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Mobile Suit Gundam Iscariot

Title: Mobile Suit Gundam ISCARIOT
Part: 12
Fandom: Gundam (Meta)
Disclaimer: No profit is being made on this fanwork.
Rating: T Overall
Summary: Aleksei Vivek dreams of becoming an ace mobile suit pilot. It's all he's wanted and all he's worked for. But what happens when he gets to NIN-ANA, the toughest training school there is? What happens to a dream when it's time to wake up?
Notes: Aleksei begins unraveling an intricate tapestry of secrets.

"Okay. Nari, you left your bracelet in your room, right?" Aleksei questioned as Nari settled into Aleksei and Eoin's room. The four of them were gathered in the space between sofas, huddled tight and talking softly.

Nari nodded and held up her wrists. "It's like I'm not even here," she said with a smile. "If Cardinell checks, I'm roughly in bed reading a book. Maybe asleep..."

"Perfect," Aleksei said. "Because I think... well, last night..."

"With Doctor Hisano?" Eoin questioned. "And Mitra. That was just weird, wasn't it? It's hard to imagine her as a combat pilot."

"When she introduced me to Aeon, she said she'd been engaged to his older brother," Aleksei said quickly.

"Wait-what?" Nari leaned in even closer. "Why didn't you--?"

"It didn't seem important," Aleksei interrupted. "Not til she wouldn't talk about--"

"Well, Mick has pretty much implied that he's had to kill pilots to take their mobile suits," Eoin said quickly.

"You think someone killed Doctor Hisano's fiancee?" Nari asked. "That's awful..."

"That would explain why they don't talk about him. Or Atropos," Whitby stated. "Someone killed him and stole his mobile suit."

Aleksei shivered. It made sense, definitely. And maybe Jet knew who... He was tempted to say something about the message he'd gotten, but somehow, he wasn't ready. Whitby hadn't brought it up, either.

"Jet mentions it, though," Aleksei noted. "Well, Atropos. I think he wants us to know, but he can't just tell us. They're still looking for the guy."

"It has to still hurt," Nari said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Even with all the amazing things everyone does... they must still be mourning."

"We'll have to be careful," Whitby told the group. "We don't want to seem to be poking too much..."

"Yeah," Nari said, leaning back on the sofa. "I'm still getting weird looks from the Third Years for trying to find out what happened to those other students that hung out with Mick. I'm half-tempted to just ask Mitra the next time he's lounging around and willing to talk."

"I wouldn't do that." Eoin shook his head. "If we haven't been told about it as a warning of something not to do, well..."

"Maybe it never even happened?" Aleksei suggested. "Maybe it's just a story to keep people away?" He could hope. He didn't want to think about it.

"I don't think so," Whitby said slowly. "I might need to see about getting on a terminal with better search access, though, to be able to find any sort of report..."

"Be careful." Eoin frowned. "I don't want any of us getting in trouble for getting into something we shouldn't."

"It'd be nice to just have the truth," Aleksei commented.

"Maybe no one knows the truth?" Nari suggested. "Maybe that's why we're stuck trying to figure it out for ourselves."

Aleksei's datapad beeped. Without really thinking, he reached over and checked it.

Cardinell: [Surprise room check in five minutes. Tell Nari to scamper.]

He groaned and held out the message.

"How?" Nari wailed. "I don't have my bracelet!"

"I do," Whitby mumbled quickly. "She knows we're almost always all together. Dammit!"

"We'll get back to this," Eoin said. "If there's anything to get back to. If... we want to keep digging."

"It's deep," Aleksei said softly as he cleared the message. "And I want to know everything that happened. I want Atropos where it belongs - here in NIN-ANA."

They were quiet a moment. Nari finally nodded and then headed towards the door.

"Good night, guys."

Whitby wasn't far behind.

Which left Aleksei and Eoin and a very heavy silence.

"We have a change in plans for the day," Eris said sharply as the last stragglers of the class made their way into what they'd nicknamed The Rainbow Pit. At least the Safphirs were all whole at present, which made it look a little better overall. For awhile, with various parts off for deep inspection and repair, the hangar had looked a little ridiculous.

"As you can see," Eris continued, "your Safphirs have been reassembled and are currently functional. This is because you're going to be flying them today. You'd better hope that your own work and the work of the staff who looked them over last night was all sound, or else Instructor Hedone will have to go save you, too."

There was a little squeak from the back of the class, but instead of being Nari, it was Lyndee, who had somehow appeared from thin air. No one said a thing to her, though.

But everyone stared for a moment, wordless.

"Normally, this is something we usually start covering a bit later in the year, but since you've all recently passed your first piloting exams, it seems like a fine time to let you try flying," Eris continued as if she hadn't noticed the disturbance. "Even Miss Jessen there in the back has, by virtue of not being dead, been granted a pass."

