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Mobile Suit Gundam - The Second Century (Part 1: Prelude 0099) - Page 4
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Thread: Mobile Suit Gundam - The Second Century (Part 1: Prelude 0099)

  1. #61
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    Episode 5 continued

    Jolie hits the Centurion Gundam's retro verniers as she approaches the area of highest Minovsky particle concentration. The Centurion Gundam's array of sensor equipment is the most sophisticated and sensitive to be installed into an Earth Federation Forces mobile suit to date, but it is useless due to the engimatic electromagnetic phenomenon discovered by and named after a society of academics in U.C. 0065.

    Over thirty years have passed since the Minovsky particle was first developed and deployed, but neither the Earth Federation nor the various incarnations of the Archduchy of Zeon have been able to develop an effective counter for a technological innovation that paradoxically rendered the most advanced war machines to become reliant on medieval combat tactics.

    The scrambled radar of the Centurion Gundam is useless to Jolie, and eyeball visuals are no better. The area is cluttered with space debris left over from previous wars. Jolie marshals every scrap of restraint she has to resist firing upon the wreckage of a ten-year old broken RMS-106 Hizack.

    Despite the ineffectiveness of her mobile suit's surveillance equipment, however, Jolie knows the enemy is out there. She senses a pressure bearing down upon her brain, something that has the form of...a falcon? A hawk? Jolie isn't sure, but her impression is that of a bird of prey.

    But sometimes, the predator becomes the prey.

    ************************************************** *************

    Aboard his Quebeley, Jordan Sinclair feels that his brain is on fire...a tormenting sensation. Just what could be out there?

    Whatever it is, it's a threat, Jordan concludes, got to get rid of it before it jeopardizes the mission...and Caitlin's life.

    A dozen metallic funnels emerge from the plume-like tail section of the Quebeley. The funnels, powered by compact fusion thrusters and verniers, are each tipped with beam cannon. The Psychom funnels array themselves into a deadly formation and bear down upon Jolie's Centurion Gundam.

    ************************************************** ************

    Jolie's battle instincts flare to life as she senses the approaching Psychom funnels. The predator has become the prey.

    The funnels surround the Centurion Gundam in a deadly crisscross formation, sealing off the Federation mobile suit from any avenue of escape.

    Jolie Minh, however, has never walked on avenues; she dashes through them.

    With a few deft moves on the Centurion Gundam's manuevering joystick and a flash of Psi-energy between her eyes, Jolie twists her mecha through a gymnastic maneuver that, by all rights, should exceed the Centurion Gundam's specified limits and tear the mecha apart. Somehow, the mighty mobile suit is able to hold together, and dodges seven of the twelve funnels' deadly shots.

    Jolie brings the Centurion Gundam's arm mounted shield to protect herself from the brunt of the remaining five funnels' beam shots. The armored shield is battered and wrecked, but her mecha remains intact.

    The combat computer of the Centurion Gundam reports that its host mobile suit has sustained an acceptable 3% damage, but the enemy's Psychom funnels are positioning themselves for a second barrage.

    No you don't! Jolie's mind rages, undeterred by the imminent danger.

    The Centurion Gundam's beam rifle is in the mecha's metalshod hand in less time than it takes to imagine the motion. Three bursts of red-tinged Earth Federation Forces' beam armament energy erupt forth, and three Zeon-manufactured Psychom funnels are immolated in an instant.

    The Centurion Gundam is already well out of the target zone of the remaining funnels by the time that its beam cannon shots hit home. An instant later, four Psi-guided interceptor missiles burst forth from the Centurion Gundam's shoulder-mounted armament pack, each following Jolie's neurological guidance to a darting target. Four more Psychom funnels are neutralized.

    Five more Psychom funnels remain. Following their programmed attack pattern as well as the psychic guidance of Jordan Sinclair, these mount up to attack more quickly and fiercely upon sensing the destruction of their siblings. Reacting to incoming combat data transmitted by the destroyed funnels in their final functioning moments, the remaining funnels arrange themselves in a wide spread to defy the Centurion Gundam any opportunity to hit them all with its beam rifle or missiles.

    Jolie instantly reads the strategy, and forms a counterstrategy of her own.

    The Centurion Gundam darts after the nearest Psychom funnel. The 20-meter tall mobile suit chases after the 3-meter long Psychom funnel like a cat after a mouse.

    The remaining four Psychomm funnels are momentarily paralyzed by conflicting data. Dispassionate machines though they are, the funnels are nevertheless confused by the dilemma of needing to fire on one of their own in order to destroy the enemy. Artificial Intelligence experts would debate whether this phenomenon reflects a growing self-awareness in modern war machinery, or if it is merely the influence of human pilot.

    In any case, the point is academic to Jolie; for her, all that matters is that the enemy funnels' momentary confusion gives her the scant seconds she needs to act.

    The Centurion Gundam's magnetized, metalshod hand reaches out and draws the Psychom funnel into its grip. With an effort that strains the mobile suit's arm servomotors, the Centurion Gundam twists the funnel into the direction of a second funnel just as the beam cannon on the first funnel's tip erupts in a flash of light.

    Crushing the captive funnel in its hand, the Centurion Gundam draws out its beam saber, a ten-meter blade of contained beam energy capable of melting reinforced alloy in instants.

    The arc of the blade is as graceful and quick as that of any ancient samurai or jian xia of ancient Asian lore. The trajectory of the blade guides it through the fuselages of the final three menacing Psychom funnels.

    Now, for you! the voice of Jolie's mind seethes, searching for her quarry. The prey has become the predator once again.

    Episode 5 to be continued...

  2. #62
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    New chapter update coming tomorrow, but I want to ask: is there anybody who would like to collaborate with me on this fanfic as an artist? I do need the help of capable illustrators.

    Also, I might want to collaborate with someone who can write battle scenes well. I believe this is my weakest department (I love watching battle scenes, but I'm not very good at describing them) and I could sure use the help of someone who's good at them.

  3. #63
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    Episode 5 continued

    As Jolie confronts Jordan Sinclair, approximately 100 kilometers away, Athena leads the rest of the Centurion Team in a slow, cautious approach towards the Moonshadow.

    Athena has ordered her team to maintain radio silence. The team has drilled on their standard procedures for such a situation during countless training sessions, so there is no need for unnecessary communication.

    The Centurion Team spreads into a surveillance formation. C-Team's mobile suits are each separated at irregular angles and distances from one another, making it difficult for an enemy to track or hit all of them simultaneously. Master Sergeant Karim Abdul-Said and Staff Sergeant Tomo Higashi's Guncannon-100s take the point. Behind their protection, Corporal Anna Horowitz's GM-IV AWAC scans for the presence of hostiles in the area. Corporals Geoff Sutcliffe and Karyn Luna flank Captain Athena Ibaz's Cour de Leon in their GM-IV Special Operations Customs.

    From a nacelle in the backpack of Anna's GM-IV AWAC shoots out a dozen capsules. These are not warheads, but devices designed to neutralize explosions: chemical minesweepers.

    The capsules deploy, then burst to spread an adhesive film that does not freeze even in the cold of space.

    MAES (pronounced "mace")-11 is among the most brilliant products ever developed by the Earth Federation Forces' Chemists Corps. Magnetic Adhering Explosive Suppressor (MAES) is designed to attract metallic objects such as mines, affix them in a strong adhesive more potent than any previously known to humankind, and chemically suppress whatever explosive potential such objects might carry. In development since the Archduchy of Zeon deployed space mines around its conquered space territories during the One Year War, nine previous versions of MAES had been tested and improved upon until MAES-11 finally met the Earth Federation Forces' needs. A valuable tool, and one fairly expensive to produce, MAES-11 is distributed to the Earth Federation Special Forces for operations such as these.

    The MAES-11 does its work quietly and efficiently, magnetically attracting objects in its adhesive grip. Thus far, it has not caught any spacemines. Athena realizes, however, that that does not necessarily mean that spacemines (or other threats) do not lie out there.

    Athena surveys the data being relayed into her mobile suit's onboard combat computer from Anna's AWAC unit. The Moonshadow has been disabled. Its engines are offline, and its communications array crippled. The ship is effectively dead in space. Anna's data does indicate, however, that the ship's life support systems are functional and in use - meaning that is possible that the ship's crew remains alive.

    Athena magnifies a still image of the Moonshadow on her screen, switching the image to magnetic imaging. Nearly invisible to the naked eye in the darkness of space, but quite obvious through magnetic imaging, a half dozen lines of cables are attached to the Moonshadow's hull.

    Athena wastes no more time. Drawing out the Cour De Leon's beam rifle, she takes aim at one of the cables and opens fire, severing the cable's link to the hull of the Moonshadow.

    As the rest of the Centurion Team maneuvers into battle formation, Athena takes a shot at an unexploded MAES-11 capsule floating near the damaged cable. The magnetic adhesive quickly attaches its grip to the cable. The cable begins to whip and flail in coils like the death paroxysms of a violently dying metallic snake.

    Attached to the cable is a Gaza-C mobile suit, momentarily helpless as its pilot struggles to regain control.

    Michael Evanhart never has that moment to regain that control. As his mobile suit's systems momentarily lock up from the volatile interplay between the Gaza C's severed magnetic cable and the MAES-11, Athena sinks the beam saber of her Cour De Leon into the cockpit of his Gaza-C, claiming his young life in a heat more intense than that of the core of the sun.

    Episode 5 to be continued...

  4. #64
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    Episode 5 continued

    Students of warfare and tactics have often asked the question: which one wins out, talent or experience?

    Today, Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh of the Earth Federation Forces and Jordan Sinclair of the ISRLA seem destined to find an answer to that query.

    In Captain Athena Ibaz's profile on Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh, the commanding officer of the Centurion Team wrote of her junior executive officer, "Chief Minh is, I believe, the most gifted pilot and fighter of our generation. Her combat instincts are flawless, and she moves with a speed and stealth that defy all description. Not since Amuro Ray has there been a mobile suit pilot of this much potential. Indeed, I believe that Chief Minh's potential might surpass that of Captain Amuro's. In time, as Chief Minh gains experience, she will be an unparalleled asset to the Earth Federation Forces."

    Experience, however, is a factor whose importance cannot be denied, and the truth of the matter is that for all of Jolie's raw talent, this is only her third sortie and she is facing a near ten-year veteran combat mobile suit pilot.

    Jordan Sinclair has spent much of his adult life in the cockpit of a mobile suit. Although not yet thirty, he has accumulated more experience in MS combat than over ninety-percent of the mobile suit pilots currently serving in the Earth Federation Forces. Not lacking talent himself, Sinclair has already experienced more combat action than most pilots would ever know.

    In this battle of talent versus experience, the result, thus far, is a stalemate.

