Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam.
Notes: Thanks again LoneWulffe for being my pseudo-beta reader, I don't thank her enough!
Under 10k words this time, so the episode has not been split up.
The White Hellhound
"Excellent work, Colonel."
The pleased voice purred like a cat in Milo's private quarters, but to his ears the owner was more akin to a scheming lioness. The impeccable image of President Winters was beaming on his desk monitor, clear evidence the politician was up to no good. Due to the distance from Rem, the secure video-feed was hazy and heavily delayed, but the colonel could still make out his commander-in-chief's perfect white teeth.
"General Barton just briefed me – not only did you discover a mobile suit relic, but a star map leading to other relics as well! And you fought off the Scarlet Wolf! My, young Laura is already making quite the name for herself…"
"Thank you, Madam President," Milos replied, and although his brow twitched at the mention of his daughter, the old solider managed to keep a straight face. "If I may ask, ma'am, has there been a decision regarding my request?"
"Request? Oh… oh, I think you're breaking up, colonel… colonel…" President Winters made an effort to obscure the camera with her palm, perhaps believing that would disrupt the transmission, but Milos heard the rest of the conversation perfectly.
"Ridgeway, you bald buffoon! What's this about a request? Well, brief me again, chrome dome!" she shouted at someone off-screen, before removing her palm and gracing the camera with her previous sunny disposition, smiling as if nothing had happened at all. "Ah, colonel, there you are. Yes, I can happily report that your request has been granted; the relic has been authorised to be used in combat as a mobile suit of the RDF. It will be given the code name 'Orthrus' and Lieutenant Laura Hartmann has been made its designated pilot. I wholeheartedly agree that in light of the star map and the recent sightings of LIRA's relic hunters, you should be given every advantage available and the handing of the relic to the R&D Division can be postponed to a later date."
"Thank you, Madam President. This news will be most reassuring to the crew," Milos nodded, barely batting an eyelid at her Jekyll and Hyde routine. "In the meantime, I will send the R&D Division all relevant data of the relic, including reports, photos and video."
"Yes, video... perhaps if we were to leak footage of young Laura piloting the new weapon… no, the voters might react better to an inspiring infomercial…" President Winters began whispering to herself before her eyes lit up in a eureka moment. "Tell, me colonel… did Laura pack her swimsuit?"
"Ahem… Madam President," a tall and burly man in a green military uniform entered the picture and although his head was cut off by the frame, Milos easily recognized him as General Barton. "In the interests of national security, I believe it would be wiser to keep the existence of the relic under wraps for now."
"What? Oh, yes, of course, general. Keep our cards close to our chest and all that," President Winters nodded, but the hawkish glint in her eyes remained. "Well, Colonel Hartmann, I won't keep you any longer. Good luck with the mission – I'm expecting to hear more of the Lionheart's fantastic achievements. Oh, and give my regards to Laura, won't you?"
Milos saluted until the monitor went black, whereupon his cheeks sunk and he breathed a sigh of relief. No matter how often he had to deal with bureaucrats, the career solider couldn't get used to it and Milos had to give General Barton his respect for putting up with them. Another thing the colonel couldn't stomach was sending his own daughter out into combat situations, especially with the Scarlet Wolf lurking about – but right now, the Orthrus just might be the safest place to be.
The second Laura was informed she had permission to fly the Orthrus as its designated pilot, she almost barreled through innocent crew members on her way to the hangar bay. When she got there, Junko and the maintenance crew were already hard at work overhauling the white relic at Chief Moses' direction and the sight had the pilot's heart pounding with excitement. The Gundam, as they had begun calling the model of Lemurian mobile suit, was really hers.
For the next several days, Laura and the Orthrus were inseparable as she assisted in its repair and analysis.
"How's that? It's a Garm-issue camera, but it should work."
"Ok, reactivating sensors…"
In the cockpit, Laura's fingers tapped at the keyboard with ease, a far cry from the one-handed coding session of life or death back on Lenos. The pilot never knew she could push her technopathic talents as far as she did then, and her efforts find a way to activate that level of concentration at will since had yielded nothing but power naps. Meanwhile, with this welcome period of calm, the examination of the Gundam had proven far more fruitful.
The mobile suit was indeed made entirely out of Gundanium, the mysterious and incredibly strong alloy of the Lemurians, and was what had allowed the machine to be preserved so perfectly for centuries. Inside, the suit was powered by an advanced compact battery engine which allowed for significantly greater operation time, thrust and beam energy compared to a Garm. It was an ingenious, world-changing design only hampered by the quality of the technopath piloting it. Still, it was an ancient and neglected relic and Chief Moses had admonished Laura for the risk she took fighting in it.
With the help of the hulking mobile suit mechanic and his crew, they had mended the battle-scarred armour, reoiled the joints, refilled the thrusters with liquid fuel propellant, and replaced all the aged wiring and circuitry possible, substituting and modifying standard RDF Garm supplies in place of the Lemurian parts without much issue. Currently, Laura and Junko were repairing and testing the restored head unit, and with a final rap of the console the raven-haired mechanic appeared on-screen – squinting a giant dark eyeball into the camera.
"Hello? Can you see me?"
"More than enough of you," the blonde rolled her purple eyes, and watched as Junko kicked back, arcing out of view and diving through the open cockpit door.
"So it works! Awesome!" she grinned, only to frown with horror when she saw the state of the cockpit. A solar system of empty food wrappers and drink cartons was revolving around Laura, who only paid them mind with an occasional swat of her hand as she drummed away at the keyboard.
"Oh my god, Laura… would it kill you to clean up a little?" Junko set a disapproving glare on her friend and pushed through the junk. "I haven't seen a pigsty this bad since… since flyboys!"
