|A map based on Minna Sundberg's webcomic, Stand Still, Stay Silent.|
|*WIPs in progress*|
We'll Make It Out, Together Ch.11949, Soviet Russia
The wooden doors to the basement creaked open. A silhouette of a man trailed down the stairs. He grumbled about how "demeaning" and "embarrassing" this was.
He reached the ground with a loud huff. Finally taking in his surroundings, what he saw in front of him was an absolute amazement. A woman with long brown hair sat on the floor. The last time he had seen her, she had looked perfectly healthy. Now she looked frail and malnourished. She picked away at various items and put them back in their proper spots.
The man's red eyes filled with hope for the women to be who he suspected. "Lizzie?" His words were barely a whisper. Elizaveta – as she preferred to be called – looked up. Her greens met his reds with an equal amount of small hope.
"Gil." She breathed. For the first time in years she felt truly happy.
Gilbert gave a big grin. "Well aren't you a sight for sore eyes." He sat down beside her. He remembered where they were once more and lost his signature smil
The raid on Sigonella, as far as the 12th MS Team was concerned, was all but complete. In fact, it hadn't taken long to move away from the docks as there simply weren’t enough defenders left to slow them down by any significant measure. But while it likely meant that the diversionary attacks were supremely effective, Valeria Caine quietly hoped that it's actually because the enemy had already fed most of those forces into the fighting still going on in the Italian Peninsula. And not in another ambush…
<"Alright. We'll advance down the runway and destroy any and all targets of opportunity,"> Duncan’s voice crackled through the comms, still sounding firm despite the damage on his MS. <”The Dopps and Dodais would have taken care of most them by now, but keep your eyes peeled.”>
“Copy that,” the female pilot replied crisply as she and her teammates marched their Zaku-IIs down towards the airfield. As they drew closer, she noticed that while a good portion of the runways and hangars were indeed smoldering husks, there were still more than a few Federation planes still in one piece, ranging from a couple of Saberfish and Fly Mantas to Medea transports and even repurposed civilian cargo aircraft not too different from the replica C-130s she’d seen in a museum display in another, more peaceful time.
All the same, it was up to Kazuki to use his Machinegun to pulverize any light aircraft that were still on the tarmac. Meanwhile, Duncan used the remaining hand of his MS to lob cracker grenades into the intact hangars, the shrapnel and explosive power of the weapons making short work of planes and hangars alike; given the loss of one of his Zaku's arms, it was quietly decided that he would use the rest of the team’s grenades as well. Whatever Feddie personnel left within the complex were in all likelihood either dead or were long gone; the alternative wasn’t something worth delving into too deeply.
As for me? Everything else… Her attention was focused on the heavier targets in her sights. This mostly meant destroying Medeas, but also whatever Fly Manta or transport was left that still looked flyable. Even it if meant simply peppering the cockpit or engines of what amounted to glorified sitting ducks with multiple rounds, she wasn’t about to let any of those get a chance to cause havoc down the line. Time to finish this!
Still, as Valeria opened fire, each round hitting home at its targets, she couldn’t help but notice the Zeon aircraft circling above her and her comrades, almost like vultures. Or like those paparazzi in the papers. She smirked wearily at the sight, wondering whether those piloting those planes were in Col. M’Quve’s payroll. No matter, for as soon as the guns went silent and the last Feddie craft had blown up, the comms went active once more.
<”Heads up, people,”> Duncan chimed, though with mix of relief and bafflement as his MS gestured to follow him. <”Just got word our rendezvous point’s been moved a further north. The Dopps will provide cover while we get the hell out of here, but stay sharp. We aren’t out of the woods yet.”>
Almost like the Colonel still isn’t finished with us. “With respect. But do you think this still has something to do with the evaluation?”
<”With Vice Admiral Zabi’s people? Wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been watching us the whole time!”> Kazuki quipped as they made their way into the dim, yet deceptively quaint Sicilian countryside. <”Though I gotta admit, Duncan’s beat-up Zaku marching valiantly would make for some good PR.”>
<”Let’s save that for the ride back, shall we? I don’t want to stick around in the limelight for too long!”>
“Copy that,” Valeria sighed with a weak chuckle, only to notice the ever increasing number of flashes in the night sky. It seemed like every Feddie still left in the region was rushing back. Too little, too late. And we’d be out by the time they get here…hopefully. She was sure the other MS Teams were holding their own doing whatever they needed to do.
I just hope we really did the right thing.
