The concert hall at the Jion Broadcast Corporation (JBC) was empty, the
seats dark, but the big-bosomed coloratura filled the room without a
microphone. Her accompanist was impressed, despite his annoyance with the
woman. Six hours with a catty soprano singing the role of the Queen of the
Night from "The Magic Flute" was enough to try anyone's nerves. When the
accompanist in question was a 17-year-old boy, the annoyance could be
Prince Garma Zabi had been brought up better than to let any displeasure
show. This JBC gig was A Job. The important thing was to swallow pride,
boredom, and the deep desire to strangle this would-be diva in order to
play that damn piano.
After six hours the coloratura said that her throat had had enough. She
glided off-stage, followed by her personal assistant. Garma watched her
leave, then banged out a few bars of "Professional Widow" on the keyboard
just because he was glad she was gone. He closed the lid, picked up his
sheet music, and went up to the sheet music library to hand it over to
Edmund was one of those scruffy long-haired types who could look as he did
because he worked in the bowels of the Mother Corp, far away from
bureaucrats. His facial hair wasn't so much a beard as a simple refusal to
shave. He came to work every day in jeans and a different concert t-shirt
every day, constantly acquiring new ones. But he had a doctorate in music
and a certificate in archiving, which had both landed him this peach of a
"The Queen of the Night done for the day?"
"Yes. Finally. The things I do for non-union rates." Garma handed over
the sheet music.
"You oughta get your union card. Get you a lot more gigs."
"It's a thought. I do this mostly just to get my hands on that big
Bosendorfer grand upstairs, though. At home I've just got a Yamaha."
"I'll bet your royal daddy would get you one if you asked him for it."
"That's exactly what I don't want." He leaned back against a credenza,
careful of the paper stacked on it, and began twisting a lock of hair
around his forefinger. "I could have the sweetest allowance in the world
if I wanted. I'd rather work. My dad got me my first job, which was as a
page in the National Assembly and that sucked, so I signed on here at the
JBC. It suits me a lot better. But it'll be a long time before I can
afford anything like the piano in the concert hall." He stood up and
picked up his backpack. "Well, have the Corp send me my paycheque. I
daresay they know the address."
The sun was shining down on Marconi Street as Garma emerged from the
building and unchained his bike. He could drive, but just didn't. Cycling
was more fun. He strapped on his helmet and shoved off.
It was two miles from the headquarters of Jion's publically-funded radio
and television station to the royal residence. In the middle of the
afternoon, traffic moved easily and Garma planted himself behind a
streetcar to make sure his path was clear. All vehicles were electric, but
halfway there, he still felt an all-too-familiar catch in his upper chest
which forced him to pull over and take a hit off an inhaler. Stupid lungs.
Bronchial tubes re-opened, Garma decided on what would restore his good
mood. Standing on the pedals and cranking as hard as he could, he zipped
around Parliament Hill and started up the driveway. Strolling tourists
didn't recognize the skinny teenager in jeans and worn cotton dress shirt,
but the guards whose job it was to keep unknown vehicles away from the
Senate and Assembly buildings did. He lifted one hand off the handlebars
to wave in response to their salute.
Just past the neo-Gothic buildings was the goal of Garma's detour: the
steep slope back down the hill. It fed out back onto the street below,
which would take him back to the palace. The slope was about 50 degrees
and if he hit the bottom wrong, he'd go flying headfirst into traffic going
40 kilometers an hour.
He pointed the bike downward and kicked off. It took a few seconds to get
up to speed, then the wind was ripping coldly at his clothes and making his
eyes tear as the asphalt whizzed under his bike's tires. He didn't have
long to enjoy the velocity before the bottom of the hill rushed towards him
and he had to get ready to lean to the side just right to get him around
the corner, raising sparks from the pedal close to the ground, sliding in
alongside a passing car with six inches to spare.
Adrenaline shot through his veins like a blast of winter air through an
open door. He'd looked the Grim Reaper in the eyes and not blinked first.
