Chapter Four: Charge of the Bright Brigade
June 10th UC 0080
Right. Left. Right, right.
Right with a twist. Just nick the jaw.
To say that it felt good to be up and moving once again would have been pushing it, but Bright had simply started to lose his marbles sitting in that cave. This was no time for him to be flat on his back. If he was going to be any use at all, he had to get up and get moving. So, long before the sun had come up, at somewhere around two in the morning, he did just that.
Throwing punches in the air outside to get his arms working again, Bright moved through an old routine from his hand to hand lessons at the academy. Right hook, block the inevitable counterattack with the left, right again. The principles were the same as in the fencing he had learned in high school but for one detail; in fencing, you take pains to get your left hand out of the way.
A pain shot through his left shoulder as he threw a punch with his right fist.
“Damn, that was too easy, Cockney.”
Bright had stepped back, rubbing the spot on his left shoulder where Carnot had landed his punch. “Geeze, Frenchy, we’re on the same side, you know.”
“Your whole left side was wide open,” Carnot elaborated, “where in the name of God did you learn to fight like that? Mon Dieu, that was terrible, truly terrible.” Carnot sighed and rubbed his face with his hand. “This is going to take some work. Okay, give me a fighting stance.”
“Like this?” Bright asked, dropping into an en garde.
“Well, there’s the problem,” Carnot said, looking at him straight on from the front, “you’re using your right arm like some kind of saber, it’s way too far to the right. And your left arm is way too far back, out of the way. Bring your fists in tighter to your chin. Good.” Carnot got out of the way and stood off to Bright’s left. “Now, throw a punch. Whoa! Keep that elbow in tight, don’t drop it back as you twist. Do it again. There, better.”
Carnot took up a fighting stance in front of Bright once again. “Let’s go again. Concentrate on keeping your left elbow up, this time.”
Bright paused, letting his shoulder throb for
several moments. He decided that he must have strained it by pulling
his elbow back too far as he threw punches with his right over and over.
All this time, and he still had to unlearn that bad habit.
“Remember not to drop… your elbow.”
He rubbed his shoulder, hoping to rub away
the throb. When it finally subsided, he felt, or thought he felt,
something wet on his hand. But when he looked at it, he found it
For some reason, he found that strange. It made him feel, somehow, unfulfilled, as a child who had not gotten that all-important Red Rider Bee-Bee Gun for Christmas.
Bright clenched both hands back into fists and started in on the routine once more, adding in the movements of the feet this time, advancing, retreating, retreating, then advancing twice more. Right. Left. Right, right, right hook.
“Mister Bright?” Hayato’s voice came from behind him, bringing another pause to his routine. “Are you sure you should be moving around so much?”
“Are you mother henning me?”
“No, sir, wouldn’t dream of it.”
“It’s just that Mirai and Sayla asked me to find you, since it had been a while since you went out for a walk.”
“So, they’re mother henning me.”
Bright sighed and cast his gaze back to the cave entrance. The rest of the group was gathered inside, around the fire, going over the Ophiucus plans and brainstorming various ideas. “Okay, okay, I guess my head’s about as clear as it’s going to get anyway.” He paused, looking at the group. “Hayato,” he ventured, “take a look at them, will you? The ladies, I mean. How did you, me, Amuro, Kai, and Marker manage to find a group of women like them?”
“What do you mean?”
“Just look at them. They’re stronger than a lot of men I know, braver, too. You don’t meet ladies like that every day. And yet, there are Mirai, Sayla, Frau, and my sister; four of them just out of nowhere, right in front of us this whole time.”
“Yeah, they are pretty amazing. I don’t know where I would have ended up after Solomon if Frau hadn’t been there. I’d keep an eye on Marker, by the way; Clarisse keeps looking his way.”
“Oh don’t worry. She could do, and has done, much worse than him.”
Hayato laughed. “No offense, but it’s not surprising.”
“Are you kidding? She’s been on her best behavior.”
“Say, what was that you were doing earlier?”
“Just an exercise Carnot taught me once.”
“You drop your left elbow. 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?”
“What? The best defense is a good offense?”
“No, no, the part before that, about an opponent?”
“The other fist gives them something else to worry about?”
“Yeah,” Bright responded, his face vividly showing that a thought was brewing in his head as he threw two more punches in the air; first a right jab, then a left hook. “That’s it!”
“I’ve got it. McAllis won’t know what hit him. Hayato, you’re a genius!” Bright abruptly began making his way back to the rest of the group, back at the cave.
“Thanks… I think…” Hayato stammered, then followed, hoping to make some sense of just what idea Bright had suddenly gotten.
“I’ve got it!” Bright exclaimed, as he arrived back at the cave. He plopped down next to Mirai and plucked the laptop she had out of her lap. “I just figured out what’s wrong with what we’re trying to do.”
“We’re trying to shoot down a weapons platform before it razes half of South America,” Kai stated, a touch of his usual sarcasm, “I don’t see what’s wrong with that.”
“The idea is sound, but it’s the execution that gets us,” Bright stated, tapping away at the keyboard, “anything in our range that’s capable of shooting down Serpent is way too heavily guarded for us to get in and fire with five Gunmarauders and a con tank. But that weapons platform wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t told to fire.” He turned the laptop around so that the rest of the circle could see its screen. “That’s our target,” he said, pointing to a red spot on the map, “the Southeast England Communications Station. It’s from where McAllis is going to send the signal to Serpent.”
“What makes that so much more of an easier target?” Clarisse asked.
“No nuclear warheads to steal, for one thing,” Sayla answered, “fewer soldiers guarding it.”
