The Ptolemaios was wrapped in the silent shroud of mourning. No one wanted to talk about it, but the three they had lost occupied the minds of everyone on board, of that Albus was sure. It had been a while since he had said anything at all, in fact. For the last hour or two, he had been content simply to float in front of one of the ship’s windows and look out at the vast, empty field of stars beyond it. A single thought had set up camp in his mind, a stubborn guest unwilling to leave.
If only he had been there.
If Albus had been with Rai, Christina, and Multi on their operation, then they might still be around. Maybe he could’ve saved them—maybe he could’ve stopped Rai from going to…wherever he and the Virtue went. If not with words, then at least using the power of the Exia. But his actions in the missions before had seen him benched. He had been told to stay put in Tokyo and standby because he was becoming a liability. Albus’s thoughts drifted to that night with Kinue. What would have happened to her if he wasn’t there? Would she have died? Was her life worth the three that he wasn’t there to save?
“Agh!” Albus slammed his metal hand against the wall of the ship, the impact pushing him away and into the centre of the room. He clutched at his white hair and clenched his teeth, unable to escape the vicious cycle of his thoughts.
Before he could talk sense into himself, he found himself standing in the doorway of the medical bay. Just beyond, he could see Edmund laying in one of the cots.
“We need to talk,” he said in his usual brusque manner.
“No it’s fine,” Albus said, looking down at the wine glass in his hand. “I just…I don’t know much about wine, to be honest. Not much of a drinker, these days. And don’t worry about the questions, honestly. It’s refreshing to have an actual conversation with someone. My coworkers…well, let’s just say we don’t get along too well. None of us are exactly the personable type, I’d say, although maybe that’s just me,”
Albus looked at the young woman sitting across from her. She was beginning to turn a delightful shade of red that made his already nervous heart beat even faster. Any pleasant thought he might have had was swiftly coopted by Celestial Being. There was no way he could get involved with someone right now, especially not an investigative journalist already hot on the heels of his employer. Still, he thought about the fit that VEDA and the others might have if they found out, forgetting that VEDA might already know.
Albus looked away, rubbed the back of his neck. “I…should probably get going,” he said, placing his glass on the table and rising to his feet. He tried to ignore the big wet stain his rain-soaked clothes had left on the couch. “ I appreciate the hospitality, Kinue…and, uh, we should maybe do this again some time soon. The proper way, one that doesn’t involve you being chased down by thugs before hand,”
Internally, he was both chastising and praising himself. He shouldn’t have extended such an invite to her. Maybe it was the wine influencing his decision making, he told himself, knowing full well that that wasn’t the case. He made for the door and gripped the knob in his metallic hand before pausing and turning to face Kinue once more.
“If you ever need me, I’ll be there. The same goes for Saji,” he said, his voice serious. “But try to stay out of trouble, got it?”
And with that he left the apartment, rushed to his own door, and ducked inside. Albus made his way over to the bed, seldom slept in, and sat down on the edge of it. He leaned forward, elbows propped on his knees and leaned forward as he had done so many nights before.
I guess all there is left to do now is wait…
Kinue danced around his offer and shifted the conversation over to Celestial Being instead. Albus knew it was for the best—he wasn’t fully sure how he was going to sneak a pistol out of the base to begin with and considering who he was offering it to, he couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t trace it back to his employers as well. If that happened, he feared what would happen to her. Thugs were bad, but a pissed off secret organization wanting to remain secret was bound to be far worse.
“Sounds like you’re pretty deep into this stuff,” he said after she had gone on and on about the shadowy organization he called home. But Kinue wasn’t content with just that, shifting gears to his and Saji’s chance encounter aboard the elevator the other day.