    The fierce strikes of the beam saber of Sinclair's Quebeley lance out like controlled bolts of lightning. Jolie, the beam saber of her Centurion Gundam drawn, struggles to parry. Presently, the offensive momentum belongs to the veteran Sinclair. Jolie is forced to defend, unable to seize the initiative to counterattack.

    This Feddie pilot is one tough nut to crack, Sinclair reflects, no enemy pilot has ever been able to last this long against my Quebeley. No matter. I sense her defenses weakening...her? Yes, I'm sure this pilot is a girl. Hah! She's almost as good as Caitlin!

    A beam saber slash from the Quebeley comes perilously close to taking the Centurion Gundam's head unit off. Another strike nearly penetrates the Centurion Gundam's cockpit hatch.

    Too close, Jolie grates. So far, her defense is holding up against the Quebeley's strikes, but Jolie knows that if she does not seize the offensive initiative soon, she will be defeated. The problem is that the enemy's strikes are coming too quickly and too fiercely for Jolie to do anything but focus purely on defense.

    Sinclair's Quebeley makes a feint with its beam saber that draws away the blade of Jolie's Centurion Gundam. In that moment, the Quebeley twists its wrist so that its beam blade strikes down on the Centurion Gundam's left shoulder. Jolie maneuvers the Centurion Gundam away just quickly enough that the slash fails to remove her mecha's left arm, but the arm is sparking and spewing damaged mechanisms.

    "Left arm unit immobilized," the Centurion Gundam's combat computer reports.

    Damn, Jolie realizes, that means I can't use the shield or pull out my beam rifle without first dropping the beam saber.

    Sinclair's Quebeley raises its beam saber for a downward strike towards the Centurion Gundam's immobilized left side. Jolie has no time to twist her mobile suit around.

    So instead, she charges the Quebeley directly with the Centurion Gundam, sword thrust out in front.

    It is a desperate move that invites self-destruction, but it is also the only hope of salvation Jolie has.

    What is she doing?! Sinclair reacts with alarm, twisting the Quebeley to avoid the Centurion Gundam's desperate headlong charge. Even while attempting to evade the Centurion Gundam's attack, the Quebeley does not surrender its own attack initiative. Such are the benefits of experience.

    Two beam saber blades find their mark.

    The yellow blade of the Quebeley's beam saber digs deeply into the Centurion Gundam's main body, burning its way towards the Federation mecha's nuclear fusion engine.

    The red blade of the Centurion Gundam's beam saber melts away the reinforced armor of the Quebeley's cockpit hatch, its intense heat meeting resistance against the cockpit's heavy armor.

    The lights of the Centurion Gundam's eye camera units flicker and dim, turning in an instant from the yellow glow of life to the black coldness of death.

    The monoeye of the Quebeley burns intensely for a moment, impossibly bright...impossibly red.

    A flash of light, and the silence of space.

    The battle between talent and experience is won, and lost.

    Episode 5 to be continued

  5. #65
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Some illustrations to tide you over until the next installment.

    BTW, if you can draw like this, please let me know. I could use a few good artists.




    Captain Athena Ibaz, commanding officer of the Centurion Team, ready for combat.


    RX-780 Centurion Gundam, signature mobile suit piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh


    The Jegan mobile suit is the front line mobile suit of the Earth Federation Special Operations Forces

  6. #66
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    Episode 5 continued

    No sooner does Athena draw the beam saber of her Cour de Leon from the melted cockpit cavity of Michael Evanhart’s Gaza-C than does a faint glow in the distance, perhaps a thousand meters behind and a five hundred meters above the derelict Moonshadow, capture her attention.

    Athena eyeballs the source of the glow and the relative positions of her Centurion Team pilots. The Guncannon-100s of Sergeants Abdul-Said and Higashi are directly in line of the source of the glow.

    “Karim! Tomo!” Athena orders tersely through the comlink, “scatter now!”

    Even as she orders the two sergeants to take evasive maneuvers, Athena launches a pair of rocket-propelled grenades from the forearm launcher housings of her mobile suit. The RPGS soar at three times the speed of sound and impact against the Megabazooka cannon borne and powered by a pair of RMS-108 Marasais.

    There is no weight in outer space, but mass is constant regardless of gravity. Encumbered by the mass of the Megabazooka cannon, to which they are attached by power cables, and with their nuclear fusion energy output halved by powering the mighty weapon, the Marasais have no hope of escaping the ensuing explosion caused by their own megaweapon’s destruction.

    Athena directs her mobile suit’s combat computer to do an update scan of the Moonshadow to ensure that the ship has not sustained further damage from its proximity to the explosion of the enemy weapon. The Cour de Leon’s sensors confirm that the Moonshadow has endured only some further superficial damage to its hull from shrapnel impact, but nothing more significant than that.

    A calculated risk, Athena acknowledges, but one I’m willing to take if the lives of my subordinates are at stake.

    Athena opens communications to those subordinates, “Attention Centurion Team: deploy magnetic clamp cables to secure the Moonshadow. It’s imperative that we get the ship away from here and back to Garrison Noah immediately. Utilize extreme caution. I’m almost certain that enemy units are still in the area.”

    So saying, Athena transforms her Cour de Leon into its Wave Rider spacecraft configuration. In this mode, the mobile suit is no longer anthropomorphic, but a sleek spacecraft capable of multiple-mach speed and precise maneuverability.

    The Centurion Team’s mobile suits attach their magnetic clamp cables to the Moonshadow. They begin to tow the crippled Federation supply ship in the direction of Garrison Noah.

    We’re at our most vulnerable now, Athena thinks, This will draw out the remaining enemy units. Where the hell is Jolie?

    Athena briefly considers contacting her junior executive officer, but has no time to act upon it before a mounting pressure in her head alerts her to the approach of a hostile interloper.

    Athena’s Cour de Leon changes back from Wave Rider to Mobile Suit configuration, firing its beam rifle.

    The shot cuts clean through the body of an enemy Gaza-C unit, whose mecha flies straight into the path of Athena’s beam. Athena’s shot had been aimed towards not where the enemy was, but where it would be when the beam passed through the same space.

    Athena’s next opponent, however, is not nearly as obliging. Caitlin O’Rouke’s Jagd Doga bears down on Athena’s Cour de Leon, heralded by a dozen Psychom fin funnels.

    Caitlin mutters under her breath, “Feddie scum. You’ll pay for the lives of my men!”

    Athena counters by deploying the last of her MAES-11 capsules. The capsules deploy from their nacelles within the backpack unit of the Cour de Leon, their magnetic fields drawing the funnels off-course and chemically inhibiting their blast nozzles.

    All except one, however, which glows ominously in the direction of the Cour de Leon’s cockpit module, a mere fifty meters away.

    Her moment of triumph at hand, Caitlin grins. Her smile is wiped away by a sharp pain than suddenly fills her cranium, and a deep grief in her heart, “Jordan. Jordan is…”

    Episode 5 to be continued…

  7. #67
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 5 continued...

    Jolie's Centurion Gundam rams shoulder-first into Caitlin O'Rourke's momentarily immobilized Jagd Doga. Athena tries to get a lock on the Jagd Doga with her Cour De Leon's beam rifle, but is unwilling to shoot with Jolie in the way.

    Tears fill Caitlin's eyes as she realizes, "You! You killed Jordan!"

    Jolie attempts to blast away to give Athena a clear shot at the Jagd Doga, but the Doga grabs onto the Centurion Gundam and wrenches it back violently.

    Had the Centurion Gundam been in top condition, and had Caitlin O'Roukre not been in a frenzied rage due to the death of her lover, the close-quarters battle most likely would have favored Jolie and the Centurion Gundam. The Centurion Gundam, however, is heavily damaged from its encounter with Jordan Sinclair's Quebeley. All sensory equipment, including the main and secondary camera units, has been disabled (Jolie used her Newtype abilities to locate her comrades and their enemies). The Federation mobile suit's left arm, though still attached to the Centurion Gundam's main body, is immobilized. For each motion the Centurion Gundam makes, Jolie must strain on the joystick. The controls have lost all delicacy, forcing Jolie to muscle the mecha through its maneuvers with all the strength in her tiny frame.

    Holding the Centurion Gundam tight in a death grip, the Jagd Doga jams its right knee into the backpack energy/thruster unit of its opponent. Inside the Centurion Gundam's cockpit, Jolie is violently thrashed about. The safety restraints of her seat lock around her shoulders and waist, knocking the breath out of her.

    Jolie! Athena's eyes widen in alarm, drawing the Cour De Leon's beam saber and charging at the Jagd Doga.

    Reacting swiftly, Caitlin O'Rourke pushes the damaged, fluid-leaking and spark-sputtering Centurion Gundam at Athena's Cour de Leon. Athena manages to dodge the incoming wreck by flying above it.

    First, I'll finish you, Caitlin resolves, as she locks the Jagd Doga's beam rifle on Athena's Cour de Leon.

    Before Caitlin can fire on the Cour de Leon, however, Jolie's Centurion Gundam is right back in her face, cutting into her monoeye unit with its head-mounted Vulcan cannon...the only weapon system on the Centurion Gundam that still functions.

    "I've had enough of you!" Caitlin screams hoarsely, "you'll pay now for Jordan's life!"

    So saying, Caitlin directs the Jagd Doga to reach back for its beam saber. She would plunge the weapon directly into the Centurion Gundam's cockpit, just as Athena Ibaz's Cour de Leon had done to Michael Evanhart's Gaza-C...and just as the Centurion Gundam had done to Jordan's Quebeley.

    But the weapon is not there. The metalshod hand of the Jagd Doga grasps at empty space where the beam saber handle should be stored on its backpack energy housing unit.

    Inside the cockpit of the Centurion Gundam, Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh smiles viciously.

    In the Centurion Gundam's right hand is the beam saber emitter that Caitlin O'Rourke was seeking.

    A bright column of yellow-hued light issues forth from the emitter. The Centurion Gundam's right wrist turns, and the arm to which it is attached rises with a graceful motion.

    Inside the cockpit of the Jagd Doga, Caitlin O'Rourke knows that the battle is over.

    All her battles are over.

    Jordan, my love...I'm sorry. I couldn't avenge you. But at least our separation was short. Eternity will be sweet, my love.

    In her final moments, Caitlin looks at the Centurion Gundam. Her hatred is dissipated now, replaced by understanding, That pilot. She's more powerful than anybody you or I have ever faced, Jordan. If she reaches her full potential, she...

    Caitlin's thoughts end there, as her Jagd Doga becomes a fireball, lighting local space like a Lilliputian star.

    Athena's worried voice comes crackling through the Centurion Gundam's laser communications receiver, "Jolie! Are you all right?!"

    Jolie, gasping for breath, her adrenaline spent, answers after a minute, "Yeah. Yeah...I'm OK, I think."

    Athena maneuvers the Cour de Leon close to support the heavily damaged Centurion Gundam. She receives word from Corporal Anna Horowitz that the rest of the Centurion Team and the wreckage of the Moonshadow have entered Federation-controlled space.

