A few minutes before Relena murmurs this, the transport plane with Zechs on board catches the camouflaged shuttle on the radar as well.
"We got it! It shows up on the monitor." Co-Pilot Bruno transmits an enhanced picture to the monitor in front of Zechs.
"So, after all..?" murmurs Zechs as soon as he sees the white shuttle reflected on the monitor.
"This is the guy who intends to start a battle resulting in a new war." Zechs points at the monitor with his finger. Even if his exact facial expression is hidden by the mask and therefore not known, it seems that he doesn't like war that much as to publicly announce all by himself that the guy is a soldier.
Besides, shuttles of this size do not exist. That's like telling everybody that the enemy has started some kind of secret mission.
"A civilian shuttle is on the trajectory of the target" reports Bruno who has been watching the radar.
Zechs throws a glance at the radar for a short moment.
"It can only reduce its speed" he says.
"Isn't there the possibility that it will shoot down the shuttle and continue accelerating?"
"I guess that's what he would have done if we weren't here. But he can't do something this conspicuous right in front of us. That guy over there has to act like a spy." While smiling because of the irony that some information has already leaked through, Zechs looks at the monitor.
"Target entering atmosphere" reports Bruno.
On the monitor, the shuttle is reflected with its belly starting to burn all red.
"Target has changed its course! The distance to the civilian shuttle is getting bigger." Suddenly Bruno's voice sounds astonished.
"Does he have a suicide wish!?" murmurs Zechs involuntarily.
A change of course while entering the atmosphere is unreasonable. The danger that the fireproof panels fall away is considerable. If this happens, it's over.
"If he burns up, he also protects his secret. Maybe that's it..."
"No, the capsule is now proceeding in a horizontal line. Has he the intention of escaping?" Bruno sounds like he's accusing Otto's words.
"Stupid! It's out of the question that he can stand the quite high temperatures!" Otto just tells Bruno to check the monitor one more time.
"No, that's not what's happening. It seems that our enemies have a pretty highly developed technology."
As if affirming Zech's words, the target, while still glowing, performs a change of course as if it's gliding. A few seconds later it has succeeded entering the atmosphere. The speed drops and as soon as the small wings of the object catch the air, it starts gliding. As it is, it seems to have the intention of landing somewhere.
But that's not the case. Suddenly the shuttle starts changing its form.
"Lieutenant Zechs, what... what is this?" At Bruno's call, Zechs leans towards the monitor and sees how the white fighter plane extends its wings. The outer layer of the shuttle has been blown away and the hull exposed.
"So the enemy's new weapon is a figher plane?!" murmurs Zechs and narrows his eyes behind his mask.
"That fighter plane looks totally like a bird, doesn't it?" As Otto says, the fighter plane has exactly the figure of a bird of prey. And seen from below the hull a part is visible which resembles a claw.
But what Zechs observes with interest is the fact that the cockpit is not visible. For a figher plane to be used in the atmosphere it's too well equipped.
"We have reached the stratosphere. We can commence attack!"
Otto nods at Bruno's shout.
"Fine! We'll try to threaten it with the on board weapons."
"No, this is not an enemy for the on board weapons. Shoot it down!" Zechs revokes Otto's order.
"I thought the transport of the new weapon was the target, but it's fighter pilot inside handling the plane. All obstacles should be removed in advance."
It's already bad enough if a weapon is powerful enough to escape the influence of the Alliance, but it must be avoided that furthermore an experienced combatant escapes the influence as well. That's because in war, it's humans who use the weapons.
"The enemy plane has turned around and is coming this way!"
Zechs reacts immediately to Otto's nervous words.
"Can the Leo be used?"
"Yes, but do you want to attack that plane with a mobile suit?" asks Otto with an astonished look.
In an air fight, a mobile suit with its limited mobility has to be impractical.
"Yes, I do."
"Wouldn't it then be better to use the Aries, which is for air fights, then the Leo, which is used for land based battles?"
"My Leo is fast enough. Besides, I don't easily get an opponent who challenges me."
There isn't anybody who doesn't know the skill of Zechs, nicknamed "Lightning Baron", as a mobile suit pilot. Otto automatically salutes, paying respect.
"So we will come to your support once the preparations of the Aries has finished."
The pilots of the loaded Aries are also on board the cargo plane. Since they are not prepared for battle, their preparations take a bit of time.
After nodding, as if saying "I'll leave it to you", Zechs goes towards the mobile suit hangar located in the rear part of the plane.