I can barely keep up with her,
“Yeah, I was up there for work. My employers like to give me the run around which means I’m constantly going up and down. The apartment next door is less a living space than it is a bed for the short periods I’m even in the city, but I suppose it’s the closest thing I have to a home, really. Anyway, I ran into your brother and his girlfriend a little bit before the attack. It was a terrifying situation for sure…but not as terrifying as that Louise girl. She’s something else, definitely going to make Saji work for it, I think,”
Work for it? Work for what?
“I-I mean, like, the relationship. Not, uh, you know,” he rubbed the back of his neck nervously and brought the wine glass back up to his lips. “Can you tell I don’t drink much?”
The rain stung his face as the two of them sped down the street towards their apartment complex. He wondered, briefly, morbidly, what Celestial Being would do if he accidentally hydroplaned, spun out and cracked his skull open. Would they find a new pilot for the Exia? Surely they would. He was just a means to an end after all, a hand to guide the sword. The Meister pushed the dark thought from his mind as he focused on delivering them safely home, only to be distracted by the sudden awareness of Kinue’s body pressed against his.
Jack. He had almost forgotten about the fake name but for some reason he kept running into the Crossroad family who only knew him by his pseudonym. Each time they referred to him as such, it was if the man named Jack became a little bit more real.
When they got back, Kinue invited him inside. “Ah, well actually I should—” but she had already walked in, leaving the door wide open for him. ‘Jack’ hesitated, opening and closing his metal hand anxiously until at last he willed himself into the apartment and closed the door behind him. He found a seat on the couch as Kinue went off to change, bringing to his mind several pleasant images that all filled him with a special kind of dread he did not fully understand.
Why are you nervous? You’re a damn Gundam Meister,
Albus didn’t know what to do. He simply sat on the increasingly damp couch, staring dead ahead as he grappled with his newfound anxiety. When Kinue returned, it was with a bottle of wine and several bandages placed on her body. Albus stared at them, before averting his gaze.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, shrugging at her thanks. Was he being too aloof? “I’m, uh, just glad I was in the right place at the right time I guess. Though I gotta’ say, if that’s the crowd you run with, you might want to consider some protection. I…know some people. I could probably get you something small, easily concealable,” He took a drink of wine and frowned. Now more than ever he lamented the loss of his sense of taste. “I take it this had something to do with work?”
The steady hum of his motorcycle was drowned out by the pouring rain that had managed to ambush Albus just as he was headed home. He had just been driving, roaming the streets of Tokyo without purpose. Sumeragi had put him on standby and that had made him restless. The Gundam Meister felt like a caged animal, foregoing all of the various forms of entertainment Tokyo had to offer in favour of having his own angst-fuelled pity party across the city at large, a tour cut short by the sudden influx of rain. Albus was about to make the turn onto his street when he saw it—or rather, her. Saji’s sister, Kinue Crossroad, running down a side-street and ducking into an alley, shoeless and soaked. The Meister pulled his bike over to a secluded spot and shut off the engine, watching as two imposing toughs entered the alley after Kinue.
That doesn’t look good…
Albus swung his leg over the bike and began working his helmet off his head as he made his way to the mouth of the alley. From within, he could hear an exchange—Kinue in distress, the flick of hidden blades, the same kind of tough guy chatter all the tough guys out there spew. Albus stood, silhouetted by the street lights, taking a second to assess his situation. He had the element of surprise—it’d be fairly easy to get the drop on the—
The sound of screeching tires on the nearby street caused the thugs to turn their heads. Noticing him, they tried to warn him off, but Albus had already consigned himself to violence. Leaving Kinue here wasn’t an option. He tightened his grip on the helmet and cracked his neck. Albus tried to think of something clever, something heroic to say.
“Tch,” was all he managed before he started to advance. The thugs redoubled their efforts to threaten him, waving their knives at him as he approached. But when Albus was within range, he swung his helmet at one, letting it fly as he grabbed the knife hand of the other with his own metal hand, squeezing as hard as he could. The second thug batted the helmet away with ease and tried to lunge at the Meister, only for his knife to be knocked out of his hand with a swift axe kick that left him reeling. Albus squeezed harder on the hand until he heard the delicate bones within begin to crunch. He then proceeded to swing the thug around, guiding him to stumble towards the entrance of the alley rather than the brick wall at the last second.
