Chapter 11

"Hold the Line!"

Six coffins sailed out into the sea early the next morning. Inside were the pilots of the six mobile suits that had been shot down in the first day of the operation. Three of which were from the MS-Team. Everyone stood silently as they saw their comrades ride out on their final voyage. John looked around. Where once was twelve, now there were eight. Two had been lost when the enemy mobile suit reinforcements had launched their surprise offensive, and the third had been lost in an aerial bombing later in the day. It was a miracle that only six casualties had resulted from such a bold plan on the part of the UEC, but it was still hard for the members of the MS-Team to swallow. They had all grown close since the war began.

The two remaining pilots from the Daedoluswere patrolling the perimeter of the up and coming UEC base that was already beginning to stand up in place of the ESUF base that had stood here only yesterday. They were the most inexperienced pilots, but they had volunteered to guard the base to give the MS-Team pilots some much needed rest. John walked over to his machine where three mechanics were giving it a tune up and resupply. He looked at the burn streaks on the arms and legs caused by flying debris and near misses from enemy fire. If any of those burn streaks had been full hits, he knew that it could have been him floating out to sea in a coffin. Leaving the mechanics to make the repairs, he grabbed a towel, and headed over to a bench in the shade. He laid down on the bench, and put the towel over his face. The most he could hope for was three hours of sleep, and he would make the most of it.

So far, operation Starfall was a success. However, there were still two days of operational time remaining. Which meant that relaxing would come later. It would be at least two days before the UEC base went operational, and until then, the whole operation was in jeopardy of falling apart. While the buildings were being quickly put up, temporary tents had been set up as a command center. Mike was there with some of the command crew assigned to run the base. They were drawing up plans on how to defend the base from enemy attacks until the base's defenses could be completed. An explosion in the distance reinforced the fact that the enemy was coming, and there was a definite need for a solid strategy. The rest of the MS-Team had gone back to the Silent Whisper to shower while they had the chance. It was the most quiet time they had gotten since the operation started, and Mike had told them to get some rest while they were in their quarters.

Two hours passed with no commotion as John slept on the bench. After the command crew had decided to take a break from their planning, Mike had propped himself against a tree nearby to get some sleep of his own. A whistling noise above caused John's eyes to open sleepily. Pulling the towel slightly away from his eyes, he caught the smoke trail as a ship-to-ship missile slammed into the Daedolus. The explosion stirred Mike, and he awoke in time to see the Daedolustilt to one side, and begin to lose altitude. The ESUF forces had begun their counter-attack from the east. He looked over at John, who was already running towards his mobile suit and strapping his helmet on. Mike smiled and grabbed his helmet to do the same.

Alarms rang throughout the base, and on the Silent Whisper,waking everyone up from their rest. The MS-Team scrambled to the hangar to board their mobile suits, hoping they would not be too late to save the base on the ground. However, another missile streaked over the hillside, and exploded on the hull directly under the hangar of the Silent Whisper. Immediately, work crews moved into the hangar to stop the fire, and make it ready for launching. With the hangar doors melted shut, the MS-Team could do nothing but wait in their pilot suits, and watch the monitors in the watch room to see what was happening outside. The monitors came to life as four mobile suits ran up the large hill on the east side of the base. With all of the casualties that the Daedolus had taken the day before, they knew that two of them were being piloted by Mike and John. Reports began streaming across the screens as the work crews informed everyone about the extent of the damage to the hangar, and the estimated time until repairs were completed. It would be at least twenty minutes until they could get the hangar doors to open to let the mobile suits launch. Amber slammed her fist into the wall, and yelled. "That's too long! The battle could be over by then! Do it in ten!". Villeta, Ema, and Eve watched the monitors closely. They had nothing else to do but watch and pray.

