They were resting comfortably in the lounge area of the ship. They had eaten all their rations and were quietly sipping warm tea. Captain Bright had returned to his post at the bridge while Lieutenant Sharpe and Ensign Ibram had excused themselves to go to the mobile suit hangar. Only Frau, Shinobu, and Erin remained with the teens.
Frau put two scoops of sugar into a cup of tea, and she gently passed it to Janna with a smile. "Here you are, dear."
Janna took it, but still did not say much.
"If you are not stationed on the Nahel Argama, then why are you here?" Jaden spoke to Frau.
Frau took a sip of her tea before she answered. "Captain Bright is an old friend. He asked me for my help in finding you so I came for a few months to help."
"Where will you go now?" Jonathan asked. "Or will you stay longer?"
"Once we reach Granada, I will take my leave. I need to return to my family."
"You have a family?" Jonathan seemed surprised.
Frau nodded. "Letz, Kikka, and…Hayato Junior." Her face became sad, and no one asked her anymore questions.
The silence was only broken when Shinobu crunched into a cookie. "These cookies aren't too bad. Better that the kind we had last rations restock."
"You've been here long?" Faraj asked to Shinobu.
Shinobu's mouth was too full of cookies to answer. Erin answered for him, "Shin and I have been here for about five months now."
"Left the ESFS…joined AEUG…came here…" Shin said between mouthfuls of cookie.
"You have families too?" Faraj asked.
Shin shook his head. Erin paused for a moment, for the very first time being serious. "I have parents back on Earth. I had a sister, but she..."
For the first time too, Shin looked serious for a moment, but it quickly went away when he reached for more cookies.
"What about Lieutenant Sharpe?" Janna spoke up. The others were surprised that she spoke.
"Nah, he doesn't have anyone," Shin said. "At least, I don't think he does." Shin ate another cookie.
"Ibram does though," Erin said. "His wife and daughter are at Granada. He's very excited to get to them. Hopefully, we'll be there within a day or two."
"Where is home for you?" Faraj asked.
Erin spoke first. "I grew up in the old United States—quite close to Helena Air Force Base. It's almost as big as the Cheyenne Base. "
"Born and raised in Tokyo," Shin said. "Never left until I met Erin and joined the ESFS."
Frau set her empty teacup down on the table. If you're ready, I'd be happy to show you all to the showers. I'm sure you're all looking forward to cleaning up."
"We won't have time," Dante said, speaking for the very first time while on the Argama.
"What do you mean?" Kyle asked.
"They should be in range at any moment."
"Who?" Kyle folded his arms over his chest, defiantly.
"Neo-Zeon." Dante's brown eyebrows furrowed seconds before the alarm started blaring on the ship. "And there they are."
Shin and Erin immediately put their teacups down and got up from their seats. Before they left the room, Shin grabbed a fist full of cookies, and trotted out the door behind Erin. Frau looked like a woman who was trying to remain calm, but the smallest hint of shock was on her face. She turned to the teens in the room that were starting to look worried.
"What's happening? What's going on?" Janna asked.
Dante turned to Frau. "They'll engage, won't they?"
Frau nodded. "Yes, they will. I need to go to the bridge. I also work as a communications officer while on this ship. I want you all to put your normal suits back on and wait in this room."
The teens nodded and started to make their way to their discarded normal suits from launch. Frau floated out of the room and grabbed one of the handles that would take her towards the bridge.
In the hangar, the pilots scrambled into their normal suits and prepped for launch. Lieutenant Sharpe and Amuro were already climbing up into their mobile suits. Amuro opened the cockpit of a Rick Dias unit and climbed into the seat. He quickly started flipping switches. The machine fired up.
By the time Shin and Erin were being lifted up to their mobile suits, Amuro and Rick were moving their suits to launch position. Ibram was firing up the last Rick Dias model. Shin climbed into the Metheuss—an old but faithful mobile suit to the Argama's crew. Erin, however, jumped into one of the new issued GMIII units. The other remained in the hangar due to the need for repairs. The crew had been through a lot of skirmishes without resupplies and repairs for a long time. Hopefully, they would be able to make it through one more sortie before they reached Granada.
"Amuro Ray, ready to launch!" The catapult shot him off into the deep darkness of outer space.
Rick Sharpe positioned his mobile suit onto the opposite launch.