Easy does it,
He wanted to help her, not scare her. The second thug came at him again, his charge stunted by a side kick to the gut followed by a tornado kick that sent him crashing to the ground. Albus landed on the slick pavement and only just managed to keep his footing. He grabbed the thug he had just knocked out by his shirt and tossed him towards his buddy with the broken hand.
“You’re gonna’ want to ice that,” Albus smirked. “If I catch you around here again—or anyone from whatever rinky-dink operation you come from—I’ll do more than break a hand. A lot more. Now get lost,”
The thug scowled but nonetheless helped his partner to his feet. Once both of them had scurried off into the night-time deluge, Albus turned to Kinue and offered her his metal hand. “Let’s get you someplace dry, huh?”
Albus almost barked with laughter as the Taozi closed the gap between them, bringing itself within range of the GN Sword that had been ineffective so far. But just as the enemy suit reached the Exia, a flurry of gun fire came from another direction and caught Albus’s attention for just long enough to allow the Taozi the window it needed. The pink Tieren clamped onto the Exia and began to pull at the GN Sword.
“What’s with you assholes and trying to steal my stuff?” Albus growled. First that Aker guy, now this? At least with the Flag he had an the atmospheric option, but out here in space, his choices were limited.
I already lost the shield, I’m not losing the sword too,
The Exia tried to reach for one of its beam sabres but both arms had been pinned by Tieren. Albus clenched his teeth again, pulling the trigger multiple times in the hopes it might get the Taozi to loosen its grip. But the Gundam Meister wasn’t without a backup plan. There was a reason he had been entrusted with a Gundam—it was a testament to his skills as a pilot, an ace, and being an ace meant that sometimes you had to get creative, for better or worse.
“You want to wrestle, huh? We can wrestle,” Albus hissed to himself, changing tack. The GN Drives whirred to life and the Exia began flying backwards, away from the incoming HRL reinforcements and towards the Orbital Elevator at top speed. In the cockpit, Albus hailed the pilot of the Taozi. “What’s more important to you-- my weapon or the elevator? Either you let go now or we’re both going head first into the station and a lot of innocent people are going to die,”
Albus thought of Saji and his girlfriend. He didn’t want to crash the Exia into the elevator, but letting it fall into enemy hands was unacceptable. With both his arms pinned though, what options did he really have?
Come on, do the right thing here,
Albus narrowed his eyes when he saw the effect his preliminary fire had on the Taozi but otherwise he said nothing. His focus was locked on the pink machine, his heart hammering in his chest as some part of him tried to fight its way back up to the surface of his psyche. The Meister hadn’t lost control, per se, so much as a sort of tunnel vision had overcome him. The part of him in control of the Exia wanted nothing more than to destroy the enemies before him while the rational part, the one still swimming upward through his consciousness knew his reasoning to be faulty. Albus had vowed to himself when he joined Celestial Being that those days were behind him, that he would leave his time as a Union soldier, as Alistair Judge, firmly in the past.
Evidently, that was not the case. The Meister was clearly at odds with himself, but for now, all that mattered was the battle before him. The pink Tieran could dance, it seemed, much like the Exia. Not quite as graceful, sure, but quick—speedier than its bulky frame would suggest. Albus wondered how such a machine handled under Earth’s gravity, though. Was it just a one-trick pony that could only move like it did when it was in space? The Exia, still without its shield, took the brunt of the gun fire that its pilot couldn’t avoid. Rolling in a lateral corkscrew, the Exia fully extended the GN sword and, when it got the Taozi in its crosshairs, Albus put everything he could into the thrusters. By the time he reached the suit and swiped with his blade, however, the Tieran had already moved away.