    Satisified with that, Athena prepares to rejoin the rest of the squad, pulling Jolie's damaged Centurion Gundam with her.

    Her bloodlust now subdued, Jolie experiences a feeling of...regret.

    Those two I killed. They were...lovers? They seemed to care about each other more than anything in the world.

    Jolie shudders. Mom...Dad...Big Brother...what am I becoming?

    Jolie shakes her head to clear it. She is a soldier. War is without mercy or pity. If she does not kill, she will be killed. She learned that while living in Industria Colony.

    She learned that from Alexander Miguel.

    The image of the Zeon warlord's cold, arrogant visage erases all doubt from Jolie's mind.

    Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh has killed two enemy combatants today.

    She would kill as many more as she needed to until Alexander Miguel burns in hell.

    Of that much, she is certain.

    Episode 5 to be continued...

  8. #68
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    Episode 5 continued…

    By the time that Athena and Jolie return to Garrison Noah, the rest of the Centurion Team has already arrived there with the damaged Moonshadow. The team has already returned its mobile suits to maintenance docks and has begun the post-combat routine of medical checks, debriefing, and mission report-logging.

    Jolie emerges wearily from the cockpit of the heavily damaged Centurion Gundam, her tiny body aching, especially around her shoulders and waist. Jolie unseals the O-ring collar of her normalsuit and removes her helmet, letting her long, black hair flow freely down her back as a sighing hiss of pressurized oxygen escapes from the space within her normalsuit.

    Jolie turns her head to spot Captain Athena Ibaz gliding towards her, Datapad in hand. Efficient as ever, Athena is already nearly finished filing her post-mission report.

    Athena surveys the damage to the Centurion Gundam, “Pretty bad…”

    “Yeah, I know,” Jolie acknowledges with a degree of embarrassment, “Sorry. I’ll do better next time.”

    Athena puts her hands on Jolie’s shoulders and smiles, “I was talking about the damage to the Centurion Gundam, not about your performance out there, although I suppose the two do come hand-in-hand. It’s a matter of experience.”

    Athena surveys Jolie a little more closely, noting no apparent injuries, but also noting that Jolie seems a bit spaced out, “Are you all right?”

    Jolie replies, “Yeah, sure. Fine. Just combat stress fatigue again, I suppose.”

    Athena nods, “Report to medical bay for post-combat examination. The rest of the team is already there. I’ll join you in a minute.”

    Jolie floats away.

    Rapidly pressing the keys on her Datapad even as she further examines the damage to the Centurion Gundam, Athena relays a damage report from the mecha’s onboard computer to the maintenance crew. The Special Forces’ staff of engineers and technicians would be on it within the hour. In addition to the repair order, Athena sends the maintenance staff an extra request regarding the Centurion Gundam, one that Athena is sure will please Jolie when the teenager finds out about it.

    That detail thus dispensed with, Athena floats away from the Centurion Gundam towards Jolie, on the way to the medical bay. Athena catches up with her junior executive officer as they float past the wreck of the Moonshadow, now moored in Garrison Noah’s cavernous space dock.

    The surviving crew of the Moonshadow disembarks from their damaged ship, including Captain Ilongo N’gula, who is met by Colonel Peter Cairlay and General Manron Blackhead of the Earth Federation Forces. The two senior Federal Forces officers whisk the captain of the supply vessel into a waiting limousine, which departs to what will undoubtedly be a long debriefing meeting. The rest of the Moonshadow’s crew awaits processing before being sent for physical examinations and debriefings. The more seriously wounded are sent to the medical bay immediately for care. There were reportedly twelve crew deaths incurred as a result of the ISRLA mobile suit raid on the ship.

    Athena pauses, gazing at the docked wreckage of the Moonshadow in a troubled manner. Already, utility vehicles have begun unloading the Moonshadow’s cargo, most of which is fortunately undamaged. Among the crated items being unloaded from the ship are spare parts for mecha, ordnance, medical supplies, and even ten fresh-off-the-assembly line GM-IV mobile suits.

    Athena checks her Datapad: the manifest of the ship’s cargo appears consistent with what she sees being unloaded from the ship. A fairly routine supply run from Earth to Garrison Noah.

    Too routine, Athena reflects, for the ISRLA to have gone through all that trouble.

    Moreover, would a raid upon a Federation supply ship bearing a standard cargo of military supplies have required a Special Forces sortie? Would it have drawn the personal attention of Colonel Cairlay and General Blackhead? Not even the ten mobile suits listed as part of the Moonshadow’s cargo were likely to have drawn so much attention.

    The implications trouble Athena deeply.

    Jolie, noticing that her commanding officer has stopped floating with her and is staring intently at the Moonshadow, pipes up, “Hey, ‘Thena? What’s the matter?”

    Athena emerges from her reflections and rejoins Jolie, “Nothing, Jo. Let’s go.”

    Athena takes one last glance over her shoulder at the Moonshadow and frowns. A course of action is already plotted in her head.


    Thirty minutes later, Captain Athena Ibaz is in the reception area of Colonel Peter Cairlay’s offices in Green Noah Hall.

    The reception officer, Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Densmore, rises and salutes as he sees Athena enter, “Captain Ibaz, ma’am.”

    Athena returns the salute, “At ease, Chief. I’d like to see Colonel Cairlay, if he’s available.” Athena already knows that the colonel is not. The debriefing session with Captain N’Gula of the Moonshadow is unlikely to conclude for at least several more hours. Exactly what Athena is counting on.

    “Sorry, ma’am,” Chief Densmore replies, “the colonel is presently in a conference with senior officers and is not expected back in the office until 22:30 at the soonest.”

    “I see,” Athena replies, removing her Datapad from her uniform’s inner pocket, “I’ve completed my mission report and I’d like to leave it for the colonel in his office.”

    “Of course, ma’am,” the young chief warrant officer says, keying the code that opens Colonel Cairlay’s office. It is part of standard Special Forces routine for Special Forces team commanders to personally deliver their mission reports to Colonel Cairlay’s office, even when he is not present…a standard routine that Athena now exploits.

    Having gained entrance to Colonel Cairlay’s office, Athena uploads her mission report into the colonel’s desktop terminal, as she told Chief Densmore she would. What Athena did not tell the chief, however, is that she would be taking as well as delivering.

    As part of their espionage and intelligence-gathering training, Earth Federation Special Forces officers learn the art of computer security hacking. Special Forces officers could hack any computer security system devised by humanity…except those used by the upper echelon of the Earth Federation Forces, of course.

    The Federal Forces’ computers, Athena had been taught at the academy, represented the pinnacle of human achievement in the field of artificial intelligence. The Federation had drafted the most brilliant computer scientists to help it design and build the most sophisticated data security system ever devised. Nobody could ever crack it, Athena’s intelligence-gathering instructor had boldly claimed.

    Seven hours after the instructor had made his confident assertion, Athena had cracked the security system…an accomplishment she had kept to herself in the intervening three years, until its usefulness has now finally become apparent.

    Athena rapidly types in the sequence of logarithms that will give her access to information accessible only to flag-ranking officers with special security clearance. She is aware of the risk she is taking. Were any of her superiors to discover what she is about to gain access to, she would almost definitely be shot for espionage and treason.

    Athena gains access to Colonel Cairlay’s files on the Moonshadow’s most recent shipment from Earth.

    The information from the colonel’s files offers a wealth of fact not available through the common networks used by Federal Forces officers. Nevertheless, the manifest listed in the colonel’s files for the Moonshadow’s cargo matches that on the common networks, and what Athena had seen earlier in Garrison Noah’s hangar bay.

    All except one item, marked in dark red letters: “Contingent-1.”

    Athena has no idea what that refers to, but digging a little deeper, she notices a pair of codes.

    Athena downloads the codes into her Datapad and shuts down the colonel’s computer. Any longer and Chief Warrant Officer Densmore is likely to become suspicious.

    Athena thanks the chief for providing her access to the colonel’s office.

    She makes her way back to the hangar bay in Garrison Noah.


    Athena approaches the wreck of the Moonshadow, still docked in the hangar bay of Garrison Noah, where it promised to stay for at least a month for repairs. Standing guard over the ship is a squad of military police.

    The leader of the MP squad is 1Lt. Daniel Perez, who recognizes Athena, “Captain Ibaz, ma’am.”

    Athena tells the MP officer, “I’ve received orders to board the Moonshadow to verify information from my mission report.”

    Lieutenant Perez replies, “My apologies, ma’am. I received strict orders from Colonel Cairlay to allow no one to board this vessel without his express permission, ma’am.”

    “I see,” Athena replies, “Truman0745.”

    Upon hearing the code, 1Lt. Perez orders his troops to stand aside, “You may board if you please, ma’am.”


    Athena boards the Moonshadow. Although the ship is docked in airlock, she is dressed in her normalsuit, which among other kinds of protection, shields its wearer from radiation.

    The Moonshadow’s cargo has already been completely unloaded. Its known cargo, anyway. Athena glides down the darkened corridors of the damaged ship, towards a part of the cargo hold separated from the general cargo area.

    Athena opens a tiny hatch built so seamlessly into the inner wall of the ship’s cargo hold that it is all but undetectable. Athena opens this to reveal an electronic security device. This security device requires identification from the person accessing it through laser pattern identification of the person’s eye. Athena does not have clearance for this, but she doesn’t need it. A day after she had learned how to crack the Federation’s computer security code, she had discovered how to defeat the eye-reader device as well.

    Overriding the security device, Athena types in the second of the two codes she stole from Colonel Cairlay’s files: “5J3X-Starfire.”

    A massive metallic door, capable of withstanding multiple blasts of a mobile suit’s beam rifle or direct hits from high explosive missiles, slowly slides open.

    Athena, her normalsuit sealed to the world outside, enters the cold, dark chamber. She activates a flashlight, whose beam flashes upon a dozen metallic cylinders bearing a familiar symbol that freezes Athena’s blood:


    Episode 5 to be continued…

  9. #69
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    Episode 5 conclusion

    A deeply troubled Captain Athena Ibaz returns to the barracks of the Centurion Team at 23:00. Her team had, per regulations, doused the lights and gone to bed two hours earlier.

    Athena goes into her quarters, but knows that it is futile to sleep. Not after what she has just seen.

    Athena pours herself a glass of brandy from her liquor collection. She takes a long drink from the glass to steady her nerves.

    During the early stages of the One Year War eighteen years earlier, the Earth Federation Government and the Archduchy of Zeon signed a treaty banning the use of the nuclear weapons. That treaty was not broken (at least not openly) for the duration of *that* particular war, but both sides violated the treaty during Colonel Char's uprising at Axis Fortress in U.C. 0093, the year before Athena enrolled at the Federal Academy. As a matter of international jurisprudence, the Antarctic Treaty of U.C. 0079 that banned the use of nuclear weapons is all but dead...owing to the fact that one of the political entities that agreed to the terms of that treaty, the Archduchy of Zeon, no longer exists (except as warring factions of former Zeon military leaders beyond the Asteroid Belt in the Outer Solar System). Nevertheless, Athena finds it difficult to believe that the Earth Federation Forces have begun the production of nuclear weapons again.