“I’d bet all of Luna II’s Neotitanium that McAllis doesn’t trust anyone else to send that signal, either,” said Amuro, “so, it’s gotta be the only place we can expect a signal to come from.”
“Right,” Bright agreed, “that was the decoy. Normally, signals like that would be sent from several places at once. And the normal tactic for countering that is to take out the weapons platform. But if he’s going to pull this off, he’s gotta keep it under wraps, so only he can do it. We need to take out the less obvious target.”
“Okay, but we still only have five soldiers of our own,” Hayato countered, “we still need a viable attack plan.”
“We’re going to set a few decoys of our own. The real strike will be from a direction McAllis won’t expect.”
The stealth model Gunmarauder was painted red.
It was a delicious bit of irony; it was almost as though Sayla Mass was becoming a second Red Comet. Here, another Daikun was going to go into battle under another name. But somehow not a comet of equal measure, but smaller. Sayla was blazing her own trail by following the lead of a man from Earth; something Char Aznable never would have done. Not only that, but she shared her blaze of glory with so many others. Despite the difficulty of her path, there was no loneliness on it.
She was so like her brother, yet so different. She had found a new family.
Yet, it was still somehow appropriate that her Mobile Suit was red.
These thoughts flowing through her head, Sayla tweaked the Menovsky output as much as she could on the Gunmarauder. If Bright’s plan was going to work, they would need as many of those wacky, Radar-jamming particles as they could muster up.
“Miss Sayla,” Clarisse said, approaching from the direction of the hovertank with a box of tools in hand, “Mister Kai said that you needed your radio checked out. I’m done with the tank now, if you’d like to let me look at it.”
“Sure, if you’ve got a moment,” Sayla responded, letting Clarisse look inside the helmet, “I can’t seem to get it to stop interacting with the stealth system and causing static.”
“Here’s your problem,” stated Clarisse reaching for a tool, “the radio isn’t shielded from the Menovsky particle emitters. Just give me a second and it’ll be good to go. You know, Sayla, 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.”
“ ‘Was’?” Clarisse asked. “Did he get killed in the war?”
“No, but I don’t know where he went. The last time I saw him, he was still making some very worrying choices. I tried to tell him what he was doing wasn’t right, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“I guess that’s in the genes of older brothers, too, huh.” Clarisse finished her work on Sayla’s Gunmarauder and returned her tool to her box, sitting down with it. “To be honest, I’m not all that crazy about the choices my brother’s been making either.”
“What do you mean? Is there really any other choice he could make? A soldier’s first duty is to protect civilians.”
“That’s just it. You all think of him as some kind of military hardass. He’s not really like that at all. You know what we both used to call this place when we were kids? Merlin’s Cave. Now I come here and he’s calling it Hades.”
“Why would he change its name?”
“I dunno,” Clarisse admitted, “that’s what’s got me worried. I’m not sure I know him at all any more.”
“People live in the moment,” Sayla stated, “Humans have to adapt or not survive. It’s the one common trait we all have, Earther and Colonist alike. I envy you; at least you have the chance to get to know your brother again.”
Bright let his Gunmarauder spit him out once
again and did his best to contain the shiver that ran up his spine.
The others were nearby and he couldn’t let them see him look shaken.
It was his duty to look calm and undisturbed, no matter what. Decked
out in the full Core Suit attire, he stood just inside the cave entrance,
just out of the midday sun, and gave the waiting Marker an affirming nod.
“The targeting system is much better, now,” he stated.
“It’s not skipping any more?”
“Not even a single frolic. Would you ask around of the others? Make certain they’re not having the same problem. These things are still prototypes. It could be a design bug.”
Marker nodded and made off toward Kai’s Gunmarauder some distance off. Hayato went to check the targeting system on his own Mobile Suit. With them otherwise occupied, Bright allowed himself a glance back at his open and waiting Gunmarauder. The open limbs and helmet used all their silent power to beckon to him to enter them, to let them swallow him whole once again. But at the same time, he found himself utterly repulsed by it, like two magnets of the same polarity.
“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.”
Amuro shrugged. “I don’t need to be a Newtype to remember what it was like to get into the Gundam. So, now you know what it was like. I hate that I got used to it.”
“I suppose you find this to be some kind of poetic justice,” Bright mumbled, “for all those times I made you fight with the Gundam.”
“Mister Bright, that’s not fair of you to say.”
“Even if that’s not how you feel, that’s exactly what this is. You’re right; now I know.” He carefully replaced his look of determination, pushing aside other thoughts and turned back to Amuro. “Still, that’s not the issue at hand. Tell the others; we leave in an hour.”
“But why can’t I go along, Frau?” Kats’ young, protesting voice sounded. Bright and Amuro glanced that direction and found the young boy trailing along behind Frau as she carried a small armload of supplies to the tank. “I’m older than Lets and Kikka! I can fight, too!”
Frau deposited her load into the tank and turned back to Kats. “You’re still too young, Kats,” she stated, kneeling down and putting a hand on his small shoulder, “even Mister Bright’s little sister is staying behind.”
“But she’s a girl,” Kats protested, “and she wasn’t on White Base with us. I’m old enough, I can fight.”
“No, Kats, you need to stay here.”
“But I wanna go along and help!”
“I was waiting for that to happen,” Amuro mumbled to Bright as they both looked on.
“Kats!” Bright called, sternly, putting a stop to the boy’s protests to Frau and commanding his attention. “Come here,” he ordered.
Meekly, as though he had suddenly shrunk three sizes, Kats sauntered over to Bright. He stopped a few feet from him, shoulders drooping, yet still tense, bracing himself for an inevitable scolding. “Yes, sir?”
“Show me your hand,” Bright instructed.
