Chapter three: Intelligence Mission
June 9th UC 0080
Hadagawa had failed him. He had trained
the young officer himself and he had failed him so completely and utterly.
McAllis had sent Hadagawa to collect Bright Noah and his group of play-soldiers. It should have been a simple task, indeed it should have been below anyone McAllis had personally trained. But the result made him far less than ecstatic; not only had Hadagawa failed to take the White Base crew, he had failed to keep them from stealing the Gunmarauders!
He would have preferred it if Noah had at least outsmarted Hadagawa using some of those famous unorthodox tactics he had shown as commander of White Base. Instead, Noah had simply capitalized on Hadagawa’s unforgivably ignorant mistakes. McAllis himself had had to step in and limit the enemy’s movements with propaganda. Not a subtle tactic, but effective.
Hadagawa was standing in McAllis’ office now, nursing the stinging cheek that the General had backhanded, full-force. There was no need for McAllis to say anything, for Hadagawa knew how disappointed he was.
“You have one chance to clean up this mess, Mister Hadagawa,” McAllis stated, “I want Bright Noah. I don’t care if it’s dead or alive. I want him out of sight, out of mind. Is there any part of this order you do not understand, Lieutenant?”
“Good. Now leave.”
“Sir!” Hadagawa saluted, smartly, then scurried out of the room.
Once Hadagawa was gone, McAllis sat back down in the chair behind his desk to address the growing pile of paperwork there. Such a stack of backlog was painfully unbecoming an officer. He took the first folder in hand and started paging through it.
It was a new program put forth by one Colonel Bosque Ohm.
Its title was “Titans.”
Bright was startled awake in the dark of the
night by the blaring of the hovertank’s radio. He had fallen asleep
in the seat, waiting for Carnot’s response and now the indicator was bleating
repeatedly, crying out for Bright’s attention. He called up the message
and read it. It contained both his message to Carnot, “Bacchus loves
wine, women, and song,” and Carnot’s response, “and Bacchus knows where
to find it.”
Carnot had agreed to meet him. It was a step in the right direction, anyway. But Kai’s question remained in Bright’s mind. Yes, Bright had learned a lot about Jean Carnot at the academy, but the most persistent fact was that you could never predict what he would do. Carnot was a lunatic and damn proud of it.
Bright knew the time and the place. And he had to figure that Carnot was not oblivious to what was happening.
Time to roll the dice.
Wasting no time, Bright decided to stick to his decision and climbed out of the hovertank. Tucked into the corners of the cave, the rest of the group was curled up into sleeping little balls of Human being.
“Everybody up!” he shouted, letting the call echo off the walls of the cave.
Reactions ranged. Sayla, Marker, and Mirai managed to become lucid quite quickly and Hayato zipped in from his post at watch outside. Amuro and Frau slowly sat up, blinking back sleep. Kai turned over, mumbling something about “five more minutes, mommy.” Clarisse didn’t move but to grope the dark for the nearby Haro and launch it at Bright who side stepped the robot-turned-projectile easily.
“I’ll count to three,” Bright elaborated, trying to get the last two sleepers to come to. It worked and the whole bleary-eyed group was now paying apt attention. “I just got a response to my message,” Bright explained, “I meet with Carnot in three hours. If I’m not back in six… don’t come after me.”
Clarisse shot to her feet. “What the hell do you mean by that?”
“Can’t you fill in the blanks?” Kai quipped. “Our dear Mister Bright isn’t fully convinced he’ll make it back. Isn’t that it?”
It was Mirai’s turn to stand in obvious annoyance. “What do you mean by that?” she exclaimed, echoing Clarisse’s sentiments.
Bright shrugged. “Much as I hate to give in to Kai’s pessimism, he hit it on the nose. If I’m not back in six hours, you are absolutely not to come after me. We don’t need anyone else getting caught if this turns out to be a lemon of a situation.”
Clarisse sat back down on the ground, arms crossed and with a sour look on her face, looking very much her brother’s sister. “Or if you get killed. Why don’t you just come out and say it, already?”
“Mister Bright, I thought you said you could trust Carnot,” Amuro put in, “I don’t get it.”
“Him, yes. The rest of the place, no.”
“Sounds to me like you could benefit from someone watching your back,” stated Sayla, “I think someone should go with you.”
“I second that,” Mirai agreed, immediately.
“I’m trying to minimize the risk,” Bright defended his position.
“Yeah, but we really need that information,” said Kai, “you don’t minimize anyone’s risk if you don’t make it back with reliable intelligence.”
“Do you realize what I could say to that?” Bright mumbled, glaring at Kai.
“Let’s put it to a vote, then,” Mirai called before Bright could object further, “all for?”
“Aye,” said the whole group in unison.
“Nay!” Bright exclaimed.
“Ayes have it,” stated Clarisse, “you’ll do it our way.”
“Let’s get set, everyone,” Mirai called everyone to action. Obediently, everyone got up and started to organize what needed to be organized.
Still standing there in the cave, dumbfounded and running a hand through his hair, Bright sighed loudly.
“How in the world did that happen?”
Was he going soft? If he was, he picked
a really lousy time to do it. He should never have given them that
Arms crossed over his chest unhappily, Bright stewed at the hovertank’s tactical station as they traveled along. This situation was most definitely not what he had envisioned when he had decided to meet Carnot. This was dangerous and now the risks were huge, astronomical.
“All right,” he finally said to his two companions, “I understand it when you say someone should watch my back at the rendezvous. And I can understand that someone has to be along to keep watch at the tank. But I don’t understand why it has to be you two.”
