Chapter Twelve

[i]AEUG 'Forrestal'-type Salamis heavy cruiser Valiant, approaching Lunar Orbit

9th November UC 0087[/i]

The black Rick Dias' cockpit hatch closed tight with a definite clunking sound. Lieutenant James Keffer quickly ran through the pre-flight checks before double, then triple, checking his attack mobile suit's weapons systems. He didn't want there to be a failure mid-battle. Under normal circumstances that would be extremely dangerous; in the present situation it would probably be fatal.

He keyed in the squadron communication channel before speaking to his unit. "Everyone ready?" His subordinates chorused their confirmations. "Okay, as we've already discussed the [i]Redoubtable's[/i] Nemo team will provide cover for the cruisers. That leaves us up front to deal with the Titans directly."

"What's the plan, sir?" asked Joel Williams.

That was the question James had been dreading. This was one of those rare situations where he didn't have a fully formed plan. The odds were too heavily stacked against the AEUG force that victory seemed impossible.

"Don't get killed is pretty much it at the moment," replied James. He tried not let his voice betray anything.

"ah man I hate that plan," complained Jason Raynor. His kitbashed Nemo Cannon was standing next to James' Rick Dias in the hanger.

"We haven't used that one in a while James," commented Marcus Cole.

"Cut the chatter you two," snapped James. "If we get close enough to this [i]Gwazine[/i] our best bet is to try and hit the spherical fuel pods. With luck we might set off some secondary explosions. Of course that assumes we'll be able to get in close enough to it. That fleet can swamp us with mobile suits if they want."

"Well with any luck most of their suits will be out dealing with whatever they encountered," commented Philip Terizan. "We should be able to blow through any screening suits they've got left and when the others return they'll be low on fuel and munitions."

"This isn't the time for a discussion on the mobile suit deployment strategy of the Titans." said James sternly. "Cole and Raynor I want you two to hang back and provide close support fire. The Zeek boys and myself will take point and punch through the enemy lines. Got that?" Again there was a chorus of confirmations. "Good. Now lets get out there!"

---

[i]AEUG Salamis Kai cruiser Redoubtable, approaching Lunar Orbit[/i]

The bridge of the [i]Redoubtable[/i] was deathly quiet. The battle that was being fought in Lunar orbit, the battle they too would be joining soon, was weighing heavily on the bridge crew. Commander Barnard Reese, complete with brown over-jacket and peaked hat, eyed up the images of the battle. He hated the feeling of anticipation when waiting for the fighting to start. The very notion of what they were going to be facing wasn't helping matters either.

"Weapons, I believe our main guns are now in range of the Titan forces," he said calmly. Barnard believed that it was absolutely imperative that a ship's commanding officer never appeared weak or afraid when going into battle. The ship's entire compliment took strength from their captain.

"Errrr....yes, sir, they are," reported a rather young and fresh faced crewman sitting at the gunnery station. "I'm sorry I did not report it right away, sir."

"Don't worry about it son," said the commander with a slight smile, "I've been playing with guns on boats like this since before you even went to secondary school."

Barnard surely meant for that to reassure the young crewman but it only made him feel worse. After all he'd just discovered that his commanding officer was a specialist in gunnery, how else could he judge the effective range of the main guns from sight alone. He'd have to be on his toes to makes sure he didn't screw up.

"Commander, the [i]Valiant[/i] is launching her mobile suits," reported the tactical officer, "She is also shifting her position for a better support fire location."

"Very well," replied Barnard. "Helm match the [i]Valiant's[/i] course and maintain combat formation. Flight have Lieutenant Flick's team launch. They are to provide cover for ourselves and the [i]Valiant[/i]. They are also to provide support to Lieutenant Keffer's mobile suit teams."

His men jumped into action like the well oiled machine that they were. The crew of the [i]Redoubtable[/i] to be good at what they did. This civil war in the Federation Forces was quite unlike any conflict that had beset the Federation before. Unlike the massed battles of the One Year War it was a much more personal affair. After months of combat there had been no major battles and even the large battles only a handful of ships were engaged in the fighting. Barnard knew that this sort of low level fighting took a certain type of tactical nous. He wasn't so sure he had it himself but he knew that Captain Alexander Jellico, captain of the [i]Valiant[/i], had it by the bucket load.

Barnard could feel the vibrations through the [i]Reoubtable's[/i] hull as her compliment of Nemos took off. The quartet of interceptor mobile suits fanned out to form a line roughly half way between the cruisers and Lieutenants Cole and Raynor's mobile suits.

"Commander we are receiving targeting data from the [i]Valiant[/i]," reported the spaceman seated at the communications station. "She's getting ready to fire."

