Disclaimer: Gundam Wing and Vandread don't belong to me, so go bother someone else.
< >: Thoughts
Measure of a Man
Hibiki groaned as he picked himself off the training room floor. Standing a few meters from where he had been thrown was the premier Gundam pilot of Colony L1, Heero Yuy.
"Ow! You didn't have to throw me so hard!" Hibiki complained.
"Your enemies will NOT be as lenient as I am right now." The older mecha pilot stated. "I'm taking it easy on you."
"You call this taking it easy?" The Tarak youth complained. "I don't even know why I agreed to these self-defense lessons! I can always fight with my partner!"
Heero gave his comrade-in-arms a stern expression, while crossing his arms over his chest. "The mecha and the Dreads are not important. That includes Wing Zero and your partner."
"What?! What are you talking about?! Without my partner and the Dreads, we'd all be dead by now! My partner and I..."
"Your 'partner' is nothing more than a mass of metal, circuits and servos. The Dreads and my Gundam are the same. They are NOTHING... without their pilots. Keep in mind, that when all is said and done, our weapons are no more than extensions of ourselves. A gun is useless without a finger to pull the trigger. A sword is nothing without a hand to hold it. A Dread, a Gundam or a Van-Type... they're all just oversized paperweights without someone in their cockpits."
"Yeah, so what's your point?"
"My point is that you WON'T have you precious 'partner' all the time. Keeping your weapon in good working order is fine. But all the maintenance and upgrades in the universe won't make one shred of difference if the controller is not in the same shape or better. Relying solely on your weapon is a very good way to end up dead."
"You're talking nonsense! My partner is all I need to get by! I don't need anything or anyone else!"
"If that's how it is, then what are you without your partner? Are you even a man?"
"What kind of stupid question is that?! Of course I'm a man! I was a man since the day I was born!"
"Oh really? Well then, you can be a man WITHOUT your partner for a few hours." Heero went back into a ready stance. "Let's see what kind of man you REALLY are. Or do you need to go back to the hanger and get your partner to prove your manhood?"
That last quip was enough to get Hibiki to recklessly attack again... with painful results.
"You fight about as well as you pilot your Vanguard." Heero commented as he swerved to avoid Hibiki's charge, then slammed a fist into his opponent's solar plexus, causing him to gasp and stagger backward. "You have raw talent, but it is unfocused. You have the determination, but no direction."
Hibiki was again thrown like a flapjack.
"You let your emotions control you." The Gundam pilot stated. "They have no place on the battlefield and must be either controlled or disregarded." He began recalling his early youth and his training as a soldier. Though he had mellowed out somewhat after the Gundam Wars had ended; he still retained the combat edge, which had made him into an effective fighter and Mobile Suit pilot.
"Why you...!" Hibiki charged recklessly again.
"You have no discipline!" Heero added.
"Your movements are reckless and predictable!"
"THINK BEFORE YOU ACT!"
The Tarak male became a battered and bruised heap on the floor. As he moaned in pain, Heero stood over him with a firm expression on his face.
"Now that we're done with the warm-up, it's time to get serious."
<That was a warm-up?!> Hibiki thought as he staggered to his feet.
Heero took note of Hibiki's shocked expression and nodded. "This is going to be a long trip and you've got a long way to go."
Later, in the Sick Bay...
"OW! He didn't have to hit me that hard!" Hibiki groaned as Duero applied some lotion to help the swelling go down.
"From what I've learned from Heero, I'd say that he went easy on you." The physician said as he finished with his ministrations.
"That's what he said, but it didn't feel like it." The hotheaded third class Tarak citizen moped. He then took on a curious expression as he sat up on the examination table. "And how would you know that he went easy on me?"
Duero shrugged. "I spoke with him after the Captain had made us part of the crew. He told me that he had been trained, not only as a soldier and pilot, but also as an assassin."
This bit of information "Huh? You mean...?"
The healer nodded. "He's been trained to kill and he told me of ways, in which he could end a person's life with his bare hands. I saw the recordings of your session with him on the ship's monitors. Believe me, he has both the knowledge and skills to back up those claims. I could see it in his eyes that he's killed before. Make no mistake, if Heero had not been holding back, you'd be dead."
Hibiki gulped a bit as the realization sunk in. He began to feel a shiver travel down his spine, and yet he also felt a bit of awe and wonder for the Gundam Pilot. He had a feeling that he could learn a lot from him.
On the bridge of the newly formed ship, now christened the Nirvana, the aged pirate captain Magno let off a tired sigh. It had been three weeks since the two ships had merged into one and the female pirates had been under constant attacks from an unknown enemy. As such, survival had been made top priority and the prejudices between the genders were put aside for the duration of the voyage, which was estimated to last more than 270 days.
After gathering some information about their enemies, Magno and her First Officer had decided that only way to get back to their home systems and warn both the planets Mejele and Tarak were to integrate the males they had captured into their crew. It was all out of necessity, as the new ship could not function without them. Bart had been designated as the only one who could pilot the vessel, due to some nuances with the Paksis Pragma. Duero's expertise as a doctor was actually welcomed by those who had suffered under Paiway's care. As for Hibiki and Heero, the defense of the new ship became their duty, which they performed exceptionally well.