The grin stayed on his face as he kept going through the gates, but gave
way to his more usual expression of dissatisfaction as he reached the
palace. A servant hurried up to take the bike, leaving Garma to carry his
own backpack upstairs. He shoved his hands in his pockets and slouched his
shoulders on his way to the elevator.
Once in his own apartment, Garma kicked the door shut behind it, locked it,
and switched on the stereo. The radio was programmed to either JBC 2 or
Jion's Only Alternative Music Station, JROQ. At that moment, it was JROQ,
and the music coming out of the speakers mounted in every corner was some
punk band from Side 6 whose best known song was banned from the airwaves
across the Federation due to its apparent promotion of non-government
sanctioned, intra-colonial violence. Of course Garma had the disc.
Sometimes blowing up part of Side 3 seemed like a very appealing idea.
He dropped down onto the couch, then rolled over onto his stomach to pluck
at the strings of his bass. He hadn't touched it in a while. That was
another one of his sources of revenue, entertainment, and company. If a
local band's keyboardist or bass player was in jail, damaged in a fight, or
dead of a drug overdose, Garma was always ready to grab any necessary
equipment at a moment's notice and rush out. His selling point was that he
could get to a gig that quickly, and that he had any equipment a band could
ask for. Need a DAT? No problem. A PA? He had two. Thank Degin Zabi,
kids. The Jion monarch wanted to keep his little boy happy, so the least
Garma could do was share the wealth.
The alarm on his watch beeped. Garma sat up and turned it off. Time to
take a shower and get downstairs to the dining room for dinner with his
Degin Zabi was nothing if not a family man. Now that Garma was the only
one left in the house, he made sure to have dinner every night with him.
Despite all his non-communicative grunting and frustrated eye-rolling,
Garma actually did appreciate it and he knew his father did too. It gave
them a chance to pretend they were normal, even if reality constantly snuck
in to remind them otherwise.
The dining room was the smaller one reserved for the Royal Family. Father
and son ate at one corner of the antique oak table. Degin always put on
civilian clothes for supper and Garma had nothing but. Their supper
routine always began the same way. After saying grace, Garma would peer
over at his father's plate and ask something to the effect of:
"So what murdered animal gave its life to be on your plate today, Dad?"
"You know, if you name one of those, it'll come when you call it. They're
about as smart as dogs."
"Eat your tofu fricassee, and drink your cruelty-free milk, brat."
Garma did so. He'd been stubbornly vegan until his father had invited a
temple of Hare Krishnas to live on Side 3, just so there would be a no-kill
dairy. Until then, he'd been losing sleep over his son's eating habits.
Even with dairy, Garma was less than 130 pounds and he was only 5'6. Degin
knew that part of that was the legacy of Garma's being born premature, at
the cost of his mother Narsia's life.
"So Dad, did you think about what I asked you?"
"What's that, son?"
"You know....my application for the Officer's Academy?"
Degin peered at him from over his glasses. "Garma, you're a vegetarian.
You tried to make me outlaw boxing because it glamourized violence. You
adopted a manatee in my name for me last Christmas so I would have my very
own endangered marine mammal. What subversive plan do you have for the
Academy? Do you have a gang of anarcha-lesbians who need you to infiltrate
and give them a chance to wave crystals and do Buddhist chants to bring
down the patriarchy?"
Garma leaned back in his chair. "You spent all day thinking that one up,
didn't you, Dad?"
"It came to me as I was changing."
"It's a good one."
"It's also my answer. No. You're not going. Pick a university. Major in
political science or history with a minor in music."
"But why not? All my other siblings have gone. It's a family tradition.
I don't like the idea of the military per se, but I don't like being odd
man out, either."
"Don't you like that though, Garma? Being the non-conformist?"
Degin hadn't asked the question sarcastically. Garma squirmed a bit.
"Yes, I do. But there's a war coming, Dad, and you can't keep that fact
from me. I talk to Kishiria too much. If it gets out you have an adult
son you're hiding in a university while others are fighting and dying, it's
going to look really bad. I can be medical corps or something, that'd be
in keeping with my principles."