Stay still, you bastard
The two of them danced together like this for what felt like minutes, with the Exia looking the worse for wear as it continued to drag on. No matter how he moved, the Taozi seemed to anticipate him, jet away, and fire another volley. Even when Albus switched tack to a more ranged approach, it accomplished little. Eventually, Albus was clenching his teeth so hard that he was afraid they might break under the pressure. The longer the battle went, the more he could feel himself unravelling. Exia was supposed to be able to deal with any enemy. All he needed was one opening, one small chance to get into close range and he was sure he could obliterate this clunky suit before him, but he couldn’t seem to find it.
“Why won’t you die?” Albus eventually cried out despite himself.
Albus watched as the HRL’s new mobile suit sped across the star field, his long range cameras struggling to keep up with it.
It might even be able to keep pace with the Kyrios…
His grip tightened on his controls. This thing was bound to be a problem at some point, especially with a pilot who seemed able to handle the significant stress such speed would be putting on them. When he was with the Union, him and his fellow rank-and-files had heard ghost stories about some legendary Super Soldier project—a class of genetically altered warriors—that the Human Reform League was developing under the radar. Him and the others had believed it to be little more than a myth though, a story cooked up by the top-brass to scare them into duty. But after joining Celestial Being and seeing just how deep the rabbit hole could truly go, Albus began to doubt.
Memories of that fateful day over the pacific began to come back to him then, memories long buried clawing their way, zombie-like, to the surface of his cognisance. Albus could see in his mind’s eye, clear as the day it happened, his comrades being picked out of the sky by enemy Tierans on the ground. First Amada, then Sanders...he wasn’t close behind. A rogue shot. Had he been paying attention, he would’ve danced around it with ease. But the sound of Sanders’ screams as his Realdo plummeted towards the ground had shattered something in him. One wayward bullet was all it took to clip his engines and send Alistair Judge, a man whose skills on the battlefield had earned him the nickname ‘Arbitrator’, crashing into the Pacific Ocean.
His grip tightened on the controls even more, his left hand doing its best to try to snap the throttle it held with pure anger. Amada…Sanders…their swan songs reverberated in his head, quickened his pulse. Albus could feel his blood begin to boil and the bile in his stomach churn like the stormy ocean into which he fell.
“This is Exia. Moving to exterminate the HRL prototype. This is a threat that can’t be ignored,” he said coolly, masking his rage as he impelled the Gundam, as fast as he could, towards the enemy Tierans. Rai’s admonishment of him as a cold-blooded killer came to him in that moment.
Who gives a shit what that robot thinks?
On his approach, the Exia’s sword arm swung up and several blasts from the rifle heralded his vengeful engagement.
“This is Albus. Exia is moving to scouting position,” Albus said some time later as he and the Gundam drifted through the dark folds of space. He had encountered Wang Liu Mei and Hong Long on his way to the hangar where the Exia lay dormant, but they kept their interaction mercifully brief. The Meister just wanted to get the mission done and get himself earthside again. Space just didn’t agree with him, he was learning, but if the job required him to be there…
“Coming into position now, Ptolemy. I’m not seeing anything out there just yet, but—” his long-range sensors began to beep and he frowned. He had been half hoping that the HRL suits wouldn’t show, but here they were, right on time. “Scratch that, HQ. I see them now. I’m picking up at least two mobile suits, maybe more,”
What a drag…
“I’m moving in to get a better look, I’ll report back with my findings momentarily,” Albus spurred the Exia, barely visible against the black backdrop of the stars, towards the Human Reform League mobile suits, a trail of green particles the only indication that the Gundam was there at all. “Let’s try not to spook them,” he muttered to himself as he closed the distance. In the distance he caught sight of the new machine he was here to spy on and potentially destroy.