"Very good. Weapons feed in the [i]Valiant's[/i] data. Her sensor suite is more powerful than ours," said Barnard. "Lock in our assigned targets and prepare to fire."

---

[i]RZS Gwazine Kai class battleship Gwadrim, approaching Lunar orbit[/i]

The [i]Gwadrim's[/i] bridge was as hubbub of activity. The first time that anyone noticed she AEUG ships approaching from behind was when a scarlet mega particle beam streaked past. This resulted in both Lieutenant Commander von Habsburg-Lothringen and Captain Halifax bellowing abuse at the observers.

"At this range they have little chance of hitting us," Halifax reported to von Habsburg-Lothringen.

"I wasn't expecting the AEUG to get any vessels to intercept us so quickly," said Vicktor. "Have we identified them yet?"

"We have one confirmed [i]Salamis Kai[/i] cruiser. The other appears to be a modified [i]Salamis Kai[/i]," replied Captain Halifax.

"Sirs, the [i]Hario[/i] is returning fire with her aft guns," reported the [i]Gwadrim's[/i] tactical officer. "The enemy vessels are outside the effective range of the [i]Great Gable[/i] and [i]Helvellyn's[/i] aft guns. Six enemy mobile suits approaching."

"They want to attack this fleet with just six mobile suits? The AEUG are even greater fools than I thought!" scoffed Vicktor. "Well it's their funeral I suppose. Have Lieutenant Warren-Green's team launch to intercept. The [i]Ortlinde's[/i] team will act as support. "

"Sirs, we're received a communication from Lieutenant Boult," reported the communication officer. "He reports that all enemy vessels and mobile suits have been destroyed. No life pods escaped either. He is returning to base."

"Excellent. I knew Boult would be a good solider," Vicktor mused. "Confirm the status of his team. If they are able to have them join Warren-Green in attacking the AEUG."

---

Joel Williams' green Nemo raced through the darkness between the two opposing forces. His interceptor mobile suit was equipped with a clay bazooka, in addition to the standard beam rifle, for extra firepower. He had two magazines of armour piercing rounds for it.

He tried to put the enormity of the task at hand out of his mind. It was rather difficult though. He'd been just a young conscript pilot during the One Year War. He could vividly remember the [i]Gwazine[/i] battleships and what an immense moral booster they were whenever one entered battle. Back then he'd been foolish enough to think them invincible and was quickly proven wrong in the bloodbath of Solomon and then at A Boa Qu. The mighty warships still brought up emotions in Joel that conflicted somewhat with this mission.

It sickened him to think that the Republic of Zeon had sunk so low as to be actively assisting the Titans; an organisation that had already proven itself no better than the Zabis. The Republic had had a great deal of autonomy and in recent years the Federation's influence had been receding. Joel just couldn't comprehend why they had jumped into bed with the Titans.

The beeping of the Nemo's sensors jerked Joel back into the present. His mobile suit's combat computer detected six in coming mobile suits. The poor quality camera video images were replaced with crisp computer graphics representing a trio of Hizacks and a trio of Marasais. The Hizacks did not worry Joel at all. His Nemo was a more than a match for the ageing mono-eyed machines. The Marasais were a different kettle of fish. They were much more powerful mobile suits and made Joel wish the [i]Valiant's[/i] taskforce had a few more Rick Dias knocking about.

Right now, though, engaging the Titan mobile suits was not the goal. Sure they would eventually tussle with them but the target was the enemy capital ships. As such it was the Titans that opened fire first. The AEUG mobile suits made minor adjustments to their position to make it harder to be hit but they carried on regardless. As the two groups closed Keffer, at the point in his black Rick Dias, switched to his beam pistols and started firing. He targeted the Hizacks and Marasais evenly. No intention was made to hit them but rather scatter them and break up their coordination. It worked perfectly and allowed the Nemos following him to rocket past. Seconds later one of the Hizacks was downed by a pin-point sniper shot from Marcus Cole's GM Sniper Custom.

The Titans hesitated. Unsure as to whether they should be chasing the Nemo or hunting the sniper. In those seconds of hesitation a Marasai had its left leg blown away by Raynor's beam cannons.

In what felt like seconds later the Nemos were amongst the Titan ships. Like a big red beast the [i]Gwazine[/i] loomed in the centre of the formation. She was flanked on either side by a pair of [i]Musais[/i] towards her rear and a pair of [i]Salamis Kais[/i] towards her front. The [i]Hario[/i] hung in space just above the formation. Steeling himself Joel pointed his bazooka at the enemy battleship and fired off all eight rounds before hitting the release catch and reloading the oversized rocket launcher.

