|Another Man's Son
Author: kishiria PM
Char and Garma at the Academy.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 6 - Words: 52,571 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 01-09-12 - Published: 02-27-08 - id: 4100084
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Char Aznable found going through his morning routine without Garma to be more jarring than he'd imagined. His new roommate wouldn't talk to him and Char had to look at the name tag on his bunk to find it out.
PT formation was arranged by last name, so Garma and Char had never been near each other to begin with. Garma was an "A" group runner and Char was a "C" so Char didn't see Garma during that morning's company run. At breakfast, Char maneuvered himself to a few spots in line after Garma, but the Zabi prince averted his eyes whenever Char was within his field of vision. This continued on for the rest of the day, although Garma very professionally answered Char's questions in class. Char expected a sarcastic tone or to be treated like an idiot, but Garma was apparently not going to stoop to that.
Somehow, that made it worse.
On the weekend, Garma still came up to the first-year's common room for the usual study session. "Look who's here!" Vieu Dang exclaimed. "We thought you were staying on the fourth-year floor for good. "
"Why'd you move down there anyway? Is it because you're an instructor in Piloting Skills?" Ubanda asked.
"That was part of it," Garma answered, pulling up a chair and sitting down with five other cadets between himself and Char. "Dad's never wanted me to be up here to begin with, and since some of my grades have been going down, Giren laid down the law and made me move to my own room. I'm next door to Gato, but he's getting ready for his last set of finals."
"No public appearances?" Char asked.
For the first time since Thursday night, Garma looked at him. His gaze was icy, but he didn't let that into his voice. "No, I waste too much time at home. I have an appearance tomorrow afternoon, so I'll get picked up early tomorrow so I can have breakfast and go to church with my dad. I'll be back right after I do my thing." He opened up his reading tablet. "What class are we going over first?"
Sunday evening, Garma had a task. Degin had given him a set of coordinated sheets, bedspread and rug in blue and gold, so Garma was painstakingly setting up his room to be personal yet ready to pass inspection. Once finished shaping the bedspread over the pillow just so, he settled down with a text and a tablet of paper to wait.
And he waited. The fourth-year floor was conspicuously quiet, so Garma stuck his head out after half an hour to notice that all the rooms were dark. Puzzled, he returned to his seat and kept up on his homework, rising every once in a while to pick up a miniscule piece of lint or tweak a corner of the bedspread.
When he finally did hear the senior cadets coming back in, Garma sprang to his feet eagerly, expecting Gato to come in and critique the appearance of his room. Instead, the only sign of Gato's presence was the sound of the older cadet locking their bathroom door from the inside before showering, followed by him unlocking it, going into his room, and locking it again. Garma shrugged mentally, reasoning that whatever meeting the fourth-years had been to wasn't something Gato wanted to discuss with a first-year.
Monday began much as Friday had, except that PT was muscle strength instead of running. After breakfast, Garma joined Gato in the ride out to the mobile suit hangar. The older man was uncharacteristically sullen and after five minutes of riding in silence, Garma asked, "Something's on your mind. What is it?"
Gato shook his head. "I shouldn't talk to you about it."
"Well now you're committed. If you'd said that you didn't want to talk about it, or that you couldn't talk about it it'd be one thing. But 'I shouldn't talk to you about it' tells me A, that you shouldn't talk about it but you want to and B, it has something to do with me."
Gato didn't say anything. He remained silent until they were in the hangar at the feet of one of the Zakus. He placed his hand against the massive foot and said, "Last night, we fourth-years were all given our orders. I've been assigned to the Royal Guard."
"Congratulations. Someone likes you. That's the highest prestige assignment in the Forces."
Gato's hand became a fist, still pressed against the Zaku's foot. "I don't want a safe, high prestige post. I want to fly a Zaku. It's what I do, I love it and I'm the best there is at it."
Garma didn't know what to say. The Royal Guard was made up of excellent soldiers, but their duties were largely ceremonial. Since the advent of the Zaku, Degin had felt that there should be one mobile suit company assigned there to guard the palace complex and the capital city cylinder in general. In times of crisis it would be called into action and serve an important function, but unless such a crisis occurred, the tasks would be symbolic and dull. Garma had a further suspicion that Gato had been selected for both his formidable fighting skills and his good looks, since the Royal Guard was also highly visible.