However, this led to many instances of friction as strong wills on both sides of the gender line found themselves at odds with each other. This was particularly apparent between two certain individuals...
"All squadrons attack using Alpha-One pattern!" Meia commanded as she had her Paksis-enhanced Dread execute a tight turn. As she drew a bead on another of those strange alien fighters, (Cube Fighters as they would later be called), her tactical monitors began flashing some warning lights. The enemy units had anticipated the maneuvers of the Dreads and were now launching counterattacks. Formations began to break down as the female pilots became disoriented by the unexpected reversals.
The only combatants that weren't affected by the sudden change in tactics were the male defenders of the Nirvana. Heero was used to such combat situations and was able to guide Hibiki through the carnage. Wing Zero continued to destroy Cube Fighters at a steady rate with the Tarak Vanguard close by and lending support.
Inside his cockpit, Heero nodded as the Zero System fed data on the attacking units, directly into his brain's mental processes. Probabilities of movement and battle options were also transmitted. Such a flood of information coming in all at once would have driven a normal pilot insane, but the Gundam operator had long since overcome that problem.
"Hibiki, adjust your trajectory by three degrees and come about to coordinates four-two-seven. Attack the enemy units to your right while I destroy the ones above you."
The Tarak man didn't like taking orders from others, but when his Vanguard started getting pounded from all sides, he quickly maneuvered his machine in the directions Heero had indicated. He found himself in some clear space and near two Cube Fighters. Two quick slashes with his energy sword reduced them to scrap.
Above him, a barrage of plasma shots reduced two more Cube Fighters to metallic Swiss cheese. Swinging about, Wing Zero's Vulcan guns let loose with another storm of gatling fire, blasting three more enemy units into oblivion.
Seeing that the Dreads were in a bit of trouble, Heero began guiding Wing Zero toward them. He raised Meia on communications. "Wing Zero to Dread Leader. Bring your squadron down to five-niner-two-four. We might be able to box in the remaining enemy fighters and..."
"Get off my communications!" Meia shot back. "I don't need you to tell me how to fight!"
Heero shook his head as his tactical displays showed him that the Dreads were still disorganized and were taking hits. Calling upon the Zero System once again, he analyzed the situation and determined the best plan of countering the threats. He then contacted Hibiki.
The Dread pilots became confused as Wing Zero and the Vanguard began making circular paths about the enemy units. The Cube Fighters also became puzzled at the sudden change in tactics and started to bunch up among each other. As several groups of enemy craft were formed, Heero calculated their trajectories, then had Wing Zero bring out the Twin Buster Rifle. Separating the weapon into its two halves, he took aim and fired.
Twin beams of annihilation lanced through space, blasting several groups of Cube Fighters to atoms. Those that managed to avoid being vaporized inadvertently found themselves on the wrong side of Hibiki's energy swords and in the gunsights of the Dreads. The females were quick to pounce on this unexpected opportunity. The remainder of the enemy was quickly dispatched, much of the dismay of Meia, who had just been upstaged.
Inside his cockpit, Heero nodded as his threat monitors indicated that the enemy had been obliterated. He cared not as to how the battle was won, only that their side was the victor.
End of Flashback...
Magno sighed again. Ever since that battle, Meia had been harboring a large amount of resentment toward the Gundam Pilot. The aged woman hoped that those two worked out their differences and soon. A breakdown in the crew was the last thing they needed.
A few days later...
"Where do you think you're going?" Meia demanded as Heero and Hibiki were heading out to the hanger where Wing Zero and the Vanguards were stored. Behind her was Jura and Dita.
Both males were dressed in modified versions of Heero's flight suit, which he had worn during his battle with the White Fang. Though the Tarak male preferred his own clothes, the Gundam pilot had convinced him that wearing the proper gear was more suitable. Any protest was usually answered with a glare, followed by a swat upside the head.
"Mecha training exercises." Heero answered simply as he and Hibiki continued to head toward the hanger. "It would be best to familiarize Hibiki with ALL the principles of Mobile Suit combat and tactics, while we have the time."
"You're not allowed to go out without authorization!" Meia said in outrage. She didn't like the idea of males having free run of the Nirvana and usurping her level of command. She hadn't forgotten about the time that he had upstaged her.
Heero gazed upon the spirited, blue-haired girl with slight fascination. In some ways, the Dread Leader reminded him of Relena. He could sense a determination and unbending will within her. Her eyes flashed with a spark that spoke of fire, yet with discipline. The black headpiece she wore contrasted with the graceful lines of her cheekbones and gave her a kind of hardened appearance, but didn't detract from her natural beauty. The sensation he had felt when he had met Relena in that private school three years ago came back to him as he continued to look upon Meia.
The Gundam pilot then banished such thoughts from his mind as he fell back into his old persona of the perfect soldier and fighter. After the Gundam Wars, he had felt out of place in a peaceful environment. Being on the Nirvana had given him purpose again and he was in a role that was familiar to him. In other words... mission accepted.