"Sorry, Junko. I've been working overtime trying to get the Orthrus ready before the next battle," the technopath explained, keeping her gaze on the monitor's moving text. "Getting caught off-guard is the last thing we need."
"Yeah, forget getting caught off-guard, when was the last time you washed? Because you reek, Laura!" the smaller woman cried out the moment she reached the pilot's chair and pinched her stinging nose. "I think you can relax, because LIRA's not going anywhere near this stench!"
"Yeah, a hot shower is the first thing on my list when I'm done rechecking the OS – which will be soon."
"So, the Orthrus is pretty much finished. What colour are you going to paint it?"
"White, of course," Alice interrupted, and her angelic features showed up on-screen.
"Everything has to be white with Laura," Freya added, jumping in with a smirk, and the pair had obviously been listening in while their Garms were in maintenance.
"Shut up," Laura snapped, playfully. "White goes with everything! It's the colour of perfection!"
Nevertheless, the other three laughed at her and the pilot felt her cheeks heat up.
"If the Orthrus and her old Garm weren't already white, I could totally see Laura painting it in the middle of the night," joked Junko.
"Speaking of Laura's old Garm, I haven't chewed you out yet about your little stunt," Freya began, and stared daggers into her friend. "Were you insane, Laura? If I knew that was your 'plan', I would never have agreed!"
"Let it go, Freya," Alice pacified the raging diva with her soothing tone. "The important thing is Laura is safe – thanks to the Orthrus. I can only begin to imagine all the technological advances we could glean from it and how we could improve our own mobile suits."
"You said it, girl! Chief Moses and I have been probing the possibilities and have it all planned out!" Junko leaned over Laura and shouted, her eyes sparkling like a switch had been flipped. "We can't replicate everything the Gundam does, but with just some alterations we can bump up the speed and power of the Garms, all at our next port of call! And because this is a special mission, we won't be breaking any RDF rules if the modifications are for the sake of said mission!"
"Wait… does that mean I can paint my Garm pink? All of it?" Freya asked, and her hopeful blue eyes bulged when she saw the mechanic give her the thumbs up. "W-Well, I suppose something good came out of all this, so I'll find it in my gracious heart to forgive you, Laura Hartmann…"
"I'm so grateful, Queen Freya," Laura muttered, only to cry out when the monitor was flooded with red error messages.
"What's wrong?" asked Junko.
"I've gone through almost every inch of the code behind this OS, but there's one part I can't decrypt," the technopath explained, throwing up her hands in frustration. "I have no idea what it is or does, but I think it has something to do with the core of the Orthrus."
Scans showed there was something inside the Orthrus, underneath the cockpit, but they had no way of accessing it without jeopardising the Gundam's frame. Otherwise, the anomaly appeared to have no function at all.
"Really? Maybe the R&D Division will have better luck?" Freya offered, and furrowed her brow. "I guess we can't expect to unlock all the mysteries of the Lemurians at once. It's like they didn't want anyone touching their relics."
"That's the other weird thing – the Orthrus already has a relic detection system installed."
"How strange," Alice whispered, cocking her head into her palm. "Together with the star map recorded in its data bank… did they intend for the Orthrus to hunt down relics?"
"Like a relic bloodhound?" Junko's mouth hung open at the image and Alice nodded with approval. "But why? And why was it abandoned on Lenos?"
The orphans paused for a moment to consider the mystery of the Gundam, only to come up with more questions than answers. The silence only broke when a giant box popped up on their respective monitors, dwarfing the other portraits on-screen with a familiar aura of icy blue hair and demonic red eyes.
"C-Commander Gabriel!" The four instantly straightened their backs and saluted their feared XO on sight.
"May I remind you ladies that solving the mysteries of Lemuria is not our job," Sofia informed them in her brusque manner. "Our mission is to discover and collect relics and if this star map can help facilitate that mission, then stop wasting time questioning it. Understood?"
"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!" the girls chorused, eyes to the ceiling.
"Good… and don't think I've forgotten our little training exercises," the demon commander's lips curved like a sabre and the pilots swore she took pleasure in their grimaced expressions. "Just because I let you work on the Gundam doesn't mean those sessions have disappeared. Oh no, we have quite the catching up to do…"
"B-But, ma'am…" Laura protested.
"No buts, lieutenant! With the addition of the Orthrus to our arsenal we must explore every possible combat scenario again and analyse every outcome until we arrive at the perfect strategy! We wouldn't want to be caught off-guard, now, would we?"
If Laura had any further protests, they caught in her throat.
"I'm glad you agree. Now, if you're quite done playing with your new toy, meet me at the simulators in…" Sofia glanced at her watch, "…one hour."
While the three pilots held their tongues, Junko ended up breathing a premature sigh of relief.
"You too, Corporal Kodama."
"W-What?!" the shocked girl flapped her lips as well as her arms. "B-B-But why, commander?!"
"Who else knows the Orthrus' specs well enough to calibrate the simulator? Or was your boast of being 'the best mobile suit expert in the universe' just for show?"
Junko pursed her lips and closed her eyes. She knew she was going to regret this.
"No, ma'am! Junko Kodama is the best of the best, ma'am!"
"Excellent. See you all in one hour," the demon commander moved to sign off, before she paused, and a glint entered her crimson eyes. "No… make that half-an-hour."
The crew of the Blue Crow had good reason to be rattled. When they had first been assigned to LIRA's newest and most advanced stealth warship, under the command of the famed Commodore Jonas Sparrhorn, they could be forgiven for being overconfident. But when they learnt the Scarlet Wolf and her pack would also be aboard, the possibility of defeat never crossed their minds.