---

[i]AEUG heavy cruiser Valiant, approaching Lunar Orbit[/i]

The firing of the [i]Valiant's[/i] pair of dual main gun turrets was perfectly timed. Unfortunately the gunners were having little luck in actually hitting anything. With the mobile suits now engaging the enemy near the [i]Gwazine[/i] battleship the gunners were forced to divert their attention to the supporting ships. This job wasn't being made any easier due to return fire coming from the [i]Hario[/i]. Her guns, while no more lucky, were doing a good job at disrupting the [i]Valiant's[/i] attacks.

"Damn it, why does it have to be the [i]Hario[/i] causing us trouble," snarled Captain Jellico. "Why couldn't it be the [i]Al Giza[/i] or the [i]Damascus[/i]? Even if Ayachi has jumped in bed with the Titans the [i]Hario[/i] is still a Federation Forces vessel and I don't want to fire upon them."

No one on the bridge answered. At times like this he wished he had someone to talk too. His former executive officer, Kyle Walker, had the left the ship some time before to command the [i]Perseus[/i]. The [i]Valiant[/i] was more or less operating without a true executive officer at the moment. The AEUG was currently facing a bit of shortage of experienced warship officers. A somewhat timid young female lieutenant, called Ekaterina Constantin, was covering many of the duties previous done by Walker. She was perfectly skilled at what she did but the young Romanian had not built up the courage to talk to him in any situation other than officially. Alexander had difficulty in confiding in anyone who wasn't willing to confide in him.

"Captain, it appears that the convoy has been defeated," reported the [i]Valiant's[/i] tactical officer.

"Dammit," was Jellico's simple response.

"More enemy mobile suits are closing in on Lieutenant Keffer's position," said Lieutenant Constantin. "Their position will soon become untenable."

"We have neither the number of mobile suits or ships for this damnable mission," cursed Jellico. "I want a full spread of missiles targeted at the [i]Gwazine[/i]." Suddenly there was the bright flash of an explosion off to the [i]Valiant's[/i] side before anyone could reply.

"Sir! The [i]Redoubtable[/i] has been hit!"

"How badly?" barked Jellico.

"One moment, we're getting a reply from Commander Reese," reported Constantin. "Her A-turret took a direct hit. It has been completely destroyed but they are reporting no secondary explosions. The damage appears to be restrained solely to the loss of the turret. She can still fight."

"We are still in this battle then. Anything on Lieutenant Keffer?"

"Sorry sir, but we can not get anything exact. The minovsky particles are too thick." reported the tactical officer.

"Sir, perhaps we should withdraw," suggested Lieutenant Ekaterina Constantin. "With the convoy destroyed and the [i]Redoubtable[/i] damaged there is little point in continuing, sir."

Jellico starred into the young officer's hazel eyes. Her face was framed by two locks of hair dyed red and undoubtedly held in place by copious amounts of gel. Her hair style was rather an odd thing to focus on in the middle of a battle though and Jellico quickly snapped out of it.

"As long as that battleship is still out floating about in space then there is every reason to keep fighting," to illustrate the point he pointed to the distant red shape. "We didn't win the One Year War by running away after every little scratch."

---

Beams from a pair of Hizacks, packing beam rifles, caused Lieutenant James Keffer to break off his attack on the [i]Gwazine[/i]. He swung his Rick Dias round to avoid their attacks and attempt to get a shot off himself. He pressed the weapon selector button to activate the automated controls to store his clay bazooka on its rack with taking out a beam pistol. The Rick Dias featured considerably better speed and manoeuvrability than the Hizacks allowing Keffer to rapidly get behind them. He squeezed the trigger three times and all three beams struck the leading Hizack in the backpack. The green mobile suit seemed to disintegrate into thousands of tiny shards of debris.

The other Hizack slipped off to the right to try and avoid a similar fate. It did not get very far, however, before a beam from a different angle torn through its torso. To Keffer's surprise Joel Williams' Nemo dropped into view and approaching close enough to skin talk.

"Sir, the bazookas are having no effect!" reported Williams. "The hide of this beast is just too thick. We need heavier weapons if we're going to make a dent in it. I tried to punch through to their hanger but the defensive fire was too intense. What shall we do?"

"Shit, this is a real bad wolf situation," Keffer muttered to himself. "We have to keep trying!" He impressed upon his subordinate.

At that moment a stray beam tore through the clay bazooka being held by Joel's Nemo. Not only did it destroy the bazooka but is also shredded the Nemo's right arm. It was at about that time that James realised the futility of the situation.