    Athena considers whom the Federation plans to use those weapons against. There are really only two possibilities: the aforementioned Zeon warlords in the Outer Solar System, who continue to harass the Federation from afar, or the ISR movement on Side 3.

    Side 3, the birthplace of Zeon...the birthplace of Duchess Minerva Zabi of the Archduchy of Zeon, now Captain Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Forces' Centurion Special Operations Team.

    Sighing, Athena puts her emptied brandy glass down. For reasons that even Athena herself does not understand, she finds herself in Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh's quarters. Perhaps Athena is looking for someone to confide in? If so, her search is fruitless. The beautiful teenaged pilot is fast asleep, oblivious to Athena's presence.

    Jolie's shapely, but dimunitive figure is uncovered, her blanket having fallen to the ground. Athena picks the blanket up and covers Jolie securely in it, patting her protegee's head affectionately.

    Athena smiles despite herself, Maybe I'm getting maternal in my old age...which is hysterical because I'm barely three years older than this "child" I'm caring for here.

    Athena's thoughts turn to the nuclear weapons she discovered in the concealed cargo hold of the Moonshadow. Would the Federation use those weapons against children half Jolie's age? Athena shudders at the prospect of having to carry out such an order someday.

    Athena makes sure that Jolie's covers are secure, the only thing she can secure at present, then sighs again as she leaves Jolie's quarters for another long, silent, sleepless night.

    ************************************************** **************

    Six hours later, Captain Athena Ibaz is supervising her team's morning maintenance checks on their mobile suits. Garrison Noah's staff of engineers and technicians had worked through the night to restore the Centurion Team's mobile suits to top working condition after the previous day's engagement against enemy mobile suits. The pilots now must test their mecha to ensure that they indeed are functioning at optimum condition.

    Jolie floats over to Athena, "Hey, 'Thena! What'd you call me up here so urgent for?"

    Athena says with mock iciness, "Is that how I taught you to address me?"

    Somewhat perfunctorily, Jolie salutes, "Captain Ibaz, ma'am. Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh reporting as ordered, ma'am."

    Having made her point on protocol, Athena offers one of her pretty grins, "At ease, Chief. Repairs to your Centurion Gundam have been completed. Have you checked it out yet?"

    "No, ma'am," comes the reply, "I was just getting to it."

    "On the double, Chief," Athena says, motioning towards the maintenance dock where the Centurion Gundam stands.

    As Jolie turns towards the Centurion Gundam, she sees that the damaged head and arm components have been replaced. All traces of the previous day's damage have been repaired, and the mobile suit has been given a new paint job...with a new White Phoenix insignia painted onto the side of the cockpit hatch.

    "I hope you like it, 'White Phoenix'," Athena says, approaching.

    "Like it," Jolie replies, "I LOVE it! Thanks, 'Thena...er, Captain!"

    Like a new day, Athena muses, she rises again: The White Phoenix.

    Her legend is only beginning.

    END OF EPISODE 5

    EPISODE 6 COMING SOON!

  10. #70
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    EPISODE 6: THE BLACKBIRDS

    Chief Warrant Officer Jolie Minh is alone in the Centurion Team's lounge. The other members of the Centurion Team are on their monthly leaves, visiting family and friends or attending to personal business off the base.

    Jolie, who has neither family nor friends outside of the Centurion Team, or much personal business, remains on the base with Captain Athena Ibaz.

    Maybe I can talk 'Thena into going into town with me, Jolie thinks to herself. Upon further reflection, however, Jolie realizes that it's unlikely she'd be able to persuade her workaholic commanding officer to go. At the moment, Athena is locked inside her office devising new anti-ISRLA tactics.

    Boredom finally overwhelms Jolie, so she picks up one of the ancient books that Athena gave to her, something called The Prince by an author named "Niccolo Machiavelli."

    Jolie takes off her uniform boots and crosses her long, lovely legs beneath her on one of the lounge's cushioned seats. Jolie had stopped attending school in the Fourth Grade. Consequently, her reading skills are not quite where they should be (i.e. high school level). Nevertheless, Jolie understands the gist of the text well enough to become infuriated.

    "What total B.S.!" Jolie growls as she throws the book across the room.

    Athena enters the lounge, having emerged from her office for a fresh cup of coffee, "You really should take better care of these, Jolie. These are priceless treasures."

    Jolie uncrosses her shapely legs and pulls her uniform boots back on, "That 'Mach-ee-o-vel-e' guy is full of s**t! What does he mean that the ends justifies the means, and the strong and ruthless are the ones who ought to rule?!"

    Athena, picking up the leather-bound book from the floor and lovingly setting it on a nearby table, replies, "It's Machiavelli. He was an Italian Renaissance thinker, and essentially, he was right. We're living in what Thomas Hobbes called a State of Nature, Jolie. Every living being must look out for its own interests. You must eliminate your enemies before they eliminate you."

    That much Jolie can understand. Surviving for five years in the hellish environment of Industria Colony, she could not afford to be naive about the needs of survival. Still, that doesn't justify Machiavelli's coldhearted worldview in Jolie's mind.

    Realizing that Jolie does not fully grasp the concept, however, Athena sits down and begins to patiently explain the idea further, "You've never been to Earth, Jolie. You've never seen how animals survive in their natural habitats - how predators obtain substinence through ruthlessness and cunning. For example, when you're in combat aboard the Centurion Gundam, you set aside your enemy's humanity, reduce him or her to a threat that you must eradicate for your own survival. Moreover, you need to anticipate how the enemy will threaten you....think ahead of her or him."

    "You mean like that time you trapped me in the net when we first met?" Jolie asks.

    Athena laughs lightly at the memory of their first encounter, "Something like that, yes. I knew I couldn't outfight you straight up, so I took advantage of the environment against you."

    Jolie nods with understanding.

    Athena and Jolie have come to enjoy these discussions, from which they have both learned a great deal (especially Jolie). In the eight months that they have worked together, Athena and Jolie have developed a very strong bond of empathy between them. Both orphans, both extremely talented and strong-willed, and both beautiful, they share much in common. They are also, paradoxically, a set of contrasts. Athena is refined, elegant, and erudite, while Jolie is passionate, vivacious, and candid. Jolie admires Athena's elegance, knowledge, and wit, while Athena admires Jolie's fearlessness and energy. They also, however, occassionally experience mild friction with each other: Jolie sometimes finds herself chafing under Athena's attention to detail and demand for perfection, while Athena is at times frustrated by Jolie's recklessness and impudence.

    These differences, however, have seemingly only solidified their friendship. They have become almost like sisters...each fiercely loyal to the other, and together in combat, as both the Federation and its enemies are quickly discovering, an extremely formidable combination of excellent strategic mind and superior combat prowess.

    Athena says, "Anyway, I'm glad I caught you here. There's something I need to tell you."

    Uh-oh, Jolie thinks, "Am I in trouble? What reg did I break this time?"

    Athena smiles, "I need to congratulate you, Second Lieutenant Jolie Minh."

    "Second Lieutenant? Me? You're kidding," Jolie says in disbelief.

    "The promotion went through this morning," Athena beams proudly at Jolie, "and I just signed the documents authorizing the promotion. You'll be given your Lieutenant's bars and other accoutrements at a ceremony on Monday."

    "Cool!" Jolie exults, "my daddy was a First Lieutenant when he was in the Federal army!"

    "Your family would have been very proud of you, Jolie," Athena says with an uncommon warmth in her voice, "just as I am."

    The two share a sisterly embrace.

    Athena remarks, "You're only sixteen and you've already almost reached your father's rank when he was almost twice that age."

    Jolie replies, "Actually, Daddy joined the EFSS when he was about sixteen like me. During the Gryps War, he was in the Titans."

    "So I read in his dossier," Athena replies nonjudgmentally.

    Jolie is compelled to add, "But he didn't take any part in that colony gassing stuff the Titans did! Daddy wasn't a murderer, just a soldier!"

    There are some who would say that there's no difference, Athena thinks to herself, but leaves unspoken.

    "I know that, Jolie," Athena reassures her friend and subordinate, "you don't need to say it."

    "Didn't want you to misunderstand," Jolie says somewhat sheepishly.

    "Neither the Federation nor the Zeon has a monopoly on atrocities," Athena observes, "to live is to kill."

    "Ma-chee-o...whatever, again?" Jolie wonders.

    "No," Athena replies solemnly, wiping her fingers with her handkerchief, "Giren Zabi, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Archduchy of Zeon."

    Athena's late uncle, whose memory she detested.



    The late Supreme Commander Giren Zabi of the Armed Forces of the Archduchy of Zeon, the eldest of Athena's uncles.


    EPISODE 6 TO BE CONTINUED...

  11. #71
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Taking a break from updates here for a questionaire that I hope readers of MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM - THE SECOND CENTURY (PRELUDE 0099) will take a few minutes to answer for me. If you're reading, please respond, as I could really use the input:


    1. What do you like most about this story?


    2. What do you like least about this story?


    3, Do you find the writing style enjoyable to read? If not, what do you believe could be better?


    4. Are there certain elements of the story that you believe should be removed or modified?



    5. Is there anything that you would like to see added to the story (so far)?



    6. Do you find the characters in the story interesting and well-developed?



    7. Who is your favorite character (or characters) in the story? What makes this character compelling to you?




    8. Who is your least favorite character in this story? How do you think this character can be improved?




    9. What do you hope to see in upcoming chapters of the story?




    10. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being best, 1 being worst), how would you rate the story so far?




    Your candid responses will be greatly appreciated.

  12. #72
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    Even if you can't answer all of the questions, please try to answer the ones you can, folks. Please lend a hand here.

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    Episode 6 continued...

    The Archduchy of Zeon, and the Republic of Zeon that preceded it, began life in the space colonies of Side 3 located in the dark side of lunar orbit. It was there that during the U.C. 0050s, a thinker by the name of Zeon Zum Daikun first championed the ideology of Contolism, and prophesied the advent of the Newtype.

    Zeon Daikun posited that after fifty years of living in outer space, free of the effects of Earths' gravity, humanity had begun its evolution to a higher state of existence...one in which the true potential of the human mind and the human soul would be unleashed. The time had come for humanity to rise forth from its terrestrial cradle and settle its new home among the stars. This was necessary not only for humanity's future, but also for balance of life on planet Earth as well. Earth had hosted and nurtured humanity for hundreds of thousands of years, but humanity, in its constant push towards civilization and progress, had exhausted the ecology of its homeworld and threatened the further existence of life on Earth. For the future of the Earth, as well as humanity's future, Daikun argued, the mass movement of humanity into outer space was an inevitability.