Mike had seen the missile hit the Silent Whisper. He wanted to glance over his shoulder at the cruiser, but his combat training kept him focused on his own battle. A report from the ship's crew scrolled into his display saying that no one was hurt, but there would be no reinforcements for at least twenty minutes. That was bad, the battle could be over by then. He opened a communication channel to all friendly mobile suits. "Listen up. It's just the four of us for a while. No matter what comes over that hill, no matter how many, and no matter who it is, we must defend this position at all costs. We must hold this hill!". John gripped his controls, his thoughts racing. "This is it..", he thought to himself as his breathing began to quicken. "I'll protect everyone. I'll hold this line".

As if on cue, three ESUF tanks crawled over the hilltop from the east. Their menacing cannons poking over the edge before their massive frames followed. Seconds later, the ground around them erupted and the tanks were nothing more than puffs of smoke rising from craters. Though small in number, John and the other mobile suits had gotten into defensive positions. The two Daedolus pilots were braced against large boulders near the front, while Mike and John knelt in the back. John scanned a little to the left with his display. There was a small strip of land between the cliff and the sea that he was also covering from his position. This hill, and that strip of land, are the only land routes into the base, which was why they had chosen it for their forward base.

Another wave of tanks crawled over the hill, and two mobile suits ran along the coastline of the sea. The tanks exploded as the others had, sending black fumes into the sky. John exchanged fire with the two mobile suits by the sea. The rocks in front of him splintered as the large rounds exploded on it's surface. Knowing that his cover would soon be gone, John took a chance and leaned out to get a better shot, bringing his rifle up for a shot as he did. The enemy mobile suits had started moving, thinking they had suppressed him in cover. He sprayed the area from above, making quick work of both foes. "So far, so good..", one of the Daedolus pilots said over the squad channel. John cringed, but did not respond. It was too early for cheering. There was still a cannon, or ship, in the distance that was taking shots at their cruisers, and it had to be destroyed or disabled before anyone could rest easy.

Caught in his thoughts, John just barely noticed Mike giving him a hand signal. He looked more closely, and Mike repeated it. He wanted John to move forward to scout and see if he could see the cannon or ship. John felt his throat tighten into a ball. He swallowed. It was risky, but he knew that it was necessary. They did not have the intelligence to plan a strike on it without seeing it, so they had to find out what it was and where it was. John signaled the acknowledgment of the order and began moving over the hill. Enemy tanks rolled passed him as they stormed up the hill. When they tried to turn their cannons to attack him, they were blown apart by his friends. Smiling, John silently thanked them as he jumped over the top of the hill. He landed, his feet skidding down the steep far side. As he slid into some trees, he prayed that no one had seen him. Cautiously, he lifted his head to scan the area. What he saw made his heart stop for a few seconds. "No way..", he said as his eyes widened. An army of tanks were lined up, and ready to charge up the hill. At the same time, a full platoon of mobile suits were hiding by the sea, ready to slip past his squad. He was about to radio in the strength of the enemy force, when he saw the top of a mountain in the distance move slightly. John furrowed his eye brows quizzically as he stared at the mountaintop. Suddenly, a stream of missile exhaust came from the top of the mountain, and shot towards his cruisers. He had found the location of the enemy artillery. John took one last look around to make sure that he had not been spotted before reporting in. He opened his radio to friendly mobile suits, using every ounce of self-control to speak clearly. "There is an entire army of ESUF tanks down here, sir. Also confirmed mobile suit squad ready to charge the pass by the sea. Location of the cannon firing on our cruisers also confirmed. Mountain top, closest one to the hill". Mike replied with his confirmation and he called in return fire from the Silent Whisper. A minute later, two large streaks streamed across the sky and the entire top half of the mountain exploded.

The monitor in the hangar watch room switched from Mike's camera view after he had watched John jump over the mountain and everyone's heart had jumped with him, to John's camera view as he saw the enemy forces while sliding down the other side. Everyone was temporarily in shock at the size of the enemy force. Amber spoke first, "how did we not notice such a force amassing right next to us?". Villeta replied in her usual cool-tempered manner, "we weren't looking there". Twelve minutes had passed since the start of the battle, the work crews in the hangar seemed to be on schedule to get the doors opened in eight more. Everyone held hands as they watched the mountain explode in the distance from John's camera view.