"I have authorization, from the Captain." Heero said simply.
"What?" Meia was caught off guard by this news.
The fighter from Colony L1 shrugged. "According to the First Officer, we'll be stopping by a nearby pulsar cluster for repairs and modifications. We'll be there for several hours. I intend to use that time to put Hibiki through his paces in Mobile Suit warfare tactics. If he's going to be part of the defense forces for the Nirvana, then he's going to need as much hands-on experience as possible. I explained it to the Captain and her second-in-command, and they agreed with me and granted me permission."
"Why don't you use the Vanguard simulators?" Jura asked as she tossed her long, blonde hair off to one side.
Heero shook his head. "I've already had Hibiki run through several programs with those machines. They're not half-bad, but they don't compare to the real thing." He paused for a moment, then addressed Meia. "I've also seen your battle tactics and simulations during squadron briefings. They're insightful and impressive, but ultimately limited."
"WHAT?!" Meia gasped in outrage.
"I'm not saying that they're not effective, but they follow the same basic attack patterns with some variations. I've already found several holes in your latest battle strategies."
Meia snorted. "What would YOU know of battle plans and how to fight? As far as I can tell, it's only because of that machine of yours and that beam weapon!"
"I learned from experience." Heero replied in a firm tone. "When you've gone up against the most fearsome opponents and weaponry, you learn to be flexible and keep an open mind. You don't limit yourself to just simulations and proposed battle plans. You have to have practical experience." (1)
"And you're saying that you're the expert?" She scoffed.
"I never claimed to be an expert. I'm only saying that I know from experience." Heero countered. "If you still don't think so, then why don't we have a little challenge?"
"My Gundam versus your Dread in some war games. I won't use the Twin Buster Rifle. Winner take all?" (2)
Ever since joining up with Magno's pirates, Meia Gisborn had never backed down from any challenge, and she certainly wouldn't let herself get shown up by a man. Her pride wouldn't allow it.
"Fine then! But when I win, you'll be under MY command! You will follow my orders without question! Deal?"
Heero was silent for a long while then replied, "Mission accepted."
A few hours later...
"Are you sure about letting those two go through with this?" BC asked as she and the rest of the bridge crew watched the events that were about to take place.
Magno nodded as she waited for the war games to begin. She had noticed the growing animosity between the two pilots since the journey had begun. Both were exceptionally skilled, but both also possessed strong wills that often clashed with each other. It would be best to clear the air between them.
"I think it would be best if Heero and Meia settle their differences here and now.” MAgno said. “If we're going to make it back to our home systems, then I want all of our forces in full cooperation. If this settles the issues between Meia and Heero, then so be it. Besides, I'd like to see what Yuy is really capable of."
"Okay, here we go." Parfat announced on the communicator as Meia and Heero were strapping themselves in their machines. "The weapon systems on both of your fighters have been set at reduced levels for your safety. They'll still be able to do some damage but not enough to seriously injure either of you or your machines. However, the Dread and the Gundam are equipped with sensor plates to register direct hits and damage, as if you were firing at full capacity. Your machines will react accordingly to whatever hits you sustain. Once your fighter's damage level has been exceeded, it will automatically shut down all engines and navigation, indicating that you have been destroyed."
As the engineer continued with her explanations, two Dread Squadrons were deployed to patrol the perimeter of the area where Heero and Meia would be fighting it out. They were to keep watch for the enemy. With their fighter leader and the Gundam pilot firing with reduced-powered weaponry, they would need the support should the enemy appear.
"So who are you betting on?" Jura asked as she and Barnette watched from their Dreads.
Barnette snorted. "Isn't it obvious? Meia is going to win hands down. There's no way that a man can be a better pilot than a woman."
"Hmmmm... I'm not too sure about that, Barnette." Jura remarked as she watched Meia and Heero launch from the Nirvana. "From what I've seen so far, that Gundam pilot knows how to fight, unlike those Vanguard trainees we faced before."
"Are you siding with the men?!"
"No... I just think that this won't be an easy fight for Meia."
"Come on, Heero! The pride of the men of Tarak is at stake here!" Bart cried out as he, Hibiki and Duero watched from their quarters.
"May I remind you Bart, that Heero is NOT from Tarak?" The doctor said.
"So he isn't from Tarak." Hibiki shrugged as he kept his gaze on the monitors. "He's a man and he'll beat her and put those women in their place!"
"I don't think he's doing this to show up the females." Duero remarked.
"What do you mean? Why else would he be doing this? He's going to prove that men are better, right?"
"I'm surprised at you Hibiki. Despite all the time you've spent with Heero, you still don't know him very well."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Let's just watch and you'll see what I mean."
At that moment, Bart was called to the bridge to navigate the ship, in case the enemy appeared.
Out in space, Heero deftly guided Wing Zero through the asteroid belt that was part of the battle zone. The war games would not only test their fighting and strategic skills, but also piloting abilities, as Dread and Gundam came in from opposite sides of the asteroid field to face off in a clear sector in the center.