"Lieutenant Sharpe, Rick Dias, launching!"
"Ensign Azuma, ready for take-off!" Ibram shot off the launch pad.
Soon Shin and Erin were loaded on the launch pad.
"Time to roll!" Shin exclaimed as he fired off.
"Here we go!" Erin said as the force of the launch frapped against her body.
Soon five mobile suits joined up in formation. Seconds later, they received their orders from the bridge. "Approach with caution. There is an asteroid field ahead in the first quadrant—a perfect place for an ambush during sortie."
"Perhaps we can use that to our advantage," Shin said.
"They might want us to get drawn into the field as well," Rick said. "They don't want us. They want the kids."
"Rick's right," Amuro said. We've got to keep our wits about us."
"Launch all suits!" Volker yelled to the communications officers on the bridge. The Captain of the ship started to protest, but Volker ignored him. "Engage the enemy mobile suits! Draw them into the asteroid field ahead!" He turned sharply towards Captain Nimitz. "I'm going out there. I want full status reports every five minutes, and I want to be alerted on status changes."
"It's too dangerous to engage the enemy," The Captain said, half-heartedly. "It would be a shame if something happened."
"I won't be engaging directly. Remember to deploy the dummies in the second quadrant; we want to draw them into the first. If you don't…well let's not fail, shall we?" Volker stormed off to the mobile suit hangar.
Volker was followed by two men. The one on his right looked like a gorilla in a normal suit. His name was Ensign Magnus Crom. The other on his left was Ensign Jonas Reed. He was short and bared a resemblance to a weasel. The three of them stormed out of the bridge and headed to the hangar. While the other pilots loaded up into the standard Zeon mobile suits, they headed to the three custom units. They quickly launched behind the others and headed out for their special mission.
They couldn't just sit in the cafeteria. They bounced in their normal suits towards the bridge. Captain Bright was shouting orders at the communications officers while communicating strategies to the pilots about to sortie. Once the crew was finished giving directions to the pilots, silence fell over the bridge.
Jaden waited a moment before he spoke. "Why do they think we're worth all this trouble?"
Captain Bright continued to stare out into space. "Because you're capable of great things."
"Great things?" Jaden looked out the windows towards the vastness of space too.
Bright waited a moment before speaking again. "A Newtype can make the impossible a reality."
"The impossible a reality," Jaden whispered to himself.
"Hey guys, there are mobile suits over in quadrant two," Erin reported to her co-pilots. "I think I can count seven. My camera can't zoom in any further."
Amuro stared off into the distance towards quadrant two.
"Decoys?" Rick asked over the intercom.
Amuro tried to sense the presence of life, but he couldn't reach out that far. He felt angry with himself. It had been three months since he returned to space after being on the Earth for almost nine long years. He still did not feel like himself, and that made him angry.
"We'll have to avoid that area until we find out," Ibram said.
"They're trying to push us into the asteroid field," Rick said. "We need details on their ship. If we can get a good look at their carrier, we can get a better idea of how many suits it could carry."
"Then we would have a better guess if those are decoys over in quadrant two," Ibram said.
"Right," Rick said. "What do you think, Amuro?"
Amuro didn't answer for a moment. He furrowed his brow in frustration. "Yeah, we'll have to check out their ship. Everyone will have to keep their heads up. Asteroid fields are the perfect place for surprises."
Things were quiet and peaceful. They slowly continued into the asteroid field looking for more signs of life. They finally found them as shots came at them from various points. The enemy mobile suits were hiding in the asteroid field ready for attack. The sortie was on!
It seemed like shots were being fired from everywhere. Amuro knew that they could be dealing with up to twelve mobile suits, but how many were firing at them right now? As he dodged the shots, he wondered if it really was all twelve. Anger rose up inside of him because of his dulling senses, but as his passion ignited, his senses started to sharpen around him. "There are two behind first asteroid on the left!" He yelled and charged forward.
"Be careful or they'll have us surrounded!" Rick called to his co-pilots.
The plan seemed to be working as flawlessly as he hoped. While the other mobile suit units would drag the AEUG squad further and further away from the Nahel Argama, they would prepare a crippling attack on the ship and its passengers.