The mobile suits are huge, human shaped machines which were originally designed for work in space. The technique to use the mobile suits as a weapon in combat has been developed by an organization named OZ, which was at that time a transport enterprise shipping material to the colonies. OZ has shaken hands with the privileged classes of the Alliance and has become a powerful military organization. Now, as a universally usable weapon, mobile suits have become the main weapons for the Alliance, replacing tanks and combat helicopters. This has led to the fact that OZ has its own army inside the "United Earth Sphere Alliance". That's what the elite mobile suit troops, called the "Specials", are.
The specials also have a special status in the Alliance army. Even the lowest Specials' soldier has the rank of a Lieutenant-colonel of the Alliance and is furthermore granted an aristocratic title. In Lieutenant Zechs Merquise's case, he would be a major in the Alliance and has the rank of a baron.
In the hangar Zechs is heading towards, the huge forms of one Leo and two Aries machines are fastened.
The mass-produced OZ mobile suit Leo looks like a sturdy one-eyed giant. The mossgreen hull is indeed the very image of army use. Even if used for ground battles, it is equipped with two Vernier engines at the hips so that there is a certain degree of mobility in the air.
In contrast to the Leo, the Aries is only for air combat. Equipped with six high capacity Vernier engines, its mobility cannot be compared to the Leo. But because of a slight transformation, the armour plating is inferior to the Leo. The retractable legs leave a weak impression compared to the main body.
Zechs opens the hatch in the breast plate of his Leo and slips into the cockpit. The propulsion system, already on stand-by, comes to life with the flicking of a switch. Zech's mental attitute as a fighter is that any time is right for starting a battle.
After the hatch closes, the monitors around Zechs emit a "bong" and start showing the surroundings.
There are no windows in a mobile suit cockpit. It's a system where the picture of a camera eye in the head of the mobile suit is reflected on the monitors and the surroundings are watched that way. As a support, there are also monitors for the left, right and behind view.
The steering system consists mainly of the control lever sticking out in front of the seat, the pedals below the seat and the throttle lever at the side. Depending on necessity, the switches lined up on the control panel can be used additionally. The basic movements such as walking and running as well as the control of the posture are done by programs, but nevertheless the technique required for the steering is, compared to the fighter planes of the 20th century, much more complicated.
Zechs throws a glance at the monitor for behind and verifies whether the rear hatch has been opened above and below. Then he inclines the control lever and extends the arm of the Leo. The right arm grasps the bearm rifle attached to the partition and slings it over the shoulder. The capacities of the enemy are unclear, but he judges that with the usual 105 millimeter rifle he may not be able to compete.
"Shall I go?" murmurs Zechs in his mind.
Then he lets the Leo go backwards, turns around and, totally like diving, jumps out into the sky.
The scene on the monitor mirrors first the sky from the hatch of the transport plane, then the Pacific Ocean way below. Zechs ignites the Vernier engines and, after steadying the hull's position, looks at the radar.
As soon as he has read the position of the light point, he ignites he Vernier engines and turns the hull around.
The front monitor changes into blue sky. In the middle of it, the white fighter plane is reflected.
Zechs pulls at the control lever and brings the beam rifle into position. Cross wires appear on the monitor.
Catching the target in the cross wires, he presses the trigger immediately. He shoots again at the target which has made a quick rotation and escaped.
Without being able to evade the shot, the target is hit in the lower part of the hull. The hull's balance is shaken up and the target plunges down.
"Well done, Lieutenant Zechs!"
The messages comes from the two Aries pilots, who arrive too late. But Zechs murmurs dejectedly.
"Disappointing... is that all?"
He very much wonders whether this is enough to defeat an enemy, who risked the danger and approached Earth. Or is it because the pilot was not used to steering inside the atmosphere? If he has come from the colonies, there are plenty of possible stories.
"Lieutenant, we will collect the Leo. Shall we follow the unidentified plane with the Aries?" The messages comes from Otto in the transport plane.
"Please do so. This is a unique capture to investigate the true intentions of the M-Operation."
"Is there a danger of self-destruction?"
"He has come to Earth at great pains. There is no such thing as a human being who wants to die without stepping onto Earth." Zechs answers while watching the fighter plane spinning and falling towards the Pacific Ocean.
The organisation against the Alliance in the colonies is composed without exception of people born in the colonies. They are people who haven't stepped onto Earth even once. Of course, this has to be also the case for the pilot of this fighter plane.
Suddenly, the plane on the monitor restores its hull and makes strange movements. The hull twists and the wings are retracted. It's totally as if a sleeping giant had awakened.
"It transformed into a mobile suit?!"
After a moment, Zechs understand the situation. The target which he thought to be a fighter plane, is a mobile suit.
"Lieutenant Zechs, what kind of hull is this?"
The white body is very clearly a type Zechs does not know.