Being smaller than the Dread, the Gundam had an easier time of navigating the large chunks of rock, metals and other space debris. As he made his machine execute a spiraling maneuver to avoid an oncoming meteoroid, he began considering his battle strategies for when he sighted Meia's fighter. He had considered activating the Zero System, but decided against it. To truly drive his point home, he opted to pit his own formidable skills against hers. The Zero System was handy, but this time it was going to be a battle of natural abilities.
Heero knew about the Dreads, both their strengths and weaknesses. They were well armed and very fast, which made them perfect for assault and long-range attacks. However, they were at a grave disadvantage in close-quarters and they were highly dependent on their navigational and sensor instruments. Wing Zero with its Twin Buster Rifle, was superior to them in terms of firepower, but the Gundam pilot had promised not to use that devastating weapon and had left it behind on Gascogne's delivery ship. As a result, he would be fighting with a handicap. However, such things had never stopped Heero before and as he gazed upon his surroundings, a plan of action began to form.
Inside her Dread, Meia began running through several possible battle strategies on her combat computer. She had to find the right tactic to use against her opponent. She found it somewhat difficult to concentrate on her method of attack and also pilot her fighter through the treacherous asteroid field.
When a certain battle ploy appeared, she nodded and programmed its intricate movement patterns into her fighter’s battle protocols. It was perfect. It emphasized the best characteristics of her Paksis-enhanced Dread and took advantage of the weaknesses of mecha-combat vehicles such as the Van-Types. Heero’s Gundam was no different, despite its enhancements and its pilot, and he didn’t have the option of long-range attack without that Twin Buster Rifle.
Meia smiled as she neared the battle zone where Heero was supposed to meet her. The sector became clear of all obstacles and she found herself in an open area of space. Her sensors were on full alert as she scanned for her opponent. Her body became tense as she waited for Wing Zero to appear.
Suddenly, her sensors began giving off warning alarms as a large object was heading toward her position. Meia assumed by its size that it had to be the Gundam. She snorted as she saw how recklessly he was charging in and took aim at the approaching object. Once it came within range, she’d give it a full power blast and take out Heero with one shot. Her right index finger hovered near the firing stud as she prepared to shoot once she sighted her target. This was almost too easy. All she had to do was aim and...
Meia had to react instantly when she saw that it was not Wing Zero, but a large asteroid hurtling toward her. Even if her weapons were fully powered, she wouldn’t have been able to destroy it. The Dread pulled up abruptly, and narrowly evaded the chunk of rock as it passed below her. However, just as she breathed out a sigh of relief, the bottom of her fighter shuddered like a tin roof being pelted by large hailstones. It was then jostled as something impacted hard against the underside.
She realized that she had just been suckered.
“Underhanded, but effective.” Magno commented as Heero had scored the first hits.
“Hmmm, a variation of the Trojan Horse stratagem.” BC commented as she had witnessed Wing Zero suddenly appear from behind the asteroid and let loose with its Vulcan guns, followed by a swipe with its Beam Saber at the underside of Meia’s Dread. Luckily, since his weapons had been powered down, the damage was not as great as it could have been. However, the sensor plates that Parfat had installed would still react accordingly and certain systems on Meia’s Dread would either be reduced in function or shut down from that attack.
“That wasn’t fair!” Meia growled into her communicator as she began taking evasive action then started firing at the Gundam. Her control panel flashed with exaggerated damage reports and a few systems were now inoperative, due to Heero’s sneak attack.
“I don’t recall any rules being stated before this battle.” Heero stated as he put his machine through its own evasion moves and returned fire. He took a few hits, but shrugged them off as superficial. “And our enemies won’t play by any rules but their own. So I’m free to do anything I wish.” Wing Zero put on a burst of speed and pulled away, daring the Dread to follow.
Meia growled again as she began pursuing her opponent.
“Wow, look at Mr. Alien Two go!” Dita exclaimed excitedly from her own Dread.
“That man cheated.” Barnette remarked with irritation. “Using that asteroid to hide behind and ambush Meia was low.”
“Oh?” Jura said with a bit of surprise. “And exactly how is that any different from the tactics we use on our raids? It’s not like we give our targets any warning before we shoot at them.”
“Well that’s... not the same! I mean...” Jura’s friend stuttered as she tried to think of a reason as to why Heero’s tactics were considered unfair.
“He’s leading her.” BC observed as Meia continued to dog Heero’s tail.
“I imagine that Meia is quite upset that he got the drop on her.” The pirate captain agreed. “It seems that Heero is not only an exceptional pilot, but he seems to know a bit about psychological warfare as well.”
The Gundam shuddered slightly as a glancing shot nicked the surface of the right rear wing. The damage report appeared on Heero’s console, but he decided that it was a minor hit and dismissed it, as Meia’s Dread started to close the gap between them. The female fighter had the advantage in overall speed, but the smaller mecha had an edge in maneuverability. Meia’s larger Dread needed more room to turn and change direction. Heero knew that he couldn't it outrun his opponent, so he would have to out-finesse her.
As he lead her toward a cluster of space debris and other masses, he let loose with another barrage of plasma bullets. Though less in potency than usual, they were still powerful enough to reduce mid-sized chunks into swarms of flying meteorites. With a tactic that he had used against Zechs Marquis, Heero’s mecha became even harder to target.
