Children of War
The hours following the capture of the Federation mobile tank were grueling for everyone involved. The shouts of troops echoed throughout the clearing while men scrambled under the dim light of sunrise. Garma’s Gau sat in its emergency dock transport vehicle that Garma had requested. Its wing looked like a giant battering ram had smashed into it. So a group of mechanics arrived within the hour to assess what repairs were needed. Garma had left Lieutenant Hamble in charge at the site to oversee that everything kept on schedule.
The remaining Zaku pilots carried the mobile gun tank to base. With careful shifts of movement, and a hooked grip on the machine, they were off. In the meantime two vehicles came to escort Garma, Char, and the Earth Federation detainee to the interrogation room located on base. Garma tried to ignore the feeling of unease and the cuffed and blindfolded Federation soldier. His eyes turned away from the boy as he was escorted to the back seat by two body guards in a nearby vehicle.
The ride passed in silence. Garma concentrated on the unmarked roads ahead; Char glanced outside the side window at passing scorched trees and chipped sidewalks. The van bucked upwards on the road from potholes in the gravel. Garma turned towards Char, watching his forefinger tap gently on the window.
“Today’s report is sure to go well,” Garma said after letting out a sigh.
“Well of course, Colonel,” Char said, a grin forming on his face.
“Kycilia will be ecstatic.”
Char laughed. Garma’s mouth twitched at the corners, finally showing a smile. He then grasped a lock of his hair, twisting it around in his fingers, and looked away. The van went quiet again until it reached a full stop.
“Kycilia will be more interested in our Federation pilot rather than a damaged Gau,” Char said softly.
Garma huffed and ruffled his hair. “Don’t count on it.”
A group of young men clad in uniforms stood in formation at attention as they exited the van. As Garma approached the line of men, each stiffened into place. Char situated himself next to Garma’s left side.
“Your orders, Colonel?” the Sargent at the far end of the line inquired.
“Right,” Garma said, straightening his shoulders, “escort our Federation captive to the Interrogation Room for questioning. I’ll be there shortly.”
They marched off with the Federation soldier surrounded on every side. Garma spotted the boy’s face in between the men. His head bowed and his shoulders slumped downward. His feet dragged at a sluggish pace, as if he was in a trance.
“He’s acting like a dog with its tail between its legs,” Char said with a chuckle. Garma looked off to the side.
“Considering his age, I doubt he’s had the chance to acquaint himself with enemy soldiers.”
“Well of course,” Char said. “Didn’t you notice him fidgeting?”
Garma popped his head up and gazed at Char. A faint smile was etched on his face.
“You spotted that?” Garma asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Even without glancing at him, you could sense his fear. It’s easy to spot the ones who are aware they bit off more than they could chew.”
Garma shrugged his shoulders. “If you say so.” His eyes scanned the cracks on the ground before him, mulling over what was bothering him ever since the boy hopped out of his cockpit.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit strange? That the Earth Federation would assign someone so young?”
“Garma, I find this whole ordeal to be strange.”
Garma nodded and peered over to see Char stretch out his arms like a cat. The Red Comet then let out a yawn. Garma chuckled, feeling the same way. He then stood up straight and rolled back his shoulders.
“It’s been a long day. I’ve got to head over and ask our detainee a few questions. You on the other hand get some rest.
“Make sure to ruffle his feathers a bit. Take a leaf out of your sister’s book.”
“Get some rest, Char!”
“Don’t go soft on him, Garma!” Char called back.
Don’t get your hopes up, Garma thought, heading towards the building entrance. Something told him he wouldn’t need to get rough with this one. There was innocence about him that lingered even when taken away. He had a manner of one with no experience. Of one still new to the battlefield. If this soldier held any information that was useful at all, it wouldn’t be hard to fish it out.
Reaching the interrogation room didn’t take long, nor did the briefing of what they managed to pull out of the pilot. The previous interrogator informed Garma that all the detainee would give was a name: Hayato Kobayashi. Garma nodded and told him he would take it from here. He twisted the door handle and slid through the opening. He found the boy staring at the wall while two military policemen stood on either side of him. Garma surveyed Hayato’s shoulders. They were shaking.
The boy jerked and positioned himself towards Garma. His hands clasped his knees as if they would snap off if he let go. Garma pulled a nearby chair and settled himself in the seat. He rested his hands on his lap and offered a small smile.