"What were you hoping for?" Garma asked.
"There aren't a lot of mobile suit slots yet, but I was still hoping that I'd be assigned to a ship or one of the forward operating bases. Something where I might see action."
Garma frowned slightly in thought. "The downside of the Royal Guard is that you won't see action unless things really hit the fan. On the other hand, if an invasion gets to the point where the Royal Guard needs to be engaged, we'd want the best mobile suit pilots on the job."
"The best use for me would be making sure that an invasion doesn't go that far."
Garma didn't have anything to say about that. While the Mobile Suit Corps was going to be expanding rapidly in the Zeon military, Kishiria and Dozel had yet to enlighten him on what the exact role of the Corps would be. It occurred to him then that his older siblings themselves might not know.
Immediately, he realized that this wasn't a thought he should share with anyone.
"I agree with you," he told Gato. "I wouldn't give up hope of getting what you want, though. This technology is brand new, and you're going to be in demand shortly. Don't count on the Royal Guard as being on anything but a placeholder for you."
"I hope you're right," Gato told him.
"What's on the agenda for class today?" Garma asked.
"I've made the program for the simulators a lot more challenging," Gato told him, apparently eager to change the subject. "Now that the cadets have all had a turn piloting the Zaku, they think they're hot stuff. This should bring them all back to reality."
"Sounds fun. Show me?" Garma asked, and they went to the control booth to review what Gato had done.
Sitting in the booth of the simulator shortly after, Char Aznable could see the signs of Gato and Zabi having had way too much fun programming the simulators.
"That was Van der Kampen," Garma muttered to Gato.
"Cadet Van der Kampen, losing military bearing. Give me 20."
Garma didn't tell Gato that Van der Kampen had almost won a competition. It was worth having heard the outburst.
"Zabi, come see this."
Garma spun his desk chair over to where Gato was watching a computer monitor. He leaned over Gato's shoulder to see that the older man was watching Char Aznable react to the program he and Garma had developed together. One half of the split screen showed the individual reactions and maneuvers Char was performing. The other half was divided vertically. The top gave an overhead shot of Char from over his shoulder, displaying the motions of his hands and feet. The other focused on Char's face.
Char was smiling a self-satisfied smile. His eyes were difficult to see behind his glasses, but their rapid motion was still noticeable. He knew he was performing well and he was having fun doing it.
"Look at his hands," Gato whispered. Garma leaned forward even more. He didn't have the real-life experience Gato did, but he still knew that this kind of quick reaction was something unusual.
Not knowing what else to say, Garma commented, "Good reflexes."
"Those are good reflexes," Gato agreed, then turned to Garma and added, "If you're one of the X-Men." He read the left side of the screen. "He's anticipating everything we throw at him by half a second. There! Did you see that? He hit the button to fire the suit's rifle when the ship he's facing was still opening the firing tube."
"Do you think he hacked into the program somehow?"
"It's on a portable drive, and I had it on me until I put it in the machine. Then you and I tinkered with it. I don't see how he could."
Garma thought of a joke about Char's skills with his hands but had enough self-control not to blurt it out. "Maybe he is some kind of mutant, and his eyes are just way better than ours."
"Then why does he wear glasses?"
Garma considered. "Come to think of it, he's never told me."
Gato glanced over at the simulators through the window of their booth. "End the program for the cadets who got killed. Take the data from their stations and get ready to AAR with them."
"What are you going to do?" The after-action review was usually Gato's job.
Gato grinned. "I'm going to take on Aznable, one on one. Wait till the other cadets are done. I want them all to see this."
Once the other cadets were finished with their exercises and given critiques, Gato said, "Since we still have time, I want to try something out. Cadet Aznable! You get back in your simulator. You're going to fight me."
"You pilot like you were born to do it. I want to see how much is skill and how much is raw talent. Cadet Zabi, put the simulator viewscreens on the big screen so everyone can see."