"Perhaps our long string of victories has made them complacent," Vega said later, putting it lightly.
So, when the Space Wolves returned to the Crow's hangar bay after the battle on Lenos, minus three Wargs and the mighty Fenrir having to be towed because its damage was so extensive, the reaction of the crew was one of disbelief. Only Vega's infectious charisma had kept morale from plummeting like a dead weight and seeing their ace laughing in the face of near defeat revitalised their spirits. Now, using the star map technopathically gleaned from the relic and reconstructed using Vega's memory, they chased after the RDF relic hunters on a promise of revenge.
"Vega, there you are."
Commodore Sparrhorn floated out from an automated door and onto the overhang walkway overlooking the hangar bay, where he spotted the Scarlet Wolf leaning against the rail. The woman cut a striking figure in LIRA's black uniform and her long silver hair was tied up into a stylish knot to keep it from flying about. Although her eyes were concealed by a white mask, the older man could tell she was staring at the Fenrir below, which was still in the midst of repairs.
"Commodore, any word from command?" Vega asked as her superior joined her at the railing and her gaze never left the red mobile suit.
The heir of House Aurelia forgot to salute as she did when they were in private, but Jonas had known her so long it hardly fazed him, and the old veteran let it pass.
"They're displeased, as expected, but the acquisition of the star map helped smooth things over," Jonas informed his ace pilot and stroked his moustache as he recalled the dressing-down he had received. "Essentially, we were given one more chance, before they hand our operation to another ship."
Vega snorted, which, as expected of the noblewoman, came off as an elegant snuffle.
"They were probably pleased when they heard the Scarlet Wolf had almost been killed by an ancient relic."
"House Aurelia is not without its enemies, as you well know," Jonas stated the obvious, adding, "I believe the scion of House Ambion has been assigned to one of the aforementioned relic hunting ships."
"That fool?" Vega fought the urge to laugh. "He wouldn't last a second against this opponent."
"The Orthrus Gundam, you called it? It's hard to imagine an antique mobile suit being so dangerous."
"It's not just the Orthrus," Vega crossed her arms. "The pilot is formidable too. I'm sure they're already familiarising themselves with the reoutfitted Gundam as we speak…"
The white mask and the wall of charm might help the Scarlet Wolf to disguise her true intentions and feelings, but Jonas had known Vega long enough to read her. It was difficult to see, but she had her tells – much like her father, opposites though they may be. Trying to recall the last time he had seen her this way, the memory of a bright-eyed girl came to mind, and the thought they were the same person had the old man smiling.
"You're actually excited, aren't you?" he said, eliciting a slack-jawed response.
"…You may be right," Vega admitted after a pause, finally tearing her gaze away from the Fenrir and chuckling. "I said victory had made us complacent, but perhaps it is I who has been most complacent of all."
"Major! Major Aurelia!" the door opened again, and Ursula came floating out, locking onto Vega with her big brown eyes the moment she saw her. "There you are, Maj– C-Commodore Sparrhorn?"
Not expecting his presence, the surprised woman offered a stiff and hasty salute, causing Vega to chuckle a second time.
"At ease, Captain Roland," Jonas returned the salute and spared her. "You have business with the major?"
"Yes, sir. The Space Wolves and the new recruits are ready and waiting in the simulator room, Major Aurelia," Ursula eagerly informed her superior, before her face broke into a scowl. "With the exception of Lieutenant Valorie, who has once again conveniently disappeared."
After the loss of their three pilots on Lenos, replacements had been reassigned from the fleet along with their Wargs, handpicked by Vega as per usual. While most pilots jumped at the opportunity to join the Space Wolfs, they first had to endure the Scarlet Wolf's hellish training sessions. If anything, it was surprising more of them hadn't disappeared.
"I'm sure Luke will turn up eventually," Vega smiled and moved to leave with Ursula, before paused at the open door. "Oh, and Commodore? I do hope the Blue Crow isn't simply following the RDF ship. Not when we know their next destination on the star map."
The veteran scoffed, before readjusting his cap, and grey eyes gleamed underneath like a pair of sharpened blades.
"It would seem you need reminding how I earned the name Lunar Fox."
The star map in the Orthrus Gundam's possession charted over a dozen coordinates in space, including the bunker on Lenos where it had been discovered, leading to the theory they were the locations of relics. Most were in Zodiac Union territory, but several were nearby in the Lemurian system and after escaping Lenos the Lionheart propelled a path straight to the nearest relic on its ion thrusters. A week later, when the battlecruiser neared the recorded point on the map, it wasn't long before they picked something up on radar.
"Captain, we have visual contact of the unknown object!"
"On-screen," Milos ordered, and the expansive bridge monitor beamed to the image of a large asteroid. Or at least, that was what it seemed.
From a distance the rock appeared to glitter like a disco ball, and it wasn't until the Lionheart got close that they realized it was covered in reflective panels. The misshapen but round body was almost ten kilometers in diameter, thirty times the Lionheart's length, and was wrapped with solar panel-like coverings which basked in the light of the Lemurian sun. The exception was the top and bottom of the asteroid, the axis upon which it spun, where steel structures presumably led inside.
"A space station?" from beside the captain's chair, Sofia voiced the thought crossing everyone's mind.
"Well, X marks the spot…" Milos replied, only to earn an icy stare in return, and shifted his attention over to his comm instead. "Are you getting this, Team Orthrus?"
"Yes, captain." Laura smiled, pleased with the new name. "Team Orthrus is ready and awaiting permission to launch."
"Permission granted. Find the relic and return at once, lieutenant."
