SUPER ROBOT WARS S ZERO

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Hello, everyone! I'm back! How are you all doing? As I begin typing down this new chapter of my story, we're halfway through November, and readers in the U.S. have already celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Gee, and here it seems to me like it's yesterday, when I started typing down this story...

In the last chapter, there was a pitched space battle between the joint forces of the Archangel and the Idaho, and the double menace of Giganos Empire and ZAFT, led respectively by Captain Meio Plato and Commander Rau Le Crueset... but a timely intervention from the Dragonar Team, Kira and Mwu La Flaga managed to turn the tide of the battle in favor of our bold heroes! Of course, they've earned themselves at least some temporary respite, which they will have to make use of in order to be able to reach a sanctuary and prepare themselves for the next attack! Oh, and of course, we also had a rather spectacular battle involving the Astray Red and Blue Frames against a rather huge army sent by the Earth Union to take out Lowe and Gai! Of course, things didn't exactly go the way they wanted, and Lowe managed to abscond with a brand new Gundam... just like our favourite mercenary Gai Murakumo! They will play their own role, later on in the story... but for now, we're off to another section of the Solar System, and more exactly, to one of the first colonies ever estabilished!

Neo Zeon, as many of you have plainly seen, has been rather absent from its allies' operations against Heliopolis and the Archangel and Idaho crew. That's because they were embroiled themselves in their own struggles and power plays... one of which involves getting the citizens of the most faraway colonies on their side. A Neo Zeon convoy, led by one of Haman Kahn's most trusted commanders, is on its way to the colony named Shangri-La, where a young Newtype and his bunch of friends are soon going to find their lives turned upside-down...

And Neo Zeon is not the only one who's coming to Shangri-La. The Argama, the AEUG's flagship during the war against the Titans, is limping into port, having lost much of its firepower and being pursued by enemies. Will a chance encounter give good ol' Captain Bright and his crew a fighting chance against the looming menace? Well, that remain to be seen...

In case you haven't guessed it yet... yes, this chapter marks the entrance of Gundam ZZ, one of my favorite Gundam shows, in the mix! So... leave aside the dark, serious atmosphere of Gundam SEED, and let's have a stroll in a more forgiving Gundam story! Young Judau Ashta and his gang are ready to take us in a brand new adventure!

Get ready to rock!

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Chapter 9 - This Is Not An Anime!

A lone battleship was sailing through the debris-infected void of the farmost parts of the Earth Union controlled area, taking extreme care not to bump into the many floating obstacles scattered through the open space. The conditions of the ship weren't very good: several parts of the outer chassis were damaged, and it was clear that the engines were not at full power, as a few propellers were out of order. As the battleship slowly advanced through the debris field, in search of a safe place where to get repairs, it seemed to be slowly falling apart from the damage it had taken. It would have been hard, to any casual onlooker, to guess that this ship was actually the famous Argama, the battleship whose intervention had been vital in turning the tide of the previous war against the Titans. Back then, the Argamhad spearhead the rebellion against those cruel oppressors... but now, it only existed as a shadow of its former glorious self.

The crew was similarily reduced to a skeleton, barely enough to keep the ship running. At the commander's seat, Captain Bright Noa sighed wearily, running through a few documents reporting the status of the ship, and the moves of the hostile factions that had been harassing them for quite some time now. The attack on Heliopolis had distracted ZAFT and Giganos Empire from the Argama... but these two factions' ally, Neo Zeon, the movement of Zabi loyalists led by the infamous Haman Kahn - who had herself been a precious, while not exactly trustworthy, ally against the Titans - had been unrelenting, and their fleets' assaults were taxing the already-dwindling resources of the AEUG flagship.

"So... this is what we've managed to come up with up until now." Bright said, turning his glance to one of his few remaining pilots, an elegant and attractive woman of about 25 years of age, with brown hair tied in a bun behind her head, and wearing a green sleeveless military uniform, matching gloves and boots, and tight-fitting white pants. Emma Sheen, a former Titans officer who had turned against her superiors out of disgust for their brutal tactics, was one of the few who had survived the war against the Titans, even though she had been forced to kill her former friend turned traitor Reccoa Londo during the final battle...

"I'm afraid this is all we have right now, Captain Bright..." Emma stated. "We're severely understaffed, and our Mobile Suits won't be able to stand up to the new models fielded by our opponents for long. We're down to two Gundams Mk-2, my own included, and Private Yuiri's Methuss. Not exactly what I'd call a substantial army. We do have the Zeta Gundam as well, but with Kamille lost to us, we're unable to make use of it."

"I know..." Bright nodded sadly, remembering the blue-haired young Newtype whose skill has gotten tem out of many a tight spot in the past. "Sadly, right after the end of the Gryps War, we have lost all contact with Corporal Kamille, and we have had no way to contact him for now. Up until we can find a replacement, we won't be able to count on the Zeta's power."

"Captain Bright, we're approaching the colony of Shangri-La now." said a black-haired teenaged girl in a yellow Chinese-like dress, Fa Yuiri, the designated pilot of the Argama's Methuss. The young black-haired Chinese girl was now at the console, looking at the main screen which showed the Argama's position. "This is where we have our best chances of finding materials to repair the Argama. I have already sent a message to the colony asking for clearance."

Bright nodded. "I see. Good job, Pilot Yuiri, hopefully we will find some respite. The longer we stay here, the longer we are under attack from Neo Zeon and the other hostile forces."