The artificial starfield Char had in front of him appeared overhead. The screen split vertically and a second image appeared alongside it. That was what Gato was seeing, and the view was more or less identical at the moment.
"Any preference for what colour you want your Zaku to be?" Garma asked.
"Grey," Gato answered.
"Red," Char responded.
"Cadet Zabi, this is looking too easy for me. Add in the minefield we uploaded yesterday."
A pattern of spherical objects appeared, suspended across the pilots' fields of vision. The simulated battlefield was finite, so that the minefield blocked out a large rectangle in the middle. There were asteroids on either side of the minefield with little room between them and the mines.
"Anything else, Cadet Gato?"
"Looks like fun to me so far."
"Gentlemen, load your ammo," Garma ordered. The display showed the virtual Zakus taking on the full complement of ammunition, plus the extra belt-carried magazines.
"Go," Garma told them.
Char's Zaku immediately zoomed to its right, seeking to circumvent the mine field. Gato's suit didn't move. Once Gato was apparently sure of what Char was doing, his grey Zaku advanced towards where Char was heading. Char took his Zaku "upward". At this point, Gato followed, machine gun in low-ready. Char kept going, trying to find a point where he could shoot at Gato without tripping off any of the mines. Gato tracked with him.
Suddenly, Char did fire off some rounds, and unbelievably, they had a clear path through the minefield. Gato's suit leapt away at the right moment, avoiding being hit. Gato continued in that direction, towards the asteroids. Char didn't follow, instead taking his suit "downward". Gato immediately reversed course, maximizing the speed with which he got there by springing off the asteroids.
Char opened fire on Gato. The feet of Gato's Zaku had just made contact with yet another asteroid, so Gato gave a short blast of his thrusters that twisted his Zaku to the underside of the rock. Char pursued, machine gun at the ready. Gato released three precise bursts into the minefield, which started detonating a line of mines right into Char's path. Char dodged right before the mine closest to him exploded, but in doing so, his Zaku was slammed upwards into an asteroid. The red Zaku and the rock reacted by flying in different directions. Char hit his boosters before landing in the minefield, but he ended up back in the asteroids again. He put the suit into acrobatics that would have had every servomotor screaming in mechanical agony in real life in order to reach the top of the usable area seen on screen.
There was a collective gasp from the entire class, along with a few mutters of "How did he do that?" Char pulled the Zaku out of its trajectory with visible effort and began weaving through the asteroid field again in pursuit of Gato.
Gato's grey Zaku stood its ground. It only moved when Char's mobile suit rounded the corner of the asteroid field, ducking in among the rocks. Char fired at its heels as it vanished behind cover, doing visible damage to the grey Zaku's right foot.
In the control booth, Garma was holding his breath. He was on the only one in the room who was able to see an outside view of the combat. Everyone else could only see the view from the two cockpits. Garma could see some of Gato's Zaku in the asteroids, and rotated the view until he could see clearly where it was placed. It was stretched out, perfectly motionless, with the machine gun ready to fire. Char apparently couldn't see it, because his red Zaku hung in place as Char decided what to do next.
Garma thought Char might pursue Gato into the asteroid field, but Char chose to circle it slowly, facing it at all times, weapon at the ready. He was parallel to the "top" of the minefield when Gato fired his Zaku's weapon. The mines detonated, but Gato had sufficient cover to stay protected. Char evaded the explosion by hitting the boosters in the same direction that the explosions' paths were taking. The center of the field was now clear of mines and the asteroids that had been reach of them were spinning.
Char re-appeared on the viewscreen. The asteroids were still bobbing like ice in a recently disturbed punchbowl, but Char could probably see through to them. He cautiously entered the empty part of the minefield, keeping his weapon trained on the rocks ahead.
