"Situation Normal, All Blown
“I vant my money.”
“Shut yer mouth. Y’ ain’t won yet, Gredenko.”
“But he has noticed nothink!”
“Jamieson’s right,” Olwyn told the Tatar scientist cheerfully. “The bet’s on whether Sollie notices bein’ shot, not bein’ shot at, an’ y’haven’t hit the guy once.”
“Vell if you t’ink you can do better, go ahead!”
Solmundsen continued to putter around a bench full of Gundam electronics spares, apparently wiring them together in new configurations and testing the results. Messy patches of colour showed where paint pellets had hit many surfaces around him, including one yellow-green splat that covered one leg of the bench and reached up to scatter drops on a couple of components, but all the Glacin scientist did was wipe away a drop that had hit a contact point and continue.
“I ain’t much for projectile weapons meself, but I’ll have a go. Give it here.”
Results were not appreciably better with Olwyn at the trigger. It wasn’t so much that his aim was bad; it was more that every time he thought he had Solmundsen lined up for a shot, the oblivious scientist moved just as he pulled the trigger. Not dodging, just moving naturally, bending to adjust a wire or turning to peer at a different readout.
“You are goink to run out of ammunition at t’is rate,” Heine pointed out helpfully.
“Shut your cakehole or we’ll use you fer tarrrget practice,” Jamieson said, without any particular threat in his voice.
“It vould not be vorth your time,” sighed the fat Vaterean. “It vould be like ze difference between shootink at ein apple und ein pencil.”
“Mebbe if we got one ‘a Christy’s rrrifles instead,” Jamieson muttered.
Heine shook his head. “If you vill consider the ballistics for ein moment, I am thinkink you vill find zat it vould not be a good idea.”
“It vould invalidate the experiment,” Gredenko agreed quickly.
“’Cause rifle pellets would do real damage at this range?” Olwyn laughed, popping off another shot almost at random and missing again. “You were the one trying to bet that Sollie wouldn’t notice being shot with real bullets!”
“If you are not goink to shoot seriously, you can just give me that back.” Aiming with care, Gredenko braced his arms on a tool rack, held his breath, and slowly squeezed the trigger in approved sharpshooting style...
...and watched in disbelief as Solmundsen turned towards him, bringing his clipboard up to write a note, and blocked the paint pellet without ever looking up.
“Chyort!” Spinning around and throwing up his hands, Gredenko began to stamp away. “It is beyond coincidence! That sukiny dety is doink this on purpose! I--” He stopped abruptly, eyes widening. “Er, that is...”
“No takin’ it back, boyo,” Jamieson told him smugly. “If he’s dodgin’, he’s noticin’, so he’d have t’notice bein’ hit, and I win the bet! I’d buy y’a drrrink t’take th’ taste o’ failure outta yer mouth, but y’won’t drrrink anything I’d consider rrreal booze.”
“Maybe he’s just lucky,” Olwyn suggested.
“Nobody can be that bluidy lucky!” Jamieson protested. “An’ yer supposed to be on my side in this bet, rrremember?”
The bald near-giant brightened up. “Right you are! And I’m no skinflint like you, so I’ll buy the first beers when we hit the bar.”
“Beer? Arrre we talkin’ about your idea of a beer, or mine?”
“Vhat if he is just lucky?” Gredenko objected, fighting a losing battle but not giving up just yet.
“How d’you propose to test for it?”
“Of course it vould neffer occur to zem to just ask Solmundsen if he vas dodgink on purpose,” Heine muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes heavenward. “T’ose t’ree vould die if zey could not fight. Vell, it keeps zem busy, und Solmundsen is oblivious, und I... am vorryink pointlessly.” Sighing, he settled down to watch this latest round in the perpetual squabble, adjusting the unobtrusive earpiece through which he was listening to his pilots’ transmissions. “I vonder vhy Jarvia has neffer read my mind and found out about mein little bug?”
* * * * *
< < Oh I say, old chap, nice shot! Too bad you missed. > >
“Four,” Trowa said calmly, “you’re not supposed to praise the enemy.”