The Argama began approaching the nearest cylinder-shaped colony, a rather run-down-looking place that looked like it hadn't been maintained in several years. The only somewhat unusual sights, for now, were several working robots that were gathering some of the floating material around the colony... and yet, as the battleship began its descend, one of them stopped what it was doing, and its pilot smiled to himself as he started going back to the colony's hangars...

oooooooooo

Some time later...

The working robot that had broken away from the rest earlier on had now landed in what looked like a large junkyard, at the borders of an old, dreary-looking city inside the Shangri-La colony... and its hatch opened with a slight hiss, allowing its pilot to come out.

"Heh, wait till the guys get a load of this! We've got a once in a lifetime chance... and we're not blowing it!" he said to himself, as he nimbly jumped down from the old machine. Several people would have been surprised to see that he was a young boy, about 13 or 14 by the looks of him, with dark brown hair combed in an Eighties hairstyle, short with a fringe on his forehead, and bright green eyes that shone somewhat mischievously. His clothes were old but practical, with a red jacket on a yellow shirt, black pants and ankle-height red trainers, and it was pretty clear that he didn't care much about what he looked like, as long as it was possible to work comfortably in his clothes.

He heard a few running steps coming from behind him, and turned in that direction to wave at the newcomers: as if summoned by his musings, several other teenagers had arrived, three boys and one girl, eager to ask their friend some important questions.

"Hey, Judau! Took you long enough, you old scoundrel!" a tall, freckled red-haired boy, who looked like the oldest and the leader of the small gang, greeted the pilot of the working robot. "So, what can you tell us? Is it true that they're coming?"

Fourteen-year-old Judau Ashta chuckled good-naturedly. "Hehee... yeah, Beecher, I can confirm that!" he said to his friend. "The Argama has been damaged in several skirmishes, and I can bet they'll take some time to repair it. A few days at the very least." he said, eyeing the rest of his gang.

"Oooh, sweet!" Mondo Agake, a teenager around the same age as Judau, wearing dark green jacket and trousers, and with a bowl-shaped haircut of dark brown hair, chuckled to himself. "Which means that, while they're undergoing repairs, they won't be needing the Zeta Gundam!"

A rather non-descript boy with longish light brown hair, Iino Abbav, voiced his suspicion about his friends' plan. "Hold on a second, everybody... you mean to say that we're simply borrowing the Zeta Gundam, isn't it?" he asked timidly.

After a moment of stupefied silence, all the boys burst out laughing. "Hahahaaa! Borrowing the... heheheee... Zeta Gundam?" Beecher stuttered between bursts of laughter. "Oh, come on, Iino, nobody ever got rich by being honest!"

"Er..." A little ashamed about having been simply brushed off like that, Iino tried to backpedal. "So... that means we're actually going to..."

"Steal it? Exactly, that's about it! That baby is going to be worth a bundle, you can bet on that!" Judau answered, grinning from ear to ear.

The only girl in the group, Elle Vianno, a cute blonde with her hair tied in a ponytail, wearing a red jacket on a pink shirt, black fingerless gloves, and magenta pants and boots, clicked her tongue and smiled to herself, as she began thinking of a plan of action. "Now, all we need to do is come up with a way to sneak inside and get our hands on the Zeta Gundam! And I think I've got just the right plan for that!" she mused.

"Alright, Elle..." Beecher answered, his hands behind his head as he smiled at the blonde girl. Mondo smiled cunningly to himself, well aware that his best friend in the Shangri-La bunch harbored a not-too-secret crush on Elle. "Tell us, what do you have in mind for yoinking their brand new Gundam?"

"First of all, we'll need a distraction, and then..." All the boys gathered around their mutual friend, as she began explaining the course of action she was suggesting...

oooooooooo

Some time later, in a rather shoddy apartment block on the outskirts of the Shangri-La residential area...

The little girl sitting at her table, in front of her homework, sighed tiredly. It was almost five o'clock in the afternoon, and her brother still hadn't shown up. He seemed to have taken this annoying habit of staying away for far too long, and she had never liked how he wasn't exactly forthcoming about what they were discussing with that bunch of friends of his...

With another sigh, 11-year-old Leina Ashta decided to focus on her homework and try to get it done before her older brother Judau came back. After all, he was the one who was always out working, in order to gain enough money to pay for her schooling. The least she could do to help him was trying to do her best to get some good grades... However, she had barely restarted writing on her notebook, when a sound of steps coming from the stairs outside the apartment caught her attention, and the door to her room opened up slowly, revealing a smiling Judau holding several bags of groceries.

"Yo, Leina!" he greeted merrily. "So, how's your homework going?"

Leina put down her pencil and stood up to help her older brother carry the bags. She was really tall for a girl her age, and she easily approached five feet in height, with curly dark brown hair decorated by a blue ribbon, and wearing a pink dress on white shorts, and magenta shoes. "Welcome back, big bro!" she greeted him sweetly, catching a pair of his bags in her arms. "So, how's it going?"

"Well, Leina, I've got great news for ya!" Judau answered, as he walked nto the kitchen and placed the bags on the table. "You'll soon be able to attend school in the high quarters. Everything is first-rate around there!"