“Hayato? Would you prefer me calling you by that instead?”
Hayato shifted his eyes. “I don’t think it matters,” he muttered.
“Well, would you like something to eat or drink? You haven’t had anything since we brought you here. And you were out in your mobile tank all night.”
Hayato didn’t answer. He let the silence pass between them for a few good minutes.
“Why are you trying to be nice?” he finally asked, his eyes wincing.
“Well why not?” Garma responded, reaching in one of his pockets for his phone. “Just because we’re on enemy sides doesn’t mean we can’t display some human decency.” He held up his phone and pressed on the keys to dial in a number.
“Now, if you could have any dish right this second, what would it be?”
“I’m not hungry,” Hayato retorted, but his stomach growled loudly. He flushed a bright shade of red.
“Well, I’m starving. So why don’t you recommend me something? I’ll even share some of it if you change your mind.”
“…I guess pot roast would be nice,” Hayato mumbled.
“Pot roast it is.”
Garma ordered a large portion that was enough to feed five. By the time it was served to them in china bowls, his mouth had dried. Garma took hold of his own fork and gestured to Hayato to join him. He dug into the dish and spooned in a mouthful, tasting the rewards of tender beef and mushroom sauce. He then glanced up to see if Hayato had taken any bites, and grinned. Hayato was halfway through his first serving and still tearing through it like he hadn’t eaten in weeks.
“It’s good, isn’t it?”
He laughed and went back to eating. When he had cleaned his bowl out, he leaned back on his chair and crossed his arms lazily. His eyes rested on Hayato, who still took occasional bites from his dish. But the boy’s eyes flickered once in a while back at him. Before the hour was up, all the pot roast both were given to sink their teeth into disappeared. Hayato sighed and pushed his bowl away slightly.
“I’m happy you enjoyed it,” Garma said. Hayato perked his head up then focused his gaze on the table, away from his. Silence again. They exchanged not a single word for a good solid minute.
“I don’t get why you’re doing this. Aren’t you going to execute me?” Hayato blurted out. He then gasped and bit his lip, looking as if he wished he hadn’t said anything at all.
Garma blinked a few times in disbelief and then shook his head. “How old are you, Hayato?”
He’s younger than Icelina.
Garma frowned and let out a long sigh. He focused his gaze on Hayato who returned it this time. “Well, Hayato,” Garma started, “we don’t execute minors. And even if you were over eighteen, you would have to commit a serious war crime to be put on trial. Being captured as a prisoner of war doesn’t make the cut.”
A light shined in Hayato’s eyes, and he let out a breath he was holding in. “Oh…that’s good to hear.”
Garma laughed. “Besides, you are under my supervision. And putting fifteen-year olds under trial is not how I manage things around here.”
Hayato offered a feeble smile in return. Garma leaned in a bit and said, “It's rather rare for someone your age to be serving in the Federation, Hayato. Were you the youngest on your ship?”
“No!” Hayato protested, “There’s Fraw Bow. She’s only fourteen. And Amuro is my age. He pilots the Gundam --"
Hayato clapped his hands over his mouth, and his eyes widened with shock. Garma’s mouth hung open and his eyebrows furrowed. He grasped at the sides of his chair. “There’s more that are your age? How many are there on that ship?”
Hayato’s fingers trembled. He eventually placed his hands on either side of his seat, and his lips remained sealed. He looked as though he wouldn’t unlock them for years. Garma folded his hands together and laid them on his lap, his eyes softened.
“I won’t ask you any more questions that will force you to speak further about this,” Garma said, sighing. “But if you can manage a small nod or shake of your head, I would appreciate it. Are we in agreement?”
Hayato paused for a second then slowly nodded his head.
“I’m glad,” Garma said and his eyebrows relaxed. “I won’t hold you here for much longer.”
Garma then brushed a few strands of hair from his face, and asked, “So are there only a few on that ship who are around your age serving the Federation?”
Hayato shook his head quickly then looked to the side.
“…Are most of the people on that ship who are serving the Federation underage?” Garma asked gently.
Hayato peered up at him, and then gave a small nod. Garma sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, feeling with his fingers the knots that formed from all the stress. He had been officially trained to endure the hardships of war, programmed in how to give and take orders, and shoved into situations that meant life or death for those around him. It was part of his duty as a soldier. He had taken a vow at the Academy to protect and serve.
And he had been of age when he did it.