At helm and communications respectively, Mirai and Clarisse both shot him annoyed looks.
“Sounds to me like he wants nothing to do with us, Mirai,” Clarisse said in mock indignance.
“Maybe he’s concerned we can’t hold our own,” Mirai agreed in kind.
“That’s got nothing to do with it,” Bright said, feeling his face grow warm.
Clarisse grinned and poked him in the side. “He’s blushing again.”
“I am not.”
“Do I have to turn this tank around?” Mirai put in. “Anyway, in all honesty, Bright, you need a person to helm the tank and someone with radio expertise. We’re the best two for the job.”
“That’s another thing,” stated Bright, “Clar, where did you learn so much about radio equipment, anyway?”
Clarisse shifted uncomfortably and turned back to her station. She fiddled absently with some of the controls, trying to look busy. “Oh, here and there. You know, around.”
Bright studied her reaction for a moment before pressing further. “Clarisse, did father teach you?”
Clarisse stopped playing with the buttons and dials and looked down at her lap. “Yeah,” she said.
He sighed inwardly, occupying himself with his own set of controls. “Okay.”
The rest of the trip passed in relative silence. Mirai sensed some unresolved issue between then, sensed they were both trying to downplay it, and decided not to get in the middle. Somehow, she knew Bright would hate that even more.
“Okay, Mirai, we’re a kilometer from the town,” Bright stated, consulting his display, “bring us to a stop.”
“Right,” Mirai acknowledged, cutting the engines. The tank came to a jolt of a stop and set down with a thud.
“Clarisse, anything on the air?”
The younger Noah donned the set of headphones and scanned through the entire spectrum of radio frequencies. “Nothing but static,” she said, “looks like we’re in the clear.”
“Good. Mirai and I will continue on foot to the rendezvous with Carnot. Clarisse, I want you to stay here, keep and eye on things, and camouflage the tank a bit if you can. Don’t contact us by radio unless you absolutely have to.” Bright took two sidearms out from under the seat. He handed one to Mirai and put the other in his shoulder holster, covered by his over shirt.
“Why does Mirai get to go with you?” Clarisse asked by way of protest.
Climbing out of the hatch, Bright paused and looked back at his sister, wearing his stern commander face.
“Right, right,” Clarisse sighed, slouching down in her seat.
“If we’re not back in two hours, go back to the cave,” Bright instructed.
“I mean it.”
“I said I gotcha.”
“Good girl. Don’t ever change, little sister.”
“Get going, you big spoil sport.”
Bright did and he and Mirai began their kilometer trek through the woods toward town. In the tank, Clarisse watched them disappear into the dark on the monitor. “Big brother,” she said unhappily, “if you don’t come back, I swear I’ll kill you.”
He was a party-lover, bar-hopper, and a less-than-successful
ladies’ man. As many a pilot often are, he was boisterous, a bit
of a braggart. He wasn’t the most handsome man on the planet, but
he wasn’t bad-looking either.
Seated at the bar, flirting with a young lady at the other end with his eyes and polishing off his second shot of whiskey, he let the music of the jazz band on stage wash through his brain in a pleasant fog.
This Federation pilot, with his unruly head of dark blonde hair and partially unzipped uniform, was Jean Carnot.
He hadn’t been to the Jazz Lady bar in almost a year. The war had kept him away, regrettably. In all his bar-hopping, he hadn’t found a better spot for good music and good hooch.
And dammit, how that stuck-up Brit of a former roommate of his was ruining the ambience for him. He had to admit, his curiosity was piqued. Bright Noah was many things, but not a terrorist or a traitor. At least, not before the war. Carnot wanted to find out either what he had gotten into or what finally pushed the guy over the edge.
He had arrived at the Jazz Lady a half hour before the meeting time, hoping to get a chance to make sure the joint was still standing and hopping. Carnot up-ended his shot glass next to the first on the bar and signaled the barkeep for a third. He was just fishing the money out of his pocket when a hand put a few bills on the bar in front of him. Carnot looked up and found himself looking into that cocky cockney face of his former roommate.
“Get me a bottle of whatever beer you’ve got in season,” Bright told the barkeep.
“Comin’ up,” said the barkeep, then indicated Mirai behind him, “and for the lady?”
“Uh, same,” he responded, recovering from the unexpected inquiry.
“So,” Carnot ventured, “sounds like you had an interesting war, Cockney.”
“You have no idea, Frenchy,” Bright responded, retrieving the two beers, handing one to Mirai, and nodding in the direction of a table by the wall.
As they headed over, Mirai nudged Bright, looking at her bottle with a somewhat perturbed look. “I’m not real big on beer,” she whispered.
“You don’t have to drink it, just look like you are.”
“That’s easy to say…”
They all sat down at the little round table, Bright pulling out a chair for Mirai in the process to which Carnot cocked an eyebrow.
“You did have an interesting war,” Carnot said, “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of your date, Bright.”
Bright was thankful for the dark lighting as that warm feeling filled his face again. It was happening all too often. “Jean Carnot, Mirai Yashima.”
“Oh, so you’re the Side Six babe,” Carnot said, reaching across the table and taking up her hand, kissing it, “you belong in the heavens, because the stars themselves could never outshine you, mademoiselle.”
Bright sighed and took a particularly long pull from his bottle.
“So Cockney,” Carnot segued, “somehow, I doubt you came all the way out here on a social call.”