"Yes, sir," the pilot signed off and squeezed her necklace for luck. "This is Laura Hartmann. Orthrus Gundam, taking off!"
With a jolt, the catapult shot the white Gundam out of the Lionheart as it passed the asteroid, where it engaged its thrusters into cold space. As well as a brand-new paintjob, it had been outfitted with a standard issue beam rifle, shield and beamsabres. Freya and Alice's Garms followed, and the trio rocketed to the top of the Lemurian station where they found circular steel openings inserted into the rock, much like the docks for small ships.
"What is this place?" Freya asked, as their Garms paused at the entrance, before they thrusted into the darkness one at a time. "Were they mining the asteroid?"
"That's what I think they were doing on Lenos," said Laura, shivering at the memory of the cyclopean cavern and quickly activated the Gundam's high beams. "Are all the points on the star map mines?"
"Why would the Lemurians leave their relics in mines?" Alice asked, following the others in the dark from the rear. The light of their torches revealed the tunnel continued further down and must lead to the centre of the asteroid.
"I'm not sure this was a mine," Junko interrupted, appearing on their monitors. "There should be mining equipment lying around, but I'm not seeing any, and all the reflective panels outside seem excessive. Maybe it started as a mine before being converted to something else?"
"Just another Lemurian mystery…" Freya muttered, just as they came to a fork in the tunnel. "Which way?"
"Picking up a relic," Alice reported, and their cockpits echoed with the distinct tone. "Go left."
"How's the Orthrus, Laura?" Junko asked, while the team filed down another tunnel without incident.
"Perfect, Junko – you, Chief Moses and the maintenance crew worked wonders. It feels like a true extension of my body now," Laura reported, extracting a satisfied smile from the mechanic. "I feel like I can take on anything with the Orthrus at my side."
"At your side?" Alice teased.
"What is it, your pet?" Freya smirked next, before her blue eyes twinkled with mischief. "Your boyfriend?"
"S-Shut up!" Laura shouted, feeling her cheeks redden, and concentrated on the relic sensor in the face of her friends' raucous laughter. "When we get out of here, I'm going to let you have it! All of you!"
The Gundam pilot slipped ahead, following the sensor until she reached an alcove in the tunnel wall and the beeping intensified to a fever pitch. Laura's high beams showed scrap metal floating about and when she pushed them away, a grey cube was revealed. It looked perfectly ordinary, but when the technopath grabbed hold of it with the Orthrus' hand, it began to glow with purple light.
"Found it!" Laura declared, triumphant. "Now let's get out of here, so I ca–"
The pilot never finished the sentence – an explosion rocked the asteroid and the alcove was flooded with heat and fire. Laura's monitor went red, momentarily blinding her while the Orthrus was bombarded by shards of flying rock and tossed out of the tunnel. When the rumbling finally stopped, the dazed woman looked up to find near darkness showing on-screen, but for the faint lights of the Gundam.
As far as she could tell, the explosion had knocked her into a cavity in the asteroid's belly, an enormous spherical hollow filled with floating rubble and enclosed on all sides by solid rock. The blast had also collapsed the way in behind her shut with packed debris, leaving the pilot trapped. Laura recalled her near-death experience at the cave-in on Lenos, which she had escaped by a hair, and the blond held her breath.
She didn't like this one bit.
It wasn't long before her fears were proven right – a familiar current of lightning struck her being, triggering a premonition of danger. Laura spun the Orthrus around, praying it wasn't true, but the presence behind her was no figment of imagination.
Out of the shadows, the demonic face of the Fenrir roared to life and her purple eyes reeled back in their sockets. Any remaining doubt left her when the Scarlet Wolf activated its beamsabre, waiting until the last moment to alert the pilot with the flash of red light and armor, and swung the shaft of hot plasma into the Orthrus.
Laura backhanded the weapon with her shield, catching the blade and a face full of sparks. Thwarted, the Fenrir retreated as quickly as it had appeared, back into the darkness. Although shocked, Laura's hand was already going to her throttle to give chase, but another feeling of peril urged caution.
Instead, she swung the Gundam back around and the cavern lit up with the barrage of sizzling beams – all aimed at her. Laura raised her blast shield in the nick of time, grunting when it took the brunt of the intense laser volley, and in between blasts she spied maybe half-a-dozen Wargs lined around the edges of the cavern. The muzzles of their rifles flashed continuously, forcing the Orthrus to hide behind its shield and Laura gritted her teeth as the temperature of the cockpit began to heat up.
"Laura, where are you?!" Alice's voice managed to crackle through the comm with alarm. "We're under attack!
"It was an ambush, Laura!" Freya lashed her ears next, whining, "I am so sick of getting ambushed!"
The two were still in the tunnel, locked in a fire fight with another pair of Wargs, and could not advance to the Orthrus' aid.
"Tell me about it!" Laura managed to shout back, dodging and deflecting beams in midsentence. "I'm stuck in a room with the Scarlet Wolf and her pack!"
Just when the trio thought things couldn't get any worse, another quake shook the asteroid, even more violent than the first.
Milos demanded the moment the Lionheart's sensors detected a seismic tremor on the asteroid. However, all attempts to contact Team Orthrus were unsuccessful due to the station's thick rock blocking their radio waves. The colonel's instincts screamed danger and he ordered all sensors checked and monitored.
That's when he saw it, a tiny flash of light at the edge of the asteroid – and his dark eyes bulged.
"Hard to port! Hard to port, now!" he screamed, and the startled helmsman followed the command on instinct.
The Lionheart pitched sideways and a blazing stream of energy surged under its hull, just missing the battlecruiser. The bridge trembled from the power it radiated until the beam passed and Milos jumped into action.