Suddenly, Gato shoved himself free of the asteroids he'd been using for cover and came flying straight for Char. Char began firing, sending himself backwards as he did so. His attention was divided, though, and while he was hitting Gato's suit, he never struck the same point twice. Gato was only shooting sporadically, in the seconds during which Char was watching behind himself, not realizing that he was being steered right back towards the remaining portion of the minefield. The heel of his Zaku's left boot struck one mine, sending it in the opposite direction as the first explosion triggered others. Gato withdrew back towards the asteroids for a matter of seconds, then advanced again with every engine on high, firing on full-auto into the cockpit of Char's suit, causing it to explode.
Garma heard Char's roar of rage. He rolled out of his simulator, tearing his headset off, teeth bared. Gato emerged a moment later and stretched, then blotted perspiration from his forehead with his sleeve. He noticed what he was doing, checked to make sure his sleeve wasn't visibly stained, then went over to Char, right hand extended.
Char took a deep breath and returned to himself. He shook Gato's hand, still scowling noticeably.
"Nothing to be ashamed of, Aznable," Gato assured him. "You are amazing. I've never seen reflexes like yours. Keep up the good work, and you'll be one of the best."
"I lost," Char growled.
"You lost to me. I've been training for four years, Aznable, and have used these things in combat. I give your performance here an A+."
Char was still visibly scowling, so Gato went on, "If you're going to be a great baby about all this, I can't teach you. Maybe this will. The rest of you go to the classroom to go over the recordings with Cadet Zabi. As for you, Aznable, drop."
Garma stepped down out of the booth and headed for the classroom. He did look over his shoulder in time to see Gato standing, hands on hips, over Char, who was doing the first ten of no doubt at least seventy pushups.
Later that evening, there was a knock at Garma's door. He opened to to find Gato outside.
"Cadet Zabi, I need to ask you something."
"Sure, come on in."
Gato did. Garma motioned him to the chair, but Gato said, "This won't take that long. I know you were Cadet Aznable's roommate. Has he always been that much of a sore loser?"
"Now, that you mention it, yes. I hadn't really thought of it that way before."
"Hm. It's a pity because he's a prodigy. His reflexes and basic skills are the best I've seen, and I only beat him because I have real-world experience. But if he's going to be bratty and a diva," Gato shook his head. "Don't get me wrong, pilots are supposed to be prima donnas, but he's not a pilot yet."
"He can act awfully entitled."
"I'm just worried if he's going to turn out to be the problem child of the Mobile Suit Corps. I suppose only time will tell, but..." His voice trailed off. "Well, I just wanted to know if my gut feeling was justified. Sounds like it is."
"I have to agree with you."
"Thanks. Well, that was it. I'll see you tomorrow."
Gato exited through the bathroom door. Garma dropped down heavily on his bed. Char was already starting to make enemies, it seemed. He had a moment of wondering how he could protect him, then quickly told himself he'd be an absolute fool to do so. All he'd be doing is trying to protect Char from himself, and he'd never grow up if Garma did that. He also didn't deserve the effort.
Having given himself that stern talking-to, Garma stood and went back to prepping a clean uniform for the morning.
Char Aznable, in the meantime, was working off his anger in the weight room. As he did bicep curls, he tried to calm the rage still roiling around in his stomach. God damn that Gato, making me look bad in front of Garma! I'll bet he did that on purpose. Probably wants Garma for himself, the bastard. I'll never let anyone beat me again like that.
Early May came along with final exams. Garma made nightly appearances upstairs for study groups with the other cadets. Char hoped for a chance to banter with him, envisioning that renewing conversation might lead to an invite down to Garma's room for a more extended chat. It didn't happen. Garma was polite, but pointedly refused to discuss anything but school. At the end of the third session, as the cadets began to file back to their rooms for lights-out, Garma took Char's elbow and steered him aside.
"I know what you're trying to do, Char, and it's not going to work."
"Why, what am I trying to do?"
"Don't act stupid. Our friendship is over. From now on, it's strictly professional and don't even think about trying to make it social."
Char laughed, that mocking laugh all of the cadets had heard from time to time. Usually Garma would back down, admitting that he was being foolish.
"Stop it, Char. Everybody's looking at you."
Char did. He realized that he'd broken some social rule, but didn't know what it was. The mystery was explained when Vieu Dang came over and pushed Char's shoulder.
"Leave him alone."