“What’s he doing now?” Hibiki asked as he and Duero watched the battle.
The physician nodded as he understood Heero’s strategy. “Very clever. He’s creating a kind of ‘smokescreen’ with all that debris to confuse Meia’s sensors, and force her to take evasive action.”
The Dread Leader had to reluctantly admit, at least to herself, that Heero was not someone to take lightly. With dozens of pieces of rock and ice pelting against her shields, and also reducing visibility and sensor function, she had to break off on her pursuit of him. Unfortunately, as she moved her craft off to the right, the Gundam made an inverted turn and sprayed her port side with more gatling rounds. Her console lit with even more damage reports as her fighter’s response time was lowered.
However, Meia was not a quitter by any means. Quickly diverting power to her thrusters and weaponry, she got her fighter back up to speed. She put her Dread into tight turn and managed to catch her opponent off-guard. Several blasts from her forward blasters hit Wing Zero in the torso and drove it back.
Inside his cockpit, Heero nodded and mentally chided himself as damage reports came in. He had gotten careless and now his Gundam’s reaction time and controls were reduced. However, he put those thoughts aside as he decided that it was time to end this battle. With his mecha considerably damaged, relatively speaking, he would have to rely on one last bit of trickery.
Purposely making his Gundam perform some erratic maneuvers, he hoped that Meia would take the bait and try to come in to finish him off. As he saw that the Dread coming toward him at high speed, he tensed up and prepared to execute one of the riskiest Mobile Suit maneuvers ever. He'd only get one chance at this.
Inside her cockpit, Meia prepared to deliver the final blow. Heero’s machine was hurt and was flying irregularly. She assumed that his controls were damaged from her last attack. One final barrage would end their duel. Her targeting computer zeroed in and locked onto the Gundam. She closed in to achieve optimal range. The all of a sudden, Wing Zero began... charging right at her?!
Meia thought that Heero had lost it and was now attempting a suicide attack. As soon as he came into range, she fired her weapons. Just as what appeared to be the final blast was about to strike the Gundam, it pitched to the left at the last nanosecond, and the beam only struck the left top wing vernier. The Gundam rolled over and passed underneath her Dread. The Vulcan guns began spitting out thousands of rounds and raked the Dread’s underside again. Just as it reached the stern of Meia’s craft, the Beam Saber flashed and struck near her left control thruster.
“It seems this battle is over.” Magno remarked as she watched Meia’s Dread list to one side and begin to drift.
At that moment, the general alert went off as the long-range sensors picked up something approaching the Nirvana’s position.
Meia desperately tried to get her Dread to turn about before Heero had a chance to finish her off, but his last strike had incapacitated one of her vital maneuvering systems. The simulated damage was reported and caused the shutdown of her thruster controls. She then felt a loud thump as something big and heavy landed on her ship’s hull. She looked up and gasped as she saw Wing Zero towering above her on the bow, just in front of the cockpit. In its right hand was its Beam Saber and its green energy blade was pointing right at her. If this had been a real battle, then her opponent was in the perfect position to kill her. Then her monitor showed the face of Heero Yuy as he opened communications. His one statement said it all.
It was then that the true enemy began attacking.
“Captain, enemy forces have been detected.” One of the bridge crew announced as her scanners picked up several energy signatures heading toward their position.
“Ship type, numbers and coordinates?” BC demanded as the entire crew was put on full battle alert.
“Mostly composed of thirty or so Cube Types, two Seed Ships and something that I can’t identify. It must be some new type of fighter.”
“Scramble all Dread fighters immediately and inform Hibiki to launch.” Magno ordered. “Meia and Heero are in grave danger with their weapons powered down.”
“We must get back to the Nirvana. I‘ll have to tow your Dread in.” Heero stated as his Mobile Suit’s tactical displays lit up. Normally, he would have dismissed the large number of Cube Fighters as a minor annoyance, (he had defeated greater odds during Operation Meteor and against the White Fang), but with reduced weaponry and the lack of his Twin Buster Rifle, retreat was the most viable option. Furthermore, Meia was helpless with her Dread in its current state.
“I don’t need your advice or help!” Meia growled as she attempted to reroute power to her thrusters. It was bad enough that she had been defeated by a man, but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of having to depend on him to get out of this situation. She had her pride.
Luckily for her, Heero cared nothing of ego, and decided to aid a comrade-in-arms, whether she wanted it or not. Launching Wing Zero off the bow of her craft, he engaged the Gundam’s emergency tow line and attached the high-strength cable to the front of the Dread. Making certain that it was secure, he then bypassed the circuits of the simulation programs that Parfait had installed, allowing the Gundam to power up to its normal levels. With thrusters going at full throttle, he began pulling Meia’s ship back toward the Nirvana.
Meia couldn’t believe it. How had he managed to get his mecha moving as if it were undamaged? She still couldn’t get her ship going under its own power as the computer continued to believe that it had been fatally damaged during the simulation. She had tried to convince the CPU that the mock battle was over, but it wouldn’t respond. And if those enemy fighters were to fire upon her, then she would most certainly perish.