"Medical corps often has the highest casualties."
"I'm not Cicero."
The reference to Garma's second-oldest brother, murdered by political
extremists seven years before, was below the belt. Degin's hand tightened
on his fork. "We are not having this conversation. I do not want you in
the military. You don't know what you'd do in the military, or if there is
anything you could do in it. Now finish your supper. I have meetings
Garma shuffled back to his room, feeling guilty and trying to rationalize
it to himself. It had been mean to mention Cicero. It's not like he'd
died in a war. Yes, Garma did like being the family punk, but he lived
under the inescapable fact that he was a prince. There were certain things
that a prince had to do, or he'd be a disgrace to himself and his family.
Being there for his country was one of them.
He was gloomily smoking a cigarette when his phone rang. He picked it up
from an end table and answered.
"Hi? Sure. You can come over any time, you know that. 'Kay. See you."
Half an hour later, he was joined by Aina Sakhalin. The dainty blonde was
a member of a noble Jion family. Her brother, Ginias, was an engineering
prodigy of some sort, and an associate of Giren's. Garma and Aina had met
through their brothers and been dating for about a year. It was one of
Garma's decisions that pleased Degin, who was eager for grandchildren.
Aina was clad in a calf-length brown skirt, yellow blouse, and a vest which
matched her skirt. She kissed Garma and sat down on the couch with him.
"You look angry."
"I talked to Dad about going to the Academy," he told her, and recounted
"I can see his point," Aina said at the end. "I don't want you to go
either. If you pick a university, we can go together. Last thing I want
is for you to end up dead."
"I know. But everybody keeps protecting me, Aina, and it drives me crazy."
"Your health isn't the best." She smiled at him. "And smoking isn't going
"Stop it." Garma frowned at her. "This is exactly what I'm talking about.
Being treated like a kid. I mean, I am a kid, and so are you, but I'd
like to be treated like I was 17, not 10."
"All men are mentally 10. After years of watching Gin, I'm convinced of
this. 'Ginias, take your medicine.' 'Oh, I don't think I have to today, I
"I take my meds daily, on time, plus the inhalers when I have to."
"Well, I think that deserves a reward."
A few minutes later, they were on Garma's bed, engaged in a passionate, but
fully-clad, embrace and deep kiss. Aina's fingers entwined in Garma's
hair, pulling his mouth harder against her own. Garma sighed, running his
hand along the line of her hip. Aina rubbed against him, and Garma drew
her closer to himself. She reached up, stroking his chest through the
fabric of his shirt. Garma responded by kissing her more deeply, but made
no effort to touch her more intimately.
Which was just as well, because at that moment, the bedroom door popped
open and a woman's voice called out, "Pipsqueak! Is that a tofu dog in
your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"
"Dammit!" Garma and Aina unceremoniously broke apart. "Kishiria, how'd
you get in here?"
"Never ask me those questions. Hi, Aina."
"Um, hello, Your Highness." Aina rolled off the bed and picked up her
purse. "Sweetie, I think I'll let you and your sister enjoy this precious
family moment in private." She kissed him again and exited.
Kishiria watched her go. "Cute girl."
"Hands off, bitch, she's mine." Garma remained seated on the bed, knees
raised until he could get up without embarrassing himself.
"Don't worry, I'm strictly het." She sat down on a nearby chair.
"I guess you're in for the anniversary of Dad's taking the throne?"
"You guess correctly." Kishiria was dressed in her usual dark-green
uniform, her red hair braided down her back. She was a colonel in the
military and often Garma felt she couldn't take him seriously because of
his civilian status. "So what's new with you?"
"Nothing much. Playing music for the JBC mostly."
She nodded. "I've heard you on there enough times."
"Dad won't let me join the service."
"Any. I haven't decided because he won't sign my application. Of course
he does have a point. I don't know what the fuck I'd do in the military."