Bright nodded. “I don’t know how much you’ve heard lately, but-”
“You forget who you’re talking to. Yeah, I know all about Ophiucus. I stumbled across it about a month ago.”
“Then why aren’t you doing anything?” Bright asked, almost livid.
Carnot calmly took a swig of his drink. “What makes you think I’m not? Damn, Bright, thought you were better at strategy than that.”
“You and your people have been poking around in this for three, almost four days. I’m working with people who have known about this for four months. We were trying to clean it up quietly, but you came along and really flummoxed everything up.”
“You mean, stealing the Gunmarauders?” Mirai asked.
Carnot smirked. “Got it in one, mademoiselle. Pretty and smart. I like that.”
“So you’re saying you can’t give us anything on McAllis’ movements?” Bright pressed on.
“Aux contraire, mon ami,” Carnot answered, setting a disk on the table, “I’ve been ordered to give you this. It’s all the info we’ve got on McAllis’ new attack plans for Side Six. You had us scrambling for a while, but it turns out that now that you’re working outside the system, you’re the only ones free to move without danger of being discovered. That’s why McAllis is so obsessed with you. You’re the best ones to head him off before he can get off Earth and launch the attack.”
Bright held up the disk as if he could read the data directly. “Thanks Jean. I really owe you-” He stopped, his eyes locked on the disk as if he was looking through it rather than at it. He shifted slightly.
“What is it?” Mirai asked.
“There’s a guy at the table behind me. He was with Hadagawa when he came to the farm. We’ve been followed.”
“But how’d they follow you?” Carnot asked, lowering his voice.
“I don’t think they did,” stated Mirai, somewhat uncertainly.
“How do you know that?”
“I’m not really sure.”
Bright had learned long ago that Mirai’s hunches were almost never unfounded. Sure, maybe they seemed to come out of nowhere, but they were almost always right. He put the disk away in his inside shirt pocket and calmly took another swig of his drink.
“He hasn’t tried to nab us, yet,” he stated, “which means he’s here to watch and follow us.”
“He must be trying to track down your camp,” Carnot reasoned, “so they couldn’t have followed you guys, they must have followed me. But I’m not sure how they’d know to.”
“They must have intercepted our messages,” Bright theorized.
“Off my system? C’mon!”
“It’s the only way they could have known, Jean.” Bright polished off the last of his beer. “Bugger. It means they deserve to catch us. But we might have just enough room to move. Let’s go.”
As calmly as was possible, the three co-conspirators stood, leaving their drinks, and made their way out of the Jazz Lady. Bright led the way down the street toward the opposite end of town they had come from and around a corner. As expected, Hadagawa’s assistant followed them.
Once out of sight, they broke into a run down the block and turned the corner again. The backside of the Jazz Lady was a narrow alley, lit only by a single light at one end. It might have made a good hiding place, but Bright wasn’t about to risk their not moving.
“We’ll double back and circle around outside of town,” he said.
“How do you know they’re not waiting for us out there?” Carnot asked as they rounded the third corner.
“I don’t,” Bright answered, “but-”
He was suddenly cut off as Carnot, running slightly ahead of him around the corner, came to a sudden halt with a thud. He had run headlong into Hadagawa’s assistant. Before the three of them could react and go the other way, there was a glint of light on metal followed by the sickening sound of a knife cutting into flesh. Carnot jerked, his eyes going wide, and the other soldier planted a foot in his chest and kicked him back into Bright. Hadagawa’s assistant tossed aside the blood-covered knife in favor of his gun, but Bright managed to be faster and fired off a shot, landing his mark in the middle of the other soldier’s forehead. Everything stopped for a moment as both Carnot and Hadagawa’s assistant hit the ground in two distinct thuds.
In one swift move, Bright holstered his sidearm and turned Carnot over on his back to inspect the stab wound in the Frenchman’s belly. Mirai joined him, but kept a close watch on what was going on around them.
Carnot was hemorrhaging blood and was already turning an unhealthy shade of grey. Face twisted up in pain, he managed to gather enough breath to speak. “Damn, always figured it’d be some lucky Zeon that got me.”
“Knock it off, Jean, we’ll get you help. Just don’t move around,” Bright ordered.
“Who are you kidding, Cockney? You can’t take me anywhere you won’t be arrested.” He grimaced in pain. “The fate of Side Six is in your hands. Hack my computer system and download the information there. The code word is ‘Isabelle.’”
Bright couldn’t help but crack a sad half-smile. “So, you never got over her?”
“You never get over your first love. Remember not to drop… your elbow.”
Carnot went limp, his head lolling back. Bright held a hand over his mouth for a moment, hoping to feel a breath, but finding his prayers unanswered. He paused for a moment more, then closed Carnot’s eyes.
“Bright, we have to go,” Mirai exclaimed, “there was nothing you could do.”
At length, Bright got to his feet, hands clenched into fists as his sides. “Enough of this,” he said, “no more, no more of them.”
“Bright, c’mon!” Mirai half-shouted, grabbing one of Bright’s fists and dragging him into action. That snapped him out of his trance and very quickly they were making a bee-line for the edge of town.
Once having come to the town limits and breaking into the small ring of forest there, Bright activated his comm as they ran along. “Firefly! Firefly! Mayday!”
Clarisse’s voice came through from the other end an instant later. “What happened!?” she demanded.
“I’ll fill you in later,” Bright responded, “just come around to one-three-six-two-eight and do it in five.”
“But I don’t know how to make this thing…” Her voice was lost to static, mid-sentence, and Bright desperately toggled his comm over and over.