Aleksei was a little confused, since they'd still not actually left their simulators in Instructor Moros's classes.

"With the rest of us acting as ground crew, you'll each be going on a two minute flight outside of NIN-ANA. You'll be stepping from the airlock, not launching, and you'll be on a tether," Eris explained. "Valentine Goldslayer and Gundam Megaera will be out there as well to help if you need it. There's more than enough room in each cockpit for two."

"Excuse me," Eoin asked. "What exactly will we be doing?"

"Figuring out what's wrong with your Safphirs," Eris replied with a little smile. "And then fixing it."

"They're broken?" Skerry questioned. "Is that safe?"

"All life-support and basic systems are online," Eris replied, giving him a wicked grin. "You'll be diagnosing basic errors like camera problems, unresponsive manipulators, calibration errors, and the like. You will not be in danger."

"And it's all things we can fix?" Nari asked.

Eris nodded. "I think so. You're a smart group. Go get suited up and whoever is ready first can go."

Aleksei didn't think he'd moved so fast in his life.

Despite their best efforts, Aleksei and Whitby were the fourth team ready, so it took more than an hour before they got their two minutes of cockpit time.

Halfway to the airlock, Whitby was already dictating notes on what they needed to look at, though Aleksei was a little worried that half of it was his piloting. The Safphir seemed sluggish, and like the one ankle -- the one they'd worked on last -- wasn't quite responding properly. There was a camera fault, too, but not the main. Aleksei still had his full view. And something was making the machine pull to the left, which was the opposite of what should have been happening with the bad ankle. At least that's what Whitby thought.

Space was almost easier.

"Hey, you two finally made it out to see me!" Valentine's voice echoed over the headsets built into their helmets. "Nice Safphir."

"It's light red," Aleksei replied flatly.

"Do we get to ask you any questions about what's wrong with these things?" Whitby questioned.

"Nope. I'm just here if you blow a knee motor or something and can't get back in on your own," Valentine replied almost lazily. "Hard job, this. I wish I'd taken Mick up on his offer of lending me some reading material."

"You've seen Mick?" Whitby questioned after noting down something about the right shoulder. "We haven't seen him in a few days."

"He was busy working on the Safphirs," Valentine said as if that should have been obvious. "Quite a few people playing along with this exercise... But I'm just out here getting gawked at by everyone who hasn't had a chance to see a Gundam up close yet."

Whitby chuckled, but Aleksei shook his head.

As much as he wanted to talk, figuring out the machine was more important. They only had a minute left.

"Less chatting, more working," he said firmly. He didn't want to be that direct, but... he was here to do this. And he could. He tested out each leg, carefully. Definitely something with the ankle. And then the arms, yes, shoulder, and there when he went to turn everything, there was the pull...

He rattled off a list of things to check to Whitby, who was typing them all in quickly, apparently having given up on the dictation application, which was probably stumbling over the technical terms.

The timer on the Safphir's main screen ran out far too quickly, turning most everything red aside from the main camera's screen.

"Time's up," Eris's voice called smoothly over their headsets. "Come on back in."

By the time the mobile suit was secured back in the hangar, Aleksei had rattled off another dozen things to check. He was surprised -- once he'd figured out how everything moved, just like in the simulator but with more weight behind it, the Safphir had been easy. And he and Whitby had agreed that this time, Aleksei could have all the fun.

He'd flown... Even if it was just for two minutes and on a tether... He'd done it.

No sooner were they down from the Safphir then it was time for the next group to go. No working til everyone had done their testing - it eliminated an unfair time advantage at least, and Aleksei had to admit, he needed to work on his signaling and other things. Certainly on airlock procedures.

An hour later, when he and Whitby were finally elbows-deep in the machine, everything caught up to him.

"There are nine Safphirs," he said, glancing back for just a moment.

"Right," Whitby said. "And...?"

"Valentine said Mick and some of the other teams worked on them. And Eris said 'staff'," Aleksei continued. "So Mick, probably Instructor Moros, Eris..."

"Gotcha," Whitby replied. "Um... Aeon's team, maybe? And Valentine? I don't know."

"Jet and Mitra," Aleksei suggested. "Though..."

"They're not pilots," Whitby reminded him.

"Mitra is," Aleksei corrected. Aditi. The white one that Jet had told them not to touch.

"That's probably just for show," Whitby said, but he was frowning and Aleksei caught that. "I also think that whoever rigged ours undid our ankle hydraulics. I know they were together correctly and now they're not. And even if Mitra is a pilot, he might not know a thing about repair."

"I wonder if we all have the same damage..."

"We don't," Whitby interrupted. "Think about it. Nari and Eoin nearly fell coming in and that was up at hip level and ours were fine."

"Eris, Moros, Mick, Valentine, Aeon, Purity, Mercado... That's seven."

