direction that Danton had flown with the R-Jarja.
“Arlette, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“What is it?”
“Danton was a test pilot, correct?”
“Does he have any combat experience?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“His fight earlier with that Gundam type was exceptional. With that level of skill, why hasn’t he fought before?”
As she began to answer, Arlette held her tongue.
“…I’m sorry. Could you ask him directly, later on? He’d probably be upset with me if I talked about it myself.”
Mehmet didn’t push the topic any further.
“Arlette, Danton has been with you since the One Year War, hasn’t he?”
“It’s difficult to believe…that you, well…”
“It’s not as nice as you’d think – one’s appearance never changing.”
“I’m sorry. That was intrusive.”
“It’s okay. I don’t mind.”
As Mehmet watched Arlette continue forward with a smile on her face, he spoke again.
“Do you think we’ll find one? A psycho frame, that is.”
“We’ll find one.”
“You’re not just hoping, are you? You’re sure of it?”
Her back turned towards him, Mehmet couldn’t see her expression, but her voice was filled with strength.
“I’m grateful to you, Mehmet. For bringing us here…”
As she spoke, Arlette came to a halt.
“You’ve given me a chance to learn what his last moments were – Char Aznable’s last thoughts.”
Arlette spoke softly, biting her words, as she fixed her gaze ahead of her.
Realizing what she was focused on, Mehmet swallowed his breath. The Maharaja Khan Memorial Research Institute. The entrance to their final destination stood before them.