< < But it was such a nice shot! Perfectly angled, he braced for recoil, all the little details taken care of... all right, I stepped aside and it ended up hitting one of the chaps on his side, but it’s not his fault I’m reading his mind, now is it? > >
< < Well, you might want to start reading the mind of the pilot behind you, > > Wufei’s voice said dryly.
< < You mean this one? > > Dyscalculia spun around, neatly lopping the head off the enemy suit with one shotel. < < I was waiting for him to be in range, don’tcherknow, but the heads-up is appreciated. > > There was a quiet snicker. < < Get it? Heads-up? Oh, by the way, you might want to duck about now. > >
Wufei wrenched at the controls, swerving Nataku almost out of the beam aimed at him, and swore viciously as his Gundam tumbled, alert lights flashing yellow.
< < Did you kiss your mother with that mouth before you got zotted over here? > > Jay inquired. < < And it’s not very nice of you to aim those curses at me, old bean. After all, if I hadn’t warned you, you would’ve taken the full beam and we’d be scraping you off the sand dunes for miles around, which wouldn’t exactly please your other halves. I consider it my civic duty to see to it that Pretty-Blue-Eyes stays happy, and in my self-interest to make sure that Nasty-Blue-Eyes doesn’t have any reason to kick my ass, wot. Your death would be a serious hiccup in their plans to live happily ever after in a wild and kinky threesome. Twosomes just don’t do it for some people. Hence-- > >
< < Will you shut up about my love life?! > >
< < Not on our account, really, > > came a rather wistful-sounding female voice.
< < I’m taking notes. > >
< < Can we get video? > >
< < All right, > > snarled Wufei, < < everyone shuts up about my love life, or I start forgetting which colours mean ‘friendly suit’. > >
In Heavyarms, Trowa snickered quietly as he raised his gatling and blew away a line of Theodorian suits. Oddly, they seemed to be reacting slower than normal...
“Four,” he asked thoughtfully, “do you have your transmitter set to an Alliance-only frequency, or is it on general broadcast? I think you’re distracting the enemy as well as praising them...”
There was a strangled noise that probably came from Wufei, and a number of smothered giggles.
< < I don’t want any of these Theos to escape, > > the Chinese pilot snarled. < < None of them get away to spread the word that Four is a babbling voyeur. And I’m going to kill you. As soon as we’re back on base, I’m going to kill you all, > > he promised menacingly.
* * * * *
“Five,” Quatre said uneasily, “I would really appreciate it if you got these guys off my back soon, before they manage to do me serious damage...”
< < I’m working on it! > > came the harried response. < < Why the hell did this flock of chickens have to pick now to grow spines?! > >
“Because they think this is the best chance they’re ever going to get?” Quatre muttered under his breath, dangling in his harness as he hammered at Sandrock’s controls. The pile of Theodorian suits sitting on the Gundam’s back was getting larger by the moment, with more holding onto its limbs, and he couldn’t unbalance them long enough to get Sandrock back to its feet. Mel’s suit Taniwha was being swarmed by other Theos trying to repeat what had been done to Quatre, and was being forced further and further away. If Sandrock had the joint modifications Heavyarms does, and I knew how to use them, I could flip out from under these idiots the way Trowa does, he thought sourly. Then again, if wishes were that easily granted, Trowa and I would currently be in a cabin on a tropical island, with nobody else for miles except the servants...
< < Well, running away from us wasn’t doing them much good, > > Mel pointed out, blasting through part of the crowd around her with Taniwha’s laser. < < I guess they figured it was ‘do or die’. The more patriotic ones probably figure that even ‘do AND die’ is a viable option here, just so long as the people getting ‘done’ include us... Uh, Cobra 9, I hate to sound ungrateful and all, but could you provide just a teensy bit more covering fire? > >
< < We, um, have a slight problem there, > > the main com officer’s voice said carefully. < < It looks like most of our sentry suits have used up their in-suit ammo loads and all their disposable rocket pods... > >
< < How the hell did you manage that?! > > Mel yelled. < < I know how many pods are supposed to be in each foxhole, and there’s no way you’ve fired that many off! What did you do, use them for fireworks?! > >
< < Well, pods in foxholes have a certain failure rate due to exposure to the elements, > > came the sheepish response. < < So they all have to be checked once a week. It’s a big job, so our CO ordered most of the pods to be kept in climate-controlled storage on base... and, well, it’s not easy to get them out to the foxholes in the middle of a firefight. > >
There was an ominous silence from Mel’s end of the communications channel. Quatre was positive he could hear his blood pressure rising, an odd singing tone in his ears in the relative quiet.