"I'm just trying to talk to him."
"And he doesn't want to talk to you. Giren told us all what you did, and it's not like we all couldn't see it."
Garma turned. "Giren told you guys about-," he caught himself before saying, "about us" and changed it quickly to, "why he sent me downstairs?"
"What did he say?" Char asked.
Vieu Dang's eyes flicked between the two of them. "He told us that you'd been hanging around Zabi because he has money and you could get him to buy you stuff because he needed you for his grades."
Char and Garma exchanged a glance. "I did buy you a lot of stuff, but I didn't see it as you using me until Giren told me. I'm stupid that way."
"Well," said Char. "I guess you all are right. I won't bother you any more, Zabi. Sorry I tried to talk to you." He picked up his materials and went down the hall.
Later that night as his roommate snored, Char lay on his back, seething. Well played, Giren Zabi, well played, he thought to himself. Just enough truth to make it all believable but sparing me the role of the jilted lover, thus putting me in your debt even as you split me up from Garma. I'll get extra revenge for that, you bastard.
Downstairs, Garma was sitting in his armchair, wrapped in a throw blanket. He couldn't sleep and didn't want to just lie in bed. On one hand, he was glad Giren had stepped in to quash any rumours going around about why he and Char had moved apart. On the other, he wasn't sure his entire class had to know anything beyond that this was what the palace wanted.
Char's clumsy attempt to warm up to him had infuriated Garma, since it meant Char either didn't understand or didn't care about what he'd done to wrong Garma. And Char had been using Garma, Garma had been too blinded to see it. At least people thought Char had only used him for material gain. If they knew Char had been leading Garma around by the prick, Garma didn't think he'd have been able to endure the humiliation. No doubt that had been one of Giren's intentions, to spare Garma embarrassment.
Garma pulled his knees up to his chin and sobbed for a while in anger, grief and, strange to his thinking, more than a little hatred.
Exams were a mess. The instructors made it very clear that the new "MOS essentials only" curriculum confused them as much as their cadets through the essay questions. Years later, Char would remember sitting in a lecture hall with a paper blue book in front of him, wondering if the officer who had once been their history teacher but who now had to discuss the role of mobile suits in recent events wanted more history in what seemed to be a theory question or more theory in what the officer would have preferred to have been a history question.
Finally, the Thursday that was the last day of exams struck. Cadets from Zum City had weekend passes, so Garma quietly returned home. Dozel was back from his latest deployment, so Garma anticipated spending more time with him than with Giren.
Alas, that was not to be. "He wants time alone with Zena," Garma groused as he sat in Giren's and Cecilia's dining room, using his fork to sort through the vegetables in the Indian curry Cecilia had made.
"There is an old 20th century saying, 'Bros before hos'," Giren told him.
"What's that mean?"
"'Bros' for brothers, be they by blood or by choice. 'Hos' seems to be a short form of 'whores' but can refer to any woman one holds in contempt because of said 'bro's' preference for same."
"I wouldn't call Zena that, Giren, but you always have time for me."
"I think that's because he has me every night," Cecilia put in. "It shouldn't be a special event for a man to spend time with his wife, but it is for Dozel." She lay her hand over Giren. "I've often thought about how glad I am we don't have to be apart like that."
Giren took her hand in his and kissed it. Garma looked away.
Sunday morning, Garma was again delivered to his father. They had breakfast and then went to Mass together. Garma sat glumly beside the Sovereign and watched Cardinal O'Rourke go through her paces. Being a priest might not be such a bad option, he thought. It'd certainly render life a lot simpler.
Char, in the meantime, spent the two nights he had free picking up dark-haired women in bars and fucking them savagely in his hotel room. Each time, he found himself frustrated, confused and disappointed, as the "something" he'd felt after sex with Garma just...wasn't there. He hadn't even noticed what that "something" was until he didn't have it.
He returned to the barracks Sunday afternoon to a letter from his uncle.
(No "dear" beforehand. This was going to be bad.)
How disappointed I am that you are not able to maintain friendships. When you returned to Zeon you had all the social tools to make friends and shine like the sun in Zum City society. The affection you had from the prince filled me with hope that you might find yourself in the circle of the royal family itself.