"Whoa! Little brother's got a vocabulary!" Kishiria laughed a little.
"You could always wait until you're 18 and then just sign up on your own."
"From what you tell me, that might be too late."
"You're right. It might be." Kishiria turned serious. "I'd sign the
application for you, if I could. I think it'd be a good experience, your
going to the O.A. You need some growing up."
"I do. I've no illusions about that."
Kishiria sat back and looked down, drumming her fingers on her knee. After
a moment, she looked up and asked, "You have a pilot's license, don't you?"
"Yeah. I got it for my 16th birthday."
"And you play a couple of musical instruments?"
"Piano, guitar, and bass. You know that."
"Let me see your hands."
Garma moved over to her and held out his hands, palms up. Kishiria took
them in her own. "Steady as a surgeon's, all right. How'd you get these
"The ones on my left fingertips are from playing guitar. The ones on my
hands are from bike riding. I don't wear gloves and I ride really hard."
"Not quite. I like to tear ass down Parliament Hill."
Kishiria blinked at him. "That's scary!"
He grinned. "I know. That's why I do it."
"You scare the pants off Dad with the jumps you take horseback riding. Is
this a habit of yours?"
He considered. "I guess. I like the edge. Even when I'm with Aina." He
coloured slightly but kept smiling. "Maybe I shouldn't tell you this, but
despite what you just saw, we're still virgins."
"Nothing wrong with that. So am I."
"I don't think we would be except for that edge I was just talking about.
When we're making out, my heart's racing, my blood's going, that
adrenaline's there. Going all the way'd ruin it."
Kishiria looked thoughtful. "I don't know if that means you're a simple
adrenaline junkie or suffer from some weird form of sexual anorexia
nervosa. But I may have a proposition for you."
"EEEEEEEYEEEEWWWW! You're my SISTER!"
She smacked him across the head. "A job proposition, you little pervert."
Am not, am not, am not! You're a pervert!"
"I know you are, but what am I?"
Kishiria hopped over onto the bed and gave her younger brother a hug.
"It's good to be home, pipsqueak. Let's get this anniversary over with,
and we'll talk. I think I might be able to help you out."
The anniversary celebrations were a toddle. Giren, Dozel, and Kishiria
rode in the Trooping the Colours with their father and stood with him as he
made a speech. Garma was, as usual, not present on camera. Even dinner
that night wasn't too bad. Giren was in a good mood for some reason and
was even somewhat jovial. No one picked a fight with anyone else and no
crockery was thrown at any time.
Garma went back to his room to find a note taped to his door:
Your Royal Highness:
Please report to Jion Forces Base Lunaside tomorrow at 0930. You will be
Colonel Kishiria Zabi.
At 0930, one of the palace limos dropped Garma in front of the base. At
0940, he was sitting nervously in front of a panel of high-level officers.
A secretary had given him a cup of coffee, which he had accepted just to
have something in his hands lest he start twisting his hair.
The ranking officer was one General Hadfield. "Colonel Zabi has told us
you have some talents which could be of use to us."
"If you're looking for a bike courier or a ripping bass player, I'm your
"Don't sell that short. What you're saying is that you're an adrenaline
fiend with very fine motor control in your hands."
Garma took a sip of coffee. "Never thought of it that way."
"You also have a pilot's license. These are all skills we need. Before we
continue this talk, we need you to sign a non-disclosure agreement, if
that's all right with you."
"That'd be fine."
"Even if you refuse our offer, nothing we say must leave this room."
Kishiria stood up and came over with a contract on a clipboard. Garma
skimmed it and signed.
"Screens, please," said another general whose name Garma didn't know.
The room darkened and a screen appeared against one wall. Kishiria took
her place at a slide projector. "This is one of my initiatives," she said.
"There was a proposal in Parliament which got laughed out of the Assembly.
I heard about it and found an operating budget."
Something appeared on the screen, an olive green humanoid thing standing in
"Looks like a robot."