< < ...That’s why you’re supposed to keep them in the foxholes, > > Mel eventually pointed out, voice gone acid-sweet and reasonable.
The com officer swallowed audibly. < < I know, ma’am. > >
< < And where is your so-clever CO? > >
< < Er... on leave. He got a twenty-four-hour furlough and went to Mahadet. > >
< < Goodness, that is convenient for him, > > Mel purred. < < I think we’re going to want a word with him later, don’t you agree, Oh-four? > >
“Oh, yes,” Quatre agreed feelingly. There was a vein pulsing in his temple. “Take names. Kick anatomical portions.”
< < Um, if you’re at the ‘taking names’ stage of things, I’d like to inform you that our CO is Captain Gutierrez, and the rest of us would prefer to remain anonymous if possible. > >
< < Oh, you’re not in trouble, > > Mel went on, still sounding as calm and polite as if she were at a tea party, not fighting for her life. < < Although some of our friends might not be so reasonable -- for example, if Three was in our place I think he’d be shooting up your main building about now -- I think Oh-four and I can agree that you people have done the best you can with what you have. No, any little gripes we might have to express can wait until we meet with Second Lieutenant Gutierrez. > >
< < Ooo, > > said a voice Quatre recognised as one of the sentry suit pilots. < < Normally I’d say I wanted to watch, but... not this time. > >
The com officer’s voice cut in over the chorus of agreement. < < I’m sorry, Five, we’re trying to get the rockets out to where they can do you some good, but -- well, pod rockets don’t have the range to reach you from the storage sheds, and the Theos seem to be deliberately targeting anyone who tries to run a load out to the perimeter. We’ve got volunteers in an APC making a run now, and-- > >
There was an explosion from inside the small outpost.
< < --well, shit. > > The com officer continued speaking for some time, but since Quatre didn’t know the language he was swearing in, ‘Gutierrez’ was the only word he understood. The general meaning was clear, anyway. People had just died, and if their commanding officer had just done his job properly, just followed procedure, just allowed his troops to do a simple job that probably didn’t even inconvenience him that much--
All deaths in war seemed senseless to Quatre, but this was going too far.
Three and a half suits went flying as Sandrock levered itself up to hands and knees and swung one arm, shotel glowing white-hot. That strike removed enough of the weight on the Gundam’s back to let it half-stand, freeing both of its arms, and the few suits that tried to keep their grips were made short work of.
“All right!” Mel grinned in relief, thwacking several of her own attackers. “I was starting to wonder if you were going to leave all these jerks for me to take care of.”
< < No, > > came back a cold, perfectly controlled voice. < < If more people have to die today, I’m going to see to it that it’s them. > >
Whoa. That did not sound like Golden Boy, Mel thought, eyeing the pale, set face in her com window. “Sounds good,” she replied, keeping her voice cheerful. “Count me in on the Theo-bashing!”
< < We may not have rockets, but we’ve still got our small-calibre guns and blades, > > a determined pilot cut in. < < We’re coming out to back you up. > >
The Aotearoan girl hesitated for a second, mind running quickly through options and scenarios. The Theos brought so much armour and ammo it’s ridiculous -- the sentry suits’ll take heavy casualties if we let them help, but we might need that help to win this--
< < Stay where you are, > > Quatre bluntly ordered them. < < You’ve done enough. > >
< < Uh... ahh... if you’re sure? > >
< < Very sure. > >
“Thanks for the offer, but I think we can handle it, guys,” Mel confirmed, biting back a groan. And even if we can’t, I don’t think arguing with him is such a good idea right now!
* * * * *
The atmosphere at Cobra 8 was far more tense than anywhere else, even with Dan keeping up a merry stream of chatter over Asuka’s cold silence, Heero’s infuriated silence, and the Serpent pilots’ nervous silence. The base radio operator had even stopped giving situation reports, and if the Theodorians were saying anything they weren’t doing it on an open channel.