"I don't know. That somebody besides the Alliance and OZ has the technology to manufacture mobile suits.." murmurs Zechs, shaking his head.
Besides, there's a bigger problem. Despite having been hit by the beam rifle, the body is not damaged. That strength.... that's impossible...
Zech's thoughts are interrupted by a message from the two Aries approaching from each side.
"Lieutenant Zechs, please leave the rest to us."
After attaching a parachute for mobile suit use to the Leo, the Aries rush towards the target.
Zechs opens the parachute and decides to follow the battle on the monitor. Because the surface of the sea is close, he would be at a disadvantage in a fight with his Leo. Besides, he doesn't expect that two "Specials" soldiers are defeated by one mobile suit.
However, Zech's expectations are proven to be wrong.
The target is hit by the Aries' shots, but shrugs them off. Then it suddenly turns around and aims a beam rifle at the Aries.
In the next moment, the two Aries in the line of fire are destroyed.
With only one shot, two Aries are extinguished. The remaining debris glows all red and leaves a trail of smoke while falling towards the surface of the sea.
Zechs groans as he watches the scene on the monitor. The beam rifle of the Leo does not have such an impact. It can at most pierce through a mobile suite. However, the beam rifle of this new mobile suit has almost finished vaporizing two Leos. (Translator's note: Yes, two Aries were vaporized, not two Leos. However, the book does say "Leo".)
What comes up in Zech's heart at that moment.. is it the nature of the warrior? Or maybe it's the pride as the "Specials" ace pilot.
As soon as he has said this, he separates the Leo from the parachute module and throws away the beam rifle. Moreover, he tears out the beam sabre on the back side of the shield on his left shoulder and raises it.
In the cockpit of the mobile suit, whose true nature is unknown, the pilot, clad in a this space suit, manipulates the two control levers sticking out on the side of the seat.
The face visible through the face mask is that of a boy.
Cold eyes in a fine cut face with Asian features watch the monitor for a long time.
The boy clicks his tongue.
"So it's different than space after all!"
While murmuring this in a hull which doesn't move as he thinks it should, he draws back the control lever. The long beam rifle held in the mobile suit's left hand is lowered.
Then, separating the smoke of the exploded Aries, the quickly approaching Leo becomes visible on the monitor.
Thinking it will shoot, the boy wants to position the rifle once more. He narrows his eyes at the Leo rushing towards him with his beam sabre poised. Just when the boy is about to press the trigger button on the right control lever, he abandons the intention again without apparent reason.
For a moment, the interest of the mission is weighted against confronting the opponent. To challenge an unidentified enemy mobile suit to a close combat is proof of either a total confidence in the own skills or stupidity.
"You've become my enemy."
After murmuring this softly, the boy turns the selector on the right control lever and withdraws the beam saber behind the shield on the left arm, igniting it.
However, Zechs has no intention to fight. With the Vernier engine of a normally equipped Leo he can do nothing more than slow the rate of fall. He knows that at present rate he's going to hit the surface of the sea.
"I wanted to see you fighting once, but..."
This wish of a mobile suit pilot stirs. But it's impossible now.
Ducking the downward slashing beam saber, Zechs grasps the right arm of the enemy and twines the Leo's legs around the legs of the enemy, thus blocking all movement. Fastening the Leo that way, he seizes the backpack lodged below the seat. Opening the hatch, he resists the striking wind and leans outwards. Without hesitation, he then jumps out.
The altitude is a bit more than 300 meters.
Shortly thereafter, the target and the Leo, which have become one, hit the surface of the Pacific Ocean and sink down in a magnificent water column.
"Lieutenant Zechs, are you all right?"
Zechs has opened the parachute and hears Otto's voice from the transport plane. The voice sounds as if he was truly worried.
"Yes, sorry for causing you worries. I just couldn't stand aside watching."
"We have finished analysing the battle data. Judging from the strength of the enemy, it has to be made of gundanium."
"So, after all.. this was a Gundam..."
Zechs murmurs while looking down on the sea, wildly moving after the heavy crash. Crashing from that height, even if the hull is intact, the pilot must be dead.
But, if it was really Gundanium, then....
As Zechs is pressing his lips together, another message arrives.
"Lieutenant, it is said that we should leave the search for the unregistered mobile suit in the sea to a navy carrier."
"Guess we can't do anything. Tell them in advance that the object they're looking for has sunk at the JAP point in the Asian Area."
While not paying any attention to Otto's answer, Zechs smiles bitterly.
"Leave the search to us, eh? There is no good future for a military out for profit." Zechs murmurs as if throwing the words out while manipulating the break cord of the parachute.