"Maybe Moros's partner?" Whitby questioned.

"Maybe... And I'm sure there are teams we haven't met."

Whitby nodded. "Valentine seemed surprised this was ours. They must not have known."

"Ah... maybe we're over-thinking this," Aleksei commented. "At least all of our repairs should be easy ones, except maybe that camera."

"I think it's just a loose cable," Whitby replied. "We just have to figure out where it's loose. They're not going to throw anything too awful at us."

"True," Aleksei said, nodding.

They finished with just enough time to clean up their work area and wash off their faces before a line of instructors and pilots walked in, suited up and ready to go. It was the first time Aleksei had seen Mick fully suited, and Aleksei had to admit he was impressed. Mick's pilot suit was mostly black and red, with teal accents; it hugged muscle that Aleksei hadn't paid that much attention to. He certainly had a different form compared to Aeon, who was sleek and elegant, or Valentine, who was small and almost pretty. Purity and Eris were elegantly feminine, though Eris was wearing a far more practical suit compared to Purity, who had heels built into hers.

There was a set of unfamiliar faces as well, though Aleksei could only guess they were one of the other mission teams. There were two women and one man. One of the women had dark skin and hair and a burnt orange pilot suit. The other woman had lighter skin and violet hair in a tight bun. Both she and the man had on dark, black and blue pilot suits. Aleksei wasn't sure if it was the lighting or the cast from the metal walls that gave the man's fluffy, shoulder-length white hair a strange yellow cast.

And there was another woman at the far end in red who had her helmet on already. Aleksei wondered if he should know her.

Mercado was close behind Aeon, but in a uniform, not a pilot suit...

"While I know some of you have met some of our extended staff - NIN-ANA's mission teams, I know some of you haven't," Eris said. Her smile spoke volumes as she gestured. "We have two of them assisting us - first the team of Aeon Jester, Edison Mercado, and Purity Albion. And next, the team of Linsky Bennett, Zinaida Snow, and Vida Morales."

In turn, each of the group held up a hand for a tiny wave. Linsky's team kept close around him, but they were all smiling at the group.

"We have myself, Instructor Moros, and his partner Oizys," Eris continued. "Then Valentine Goldslayer, who was nice enough to help you out when you were outside, and Mi-- Instructor Hedone, and, of course, Cardinell, your Resident Advisor.

"Cardinell?" It was Quinn, surprised.

"Of course," Cardinell replied as she pulled off her helmet. "I went to school here too."

Eris cleared her throat. "Now then. First years, back to ground crew duties. We'll have everyone go in sets of three to save time."

Aleksei held his breath as the professionals moved over to the Safphirs. He was a little afraid they'd had the bad luck of getting Instructor Moros, but he was able to exhale safely when Moros headed in the other direction. Instead, it was Aeon who grabbed onto the cockpit cable of the pink Safphir.

"Aeon," Whitby said. Aleksei nodded.

"Yeah... wow. I hope we did okay."


Collectively, they ushered the mobile suits out and in as trios, without Eris barking instructions at them. It felt good, really, to get the gist of the procedures. Though Eris was still right there if she was needed - Valentine and Edison were nearby, too.

Finally, once all of the Safphirs were re-secured, the professionals descended and stood, expectant.

Aeon smiled at Whitby and Aleksei and they both rushed over.

"How did we do?" Whitby asked. While Whitby had seemed distracted at first, he had quickly gotten into the repairs. Not that Aleksei hadn't. All of the other stuff they'd been trying to figure out was haunting him, but it quickly fell into the background of his mind while he worked.

"I think you fixed things that I didn't break," Aeon admitted with a soft laugh. "You even caught that the pull wasn't from the ankle but was from a poor AMBAC setting. Nice. You pass."

"Thank you," Aleksei said, and he meant it. That had been his doing. He really had felt the Safphir. Maybe it really was his calling after all...

"Looking forward to working with you again, guys," Aeon said before turning to head in Edison's direction.

"Wait!" Aleksei cried. There had to be something he could ask. Some little scrap that wouldn't be...

"What is it, Aleksei?" Aeon asked, fixing his green eyes firmly on Aleksei.

"Um..." But Aleksei had nothing. Nothing that wouldn't be the wrong thing to ask in front of their peers, even if everyone was still busy with their own Safphirs and evaluations. "How is Anaplekte?"

"Good as new." Aeon smiled and shook his head. "Done before Mick went and smashed up Tisiphone, actually."


Aeon winked and then headed over to Edison and Valentine, both of whom were smiling.

"What were you going to ask?" Whitby questioned.

"Wish I knew," Aleksei replied. "I'm sorry."

"Mick's tonight?"

"Yeah." Aleksei frowned. "Finish cleaning up here and..."

"Start sorting out other messes," Whitby finished.


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