[Official Silliness: I don't own Mobile Suit Gundam, although if the franchise is for sale, I'll buy it provided it's in my price range. I do, however, own the 505th Falling Eagles, and any attempt to use them without my knowledge and permission will result in the offender being shown his or her own beating heart.

This one goes out to all those folks who can't understand why anyone would be a Jion loyalist. You know who you are.]


Sunlight and heat. Blazing sunlight and dry, baking heat. Captain Octavio Duarte Garcia extended his hands into it as he walked down the stone pavement towards the mobile suit hangar. Even though his eyes were protected by the polarized plastic lenses of his sunglasses, the glare never relented.

"You never get tired of this, do you?" asked Lt. Luna Ruiz from beside him.

He grinned at her. "You're not used to being home, are you, mija[1]?"

Luna snorted. "For me, home is Side 3, jefe. Maybe being in space isn't as romantic as being in the motherland, but it's got its advantages. No sunburns. No scorpions in your boots in the morning."

"Water you can drink from the tap," said Sgt. George Villalobos, who had experienced a downright historical case of bacterial intestinal upset when they'd landed on Earth three months before.

"Andalé,[2]" agreed Jésus Lopez.

"You guys have been spoiled from living in that damn tin can," Warrant Officer Leobardo Magadan laughed at them. At forty, he was the oldest member of the 505th Company of the North American Occupation Forces (the Falling Eagles), on Earth since March 4th of 0079. The very reserved Sgt. Maria Franco was next oldest at 38, followed by Octavio at 36.

Octavio, Tavi to his friends, had observed a distinct split in attitude between those born on Side 3 and those born here in Mexico. The Earthnoids thought the Spacenoids were soft, the Spacenoids thought the Earthnoids were primitive. It was a split that provided many of the running jokes in his company, but also worried him. He couldn't argue that they all fought well together, but that sense of being one unit with one identity was not as developed as he would like.

Their nine mobile suits, MS-06D Zaku II desert types stood lined up in the hangar. Not long ago, they were top of the line machines, streamlined for fighting in Earth's gravity and heat. Now reports of new mobiles suits called Goufs were circulating, and the company were hoping for at least a few.

The one man who possibly was hoping for them more was visible working inside the access hatch in the torso of Tavi's red, white, and green Zaku. Pablo Gonzalez Garcia, Octavio's cousin, was a mechanic for the Falling Eagles. He was also an artist who dearly loved being the one to have given all the Zakus their distinctive paint jobs.

He'd talk to him later. Right now, Tavi turned to his troops and said, "All right. For this practice mission, we have to pick who's going to be the team with only two members." He pulled his lucky 10-peso coin out of his pocket. Pesos had been disused since the advent of the Federation credit, which in turn had been made obsolete in the area by the Jion dollar, but Tavi had kept this one near him since childhood. "Okay, Third Team. Eagle or calendar?"

"Eagle," said Franco.

Tavi tossed the coin. "Eagle. You win." He handed it to Franco, who repeated the procedure against Tavi's First Team and lost.

"Ay, we always get to be short a man," said Second Lieutenant Provi Alcaraz.

"You do not," Villalobos said. "I know. I counted."

"Everybody be quiet and mount," Tavi ordered.

He rode the lift up to the torso of his mobile suit. He leaned into the access hatch beside his cockpit and said, "Hey, Pablito, you done in there? I have to take off."

Pablito crawled out, wiping grease from his hands with a rag. The ease with which he did this was the reason Tavi had lobbied Princess Kishiria to have him added to his crew. Pablito was only three foot six.

"He's the best mechanic I know," Tavi had pleaded to Kishiria, who was concealed at that moment behind her signature purple mask. "His size is because his family couldn't afford growth hormones on Earth, and once they got to Jion it was too late. He can serve us perfectly well, Your Highness, better than a full-size mechanic because he can actually get into the machinery."

Kishiria had closed her eyes in thought for a moment, then said, "Very well. But he's your personal technician. If you think he can do the job, then he will do the job for you."

"Your weapon's loaded with paintballs and ready to go," Pablito told Tavi. "I took care of that timing problem in the left arm too. Any word about the new pilot?"

Tavi nodded. "He'll be coming in from California Base this afternoon. I'll be back in time to meet him."