As though he was expecting to get a rap across the knuckles, Kats did so and squeezed his eyes shut. Bright squatted down in front of the boy and put his hand out as well, palm up, under Kats’.
“Tell me what you see.”
Slowly, Kats opened his eyes to observe. “You’re wearing the Core Suit.”
“And I’m not.”
“That’s right. And what else?”
“Your hand’s bigger than mine.”
Bright nodded. “Do you know why that is?”
“Because you’re older.”
“That’s right. Grown ups need bigger hands because they have to hold a lot more stuff in them. You don’t have to just yet. It’s something you should enjoy for now because it will go away someday. Do you understand?”
Bright sighed and smiled a wry smile. “You’re older than I was at your age.” He put his hand on Kats’ shoulder. “We need you to stay here. Listen to Clarisse and help her protect Lets and Kikka, all right?”
“Yes, sir,” Kats responded, nodding.
“You’re a little trooper, Kats,” Bright stated, standing, “now go on. And be nice to Frau, she works very hard.” As Kats scampered off, Bright turned to Amuro and Frau. “Make sure there’s two sidearms left with Clarisse. I don’t anticipate she’ll need them, but it’s better to be safe.”
Frau nodded. “Right.”
Bright wandered off toward Hayato and Kai and their Gunmarauders to find out their status, back in the grips of his profession once again, leaving Amuro and Frau behind in confused silence.
“What was that about?” Frau asked Amuro.
“I’m not too sure,” Amuro admitted.
He made the pretense of making one last check
of the perimeter again. He knew it wasn’t lost on everyone that he
went the same direction as he had when Clarisse had first jumped in on
their little party a few days ago.
Speaking of whom, she hadn’t shown her face in about an hour or so. It was as if she was avoiding everyone for some reason. But, Bright needed her back at the cave when they left. She had to be the one left to take care of Kats, Lets, and Kikka, who would undoubtedly be restless with everything that was going on.
Bright found Clarisse laying lengthwise on that toppled tree he had discovered days earlier. She had shed her trademark green jacket and had it bundled up under her head as a pillow. Her yellow scarf remained tied around her neck, its tails resting on her chest and clashing with her purple turtleneck. She was staring up at the tops of the other trees, a rather uncharacteristically intense look in her eyes.
“I thought I’d find you over here,” Bright said to her, “we’re going to leave soon and-”
“Don’t,” she interrupted him, “let’s not talk about that.” She sat up, straddling the tree as though she were riding a horse. “Remember that time when I couldn’t quite fit into the hiding place? I musta cried for hours. Boy, was I an idiot back then or what?”
Bright smiled and sat down next to her on the tree, Core Suit clacking against the wood. “Come to think of it, that was the last time we ever played hide and seek together, wasn’t it?”
Clarisse paused, staring off into the nearby woods. “And then there was the time you and papa tried to catch that rabbit for dinner and I kept insisting that you couldn’t kill it because it was the king of the forest spirits. Remember that?”
“Do I ever. We had to bring canned meat from home after that.”
She paused again. “And that time when we forgot the gas lighter for the fire and papa tried to rub sticks together. We had to eat everything cold, remember?”
Bright laughed. “Yeah, the next year was the year I started making the infamous packing list.”
Clarisse made a sour face and punched his good shoulder.
“Hey, what was that for?” Bright asked. In response, she slid over to him and hugged him tightly.
“Big brother, you’re a hopeless case.”
“Call signs? You’ve gotta be kidding
me! We don’t have call signs yet?”
Thus spake Mirai Yashima in a rather harried and hurried voice. She was standing in the middle of the clearing in front of the cave as everyone else milled about and asked questions of her as they zipped by. She looked for all the world like some perfectionist backstage theater director at the world’s largest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she groused, “you’re telling me we’ve gone all this time and we never got together any call signs?” She sighed, rubbing her temples. “Okay, okay, let’s keep it simple. Bright will be Gunmarauder one, Amuro two, Hayato three, Sayla four, Kai five, and the tank will be con. Everyone got that? Good. Where in the world has Bright gone?”
“Whoa,” exclaimed Clarisse as she and Bright returned to the area, “looks like a disaster area, doesn’t it.”
“Here we go,” Bright mumbled, giving Clarisse a reassuring pat on the back before zipping off to catch up with Mirai.
Clarisse was left standing there, a wide-eyed, mystified look on her face as everything swirled around her.
“Has anyone seen my Core Suit glove?” Kai called out.
“Heads up!” Amuro called back to him just before the errant glove went flying past inches away from Clarisse’s face.
“We’re all doomed,” she sighed to herself. She then spotted Marker with a stack of boxes in his arms, all the way up to his chin. He was slowly staggering his way back toward the cave with them, fumbling around a few randomly scattered rocks here and there as he went. She rushed over and grabbed a couple of boxes from off the top of his stack and followed him in.
“Thanks,” Marker said as they placed them down inside the cave.
“You looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, there,” she joked.
“You wouldn’t believe the parts everyone needed at the last minute. I seriously wonder about this group of people sometimes.”
“I’m beginning to see why. Hey Marker, listen. Keep an eye on my brother’s back out there, okay? And, you know, watch yours, too.”
“Absolutely. How could I ever turn down a request from a lady?”
Clarisse crossed her arms in mock indignation. “If I ever find out who’s been spreading that rumor about me, I swear…”
“Hey, Marker!” Mirai called. “Could you check the power level on the tank again for me?”
“I checked it twice already,” he shouted back.
“Just once more for me, please. I don’t want the power cutting out tonight.”
“You got it,” Marker answered, then shrugged to Clarisse as he went about his work. He passed Bright and Mirai on the way who were consulting a map for the thirtieth time that day.