"Not quite. More like a tank on feet. A robot's autonomous and this
isn't." She changed slides to a photo that showed the open cockpit. A man
in uniform was standing in the open hatch, waving. "It needs a pilot."
She changed slides again, to a shot of the thing walking across the field.
"We call it a mobile suit."
"Those trees in the background...they're either bonsai or that thing is
fifty feet tall."
Kishiria's eyes were on the screen, admiring her handiwork. "17.5 meters."
"Wow. What does it do?"
"It's versatile," said one of the officers. "As versatile as a man, only
very hard to damage and, well, fifty feet tall. It can hold a rifle, throw
a grenade, but also do anything that a man can do, on a larger scale."
Garma looked over his shoulder. "It can stomp its way across Tokyo,
picking up tanks and throwing them around like toys?"
"Cool. Where do I enter into this?"
"We need a pilot."
"Don't you already have one?"
"We need more. Colonel Zabi thought you might fit the bill. We haven't
yet profiled what kind of person makes the ideal mobile suit pilot. Would
you like to try, Your Highness?"
Garma gazed at the armour with an expression he usually reserved for Aina.
"Where do I sign?"
There would be no more jobs for the JBC for the duration, that was for
sure. For the next few weeks, Garma's life was eight hours a day of ground
school, (or ground tutoring as he thought of it; he was the only student)
with pages of memorization at home at night. He still made time for Aina,
although he told her it'd be scheduled now for reasons he couldn't yet
disclose. To his surprise, she agreed happily, which made him somewhat
nervous. He pushed the thoughts out of his head. The only thing that
mattered now was this mobile suit, the Zak-1.
His instructors were astonished at his capacity for memorization. "I've
got whole piano concertos up here," Garma explained, tapping his head.
"It's been a good background."
A cockpit simulator was next. His new instructor was annoyingly
encouraging. "With those hands of yours and from what I've heard about
your skills, this should be easy for you," she said to Garma. "Just like
playing a piano, eh?"
He sat down, stared down at the four foot pedals, the y-yoke controls with
buttons along each side, the control panels around him. "This isn't a
piano. This is a pipe organ."
"You play that too?"
"No. I don't." Realizing how negative he sounded, Garma looked at her and
flashed his usual smile. "Maybe I'll take it up after this."
The foot pedals controlled the speeds at which the Zak walked. The y-yoke
controlled the most basic direction. After that there were buttons for
moving the head, the arms, the hands. After a week he had the basics down,
and finally it was time to climb into the cockpit of the real thing.
Garma still reviewed materials about the Zak every evening. One rainy
night, he was sitting in his room re-reading them when Aina called from
downstairs. He stashed the papers quickly in his underwear drawer and
answered the door.
"I got caught in the downpour," she explained apologetically as she came in
looking like a wet cat. "Stupid me forgot to check the weather. Can I use
your clothes dryer?"
"Sure, it's in the bathroom. Why don't you put on some of my clothes in
Aina went off to do that. Garma headed off to the kitchenette to make some
tea for his sodden girlfriend. As the water in the kettle heated up, he
realized that he didn't hear the dryer going yet. He stepped back into the
bedroom and found Aina staring transfixed into his underwear drawer.
"What are you doing!" he exclaimed, rushing in and slamming it shut.
"I didn't know where your socks were and I need some. I opened the drawer
by mistake. Garma..what are those blueprints? What do you know?"
"What do you mean what do I know?"
"About the machine. The machine in the blueprints."
"I could ask you the same thing."
"I don't know that mobile suit. It's new to me. Where did you get those?
It's supposed to be secret!"
The two stared at each other in silence. Garma took Aina's hand and pulled
her into the bathroom. He turned the shower on and they whispered in each
"Who's building the suit you know about?" Garma asked.
"My brother Ginias. I'm being trained as the pilot."
"I thought there was only one mobile suit in existence. It seems there are
two. Mine's a project of Kishiria's."
"Ginias is building his with funding from Giren."
Garma licked his lips. "We shouldn't talk about this anymore."