Leina blinked for a second in confusion, then she giggled to herself. "Hehehee... yeah, right! And that includes the taxes as well!" she joked. "Seriously, big bro, you know that you'll never make enough money for that by working at the junkyard."

"Oh, don't worry about that, sis! I've just got the deal that might allow us to fetch us the big money!" Judau answered. He took some ingredients out of the bags, in order to start preparing some dinner for himself and his sister. "After all, you like studying, right, Leina? Therefore, I'll make sure you can attend the best schools we have here!"

Leina wrinkled her nose in doubt. There was always only one possible explanation for her brother speaking like that, and not one she liked the implications of... "Hold on a sec, bro! I know what you mean when you say that, you're going to try and do something illegal!" she exclaimed. "You know I do not approve of this!"

"Silly, I'm not going to do anything strange!" Judau answered, jokingly flicking her on the forehead. The girl hmmphed in annoyance, but kept her mouth shut. "Just trust your big brother here! I'm just going to grab a golden opportunity... and after that, you won't have to worry about anything else! That's a promise!"

Leina shook her head, knowing that it was impossible to change her brother's mind on that point. "Alright... I just hope you're not going to regret this, big bro... I'm saying this for your own sake, you know..."

oooooooooo

Sadly, it seemed that the Argama was not the only battleship seeking refuge in Shangri-La. Not too far away from the run-down colony, in fact, a Neo Zeon cruiser ship was on its way, silently gliding through the debris field and approaching Shangri-La at a steady pace. On the main bridge, its commander was looking intently at the vastness of space, secretly impatient of having his chance to please Haman Kahn, the ruler of Neo Zeon, and the woman he respected and loved the most in the whole Solar System.

The young man commanding the Neo Zeon Endora-class cruiser was a strikingly handsome individual with long violet hair and a lean yet well-muscled physique, wearing the standard uniform for high-ranking Neo Zeon officer, a dark green color all over with black shoulder pads, black boots, and a stylized golden eagle drawn on the chest area, and a long black mantle was hanging off his shoulders. However, the most peculiar thing about him was the bright red rose he was gently yet firmly holding in one hand, as the ship he was commanding approached its destination.

The young man raised his head a little as his second-in-command, a large and burly man wearing a similar uniform sans the mantle, and with short and bowl-shaped black hair, came close to him and saluted. "Commander Mashmer, sir... I am glad to be able to tell you that the preparatives for entering the Shangri-La spaceport have been ultimated." he said in a deep voice.

The young man with the rose named Mashmer, smiling slightly, turned to his older underling. "Good job, Gordon... and what about our clearance to enter the colony?" he asked calmly.

"Nothing to worry about, sir. I already arranged for a few bribes to be given to the Shangri-La authorities, and they have assured me that they will leave the main port free for us to use." Petty Officer Gordon Gou answered with a nod. Mashmer closed his eyes and smelled his red rose, satisfied with the answer, before bringing his attention to the other problem they were facing.

"Excellent job, Gordon." Mashmer nodded. "And what about the Argama? Can you confirm that the battleship that entered the Shangri-La spaceport a few hours ago was the one we're looking for?"

"Not yet, sir... but we're looking into it." the older man answered. "We should have a definite answer soon."

"Good. See to it that you do." the purple-haired young man concluded. "You are dismissed."

Gordon bowed before walking away, and Mashmer smiled slightly to himself: this mission was looking to be a rather easy one... and when he would go back to Axis, bearing the news of an alliance with the Side 1 colonies, and the captured Argama, Haman Kahn would be extremely pleased with him!

"My beloved Lady Haman..." Mashmer said to himself, pinning his rose to the breast of his uniform. "As your knight, I shall aid you create the future you desire. I swear that on my very life."

oooooooooo

Shangri-La's spaceport was rather busy, for the standards of a backwater colony that usually didn't see much work... and that was probably the whole reason why the small gang of teenagers had managed to sneak by undetected, hiding themselves among the crates of materials that were being shipped on the cargos. Beecher, Mondo, Iino and Elle were now crouching low behind a makeshift barricade of crates and boxes, waiting for the final member of their gang to join them... and surveying a box of fireworks lying at their feet.

"Alright then... the plan is clear!" Beecher gleefully commented. "As soon as we're ready, we set off these babies, and Judau gets in and snatches the Zeta! Now, if only he would come already..."

"If you're talking about me, guys... you know what they say about the devil, right?" Judau said, popping out from behind a corner and reaching his friends, a bag of snacks in his arms. "And I've brought you something to snack on, while I was at it!"

Mondo smiled mischievously. "Well, Judau leave it to you to be late... is your big brother instinct to blame?" he joked, referring to how protective Judau was to his little sister. Judau dropped his bag of snacks among his friends, who each took something out and began eating.

"Yeah, yeah... joke as much as you want!" Judau snarked back. "Anyway, now that I'm here, we can start our plan. Run that by me again, Elle?"

"Sure!" the blonde girl answered. "It's rather simple, actually... we get close to the hangar, where they're holding the Zeta Gundam. Then, we set off these fireworks to cause some confusion and get our butts out of here, while you run in and snatch the Zeta! Simple enough, huh?"

"So it seems... well then, what are we waiting for?" Judau said with a wink. "We have a nice little Gundam to snag!"