“Looks like some kind of Tieran variant,” he said to no one in particular. “Nothing too special from what I can tell…”
Albus’s fingers drummed on the arm of his seat, the empty glass touching down on the side table with a solid thunk. The sake burned in a way that he didn’t particularly find pleasant. It had been a few years since he first met Sumeragi in that bar in Hakone, where she insisted on having it. He hadn’t much cared for the taste then, either. Albus sighed, propping his face up with his organic hand as he ran through the mission parameters in his head for the umpteenth time.
I doubt just watching this thing is going to tell me how dangerous it is…
It seemed like a mission better suited for someone like Rai, who was a bit more in touch with the technical side of these things given his unique connection with VEDA. Maybe that was imagined though—for all he knew, Rai was just as ignorant as he was when it came to mechanical engineering. Albus groaned and rose from his seat, realizing just how much of a buzz he had gotten from the sake.
“I guess I’ll walk it off and make my way to the Exia,” he said to himself, replacing his glasses on his face and exiting the compartment.
Walking past the store fronts and attractions in the Low Orbital Station, Albus tried his best to enjoy himself. He was on a mission, sure, and one he didn’t particularly care to be on, but it was a rather cushy one compared to the last few. As he weaved through the throngs of people, bag in hand, he thought about Graham Aker and his persistent assault in Taribia. Christina and the others had pulled up a bio on him when the mission was over and Albus was surprised to see that it was the same blonde guy that stared him down during the Enact test. Upon learning that, the Meister spent some time thinking about how things might be different if he had just dealt with him then and there.
Might have saved me some trouble, but…
His thoughts drifted to Taribia, to saving the Flag from careening to the ground. Maybe it had been some selfish desire to prove to himself that he wasn’t the cold-blooded killer the others thought him to be, or maybe it had been genuine mercy—the line between the two was fuzzy for him and he had received a reprimand for it either way. He wasn’t brought on to be merciful, he was here to bring an end to war. Albus didn’t know of many wars that were won by saving the enemy.
Deep in his thoughts, Albus wasn’t watching where he was going. His shoulder bumped solidly into two people who had backed into his path and he had almost sent them toppling to the floor. The Meister was about to raise his voice in anger when he noticed who, exactly, he had bumped into.
“Watch where you’re fu—wait…Saji? Saji Crossroad, right?” He said, adjusting his glasses. “You’re the kid who lives in the apartment next to me,” he wasn’t alone, either. Saji was being accompanied by a fiery looking blonde girl who was currently staring him down, about to give him a piece of his mind, surely.
Topics I Participated In
October 6th, 2307 AD
AEU ORBITAL ELEVATOR
Automated machine guns blared inside a military testing ground, sending an array of bullets against a sleek green mobile suit. This is little to stop the machine though, responding to the attacks with dodges and speed, using its rifle to hit many of the targets. A crowd of suits watched with awe at the new AEU creation, although two stood out as they observed it. The two Union members discussed the mobile suit, referred to as the Enact, intently while also discussing its flaws.
Union engineer Billy Katagiri mentioned how the basic design was just of copy of their mobile suit, the Flag, to his cohort Graham. However, the demonstrator took note of this. Due to the Enact’s hi-tech sound system, he exited the mobile suit, only to badger the observer for his statement. Far above the mock city was a creation who was bound to give the pilot much more of a problem. The sleek mobile suit sped downward at a breakneck pace, causing the military to attempt to make contact from the orbital elevator. None could be made though as more of the crowd noticed the strange machine head towards the testing ground.
The red haired pilot watched along with the others, getting back inside the turquoise mobile suit as people slowly began to evacuate. “Hey! He yelled through the Enact’s intercom. The gray and orange paint scheme caught the pilot’s attention quickly. “What are you? You look like you’re HRL… Whatever you are, you’re ruining my mock battle!” When no response was given, the pilot got more aggravated. “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Patrick Colasour, the best ace in the AEU!” A small blade slid out of the machine’s wrist, creating a deafening frequency as it vibrated. The Enact ran towards the Exia while pointing the sword outward to the enemies cockpit. “Hey! Talk to me!”