"No. We shouldn't."
"If Giren finds out that Kish is building her own mobile suit, we're both
going to be in big trouble."
"If we're really unlucky, he already knows. For our own safety, we
probably shouldn't see each other anymore."
He turned off the shower and twisted his hair for a moment until Aina
pulled his hand down. They wordlessly left the bathroom and Garma made tea
while she changed into some of his clothes. They sat in silence, sipping
the tea as her clothes clunked around in the dryer. When the dryer buzzed,
she fetched her clothes, dressed, and returned to the kitchen.
"Looks like the rain stopped," she said, peering out the window.
"Do you want me to drive you home, just in case?"
Garma went to get his car keys. When he came back, Aina hugged him tightly
around his waist.
"Before I leave, let's do it. Let's finally make love. We've been putting
it off for so long."
Garma rested his cheek on her fine, soft hair. "If we do, I'll never be
able to keep away from you. Just never being able to hold you like this is
going to be hell enough. I can't imagine what it'll be like if we sleep
"All right. If that's how it has to be." Aina released him. "Take me
The drive was silent. At her house, Aina leaned over to kiss him as if
nothing were wrong, then leaned back, smiled at him sadly, then slid from
the car and walked resolutely to the door. The secrets of the Zak-1 and
what would later be called the Apsalus projects would remain safe, because
Garma and Aina never saw each other again.
The olive-drab Zak towered above the other vehicles in the hangar. Air and
ground craft were parked normally around the building with this immense
humanoid thing in its midst. Garma, dressed as usual in jeans and a button-
down shirt, held the technical manual in one hand and craned his neck up to
look at it.
"Wow, she's a lot taller in person than in the photos."
His sister grinned up at the mobile suit. "She? That's funny, 'cause I'd
already decided she was female, too."
"Does she have a name?"
"To me she does. I call her Winona. I thought about Eve, but that's too
"Winona was the first human, the mother of her species. She was created by
the Grandmother. That's me, I suppose. The mythical Winona was killed by
her evil offspring, but I don't think that's going to happen."
Garma thought of the other mobile suit, the one Aina would be piloting, and
wasn't so sure.
"Anyway, ready to take a test drive, pipsqueak?"
Garma clutched the manual. "I was born ready."
"Step over here."
There was an elevator platform beside Winona, where Garma's simulator
instructor was waiting. The ride up to the cockpit was mildly unnerving,
as the platform rose 25 feet into the air with nothing around them but a
handrail. Garma's instructor got in first and strapped in to a seat that
folded down beside the pilot's. Garma dropped into the padding of the
pilot's chair and drew the straps down over his shoulders and up between
his legs to buckle at his waist. He put on the headset. Everything was
the same as in the simulator so far except for the front hatch being open,
giving him a fine view of the hangar floor below. Then it swung shut,
leaving him and his instructor in an eerie muffled silence like the
soundproof room at the JBC.
"Key," said his instructor, pressing it into his hand.
Garma inserted it into the ignition and switched it on. The lights came on
around him, accompanied by a multitude of beeps, hums, and mechanical
whines. Kishiria was onto something; he did feel as if he was inside a
"Ask for clearance and start moving forward in first gear."
Garma put his hands on the controls and did so. The hangar doors were open
with nothing on the floor between him and them. He cautiously pressed down
on one of the pedals and Winona moved.
He expected a slight lurch, but there wasn't one. He felt a little rocking
as each massive foot raised and fell, but that was all. In a few seconds,
he passed through the hangar doors, visible in the screens on either side
of him. What was weird was how he was sitting in the chest area of the
vehicle while the view was from the cameras in the head.
He continued walking out into the fields outside. "Second gear," he
instructor told him.
Garma obliged. The rocking became a little faster. "Does this make other
"We've had some complaints. Most get used to it and it feels odd when they
get back on the ground. Make sure there's food in your stomach, keep your
eyes on the screen, and if it's too much of a problem, take Gravol or
Dramamine. Third gear now, and raise the suit's right arm over its head."