"Sound the alarm! All hands to battle stations! And zoom-in on the source of enemy fire!"
The operators scrambled to fulfil their orders and an image of the asteroid's edge appeared on-screen, just before the flash of light. The picture was enhanced, and the shape of a familiar black ship came into focus. Milos was tempted to slam his armrest at the sight of it but managed to keep his cool for the crew's sake.
"It's that LIRA ship again," the colonel growled, recognizing the stealth cruiser from Lenos – which meant the Scarlet Wolf wasn't far off. "Our instruments should have picked up on its beam cannon – why was there no warning?"
"The enemy ship is using the asteroid to mask the energy spike of its beam cannon, moving into our line of sight only at the last second," Sofia explained, and took an uncharacteristic bite of her thumbnail. "This is too well planned. How did they get here before us?"
While the Lionheart had travelled straight to the relic, the escape from Lenos had caused a detour, so it was possible for the enemy ship to arrive first. But that would mean LIRA knew their destination in advance.
"We can worry about that later," Milos replied, distracting himself from the thought of Laura with commands and a clenched fist. "Evasive manoeuvres! Ready the main cannon! And keep trying to contact Team Orthrus!"
"Captain, enemy missiles incoming!
Sofia relayed her captain's orders and the Lionheart's turrets tracked the inbound projectiles before letting loose with their Vulcan gatling guns. The six-barreled destroyers screamed to life, spinning rapidly as it fired several bursts until the missiles exploded one by one. But from the smoke of their wreckages, another beam of light burned through the clouds, almost clipping the RDF battlecruiser.
The crew braced again, waiting with bated breath for the shaking and heat to pass, and Milos' gut told him the worst was yet to come.
"Captain, picking up an energy spike!" an operator confirmed his fears. "Below us!"
The smoke cleared and the black cruiser was indeed underneath the Lionheart, having snuck closer while it had them on the defensive. But this wasn't just an opportunistic advance and when Milos realised what the enemy captain was up to, he shuddered.
"Prepare to fire the main cannon!" Sofia ordered, her red eyes spying a clean shot.
"Belay that order!" Milos quickly overrode his XO and stared down her fiery gaze. "We'll hit the asteroid and Team Orthrus with it!"
Sofia gasped, realising her mistake, before she glowered at the LIRA ship on-screen with newfound caution.
"They know that, don't they?" she whispered, and Milos nodded.
The career solider had once heard rumors of a ship captain in LIRA known for his daring and unconventional tactics. Years ago, he had captured dozens of moons and space stations from the militaries of outer rim planets with only a small fleet, allowing Lux to expand its colonies and influence. With what he had witnessed since Lenos, the colonel had no doubt it was the same man, and he recalled the moniker this tactician of tacticians had been bestowed.
"The Lunar Fox…" he whispered with awe, never once imagining he would meet the legend on the battlefield.
"The Lunar Fox?" Sofia repeated, her voice cynical. "Shouldn't he be retired?"
"Apparently not," Milos replied, before barking his orders. "Take us around the asteroid! Get us out of his line of sight!"
The helmsman spun the ship's wheel, narrowly avoiding another blast of plasma from the enemy cruiser's cannon and made a beeline for the rocky horizon. As Milos tried to buy time for the Lionheart and its crew, the terrifying realisation he had been avoiding crossed his mind. They hadn't seen a single enemy Warg and if they weren't out here, they must be inside the asteroid – along with Team Orthrus.
Milos said a prayer under his breath.
Jonas watched as the white RDF ship made its retreat, firing liberal amounts of smoke and chaff to escape the Blue Crow's radar as it did. As he had correctly predicted, the enemy captain was no gung-ho fool and knew when he was outmatched in a knife fight.
Or was that outfoxed?
The commodore pinched his whiskers, suppressing a smile. Victory was only a matter of time, but at this rate, Vega would finish her side of the operation before him. As much as she was like a niece to the veteran, even Jonas Sparrhorn wanted a piece of the glory every now and then.
That, and the daughter of House Aurelia would never let it go if he didn't live up to his boast of being the Lunar Fox. At the memory of their conversation in the hanger bay, the old man came to a surprising conclusion.
"Perhaps she's not the only one enjoying this…" Jonas whispered, watching the white ship on-screen with a hawk's gaze, and the corner of his lip curled ever so slightly.
At Vega 's order, the Wargs unleashed another barrage of beams at the exposed Orthrus and the cavern momentarily brimmed with light. The white relic propelled in all directions, avoiding half the beams and blocking the rest with its melting shield, before firing back with its rifle. Despite its pilot's remarkable reaction time, by then the Wargs had changed position and its shots never hit the mark.
Laura cursed when her beams pierced only shadows again and braced for another wave of enemy fire. She was at a serious disadvantage in the dark; not only could she not see the enemy, the inside of the asteroid was impeding her radar. On top of those factors, the Wargs were purposely keeping their thrusters cold, instead pushing and kicking off the walls of the carven to move around.
The technopath only had the muzzle flashes of their rifles to go on – and every so often, the familiar red aura of her rival would appear and strike when she least expected it.
Electricity rushed through Laura's veins again and she knew she had mere moments to act. The Scarlet Wolf materialised out of the darkness at speed, slashing at her feet with its neon beamsabre, and the Orthrus twisted out of its path in time. The Fenrir continued up, leaving a contrail of fire, goading its prey to follow – only for another salvo of lasers to fall like rain.
Laura cursed again and her shield took another beating. She couldn't keep this up. With the Orthrus under constant assault and the Fenrir blitzing her blind spots when she was most vulnerable, there was no time to breath. Any lapse in concentration would be fatal.