A cold sensation overcame him, and his feet felt as though they had been submerged into a bucket of ice. He had a hunch that wasn’t the case for Hayato or others on the Trojan Horse.
“Were you and others forced into this position?”
Garma pressed his hands on his legs and remained still for a moment. He then rose from his seat and stepped towards Hayato, finally placing his hand on the back of his chair. Hayato gazed up, curiosity spread across his face.
“I think that’s enough questions for now,” Garma said. “You will be escorted to our Kingston Quarters on base. It’s usually reserved for higher-up detainees. I think you’ll find the accommodations satisfying enough. It was designed to mimic rooms on Earth after all.”
Garma then made his way to the exit, but stopped himself before grabbing the door handle. He turned around to face Hyato.
“Thanks,” Hayato said, still sitting in his chair, “I know you don’t have to do that for me.”
“No one has ever used it before. And what’s the point of retaining nice quarters if they go to waste?” Garma said, giving Hayato a faint smile before departing with his key.
Garma ordered a group to escort Hayato to his new quarters within the hour and then headed off to get some rest before reporting in to Kycilia. He had a great deal to discuss with her and preferred to be alert when doing so. And after working endlessly through the night and afternoon with a body that currently felt like a jellyfish, his goose-feathered pillows and comforter were going to welcome him to paradise.
He reached his front door in short time. Confrontations with the Trojan Horse flashed through his mind in snapshots. A white Mobile Suit charging towards Char’s Zaku, a red mobile unit firing canon blasts into the air, the Trojan Horse soaring through the sky in a sea of enemy fire. All piloted by youth Garma swore to protect.
What kind of military lets children fight their battles? Garma thought with disgust.
“Those sorts of tactics should be outlawed,” he muttered to himself while burrowing deep into his covers.
Garma awoke sometime in the early hours of the morning to his phone ringing on the nightstand beside him. He snatched it to see who had decided to call him at 5:34 A.M. The screen glared at him in the dimly lit room with tuffs of covers splayed around him. The words read “Icelina Eschonbach” in text format with her number displayed below.
“Oh Icelina,” Garma said, raking through his hair. She must have been worried sick.
He dialed her number and waited for her voice to respond. With a few rings, he finally heard her through the line. “I was so scared,” Icelina whispered. She sounded as though she had been crying. “I thought that you were going to die.”
Garma retreated back into his covers, covering his face with his free hand. “I’m sorry. I know I should have called after returning to base.” At the very least, to tell her he was safe.
“It’s okay. It’s just, well, when you left that night on the balcony… I had this nasty feeling that you were never coming back. I’m just glad I was wrong.”
“So am I,” Garma said quietly. “Listen, Icelina? Would you like to come over sometime this afternoon?”
“Sure, I’d love to! I should probably get some sleep though, now that I know you’re alright.”
“Have sweet dreams,” Garma said and hung up the phone. He wanted to head back to bed too, but it was best he start the day. He needed to write down his report and make notes about the details Kycilia would no doubt ask for. He groaned and slid his feet to the floor, padding towards his desk in the dark. He felt for the lamp on the wooden surface, accidentally knocking a few items over, but eventually reaching its knob. Light filled the room and blinded him for a second. Garma blinked and rubbed his eyes, dropping into his seat.
He reached for a pen and paper, scribbling away at what his sister would pry at. When it looked complete, he put the pen down and headed towards the shower. A cold spritz smacked him wide awake. It refreshed him. He could handle his sister’s jabs at his blunders now that he was squeaky clean. He then started to iron his uniform while wearing a bathrobe and heard the jingling of keys.
“I brought coffee from the chow hall. It’s French Vanilla,” Char’s voice called from the hallway.
“Thanks! Just leave it on the nightstand,” Garma responded, ironing a pant leg.
Char appeared around the corner and put aside two paper cups and sunglasses before turning back to Garma. His eyes scanned over Garma’s fuzzy pine-green bathrobe and attempt to straighten pants. He crossed his arms and tilted his head.
“Now what happens if the alarm rings off and you’re forced to give orders in a bathrobe? You’ve got to be prepared, Garma!”
“I’d hardly call ironing clothes at 6:30 A.M. unprepared,” Garma said, putting his pants aside.
“I still don’t understand why you refuse to have Cecilia iron your uniform.”
“What can I say, it calms me,” Garma said, giving Char a wink.
“If we were still at the Academy it would be considered rushing.”