Garma sped up and raised the arm. A small screen to his lower right showed
a view of it happening, although he could see some of the motion in his
They were out for around an hour. Except for tripping in a ravine and
sending Winona falling on her face, the exercise went smoothly. Even with
the fall, Garma was able to coordinate the limbs of his mobile suit well
enough that it stood up again and strode away from the scene, leaving great
gouges in the ground behind it.
Kishiria was pleased. "You did just great for your first time out. I
can't wait till we see how you do in space."
Garma choked on a mouthful of cola. "Space? Me? With Winona?"
"Sure. We designed the mobile suits to be spaceworthy since," she
hesitated for a moment, "since when we use them, that's where a lot of the
fighting will be."
"I see." He sipped from the can without further comment.
The thought of space made him nervous. Garma had never so much as set foot
in a spaceship before. He'd never needed to; there was no reason for him
to leave Side 3. The idea of being in something as small as the mobile
suit surrounded by the limitless vacuum of space made his chest feel tight.
The cockpit was only three meters around or so. Claustrophobia was not
common in people raised in the enclosed environment of the colonies, but
the idea of being alone in that little chamber, surrounded by nothingness,
made Garma understand it.
Before that bridge could be crossed though, there was the goal of being
able to run an obstacle course, picking up and discarding items along the
way. Not long after, Garma was able to do just that. The cameras in the
head had become his eyes, the other screens his kinesthetic awareness. He
could move up to a run, slow down, crawl through a building, pick up a
truck without damaging it and place it neatly on a road.
The best part though, was being 50 feet tall with trees brushing his
shoulders and birds flying past him. When that was happening, he wasn't a
scrawny 17-year-old with bad lungs and no girlfriend. He was the giant
lord of all he surveyed, and there was no other reaction but to crank up
the volume on the CD he was playing and let the whole world listen to some
serious California punk.
Kishiria made up the excuse of a weekend camping trip in order to sneak
Garma off Side 3 without Degin (or Giren, Garma reflected) knowing. Once
in space, he visited Kishiria in her office for briefing.
"So what do you think of finally being out among the stars?" Kishiria
Garma looked wry. "I wouldn't call it among the stars. We've got that big
ball of dirt out there, that round hunk of rock in its orbit, and a whole
lot of populated tin cans."
"Good thing you're an excellent pilot, because your career as a poet won't
go anywhere. All right. Since you're still on Jion time, we're going to
work according to your body clock. It's ten-hundred now; at 1300 go to the
launch bay and they'll set you up in a normal suit. Get a good night's
sleep and report back down there at 0700. You'll take it from there."
"How come you never became Winona's pilot, Kish?"
Kishiria nodded. "That's a good question. The answer is that I'm in
charge of the project and as such, I can't be both test pilot and
administrator. It's strange, but I never really felt any desire to pilot.
I'm happier behind the desk, talking to the designers, wrangling for funds,
watching the whole project come together. I'm very happy about how you're
doing, too. I'm really proud of you, Garma."
To his surprise, Garma got a lump in his throat. "Thanks. That means a
lot to me. You can be my first passenger."
"Your second. I've already lined up someone else for that honour. So why
don't you and I do lunch, then you can get fitted for a suit."
The hours until the next morning crawled. Garma did a lot of hair-twisting
because Kishiria had taken his cigarettes away. He was up at five with a
good breakfast in his stomach, then down to the bay to climb into his
surprisingly comfortable normal suit. The interior was soft against his
bare skin, designed to absorb perspiration. The only part that was
disagreeable was the helmet, which made his voice sound hollow, cut off his
peripheral vision, and amplified his breathing.
"What happens if I sneeze?" he asked the petty officer who helped him suit
"Try to raise your faceplate first. If not, here's some paper towels." He
pushed a roll unceremoniously into Garma's chest.
"Um, thank you, I think."
