"We were lucky," Hiro said as he handed Grace her cup of coffee. She shook her head as she leaned against the bulkhead. "The bridge crew got away with minor injuries, but the damage to the bridge will still hinder our progress."
"Stay our course and rendezvous for repairs, that's all that we can do right now," Kamea said as she swung her makeshift wooden staff at Ronald. He dodged easily and replied with a flurry of attacks. "I still say word got back to Zeon."
They had been over this. Hiro saw the AEUG pilots take out the fleeing Gaza unit. However, both Kamea and Ronald claimed to have notice a blip flicker briefly on their radar. They did a sweep of the region but nothing came up. Years of experience taught the mercenaries that it was very likely that a hidden Zeon unit had escaped, bring with it the information of the Firefly back to its base. Whether Zeon would take the effort to capture a small AEUG force was another matter. Regardless, the probability gnawed at Hiro.
Kamea parried each blow before side stepping the last and retaliated. She said, "It doesn't matter. Whatever happens, we have our job to do. Those AEUG boys better be clocking enough hours of training in the mean time. They were lucky to survive combat, but their luck will run out at some point."
"We don't have the best of crew, but we gotta make the best out of the situation," Grace said. She paused and looked at Hiro, "I don't like how we were taken off guard by Zeon. You would think they would have better intelligence given that they planned this whole operation."
"Well, then you should do more work. You and Augur." Hiro said.
"Sir! Yes, sir!"
He emptied his cup of coffee and left the lounge to look for the captain.
His team was already in the bunker when he got there. The red normal suits trimmed with black were easy to spot among the white and orange suits of the AEUG. Grace Valerii and Ronald Boone were assisting the AEUG mechanics with the mobile suits in the cargo bay. The AEUG had retrofitted the cargo bay to serve as a hangar bay but it was far from being a one suitable for handling battle situations. How did the Zeons find us so fast?
Kamea Thrace was at the airlock. "Just in time, boss. I was about to head out without you."
The Galleon Combine mobile suits had the honour of being stowed away in containers attached to the hull of the Firefly. The transport ship could only carry four mobile suits and the AEUG had filled that up. This was a simple compromise when it was made, but a daunting one now that they had to waddle out into space and clamber to get into their mobile suits. Hiro wondered if whoever made the agreement had experienced going into combat in this manner.
"Let's get going, Starbuck," Hiro said as he put his helmet on. Kamea did likewise and initiated the depressurisation. The hatched opened and the air escaped almost instantly. Their magnetic boots held them to the deck. Kamea headed out without hesitation, and Hiro followed after her. They disengaged their boots and drifted to their respective containers. Hiro disliked leaving his fate to a single cable attached to the hull but it was a lot quicker than plodding step by step along the hull. He punched in his access code and gained entry to the container. The GM-II laid flat on its back. They had prepared the equipment beforehand in anticipation of a possible sortie. Hiro hopped into the cockpit and powered up the suit. The top of the container opened and he pushed the suit into space. Hiro waited for the suit to drift a distance away from the hull before igniting the thrusters to push him into the emptiness. It felt good to be back in space.
"Apollo, check your six," Kamea's voice came over the comms. Hiro glanced at the screen and saw her IFF indicator falling in on his wing. "Good hunting, Starbuck."
Ronald Boone had been relaying updates on the battlefield to them while they prepped. The AEUG CIC officer was doing her job well but Hiro preferred to get the reports from his own man. Ron knew both pilots so well that he could anticipate what they would do and analyse what they could do, so his updates often gave them an edge during combat. The AEUG sniper took out an enemy Gaza while the Zeons downed a GM unit. Even with the young boy Nicky withdrawing from battle, they outnumbered their enemies four to two. The chatter on the AEUG channel reminded Hiro of this early days as a mercenary. No wonder the AEUG had to hire us. The war has really taken a toll on their ranks. Either that or they chose to hand Grimsdottir with an inexperienced team.