Just then, a trio of Cube Fighters came diving down at them from the 10 o’clock position. She braced for impact.
At that moment, inside Wing Zero’s cockpit, Heero finally released the limiters on his weapon systems. He nodded as he engaged the targeting systems and opened fire with the Wing Vulcans. Hundreds of rounds of armor-piercing plasma bullets sprayed forward, ripping the enemy units to pieces.
After dispatching the fighters, Wing Zero took out its Beam Saber and started flying in a defensive pattern around the Dread. More Cube Fighters converged on their position as they had determined that Meia’s craft was unable to fight back and therefore was an easy target. The Gundam cut them apart when they got too close.
The lead Dread pilot became mortified at the entire affair. Her safety and well-being now depended on a MAN who had defeated her!
In the engineering section of the Nirvana, Parfet was quite surprised to see Wing Zero functioning with all of its weapons fully active. She had thought that she had powered down all of its combat systems for the duel. She wondered how Heero had reprogrammed the complicated battle protocols in such a short time. Then she became concerned that Meia’s fighter was still inactive due to the simulated damage it had suffered.
“Transmit the simulation override codes to Meia’s Dread! Get it back online!” The head engineer ordered to one of her staff.
The girl shook her head as she replied. “I can’t! Meia’s receiver took a hit and isn’t responding.”
Heero became concerned as well, as he couldn’t fight against the enemy and protect Meia for very long. He needed the Dread pilot back into action as soon as possible, so he raised her on communications and began transmitting data through the tow line. The cable was equipped with a computer linkup for emergencies.
“Meia, please enter the following codes into your computer’s battle protocols. They should override the simulation systems and have your Dread’s propulsion and weapons back online.”
“I don’t need your help!” Meia nearly screamed, as she continued her futile attempts to get her fighter working again. As enemy fire started to get through Heero’s defense, her craft shuddered and rocked with the impacts. As warning lights began to fill her console, she gritted her teeth and finally... swallowed her pride. She opened up her computer’s data interface system, and started the transfer of codes. Her fighter’s battle systems and propulsion units began to stir to life. In a few milliseconds, the transfer would be complete and...
She felt her heart stop for one agonizing second as the data stream was stopped and she looked out her cockpit and saw that the tow cable had been severed by a stray shot. As a result, she had only downloaded half of the codes. She had full power with thrusters and navigation, but her weapon systems and shielding were only at 60%. When her ship took several more hits, she immediately began beating a hasty retreat toward the Nirvana. However, the enemy had other ideas.
The other Dread pilots and Hibiki soon came onto the scene to provide cover for Meia and to relieve Heero. At that moment, a strange new combatant entered the scene and caused the formations to scatter.
The thing was about the size of a Seed Ship, but looked like a mass of spheres. The object’s surface started to rotate and spin on its axis as huge spikes appeared from the spheres, making it resemble a huge sea urchin. The Dreads fired barrages of missiles at it, but could not damage it as the impacts exploded harmlessly against the spikes.
Then the two Seed Ships began releasing more Cube Fighters, forcing the Dreads and the Vanguard away from Meia and Heero. The giant space urchin started to home in on their position. A moment later, it launched its spikes like grotesque missiles and the two pilots barely managed to evade them. It regenerated its spikes and continued to press the attack.
On board her supply vessel, Gascogne received a message from Heero.
“I would appreciate my Buster Rifle back.”
“Delivery order received and coming up.” The head supplier replied as she ordered her stage hands to launch Wing Zero’s most powerful weapon. The rifle was fitted on a booster unit and sent on its way toward the Gundam.
However, the enemy units picked up on the maneuver and sped to intercept.
Heero saw the Cube Fighters moving in and raced to beat them to the rifle. At the same time Meia also went to aid him. Though she still resented him, even she recognized the tactical importance of the weapon.
Adrenaline levels of the two began to climb as they moved toward a common goal, which was to defeat the enemy. Unknown to both of them, the Paksis energies which resided within their fighters began to react to their mental wavelengths and synchronized. As they converged toward the Twin Buster Rifle’s position, their control panels lit up with eerie auras of light.
Then it happened.
Dita was just suggesting to Hibiki to merge into the Vandread, when she and all the others witnessed the birth of a new weapon. Wing Zero was suddenly swallowed up by Meia’s Dread as a hatch opened up and enveloped the Gundam. The pirate fighter then inverted itself and grew metallic wings that resembled Wing Zero’s, but on a much larger scale. The front became shaped like a bird’s head and a set of talons and a tail appeared. The Twin Buster Rifle split apart into its two halves and each component attached itself to a wing, merging into the alloys. When the transformation was completed, the combined fighters had formed a craft of unprecedented power.
The Nirvana’s bridge...
“They joined together like Dita and Hibiki!” Buzom declared as she and everyone else gazed with awe.
“They formed another Vandread?” One of the bridge members gasped.
Magno shook her head slightly. “Since it’s a combination of a Dread and a Gundam, I think it would be more appropriate to call it... a Gundread.”
The Gundread cockpit...