    Two generations of human beings forcibly removed from Earth and sent to move into outer space found great sympathy for Daikun's ideology and cause. Hundreds of millions, and ultimately over two billion came to support Daikun, paving the way for the foundation of the Republic of Zeon in the year U.C. 0062.

    From the outset, the Earth Federation Government eyed the spaceborne population warily. During the first five decades of space colonization, the Spacenoid population had found numerous reasons to be dissatisfied with the Federation's rule. Corruption was rampant. Abuses were not uncommon. There was a general sense that the leaders on Earth did not care about the people it had sent into outer space to live, and considered their Spacenoid brethren as little more than refuse to be disposed of with as little fuss as possible.

    When Zeon Daikun began to agitate for the establishment of an independent Spacenoid republic in Side 3 during the U.C. 0050s, the Earth Federation Government was loathe to agree to the idea. Nevertheless, the Federation being the inertia-set and shortsighted bureaucracy that it was, saw fewer drawbacks in letting Daikun and his Spacenoid cultists have their celestial republic rather than risk the costly military confrontation that might ensue if the Federation were to take steps to forbid it. Thus, in U.C. 0062, the Republic of Zeon was born.


    Zeon Daikun, the peace-loving Father of Contolism and first Prime Minister of the Republic of Zeon. To Daikun's right is Vice Prime Minister Degin Zabi, who would soon betray him.


    Zeon Daikun was, at heart, a pacifist. He believed that peaceful coexistence between the Spacenoid population and the pepple who remained rooted to the Earth to be imperative. In time, Daikun reasoned, as Newtypes emerged among the Spacenoid population, they would open the minds and hearts of their brothers and sisters on Earth, and peacefully persuade them to join humanity's inexorable path towards advancement. Daikun's dream of the peaceful advancement of humanity did not survive his sudden death in U.C. 0069.

    Zeon Daikun and his people were betrayed by one of his most trusted lieutenants, Degin Sod Zabi, who had been Vice Prime Minister of the Republic of Zeon. Upon Zeon Daikun's death, Degin Zabi abolished the Republic of Zeon and declared the foundation of the Archduchy of Zeon, installing himself as Archduke. At the prodding of his eldest son, Giren, Degin Zabi adopted a policy of mass militarization for the new archduchy. All of the colony's resources were dedicated to military research, and over the next decade, Zeon scientists and engineers would develop such deadly new weaponry as beam cannon and mobile suits. Paralleling the rapid development of a vast war machine and the training of a large Spacenoid army, Giren Zabi preached a new philosophy of hatred. Abandoning Zeon Daikun's pacifistic, gradualist ideals, Giren Zabi stoked the flames of anger and resentment among the people of the Archduchy of Zeon, encouraging them in fiery speeches and writings to hate the people of Earth for their heartlessness and ignorance. Giren's philosophy, taught to the people of Zeon for a decade, was that the future of humanity depended upon the extermination of those who continued to linger upon and exploit the Earth, and that the Earth's resources must be secured by force to supply humanity's further advancement into space.


    The Zabi Family, militaristic ruling family of the Archduchy of Zeon. Clockwise from bottom: Archduke Degin Zabi (Sovereign of Zeon), Captain Garma Zabi (fourth in line of succession), Vice Admiral Dozle Zabi (third in line of succession), Supreme Commander Giren Zabi (first in line of succession). In the center is Vice Admiral Kyshiria Zabi (second in line of succession). The entire family perished during the One Year War, except for Dozle's daughter Minerva, now missing in action (and secretly operating as the Earth Federation Forces' Captain Athena Ibaz).

    In response to these developments, the Earth Federation Government also focused its attention to strengthening its military apparatus during the U.C. 0070s. For ten years, tensions mounted between the Earth Federation Government and the Archduchy of Zeon.

    Then, just as the new year of U.C. 0079 dawned, the Zeon Archduchy Forces attacked the Federation space colony of Side 5, and followed with attacks against targets on the planet itself. The One Year War had begun...the first in a series of military conflicts between Earthnoids and Spacenoids that have claimed, to date, over half of the human population. Of the twenty billion that lived on Earth or the space colonies prior to the beginning of the One Year War, fewer than eight billion now remained.

    And in the eighteen years since the One Year War ended, some things have not changed...at least not for the better.

    Episode 6 to be continued...

  14. #74
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    Episode 6 continued

    Side 3 today is an occupied war zone.

    Zum City, once the opulent center of Zeon government, culture, education, and industry, is (and has been for over a decade) a site of perpetual chaos and violence. Only the hardiest of residents have elected to remain in Zum City, and those who do eke out a Spartan existence amidst a paradox of heavy security and relentless violence.

    Somewhere on the streets of Zum City, a Federal Forces RGM-95 GM-IV mobile suit is making a routine patrol of the city. Without warning, the mobile suit's head/camera unit explodes. In a nearby alley, two ISRLA guerillas armed with a rocket propelled gun scramble away.

    In another part of the city, Federal Forces infantrymen are engaged in an automatic rifle and handgun shootout with a half-dozen ISRLA freedom fighters. Heavy casualties are inflicted by both sides.

    In a grocery store elsewhere in the city, armed Federal troppers storm into the business and demand to see the owner. When the owner emerges, the troopers proceed to beat the owner and his employees savagely before taking them away for interrogation. The store's inventory is confiscated by the Federal Forces.

    At a house in a residential district of the city, Federal soldiers burst in, assaulting the men and women within. There is murder and rape.

    On another street in the city, six Federal Forces soldiers on foot patrol are suddenly cut down by a hail of gunfire from a speeding van. The van's passengers shout the slogan, "Liberate Zeon!" as the Federal soldiers fall into pools of their own blood.

    A small squad of Federal soldiers storms into the clandestine offices of the Spacenoid Liberation Journal, a revolutionary newsletter operating underground in Side 3. The soldiers open fire upon the handful of staff writers and investigative reporters, ransack the office, and finally set the building on fire.

    Elsewhere, three Federal Forces soldiers are enjoying a game of cards at their post when they are suddenly assaulted by a hail of Molotov Cocktails.

    Through all of this anarchy and chaos, the figure of a tall, thin man clad in a long trench coat and felt hat walks hurriedly stealthily through the dangerous streets of Zum City. The man approaches a small office building in a comparatively isolated part of the city, keys in a security code at the door, and gains admittance.

    The trenchcoat-clad man proceeds down a corridor until he arrives at an office marked with a simple sign, "Medical Clinic."

    Within the clinic, an attractive blonde woman in her mid-thirties, blue-eyed and soft-haired, gently performs a physical examination on a little girl.

    Dr. Sayla Mass, also known as Artasia Som Daikun, smiles at the little girl and turns to her parents, ""She'll be fine. It's the air pollution created within the colony by the breakdown of the ventilation systems that's driving her breathing problems. I'll provide her some medication that should alleviate the symptoms a bit, but she really needs to move somewhere where the air is cleaner...not to mention where it's safer in general."



    2Lt. Sayla Mass as an Earth Federation Forces fighter pilot during the One Year War



    Dr. Sayla Mass today, a physician and the leader of the Independent Spacenoid Republic movement

    Sayla provides her patient's parents with a bottle of medication, along with some documents that will allow them passage out of Side 3. She wishes them well and declines their offers of payment.

    As her patients depart, Sayla greets the trenchcoated man who has entered her clinic. She knows him well.

    The man removes his hat and his trenchcoat to reveal a familiar face. He is Kai Shiden, an ally and friend of Sayla's since their days serving together as Federal Forces soldiers aboard the White Base during the One Year War.

    Eighteen years ago, 2Lt. Sayla Mass and 2Lt. Kai Shiden were space fightercraft and mobile suit pilots for the Earth Federation Forces. Sayla and Kai's friendship had gotten off to a rocky start. On the day they first met in September, U.C. 0079 following a Zeon attack on the Side 7 space colony where they had resided, Sayla had slapped Kai and called him a coward for refusing to help locate remaining refugees in the colony. In those days, Kai had indeed been a coward, and cared little for the likes of Sayla, Captain Bright Noah, 2Lt. Amuro Ray, Sgt. Hayato Kobayashi, and others who forced Kai to act like the soldier that he did not feel he was meant to be.

    Nevertheless, Kai's piloting of the RX-77 Guncannon became instrumental to the White Base's survival, and following his fateful encounter with the tragic Zeon spy Miharu Latokie in Belfast, Ireland, Kai discovered a courage he had never known that he had, as well as a commitment to peace and justice that the once-selfish young man had never realized himself to be capable of.


    2Lt. Kai Shiden as a Federation mobile suit pilot during the One Year War. In the background is Kai's mobile suit RX-77 Guncannon.


    Today, Kai Shiden is the director of the ISRLA's Information and Intelligence Bureau


    The tragic death of the young woman named Miharu Latokie during the One Year War greatly affected Kai Shiden's attitudes and views in the years that followed.

    After the conclusion of the One Year War, Sayla and Kai went their separate ways, and contact between them was infrequent. Sayla completed the medical degree that she had been working on at the University of Side 7 when the war disrupted her studies. At the same time, Kai studied journalism and eventually became an investigative reporter for the AEUG, helping the AEUG to expose the brutality of the Earth Federation Forces' Titans Corps. After Sayla's brother, Char Aznable, had failed in his attempt to create nuclear winter on Earth by dropping the asteroid fortress Axis onto the planet in U.C. 0093, Kai responded to Sayla's call to begin a movement for peaceful Spacenoid independence. Sayla's goal is to resurrect her late father's old dream after a quarter century of war, death, and desolation. Kai assists Sayla in this quest by using the skills he has acquired in intelligence and information-gathering to direct the fledgling Independent Spacenoid Republic's Information and Intelligence Bureau.

    Chapter 6 to be continued...

  15. #75
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    Episode 6 continued...

    Kai and Sayla embrace as friends who have shared dozens of life-and-death experiences over the years do. Although they were frequently at one another's throats when they served together aboard the White Base during the One Year War, eighteen years later, there is only warm camaraderie between them.

    "It's good to see you again, Kai," Sayla says with the radiant smile that Kai remembers as being seen too infrequently aboard the White Base all those many years ago (Sayla had been something of a cold fish in those days, especially towards Kai), "it's been eight months since you've visited in person."

    Kai rejoins, "In the line of work I do, the less I'm seen, the better." In his days as a Federal Forces soldier, Kai Shiden had been known as a practical joker and a loose cannon - the kind of guy whose mouth couldn't be kept shut with mobile suit armor rivets. Sayla cannot help but appreciate the irony that Kai's career since the end of the One Year War has revolved around the judicious keeping and selective sharing of secrets.

    Sayla knows that if Kai has come to see her personally, his reasons cannot be social or trivial.