Gritting her teeth, the technopath wondered if she had been overconfident again. With the renewed Gundam, the pilot thought she would be more than a match for the Scarlet Wolf at full strength – she never expected such an underhanded trap which made full use of her pack's superior numbers and talents. The draw at Lenos must have stung Vega Aurelia more than Laura knew and the LIRA ace wasn't taking the relic lightly.
She was either going to capture the Orthrus or destroy it and Laura trying.
The blast shield on the Gundam's forearm began to crack and its pilot cringed. RDF shields were an efficient defence against beams with their heat resistant alloys, coating and design, all which dispersed hot plasma on contact, but they were not invincible as Laura was discovering. It had already melted down beyond recognition and the next shot would be the straw that broke the camel's back.
When that happened, she would have no chance to survive the onslaught of the Scarlet Wolf and her allies in the darkness.
That's when she noticed the purple relic, still grasped in her shield arm's free hand, glowing with abandon. The technopath had not had the opportunity to make a proper connection due to the explosion and ambush, but now that she did Laura discovered something very strange. The Orthrus had already linked with the new relic and was running some kind of program – a program attached to the OS code she could not decrypt.
If she wasn't already confused, the words that appeared on-screen next left her speechless.
MODE CHANGE READY. Y/N?
Laura's purple eyes started at the letters, stunned – and through them saw her blast shield splinter with another fissure.
She had no choice – she had to take the gamble and trust the Orthrus Gundam.
At the same time her palm came down on the console, in the darkness Vega Aurelia lined up the shot that would shatter the Gundam's shield and win the battle.
Laura slammed her controls. Vega squeezed her trigger. The beam flew from the rifle like a crimson arrow, burning a hole through the shield and shattering it to bits, before piercing the mobile suit behind it – and a dozen more beams followed.
The Orthrus should have been skewered. Laura thought for sure her cockpit was about to be transformed into a molten pool of lava and closed her eyes. Instead, she opened them to find brilliant sunlight shining through the panoramic monitor.
The technopath's purple eyes couldn't believe what they were seeing. The darkness had been completely ushered away and the entire carven was bathed in bright light. The Wargs, dumbfounded into stillness by what was happening, were now visible and even the Fenrir was motionless. Noticing the angle of the shadows each mobile suit cast into the rock behind them, Laura suddenly realised the source of the radiance.
The Orthrus was glowing. Not just glowing – it was now the colour of gold.
"Orders, major?" Ursula finally asked, perplexed like the rest of the Space Wolves.
"Keep firing!" Vega instructed, sensing danger, and pointed her rifle. "Don't underestimate it!"
A fiery downpour followed, drenching the golden Gundam in red-hot plasma, only for the beams to dissipate on contact. Laura's jaw hung open – she didn't even feel the heat. It was as if the Orthrus had neutralised – no, absorbed – the light itself. The technopath turned to the still-glowing relic in the mobile suit's hand and quickly accessed its contents.
Just what had it done to the Orthrus? When Laura found the answer, everything made perfect sense.
"Solar research… Solar Mode…"
The blonde took a moment to take in this extraordinary turn of events, before grinning like a Cheshire cat. Staring defiantly into the storm of beams, Laura snapped her rifle out and fired into the nearest Warg, impaling it with a purple beam. They didn't just explode – they were left with a giant hole, which only grew before they were immolated to a crisp from the inside out.
Having witnessed the gold-tinted Orthrus' beam-resistance and now its lethal power with increasing worry, Vega sprung into action.
"Hold fire!" she screamed, before whipping out her beamsabre and diving into the fray on scarlet wings.
Laura saw her coming and welcomed it, giving a primal roar as she fired off a violet barrage. Vega weaved through with caution, knowing full-well what just one of those beams would do to the Fenrir, and lunged at the Gundam when she was within range. Laura kicked in her reverse thrusters, betting she would shoot the Scarlet Wolf down before they could even touch the Orthrus – only to discover her thrusters had lost nearly all power.
Solar Mode was not without its shortcomings.
The flummoxed pilot could only draw a sharp intake of breath as she watched the Fenrir's swift beamsabre disintegrate her rifle in a single blow. The weapon burst into pieces and Laura prayed Vega hadn't noticed her thruster issues, but the LIRA ace had an uncanny ability to sense weakness. She was already on the backswing, forcing Laura to bring the Orthrus' left arm up as a shield.
The beamsabre curved on impact, leaving the limb intact and the Gundam pilot exhaled with relief – so Solar Mode could resist beamsabres too. However, it was not long before the forearm's gold armour was stained with a molten gash and Vega's red lips curled. With a sudden eruption of her thrusters, she seized the momentum and kicked the Orthrus backwards.
Deprived of its thrusters, the Gundam slammed into the cavern wall without resistance and Laura looked up to find the Fenrir charging in for the finishing blow. The technopath activated her own beamsabre in time, catching the fiery sword even as its wielder landed on top of the Orthrus for another shocking collision. Like the beams it had fired earlier, the Orthrus' beamsabre now glowed a vibrant purple and it was all Laura had left to keep the Scarlet Wolf at bay.
With the Fenrir's rifle in its other hand, Vega began firing into the cornered Gundam at pointblank, hoping to recreate the same effect as before by hitting the same spot repeatedly – and it appeared to be working. Using her free forearm again, Laura covered up the molten spot forming on her cockpit door, but Vega simply blasted into that. The relic held in its hand filled up the monitor again with its amethyst glow and Laura took her anger out on it with a growl.
"Is that all you can do?!"
As if hearing her, another set of words showed on-screen.