Even without talking, though, the OZ suits and Gundams were working together smoothly to make short work of the swarms of attackers -- so smoothly, in fact, that it didn’t even occur to Heero to question their ability to work as a team until the fight was well advanced. Even if the ‘local’ Gundam pilots were used to working together with standard mobile suits, he wasn’t, and it abruptly occurred to him that really, he should be feeling like a fifth wheel in this combat...
I haven’t fought alongside the Manguanacs more than once or twice, he frowned, side-stepping and slashing down to bisect a sky-blue Theo suit. So it’s not as if I have much experience working in a group like this. Even so, it’s working; they’re grouping and channelling enemies so that I can take them out as efficiently as possible, without ever getting into more than they can handle. Dan’s working the same way as me, around the edges of the fight, while Asuka’s using Morkeleb to break up major concentrations of Theos before they can coordinate a proper mass attack. We’re working as a unit, but we never discussed tactics--
His line of thought paused as something caught his attention.
Dan’s working the same way as me...
...no. I’m working the same way as Dan. We’ve got similar suits, we have the same armaments, we’re therefore suited to the same tactics... and I may not have realised it consciously, but I must have realised it unconsciously, because I’ve been copying him.
Somehow, that just made it all worse.
* * * * *
With the destruction of Commander Otrepiev’s command track, the Theos attacking Cobra 6’s personnel apparently panicked. What little organisation they’d been maintaining dissolved as they began reacting as a collection of frightened individuals, not a military formation. Some kept charging, apparently believing the best defence was a good offence, some turned 180 degrees and tried to scramble back up the ridge, slipping and sliding, and most milled around in confusion, unsure what was the best course of action and unwilling to do anything as a result.
< < We’ve got the better targeting software, so the long-range targets belong to us. Pick off anyone who looks like they’re going to make it up the ridge, Grasshopper, > > Christy sent, grinning nastily as she fired a quick volley of rockets, shattering rock and sending three lime-green Theodorian suits tumbling back down to the sand. < < 6’s personnel can handle the ones coming towards us unless things get a lot more serious. > >
“I hate to tell you this, babe, but that didn’t look like ‘picking off’. It looked like ‘picking on’,” Duo retorted.
< < Ehh, it’s fun. Besides, if we kill too many of them before our reinforcements get here, the Serpent pilots will sulk. > >
“My heart bleeds for them,” Duo began, then laughed as the large mass of multicoloured suits and LAVs sped up its chaotic movement. “Ha! Look at ‘em scramble!”
Henderson’s drawling voice made itself heard over a general chuckle of agreement. < < Dang fools look like an anthill that just got a firecracker down the main hole, don’t they? Dumbest thing you can do in a tight spot is panic, boy. > >
< < I don’t know, > > Christy murmured, suddenly frowning. < < There’s something wrong with the way they’re scrambling... > > A moment’s silence, and then she began to swear viciously, bringing her cast-enclosed arm around to stab clumsily at Hades’s controls while her other arm operated the waldoes. < < Vae! Kul khara we moot! Khayayet falge shawa! Ahh, damn it, semper in excrementum, sole profundum qui variat... Futue te ipsum et caballum tuum! > > (1)
“Uh, I don’t know that much Latin, but I do know that’s rude,” Duo said nervously. “And you probably mean ‘suit’, not ‘horse’...”
< < Screw the technicalities, boyo, the shit has hit the fan! > >
< < Two? What’s wrong, little missy? > >
< < That’s no scramble, > > she spat angrily. < < Guys, we’re about to become an omelette, ‘cause we’re being flanked. Somebody out there’s got a brain, and they’re using it. > >
“What, you mean we made them more effective by killing their commander?” Duo complained, swinging Deathscythe around with a beam rifle in each hand, scanning the dunes. “I’ll cover left, you’ve got right.”
< < Gotcha. And yeah, it looks that way. Whoever was running the first part of this battle wouldn’t have thought of using fake panic to cover manoeuvres, not to mention that they had to start from a condition of real panic and get their troops back under control first-- > >
Christy swore again as two rockets streaked in to detonate on Hades’s armour, rocking the huge suit back several steps.
< < --and now they’re dinging my damn Gundam! > > she finished, infuriated.