Pablito nodded and backed his tech's platform away from the suit.

Tavi settled into his seat and closed the hatch. The first thing he did after starting the engine was to turn on the air conditioner. Some of his pilots preferred to drive in normal suits, but Tavi didn't see any real reason why. He saw not needing a normal suit as being one of the distinct advantages of being on Earth. He was more than happy to pilot in his short- sleeved khaki uniform.

He took of his sunglasses, belted himself in, and turned on his screens. Around him he could see the bright colours of his company's suits. Aces in space such as Char Aznable, Johnny Ridden and Anavel Gato all had distinctive colours, and his company had pleaded to be allowed their own as well. Since Federation weaponry tended to be a very visible white, Tavi had agreed.

But he had never expected colour schemes quite like these. His own was subdued compared to Luna's pink and blue, or Provi's green jungle pattern with macaws. His favourite was Villalobos's matte green with an Aztec warrior cradling a big-breasted dead woman in his arms on the cockpit. Pablito had just about swooned with ecstasy at being given that paint job.

The other doors to the hangar led directly onto a macadam roadway built by the Jions in order to avoid walking their mobile suits across the stone pavement they had just crossed on foot. It had been built by the Aztecs, and was surrounded on all four sides by sacred buildings. The Falling Eagles hadn't come all the way from the dark side of the moon to vandalize it.

They went southeast, walking aside a regularly trafficked road. This was tricky, since they had to avoid houses, roadside kitchens, half-wild dogs, and the occasional burro. Walking on the road was impossible, they had found, as bus and collectivo[3] drivers refused to yield to the Zakus. They simply tried to speed up and outrun them, which had led to a messy traffic accident when the Eagles had first arrived. Despite the swiftness with which the Jions had placed the injured in their own hospital, it hadn't been a good introduction to the locals. Although Tavi did give some serious thought to training collectivo drivers to be mobile suit pilots.

They turned off the road and headed into the low mountains. Tavi loved this part of every training mission. The landscape was in a palette of subdued greys and tans. The old mountains were stubbled with short trees and exposed rock. At one point they passed a sharply pointed hill, topped with a church that marked the presence of an unexcavated pyramid.

"This is good. Teams Two and Three, you have ten minutes to hide. Ruiz, Hernandez, you're with me. Anybody who hits the antiquities has to answer to me. Go!"

As if this were a massive game of hide-and-seek, which in a way it was, Tavi's team turned around to allow the other teams a chance to get away. Octavio looked down at his watch.

"Usual formations, jefe[4]?" asked Ruiz.

"Yes. I'm more concerned today with us keeping up our speed and accuracy than developing new tactics."

When they hit the ten minute mark, the three Zakus started marching forward, machine guns at the ready. His wingmen were pointing their weapons to the left and right while Tavi walked forward, paying careful attention to the cameras to the rear.

His vigilance paid off. Magadan's matte-white Zaku with black spots was harder to make out than some of the other paint schemes would have been, but with its sheer size, it was hard to miss.

"On your six!" he yelled to Hernandez and Ruiz. They spun and opened fire. Assisted by the extra boosters added to assist in Earth's gravity, Magadan whizzed sideways behind a ridge.

"Stay together," Tavi ordered. "Alcaraz can't be far behind."

Just then, he heard the distinctive booming sound of Zaku feet running towards him. Before he could open his mouth, Ruiz was firing at Jesus Lopez's grey-with-Aztec-gylphs suit, which was distinct against the clear blue sky. Tavi and Hernandez stuck close but had to start firing on their own at Maria Franco's green Zaku. Hernandez took a paintball splotch to the right arm and had to transfer his machine gun to the left, sacrificing accuracy.

"I'm behind you," Octavio assured Hernandez, and began shadowing him as he moved forward. Franco fired again and Hernandez dodged to the side, leaving Octavio exposed, but also clearing a path for him to fire. Octavio took advantage of Hernandez's sudden movement to let loose with the paint- filled cracker he'd pulled from his suit's waist, splattering Franco's suit and taking her out of the game.

They continued like this for several hours, using crackers and machine guns, but occasionally going to Octavio's favourite exercise, grappling. It hurt to be rolling around in gravity, bouncing against the straps of his seatbelts, but he took pleasure in the ability of these Zakus to move so finely in atmosphere and felt it was worth a few bruises. Besides, it would give Luisa reason to dote on him later.