The five teenagers stood up from their place, and began sneaking around, reaching a few passages they were sure none but they knew of, and quickly approached the Argama, managing to get close to the hangars without any of the skeleton crew noticing them. As they approached the hangars, they caught a glimpse of some of the personnel walking around the Mobile Suits, and quickly hid behind an unused console, perking their ears to listen to what they were saying.

"So, Astonage..." the voice of Captain Bright said. "Do you think we'll also have time to work on the Zeta Gundam?"

The chief mechanic of the Argama shook his head. "I'm afraid this will be a problem, Captain Bright..." he answered. "After all, we're concentrating on repairing the Argama itself, and the Zeta Gundam has taken little damage overall. It's still usable, at least theoretically."

"That's the problem..." Bright mused. "If at all possible, I would like for the Zeta Gundam's system to be simplified, so that at least Lt. Sheen may be able to pilot it. As it is, no ordinary pilot can handle it..."

"I know..." Astonage answered, his gaze pointing upwards to the Mobile suits present in the hangar. Judau and his friends carefully peeked out as well - there were no less than four Mobile Suits standing there: Fa Yuiri's Methuss, a squat yellow Mobile Suit that seemed somewhat simplistic and frail; a couple of Gundams Mk-2, distinctively resembling the original RX-78 Gundam; and finally, a majestic and sleek Gundam with a red-and-black shield mounted upon its left arm, its head adorned with the trademark V-fin, and its chest and shoulders protected by pads of blue armor. That was, of course, the famous MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam, developed and piloted by the AEUG ace pilot, Corporal Kamille Vidan.

The news caught the Shangri-La urchins off guard, and they huddled together to whisper to each other. "Hey, have you heard that, guys? I'm afraid we are biting off more than we can chew here..." Iino murmured. For once, even his more eager companions could not fault him for thinking so...

"Iino's right, this time..." Mondo stated in worry. "If what those guys are saying is true, not even a seasoned military pilot can handle the Zeta Gundam. I wonder what kind of pilot was using it during the Gryps Wars. What chance do we have of piloting it?"

Beecher, however, was still rather optimistic about it. "Aw, don't worry about that, guys... you know how skilled Judau is, he can handle any kind of mechanical device! If there's anyone here who can make it out of the port with the Zeta Gundam, that's him!"

Judau gripped his hand into a fist in determination. "You can bet on that! I'll do it!" he stated. "I just need some distraction... and after that, I'll get inside that Gundam's cockpit and leave! You just think of getting away before they catch you."

"You got it, Judau!" Elle said with a knowing wink, getting her firecrackers ready. She quickly passed some of the fireworks to Iino, Beecher and Mondo, and signalled to all of them to get ready, before taking a peek out of their hiding place. Bright and Astonage were still surveying the Mobile suits, and they seemed not to know about the teenagers in hiding... "Alright, the grown-ups are still distracted! I'm sure we'll make enough of a ruckus for our plan to succeed!"

"Hehee... where would we be without you and your plans, Elle?" Beecher chuckled. "Alright, guys, get ready... on my mark! Three, two, one..."

As Judau was psyching himself for breaking into a run, the other Shangri-La kids lit up their firecrackers, and tossed them in the middle of the hangar, near the place where Bright and Astonage were chatting... and the effects were as dramatic as they were sudden! The fireworks went off with a deafening noise, emitting a sequence of vivacious colors and a strong smell of gunpowder, as the two adults jumped up with a start!

"What? What was that..." Astonage exclaimed. After a moment of surprise, Bright managed to keep his cool and walked near the place where the Shangri-La kids were hiding... only for all of them to come out running, and make a mad dash for the exit! All but one, that is... Judau, who took advantage of the confusion to dash towards the Zeta Gundam and climb inside the cockpit before anyone could do anything to stop him!

"Hey! What are you doing? Get down this instant!" Bright exclaimed. He had already understood that the plan was to steal the Zeta Gundam for money... "You cannot pilot that Mobile Suit... and neither can any normal person! You won't be able to sell it!"

Judau did not pay him any heed and, after hoisting himself up to the cockpit, he closed the hatch behind him as the rest of the Shangri-La gang tried to get away! Beecher even went as far as to turn back for a split second, in order to stick his tongue out at the two adults. "Bleeeeh! Catch us if you can, slowpokes! I dare ya!"

"Why..." Astonage muttered in annoyance as he grabbed a comm device from a nearby wall, choking on the still-lingering gunpowder. "Security! Security, we have an emergency! Catch those brats before they get away!"

"Keep your cool, Astonage!" Bright advised him. "Don't let them get to you, and just focus on catching those kids!"

"Hahahahaaa! It was even easier than we thought!" Mondo laughed, as he and his friends raced through the corridors of the Argama, making a mad dash for the exit. "Now we just need to get away and wait for Judau to come back!"

"See? Told you guys it would be easy!" Elle stated, allowing herself a small moment of self-celebration... which was immediately shattered as, after making a right turn, they came face-to-face with a group of Earth Union soldiers, Emma Sheen in front of them, with her arms crossed and smiling like a mother catching her bratty child with his hands in the jam! The Shangri-La urchins immediately broke their run and stopped in front of the soldiers, with comical fear expressions plastered upon their faces!

"And... where exactly do you think you're going, kids?" Emma asked.

oooooooooo

Judau, on the other hand, had been luckier: he had managed to get inside the cockpit of the Zeta Gundam, and as he sat down in the pilot's seat, he began taking a good look at the controls, in order to figure out which was which. "Hehehee... easy as pie!" he said, in a moment of self-congratulations. "These grown-ups are really gullible! And now, to get this thing out of here... let's see, should I press this button?"