SOLAR FLARE READY. Y/N?
"Yes!" Laura technopathically selected the option at once, before her pink lips parted in confusion. "Solar what?"
When a timer began to count down on the monitor, her eyes went wide with alarm, like a pair of purple saucers.
"…Laura? Are you okay? Please answer!"
With the Orthrus pushed up against the wall, Alice's voice managed to patch through the comm again and Laura wasted no time warning her friends.
"Freya, Alice, listen to me! You have to get out of here!" she shouted, watching both the dwindling timer and the Fenrir on-screen. "The Orthrus is counting down to something!"
"Oh my god, Laura, not another kamikaze plan?!" Freya yelled with disbelief.
"I don't know! I don't have time to explain, just get out of here!"
"Roger, Laura! Come on, Freya!"
Freya cursed, but engaged her thrusters and followed Alice's Garm out of the tunnel and towards the exit, firing to their rear as they retreated.
"Major, the two Garms have withdrawn!" Luke reported, and Vega's mind rang with alarm bells.
Having fought them, she knew they would never leave their comrade behind without good reason. That's when she noticed the Gundam was glowing even brighter than before and it wasn't stopping. It was building with such energy that the Scarlet Wolf could feel her fur standing on end – and it frightened her.
"Space Wolves, retreat! Get as far away from the asteroid as possible!" she commanded, and seeing the blinding state of the Orthrus, her pack had no need of persuasion.
"What about you, major?!" Ursula called, while the rest of the squadron left through a small tunnel at the bottom of the cavern.
"I'll be right behind you!"
So Vega said, but in truth the ace had other ideas, and once Ursula's Warg was safely out of sight she enacted her gamble. If she was right, the gold Orthrus hadn't just neutralised their beam weapons – it had absorbed them and added their power to its own. Thus, she discarded her rifle and began pummeling the Gundam instead, while holding its violet beamsabre down with hers.
With each blow, the gold armor began to crumple and break – as she suspected its beam resistance had come at a price. If it really was going to explode, Vega wagered she could stop it by ripping out the cockpit and CPU. It was crude, but the Scarlet Wolf had no other options and swung like her life depended on it.
Inside the Gundam, Laura winced with each punch, but the timer was almost finished. She dropped the relic and caught the Fenrir's fist with the Orthrus' free hand, buying time. Vega grunted in frustration, until she felt a technopathic connection through their joined hands.
"…A timer? Solar… flare?"
Behind Vega's white mask, her eyes blinked before they dawned with realisation.
The timer arrived at zero and the Orthrus' luminosity reached its peak – before suddenly quenching itself and transforming the cavern back to night. A split-second later, the Gundam's chest shifted opened to reveal a cavity brimming with light and energy.
"Solar Flare!" Laura yelled.
Night turned into day and everything went white.
The Lionheart was on the ropes, fighting a running battle against the Blue Crow and its cunning captain, when the asteroid erupted with purple light. It pierced through the rock and into the heavens, bathing the surrounding space with a lavender radiance, before half the asteroid broke off and fractured into a thousand chunks. Flying rubble and shattered solar panels rained down on the two warships and their captains ordered a simultaneous retreat.
But that paled in comparison to what happened next. The purple light swung in their direction like an executioner's axe, carving up what was left of the asteroid and revealing itself to be a giant beam of disintegrating plasma. It obliterated all the debris in its path and fell between the mortified ships like an inferno, before extinguishing.
While the Lionheart miraculously dodged the beam, the Blue Crow was not so lucky.
"Seal the hatches! Ready the medical bay! Order all crew into spacesuits! And get me the chief engineer!" Commodore Sparrhorn barked orders from the top of his lungs to be heard through the din of the emergency alarm.
The bridge of the Blue Crow was bathed in red light and the operators were constantly reporting news of the damage and casualties from other parts of the ship. Jonas took a moment in the turmoil to adjust his cap – if the beam had landed a few more metres inside the ship, none of them would be here. Instead, it had grazed the stealth cruiser, leaving it heavily damaged but still operational enough to escape before the enemy ship noticed their weakness.
That said, they couldn't leave without first picking up their star pilot and her pack.
"…Blue Crow… Come in, Blue Crow… This is Captain Roland."
At the sound of Ursula's voice, Jonas jumped on the frequency himself.
"This is the Blue Crow. Glad to hear you're still alive, captain," the commodore answered and heard a sigh of relief. "What of the other Space Wolves?"
"Most of us made it out in time," reported Ursula, and her mobile suit floated amongst the debris with the surviving Wargs. "But Major Aurelia was still inside when it happened…"
"Captain, I have a signal!" Luke's excited voice interrupted their communication. "I think I found her!"
Forgetting about the Blue Crow entirely, the Space Wolves thrusted to Luke's position and assisted in separating two giant floating rocks. Wedged between them, and still relatively intact, was the Fenrir.
"Major!" Ursula cried, fearing the worst.
"Ah, Ursula," her commander's familiar husky voice graced her ears and for once Ursula welcomed her affectionate tone. "How kind of you to come pick me up."
"I can't believe you survived…" Luke whispered, helping the Fenrir out. It was badly burnt, beaten and missing an arm, but seemed to be fully functional.
"Oh, I survived – but only just," said Vega, recalling the blinding beam of light and shuddering. She had only just moved out of the way by cutting off the Fenrir's own arm, which the Orthrus had gripped to hold her in place. The last thing she remembered was the cavern roof breaking up to reveal open space before the beam swung back towards the asteroid, causing an upheaval of flying rocks that pushed the Fenrir out and it was sandwiched soon after.