Despite only having two members, Team Two won. Hours later, eight dust- covered, paint-spattered Zakus marched single file back into the hangar.

"Chingao[5], I hate this part," Pablito said as he looked at the mess Octavio had made of his mobile suit.

Tavi stood with his cousin, looking up and rubbing his battered shoulders. "It washes off, and you don't have to repair any real damage, verdad[6]?"

"Andalé. I'll go get the hoses. Oh, I got a call from the office. Your new pilot's here. Let me know what his paint job will be."

The new guy was sitting outside Tavi's office, reading a newspaper as Tavi's secretary concentrated on whatever was on her screen. He put the paper down and snapped to his feet as soon as the captain entered. "First Lt. Mike Chavez reporting for duty, sir!"

"At ease. Conchita got you a cup of coffee while we were all out in the desert?"

"Sgt. Espinoza? Yes sir, she did."

"All right then. Come into my office, we'll talk."

Chavez was a tall, slim man in his thirties with close-cropped black hair. He was dressed in a short-sleeved khaki uniform like the rest of the soldiers on base, although his looked as if it had still been in plastic wrappings that morning. He sat in front of Tavi's desk looking alert and nervous.

Espinoza had left Chavez's file on his desk, but Tavi preferred to read it after meeting the man. "So. Battalion sent you down to replace Olmeda. They don't need you up in California?"

"Colonel Zabi didn't want one of your teams left short a man."

"Generous of him. Why did they really choose you?"

Chavez looked uncomfortable. "What do you mean, sir?"

"If I were Prince Garma, sitting there in California with the mobile suit factories around me, I would hesitate to send a pilot away."

Chavez looked downcast. "There wasn't a suit for me to pilot, sir. So rather than take Olmeda's suit from you, they decided to send me down to pilot it. Jion Forces Base Teotihuacan is strategically important, since it sits almost on the line between Jion and Federation territory."

"I see, but why didn't they have a suit for you? California is the factory, and I know they're developing a new model of suit for Earth atmosphere."

"Yes sir, the Gouf. Um, they're being sent to Asia mostly, sir."

"Really?" Tavi felt his heart sink.

"Yes, sir. Even Prince Garma himself won't be getting one."

"Very strange." Octavio decided not to ask or comment about the politics behind this.

"Since this is a Spanish-speaking, Mexican-Jion company, they felt I would fit in well."

"And will you?" Tavi asked, smiling a little.

"I don't know, sir. I was born in Los Angeles."

Tavi opened the file in front of him. Michael (not Miguel) Chavez, born in Los Angeles, California. Bachelor's in finance, UCLA. Involuntary relocation to Side 3 immediately after. Resident of Faraday Colony.

"You'll be the only one of us born outside of Mexico or Nuevo-Aztlan," Tavi said.

"Yes sir. Well, I was initially patriated to Nuevo Aztlan, but-" His voice trailed off.

"But what?"

"I applied to move to another colony because I usually speak English. Battalion thought I'd be a good choice for this position because I'm Chicano, though."

Octavio didn't think that would be the key to his fitting in. Frankly, he'd have preferred a pilot chosen for his skill rather than for the colour of his skin.

"We've got a Zaku II Desert Type waiting for you. How much experience do you have with those?"

Chavez grinned. "I was one of the test pilots. Having grown up in California, I knew the terrain, you see."

Tavi nodded, relieved. So Garma's selection had not been out of racial condescension. He'd always heard the prince was smart. "What colour do you want it? We all have individual colour schemes."

Chavez thought for a moment. "Dark blue?"

"Dark blue it is." He stood and picked up his wide-brimmed khaki-coloured hat from the coat rack and showed it to him. "Were you issued one of these yet?"

"No sir, I thought out here we wore the caps with the cloth flap in back."

"The troops in the desert get those. We have a rainy season and these are water repellent as well as good against sun. I'll have the quartermaster get you one. Come on. I'll introduce you to the rest of the team."