"Sorry we're late to the party. It was a little inconvenient getting to our suits." Hiro spoke to the AEUG channel as he sped up to chase the remaining enemies. The two Gaza units kept formation as they turned back to make another pass at the AEUG forces. He frowned at a sudden thought that occurred to him. If the Zeons knew what we were transporting they would have attempted to take out our mobile suits instead of attacking the ship directly. Perhaps the Zeons did not know about this mission after all.
Then as if reading his thoughts, one of the Gaza units veered off formation while its counterpart continued its charge. "Ryder! Get that Gaza before it escapes! Starbuck, deal with this fella."
Leaving Kamea to deal with the attacking mobile suit, Hiro gave chase. However, the Gaza was the faster mobile suit. It would be hard pressed to even keep pace in his GM-II. He hoped Ryder could take out the Gaza before it went out of range. They could not afford for word of the Firefly to get back to the Zeons.
The aroma of the coffee made him feel more energised even before he started drinking it. Hiro made a mental note to give his regards to the cooks the next time. It was one of the better cups he had in a while. Too bad I have to cover that fragrance with the milk. Damned stomach.
He loved to drink his coffee black but some brews were a little too strong for his guts. Hiro used to down several cups of the black stuff at a time. Maybe that caused his stomach to be so touch at this age. Whatever his guts disliked, he stayed away from. Just like this ex-Titans guy who sat opposite him. Ryder Sarka. It surprised Hiro to see a Titans serving with the AEUG. All Titans members had been arrested, trailed, and imprisoned. He wondered how Ryder managed to wriggle his way out of jail time. Even his self-proclaimed sniping abilities would be far from a redeeming factor for the AEUG authority to add him to their ranks. They were desperately shorthanded, but not that desperate or shorthanded. Or were they? It did not matter to Hiro or his crew, but he never liked to be taken by surprise.
The brief bristling exchange between the AEUG pilots came as no surprise, however. Hiro expected Ryder to be detested by the AEUG soldiers. It would take him quite a while to earn their trust and acceptance, though his behaviour indicated he could not care less. He might even be enjoying the thinly-veiled contempt from his comrades. Nick's voice broke into this thoughts.
"I'm not sure I would trust an ex-Titan pointing sniping at my direction in the battlefield either... Nick, was it? Yes, Nick." Hiro had gone through their files. He had seen better pilots and more experienced soldiers in his time, but the pilots assigned to the Firefly would do fine in the mission. As long as nothing went wrong. The nagging feeling was starting to irritate him. He appreciated his gut feelings. They saved his hide more times than he would have preferred. They kept him alive nevertheless. It was hard to ignore it, yet there was naught he could do about it. He turned his attention back to the AEUG pilot before him. "Tell me about yourself, Nick."
The slight G-force pushing Hiro into his seat was strangely settling as the Firefly lifted off from the port. It was good to leave Von Braun behind. He had a nagging feeling that something would happen the longer they stayed in the lunar base. His crew had gone off to catch some rest in their bunkers. Hiro chose to remain behind to get to know the two AEUG pilots. Ryder and Nicky. They had introduced themselves and joined him for some drinks. It was good to know those who would be covering your back for you in the field. Hiro took a sip of his flat white and ran a finger down his scar out of habit.
"The Draconis Fury has its reputation in the mercenary scene. We rivalled the Galleon Combine back in the days, but unfortunately, times have been hard with the wars taking so many good soldiers. While I won't call them our allies, the Combine had good relations with us. Old Galleon and the previous Fury leader go way back. Brother-in-arms before they started their mercenary businesses. Enough of us. Tell me more about yourselves."
“You must be Hiro.” Captain Benjamin Grimsdottir said after a brief introduction. The AEUG Captain was a tall and imposing figure. Draconis Fury stood up almost in unison and snapped sharply in salute. Certain mercenaries gave their profession a bad name with their lack of care for decorum and discipline. They often used their freelance status as an excuse to misbehave. The Galleon Combine thought otherwise. They were an armed force for hire, but they were still an armed force.
Discipline was not just expected, but demanded of the Galleon mercenaries. That was one of the factors that convinced Hiro Kusanagi to submit the Fury to the Combine’s authority.