I've read in all available sources that Garma is given to kindness and friendliness. How could you have lost his? Did you truly behave so abominably to impel such a young man to reject you?
You have failed. It is imperative that you repair this relationship in order to bring you into the very centre of Zeon power, the place you were born to be.
Keep us informed.
Char gritted his teeth. He yanked the chair away from his desk, ignoring the scrape and bang of the wooden legs on the floor. He dropped down onto the thinly padded wood and pulled a sheet of paper and an envelope from a drawer. He began writing in his elongated European hand:
"Dear Uncle J. Prince Garma acted like a spoiled rich boy. Tired of me, he set me aside for other, more interesting friends. I am humiliated and now understand more than ever all that you taught me."
He tapped his pen against his chin and kept writing.
I am working to win him back. Currently, he is being inaccessible, but I have plans. When has it been that when I put my mind to a task I didn't achieve it? Graduation for the class of '78 is day after tomorrow. I am hoping that serving as ushers will give me a chance to break the ice with him again.
Char put in a few chatty paragraphs about his grades and sports participation, then sealed it up and got it ready to mail.
The next day was dominated by two things: briefings and rehearsals for the graduation, and packing to leave for the summer. Graduation/end of semester started early, with the first-year cadets gathering at the football stadium to be handed stacks of programs and to run through their assignments. The senior cadets were sleeping in or taking leisurely breakfasts. When Garma left, Anavel Gato was just coming back from an early-morning run and heading into the shower. The snowy white uniform he'd wear for graduation and never again was hanging in his locker.
Char, Garma, and the dozen or so cadets left in the mobile suit corps were assigned to the seating reserved for the families of the mobile suit cadets who were graduating. Char handed programs to people who were all wearing their best, even if their best was obviously purchased just for the event from the colonies' lower-end department stores.
One notable exception was a couple in their early 60s. The woman was in a tidy pantsuit with a knee-length jacket, her salt-and-pepper hair shoulder-length and neatly coiffed. Her husband was in the uniform of a lower rear admiral, and Char recognized his unit patch as that of a reserve unit. A moment later, he saw that the man's name plate read "GATO".
Shit. I see what's going on here. Not only did Giren Zabi have me and Garma separated, he's put Garma next door to a worthier suitor. Son of an admiral, their families probably have cocktails together. And a war hero at 21. I'm so fucked.
Garma was on the other side of the aisle from Char. If he did indeed know the Gatos he didn't show it, showing the same courtesy and smile to everyone he seated in his section.
Once the families were seated, there wasn't much to do beyond watch the ceremony. Char expected to be bored stiff, but the entry of the white-clad cadets with their "flying saucer" service caps, that no member of the Zeon forces ever wore outside of this, was finely planned spectacle. Dozel Zabi was the main speaker, with General Vanderwyck as master of ceremonies. Once the cadets were seated though, it did get somewhat dull. Char didn't know any of the valedictorians or award-winning cadets except for Gato, and Char had decided already that he hated Gato and couldn't wait to see his obituary. Given his delight in combat, Char didn't think it would take long.
Awards were given out, Dozel spoke, the cadets lined up to get their diplomas and shake Dozel's hand, they put on their Academy rings and threw their flat caps in the air upon being declared officers. Then came the chore of making sure all the happy families exited the bleachers in an orderly fashion and headed off in the correct direction to the reception. The junior cadets were then dismissed for lunch in the dining hall, as usual.
Garma didn't go with them. He was given permission to have lunch with Dozel.
"Your grades are up," Dozel observed as he lifted a bruschetta toast onto his plate.
"I thought they were, but I haven't seen the results from my finals yet."
"You did fine. Solid B+ work. You'd probably do better if you didn't have to make public appearances."
"Giren always told me, 'Remember, Garma, B stands for bad. A stands for acceptable'."
"Yes, well, I always wondered how you managed not to be crazy with him as your tutor so much of the time."
"Oh, it's for the best. If he didn't inspire me to be competitive, I might just hang around in my room playing guitar and smoking pot all day."