“Damn, they’re jamming all frequencies,” he told Mirai, “we’re on our own.”
Having gone off the beaten path, the two of them were crashing through bushes and branches, half blindly. It was starting to get light out as the Sun began coming up, the grey light only hindering their efforts to remain unseen.
Bright and Mirai crashed through a wall of greenery and skidded to a halt just short of the edge of a steep gradient, most of it rock and talus. Almost instantly, Bright went to the ground and pulled Mirai down with him. He covered her mouth and pointed to the clearing below where no less than half a dozen Federation soldiers were fanned out, searching. Mirai nodded her understanding and they both backed up through the greenery as silently as possible.
“Wrong way,” Bright whispered.
“No kidding,” Mirai responded.
“We’re not going to get anywhere just running.” He pulled the disk out of his shirt pocket and handed it to Mirai. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we have to split up. Get to the tank as quickly as possible. I’ll keep ‘em off your tail.”
“You’re crazy! They’ll catch you!”
He shook his head. “I know their search patterns, remember? I’ll avoid them. Mirai, that disk is more important than either of us right now. We have to get it back to Hades.”
“Carnot already died for this. Do you plan on it, too?”
“Two lives versus two billion. We have no choice.”
Mirai looked at him, not caring that immense fear was showing in her eyes. She found that fear reflected back at her in his, felt the massive pull on his soul, almost heard him screaming at himself not to…
… not to leave her alone, in danger.
At that moment, she knew that he would choose her over the entire world if he could. But Bright was a soldier. It was just as impossible for him to ignore an attempted attack on civilians as it was for him to breathe under water.
If Bright could make that sacrifice, so could she.
At length, she forced herself to nod in agreement with him, gripping the disk as if it was now the most important thing in the universe. With an understanding gaze and no further words, they parted ways. As soon as Bright had “accidentally” crossed paths with one of the search party, she took off in a mad dash for Clarisse’s location.
Mirai ran fast enough that she made it back to the hovertank in little more than five minutes. There, Clarisse hopped out and met her urgently.
“What happened? Where’s my brother?”
“Buying me time to get back here,” Mirai responded, out of breath and holding up the disk, “listen, can you transmit this back to the others?”
“Ye-yeah, we’re outside of the jamming range but-”
“Then do it. I’m going back for Bright.”
“You’ll need help. Just wait one moment while I send this and I’ll come with you.”
Bright, meanwhile, was hunched over to keep
his balance on a high tree branch, silently watching three soldiers below
him, still searching in the direction they thought he had gone. He
heart was racing and he could feel his blood rushing in his ears with a
vicious pulsing. None the less, he forced his breathing silent.
He needed a way to get the soldiers to go elsewhere before he lost his balance. He moved his hand around the trunk of the tree to get a better grip and found the ragged edge of a squirrel hole. He felt a few round objects hidden inside and pulled them out. He found that he had three fairly sizable hickory nuts, outer shell and all, in his hand and decided he could use them. Judging the first one’s weight carefully, he threw it through a gap in the tree’s branches and let it sail as far as it would go. The nut crashed into a patch of bushes, making considerable noise.
The three soldiers looked to the sound, suspicious of the rustle and Bright tossed another hickory nut in the same general direction.
“Think he’s over there?” one of the soldiers asked his companions.
Hoping to convince them, Bright launched his final hickory nut in that direction.
“Let’s check it out,” one of the other soldiers said, and all three jogged off that way.
Bright sighed in relief when they were out of range. He climbed down from the tree and made off in the opposite direction.
It was getting lighter out and orange was beginning to show on the Eastern horizon. The sunrise cast an eerie glow to the rock formation that Bright now came across. The strange light made it hard to gauge depth and size, but he knew that the key was to keep moving. The best way was straight over one of the formations, so he began to climb.
His reward at the top, however, was a sudden heel to the face, sending him reeling backward through the air and back to the ground below. His attacker slid down the talus slope after him as he picked himself off the ground.
For an instant before a fist was launched into his stomach and a second kick to his head, Bright recognized the face of Kutani Hadagawa. A moment later, he heard the click of a gun.
“Get up,” Hadagawa ordered.
And Bright obliged, pushing off from the ground and launching himself into a tackle, knocking Hadagawa’s gun away. They struggled for several moments, throwing punches and fighting as dirty as any pair of soldiers fighting in the most heated of battles.
Somewhere, in the midst of the brawl, a shot rang out and Bright felt something hot burrow into his left shoulder in an instant of blinding pain. He staggered backward, feeling blood ooze out of the fresh wound under his hand, and lost his footing. Hadagawa was on him an instant later, hauling Bright back to his feet by his shirt.
“Where’s the disk?” Hadagawa demanded.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bright responded, teeth clenched in pain.
Hadagawa launched a knee into Bright’s stomach. “Don’t toy with me, Noah! Where’s the disk?”
Bright decided to attempt a bluff. “Destroyed by that idiot assistant of yours when he killed Carnot.”
Looking at him suspiciously, Hadagawa lifted Bright further off the ground and closer to his face. “You’re lying.”
“I know I heard it over here. He must be close.”
Forgetting the first rule in any fight, Hadagawa took his eyes off Bright in favor of looking to the new voice that had just rounded the corner. Bright had recognized it as Mirai and instead of looking to confirm, took his chance and threw a fist across Hadagawa’s face, not knowing until the last moment if his arm would work or not. He reached into his holster for his sidearm, but found that he had lost it during the fight.