“Captain Grimsdottir. Hiro Kusanagi reporting for duty. These are the finest of Draconis Fury. Kamea Thrace, MS pilot. Grace Valerii, mechanic. Ronald Boone, tactician and comms. I believe you know that already.” As standard protocol, the Combine provided detailed profiles of each mercenary for the employers. Each of his team member were as outstanding as the other in their own area of expertise. Hiro nodded in acknowledgement at the AEUG soldiers who fell in behind Grimsdottir. "Our packs and gear have all been loaded, so I guess we are pretty much settled. When will we depart?"
Hiro Kusanagi sat in the lounge of the Firefly as he watched the AEUG personnel scurry about their work in preparation for their departure from the lunar city. His crew of four was squeezed into the booth seat meant for three as they had their lunch. The seat opposite them remained empty for the person they were expecting. His wingman Kamea Thrace snuggled to his left, her right elbow carelessly jabbing at his ribs as she worked her food with a metal spoon. He suspected she was prodding his side partly on purpose.
Kamea had tucked her short blonde hair behind her ear to keep it out of her lunch, revealing a star-shaped ebony stud. Her dog tag hung over her cleavage that her black tank top struggled to hide beneath her black leather. Hiro still found her appearance more masculine than Grace Valerii, who sat on his right. Grace had more feminine curves and the larger buxom than her short-hair counterpart, but her jacket was zipped all the way up to her neck to keep herself fully covered. Her straight black hair fell beyond her shoulders. Grace made Hiro uncomfortable for some reasons, especially when they were alone. Perhaps it was her open admiration for her superior, who happened to be a famed pilot in the Galleon Combine.
Hiro Kusanagi was a renown mercenary in the Combine. Grace was the newest member in his team. Although she had been a part of the Draconis Fury for over a year, Hiro was still unable to be as comfortable as he was with Kamea. The latter was his wingman, so that explained for their familiarity. Grace was a backup pilot and still had a way to go before she was able to step up as a full-fledged pilot for the team. Her body was pressed against his as they sat awkwardly in the booth seat of the cargo ship. Hiro could feel the stiffness in Grace’s body despite her best efforts to appear comfortable with the physical contact.
It was not as if he could help it. He was stuck. Hiro turned to look at Ronald Boone. The mechanic took the outermost seat and was the only one among them who could escape the scrum if he wanted to. Ronald, however, was engrossed with the food in his metal food tray. Kamea slammed her spoon down in frustration, “Knock my elbow one more time and I’ll shove this spoon up where the sun don’t shine, Augur!”
“Hey, blame the small table! You’re knocking half of each spoonful I scrape before I can shove it into my mouth, not that this poor excuse for food is in any way appetising.” Ronald shot back. Kamea shook her head. “You can tuck your elbows in instead of airing your armpits, lad. We can do without the stench.”
“Wha—“ Before he could even protest, Grace chimed in, “Starbuck is right. Why don’t you stand up to give us more space. Be a man, Augur.”
“Just ‘cos Spike isn’t around, now I’m the whipping boy,” Ronald said. Kamea laughed. “Keep on dreaming, lad. Nobody’s gonna whip that ass.”
“Shut up and enjoy cozying up with Apollo, girl.” Ronald teased as he suddenly leaned to his right to shove Kamea against Hiro. She leaned on Hiro’s shoulder with feigned affection while Grace flushed red as Hiro was pushed against her. Kamea giggled. “He better be enjoying this more than we are.”
“C’mon now, we’re gonna look so professional like this when Captain Grimsdottir shows up.” Hiro said as he gave up trying to convince himself he was hungry. Ronald moved to the empty seat. “I’ll warm the seat for the captain before he arrives.”
“I hope you’ve got a hot bum cos you gotta give up your seat and it better be well warmed up.” Grace said and gestured at the door of the lounge.
AEUG used the same rank system as the Earth Federation. AEUG allies and mercenaries used the same rank structure .
AEUG Space Force
Lieutenant Junior Grade
Master Chief Petty Officer
Petty Officer First Class
Petty Officer Second Class
Petty Officer Third Class
AEUG Ground Force
Private First Class
Private Second Class