“So, they’re here, they’re here, and we’re here,” Mirai confirmed one last time, pointing to three different places on the map.
“Right, then they attack them here and a little bit later-”
“They attack them here.”
“Right.” Bright blinked. “Wait, which ‘they’ were we talking about, there?”
“Don’t worry, Bright. I’ve got it down. And Marker and Frau both know it inside out as well.”
Bright sighed, folding up the map. “What in the world are we doing, Mirai? We must be crazy to try to pull this off.”
“You’re acting like something’s new. Don’t worry, everything will turn out all right.”
“Mirai, have I ever thanked you for trusting in me so completely?”
“Only every day we were aboard White Base and a great many times since.”
“Well, consider this just one more time, then.”
“You don’t have to say it out loud any more.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Mister Bright!” Frau called as she approached the pair. As they both looked up, they found that a considerable amount of the activity had calmed down and most of the rest of the group was gathered near the mouth of the cave. “Everything’s ready to go, Mister Bright,” Frau stated.
“Right,” Bright responded, “thanks Frau Beau. Looks like it’s time, then. I’ll be right there.” He motioned that the two ladies should wait for him with the rest of the group. They both hesitated for an instant, then left him alone for the moment.
Bright looked about the place, looked at the treetops, the rock formations, the paths through the woods he knew so well. He recalled every early summer camp out he had had as a child with his father and sister, recalled the slow change in the way they did things, recalled the slow drift from those traditions as they all grew.
“Sometimes it's better not to hold so much at once. Don't be in such a hurry to have to hold everything in your hands, okay?"
“I don’t wanna be bigger. I wanna get into my hiding spot.”
“I leave tomorrow for R&D officer training. I’m an adult and I have to make my own decisions.”
“Let’s go again. Concentrate on keeping your left elbow up, this time.”
“I’m sorry to say that your family has informed us that your father has been killed in a shuttle accident while on route to Side Six.”
“Soon, this war will be over and we won’t have to send kids like you into battle any more.”
“It’s a kid! The pilot inside Gundam is a kid!”
“Maybe you should go ask Captain Paolo what he thinks.”
“You always have to be the responsible one, don’t you. Everyone’s counting on you.”
“I didn’t just leave White Base because I felt like it! You aren’t even letting me tell my side of the story!”
“I don’t think our Mister Bright is being honest about his feelings. Am I right, Mirai?”
“A ship without a commander does seem ludicrous, but I’m just not up to the task, Bright.”
“Mirai. You have to make your own decisions and take command.”
“If I don’t get everyone out of here, we’ll all be killed?”
“Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Zero!”
“Mirai, I’ve said it before. I’ll always be here waiting for you.”
“Mirai, I love you!”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“Does someone wanna tell me how we’re supposed to fight that?”
There was no going back, not ever. It
was over and he had to accept it, no matter what that meant for his future
and the future of those around him. What was done was done, what
was past was past. It was impossible to turn back time.
Calling up the sum result of his past experience, he turned back to the group and slowly approached. As he neared, the group halted their various murmurings and fell silent, staring at him expectedly. Bright took a breath and barked out one sure, unwavering order.
“Bright Brigade. Move out.”
“Sir!” the whole group responded in unison, then scrambled off to their various positions.
There were five series of clatters as the five pilots of the Gunmarauders got into the miniature Mobile Suits. Mirai, Frau, and Marker all climbed into the tank and took up their positions.
“All positions, report in to con,” Frau’s voice came over the radio system, “communications, ready.”
“Tactical, ready,” came Marker’s voice.
“Con helm, ready,” Mirai likewise called.
“Gunmarauder five, ready,” Kai said.
“Gunmarauder four, ready,” Sayla intoned.
“Gunmarauder three, ready,” Hayato stated.
“Gunmarauder two, ready,” Amuro said.
“Gunmarauder one, ready,” Bright put in, “all hands, mission commence. Maintain radio silence until attack positions have been reached.”
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.
Night had fallen during their journey and they
made it to the outskirts of the patrol region of the Southeast England
Communications station well after sundown. It had taken them a good
seven hours to make it there and they had now been waiting, staked out
in the surrounding green space, for about an hour. It had been just
long enough that Amuro, Sayla, and Kai had just managed to get their three
Gunmarauders into position and well hidden.
And now they started the waiting game. They needed to hide out for a while in case their movement had been detected. They wanted to appear as though they were some random wildlife making a move and not a hostile force. Luckily, their size helped do just that.
Amuro poked his binoculars out of their web of camouflage and looked eastward toward the broadcast tower and the smaller accompanying building next to it. It sat at the ridge of an ancient, long since worn down glacial drumlin, in the center of a massive clearing in the surrounding woodland. The building was situated partway into the northern, steeper, edge of the hill. The tower was situated to the building’s south, at the very top of the hill. The objective was simple; take down the tower.
“Amuro would you put those down already?” Kai asked. “You’re gonna get us seen.”
“Keep it down, Kai,” Sayla scolded, “you’re gonna get us heard. Anything, Amuro?”
“No, no patrols yet,” Amuro responded, “I guess they think it’s not important enough a base to guard it heavily.”
“Fine with me,” Kai shrugged blithely, “makes this all the easier. We might actually even make it out of this alive.”
“Kai!” Sayla exclaimed.
“Actually, he’s right this time,” Amuro stated, crawling back under the makeshift lean-too of branches and greenery, “I have to admit, I had my doubts about this, but seeing it so poorly guarded, now I think we’ve got a better chance.”
“You’re not saying you have no faith in Bright’s plan, are you?” Sayla asked the two of them.