Hadagawa backpedaled at the sudden fist, letting go of Bright. Bright backpedaled as well, still holding his shoulder, and joined not only Mirai but Clarisse as well. Before there was any chance for anyone to say anything, Hadagawa recovered and aimed his gun in their general direction.
Bright’s instinct to launch himself at Hadagawa was suddenly subject to a peculiar override. Instead, he spun on the ball of his foot and pushed Mirai and Clarisse to the ground as Hadagawa’s gun spat forth another lethal shot of sound. Bright’s body realized it before he did, but he wasn’t too far behind in finding that behind Mirai and Clarisse there had not been ground, but a very steep, very tall incline. By the time he was able to assess the situation, Mirai was dangling from the grasp of his left arm, Clarisse from his right, his wounded shoulder screaming in white hot pain.
Hadagawa’s boot mercilessly came down on Bright’s back, causing the first sound of agony to escape Bright’s mouth.
“I’ll ask you one more time,” said Hadagawa, “where’s the disk?”
Bright turned his head as far as he could manage and gave Hadagawa a lethal glare. “Go to hell,” he responded.
“Perhaps,” growled Hadagawa, “but you three will be going well ahead of me.” He aimed his gun directly at Bright’s head, foot still firmly planted in his quarry’s back
No! Bright’s mind screamed at him. You can’t let him kill them with you!
At very nearly the same moment, he heard Mirai shout his name, desperately. But it didn’t seem as though he heard it in his ears. Rather, it seemed to go directly to his mind.
Hadagawa’s gun cocked and Bright could find no way to stop him. There was only one thing left. Squeezing his eyes closed in readiness, Bright let loose the four words that simply would not be contained as he died. After that, nothing else mattered.
“Mirai, I love you!”
And a gunshot echoed through the area.
Silence permeated the area for several moments and it was nearly a minute later that Bright realized he was still alive.
“Bright! Bright!” Mirai shouted.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. Mirai and Clarisse were still dangling from his grasp. His sister was zombie-like, holding his gun, aiming it toward the now unoccupied space above him. Feeling blood dripping down his left arm and his vision beginning to blur, instinct took over and by sheer force of will, Bright managed to haul Mirai and Clarisse back to where they could climb up once again. After they were safely back up to the top, Bright found himself staggering to his feet and taking a few unsure steps away from the slope edge. He came across Hadagawa’s lifeless body, a bullet hole square in the bottom of his jaw. He looked back at Clarisse and Mirai for a moment.
“That was never supposed to happen,” he said, not bothering to say who he was talking to.
The effects of Bright’s blood loss finally won out and he tumbled face first to the ground, losing consciousness.
Mirai scrambled over to him, never fully getting to her feet. She turned him over onto his back like a rag doll and opened his shirt to get a look at the shoulder wound. Bright was losing blood fast and he was already beginning to shiver with shock and trauma. Mirai desperately turned back to Clarisse for help.
“We’ve got to get him back to Hades so Sayla can help him!”
Bright’s sister, meanwhile, was literally prying the fingers of her right hand off of Bright’s gun. The weapon clattered to the ground.
“That… that man was going to… I just… it just went off!”
“Clarisse!” Mirai shouted. “Your brother needs our help, c’mon!”
Clarisse blinked and was over to help Mirai a moment later. Together, they hauled Bright up and began pulling his limp, prone form through the woods and back to the hovertank.
He loved that old swing.
Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It seemed as though the motion, the sequence, would continue on forever, never ending. The oak tree it dangled from would exist forever. The nylon ropes would exist forever. The plank of wood that made its seat would exist forever. The swing would exist forever.
The motion would exist forever.
Only how high he went would vary. It would vary according to his will alone. And he willed that the swing would go higher.
“Higher, papa!” he shouted. “Higher!”
“You have to kick harder, then,” his father replied, adding a bit more force to his already powerful push from behind.
“Higher!” he exclaimed once again, redoubling the effort of his own kick.
He was sailing forward, feet kicked out in front when his father appeared in his path. He was in free fall with no way to stop, despite the sudden change in will he had.
His father shattered like glass under his feet. Even more astonishing, the shattering didn’t stop there. It continued out, breaking apart the tree, the ropes, the wooden seat, the swing, and even the motion. Nothing of what seemed so important existed any longer.
Nothing existed except his reflection, staring back at him with eyes so cold, so distant.
So old. When had he gotten so old?
As if to make certain the reflection was real, he reached out to grab it. It grabbed him first, however, a hard, vicious hand digging fingers into his shoulder without mercy and tearing.
He backed away in panic, leaving a layer of himself behind, flesh ripped off of him the entire length of his arm.
There was no blood, no pain; just a panic that encompassed his whole being. He looked to where his arm should have been and found instead the blocky, white mechanisms the comprised the hand and arm of a Mobile Suit.
An endless stream of wires and circuits sprang forth from it. They jumped and writhed, and surrounded him, tightening, tightening…
Bright awoke with a start, shooting up into
a sitting position. Instantly, he was accosted by waves of pain and
nausea which forced him to lay back down again. He closed his eyes
tightly to the stabbing sensation he felt in his shoulder.
“Take it easy, you’ll reopen the wound,” commanded a voice next to him, accompanying a hand on his other shoulder.
Cautiously, Bright opened his eyes to see who it was that was hovering over him. He forced his eyes, disobedient as they were, to focus on the face floating there.
“Welcome back,” she responded, replacing the blanket he had thrown back, “you gave us quite a scare for a while.”