"Get the others and fall back, I'll cover you!" ordered Keffer. He pressed his feet down on the foot peddles and thrustered away from the damaged Nemo. Unfortunately he didn't get far before his path was blocked by a pair of Marasais backup by a trio of Hizacks. James gritted his teeth and fired.

---

Lieutenant Adrian Boult's Barzam team weaved a lazy course across the battlefield. He didn't see the need to get involved with the battle around the [i]Gwadrim[/i]. Warren-Green and the rest of the pilots there were more than capable of dealing with the intrusion. Adrian was more interested in the enemy ships. If he could get close enough to them then not only would he be able to identify them but he'd also be able to cause them some serious trouble.

Unfortunately his train of thought was disrupted by a sniper shot tearing through space towards him. It took no skill at all to avoid it and the two slower cannon shots that followed. He found it rather amusing that the AEUG thought they could kill him with long range attacks like that. He turned his Barzam down towards the origination point for those beams. His wingmen followed and all three of them had to deftly work their way through the barrage of mega particle beams being traded between the two sets of capital ships.

Adrian raised an eyebrow when his combat computer identified the two enemy mobile suits. A modified Nemo and a GM Sniper Custom. He didn't think antiques like that GM were still around. All the more proof that the AEUG were getting desperate. It took another shot at him which once again he easily dodged. His wingman wasn't so skilled and the beam grazed his Barzam's right shoulder. Adrian made a mental note to rebuke Ensign Clements at the debrief about her sloppy flying.

He readied his beam rifle and took aim. The rifle was of a rather unusual design, when compared with that of the Marasai or Hizack. It had been specifically designed for the Barzam and you could tell just by looking at it. It always took time to get used to a new weapon but Adrian could tell that he wasn't really going to like this rifle. It just didn't feel right when he used it. When the sortie was over he was going to have to try and find a replacement.

He fired two shots that the GM easily dodged. Adrian's wingmen peeled offer to deal with the modified Nemo. The GM darted off on an evasive course that took it away from the Nemo but closer to the AEUG ships. Adrian jetted after it. His Barzam was much faster and so he caught up with it quickly. The GM tried a snap shot with its beam sniper rifle, which Adrian noticed was a Titans designed beam launcher, however the Barzam was in so close that it simply knocked the launcher away. Now the two machines were face to face. The GM went for its beam sabre while Adrian fired off his vulcan gun pod. The multi-barrelled machingun spat 60mm bullets out at an alarming rate that tore the GM's head to pieces. Adrian put the GM Sniper Custom out of its misery with a single rifle shot to the torso.

---

A lime green beam ripped through the left leg of Lieutenant Keffer's Rick Dias at the joint. Though rocked by the explosion James was still able to snap his beam pistol around to blast off the head of the offending Hizack. There were, however, far too many enemies. A virtual wall of beam rifle fire hemmed in the black Rick Dias. James did his best to dodge the incoming shots but even he was having trouble. One beam grazed the Rick Dias' left side random binder forcing James to eject it before it exploded.

One of the Marasais dropped out of the formation and approaching the Rick Dias with its beam sabre drawn. Before James could bring his beam gun around the Marasai darted in and sliced off the black assault suits' right hand. Cursing loudly James activated one of his own beam sabres. As the Marasai came in again he blocked its swipe with his sabre and proceeded to punch the bright red mono-eyed machine with what remained of the Rick Dias' right arm. As the sabre lock was broken James lashed out with a wide swing of his own. However the Marasai pilot recovered rather quickly from the punch and was able to manoeuvre away while only loosing a chunk out of his shield.

Spotting a gap in James' defences the Marasai plunged its beam sabre into the waist armour of the Rick Dias. The blade of superheated plasma scorched its away through the gundarium gamma armour plating destroying everything it touched. The blade delved so deep as to damage the rocket thrusters mounted in the Rick Dias' rear skirt armour. The wound also came as something of shock to the mobile suits power train causing it to short out added burnt electrics to the odour of sweat in the cockpit.

James was forced to admit to himself that things were looking pretty grim. Fortunately his rescue came in the form of a trio of Nemos. Charging in with reckless abandon they disrupted the Titan mobile suits, which had all been concentrating on James' Rick Dias, long enough for a Nemo to grab the immobile suit drag it clear.

"I thought I told you guys to fall back," said James after a few moment. While most of the suit's electrics were fried there was just enough functionality to get the communications suite working.

"Sure you did, sir, but Lieutenant Williams thought it would be best to rescue you," said Philip Terizan whose Nemo was holding onto the Rick Dias.

"But I was buying you time to escape yourselves," grumbled James. "You weren't supposed to worry about me."