"That relic is far more dangerous than we anticipated…" Ursula murmured with a mixture of fear and awe. "To think it had such terrible abilities…"
"Indeed. Despite all our preparation, we underestimated the Orthrus…" Vega agreed, before sighing. "Not to mention its pilot. She is the first to hand me such a disgraceful defeat."
The Scarlet Wolf joked, but her pack could sense the melancholy through their leader's façade. Command would not take kindly to this second failure.
"I don't believe it… no pilot could be your equal, major!" a fervent Ursula argued, and Vega chuckled.
"Oh, my dear Ursula… this one just might be," she smiled.
As the Space Wolves thrusted back to the Blue Crow together, the Scarlet Wolf stared out into the destruction the Orthrus had left behind and whispered.
"She just might… this White Hellhound."
When the purple beam burst from the Orthrus' chest and into the cavern ceiling, no one was more surprised than Laura. She certainly didn't remember that function. After the beam cleaved the asteroid in two, parting the rocks like clouds to reveal the night sky, the force of the chest cannon propelled the Gundam away into the debris until it ran out of power.
Which was to say, the Orthrus had no power left at all and its cockpit was in complete darkness but for Laura's helmet torch. For every time Solar Mode impressed her, it somehow found a way to disappoint the pilot and, in this instance, the Solar Flare cannon happened to drain the relic's entire battery to zero percent. As powerful as Mode Change was, if they ever got back to the Lionheart, there were serious wrinkles to iron out in the system.
In the meanwhile, the technopath could only pray the battle was over, her friends were safe, and that the Scarlet Wolf or her pack wouldn't find her in this state. The last she saw of the Fenrir it was slicing off its own arm to escape and something told her it had succeeded. Vega Aurelia may have gotten away again, but for the first time in ages Laura felt a pang of victory in her heart.
"Laura! Talk to me, you dumb blonde!"
"Freya!" Laura broke into a smile when her comm buzzed to life with the pink diva's voice.
"Thank goodness, Laura," Alice spoke next, before the golden-haired angel coughed. "I resent that comment about blondes, Freya."
The two technopaths were using the hands of their Garms, specially made to connect with relics and electronics, to talk with Laura by making direct contact with the Orthrus.
"Sorry, Alice, but I can't believe this girl pulled off this crap again!" Freya's voice continued to roll on like a storm. "Do you even know how we felt when we saw the asteroid blow into a million pieces?!"
"You? How about me? I was in the middle of it!" Laura shot back, before relenting. "I didn't know it was going to do that, alright? No one told me the Orthrus had a cannon hidden in its chest…"
"Did someone say chest cannon?!" Junko suddenly joined in on the conversation with excitement. "Oh my god, Laura, does this mean what I think it means?"
"Oh, it gets better, Junko," the pilot smirked. "If I'm right, the more relics the Orthrus comes into contact with, the more powerful it becomes."
"Are you serious?!" Freya asked, yelling over the mechanic's squeals of delight.
"That would sound more threatening if you weren't completely helpless right now," Alice quipped. "But I suppose LIRA does not know of this yet?"
"Nope, and I'd wager Vega Aurelia and her space puppies are wetting themselves just at the thought of fighting the Orthrus again," Laura grinned with unapologetic bravado. "Bring on round three, bit–"
"Ahem…" the familiar deep voice pressuring them into silence belonged to an irritated Milos. "I'm relieved the three of you are all right… just remember to share that with the Lionheart next time, instead of having a picnic. Preferably as soon as possible…"
"You girls…" Sofia's commanding voice groaned next with displeasure, frightening them to attention. "You do realise your conversation has been playing on the comms all over the ship, don't you?"
The news caused the four mortified orphans to blush profusely.
"We're really sorry, Captain Hartmann, C-Commander Gabriel…" Freya stuttered, showing her fear.
"Wait, where's the relic?" Laura whispered, remembering she'd dropped it so she could stop the Fenrir from punching a hole in her cockpit.
"I have the relic right here, Laura," Alice whispered back, having found it while searching for the Gundam pilot.
Laura breathed a sigh of relief and closed her eyes, and when they opened again the purple orbs seemed to shine brighter than before.
"Lionheart, this is Team Orthrus. We are returning to the ship with the relic,' she reported, as Freya and Alice towed her back. "The relic hunt was a success."
END OF EPISODE THREE
This episode gives a pretty good example of the episode structure of relic hunts in Gundam Gemini and also introduces the Orthrus' gimmick. But before I go on...
Ok, an announcement you readers may not be happy with.
When I first conceived the idea of Gundam Gemini, I planned over 20 episodes, just like a real show. Am I going to write all 20+ episodes? God no... I'm sorry to say I do not have the time nor energy.
I am also not confident I can maintain a satisfactory quaility for all episodes (my greatest fear is the relic-of-the-week-plot becomes repetitive). Maybe with more time I can figure out how to make those episodes interesting, but until then I only want to write the episodes I want and that I'm confident in.
The goal is to reach the two-part finale of EP22 & 23 with minimal knowledge/episodes required. I actually wrote those final episodes first and they are the rason d'etre for Gundam Gemini! I really want you to read them!
So the plan is I will be skipping EP04 (trust me, you're not missing much) and going to EP05, and will write a few more episodes until posting the finale. The biggest disadvantage is you will miss out on some key relic discoveries. I should also make clear, I am open to the possibility of adding earlier episodes after the finale.
But that said, I am still writing EP05 and depending on how fast I go, I might write even more episodes. I'd also love to hear your feedback on the matter and will take your views into consideration.
I know its not what most people would want to hear, but I do promise to write the best episodes possible. Thanks for reading and see you next episode!