"I don't think Dad would have stood for that. He'd have sent you to Servite instead." Servite was the strict all-male private school Dozel had attended. "Anyway, you've always known your own mind. You knew you wanted mobile suits." He paused to thank the waiter for refilling his wine glass. "I hear very, very good things about you as an instructor. We might put you to that after you graduate."
"A little premature, don't you think? I'm only at the end of my first year."
"It never hurts to plan ahead. The Zaku II is almost ready, and you'll be getting the manuals and simulators for that as soon as your class lets out.
"That's this afternoon. My driver will be here at 1600."
"Sounds like you'll have a summer job, then, doesn't it?"
That didn't sound promising. After lunch, Garma returned to the barracks to change into civilian clothes and make sure the last packing was done. He was going up the steps when Gato came up behind him.
"Good afternoon there, Lieutenant Junior Grade," Garma said, saluting him. Gato had graduated a rank ahead due to his existing military record.
Gato returned the salute and took off his cap as they entered the lobby. "Thank you, cadet. I can tell that having to return salutes is going to grow old, very quickly."
"I had lunch with my brother Dozel."
Gato stopped and backed up to the wall so they wouldn't be blocking anyone's way. "Oh?"
"He told me I have to get ready for the Zaku II. Any ideas?"
"I've flown one, and it was dreamy. I think the II is going to be around for a long, long time. I have almost no complaints about it."
They continued chatting about the Zaku II for a few minutes. Garma eventually checked his watch and said, "I have to go. My driver will be here soon."
"And my parents are waiting. I'll be living with them until I rent my own place. I don't intend for that to take long."
"Well, Lieutenant Gato, it was a pleasure."
"Indeed it was." They shook hands and to Garma's surprise, Gato put a hand on his shoulder as they walked down the hall.
They didn't see Char Aznable lurking behind them, watching them leave. Char wasn't permitted in the fourth-year hall, so he was unable to do anything more than visually follow them with hate in his eyes. His worst fears were realized; Gato's hand on Garma's shoulder and the way they had been looking at each other confirmed it for him.
An image of Garma and Gato seeped into Char's mind and he couldn't dismiss it. It wasn't an image of Garma talking to Gato as he'd just observed, but Garma, post-coitus, lying in Gato's arms, the eyes of both of them glazed with pleasure. Char clenched his fists and walked away, planning on a long session with the heavy bag in the gym.
Summer in Zum City. Garma woke up the Wednesday morning after the semester's end to morning light and birdsong. The breeze was cool on his shoulder. The only thing he wanted was to be able to roll over and see Char lying beside him, the light on his face-
Time to get up. He stood and walked resolutely to his dresser. He didn't feel like shaving, so he didn't. Dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and barefoot, he went to the kitchen to make coffee and have cereal.
He played guitar for a while, wincing because his calluses had softened up from lack of playing. The apartment felt too big, so he sat down at his piano and starting playing randomly in an A key, because that felt melancholy enough to be in line with his emotions.
He missed Char, even if Char had been using him. Perhaps it hadn't been deliberate on Char's part; orphan that he was, it was possible he didn't have what a musician friend of Garma's referred to as "being human" skills. The thing was, the same friend also talked about how the only way to get "being human" skills was by deciding to learn them. If Char wasn't willing to do that, there was nothing Garma could do about it.
It was 11 in the morning and Garma decided it wasn't too early to see if the bars were open.
By Friday, Garma had had enough. Being drunk before noon lost its appeal the second time he did it. His friends had day jobs and couldn't always get together to play music in the evenings. So Friday afternoon he called Dozel and asked if there was any chance starting his summer job.
"Besides opening malls, I mean," Garma said.
"Funny you should mention that," Dozel said. "I was going to call you to strongly suggest you go back to the Academy and start checking out the Zaku II simulators."
"I could do that," Garma told him.
"That's good news," Dozel said. "I know you have work to do this weekend, but we'll talk about you moving back to the Academy grounds on Monday."