    Kai says evenly, "My people have gotten some concrete information about the failure of the Moonshadow operation."

    Sayla draws in a deep breath. She has never approved of promoting the Spacenoid cause through violent means, but the information that Kai's bureau has gathered about the Earth Federation Forces' secret stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons has forced Sayla to relent to the urgings of the ISR's more militant senior leaders. Months earlier, Sayla reluctantly gave her approval to the hiring of mercenary mobile suit pilots Caitlin O'Rourke and Jordan Sinclair, and it pains her to have given her approval to an operation that cost the two young pilots their lives.

    "Caitlin and Jordan were a very sweet couple," Sayla reflects, "and excellent mobile suit pilots as well. We selected them and paid them a great sum of money to ensure the success of the Moonshadow operation. The safety of all Spacenoids depended on their success. And now, both of them are..."

    Sayla trails off, unable to continue the terrible line of thought.

    Kai continues for her, "You're right. Based on our previous intelligence, there shouldn't have been a single mobile suit pilot in all the Earth Federation Forces who could have neutralized O'Rourke or Sinclair, let alone both of them. That's before we found out about her."

    Kai shows Sayla a photograph of a very attractive teenaged girl of East Asian descent. The girl in the photograph is dressed in a current Earth Federation Special Forces uniform.

    Kai tells Sayla, "This girl's name is Jolie Minh. She's sixteen years old, and she was recruited into the Earth Federation Special Forces eight months ago. Minh was the one who took down both O'Rourke and Sinclair. Our people have also found out that she was instrumental in foiling Barron and Ferrario's attempt to steal the Gundam-100. Furthermore, this 'Jolie Minh' also wrecked an MA-08 Byg Zam that a rogue Side 6 Civil Defense officer was trying to sell to the Phobos Zeon forces."

    Sayla considers the implications of what Kai is telling her, "So you think that this girl..."

    Kai nods, "She's a Newtype, Sayla. She's like Amuro."

    The mention of the name of her slain onetime lover wracks Sayla with a wave of pain. Resisting the flood of emotions within her, Sayla goes on to ask, "What do you recommend?"

    Kai considers that, "Sending in more of our people to try to kill this 'Jolie Minh' will probably just be a waste of lives and mobile suits. Nevertheless, I do have some good news on that front: we've finally been able to secure the services of Shin Matsunaga and Braniff Oskar."

    Sayla recognizes those two names, and that recognition prompts her surprise, "Those are the top mobile suit mercenary pilots in the profession..."

    Kai affirms Sayla's declaration, "...professional and veteran killers in mobile suits...they make O'Rourke and Sinclair, with all due respect to both of them, look like bush leaguers in comparison."

    Sayla is compelled to agree, "Matsunaga and Oskar are two of the most notorious pilots to have emerged from the One Year War. I'm glad the White Base never encountered them during the war. Even Amuro would have had his hands full taking on either one of them."

    Kai nods in agreement, "We've evaluted their abilities. They're actually BETTER than advertised. One would think that the years and age would erode their reflexes and skills, but they've actually gotten better with age. They might be twice as dangerous as they were during the war."

    "Acquiring their services must have really dented the budget," Sayla observes.

    "Not as much as you'd think," Kai replies, "Matsunaga and Oskar would each have cost us a fortune if either of them worked for money only. Fortunately for us, they're taking 'ideological sympathy' as a down payment. Both are willing to join us for a briefcase of gold bullion, and 'in' on the action against the Federation."

    Putting away the last of her medical examnation equipment into a drawer, Sayla notices a second photograph in Kai's hand, "What else do you have to share with me, Kai?"

    Kai hesitates for a moment before showing Sayla the second photograph, "I think you'll find this even more intriguing than Jolie Minh was."

    Kai shows the photo to Sayla. Sayla sees the image of another very attractive young woman, also an officer in the Earth Federation Forces...this one about two to three years older than Jolie Minh, and of European descent. There is something about the supremely confident, strikingly intelligent look in the eyes of the beautiful young woman in the photograph that unnerves Sayla...something familiar...something that reminds her of her late brother, Cassoval Rem Daikun, more commonly and infamously known as Char Aznable.

    Beyond that, however, there is something else even more naggingly familiar about the pretty young redhead in the photograph...something that Sayla cannot quite place.

    Kai tells Sayla, "This is Captain Athena Ibaz, nineteen years old, commanding officer of the Earth Federation Special Forces' Centurion Team. She's Jolie Minh's commanding officer, and she directed Minh in each of those operations that I mentioned."

    All of a sudden, it clicks for Sayla, "Athena...Ibaz? Ibaz...Athena....Minerva Zabi?!"

    Kai nods, his stare ominously intense, "There's no doubt that the commanding officer of the Centurion Team is the Heir of the Zabi Family."

    Sayla slumps into a chair, unable to believe the revelation. The photograph of Athena Ibaz...no, Minerva Zabi, stares back at her mockingly.

    Episode 6 to be continued

  16. #76
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    Episode 6 continued

    At that very moment, on the other side of Cislunar Space in Side 7's Green Noah space colony, the subjects of Sayla Mass and Kai Shiden's discussion sit in a cigarette smoke-filled videoconference room, reviewing a holographic recording of the Centurion Gundam's recent battle against the ISRLA rebels that had hijacked the Moonshadow.

    Two nearly empty packs of cigarettes lie near the center of the conference room table, from where a crystalline device projects a holographic image recorded by the Black Box extracted from the Centurion Gundam. The cigarette smoke somehow enhances the quality of the image, making the laser-projection easier to see. That is hardly the reason, however, that Capt. Athena Ibaz and 2Lt. Jolie Minh have smoked their way through eighteen cigarettes between them during the past two hours.

    Jolie blows out a cloud of smoke as she relives the battle she barely survived just a few days earlier. She winces as she watches Jordan Sinclair's Quebeley savage her Centurion Gundam again, wrecking its head/camera unit and nearly tearing off its arm.

    Seated across the table, Athena exhales her own lungful of smoke as she impassively resets the video for another scene of Jolie getting her mobile suit pummeled by Caitlin O'Rourke's Jagd Doga.

    Jolie, having had enough of Athena's silence, finally blurts out, "Is there a point to all this, or do you just get off on watching me screw up?!"

    Athena replies calmly, "I'm doing this to keep you alive."

    Jolie rises to her feet, slamming her fists on the conference table, "Watching myself getting creamed again and again is supposed to help me stay alive? Go eat yourself, 'Thena!"

    Ignoring her temperamental executive officer's outburst, Athena inhales another lungful of smoke and exhales it again deliberately before answering, "The greatest danger that an ace pilot faces is the belief that she's better than her opponent. That belief breeds overconfidence. Overconfidence breeds carelessness. Carelessness breeds self-destruction. Do you understand that, *Lieutenant* Minh?"

    The emphasis that Athena places on enunciating on Jolie's new rank humbles the teenager for a moment. Jolie understands that Athena is doing this for her good, but still...

    Athena turns off the video and turns on the conference room's lights. She rubs her eyes tiredly for a moment, then habitually pulls out her handkerchief from its customary resting place in the breast pocket of her uniform jacket. Athena tersely, but quietly wipes her fingers with the handkerchief for a moment, then repockets the handkerchief once again.

    Jolie smiles. She has always found this particular idiosyncrasy of her friend and commanding officer intriguing and singularly debonair. Anyone else practicing such a personal habit, which Athena drifts into during moments of stress, would seem awkward and pretentious, but Athena does it with a peerless elegance and grace that is uniquely characteristic of her.

    Jolie takes one of the final cigarettes from one of the packs on the desk and puts the cigarette into her mouth. Athena lights Jolie's cigarette with an old-fashioned wooden match, then uses the same match to light a fresh cigarette of her own.

    As she blows out another cloud of smoke, Athena shows Jolie a bitter smile, "Maybe we should quit smoking. Lung cancer is an extremely painful way to die, I hear."

    Jolie, inhaling deeply from her cigarette, replies on the exhale, "Oh, yeah. Definitely. If we don't quit smoking now, we're not gonna see thirty."



    Captain Athena Ibaz and 2Lt. Jolie Minh, sisters-at-arms

    After a moment's silence, the two young women laugh, choking a bit on the cigarette smoke. The joke is that given their career choice, they are both unlikely to see thirty anyway. No matter how many cigarettes they smoke, or how many glasses of bourbon and whiskey they drink, they're still far more likely to die in the cockpit of a mobile suit than they are of lung or liver disease.

    Such fatalism, perhaps, is endemic among soldiers.

    After their laughter has subsided, Jolie pipes up, "Seriously, though, 'Thena. Do you really have any long term plans for life? Or do you think it'd just be a waste of time?"

    Athena replies, "You already know my long term plan, such as it is. If I live long enough, I can make this goddamned world a better place than it's been during our lifetimes."

    That much Jolie knows, and it's really not what she is asking about, "I mean personal. Haven't you ever thought about getting married? You know? Starting a family and settling down?"

    Athena lets out a short laugh, as if Jolie had just her told the silliest joke that Athena has ever heard, and stubs out her last cigarette into the ashtray before replying, "It's never crossed my mind."

    Jolie rests her chin in her hands, looking wistfully somewhere beyond the conference room's walls, "My dream is to settle down someday with a man that I really love, and start a family with him. Get back the life I had when I was a little girl, except I'd be the wife and mom this time."

    Athena grins. She can almost imagine Jolie in those roles, "You know, if you want that dream to come true, you've got to help me make *my* dream come true first."

    That much, Jolie understands. Athena's ambition is to create a world wherein tragedies like the one that had orphaned Jolie could never happen again. This is the reason that Jolie agreed to work with Athena in the first place.

    Jolie asks, "And how far are we from achieving this dream, Athena?"

    Athena becomes grim, "A long way...'many miles before we sleep,' Jolie. Robert Frost. American poet. 20th Century.'"

    A call comes through the intercom, "Attention: Capt. Athena Ibaz and 2Lt. Jolie Minh's presence are requested at the office of Col. Cairlay."

    Hearing their names, Athena and Jolie rise immediately and begin heading towards Colonel Cairlay's office some ten stories above them.

    The call of duty has found them again.

    Episode 6 to be continued...

  17. #77
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    Episode 6 continued

    "Generals Noah and Blackhead will be attending this security conference with the Federation High Council in Shanghai, China on Earth," Colonel Cairlay tells the commanding and executive officers of the Aragon, Centurion, Gallant, Moscow, and Xerxes Teams, "and we believe that ISRLA assassins might make an attempt on their transports while they're vulnerable during atmospheric entry. Your five teams have had notable success in dealing with ISRLA insurgents in recent months, so the High Command has decided to give this assignment to you. The generals will be departing for Earth forty-eight hours from now. Do you have any questions?"

    "A comment, if I may, sir," Captain Athena Ibaz offers.