* * * * *
Over on a different battlefield, Jay stiffened in her seat, completely missing the Theodorian suit she’d been targeting and nearly hitting a Serpent suit instead. Both of the smaller suits went scampering off in different directions as she paused, eyes wide and distant.
< < What’s wrong? > > Trowa asked, moving closer to cover her if she needed it.
“Um. Er. Chr-- uh, Two’s not very happy at the moment,” she managed, mentally wincing.
< < What do you mean, not very happy? > > Wufei cut in. < < Is she in trouble? Is D-- are they in trouble? > >
“Errr, no. Not exactly trouble as such, wot.” And that’s not really a lie... not if the Serpent suits get there soon enough, anyway! “She’s annoyed because a rocket dinged her Hades.”
< < As long as that’s all it is, > > he muttered ungraciously.
< < What about Five and Oh-four? And the rest of them? > > Trowa asked, seemingly casual.
Concentrating on what she was receiving from Christy and Duo, Jay forgot to edit her response. Since her natural tendency was to babble, this wasn’t the greatest idea. “Well, our favourite tall person got a bit of a shock a minute ago, but unless Golden Boy decides she’s on his hit list, they should both be okay. He’s a real terror when the brakes come off, isn’t he? Sort of like when Two goes Persephone, only Two is fairly scary all the time so it’s not as surprising, don’tcherknow? Having His Short Blondness go for your throat must be a bit like finding a vampire fluffy bunny... um. I should have just shut up, shouldn’t I?”
< < Yes, Jay, > > he said evenly. < < Since there’s nothing I can do about it, I could have lived without knowing that until after we were through with this battle. > >
* * * * *
“Damn,” Mel said, impressed. “If Christy is Persephone, the Awe Inspiring Bringer of Destruction, then what the hell was that? Apart from impressively scary?”
< < I’m sorry, > > Quatre replied miserably, shrinking down in his seat.
“Don’t be,” she snorted, looking around at a scene of devastation. Theodorian devastation, that is. Multicoloured bits and pieces of sliced, melted, cut and exploded mobile suits littered the area, the few remaining LAVs were making for the horizon, and the foot troops who hadn’t managed to get aboard them were surrendering to Cobra 9’s personnel in a depressed mass. “I’m not saying that we would’ve been definitely doomed if you hadn’t done that, but winning would have been hard, and it wouldn’t have been this decisive. I am saying that thanks to you doing... whatever that was... we creamed the buggers.”
Quatre winced visibly, and Mel raised a mental eyebrow. And you’re not too happy with that, are you? “Not to mention that this way meant that the base personnel didn’t have to get killed ferrying those damn rocket pods around,” she added, and saw him brighten slightly. Ha. It’s not all bad, is it?
< < I forgot that for a moment, > > he admitted, managing a wavery smile. < < I have to admit, I’m looking forward to discussing that with the base CO... > >
“Me too,” she grinned, baring her teeth. “Me too.”
* * * * *
“Scheisse,” Heine murmured under his breath, adjusting his earpiece carefully. It was always difficult to follow a fight by sound alone, and the last few minutes had been seriously chaotic, but he thought he’d managed to get the gist of events. “So the polite new boy has an unexpected side to him, hein? Und mein liebchen Jarvia is still lacking in brakes on her mouth. Vell, all seems to be--“
A loud crash interrupted his thoughts as a net full of paint tins fell from somewhere in the rafters, bursting open and spraying fans of colour across the floor and various bits of equipment. Several feet away, completely untouched despite being well inside the splatter radius, Solmundsen was obliviously checking readouts.
“Oi!” Olwyn yelled from the other end of the hangar. “Whose bloody stupid idea was it to use full tins?!”
“--goink perfectly normally,” Heine sighed, and decided to listen in on the communications channels somewhere else.
End of Warped Mirrors
Vae = Damn (Latin/Theran)
Kul khara we moot = Eat shit and die (Arabic/Quabalic)
Khayayet falge shawa = I hope your balls become disabled (Farsi/Quabalic)
Semper in excrementum, sole profundum qui variat = Always in the shit, just the depth varies (Latin/Theran)
Futue te ipsum et caballum tuum = Screw you and the horse you rode in on (Latin/Theran)
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