Tanks rolled up the hill and were shot apart again. John wondered why they were sacrificing themselves like that instead of charging. It was likely that they could overtake them if they all charged together. The battle would be theirs. So what were they waiting for? A low roar came as an answer. From over the mountains to the north of the base, a high altitude bomber was heading for the mobile suit defenses at the eastern hill. It dropped it's payload before John could radio it in. The hill exploded and Mike was cut off mid-sentence as he told everyone to run for cover. John was blown from his cover and the enemy forces charged up the hill to take advantage of the chaos from the bomb drop. It became clear that the bombs were what they had been waiting for. John boosted his thrusters and shot up the hill beside the enemy tanks, he sprayed the entire hillside with his rifle as he skidded up beside them. The enemy tanks exploded in groups as his rounds tore through them. He rounded the top of the hill and witnessed the destruction caused by that bomb. The two mobile suits that had been up here with Mike were gone, nothing more than blackened stains on the hilltop. John searched for Mike, shooting at another group of tanks as they came over the crest of the hill. A short distance away John saw the command crest on the chest of a mobile suit laying down. It's legs had been blown completely off, but the cockpit was intact. No communication channel could be opened, it's antenna must have been damaged as well. John took up a defensive position to guard it and shot the crest of the hill. His shots went through the beat up earth there and two explosions marked the destruction of the next wave of tanks charging up the hill. There were too many of them, John thought as he checked his reserve ammunition to see how much he had left. As he slid another clip into the magazine of his rifle, the stubborn determination that had marked him for his entire life set into place as he set his jaw for whatever would come next. He would hold the line. He would protect everyone.

A group of loud pounding coming from the sea caught his attention as he realized that there were no mobile suits coming over the hilltop. He ran to the edge overlooking the sea, and saw the platoon of mobile suits nearly at the base. Propping his front foot up on a boulder for support, he opened fire at their backs and three of them dropped before exploding on the ground. The mobile suits turned and saw him standing on the hilltop. As they raised their rifles, two more of them dropped and exploded. John had a clear view of all of them from his position as his rounds tore through them in the open. More tanks came over the hilltop and lined John up for clear shots to his back with their cannons. As they were about to fire, they exploded in a haze of gunfire. John turned around when he heard the explosions, and saw Mike's mobile suit propped against a boulder with his rifle pointing towards the top of the hill. Mike signaled to stop staring and keep firing, causing John to laugh as he shot at more of the enemy mobile suits.

Three minutes ahead of schedule, the hangar doors opened and six mobile suits launched towards the battle below. John heard them before he saw them. "We're coming!", Amber yelled as she kicked her thrusters into full power to slow her rapid descent. They landed in the pass, in front of the enemy mobile suits. Cut off from their target, the enemy forces were caught in the middle of MS-Team, and had no cover, and no hope. It took less than a minute to finish the rest of the enemy forces off. John stood atop the hill, raising his rifle which had recently run out of ammo. The counter attack had been stopped, and the line had been held. John sat back in his cockpit seat with a heavy sigh as he felt his heavy pulse throughout his body. "We did it...". He looked over at Mike's mobile suit. Both of them exchanged a weak wave with their suits, congratulating each other on the successful defense of their base.

With two more mobile suit casualties, and an explosion of a fuel tank taking ten more of it's crew, the Daedolusmade a smart retreat back into space to be repaired and refueled. When John opened his cockpit and slid to the ground, the rest of MS-Team gathered around him. "We're sorry! We promise not to sleep on board the Silent Whisper anymore!". Taken back by their urgent apologies, John put his hands up and rolled back his head in laughter. To make it up to them, the rest of MS-Team took turns patrolling the area to let John and Mike get some much needed rest. Mike was alive, but injured after his ordeal on the hilltop. He would find his rest in the medical tent. Meanwhile, John got a shower and allowed the same three mechanics to repair his machine while he grabbed a towel and laid flat out on a familiar bench. Draping the towel over his face, he passed out from exhaustion. The second day ended without another shot being fired.