“Thank god we’re not at the Academy then.”
Char then reached for the uniform jacket and said, “Let me starch the collar for you. You’ll be running late otherwise.”
“If you insist,” Garma said, fighting off laughter. Char had to be so anal about some things.
“Garma, hand me the iron and starch spray.”
“Here you are,” Garma said, presenting both. “I’m heading to the bathroom to put on my pants.”
He came out less than a minute later to find Char holding his jacket up like a beacon. “See,” he said gleefully, “you have to apply a light coat evenly to the collar before ironing. Otherwise the results will be unsatisfactory.”
“Well you did a magnificent job starching, Commander Aznable,” Garma said while slipping on his inside shirt.
“Three times faster than the average laundress,” Char said, handing over the jacket.
“Thanks,” Garma said, sliding into and fastening his uniform jacket. Char glided over to the bed and grabbed one of the coffee cups.
“So what’s on the agenda today?” Char asked, taking a sip of coffee.
“I’m going to report to Kycilia after I finish my coffee,” Garma said, putting on his socks and boots.
Char snapped his head up, placing his coffee back on the nightstand. “I thought you reported in to her yesterday,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“I was exhausted yesterday. By the time I returned to my room I would have been incoherent.”
“Well, that’s what happens when you don’t drink the right amount of coffee, Garma,” Char said, jumping to his feet. He brushed off his uniform with haste then headed towards the door.
“You’ve got to be prepared,” he said with one last glance at Garma.
“Char, hold on! You almost forgot your sunglasses.”
Char stopped in his tracks and turned around. “See, another example for you. Without these, I wouldn’t look so stylish while chatting with the men.”
“I don’t know why you insist wearing them everywhere,” Garma said exasperatedly. “No one will get to see your blue eyes.”
Char reached over for the sunglasses and placed them on. He flashed a grin and then headed back towards the door. “Drop me a line when you’re finished rallying information to Kycilia. I’d like to know how the interrogation went myself!”
He slammed the door before Garma could answer back. Garma stared in bafflement for a moment then headed over to the nightstand to taste the delights of French Vanilla. He grasped his coffee cup and sipped away at it. It was still warm. Char had rushed all the way here so they could have fresh coffee this morning. He picked up Char’s cup with his free hand, swishing it around.
“He left it half full,” Garma said setting the cup back down on the nightstand. “What a waste of coffee.”
There was a knock on Garma’s bedroom door. He straightened himself then said, “Come in, Cecilia.”
Cecilia entered in with her kit of grooming supplies. She nodded at him then placed it on his bed. “We don’t have much time,” she said, grabbing a brush from the kit. “Lady Kycilia will be seeing you shortly, and I haven’t done a thing with that hair of yours!”
Cecilia rushed to get him ready before Garma headed out to the main room where he would communicate with Kycilia. Within a couple of minutes, the light in the corner of Garma’s main computer screen blinked bright red in three intervals. Garma rose to his feet. Kycilia would be greeting him through video within seconds. Before Garma could reach for his notes on the desk, Kycilia appeared in pixelated form wearing her signature lavender uniform.
“We were scheduled for this hour, Garma,” Kycilia sniped.
“I’ll be with you in a second,” Garma called to the screen, waving his notes in the air. He rushed over to her.
“It worked out for both of us to meet today. I have important updates to notify you about.”
“Yes?” Garma said, perking up his head.
“With Char’s failed attempts to capture the Trojan Horse, Dozle has decided to send Lieutenant Ramba Ral to chase after it as well. We both agreed it would be to our advantage to direct Char eastward towards Belfast, while Ramba Ral heads westward towards Odessa. After receiving information from a trusted source, it has come to our attention that the Trojan Horse will be heading to Belfast to refuel before attempting to reach Jaburo.”
“And what of Ramba Ral?”
“He will be stationed at Odessa for the time being. As we also have reason to believe an attack on our mining facilities will occur within a few weeks.”
“Yes. And if Ramba Ral manages to sack the Trojan Horse before reaching Odessa, then it is all to our advantage. However, if he fails and the Trojan Horse passes over Odessa -- ”
“Then Char will take over from there while Ramba Ral remains on the defense at Odessa. I understand. Nice strategy, Kycilia.”
“And you will be accompanying Ramba Ral there.”
Garma blinked a few times, not sure he heard correctly. “But I’m stationed at this base.”