“Decoys within decoys,” Kai groused, folding his arms behind his head and leaning back against the leg of his Gunmarauder, “are we fighting a battle or hunting ducks?”
To the south of the base, the Bright Brigade’s
command tank sat amongst the trees and other greenery silently, the only
movement from it being the scope connected to the tactical station within.
Mirai sat at the helm, ringing her hands anxiously, eyes fixed on her monitor in front of her, staring at the communications tower directly ahead.
“That certainly is a big tower,” she mused.
“That’s a good thing,” stated Marker, “higher center of gravity, easier to topple.”
“You’re assuming they didn’t keep that in mind when they built it, though,” Frau put in.
“Just trying to help,” Marker responded.
“What kind of defenses are you reading, Marker? Anything that’s going to cause us a problem we didn’t think of?”
Marker consulted his readouts, flipping through several views of the area and drawing conclusions. “There are two objects by the tower. Based on their size and power output, they appear to be two GM Mobile Suits. One is to the southeast, one is to the southwest.”
“Nothing on the other side of the building?”
“I’m not reading anything.”
“Maybe we should go around to the other side where there’s less defense,” suggested Frau, “it might make it easier to stop the radio transmission.”
Mirai shook her head. “No, we’ll just have to circle around the building in order to get to the tower, then. And we’d have to go up a steeper hill. We’ll have to take on the GMs eventually, so it might as well be on the better ground.”
“Anyway, Frau, are you picking up any radio transmissions from the base?” Mirai asked.
“No, I can’t seem to get the right frequency. It won’t tune in right.”
“That’s all right. It was just a thought. We don’t need it, so don’t worry about it. The last thing we need is for them to pick us up while we’re trying to pick them up.”
“Ow! Geeze!” The exclamation from
Hayato was accompanied by the sound of a slap and when Bright turned to
him from his gaze through his binoculars, he found the shorter man scratching
his neck. “Darn bugs,” Hayato complained, “how come they’re not bothering
“Used to it,” Bright responded, looking back to the building that was their target.
“I keep forgetting. You were born here. We must have picked a nest or something to sit in because they’re really driving me crazy.”
“Just another half an hour, Hayato. At 2200, that tower comes down and we’re all done with this fiasco. Kinda strange, though.”
“What is?” Hayato peered through their camouflage next to Bright and looked toward the base.
“There’s only two GMs out there,” Bright mused, “I know McAllis doesn’t want to draw attention to his being here, but it still seems strange that he didn’t bring more security with him.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Hayato asked. “Doesn’t that mean he isn’t expecting us in the slightest?”
Bright grunted a response in the affirmative, still looking through the binoculars. “Still, I just have this funny feeling. With all those close calls with Hadagawa, I’m just wondering when our luck will run out.”
Bright suddenly hushed Hayato with a hand, stopping his sweeping motion of his binoculars in favor of fixing them on one spot. “I think it just did,” he whispered. Putting down the binoculars, he picked up his sidearm and pushed a flare gun into Hayato’s hands. “Patrol’s coming this way. Stay here with the Gunmarauders. If you hear a gunshot, signal the others to start early and go.”
“Be realistic, Hayato. If all you hear is a gunshot, I could be dead anyway.” Bright flipped the camouflage web up and let himself out as silently as he could and started away from their position toward where he had seen the patrolman.
“My, aren’t we optimistic,” groused Hayato to himself.
Cautiously, Bright made his way through the greenery, taking care not to snap any errant twigs or rustle any miscellaneous branches as he approached the patrolman. A flashlight beam appeared and Bright ducked behind the nearest tree to avoid the sweeping spot that was allowing the patrolman to see clearly in the dark. It swept around to Bright’s left and then disappeared as the patrolman started back the way he had come. Bright stepped out from behind the tree to make sure he was really taking his leave when suddenly a small woodland creature, probably a rabbit judging from how it moved, went darting into the stand of bushes nearby. The patrolman whipped back around, flashing his light back on again and Bright barely managed to get back behind the tree in time.
“Just go away,” Bright whispered very silently, hoping that somehow he miraculously had Newtype powers after all and could implant the suggestion in the patrolman’s mind.
No such luck, though. “Security, this is patrol three,” the patrolman said into his radio, “possible movement in sector 26. I’m going to check it out.”
“Roger that, patrol three,” came the reply from the other end.
Bright bided his time, hoping that the patrolman’s search would take him in another direction. But he knew that if he went any further into the woods, odds were that the patrolman would spot Hayato and the Gunmarauders. He had no choice but to shut the patrolman up.
The patrolman came almost directly Bright’s way, passing the tree Bright was hiding behind in no time at all. The hapless patrolman’s reward for his diligent work was a sudden fist to the back of the neck, a very short-lived world of pain, and then a nice, probably well-deserved nap in a silent sanctuary of black.
Bright shook his right hand as it throbbed. “I swear, they hire these guys for the amount of bone content in their heads,” he whispered to himself. He was about to make his way back to where Hayato was still hiding when he heard the unconscious patrolman’s radio come to life again.
“Patrol three, check in, please. What’s your status?”
Bright scooped up the device and toggled it on. “Uh roger that, sir. Everything’s clear.”
“Hanson, that you?”
“Yes, sir, Hanson. Patrol three, sir.”
There was a long pause from the other end.
“Your name’s not Hanson.”
“My mistake,” Bright stated, then dropped the radio on the ground.
“Who is this?” came the accusing inquiry just before Bright put a bullet through the casing and the circuitry of the offending device.
As Bright took off at a run back toward Hayato and the Gunmarauders, he heard the whistle of a flare streak over his head toward the northeast. The firework went off directly to the east of the base, lighting the area in a flare of white as bright as a full moon on the clearest of nights. As he approached the hiding place, he heard the clatter of Hayato’s Gunmarauder activating. He looked at the suited up Hayato for confirmation.