    "Go ahead, Captain Ibaz," replies Cairlay, fixing the pretty young officer in his unnerving gaze.

    "Thank you, sir," Athena answers, "the recent Moonshadow incident and the theft of the Gundam-100 prototype prove that our security is not, shall we say, as seamless as it should be. This Shanghai Conference, for example, is not public knowledge, and yet we have reason to anticipate that the ISRLA is likely to interfere."

    "Are you suggesting a fifth column has infiltrated our ranks, Captain?" Cairlay ventures.

    "I'm not inclined to make baseless accusations, particularly against our own comrades-at-arms, Colonel," Athena says evenly, "but it should be pointed out that not all of the civilian contractors upon whom the Federal Forces depend for supplies and transportation are necessarily or completely sympathetic to the Earth Federation Government, and these contractors are, by necessity, privy to some of our activities."

    Colonel Cairlay nods. The facts illuminated by Athena are apparent enough, but the High Command has not been responsive to the Special Forces' requests for permission to plug intelligence leaks more effectively. Consequently, the Special Forces are forced to work from the disadvantaged position of reacting.

    Nevertheless, the Federation's intelligence personnel have been far from valueless, and as if to prove it, Colonel Cairlay activates a holographic dossier.

    "Let's consider that matter at a more germane time," the colonel says, "Central Intelligence has obtained information about what who will likely attempt a strike against the generals' transports. Ladies and gentlemen: these are the Blackbirds."

    The profiles of three individual appear in the holographic display. One is a man of Caucasian descent in his mid-forties. The second is an ageless man of African heritage. The third is a woman of Asian descent likely in her late thirties."

    "Dirk Kirscher, Mugabe Gazi, and Hyo-Kung Song," Colonel Cairlay identifies, "Collectively known as the Blackbirds."

    "Those names and faces seem kind of familiar," remarks Captain Kenneth Ackerman, commanding officer of the Xerxes Team and veteran of the Gryps Conflict.

    "That's not suprising," Cairlay remarks with a bitter smile, "they were all once our people...as members of the Titans."

    There is the a collective intake of breath as tension seizes the conference room. The Titans. Twenty years earlier, before the current configuration of the Earth Federation Special Forces was established, the Titans had been the Federal Forces' elite anti-Zeon, anti-insurgent task force. The Titans were charged with crushing any sign of Contolist or Zeon insurrection before it could pose a threat. Led by Admiral Jamitov Haiman and Colonel Bosque Om, the Titans had performed their designated function too zealously and singlemindedly. By the mid-U.C. 0080s, the Titans had become nothing more or less than Haiman and Om's private army, to harass and murder Spacenoids at will. After the infamous 30th Bunch Incident that caused the loss of millions of lives in Side 1, the AEUG (Anti-Earth Union Government) was established by the reformist Blex Forra, a former Earth Federation Forces general who opposed the Titans at every turn.



    The logo of the Titans Corps



    Admiral Jamitov Haimen, Supreme Commander of the Titans Corps, circa U.C. 0087



    Colonel Bosque Om, brutal enforcer of Titans' authority.


    The logo of the Anti-Earth Union Government (AEUG), formed to oppose the Titans



    Blex Forra, the humane founder and leader of AEUG. Assassinated by the Titans in U.C. 0087.

    "The Blackbirds saw action during the Gryps Conflict against both the AEUG and the Axis," Colonel Cairlay explains for the benefit of the younger officers, to whom all this is vaguely recalled history, "they were very effective piloting Barzam, Hambrabi, and Gapsray mobile suits in numerous campaigns during U.C. 0087 and early U.C. 0088. After the Battle of the Zedan's Gate, however, they disappeared and were listed as missing. They resurfaced three years ago as soldiers of fortune, willing to kill anyone for the right price."

    "Why hasn't the Federation bought them out, then?" asks 2Lt. Jolie Minh, who has been silent until now.

    Colonel Cairlay, still irritated by Jolie's undisciplined behavior and lack of respect for proper protocol, shoots the Centurion Team's beautiful young executive officer a reproving look before answer, "Even mercenaries have principles, Lt. Minh, as paradoxical as that sounds. Having served the Federal Forces once, and having left the service, the Blackbirds are loathe to return. Mercenaries do not give their loyalties to any particular party for too long. To do so, they feel, would diminish their value."

    "How much value could they possibly have?" Jolie says, throwing her hands up in a gesture of incredulity, "They're old. I mean, for pilots, they're kind of old. And so are their mobile suits."

    "Their experience makes them even more dangerous than they were previously, Lt. Minh," Colonel Cairlay says severely, "I'm sure Captain Ibaz has taught you that. As far as their mecha is concerned, you should not be so naive as to assume that they have been working with twenty-year outmoded mobile suits."

    So saying, Colonel Cairlay brings up a new image on the holographic display. A mobile suit bearing some resemblance to a gladiator of classical antiquity appears. The mobile suit is the black of deepest space.

    "This, ladies and gentlemen," Colonel Cairlay explains, "is the mobile suit AMX-140 Gellond, a new development of the Phobos Zeon Mobile Weapons Research and Development Department. It is based on the technology of the old Zeon MS-14 Gelgoog mobile suit and our own RX-93 Nu Gundam, which was lost in U.C. 0093 during the Second Neo Zeon War, but not before a rogue engineer at Anaheim Electronics had leaked the Nu Gundam's data to the Neo Zeon forces. We have reason to believe that the Quebird might match, if not surpass, the performance ability of even your Centurion Gundam, Lt. Minh."

    Episode 6 to be continued...

  18. #78
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    Episode 6 continued...

    Ten minutes later, 2Lt. Jolie Minh storms out of the conference room, her commanding officer Captain Athena Ibaz at her side.

    "That Cairlay is a freakin' idiot," Jolie complains, "he kept going on about those 'Blackbird' losers like they're some kind of unkillable superpeople or something! Let me take 'em on and I'll...!"

    "That's enough, Jolie," Athena says firmly, pulling the visor of her officer's hat low upon her head, "the colonel was right."

    "Right?!" Jolie stops in her tracks and turns to Athena, incredulous anger in her pretty young visage, "What the...? Well, nice to know I've got your vote of confidence! Thanks for the stab in the back, 'Thena!"

    Athena exhales before returning, "Have you been listening to anything I've been telling you? You're thinking with your ego, not your brain. That's going to get you killed, sooner rather than later."

    Jolie, her anger boiling over, snaps back with, "Yeah... like you'd care!'

    Athena shoots Jolie back an angry look of her own, but instead of saying anything in response, turns away and draws her handkerchief out to wipe her fingers.

    Jolie realizes that she's gone too far. Biting her lip in sheepish remorse, Jolie looks down and says meekly, "I'm sorry, Athena. I didn't mean that. I know you care...that's why you're trying to tell me I can't beat the Blackbirds. It's just that..."

    Athena repockets her handkerchief, turns around, and lifts the visor of her officer's hat a bit higher, letting Jolie clearly see her eyes. Putting her hands on Jolie's shoulders, Athena gives her friend a reassuring smile, "I know, Jolie. And I'm not saying you can't or won't defeat the Blackbirds. What I'm trying to get you to understand, though, is that not all battles are won by quick reflexes and deft maneuvers. You've got more raw talent as a pilot and a fighter than anyone else I've ever seen, but you need to learn to use your head in combat."

    "I'm not you," Jolie says, "I don't have a 200 IQ, and I haven't read every book on military strategy ever written. You write books on military strategy that other officers read. I just know how to cave people's faces in."

    "You don't need to be the second coming of Sun T'zu," Athena tells Jolie, "but before you enter a battle, do you ever consider these: what are your enemy's habits and idiosyncrasies? What are your enemy's greatest strengths? What are his greatest weaknesses? Where are the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your own combat technique? How might your enemy exploit that? You need to figure these things out before you go into battle, Jolie."

    "How do I do that?" Jolie asks.

    Athena says, "Give me some time to gather some information. For now, let's get down into the mecha pool and inspect the team's mobile suits. The rest of the team won't be back from their weekend leaves for another four or five hours, and the mechanics team is understaffed. I'll tell you more as we're working."

    Athena puts a reassuring arm around Jolie's shoulders. The partners make their way to the mecha bay to assist in the maintenance of their team's mobile suits.

    ************************************************** **************

    At an apparently abandoned warehouse in Anman City on the surface of the moon, three people gather for a furtive meeting to discuss equallly secretive plans.

    "This is the place, eh?" Mugabe Gazi says, looking around the cavernous hold, "Doesn't look like anybody's been here in years."

    "Exactly what makes this a good place to meet," Hyo-Kyun Song replies, "we don't exactly want to advertise our presence."

    "After this job," Dirk Kirscher comments, "we can all disappear for a long time...into retirement. There's this lakeside in Switzerland where I'm really looking forward to building a house, with a private boatdock and all."

    Mugabe smiles, "Last time, you said you'd be building it on Maui. Why doesn't this dream house of yours ever get built, Kirscher?"

    "Probably because he blows every one of his paychecks on wine and women," Hyo-Kyung muses.

    "You two know me too well, don't you?" Dirk says with a killer handsome grin.

    The three old friends laugh. Ever since the demise of the Titans, the Blackbirds have made themselves considerable personal fortunes as mercenaries. Charging one million credits each for an assassination or ambush job, they've only needed to work sporadically over the years. Gazi and Song's joking allusions to their friend Kirsher's spendthrift habits aside, they were comfortably wealthy and didn't need to take on jobs for money anymore. It was the thrill that brought them back into the game again and again. What greater ecstasy could life offer than hunting down and smiting an enemy from the sky with a well-placed beam cannon shot or missile? The only downside was the diminishing level of challenge offered by opponents.

    "That must be our man," Dirk remarks, as he and his comrades note the approach of a shuttlecraft.

    A thin man in his late thirties emerges from the shuttle, his greyish hair complementing his beady eyes. In his hand is a black briefcase.

    "You must be Kai Shiden," Dirk says, offering his hand, "it's a pleasure. Heard a great deal about your exploits during the One Year War."

    Kai shakes Dirk's hand, then offers it to Mugabe and Hyo-Kyung as well, "Heard alot about you three too. It's funny. Ten years earlier, and we'd be on opposite sides."

    "Yeah, well. Times change, and so do loyalties," Dirk replies, offering Kai a cigarette.

    Kai declines, "No, thanks. I quit smoking two years ago."

    "I suppose you need to be more health-conscious these days as Director of the ISRLA's Intellingence and Information Bureau, eh, Mr. Shiden?" remarks Hyo-Kyung Song.

    "Actually," Kai replies, "I just got sick of the taste of tobacco smoke."

    Mugabe says, "You've brought the information we requested?"

    Kai opens his briefcase, "Yes, along with the first part of your agreed pay. One million credits each, with two million more after the successful completion of your mission."

    Kai delivers a sealed pouch to each of the three members of the Blackbirds team.