By all accounts the entire operation was a success. Within a few hours upon returning to Pleso Air Base, the Feddies across Italy were surrendering, especially when it became evident that their means to evacuate had literally been blown up. As it turned out however, the raid was one of two such missions, the other having taken place around the islands of Corsica and Sardinia by the 32nd MS Team at around the same time. Nonetheless, it didn’t distract from the fact that the scenes of Earthnoids raising white flags or laying down their arms en masse were only made possible thanks to that mission.
All this, Valeria and the 12th MS Team saw unfold in the various displays in front of them, and right behind the man “evaluating” them. Him and every other high ranking officer here, she thought quietly even while standing in attention, though hiding her surprise proved, as with her teammates, much more difficult to conceal. Though they had been given more than enough time to sleep, recuperate and even get a freshly pressed set of uniforms before they were called in for debriefing – to say nothing of having seen some of the news since returning from Sigonella – it still stunned her, seeing just how efficient they were in the battlefield footage. To say nothing of the looks of approval on the other officials present which were clear as day. But we just did what was asked of us. Why would they be so interested?
“I mean it when I say that this is most impressive,” Col. M’Quve mused aloud before turning back to the group, a satisfied smile on his face as he nonchalantly switched off the displays. “Thanks to your efforts, the pacification of Italy is far ahead of schedule. While casualties, however small, are to be expected, the Zeon lives saved here exceed my expectations. All while neutralizing what would otherwise have been a future Federation threat. But before anything else, though, let me more properly introduce the victors of Corsica and Sardinia. Please send them in.”
It was then, as if on cue that the three members of the 32nd MS Team walked in to take their places right in front of Valeria’s, however, she noticed how they seemed somehow familiar, only to remember that old ZeoNet news report back in Odessa. Their immigrant-born CO, introduced as Lt. Melliflua El Seelia, seemed to betray an aggressive temper despite her composed demeanor in that broadcast, let alone the dark-haired officer looking barely any older than Valeria herself. Next to her was 2nd Lt. Ram Behtalhi, an older, long haired man of Asian ancestry whose seemed more at home in engineering or a hobby store than a Mobile Suit. The last one though, 2nd Lt. Rikka Cassell, stood out the most as the pale, bespectacled blonde girl seemed almost lost if not for her team leader ever so gently nudging her to the right position.
“Now then, there’s a reason why I called all of you here, as this is more than just a commendation.” Col. M’Quve cleared his throat, giving a knowing glance to the other officers alongside him for a moment before continuing. “With the approval of High Command and by my authorization, the 12th and 32nd MS Teams are to be merged into a new unit, formally designated the 7th Tactical Unit. Lt. Emerson is thus to take command of this unit, effective immediately.”
This stunned every single member of what had moments ago been two separate teams. While some, particularly Kazuki and Rikka seemed thrilled by the prospect, Melliflua looked aghast at the notion of losing command to Duncan. The latter, Valeria couldn’t help but notice, even as the young officer resisted the urge to grit her teeth as she feigned to speak.
“Permission to speak freely, sir.”
“I’m afraid it will have to wait, Lt. El Seelia. But regarding your concerns, as second in command of your unit don’t fret too much about losing your power – if that’s your inclination.” The aristocratic Colonel then looked at each and every one of them with a knowing grin. “Back to the topic at hand, you must all be wondering why you specifically have been chosen when others could have done what you did. I won’t mince words: your valor in the field of battle is indeed commendable – and also makes for good PR, as salesmen would say. As such, you are to raise the morale of your fellow soldiers simply by participating in the same battles as them. To give them hope, and in doing so drive them to fight harder. At the same time, your presence on the battlefield is expected to fill the Federation's soldiers with despair. That is the unit purpose. Neither myself, Lady Kycilia nor anyone would choose some talentless amateurs for such a duty. Any questions?”
Propaganda…so that’s it! To think we even did that well at all! Before Valeria or anyone else for that matter could even entertain the notion of voicing out her thoughts on the matter, Duncan cleared his throat. “Yes, Colonel. I suppose that this unit’s formation hasn’t been made public yet. But if we’re to do our duty, on behalf of my – our unit, is it possible to know in more specific detail what boosting morale will entail?”
“Quite perceptive, but of course. Rest assured that you and the rest of your comrades will be made privy to all the relevant details in due time. For now though, it should suffice to say that your public debut is set for March 30, with promotions and a parade in your honor forthcoming. Until then, in addition to training together as a cohesive whole and getting your uniforms pressed, you’re to find a new color scheme for your MS befitting your new status and come up with a similarly appropriate name. After all, the 7th Tactical Unit doesn’t exactly scream intimidating or awe-inspiring. So I’ll leave it to your discretion. Sieg Zeon.”