“They saw it,” came Hayato’s reply from the Gunmarauder’s external speakers. “Sayla’s starting now.”
“Good,” Bright said, uncovering his Mobile Suit and stepping into the open and waiting frame. “Just one more time,” he mused to himself as he thrust his hands into the arms of the Gunmarauder, “just once more as the monster.” He turned his left wrist and closed the control connections. The suit closed around him in that same clatter of clamps and hinges. As the helmet display activated, he heard the radio kick in as well.
“Menovsky readings at 70% of maximum,” Marker’s voice came through, “GM Mobile Suits are proceeding toward Gunmarauders two, four, and five.”
“Gunmarauder one, online,” Bright reported in, “they’re taking the bait and chasing the Menovsky particles, people. I want to know when the GMs are two-hundred feet from Amuro and the others. Gunmarauder four, keep up the Menovsky broadcast. Gunmarauder three, follow me in, but do not attack until I say so.”
“Roger,” came Sayla’s reply.
“Got it,” Hayato agreed.
Bright and his Gunmarauder broke into a run, Hayato hot on his heels, straight toward the base, metal shod feet vibrating the ground with every step. Their strides were enhanced by their Mobile Suits and they covered the distance to the edge of the tree line in a very short amount of time. Skidding to a halt, the both stepped just outside of the woods to observe the two GMs which were heading toward Amuro, Sayla, and Kai’s position.
“GM’s closing,” Marker reported, “three hundred feet… two-fifty… two hundred feet.”
“Gunmarauders one and three, attack!” Bright barked out, kicking in his thrusters and flying into the air. He and Hayato went sailing toward the two GMs, beam rifles firing off bright red lances of energy. One of the beams hit one of the GMs in the back and speared through the cockpit. As the Mobile Suit went up in a ball of fire, the other turned and starting firing off shots at them. Bright and Hayato split paths and dodged the other pilot’s aim.
“Gunmarauder five, attack the tower now!” Frau’s voice came through the radio. “Gunmarauders two and four, provide cover.”
“Roger,” three voices chimed at once.
Under fire from the GM, bullets clanging loudly off the Neotitanium in his Gunmarauder, Bright came down in the clearing and took off once again, changing his angle slightly so that he was charging straight at the GM. Hayato was raining fire down on it from above, covering Bright’s rebound and renewed charge. Bringing his beam saber to bear, he skyrocketed toward the larger Mobile Suit with the weapon’s point aimed directly for the main camera.
The other Mobile Suit ducked out of the way at the last second. Bright’s wild momentum dictated a continued flight forward and before he knew it, the GM had spun around and swatted him from the left. The impact made Bright’s bad shoulder scream out in agony and it was all he could do to keep his own pain-filled exclamation to a short burst of a yelp as he careened through the air. He barely managed to get under control and get his thrusters under him enough to land at a safe velocity. As it was, he tumbled to all fours as he landed. As he recovered, he spotted Hayato’s Gunmarauder come up behind the GM, whipping its heat rod through the mass produced Mobile Suit’s neck joint and finishing it off with a beam rifle shot through the belly. The GM toppled in a flaming mass to the ground and it was all Bright could do to avoid the falling metal pyre as he rolled away.
“Enemy approaching from the north!” Marker’s panicked voice suddenly sounded.
“What?” Bright exclaimed. “How many?”
“A dozen, no wait, fourteen, fifteen, a whole squadron. They must have been hiding in the mountain’s shadow!”
Bright ground his teeth. And Kai’s demolition model Gunmarauder was still too far from the tower to bring it down.
“Do we retreat?” Frau inquired.
Bright growled out some of his frustration. Dammit, things had been going just as planned! Now what?
“Mister Bright?” Frau pressed.
“Negative,” Bright barked back, getting his Mobile Suit to its feet, “if that tower stays, Side Six goes. Continue attack.”
“Roger,” Frau responded, “all units continue attack. Repeat, all units continue attack.”
The squadron of GMs appeared over the ridge of the mountain now and all five Gunmarauders took off into the sky once again, racing to meet them from the southwest and the southeast.
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.
Something clicked in Bright’s brain. Before he knew it, his left arm was moving up as a shield and ricocheted a hail of bullets that would have otherwise taken out his head.
The world became fluid, as though it were suddenly filled to the very heavens with molasses. The only sound Bright heard was that of his own breathing in his ears and the pounding of his heart. It was as though his Mobile Suit has taken over his body, moving in some predetermined, programmed battle scenario. No longer was Bright aware of the movements he was making. He was only aware that, somehow, that monster of a Mobile Suit was keeping him alive.
It wasn’t completely unpleasant. It was as though that enmity with the Gunmarauder had suddenly somehow been resolved, as though some new truce had been reached. Something had taken over without the permission of Bright’s civilized brain. Something had overridden the control of his very body.
Why? Why was he suddenly not disgusted by it? Why was he now able to accept the Gunmarauder? What kind of monster had he become?
Why was an entire squadron of GM Mobile Suits there? Why had McAllis been able to predict their attack so easily?
More importantly, what did that have to do with the Gunmarauder?
“I’ve been hit! All my systems are down!” Kai’s voice echoed across the expanse of the thick, fluid world.
“Amuro! Cover Kai!” Bright found his mouth saying as the rest of his body didn’t miss a beat, still fighting with that mechanized perfection. It turned to take out an approaching GM with its beam rifle as it fell and rebounded off the ground.
He was taking off again before he realized it. As the metal monster flew forward, that detached section of Bright’s mind realized which way forward was. For a split second that was lasting a lifetime, there was a clear path all the way to the tower.