“Back at the cave, safe and sound. You’ve been unconscious for a little over twelve hours.” She turned her back to him and messed with a bowl full of water. “You lost some blood and you’ve still got a bit of a fever,” she explained as he slowly levered himself into a sitting position, “so I don’t want you to…” she trailed off as she turned back to him, wearing an exasperated expression and holding a wet washcloth, “… move around too much.”
“Mirai and Clarisse. Where are they? Are they all right?”
“They’re both just fine. They made it back with the data splendidly. Your sister’s a little shaken up, though.”
“I need to see them,” Bright stated, pushing the blanket back and trying to get up. He winced under the movement and sat back down again.
“Careful!” Sayla exclaimed. “You’ll make it worse.” She pushed him back into a laying position and placed the wet washcloth on his forehead. “Just relax for a while. We’ll handle things. This is no infirmary and I’m no Sonmalo.”
Bright conceded the point and settled back into the pillow. “Doubt I would have made it if you weren’t here,” he said, “I owe you my life, Artesia Som Daikun.”
Sayla gave him a thankful smile. “Consider it a repayment for letting Sayla live her life.”
“Sayla?” Mirai’s voice called from the opening of the cave. “I thought I heard voices. Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine,” Sayla called back, “he’s awake now. He still has a fever, but he’ll make it.”
Mirai breathed a sigh of relief and whispered a thank you to the heavens, then knelt down next to Bright, putting a hand on his forehead. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Like I’ve been hit, kicked, shot and humiliated,” he mumbled, looking away from her, “that was never supposed to happen,” he added as if to scold himself.
Mirai sighed inwardly, not relishing the mood Bright seemed to be in nor the reason he seemed to be in it. She neatly folded her hands in her lap in preparation for a serious conversation. “Sayla, could we have a moment?”
“Certainly,” Sayla responded, getting up and making her way out of the cave, “I’ll go see what the others have learned about the attack plans.”
“I think we need to talk,” Mirai said, once Sayla was out of earshot.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” Bright repeated.
“But it did,” she affirmed, turning his gaze back to her, “and now we have to deal with it.”
“I promised I would wait.”
“You were scared. You said something you wouldn’t have said, otherwise.”
“Soldiers don’t get scared.”
“Those kinds of soldiers are inhuman, Bright.”
Bright started and turned away from her again. Even though he didn’t say anything further, his eyes spoke volumes. Mirai sensed that she had just made Bright’s point for him, forcing into crystal clarity something that had only been cloudy before.
“Bright, you’re only Human, after all,” she said, attempting to pick up the pieces.
He didn’t say anything for several moments, still obviously lost in his tangled mind.
“I wasn’t afraid,” he finally said, “I said it, and then I wasn’t afraid to die. It’s never happened before. It wasn’t supposed to happen.” He slowly, carefully, sat up once again, looking at his hands like foreign objects. “It wasn’t supposed to happen,” he repeated once more.
Mirai wasn’t sure what to say in response. It was like she was pulling at threads and only managed to tangle things further.
“If… if it wasn’t supposed to happen, then… maybe it just… didn’t.”
Bright looked at her with a pained smile. “Thanks Mirai,” he said, “but I’m not sure which is worse.”
Mirai put a hand to his face and paused for a moment, looking at him. “You’re still feverish,” she stated, “you’re not thinking clearly. We’ll talk about this later.”
“I’ll… I’ll wait until you think it’s time.”
Suddenly, Bright’s stomach yowled in displeasure, breaking up their conversation. The two of them looked at each other sheepishly and for no reason at all shared a short laugh.
“Think it’s trying to tell me something?” Bright asked.
“You should probably eat something and get your strength back,” agreed Mirai, “you rest here. I’ll go see what I can find.” Bright nodded and she got back to her feet and went outside the cave where Frau and the children would almost certainly have had a meal started. Sure enough, they were already passing out bowls of some variety of stew.
On her way, Mirai passed Clarisse, who was sitting near the mouth of the cave and staring off into some far distance with a contemplative look. Presently, Lets bounced over to her and offered her a bowl of stew.
“No thanks, I’m not hungry,” Clarisse mumbled.
Lets paused, obviously noting her melancholy state, then slowly wandered away, a slightly hurt look on his face.
Marker was not far off, sitting on the ground near the cooking fire and about to dig into his own bowlful of stew. He paused, his spoon halfway to his mouth, and looked over at Clarisse, curiously. Summing up conviction, he got up and approached her.
“Miss Clarisse,” he ventured, “you haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday. You should really eat something.”
“Why do you keep calling me ‘Miss Clarisse’?” she asked out of the blue.
“What do you mean?”
“Why so formal? I’m about as informal as a person can get. So, why all the formality?”
“Well, you are Mister Bright’s sister, so…”
“That’s all?” Clarisse grilled him. “It’s just because I’m the sister of a guy who happens to be a couple of ranks above you?”
“It’s just that there are certain protocols that have to be-”
“Oh, hang the bloody protocols! I’m not my brother, so stop treating me like him.”
Marker blinked several times, pondering a suitable response. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t be keeping track of Mister Bright’s eating habits,” he finally stated, “anyway, you really should eat something.”
“I’m not hungry,” she repeated.
Marker looked at the bowl of stew in his hands, then back to Clarisse who was once again staring off into space. He passed the bowl off to the darting by Kikka and sat down next to Clarisse. “If you don’t mind my saying,” he ventured, “this doesn’t seem like it’s about food. Miss Mirai told us about what happened. Is everything okay?”
Clarisse sighed and leaned back against the cliffside, staring up at the light that was waning in the evening sky. “You were in the war, Marker,” she said, “did you ever have to… you know… kill anyone?”