As the newly formed team saluted the departing officers, the Colonel paused at the door for a second to mumble something. It was audible enough for the female pilot to feel just a tad unnerved.
“Don’t disappoint me.”
“If this is your idea of team-bonding, you’re out of your mind!” Melliflua fumed from the other end of the common room they now shared as she tried in vain to open a clearly locked door. “Dammit, Duncan, open this door right this instant! What fucking Earthnoid though it’s a good idea to have people get locked from the inside?!”
“Relax, Ma’am,” Ram sighed. “I’m pretty sure our glorious leader has something in mind.”
From her end, Valeria took a moment to sigh at the sight. And to think we’re supposed to boost morale…not break it! Despite spending the better part of a week training together, the time those who once considered themselves to be a part of the 12th and 32nd MS Teams had actually spent socializing with one another has been abysmal. The heated arguments over what custom paint job to make their MS and what to call themselves were the most either trio had actually spent talking to the other. In hindsight, the color scheme proved the easier one to resolve, as most everyone liked dark-blue. And we haven’t even settled on a name yet. She wasn’t only one to have noticed this, either. At the very least Duncan had as well, seeing as he locked everyone here together. A bit…excessive though, don’t you think?
"Alright, all of you. You listen and you listen good,” the CO finally intoned as he stood up after spending a few minutes in silence. “We're a team now. That makes us comrades. Family. And you know damn well that family talks to one another. So we're going to sit down, talk to each other, become buddies, and we're going to like it. If you don't…”
As he trailed off, however, she noticed him pulling out something from his pocket, her eyes widening upon seeing what it was. Is that a taser?! You’re not seriously thinking of actually using it. For a few tense moments, he playfully waved the small device around like a toy. Until at last he tossed it to Melliflua, only for her to find that there were no batteries at all inside. As relieving as it was, knowing that the situation didn’t escalate further, it was nonetheless surreal. But still, that's kind of fucked up.
“Very funny, Emerson,” the female officer finally relented, deadpanning despite herself before turning to her teammates. “You heard the man. Let’s just get this over with.”
Thankfully though, it looked like the others were much more receptive to the idea. The rest slowly but surely were breaking the ice, with Kazuki in particular keenly talking about his love for old-timey knights and samurai. That explains his melee obsession more than his “Bushido” seduction techniques, anyway. Valeria, though quietly managed to approach Ram, who seemed remarkably jovial as though this were one of his old office get-togethers. To her surprise, he was the first one to speak.
“You’re probably wondering how we ever put up with Melliflua, Caine. She’s actually rather nice and driven – if you’re on her good side. Or on a good day.”
“Valeria’s fine, Ram,” she replied with an awkward smile, though with her curiosity peaking. “It’s a bit hard to reconcile that with her, um, attitude.”
“Well, that's what I thought too. Back before this mess, she used to be in the Zeonic National Ballet. Apparently she liked those tutus as much as she still loves the homeland. Though you didn't hear that from me,” he explained with a shrug. “Then some assholes played a prank on her. Whether it was because they're jealous of her looks and genes, it led to a bad leg. One thing led to another, add a dash of Officer Training, and voila. Though after what she had to endure, can’t say I blame her for becoming so – temperamental, especially out in the field. ”
“Then what about you? With all respect, you do look a bit-”
“Old for the draft?” he chuckled. “I get that a lot. Heck, becoming a MS pilot and blowing up Feddie shit are probably the last things you’d expect from a Colony Corporation contractor. But I don’t really mind. It’s not everyday you get to be inside those MS or savor all their beauty. The Zaku-II is a marvel of Zeonic’s excellent engineering, after all! And that’s not even getting to all the classified information we might see!”
I can see why you’ve gone this far! It was then that Valeria remembered his other teammate, which proved a more awkward subject. From what she knew of that blond girl, her family lineage – apparently of Finnish origin or thereabouts – goes back to the early pioneers of Side 3. But even though she’d seen action in Odessa and the Mediterranean alongside her comrades in arms, it was still hard to believe that she’s lasted this long at all. Especially given how her peculiar habits made training alongside her, let alone interacting with her rather challenging. More often than not, she wasn’t following orders so much as stumbling on them. Then again, there are all those rumors of her having almost superhuman awareness…stay focused!