A Mega Bazooka Launcher was mounted upon one of the three mobile suits while the other two stood aside to help charge the cannon and provide stability. It would only take a matter of minutes to be fully operational, and if everything continued to go well, the Argama's crew would be too far drawn away from their ship to protect it. Lieutenant Althaus smiled at his own brilliance as he watched the numbers on his cockpit dashboard rise.
"Ensign Reed, I want you to aim for the engines of the Nahel Argama. I want it immobilized."
"Yes, sir," The Ensign replied with a weasel-like laugh.
"Im-mo-bil-ized?" The other Ensign, Magnus Crom, uttered slowly, trying to sound out each syllable.
"It means stop the ship, you idiot," Ensign Reed snapped.
"Don't worry about it, Crom," Volker said, almost kindly. "You just do what you're good at and we'll have this completed in no time at all."
"Yes, sir," Ensign Crom said.
"At 38% percent, sir," Ensign Reed spoke up.
"Excellent," Volker nodded.
The bridge was tense. Captain Bright was constantly giving orders to the crew on and off the battleship. They were doing the best they could to scan the asteroid field to give any support to those in sortie, but it was difficult at such a distance. The teens in their normal suits stood behind the Captain's chair close to the exit watching patiently. While everyone was enthralled with the camera shots of the asteroid field, Dante Fiore walked over to the window of the ship, and looked outside.
He was a quiet boy, but he firmly spoke up. "Redirect the cameras! Eight o'clock!"
"What?" Captain Bright stopped mid-sentence and looked over at Dante.
"On it," Frau had already punched in the command into the computer. A new screen shot popped up on the bridge's main display screen.
"Oh my god…" Torres nearly spilled his soda all over himself.
"Get them back here! Immediately!" Bright hollered.
Just as Frau began to switch on communications to the mobile suits, Amuro's voice came in. "This is turning into a real mess!"
"Amuro!" Frau hollered back frantically. "Three mobile suits are targeting the Nahel Argama! We need you to get back here!"
"We can't!" Amuro hollered between pants. "We're surrounded!"
"You have to get out of there, Amuro! You and Rick stay! Cover the retreat for Shin, Ibram, and Erin," Captain Bright ordered.
Janna looked around at all the frantic activity. "What's going on?" She asked, although she knew the answer in her heart already. "What's happening? Are we in trouble?"
"We should have just stayed put with Zeon," Kyle said, bitterly. "At least we wouldn't be in this mess." He crossed his arms over his chest.
"They're the ones causing this mess, you idiot!" Faraj said. "Do you think they give a damn whether you live or die?"
"Oh, because obviously these people do, you son of a cab-driving…"
"Excuse me?" Faraj's nostrils flared. "My father is an engineer…"
"Stop it!" Jonathan started pushing in between them.
"Are we going to be okay? What's going on? What's happening?" Janna continued to repeat, with nobody answering her questions.
Even though the atmosphere on the bridge was hostile, frightening, and loud, Jaden found himself being able to focus clearer than he had ever before. Things were happening around him, and he could process it, but feelings, choices, and decisions were rising up in him stronger and clearer than ever before. His resolve was growing stronger by the second. He looked over at Captain Bright who was frantically trying to guide his mobile suit pilots back to the ship. Dante had moved away from the window and was now sitting next to Frau to help her gather surveillance of the situation. Faraj and Kyle continued their bickering while Jonathan tried to calm them, but his sister stood behind the Captain's chair only asking questions.
Jaden quietly took a step back then another and another. As he did, he felt something in his pocket. It was his flash drive. He pulled out of his pocket, dropped it to the floor, and continued to walk away. Nobody saw or heard him leave the bridge.
"Go! Go! Go!" Amuro hollered to Shin.
"I can't! There's too many!" Shin said, gritting through his teeth.
"Erin, any luck on your side?" Rick asked.
Sweat rolled down Erin's forehead, making her helmet more uncomfortable by the second. "It's looking worse and worse," She said.
"No luck here!"
"Rick, cover me!" Amuro said. "I'm going to fight my way back!"
"Roger that!" Rick prepared himself for heavy fire by switching to the mobile suit's short-range firearms.
Slowly, Amuro moved his mobile suit to the back of the line and hoped that he would be able to get back to the Argama before anything drastic happened.