"Well begging your pardon, sir, but you did buy us enough time to regroup," said Terizan. "Also given that you were risking your neck for us it was only right we risk our necks for you, sir."

"Hey look, the Titans have fired off a recall signal," said Richard Vaughn. He had made contact with the Rick Dias to pass on the information. Minovsky particles were still too thick for radio communication. "I guess they must have gotten bored with playing with us."

"You aren't going to hear me complaining," commented James. It was strange. He was starting to feel a lot more comfortable around the trio of ex-Zeons he had as subordinates. He supposed it was only natural that comrades in arms would grow used to each other even if only seven years earlier they'd been on opposite sides of a terrible war.

"I can't see Lieutenant Cole's mobile suit anywhere," reported Terizan. "And it looks like Lieutenant Rayor's been beaten up pretty bad, the [i]Redoubtable's[/i] team is hauling him in."

"Shit, another friend to bury," muttered Keffer before slumping back in his linear seat.

---

[i]AEUG heavy cruiser Valiant, Lunar Orbit

10th November[/i]

An Anaheim Electronics transport ship came along side the [i]Valiant[/i]. The two ships matched their speeds and various anchoring cables were crossed between the pair. Precious supplies started moving from the transport to the cruiser. Off in the distance a second transport was docked with the [i]Redoubtable[/i] helping to fix her damage as best they could.

On the bridge Captain Jellico quietly sipped at a carton of tea. It was hardly a civilised way to drink his favoured beverage but in lacking a gravity block he had to make do. He was also somewhat surprised by his latest guest.

"Miss Williamson. I didn't think you were involved in the supply corps," he said to the Anaheim engineer. "I do hope that business with the FA Mark II hasn't effected your standing at all."

"I'm touched by your concern Captain but I assure you my standing with the company is firm," she was slightly blustered by his question by brushed it off. "I'm here under the direction of Doctor Leighton. As you are aware the G-Defenser project won over our full armoured version in the contest to improve the Gundam Mark II. Well in a follow up to that contest Doctor Leighton has been working on a design to incorporate the G-Defenser into the Mark II itself in order to eliminate the need for a manned G-Defenser. Using an old movable frame, built for testing purposes, we have built a machine currently dubbed the Experimental Enhanced Gundam Mark II."

"Catchy name and a lovely little story Miss Williamson but does it have to do with my ship?" asked Jellico. He was feeling awfully tired and really needed some sleep but with everything going on at once there hardly seemed like time for it.

"Given the current situation we have been ordered to hand it over to you," she said rather sullenly. It was clear to Jellico that she didn't like this idea. "It is already been unloaded in the hanger. In exchange we'll take Lieutenant Keffer's Rick Dias and see if we can repair it."

"Is this new prototype even tested?" It was Ekaterina Constantin that asked this question though Jellico had been thinking it. "An untested machine it hardly what this ship needs right now."

"It has been tested in the lab and at our Livermore site," replied the engineer. "Look I don't like this any more than you do. It isn't an easy mobile suit to master but its a darn sight more powerful than a Rick Dias. Lieutenant Keffer will be able to handle it."

---

Down in the [i]Valiant's[/i] hanger Lieutenant James Keffer stood on one of the upper gantries. He was watching the Anaheim technicians putting together his new mobile suit. They were just bolting the head into place. There was no doubting that it looked like a Gundam. He could still remember seeing the original Gundam shortly after the Battle for Solomon. He and a few other pilots had sneaked on board the [i]White Base[/i] while it was in port and got a good look at the legendary Gundam. It seemed weird to James that he'd be piloting a Gundam cast off. Sure there had been the Full Armour Gundam Mark II but that had been too bulking for him to consider it a true Gundam. This new machine was different; it felt real. James knew that Marcus would have loved to see it.

"James we're just got word from Granada. The [i]Gwazine's[/i] fleet passed by there a couple of hours ago," said Jason Raynor. He was sporting several different bandages. His Nemo had been beaten up pretty badly by a pair of Barzams before Lieutenant Flick's Nemos could reach him. It was, however, in the process of being repaired with the help of Anaheim technicians. "They shot down three transports. The city garrison sent up a couple of GM II squads out of desperation but they were wiped out to a man."

"Things are looking bad, eh, Jason?" James finally said in reply.

"It's been a while since it's been this bad that's for sure," replied the junior officer.

"However, things might just be looking up," said James a new item was unloaded into the hanger. It was painted blue and yellow and quite clearly a big gun. It was a Mega Bazooka Launcher and James couldn't help but think that it might just have the firepower to get the job done.

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