Meia was NOT happy. She was in the most embarrassing situation as she found herself sitting in Heero’s lap. They were in a new cockpit with very unfamiliar controls. Her hands were resting on some kind of sensor control pads, with Heero’s hands on top of hers.
“Don’t touch me! Get away! I said I didn’t need your help!”
Heero was not listening as he looked at the tactical displays and saw that the enemy was closing in on them. He then gave the new controls a nudge as he tried to familiarize himself with them. The Gundread shuddered as several hits impacted against the hull. His copilot continued to struggle in his lap, causing him to be distracted,(especially since a certain part of his anatomy was being stimulated). He bit down on the discomfort and focused on his military training to ignore such primal emotions.
Noting that some of the pedals and levers were arranged ergonomically toward Meia’s position, while others were close to him, he logically deduced that this strange new machine needed the both of them to operate it. And with the situation at hand, he had no time for arguments. He caught hold of her hands on the control pads and began squeezing down on them.
The blue-haired girl winced in pain as Heero’s enhanced strength threatened to crush the bones in her hands. She looked over her shoulder to glare at him, but found herself staring into the most intense Prussian blue eyes she had ever seen. His expression said it all. He was NOT in the mood for any disagreements. He nodded toward the controls then gestured to the tactical displays. Then he growled two words.
The Dread pilot was silent for a moment, then nodded as she reached for the controls that were nearest to her.
To the amazement of everyone present, the Gundread suddenly sprang into action. The craft went from motionless to mind-boggling speed in no time flat, running rings about the enemy fighters as if they were standing still. Cube Fighters were blown apart in the Gundread’s wake, and even the giant sea urchin found itself hard-pressed to keep up. The two Seed Ships released more Cube Fighters, hoping to overwhelm it by sheer numbers.
Heero observed the tactical displays and frowned. Despite the Gundread’s blinding acceleration and maneuverability, the enemy had an advantage in regenerating numbers. The best strategy was to eliminate the Seed Ships and that meant having to get in close. Wing Zero was more suited for close combat, but this new machine seemed to specialize in speed and long-range attacks. If only he were back in his Mobile Suit...
As if responding to Heero’s mental wish, the Gundread began to shift and transform again. The cockpit started to compress and become smaller, causing an unexpected reaction from Meia. Her rate of breathing started to speed up, along with her heart rate, and she began to sweat as the cockpit closed in on her.
On the outside, the Dread pilots and everyone aboard the Nirvana were again shocked as the Gundread underwent a second transformation. Legs and arms appeared as the general body shape took on a bipedal configuration. The wings relocated themselves onto its back near the shoulders, while the two halves of the Twin Buster Rifle mounted themselves on each forearm. A head appeared on top, completing the metamorphosis, and a new mecha that resembled Wing Zero was born. It was as large as Vandread Dita and was ready for action. Unfortunately, one of its operators wasn’t. In fact, it began to twitch and spasm uncontrollably, as if it were... afraid.
“Let me out! I can’t do this! I can’t! I can’t! I... I don‘t know what to do!”
Meia struggled anew as she found herself in a more confined cockpit. Her anxiety rose to near-breaking point and her breathing was more shallow. She couldn’t stop trembling, which got Heero very concerned. Now was not the time to lose one’s nerve.
<NO! Meia is showing all the signs of classic claustrophobia. It’s making the ship behave erratically and I need her cooperation! There’s got to be a way to calm her down! Think! What can I do to get through to her? Her problem is of a psychological nature and... Wait! That’s it! It’s risky, but I think the Zero System can be used to help Meia control her fear. Its cybernetic interface might be able to pierce through whatever is causing her trauma. Of course, I run the risk of causing even more psychological damage to her if the system overloads her mental processes, and I’ve never had the system on with TWO people in the cockpit.>
When another series of hits rocked the Gundread, the soldier of Operation Meteor made his decision.
<No choice! If I don’t do something, we’re both dead! I’ve already mastered the Zero System, so I might be able to guide her through it.>
He then nodded as he found the controls to the Zero System and entered the access code... Z-E-R-O.
Meia’s attention was waylaid from her fear as the cockpit was bathed in a myriad of psychedelic lights. She began to feel her tension and anxiety slip away as her psyche and Heero’s merged with the Gundread’s battle computer. Statistics and combat protocols were transmitted into her mind as her movements started to match that of her partner. As if they were one, the two pilots worked the tandem controls perfectly.
The Gundread moved with unbelievable speed and lethal precision as it flew through the enemy units like a hawk against a flock of pigeons. Taking out a large cylinder from a compartment in the back, the machine ignited the device’s energy blade and started swinging it about. The Beam Saber cut through the Cube Fighter with uncanny precision. Foes were being decimated by the dozens as the Gundread ripped through their ranks.
“Impossible! How can such a large mecha move so fast?” Buzom exclaimed. She then looked down at the tactical readouts on her console. “No, that can’t be right! According to this, their response time is less than 0.00004! That’s not humanly possible!”