“I have an opening!” his cool voice proclaimed.
Bright! Be yourself again!
Like a thunderbolt splitting a tree, Mirai reached out across the expanse of the molasses world in anguish and shattered the monster’s control.
The world returned to its normal rate of motion and Bright heard bullets clanging off the Gunmarauder as he sped on toward the tower.
“I’m taking it!” he shouted, not quite certain if he managed not to make it sound as if he had was on a suddenly out of control thrill ride.
A second later, Bright and his Gunmarauder crashed into the side of the radio tower, slicing through the supports with the beam saber. The impact took out all of his cameras, so he wasn’t certain what the second, more unforgiving impact against him was. It was another moment and he felt himself falling, thrusters of his Gunmarauder sputtering out.
Bright Noah landed with a very hard thud in a land of pitch black and silence.
What did that have to do with the Gunmarauder?
The thought echoed through Mirai’s mind. For a moment, she didn’t know where it came from, but after that sudden feeling of cold black surrounding something warm and light, she knew exactly what it was.
She shouted his name in her mind even as Marker reported that Gunmarauder one was approaching the radio tower at top speed.
Both feelings disappeared a second after the tower began to fall, raining down bits of twisted metal for almost a quarter mile. She watched it all fall for what felt like an eternity. Once it had all fallen, she looked over to Frau. Frau was wearing a concerned face of her own.
“M… Mirai?” she asked.
“Find out if he’s still there, Frau! Hurry!”
“Right!” Frau exclaimed, turning back to her station. “Con to Gunmarauder one. Con to Gunmarauder one, please respond. Mister Bright, please respond, this is con to Gunmarauder one.”
“Mirai,” Marker ventured, “you don’t think-”
“Don’t finish that sentence!” she snapped back at him, turning on the tank’s engines and hover nozzles. Listening intently to Frau’s radio, Mirai moved the tank forward to the clearing, avoiding as much fallen, twisted, metal debris as she could.
“Con, this is Gunmarauder two,” Amuro broke in, “all the GMs are gone. Most were taken out by the tower falling. All of us are accounted for. Any sign of Mister Bright?”
“We’re working on that, Amuro,” Frau responded.
“Start searching for survivors,” Mirai ordered, “any survivors. Any signs of life at all.”
“Roger,” came five voices all at once.
The hill that had once been a magnificent monument
to glacial movements of prehistory now appeared to be a vast wasteland
of discarded building materials. It now stood as a silent monument
to a hard battle fought, a hard victory won. It stood as a testament
to an ignorant act born out of a mass-duping of an entire squadron of Mobile
Suits by one man who had ordered them there.
It stood as a silent monument to soldiers.
But fate refused to allow its silence.
In a corner unobserved by Human eyes, something moved under the warped beams and fallen debris. It pushed its way to the surface, erupting out of the layers of metal and cement like a volcano through a long-sealed mountaintop. When it burst forth, it stood as a silent, disfigured witness amongst all the disfigured iron.
The already monstrous looking Gunmarauder was battered and beaten, cracks showing on its casing and sparks leaping from shattered joints.
“Warning,” a mechanized, feminine voice sounded in Bright’s ears, the first since he had finally come to, “all systems critically damaged. System shutdown initialized.”
Like the final breath of a dying man, the Gunmarauder exhaled Bright out into the landscape of misshapen, alien looking metals and cements, burning woods and smoldering ashes. Bright stumbled in the unfamiliar scene that was lit only by the nearby burning fires and fell to all fours. He collapsed further when his bad shoulder protested the hard landing and he was flat on his stomach, breathing hard and feeling extremely light headed.
His face had landed on a flat surface of metal. Bright laid there for a while, letting his heart slow and letting the cold metal seep away the heat from the fire that had burned within him and almost consumed him.
It would have if it hadn’t been for Mirai. That was one thing he knew for certain.
He wasn’t sure how long he remained like that. But he was brought out of his blissfully semi-conscious state by a movement not too far off. It sounded like heavy duty hinges creaking as a massive door was opened.
It could only be one person.
Reluctantly, Bright tore himself away from the cool piece of metal and began to get to his feet. By the time he had painfully climbed his way to them, he found himself looking straight into the eyes of Louis McAllis.
“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!”
McAllis took a few steps toward Bright, wearing a scowl like a rabid wolf. “A monster like me,” he answered, “and a monster that children soldiers like you should become!” With that, he launched himself at Bright, throwing his considerable weight behind the tackle and knocking the younger soldier to the ground.
Bright hit the ground hard and it was all he could do to kick his legs up to stop McAllis from coming down on him with a rather hefty iron rod he had picked up. As McAllis reeled backward, Bright took the chance to get to his feet again.
“I will never become a monster like you!” Bright spat, throwing a punch at McAllis with his right fist.
“You already have!” McAllis shot back, grabbing the proffered arm and pulling, then following through with a knee to Bright's stomach.
Bright fell to his knees holding his sides as McAllis backed off for a moment.
“No one who isn’t a monster of a soldier would have stolen the Gunmarauders,” McAllis elaborated, “and you killed your own to get them. And to get to me. Like me? You have become me. And you, my young soldier, were only to be the first. But now, it’s all over. Now, I’ll have to start again, with someone else.” He grabbed one end of a nearby section of fallen beam and lifted it high above his head with some effort. Slowly, carefully, he held it over Bright as though he was taking aim to use it as some sort of bludgeon.
Bright’s hand found a rod of some length and without thinking about it in the slightest, he brought it up and thrust it forward. It skewered McAllis through the gut, causing the massive man to drop the heavy beam behind him instead of on top of Bright.