Judau immediately clicked on a blue button on the console... and the Zeta shuddered, activating itself with a whirling sound of engines, and began transforming under Bright's surprised eyes! The head of the Zeta seemed to retreat inside the main body, and several other components began moving on their own accord... until, in but a few seconds, the Zeta Gundam had transformed into its Waverider form, resembling something of a fighter jet! Even more surprising was the fact that, soon after, Judau pulled the cloche and managed to take off, even if he began bumping on the hangar's walls as he tried to fly for the exit!

"What?" Bright exclaimed. "He... he actually managed to make the Zeta Gundam move? This boy... is definitely no common person... sure, he's handling it in a clumsy manner... but it's amazing that he's even handling it at all!"

Of course, as he was jarred around in the Zeta's cockpit by the violent rocking, Judau was not as pleased with himself... "Aaargh! This... this isn't good! I... can't handle the Zeta in this form! How can I make it turn back?" he exclaimed. Frustrated, he began pressing a few buttons on the console... and finally, after his third attempt, he managed to hit theright button, and the Zeta snapped out of Waverider mode and returned to its humanoid form, just as the nearest hangar door opened up! Never one to let such a chance go to waste, Judau piloted the stolen Zeta Gundam out of the hangar, and exited the spaceport with a triumphant yell!

"Yahooo! Way to go, man!" he cheered, giving his trademark grin. "I did it! Well, guess I have to thank this Mobile Suit's designer, he was quite a genius! To think that a Mobile Suit can complete a transformation like that in just one second... I can't believe my luck, this will earn me enough money to send Leina to college, never mind school!"

Intoxicated with his successful steal, Judau began humming to himself as the Zeta Gundam tried to walk away from the spaceport... only to be stopped by a communication from his main screen, upon which Captain Bright Noa's stern face appeared. There was some static, but it soon stabilized, allowing the captain of the Argama to speak to the young street boy. "Pilot of the Zeta Gundam, do you copy? This is Captain Bright Noa, of the Earth Union Military!"

"And I am Judau Ashta! Pleased to meet ya, pal!" Judau replied cheekily. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Mobile Suit to sell to the highest bidder!"

"I am afraid you will do no such thing, Judau." Bright Noa answered. "Return the Zeta Gundam at once, and we will let you and your friends go."

Judau's good mood took a sudden plunge... and it was completely ruined when Beecher and Elle appeared on the screen, being escorted by Emma Sheen and another Earth Union soldier, and looking very embarassed about having been caught...

"Ugh... we apologize, Judau! Don't worry about us!" the freckled red-haired boy said.

"Use the Zeta to gain as much money as possible for Leina's schooling..." Elle continued, as Judau sighed and rubbed his forehead in frustration. He definitely had not seen this one coming...

"Ugh... and here I thought grown-ups were gullible. We've been had like amateurs..." he murmured. However, he did not hesitate, and stopped the Zeta Gundam right where he was, answering to Bright's request. "Alright, then... I will hand you back the Zeta, but in turn, you'll let my friends go! Is that a deal?"

Bright nodded, while Beecher and the others loudly tried to protest Judau's decision. However, in his mind, he was already trying to come up with another plan to come back and steal the mighty Gundam...

"I don't give up that easily... Next time, I will snatch the Zeta right under your noses!"

oooooooooo

"The hell do you want from me? I just gave you the Zeta back, didn't I?"

Judau was simply indignant. As soon as he was back in the hangar and out of the Zeta Gundam's cockpit, reunited with his friends... Captain Bright, Emma and Fa had simply walked up to them and given them a proposal that the Shangri-La boy found outrageous, to say the least! "You're asking me to join your crew and fight your enemies for you? No way in hell I'm doing that! I've got a sister to think of, and I can't just abandon her like that!"

"He's right, you know!" Beecher shot back. "Is this the way grown-ups do things?"

Bright sighed. He know it would be somewhat hard to come to an understanding with this bunch of rowdy kids, but at the very least he had to try... "I am certainly not asking you to abandon your family and your friends, Judau. But the situation is rather dire, and much as I don't like to ask for such favors, you're the only one who can help us now."

Judau turned his back on Bright and began marching away from him. "Pah! I've heard enough! Let's take our leave, guys! I'm not gonna listen to a word more from this liar!". And with that, the five teens tried to walk away from the place, only to be stopped when Emma made a sensible observation.

"Hold on a second, you kids." she stated, calmly but firmly. "Do you suppose you can just walk away like nothing happened? That Gundam you tried to steal is a one-of-a-kind model, and you tried to sneak onboard a military vessel who's still in the middle of an important mission. It's not something you can just walk out of and pretend never happened."

Judau winced, realizing the truth of Emma's words... but an emergency communication, blaring from the Argama's speakers, cut off any further discussion.

"ATTENTION TO THE ARGAMA CREW. ENEMY CRUISER HAS JUST ENTERED THE SHANGRI-LA AIRSPACE. IDENTIFIED AS AN ENDORA-CLASS BATTLESHIP." the voice of Torres, the Argama's helmsman, announced, causing everyone to turn their heads that way. "THE NEO ZEON CRUISER IS FAST CLOSING ON OUR POSITION."