“As thrilling as that all is, I’ve always wondered about Rikka-”
“Did someone call me?” As if out of the blue, the young woman managed to make her way close by. Despite her clumsiness, she still managed an almost apologetic smile even while fixing her glasses. “S-Sorry about that, Valeria! But where you calling me or something?”
Quickly overcoming her momentary surprise, she took a deep breath. Here goes… “Don’t take this the wrong way, Rikka, but I can’t help but wonder. How did you manage to make it through here? Why are you even a part of this unit?”
“Because I-I was part of the 32nd MS Team. And the higher ups created the unit by combining it with your 12th,” she replied with a confused look on her face, before suddenly turning into fear. “W-What are you saying?”
Oh no…that wasn’t it at all! “No! Not at all! I didn’t mean to offend,” Valeria hurriedly tried assuring her, only to notice tears starting to fall onto her uniform. “It was just-“
“Am I getting kicked out?!” Rikka snapped, her voice increasingly panicked as she stepped back. “W-What have I done wrong? I’m doing the best I can! P-Please don’t do this!”
Before anything else could happen however, Melliflua stepped in between them, her attention wholly on the blonde girl. Straining to fight off the guilt surging through her body, Valeria watched as the mixed-race former ballerina calmed her fellow pilot down with a gentleness that’s so opposed to her aggressive nature. At least until the young officer’s gaze turned sharply at her. Oh…fuck…
“Look, I didn’t mean to!” she began pleading. Only to find, to her surprise that the sharp eyes staring into her soul weren’t filled with malice at all.
“I know. And I don’t blame you Caine, even if it’s something a bastard would otherwise do.” A somber grin began lining Melliflua’s otherwise stern face as she fixed the collar on her uniform. “Rikka may be a ditz, yes. Even with her skills, the higher ups don't think she's suited to the greater responsibilities that come from moving up the chain of command. But take it from me, she’s a good as it gets! If not for her, we might not even be breathing right now.”
“I understand,” Valeria sighed, glancing briefly and apologetically at a much calmer Rikka who to her surprise nodded warmly back. “There goes breaking the ice.”
“You’re not the only one,” the officer nodded. “I should also apologize for putting all this off for too long. Must be Emerson rubbing off on me – But he’s right. If we’re to make it through this war alive and help our comrades do the same, we really should be that one family everyone looks up to. Or try, anyway.” She then gave a firm pat on the shoulder. "Nice work back in Sigonella, by the way!"
All around them meanwhile, Valeria noticed how much livelier the rest of the unit had become to each other. And while she couldn't help but notice that no one else asked her anything, a dialogue was started. It really seemed like Duncan's plan seemed to be working as intended. Then he suddenly cut in with a satisfied smile on his face.
"Fuck this. As fun as this is, why don't we just hit a bar or something, Dusk Wraiths?"
Dusk Wraiths? “Um, Duncan, I thought you were still divided on that name?”
“I l-like it though!” Rikka grinned. “It sounds so cool and mysterious! We even do it a lot! And b-besides, t-the parade’s tomorrow!”
“Then that settles it!” Melliflua smirked briefly before sliding into a rougher voice. “Dusk Wraiths, you heard the CO, get your asses moving and goof off!”
As they finally made their way out, Valeria couldn’t help but chuckle. Sure, her “new” teammates may yet need some getting used to, and their newfound role as walking propaganda – thanks to Col. M’Quve no less – just upped the stakes, with potentially all of Zeon looking on. Still, she wasn’t too worried. There’s still time to enjoy the bar before the real tasks begin. And a little camaraderie can go a long way.
There’s no doubt about it: a new chapter in her life and that of the now-christened Dusk Wraiths had begun. Though at that point, neither them nor the people who saw their talents could have really anticipated the exploits to come.
The ACA-01 Gaw atmospheric attack carrier is a massive aircraft that's an evolution of both World War II bombers and modern-day military transport planes like the C-130. With a crew of 34 and armed to the brim with machineguns and even double-barrelled Mega Particle Cannons for defense among others, it can carry eight Dopps, three Mobile Suit units and even a contingent of tanks.The DFA-03 Dopp fighter jet is Zeon's answer to the atmospheric variant of the Earth Federation's Saberfish. While it excels in agility and in helping provide reconnaissance, it's found wanting in its aerodynamic design. Most notably, Garma Zabi is known to have piloted such fighters in canon.
The Medea Transport Plane is, as the name suggests, serves as the Federation's main supply aircraft. While its principal purpose is to carry vital cargo to and from the frontlines and is barely armed, it's capable of transporting as many as three Mobile Suits.