“Not me personally,” he responded, “they try to keep tech-heads like me out of the direct line of fire. But I read the Radar that pointed the ship’s guns.”
“You just told them where to shoot, then. You never had to pull the trigger.”
“Still,” Marker added, “Oscar and I were the ones who made the decisions for what could be fired at and what couldn’t. Anything I reported would become an instant target. I remember, during the battle at Solomon, almost at the end, there was a blip that showed on the Radar. It was traveling as fast as it could to escape the battle zone and it was too small for a carrier, too big for a Mobile Suit. I figured it was an escape pod from the fortress, so I didn’t report it. I still wonder who was inside it. Maybe, in the future, whoever it was will cause even more war. But I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had caused a defenseless escape pod to be destroyed.”
Clarisse seemed as though she wasn’t listening, staring off into space as the stars in the Eastern sky began to fade into existence.
“That’s the difference, you know,” Marker pressed on, “it’s one thing to kill or be killed, but it’s another to simply kill. You did the right thing.”
“I did the necessary thing,” she corrected him, “that’s not always the same as the right thing.”
“Still, you had to do it, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about it, Miss Clarisse.”
Clarisse gave Marker a light punch to the shoulder. “Just called me ‘Clarisse’ already.”
As the night began to drag on, everyone moved
inside the cave, hoping to stave off the cold night air with the fire that
had been built there. Marker and Mirai were filling Bright in on
what had been learned from the data Carnot had given them. The unit
commander was sitting against the wall with Marker’s laptop, still forced
by everyone else to take it easy.
Kai, meanwhile, was scanning through the radio frequencies, an earpiece in one ear listening for any info the media might blurt out. He paused on one station that was broadcasting news and listened. “Hey!” he chimed. “The media’s calling us the Bright Brigade. Kinda like the ring of that.”
“Sure, I like the way it sounds,” Amuro stated from his place near the fire where he was fiddling with a piece of equipment from his Gunmarauder, “but I’m not too sure I like the implication.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Didn’t you have to read Tennyson in high school, Kai?” Clarisse put in.
“I skipped that day.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Sayla asked, sarcastically.
Bright, Mirai, and Marker looked up from what they were doing for a moment and Bright sighed heavily.
“Sir?” Marker hazarded.
“Hmm?” Bright responded.
“I’ll join you.”
Somewhat painful joke over, everyone turned back to their work. However, the unspoken agreement permeated the cave; they would, from that point on, be calling themselves the Bright Brigade. Despite the overtones of disaster and despite the overtones of a cult of personality, it was better than constantly listing everyone’s names over and over.
Bright just couldn’t help but think they were doomed.
“So, take me through this,” he ordered Marker, pushing such thoughts aside, “chronologically.”
Marker nodded and called up the attack specs. “At 2300 tomorrow, a signal will be sent to the orbital weapons platform Serpent which will launch the attack on the colony.”
“Do we know where they’re aiming the missiles?” Bright asked.
Mirai shook her head. “No, that information isn’t in the data.”
“A good assumption might be Side Six, Twenty Bunch,” stated Marker, “it’s still rebuilding from a Zeon attack on a Mobile Suit research facility from the end of the war.”
Bright nodded. “I know the one. McAllis probably would want to take it out right away. Then what?”
“McAllis has spent the last five days moving troops to Luna II and other bases in space,” Marker continued, “an hour after the first shots are fired from the weapons platform, they’ll move in on Side Six from all directions and attack.”
“Blunt force,” Bright mused, looking as the specs, “he’s not going about this too subtly, is he?”
“It does seem strange,” Mirai agreed.
“Then what happens?” Bright asked of Marker.
“That’s it, sir. He just attacks the colony and fights it out until there’s nothing left.”
“That’s all? Just fire a few missiles, then attack?” Bright indicated another section of the specs. “What about all these ground forces on Earth?”
“Defense,” stated Mirai, “they’re all Mega Particle Cannon units.”
“Probably in case the colony falls,” said Marker, “ he could try to shoot it into pieces before it hits the planet.”
Bright shook his head. “There's just something all wrong about this. There, look.” He zeroed the specs in on Earth in the South American region. “There’s no defense around Jaburo. Nothing at all. All the ground units have been reassigned elsewhere, to bases in Europe and North America. It’s like he’s not concerned about it.”
“Not concerned about the seat of Federation military power?” Mirai asked, skeptically. “That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“There has to be something we’re missing.”
“Whoa! There we go!” Kai interrupted, replacing his radio earpiece with a nearby speaker. “Check it out. The decorated General is about to speak his words of wisdom again.”
The various murmurings in the cave were replaced by the whistling hum of the radio and the murmurings of a gathered crowd at the broadcast end.
“These murders of two of the Federation’s finest officers will not go unpunished,” McAllis was ranting, “currently, we are redoubling our efforts to find the fugitives and bring them to justice.” He paused and there was a clamor of shouted questions. “Please, please, let me finish,” he halted them, “further, we still have reason to believe that these attacks are emanating from Side Six. We have contacted the Side Six government and have received only categorical denial concerning the issue. I’ll open it up for questions, now.”
The clamor began anew, then died off as one female reporter refused to be drowned out by the others. “General, we’ve received reports that another officer, a Jean Carnot, was killed last night and that he was working with the Bright Brigade. Can you confirm?”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“Any evidence of other collaborators?”
“We’re looking into that.”
“Dammit,” Bright swore over a new clamor on the radio, “we can’t lose our support on the inside, not now.”