“Your second base commander will watch over this base,” Kycilia said and exhaled sharply. “Garma, honestly.”
“Oh…right,” Garma mumbled. “Of course. Colonel Jones will be more than able to lead while I’m gone.”
“Speaking of, I would like the details about what happened in Seattle from your own account.”
Garma skimmed over his notes and then gazed back up at his sister. He elaborated on the losses of ammunition and how they had no choice but to search using Zakus, and talked avidly about how he ambushed the mobile unit with Char fending off the Mobile Suit. Garma then proceeded to discuss Hamble and his incredible feat of landing the Gau safely while saving the entire crew.
“Well, the Mobile Suit can separate in to usable parts and conjoin again into one unit for starters. And…the pilot. He’s only fifteen. I only managed to attain his first name. He was referred to as Amuro.”
Kycilia stood there silent for a moment and a small glint in her eye flickered before quickly fading away. “That…is interesting,” she finally said softly.
“They all are. Most of that ship, Kycilia. It’s full of kids who are around the age of fifteen,” Garma cried out. He ruffled his hair and looked back up at her. “It’s unbelievable. The Federation forced these children into service. They’re not even officially trained!”
Kycilia stroked her fingers under her chin and a smile formed on her face. “Is your prisoner young as well?”
Garma’s stomach writhed for a second, then ceased. “Yes, he is. But I don’t think he needs to be pressed for more information. Kycilia, he really wouldn't have any high level Earth Federation plans or secret plots.”
“Interrogation won’t be necessary. However, I think the Flanagan Institute would find your prisoner to their interest.”
Garma stood before her, breathless. He guessed Kycilia took that as an indication to continue.
“You’ve done excellent, Garma. Hamble might be able to qualify for a Medal of Honor. You and Char will possibly be receiving the Distinguished Service Cross for your efforts as well. Though refrain from sharing that news with Char until he actually is handed the honor in person. We don’t need it getting to his head.”
“Of course,” Garma responded, looking down at his feet.
“I want you to greet Ramba Ral at the base’s docking port. He should be arriving promptly at 12:30 this afternoon.”
“I’ll be more than happy to, Kycilia.”
“Oh, and Garma?”
“Make sure you take time to eat a proper meal. That uniform is looking a little loose on you.”
Garma managed to smile up at her feebly. “Thanks, Kycilia. I’ll be sure to do that.”
The screen flickered back to black. Garma checked his watch. He still had three hours before Ramba Ral arrived. Garma made a few phone calls to assure a ride for himself to the base docking port and that Ramba Ral’s flight arrived on schedule. He then strolled to his desk and settled into the seat. His right hand grazed the sides of the desk until he found the knob at the end. He pulled on it, revealing a drawer that contained records upon records of notes from previous logs. He dated his notes then stuffed them in with the rest of the pile.
Garma closed the drawer then rested his arms on the edge of the desk surface. His eyes fixated on the photo frame in front of him; he frowned in its direction. It had toppled over during his morning excursion to his desk. He placed it upright with care, checking if there were any dents or scratches. When Garma was certain not a mark surfaced, he sighed in relief.
Gihren called him too sentimental for his own good. But while the picture had no financial value for someone like his older brother, it remained one of his most valued possessions. He had kept it with him since he could remember. Under the glass in the frame was a woman in her early thirties holding a boy around the age of five in one arm while hugging an older boy around thirteen. Her hair came down in waves of iris, and her burnt-sienna skin glistened against her sundress. Her arms were slender, but grasped the boys in a strong embrace. And the smile caught in the photo reached to her eyes. Dozle often commented to Garma how her eyes resembled his.
Everyone in Side 3 had known her as Lady Nalisse Zabi. But he had simply known her as mom.
In the corner of the photo was a message composed in her handwriting: “Always with you.” She didn’t live for much longer after the photo had been taken and signed. When Garma first heard Nalisse wasn’t coming home, he asked Gihren what happened. Gihren told him she died in a ship accident. He didn’t find out until much later from Dozle that it had been an explosion caused from enemy fire.
Garma looked away from the photo and headed towards his bed. He decided a quick nap sounded like the best option to do with his spare time. Sitting on the edge, he slipped off his boots and patted his bed. He set the alarm to ring at noon sharp to have enough time to reach the docking area. Garma then nuzzled into the pillows, and as he sunk lower into the bed, he felt himself drift away.