"What? An enemy attack? Right now?" Elle exclaimed.

"This is bad..." Fa murmured, gritting her teeth. If only Kamille had been there, there would not have been cause to worry, but like this... the only Mobile Suits available were Emma's Gundam Mk-2 and her own Methuss... and Fa well knew that her own piloting skills were pretty limited. But aside from that, there was also the fact that they were still inside the colony... "Captain, we cannot engage the enemy here!"

"I agree, that would run too great a risk of damaging the colony..." Bright answered. "We need to throw them off somehow... but even if we were to head back to space, the Endora would simply give chase, and we're in no condition to outrun the Neo Zeon troops."

Surprisingly enough, it was Judau who came up with an idea. "Well, then.. I may have a solution for you!" he proposed. "We just need to get to the colony's core! Don't worry, us junk dealers know all about this place, we'll guide you to safety!"

Bright, Emma, Fa and the other Earth Union soldiers seemed dubious at first... but they knew thattheir choices were very limited, so they decided to trust the Shangri-La group for now. After all, they were in the same boat, and their mutual survival depended on each other... "Hmm... alright then! Activate the engines and get us out of the spaceport! We will follow these kids' suggestion."

"A wise choice, man!" Mondo stated. "Just you wait, we'll get you out of this mess in no time!"

oooooooooo

Sadly, the Neo Zeon Endora-class cruiser that had just entered the Shangri-La airspace was not going to just stay idle as the Argama tried to escape. On the main bridge, Mashmer had just received another interesting report about the battleship they had kept their eyes out for for so long!

"So... you can now confirm that the unknown ship is the Argama?" Mashmer asked to his second-in-command Gordon, barely able to mask his giddiness at the prospect of taking out one of the biggest menaces for Neo Zeon's expansion.

The larger man smiled and nodded. "We're 100% positive, Commander Mashmer! Apparently, they tried to get away by entering the colony's innermost space... but I had our accomplices close the industrial chute that they might have used to get away." he stated, earning himself a praising look from his younger superior.

"A most excellent job, Gordon! I will speak highly of you to Lady Haman, as soon as I hand her the Argama, its crew and the Zeta Gundam!" Mashmer praised him, taking another sniff from his rose. "Very well then, I presume I should do my part as well. Have my Mobile Suit prepared, I shall sortie myself to stop the Argama."

"Right away, sir!" Gordon saluted, before turning to the crew and referring Mashmer's orders...

oooooooooo

For their part, the crew of the Argama had discovered, much to their pleased surprise, that the Shangri-La urchins had not lied about the innermost parts of the colony being safer, and about there being some seldom-used passages they could use to evade their enemies - there was enough space to allow the large battleship to sail its way through, and no enemy in sight on the radar. So far, it seemed that the Argama was actually going to escape Neo Zeon, after all...

"Well, what do you know. These kids provided us with the right idea." Bright admitted. "I had never imagined there were these passages in such an old colony."

"These kids sure are a handful, huh, Captain Bright?" Astonage joked.

"Hey! You watch what you're saying, pal, we just took your asses out of the frying pan!" a somewhat annoyed Judau stated, hopping down from a console he had been lazily sitting on. "If it weren't for us, you'd still be there, being a sitting duck for the Neo Zeon!"

"Yeah! And don't think we did it out of the kindness of our hearts!" Beecher wanted to make that clear. "We expect some sort of reward for what we did for you! Right, gang?" He turned to the rest of the teens, and Mondo and Elle both nodded in assent, with the more timid Iino simply staying on the sidelines.

"Well, that much was obvious." Emma Sheen said. "However, you should know that, at the moment, we don't exactly have money available."

"That's no problem for us!" Judau answered, knowing that this was an unexpected second chance to get his hands on something much better. "We just want to... borrow the Zeta Gundam for a while!"

Bright sighed, having expected such a request from the group of rambunctious teenagers. However, if they thought he was a fool, they were going to have another thing coming. "Even that won't be possible, I'm afraid." he stated... much to the annoyance of the Shangri-La bunch!

"What the heck! Then you've just been pulling our legs all along!" Beecher shouted.

"Geez, grown-ups are so dishonest..." Mondo went on, blissfully setting aside the fact that he himself was complicit to a plan to steal a state-of-the-art Mobile Suit from a military vessel! However, there was no time to further discuss the issue... since, just then, a communication from an unknown source hailed the Argama crew, startling all of them!

"ATTENTION. I HAVE A MESSAGE FROM THE CREWMEMBERS OF THE MILITARY VESSEL ARGAMA, OF THE EARTH UNION." a young voice was heard. "I AM MASHMER CELLO, OFFICER OF THE NEO ZEON ARMY."

"What?" Bright exclaimed. "How is that possible? I thought we were in a safe position... how come we couldn't detect them?"

"This one seems to be a new model of Mobile Suit, Captain Bright..." Torres answered, bringing up the image of the new Mobile Suit on his main screen: it was an heavy-looking suit, sporting a dark green colour all over, with a slightly elongated head that seemed to emulate that of a reptile, with several missile launchers installed on its fingers and shoulder pads, and a beam saber hanging by its side. "The fact that it stayed on the ground and used the buildings as a decoy must have aided it in escaping our radars... though it must also have some sort of jamming device."