The mobile suit hangar was almost empty. There weren't any people around—the Argama was so short staffed anyway—and almost all the mobile suits were gone, except one. That would have to be the one. It was a GMIII model, but as he ran closer to it, Jaden saw that one arm was missing. It would have to do. He started for the lift, but a voice hollered at him.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing!" Astonaige Medoz, the chief mechanic of the Nahel Argama, came out into the middle of the hangar waving his arms and yelling.
"Sorry," Jaden said to the stranger before jumping onto the lift and pushing the button. "We'll die if someone doesn't go out there!"
Astonaige looked up angrily at the boy as he ascended into the air. "That mobile suit is in no condition to fly! You'll get yourself killed!" The boy didn't listen since he opened up the cockpit and hopped inside. Astonaige shook his head. He hadn't been up to the cafeteria or the bridge to meet the Newtypes yet, but he was sure this unruly kid was one of them. They were always causing trouble!
Jaden gulped as all the electronic devices flared up inside the cockpit. There were so many lights, buttons, switches, and controls that it was simple to be overwhelmed. He closed his eyes for a moment, but not too long, otherwise reality would set in. He forced himself to be calm and remember all the things he ever learned or read about mobile suits. Suddenly, a release of tension pulsed through his body. His arms came up and naturally took ahold of the controls as if it were second nature. He moved the mobile suit.
"The enemy mobile suits are refusing communication with us," Dante said, furiously typing away at keys on the control panel.
Torres gritted through his teeth, "There are civilian minors on board…how low can you get?"
"I think we've already seen enough that they don't care about any of that," Frau said, darkly.
Bright leaned forward in his chair and put his face in his hands for a moment. He needed to focus. He needed to think. He had been close to death so many times before, but this time, it seemed like there wasn't hope for escape.
An alarm started going off on the control panel. "Uh, Captain," Frau looked confused. "We have a manual forced opening of the mobile suit hangar…"
"What in the world!" Bright got out of his chair and immediately ran for the control panel. "Get Astonaige on the line!"
"Sir!" Dante said, pulling up a camera screen. They saw a badly damaged GMIII unit leaving the ship. "Do you have any more pilots on board?" Dante asked.
"No," Bright said. He turned around and looked at the kids. One was missing.
"95…96…97…" Volker's smile grew wider and wider as the numbers continued to rise. "Get ready to fire, Ensign Reed. Keep the bazooka launcher steady, and you'll do just fine."
"Yes, sir!" The Ensign responded.
He knew he had to stop them. He didn't know how, but he knew that he had to do it. Jaden charged forward in the broken mobile suit, as fast as it would allow him, towards the three enemy suits aiming for the Argama.
His heart was pounding. At this point, he was acting on some driving force inside of him, and that driving force moved faster than his mind could process. Only one thought kept pushing through the rush of adrenaline—Janna.
"…98…" Ensign Reed, the pilot who would pull the trigger, grinned widely. "…99…what the?" They had hardly noticed it, but a mobile suit was flying straight at them with its beam saber ready to strike.
"Fall back!" Volker screamed, hitting the accelerator in reverse.
This is what he had to do. He had to destroy that cannon. This was the only way. He rammed into the mobile suit with his very own suit, piercing the enemy suit with his beam saber. Sparks flew from the damaged circuits and frayed wires.
Jaden closed his eyes. "Janna, I'm sorry."
Amuro had finally broken out of the asteroid field and had rushed back to the
Argama. As soon as he came into the area, he saw an explosion in the distance, but it was not by sight he noticed the event first. Moments before, a searing pain inside made his chest ache. The wounds of the past—being able to feel the pain of battle—were ripped open once again. He had reawakened to his abilities.
"JADEN!" Janna had already collapsed to the floor. She did not see what happened, but the mysterious link between herself and her twin now seemed strangely dimmed. The crew of the Argama sat quiet as they watched the fire of the explosion gently fade away. Frau was the only one to move after many moments to try and comfort the sobbing girl.
Volker Althaus shook his head. His ears were ringing badly from the explosion. He was able to get away despite being badly shaken up. Ensign Reed was gone and so was the cannon. He wearily reached forward and pushed a button to open communication. "Ensign Crom, do you copy?"
It took a few moments for the Ensign to reply. "Yeah, boss. I copy."
"We're heading back to the ship."
"What about Jonas?"
"He's dead," Volker said matter of factly. "Now, let's leave this place."
The line was quite for a moment. "Yes, sir."
They took off, leaving the Nahel Argama alone for now.