The sensation the Meia was feeling was unlike anything she had experienced and it made her somewhat uneasy. The maneuvers and tactics were coming to her at almost a ridiculous ease. She felt as if nothing could stop her. However, the sheer volume of information threatened to drive her over the edge. It was so much to absorb that her mental floodgates were about to burst wide open.
Heero sensed her edginess and gently grasped at her hands, to reassure her. “Don’t let the Zero system overwhelm you. Keep focused and go with the flow of information. Work with it, don’t fight the system. YOU are in control. Always keep that in mind.”
As Meia’s heart and breathing rates became more steady, Heero helped guide her through the intricacies of the Zero system as the enemy continued to fall before them. Then, all of a sudden, their main targets were in their sights. Raising the Gundread’s arms and aiming the Buster Rifles at the Seed Ships, they let loose with twin particle beams. The shots ripped through the enemy craft and obliterated the two. The sea urchin tried to evade the devastating attacks, but didn’t quite make it. A glancing shot caught one side and caused it to spiral out of control. The Gundread moved in to finish the job as it took out its Beam Saber and cut the final foe in two. The space urchin exploded in a huge ball of fire.
Gundread Meia floated victorious in space as all those around it gazed upon it with envy and awe.
Inside the cockpit, Heero disengaged the Zero System, took a deep breath and said, “Mission complete.”
As for Meia, all she could do was nod in agreement.
“Meia is SO lucky!” Jura said as she wistfully looked at the Gundread. Then she realized that since her Dread had been transformed as Dita and Meia’s that meant...
<So maybe my Dread can combine into something wonderful too... Awesome!>
On the Nirvana’s bridge...
“Most impressive!” BC commented. “Apparently, Heero’s Gundam is able to combine with the Dreads like Hibiki’s Vanguard.”
“Yes, and it seems that Heero and Meia make quite a team.” Magno added as she considered the two. They might not agree on many things, but there was no denying the potential those two could achieve. She wondered just how those two had cooperated to have pulled off such an astounding victory.
<Hmm, well I suppose... opposites DO attract.>
“Admit it! You cheated!” Meia accused, as she and Heero stood on the flight deck.
“And why do you say that?” Heero asked calmly while he stood with his arms crossed over his chest.
“You used that strange system during our duel! It’s somehow able to predict an opponent’s moves and automatically counters faster than a normal person could! It wasn’t you, it was that system!”
“Yes, the Zero System is quite a battle program,” Heero confessed, “but I didn’t use it during our duel.”
“Liar! There’s no way you could have beaten me!”
“Fine. If you don’t believe that I beat you on my own, then you’re free to check my Gundam’s battle computer. It has our entire duel on record.” He then turned around and started to walk away. Before he walked out of sight, he called back to her without facing her. “By the way Meia, I was impressed at how you handled yourself out there. There are very few people that I would consider a worthy rival. We could have used you during Operation Meteor.”
With those words, he disappeared around the corner, leaving the Dread pilot with her thoughts.
At this point, Meia looked toward Wing Zero and considered going into the open cockpit. She shook her head angrily, thinking that she wasn’t going to give in to his suggestion. He cheated and that was that! She wasn’t going into the cockpit, no way! She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction!
<No! It can’t be!>
Meia continued to shake her head in denial as she replayed the battle records for the tenth time. She continued to dismiss the notion that Heero had beaten her fairly, even though the evidence told the exact opposite. She went over every maneuver, and still could not find one detail, that proved that her opponent had used the Zero System during their combat. Could he have been telling the truth?
Though Meia was not vain, she was proud of her hard-won skills as a fighter pilot. The others had acknowledged her skills and never questioned her leadership abilities. She simply could not believe that a man had defeated her.
Then she remembered the look in those Prussian blue eyes of his. In that one brief moment, she could tell that Heero was not one who makes up stories or hides behind any pretense. And as she thought about it more, if Heero HAD used the Zero System, then he would have defeated her in far less time.
<If he is telling the truth... then I may have met my match... or even... my better...>
The thought caused her to shudder. She wasn’t about to hand over her title as the best combat pilot so easily. Not even to a so-called perfect soldier with Prussian blue eyes.
As she shut down the Gundam’s battle computer, she then started to walk toward the nearest elevator, which would take her off the flight deck. In her mind, she began to consider the best way to handle the Gundam pilot in the future. She smiled slightly as she found herself looking forward to the challenge. As she got into the elevator, she thought to herself.
<All right, Heero Yuy... mission accepted.>
To be continued...?
(1) As a matter of opinion of who would win in a space battle, I would have to give my vote to Heero. Meia may be an experienced Dread Pilot and an exceptional leader, but keep in mind that Heero has been trained since early childhood in the art of warfare. He's been through two wars already (Gundam Wing and Endless Waltz), plus he's one of the few people who had ever mastered the Zero System and used it to its utmost potential.
(2) Unlike Gundread by Norsehound, Heero and Meia's personalities won't mesh together right at the start. Competition will play a big part in their relationship. I feel that two strong-willed people are destined to have a lot of friction between them before they start to open up with each other, to learn to give and take and find common ground. I believe that the Heero/Meia match-up would work, but I'm not going to rush it or make it look too contrived.