Strangely enough, McAllis looked satisfied.
“That look,” he croaked out as he sank to his knees, “you have the look of a monster in your eyes, young Mister Bright.” Limply, McAllis fell backward, the rod still sticking out of him. Slowly, he turned his head to look at Bright. “You should be grateful to me. Now, you’re a truly strong soldier.” And with nothing further, his consciousness departed, leaving Bright with that thought and that thought alone.
“I am a… a… I am… not a monster. I will not let it be that way.”
He flopped on to his back and watched the sparks and embers of the nearby fires drift away into the night sky. He felt his heartbeat finally slow and he felt a dark pall lift off his chest.
“I will not let it,” he whispered to the sky, “I’m stronger than it is.”
“Mister Bright!” he heard a voice far off yell. It was immediately followed by at least two others.
“Over here,” he said.
“Bright, where are you?” came the distressed voice of Amuro.
“Over here!” he yelled, summing up some energy. Soon, he heard someone scrambling over a pile of debris near him. He looked up and found the red-headed Newtype looking down at him with an indescribable look of relief.
“I found him!” he yelled over his shoulder, then climbed down next to Bright. “Are you all right?”
“I feel terrible,” Bright admitted, bluntly.
Amuro looked over to McAllis’ lifeless body. “Is that…?”
“He’s dead,” stated Bright, “it’s over.”
“Did he say anything? Did he say why he wanted to attack Side Six?”
“Nothing important,” Bright responded, slowly sitting up. Amuro pulled him to his feet.
“We should get back to the others and get out of here,” Amuro said as they both moved through the remains of the fallen radio tower, “before more soldiers show up.”
“No need for that,” said Bright, “if Clarisse has done her job, they already know all about it. And I’m sure Carnot’s people will come out with it in a matter of hours. There’ll be an inquiry into it, but I’m sure nothing too annoying will come out of it.” One of Bright’s tired feet caught on the edge of a piece of a beam and he tripped. But Amuro was there, hauling him back to his feet quick as lightning.
“Take it easy, I got you.”
“I’m perfectly capable of walking on my own, Amuro.”
“Forget it. You just had a radio tower fall on you,” the younger man shot back as he got under Bright’s right shoulder.
Bright laughed. “I don’t care what Ryu ever said about you. You’re still as stubborn a jackass as you were last September.”
“Look who’s talking.”
It wasn’t long before they ran into Sayla, Kai, and Hayato. Ignoring Bright’s protests to the contrary, Sayla got under Bright’s left shoulder and together, the five of them made their way out of the thick of the debris field.
“Is your shoulder all right?” Sayla asked. “Is there anything you need?”
“A vacation, a couch, a fluffy pillow, and aspirin,” Bright responded glibly which garnered him a few laughs.
“Bright!” Mirai’s voice came to them once they felt grass and ground below their feet again. She, Frau, and Marker were all rushing toward them, looks of intense relief covering their faces like festival masks.
Bright shrugged off of Amuro and Sayla’s shoulders and stepped out in front of the group of five pilots returning from the radio tower. He suddenly had a renewed energy and vigor, a sort of second wind.
Ignoring everyone else, Mirai jumped forward and attached herself to Bright. Feeling his heart skip several beats at once and that old warm feeling growing in his face, he spun around with her with a child-like whimsy that felt as though it had been a lifetime away until that moment.
“Now,” she said to him, “now we talk about it.”
“Now?” he asked. “Then, I have a question to ask you.”
Before he could go any further, Mirai put a hand over his mouth to silence him. “The answer is yes.”
As though the rest of the world wasn’t there, as though nothing important had happened before, as though a whole new story was now starting, the two of them stared into one another’s eyes. Everything fell away as their heads gravitated toward each other like orbiting binary stars and they met in the middle in a storybook kiss of a child’s fairy tail.
Sitting at the top of a hillside under a
large oak tree, overlooking the entire Noah farmstead, the marker seemed
to Bright to be small, cold, and entirely too dead. The Sun had just
gone down and twilight was setting in over the farm, like a blanket of
darkness that longed to wrap the world in a warm, drowsy embrace.
This new marker sat next to the old one; the one that bore the name of his father. This new marker now bore the names of several others, including that of his own son. Hathaway’s was the last name he would ever add to the marker. He was finished with it all. He would never fight again. He had no reason to.
Paolo Cassius, Ryu Hose, Sleggar Rowe, Jean Carnot, Kats Kobayashi, Hayato Kobayashi, Amuro Ray, Hathaway Noah. It was a painful list of memories and a painful list of lessons. They were the greatest teachers he had ever had. And they all taught him lessons that he had failed to pass on to the last name among them.
But that didn’t matter any more. He would never fight again. It was done.
“Grandpa! Grandpa Bright!”
He looked up at the sound of the tiny voice that called him. It was an honorary title, but he enjoyed it, none the less. It was Kikka Kobayashi’s oldest daughter, Himiko, that came zipping his way now, familiar head of straw blonde hair blowing in the breeze and shaking the red bow reminiscent of another long forgotten.
The five-year-old stopped at his feet and looked up at him. “Grandma Mirai says you’re late for supper. You’re going to miss the A Bao A Qu Day fireworks.”
Bright laughed, lifting the little girl on to his shoulders in a piggy back. “You know she just wants us to eat our vegetables,” he mockingly stated to which Himiko made a grossed-out face.
Before hiking back across the field with his precious cargo, he cast one last look at the new marker.
Perhaps he still had a chance to make sure their lessons were passed on.
Dedicated to the men and women who defend us from
those who never learned the lessons of humanity.
Be brave, be strong, be a soldier…
… be human.