"YOU ARE HEREBY ASKED TO SURRENDER WITHOUT ANY RESISTANCE." Mashmer continued unabated. "SHOULD YOU COMPLY TO MY REQUESTS, I WILL PERSONALLY GUARANTEE FOR YOUR SAFETY."

"What a blowhard, coming to challenge us with that single Mobile Suit..." Judau commented, still making light of the situation. Unfortunately, Bright knew that his options were quite limited at this point. The Mobile Suit Mashmer was piloting looked like a model for close combat, but the missiles mounted on its hands and shoulders could surely pack a serious punch, and there was no way they could have escaped unscathed had combat broken out...

"Captain, I and Pilot Yuiri will get our Mobile Suits prepared and go out to meet this threat." Emma proposed, stepping forward with Fa by her side.

There wasn't much Bright could do if not nod his head in assent. At that moment, the Gundam Mk-2 and the Methuss were their best chances of repelling the Neo Zeon officer's attack... which wasn't much, all things considered. However, once again, something unexpected happened, as Judau, with an eager smile on his face, dashed to the hangars and climbed on the Zeta Gundam once again, gleefully ignoring the crew trying to recall him!

"How interesting! Well, if nobody's going, I'll take that guy on!" Judau exclaimed, quickly climbing onboard the mighty Mobile Suit and closing the hatch, before activating it and running out of the hangar, leaving Emma and Fa to gawk at him in disbelief... and the rest of the Shangri-La gang to cheer him on!

"Whoo-hooo! Way to go, Judau! Show 'em what the Shangri-La kids are made of!" Elle cheered.

"I can't believe this..." Fa murmured, a huge sweatdrop pouring down her forehead. "C... Captain Bright, you are not going to let this go, are you?"

"Of course I'm not!" Bright answered, storming angrily to the communicator's seat and grabbing a comm device to open a channel to the Zeta Gundam. "Judau! Hey, Judau, do you read me? Turn back and bring back the Zeta Gundam this instant!"

oooooooooo

"Why? What's the problem?" Judau asked mock-innocently. "You needed someone to go out and take that Neo Zeon clown, and I'm just the man for the job!"

"You may think fighting in a Mobile Suit is fun... but once you're out there, you're gambling your own life! You understand this, right?" Bright pointed out, still failing to impress the reckless junk dealer, who simply snorted.

"Well, duh. That kinda goes without saying, Sherlock." the teenager muttered. "But if no one does anything, we're gonna end up as prisoners. And I can't afford to get caught, I have a little sister to think of! Now, let's see what I can do..."

Judau began looking around himself, quickly locating the Neo Zeon Mobile Suit, which seemed to be waiting for him, with its bean saber drawn and held in its right hand. "Hmmm, so you've come out, Zeta Gundam!" Mashmer stated. "So, pilot of the Zeta... what will it be?"

"Only an idiot would give up without a fight!" was Judau's defiant answer.

Mashmer sounded more amused than actually insulted by that challenge, and he chuckled as he got into a fighting stance. "Huhuhuu... fine then, boy! If you want it that way, I'll be happy to oblige! I am Commander Mashmer Cello of the Neo Zeon army, currently on a mission on behalf our beloved leader, Lady Haman Kahn!"

"And I am Judau Ashta..." Judau answered, quickly looking around himself before continuing. "Currently skipping school!"

"Fine, this Galluss-J will be your opponent! Draw your weapon, Judau Ashta!" the violet-haired commander challenged.

"With pleasure!" Judau grabbed the Zeta Gundam's beam saber and pressed a button to activate it... but, much to his chagrin, the blade didn't flare to life, completely spoiling the dramatic tension of the moment! A nonplussed expression appeared on Judau's face, as he began fumbling with the controls in order to achieve the desired result! "Huh? Why did the beam saber not activate? Okay, let's see... it should be this one... no, wait, maybe this one? Ugh... just activate, dammit!"

In the Galluss-J's cockpit, Mashmer was just as confused about this as Judau himself... but he quickly composed himself and switched his beam saber off. "Hmmm, I see... you don't want to use weapons to fight, I take it." he commented. "I'm rather impressed, truth be told. So you understood that I'm a knight at heart... so be it then, we shall battle as equals."

Judau was not paying attention to any of this, and was still fumbling around to activate his sword... and finally hit a blue button on the console, and the Zeta Gundam changed into its Waverider form just like a few minutes earlier!

"Aaaaargh! Dammit, wrong button again!" Judau yelled in frustration. He pulled the cloche, trying to change back into Mobile Suit mode... but he only managed to cause the Waverider to take off and depart with blinding speed twards an abandoned area, leaving a very flabbergasted Mashmer behind!

"Hey, what is the matter with you?" Mashmer demanded to know. "I just praised you, and now you're running away?"

Again, Judau paid him no heed and concentrated on getting the Zeta back on its feet. This time, he managed to hit the right button, and the Waverider quickly turned back to a humanoid form, stumbling in a none-too-elegant way among the ruined building of that deserted part of Shangri-La. Judau sighed in relief as he picked himself up, only to groan at the sight of Masmer's Galluss-J in hot pursuit. Why couldn't that guy just allow him a little time to recover?

In an attempt to fight back, Judau picked up a large piece of concrete and hurled it towards the Galluss-J, making use of the Zeta's exceptional strength. Mashmer was caught off guard by this unconventional fighting style, and he could not dodge in time, the slab of concrete hitting his Mobile Suit in the chest and rattling the young officer in his cockpit... but the damage was barely worth noticing: just a dent on the Galluss-J's chest armor, that caused no ill effect to the Mobile Suit's functioning.