The Eagles were sheltering themselves from the day's heat under the canopy of an outdoor kitchen. These were standard throughout Mexico; a covered patio with a grill and counters. Another thing that held the company together was the family atmosphere they managed. Octavio's wife Luisa was supervising the cooking with the help of Magadan's , Villalobos's and Lopez's wives. The female members of the company were permanently excused from such domestic duties although Maria Franco, who was a widow, sometimes liked to participate.

Not today, though. Octavio's soldiers were sitting around a large picnic table with the collars of their uniforms undone, drinking tamarind water as their dogs wandered around their feet, sniffing.

"Compañeros," said Tavi as he approached the table, "this is our new pilot, Mike Chavez. Mike, this is Luna Ruiz, Leo Magadan, Pedro Hernandez, Provi Alcaraz, Maria Franco, George Villalobos, and Jesus Maria Jose Lopez."

"Pleased to meet all of you," Chavez said.

"Do you want zucchini flower or corn fungus in your quesadilla?" asked Antonia Villalobos.

"Er.zucchini flower, please," said Chavez.

Chavez was friendly enough, but everyone at the table noticed how easy he went on the salsa and that he didn't seem too certain about the zucchini flower. Octavio wondered how he'd react to menudo, the tripe soup that was a common hangover remedy. Hernandez claimed to have once seen the face of the Virgin in a bowl.

Later that night, in the geodesic dome structure they lived in, Octavio came out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist. Luisa was already in bed, her dark hair freed from its braid, dressed in an embroidered nightgown.

"Tavi, you're all bruised!" she exclaimed, putting her book aside and kneeling beside him as he sat on the bed.

"Jose's Zaku and mine were wrestling," he explained.

"I don't know why you do this," she complained.

"Part of my job, Luisita. Ground combat is different from space, and one of the factors is that you get beaten all to hell."

"I'll get some hot salt water," she said, getting up.

"Oh, just let it be."

"I don't want you to be all stiff in the morning."

"Usually you don't complain when that happens."

She smacked his arm, making him yelp. "You know what I mean, cabron.[7]"

"All right, get the hot water."

As Luisa started a pot of water in the kitchen, Octavio slid into a pair of shorts and went to the bathroom for anti-inflammatories. Folk remedies were all well and good, but he had no quarrel with modern medicine.

He was half-asleep when Luisa returned to the bedroom with the pot and several hand towels. She soaked two, wrung them out, and placed them over the bruises on his shoulders, making him wince. "Your new guy is puzzled by us, I can tell."

"He doesn't quite get that we have a different culture down here. Kishiria was very indulgent with us, letting us bring our families along. But Prince Dozel has his pregnant wife on Solomon, so there's precedent."

"It's not as if we wives can't fight too, if we have to."

"Let's hope it never comes to that."

"Claro[8]. I don't want to have to go back to Side 3 ever again. It's so good to have the sun on my face again, and to have buildings with history."

"Villalobos would say that with enough time, the buildings in Nuevo-Aztlan will have history."

"Yes, but like those?" She gestured to the window, through which the great temples of Teotihuacan were visible in outline.

Tavi pulled Luisa down beside him. "That's why we're here, mi amor[9]. We both had good lives in Mexico. Others weren't so lucky, and Side 3 has been an improvement for them. Here, we fight so that we can have the choice. If Earth is in the hands of Jion, you and I can stay here, while others can live on Nuevo-Aztlan. The right to travel and relocate is one the Federation forgot very quickly." He lifted the cooling towels from his shoulder and tossed them to the cement floor. "Time to sleep now," he said.

Luisa turned off the light and they cuddled under the covers.

Octavio lay awake for a good half hour after Luisa started to snore. Federation territory was only a few hundred kilometers away. Why were the new mobile suits being denied to North America, to the extent that not even the royal family's representative would receive one? It was true that Jabro lay somewhere deep in South America, but still.

There was nothing he could do about it now. Octavio succeeded to find a comfortable position and fell asleep.
----------------------- [1] "My daughter". [2] "Right on" [3] Scary minibus driven by pulque-crazed maniacwho can't see out his windshield anyway because of all the pictures of Jesus he has stuck there. The only way to travel! [4] "Boss" [5] (Something like "fuck me", but ruder. A really naughty phrase.) [6] "True?" [7] Literally, "goat". Implies, "you moron" or "bastard" depending on context. [8] "Clearly" [9] "My love"