Sure enough, by Monday evening, Garma was settling into a room back in the Mobile Suit barracks. The second and third year students shared a floor below the first-years. Rooms were still shared, but civilian bedding was allowed if it was conservative and kept neat. As the sun faded, Garma made his bed with the same blue linens he'd used downstairs. He sat at the desk with his reading tablet and started going over the design of the Zaku II.
It was silent. Tomblike. There was no CQ downstairs; the doors were locked from the inside and Garma had the key. He could have moved into the first floor, he reflected, but that just didn't feel like the right thing to do. He turned on some music and went back to his reading.
The next morning he drove to the mobile suit schoolhouse. He planted himself in one of the simulators and started working through the basic launch sequence. The cockpit was much more intuitive and more of the controls were incorporated into single commands. The viewscreens displayed views from more cameras over the machine's body. He quickly became absorbed in his work, and by Wednesday he was starting to go through basic combat scenarios.
Meanwhile, on another Zeon colony cylinder called Windemere, Char was finding his life to be as meaningless as Garma's had been in that first week. Jinba Ral had deposited a lump sum into his bank account to see him through the summer and he'd paid three months upfront for a tiny furnished one-bedroom apartment. Windemere was a cylinder located equidistant between four others and served as a suburb for all of them. The colony was one big grid of greenspace, shopping malls and residential neighbourhoods. It was inexpensive to live there and bachelor apartments were the cheapest residences available in a neighbourhood where the citizens were able to walk around at night.
Char bought a gym membership and spent his days there. His evenings were spent in front of the television watching sports or hanging around at bars full of young professionals, picking up women.
The Sunday evening news was his bane. Although he knew he would always be snake-bitten by it, Char always watched, and Char always saw Garma sometime during the broadcast. When he did, Char's throat closed up and hurt and an emotion that was half hate and half grief filled his chest so he couldn't breathe.
The first Sunday was the worst. Garma visited a school for young musicians and it was obvious that he was actually interested in them and what they had to show him, that they had things to talk about and that Garma cared.
Char hated that with every ounce of his being, to the point that he found himself sobbing on his knees in front of the television. He betook himself and a bottle of scotch to a hot bathtub for the solitary comforts he could take there.
He wanted the next semester to be there. He wanted to leave this lonely apartment and go back to the rules and restrictions of the Academy where he could work with mobile suits and not have to think about anything in the outside world.
On the third Wednesday after they started their break, Char got his wish.
"We're starting another semester?" Garma exclaimed as he was having lunch again with Dozel.
"You're to graduate in December. For the next six months, you cadets are going to be doing nothing but combat skills. Mobile suit mostly but also in the field."
Garma sighed. "I knew something was up. The speed with which we got the Zaku II simulators, the way I was told I should go learn them...I hoped you just wanted me up to speed as an instructor. Now I understand why."
Dozel nodded as he took another forkful of the family-sized lasagne in front of him. "I hope we won't be at war with Earth too soon, but you read the news. You know what's going on with the economic sanctions and blockades and all. They have no goddamn right to block ships between Side 6 and Side 3 and they do anyway."
Garma sipped his iced tea. "What's Giren up to? I see him, but he never talks about what he does at work."
"I'm not sure myself, which is wrong. Giren's not the monarch, Dad is, and I think that Dad is starting to cede way too much power to him."
When Garma returned from work that evening, the front door of his barracks were unlocked and there was a sergeant at the CQ desk. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Didn't you check your e-mail today?"
"No, I work in the Mobile Suit schoolhouse, and I don't check it while I'm there."
"Check it. You've got orders. Your whole class does."
Garma ran upstairs and logged into his Academy e-mail. At the top of his inbox was a link to a document reading, You are ordered to report to the Zeon Armed Forces Academy on June 20, 0078 for supplemental MOS training...
"It's started," he murmured to himself.
The following Monday, Van Kamper volunteered to be Garma's roommate on the second-year floor. Aznable was down the hall with some fourth-year Garma didn't know who was going to be cadet cadre in the fall. The top floor was occupied by Beast Barracks cadets whose panicked footsteps racing down the stairs woke them up six days a week. The unplanned and surrealistic summer session had begun.