"Not bad at all. But will you be able to withstand this?" Mashmer said. His Mobile Suit's missile-fingers suddenly pointed at the Zeta, he fired a rapid volley of shots, forcing Judau to fall back and use the ruined buildings as a makeshield shelter in order not to get hit. Several explosions surrounded him, kicking up a huge amount of dust and blinding the young junk dealer for a brief moment... which Mashmer took advantage of to close in and deliver a punishing punch to the Zeta's chest. To an onlooker, it would have looked like the Galluss-J had springs in its forearms...

The Zeta fell among the ruins, causing Judau a fit of coughing as he desperately tried to regain his bearings. "So, is this all you are capable of? Such a shame." Mashmer commented. "Here I thought I was going to battle a worthy opponent. I was too optimistic, it appears. Then, let's end this here."

oooooooooo

"This is bad... Judau is in trouble!" Iino murmured, gritting his teeth as he saw the Zeta Gundam fall to the Galluss-J's blow. It was clear thatJudau was not going to last long without ouside aid... and in fact, Emma and Fa had already boarded their Mobile Suits and were ready to sortie.

"There's no helping it... Lt. Sheen, Pilot Yuiri, you are requested to go out and support the Zeta!" Bright ordered. "Be extremely cautious, as the pilot of that unknown Mobile Suit is surely a Newtype. Engage him with extreme caution!"

"We will, Captain Bright!" Emma answered as the hangar doors opened again, though she privately had her doubts about being able to match a clearly experienced Newtype in a straight fight...

oooooooooo

Judau's fear began mounting as he saw the Galluss-J approach him, a large beam saber held in its hand, and ready to end the battle. Even a Mobile Suit as powerful as the Zeta Gundam had no chance of withstanding such a blow... and, driven by his sheer will to survive for his friends' and his sister's sake, Judau barely managed to stand up again and dodge the first blow. A second slash came half a second later, and Judau was unable to keep it for tearing a large gash in the Zeta's left shoulder, and the mighty Gundam was left stumbling. Deciding it was time to seize his chance, Mashmer raised his beam saber for one final time, and lunged forward, bringing the laser weapon down in an arc on the Zeta Gundam's exposed frame!

Judau grit his teeth, and his life flashed in front of his eyes... but just then, he felt like things were slowing down, and a strange, yet somehow familiar, feeling in the back of his mind spurred him to give it his best shot! Instinctively, he knew what to do and where to strike... and, catching Mashmer off guard, he lunged for the Galluss-J, brandishing his now-active beam saber!

The young Neo Zeon officer only had time to widen his eyes in disbelief, before the Zeta Gundam's beam saber struck true, hitting his Mobile Suit in its single eye camera and short-circuiting it! The Galluss-J's head came apart in a deafening blast, just as Emma's Gundam Mk-2 and Fa's Methuss approached the battlefield... and the two women were left to stare in wonder as the damaged Galluss-J stumbled backwards, dropping its own weapon!

"Wh-what? How did you manage..." Mashmer exclaimed, his cockpit flooded with alarm lights. He couldn't believe that a novice such as Judau had made a fool out of him so esily! This certainly wouldn't have gone well with Lady Haman... but, at least, Mashmer knew when he was beaten, and wisely decided to make a run for it and return to the Endora. "Ugh... I admit defeat for this once, Judau Ashta! But do not rest easy, for I shall not forget this humiliation! Next time we meet, you will not be so lucky!"

Mashmer began retreating as fast as he could with the damaged Galluss-J, leaving a stupefied Judau behind to gape at his own success. It had all been a flash to him... somehow, he knew when to attack, where to strike... as if an unknown voice from beyond had told him all of that in an instant!

"Did... did I do it?" he mouthed.

oooooooooo

"Guys! Have you seen THAT!"

"Kinda hard not to notice, Mondo! Judau just schooled that guy as if he was nothing!"

"I can't believe it..."

"And this was his first time piloting the Zeta, too!"

As the kids from Judau's group commented on the unexpected result of the battle, Bright himself was amazed by the sudden reversal of fortune. It was not a matter of chance, or the Neo Zeon pilot dropping his guard. He had seen that kind of situation a few times before, and there was only one plausible conclusion to all this...

"This is incredible..." Bright murmured to himself. "So... this Judau kid really is a Newtype... and a powerful one at that! I think things just got a little more complicated..."

oooooooooo

TO BE CONTINUED...

Author's Note: And so ends my first venture in the world of Gundam ZZ. Judau has had a few problems with his first battle, but in the end, thanks to his budding Newtype perceptions, he managed to get the upper hand on Mashmer! This is just the beginning of his journey, whether he wants to or not...

About Mashmer's name, I know there are quite a few translitterations, which I consider to be all more or less valid. I just went with the one that seemed less awkward to me.

And as for Leina's height... I don't remember all too well, but did read on some site that she's pretty tall for an 11-year-old Japanese girl (something like 5 feet...). Then again, it seems that many Zeta and ZZ characters are tall (Jerid, Scirocco, Judau himself, Roux...) so... I guess it's just a Tomino thing!

Well, that's about it for now! Hope you liked this chapter, and I'll see you all soon!