“General McAllis,” rumbled another reporter, a deep-voiced man, “what about the computer security of the automated defense systems? Can they be hacked by the terrorists?”
“It’s unlikely, but I can tell you that the security could be better,” McAllis answered.
“Sir,” the first reporter spoke up again, “any truth to rumors of a Federation plan to attack Side Six in the works?”
McAllis paused for only the most barely noticeable instant. “Absolutely not, we would never attack first. I’m sorry, but our time is up.”
There was a final outburst from the press corps as McAllis apparently left the press conference.
“That one sure rattled him,” Amuro mumbled.
“That’s the first all-out lie he’s told, isn’t it?” Frau observed. “He is planning to attack Side Six first, right?”
Bright held up a finger, signaling for another moment to listen to the radio. A newscaster for the station had taken over.
“So, the press conference at Jaburo is now wrapping up with, it seems, a limited amount of definitive answers. We are told that General McAllis will no longer be available for comments as he is traveling to England to see his personal physician for treatment of a minor flu bug. He will be returning to Jaburo the day after tomorrow when he will resume his duties. In other news, reports of immigrants from Side Three to the satellite asteroid Axis have been growing as-”
News over, Kai replaced the speaker with his ear piece once again.
“Bloody hell,” Bright murmured to himself, “he’s not staying at Jaburo.” Frantically, he turned back to the laptop sitting in his lap and called up the Ophiucus mission specs.
“What about it?” Hayato asked.
“Convenient timing for the flu, don’t you think?” Bright elaborated. “Right before his big attack on Side Six! Of course! He doesn’t have defenses around Jaburo not because he doesn’t care about it, but because he won’t have to. Look.” Mirai and Marker glanced over his shoulder at the screen. Extrapolating the course of the orbiting weapons platform Serpent, the display showed it as being on a direct line of fire with Jaburo at 2300 the next day. “He’s not firing Serpent at Side Six, he’s firing it at Jaburo! He’s setting it up so that it looks like Side Six fires first!”
Amuro’s eyes went wide. “And he’s making it look as though we’re the ones pushing the button for them!”
“So, we’ve been playing right into his hands all along,” Sayla realized, “that press conference must have been to plant his seeds in everyone, to throw attention off of him and on to us.”
Kai agreed. “Leak a little information about Carnot, make it look like we hack the weapons platform…”
“And make his attack on Side Six look like retaliation,” Bright finished, “and with all the evidence to the contrary up in flames with Jaburo, it’s the colonies’ word against the Federation’s, starting another war.”
There was silence in the group for several moments, the crackling of the fire the only sound to echo off the cave walls.
Finally, it was Kai who spoke up.
“Does someone wanna tell me how we’re supposed to fight that?”
Next time on Mobile Suit Gundam: The White Base Rebellion...
“You drop your left elbow," Hayato stated, "and you hardly ever throw
any punches with your left fist. Try throwing a few; it gives your
opponent an extra target to keep an eye on and it just might help keep
your elbow up. The best defense is a good offense.”
“You really think so?” Bright asked, dropping into a stance and throwing a few punches in the air again.
He paused, considering his two hands, then turned back to Hayato.
“Could you say that again?”
“We’re going to set a few decoys of our own. The real strike will be from a direction McAllis won’t expect.”
"You know, Sayla," Clarisse ventured, "something’s been nagging me. The tank only has room for three, comm, helm, and tactical. So, if Mirai, Marker, and Frau are going, where am I supposed to go? And the children?”
“If I know Mister Bright, he’ll make sure you keep out of this battle.”
“I knew it. The fuzzy bugger’s trying to protect me again. He keeps doing that. It’s enough to drive me loony.”
“You can’t blame him,” stated Sayla, thoughtfully, “I think it’s in the genes of older brothers to obsess about their younger sisters. Mine was the same way.”
“It’s a monster. The very idea of you becoming its heart, soul, and mind is disgusting to you, revolting. You want nothing more than to destroy it and destroy that part of you with it.”
Bright started and turned to find Amuro leaning on the side of the cave entrance, looking at him with a curiously intense look. Bright turned back to the Gunmarauder in an effort to avoid that haunting, almost mystical gaze.
“I’m well aware you’re a powerful Newtype, Amuro. But even still, it’s really unnerving when you do that.”
Insanity broke loose on the scene once again as the two lines of Mobile Suits, one massive, one miniscule, exchanged fire at very nearly the same moment. The two groups met in hand to hand range a few moments later and Bright lost track of the other four Gunmarauders in his simple struggle to stay alive. Two GMs were running toward him from his left and his right. He poured on his thrusters and flew aloft of them, desperately firing his beam rifle over and over. One shot hit the head of one of the GMs, taking out all the cameras. But the other GM moved in to cover his fallen comrade, firing off shots at Bright with a vengeance. Bright jinked and dodged the fire. Several shots nearly clipped him. A moment later, he found that he was losing altitude and would have to rebound again very soon.
“You,” the massive general spat out, “I don’t understand you. I was going to do it for you. For all of you! Why did you stop me?”
“What,” Bright retorted, “what gives you the right to murder your own? What kind of monster would kill hundreds of his own men? And to start a war!”
And with one metallic, clunking step, Bright’s Gunmarauder began leading the long march toward their mission objective. The other four Gunmarauders followed directly after with the tank bringing up the rear in the procession of gleaming tin soldiers of white, blue, red, and gold.
Chapter four: Charge of the Bright Brigade! Who wil survive?