Since he didn't have the hang of moving in zero-G down yet, the crew used
the lift to get Garma into the cockpit. He swung in easily and buckled in
as usual. On the other hand, he'd be skidded from the bay instead of
walking from it, and once he was out of the ship, all bets were completely
"You okay in there?" The "tower" was visible in one of Garma's ancillary
screens and he could see Kishiria in there.
"Fine. Ready when you guys are."
"On your signal, sir," tower control said.
Garma dropped a salute and was shoved back into his seat as Winona rushed
forward into open space. He engaged her thrusters and was flying out on
his own power.
He reached for the stereo system where he had a copy of Holzt's "The
Planets" cued up. His fingers never reached the buttons though, as his
eyes transfixed on the beauty that surrounded him.
He was among the stars. The screens around him showed nothing but velvety
blackness on which points of light sparkled like diamond dust.
"Ready to start manoevers, sir?" he was asked.
"No. No. I need a minute. I need to do-something."
Before they could ask again, Garma turned the radio off. He left his
screens on, but turned off all other systems, including the engine. The
cockpit went black, except for what he could see through Winona's cameras.
He was in silence except for his breathing and a soft rapid sound that he
recognized as the beating of his heart.
And something else.
He would never be able to record it. He would never be able to play it.
Yet it was true; the universe really did make music.
"I must confess, Kishiria, that when I heard about this 'mobile suit'
project you've been funding on the sly, I had my doubts," Degin Zabi said
to his only daughter as he walked with her across the base back on Side 3.
"You're going to have to give me a convincing demonstration for me to
encourage Parliament to vote the budget through."
"I'm sure you'll find this interesting, sir," she said with a smile as the
entourage entered the hangar. "Voilà. Meet the Zak-1, also known as
Degin looked up. "It's a giant robot."
"It is not a robot," Kishiria responded. "It's not autonomous. It's got a
pilot. As a matter of fact, he's waiting to give you a ride, show you how
the project works."
They used the lift to reach the cockpit. Degin looked in and saw a slender
person in a normal suit with the faceplate down working inside. The pilot
looked up and waved.
"Do I need a suit, too?" Degin asked.
"No, just the pilot's prerogative. Have a seat."
Kishiria buckled her father in and patted the pilot on the top of the head.
He gave her a thumbs-up and closed the cockpit. The mobile suit started
The course chosen was a gentle one, so as not to throw the monarch around
in his seat. The mobile suit went through its paces, demonstrated its
manual dexterity and strength, and fired off some shots from a beam rifle
recently designed for it. Degin Zabi was impressed.
"You have your budget," he assured Kishiria on exiting. "Now, who's this
virtuoso of a pilot? Someone with years of experience in other vehicles, I
The pilot lifted off his helmet, revealing a big grin on a familiar face.
"Hi, Dad! Think I have something to offer the Jion military now?"
Degin turned to Kishiria, who simply handed him an Academy application and
a pen. Degin sighed, looked at it, looked at his radiant youngest child,
and clicked the top of the pen. Kishiria turned around and he signed it
against her back.
Garma watched the two of them leave. He was sure Degin would have words
with Kishiria, but she'd won. So had he, for that matter. When the next
semester started, there'd be some serious adulthood to look into.
Not now, though. Garma stuck some Social Distortion into the stereo and
let Mike Ness's guitar howl across the hangar, then lit a cigarette. He
wondered what traffic was like around Parliament Hill.
Author's notes: I can just hear the protests now, "But Garma Zabi wasn't a
mobile suit pilot!" I don't think it was ever mentioned in the series, but
yes, he was. Gundam Project has a picture of his custom Zaku-II which he
brought to Earth, but seldom used afterwards. I wondered why this was, and
the seed of the story began to sprout.
I've always liked Garma, but find it difficult to get inside his head. He
shows so many nervous habits, fixations, and paranoias that I wondered what
was wrong with the kid. After I started this story, I realized that if he
went through all this only to have it taken away from him for a safe little
patronage post on Earth, no wonder he'd be neurotic with no real trust in
his own abilities. That's another fanfic for another time, though.