    "Open those," Kai instructs them.

    The three pilots do. Within each pouch is a package of money, and a dossier of photographs.

    "Your objective will be the Federation space shuttles Centennial Eagle and Night Sky," says Kai, "these shuttles will be departing Side 7 for Shanghai, China, Earth at precisely 23:18, Side 7 local time, on May 11. The shuttles will be carrying Federal Forces generals Bright Noah and Manron Blackhead, respectively. Your assignment: eliminate both shuttles and all passengers, no survivors."

    "Two of the top commanders of the Federal Forces, eh?" Dirk Kirscher says, stubbing out his cigarette, "you ISRLA characters are pretty ruthless, which I can respect. But wasn't Bright Noah your commanding officer on the White Base during the One Year War?"

    Kai replies, "As you said yourself, Mr. Kirscher, times change and so do loyalties. Besides, Bright Noah and I never got along. I didn't like him, and I figure he wasn't too fond of me either. In any case, it's nothing personal. Just war. If he were on our side, I'd work with him."

    "But since he's not," Hyo-Kyung says, "you're perfectly willing to kill him, if that's what your goals call for. Still, I'm surprised that Sayla Mass has agreed to it. Isn't she kind of close to Noah?"

    "I never told Sayla about this operation," Kai confesses, "she would have never consented to it. She'll probably never forgive me after she finds out, but she will agree that it's necessary. In any case, it needs to be done."

    "What's all this other stuff, then?" asks Mugabe, looking at the photographs in the dossier file.

    "Whoo-wee!" Dirk exults as he studies photographs of Captain Athena Ibaz and 2Lt. Jolie Minh, "who are these lovely creatures? Are these babes a bonus for Mugabe and me, here, Mr. Shiden? If so, what about poor Hyo-Kyung over there? She still isn't married yet, and she's pushin' 40!"

    "You'll be pushing up weeds if you make another remark like that, Dirk," Hyo-Kyung says with a voluptuous grin. Although she lacks Athena and Jolie's fresh-faced youthfulness, the more mature Hyo-Kyung Song is a highly attractive woman in her own right.

    Kai, ignoring the banter, says, "The Asian girl is Jolie Minh. She's probably the Federal Forces' top ace pilot right now. She's only been in the service for a few months, but she's already taken down a Byg-Zam and the elite team we sent to capture the Moonshadow. The kid is lightning in a bottle."

    "She's the one who took down O'Rourke and Sinclair?" Dirk says with surprise, "Those two kids were damn good. We took part in some war games with them about two years ago, and we were pretty impressed by them. In a couple of years, they could have been as good as we are."

    Mugabe says, "With that little experience, she took down two top aces. This Minh girl is dangerous."

    "Yeah, but nothing we can't handle," Dirk protests, "Experience trumps raw talent anytime, and we've got way more than just experience working for us, right?"

    Mugabe and Hyo-Kyung nod in agreement. As veterans, they are extremely proud of and confident in their abilities. This upstart Jolie Minh fails to intimidate them.

    "And so who's this other hottie?" Dirk asks, turning the photo of Athena to Kai.

    "Her name is Captain Athena Ibaz," Kai says, "she's Jolie Minh's commanding officer. She's an excellent tactician...maybe the best in the entire Federal Forces, including the senior officers. She's the brain that directs Jolie Minh's deadly skills. We have...a special interest in Captain Ibaz. It's important that you NOT, I repeat, NOT kill her, people."

    "Oh?" Dirk says, "She somebody important?"

    "You might say that," Kai replies cryptically.

    Hyo-Kyung interjects, "But we don't need to take any such precautions with Jolie Minh, right?"

    Kai replies, "Right. Jolie Minh, you may liquidate as you please."

    "All right then," Dirk says, "it's settled. We'll report back to you here twenty-four hours after the mission is completed."

    Kai shakes hands with the Blackbirds again, "Here's to your success, my friends."

    Episode 6 to be continued...

  19. #79
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    Episode 6 continued...

    Athena and Jolie are in the mecha bay of Garrison Noah, performing maintenance on Jolie's Centurion Gundam. The pair have exchanged their smart officer's uniforms for work coveralls, whose tight fit only helps to accentuate and flatter the two young women's appealing physiques.

    Athena is seated in the Centurion Gundam's cockpit, hatch open, uploading data on the Blackbirds trio into the Centurion Gundam's combat computer. From the Federal Forces' central computer databank, Athena has extracted past combat logs from the Black Boxes of Federal Forces mobile suits wrecked by the Blackbirds over the years (and there have been plenty).

    At the same time, Jolie is wielding a crescent wrench to secure a vital nut on the Centurion Gundam's left arm joint. The mechanics had replaced the arm entirely after it had been mangled in Jolie's battle against Jordan Sinclair and Caitlin O'Rourke, and although the mechanics had done good work on the replacement, Jolie doesn't want to leave anything to chance. Athena had taught her not to.

    Satisfied that the nut is secure, Jolie floats down from the Centurion Gundam's left shoulder to the open cockpit hatch, "Hey, 'Thena!"

    Without looking up from her uploading work, Athena asks, "Have you got that arm joint secure yet?"

    "Yup," Jolie replies, "it's on tighter than a corsage around the belly of a sumo wrestler!"

    Athena is amused by the image, but says nothing in response.

    Jolie follows with, "So while I was working the wrenches and screwdrivers, you've been down here playing computer games?"

    Athena says, "I'm uploading data on the Blackbirds' past attacks on Federation mobile suits into the Centurion Gundam's combat computer."

    Jolie blinks in surprise, "Really? How'd you get that stuff?"

    Athena replies, "After the One Year War, the Federation has made a point to store all of the Federal Forces' combat data into its data network. They have literally every piece of data from every piece of mecha ever deployed by the Earth Federation Forces since U.C. 0080."

    "Cool," Jolie says, "so when I go to fight the Blackbirds, I'll have the inside track on all their tactics?"

    "You might say that," Athena answers, wrapping up the upload, "but like I've been telling you: you need to think your way through it. I've forwarded the data uploaded into the Centurion Gundam's combat computer into your personal Datapad. I want you to study that information carefully, taking note of the enemy's strengths, weaknesses, and habits, especially in comparison to your own. While you do that, I'll have to get you more updated information."

    "More updated info," Jolie wonders, "from where? Isn't it all in the data network?"

    "From past encounters with the Blackbirds," Athena points out, "but as Colonel Cairlay told us, they're using new mecha now. That information won't be in our database."

    "Then how are we going to get it?" asks Jolie.

    Athena shows a cryptic grin, "There are ways."

    ************************************************** ***************

    Meanwhile, in his office elsewhere at Garrison Noah, General Bright Noah is speaking to his wife and daughter at their home in Shanghai, Earth via videophone.

    "I'm hoping to have at least a day to spend with you two after the conference wraps up," General Noah says to his wife, Mirai and their teenaged daughter, Chieming.


    General Bright Noah's wife Mirai and daughter Chieming in U.C. 0093. Mirai was the helmswoman of the White Base during the One Year War.

    Mirai smiles at her husband from tens of thousands of miles away, "Well, at least in a year from now, Chieming can see her daddy more often. Your little girl has just submitted her application for the Federal Forces Officer's Academy, Bright."

    Bright beams proudly, "That's my girl."

    Chieming, a cute, vivacious girl of sixteen who has inherited her parents' modest good looks, appears from behind her mother, "Mom says that you won't have a moment's peace after I go up there to look after you, Daddy."

    Bright grins, "Actually, you'll probably be the only peace I get up here. Seriously, sweetie, maybe we should change places. You can join the Federal Forces and Daddy will retire, how does that sound?"

    "Think they'll give me a battleship to command?" Chieming teases her father fondly.

    "With my reputation in the Federal Forces, not likely," Bright returns, "they'll probably assign you to a garbage scow somewhere in the Asteroid Belt..."

    Mirai, who has been watching her husband and her daughter share their first conversation in months with fondness, suddenly turns serious, "Bright..."

    "Yes?" Bright responds probingly, his instincts alerted by the sudden change in the tone of his wife's voice. Bright already has a sense of where the conversation is about to turn.

    Mirai says, "We...we've heard from Hathaway. He recently..."

    "I don't want to hear about it," Bright says darkly, "we have no association with that person anymore."

    Mirai says pleadingly, "Bright, Hathway is your son! No matter what he might have done..."

    Bright cuts his wife off bitterly, "He's a traitor, Mirai, and a murderer. If I ever see him again, I will make sure he's prosecuted for his crimes."

    Mirai tries imploringly again, "But Bright..."

    Bright says, "I don't want to discuss it anymore, Mirai. I look forward to seeing you and Chieming later this week. We'll enjoy some time together. I need to get back to work. Bright, out."

    Bright turns off the videophone and sits brooding at his desk. The subject of his son, Hathaway, has been a sore point for the past four years.


    Hathaway Noah in U.C. 0093, when he was thirteen years old

    Bright had once been very proud of his son Hathway...a bright and talented boy, very devoted to his family and good at heart. When Char Aznable had attempted to drop Axis Fortress on Earth in U.C. 0093, Mirai Noah had only been able to secure passage into space for her son, Hathaway. Hathaway rejoined his father aboard the Federation Forces' battleship La Kailum, of which Bright was the commanding officer. There, Hathawy had met the legendary Earth Federation Forces' hero and ace pilot Captain Amuro Ray and Amuro's then-lover, 2Lt. Chan Agi, a Federal Forces' engineer responsible for the maintenance of Amuro's mecha, the RX-93 Nu Gundam. Hathaway also met the Newtype girl Quess Parayana, with whom he became infatuated immediately.

    Quess, a fractious and unstable young woman, was seduced by Char Aznable and recruited into the Neo Zeon Forces, where she was trained to pilot the mobile armor NZ-333 Alpha Azieru. This powerful mecha caused terrible casualties among the Federal Forces until it, along with its pilot, were accidentally destroyed by a Federal Forces mobile suit piloted by Chan Agi. In a fit of rage over Quess' sudden death, Hathaway Noah killed Chan Agi. It was his first murder.

    Quess' death devasted the young Hathaway. His hope had been to run away with Quess, where they could start a new life together free from the warfare and strife caused by adults. Hathaway blamed Quess' death on his father, on Amuro Ray, and on Char Aznable. It was because of the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon that Quess, like so many others, was dead.

    Hathaway's killing of Chan Agi subjected him to charges of murdering a Federal Forces' officer...a crime entailing a penalty of either life imprisonment or death. Against his sense of duty and priority, Bright used his influence as a senior officer and Federal Forces hero to help Hathway flee from the authorities. At that point, Bright was still able to see his son as a good man, albeit one who had been misled by his own passions into a tragic mistake.

    In the years since, however, Hathaway Noah has resurfaced as a mercenary, spy, and assassin for the ISRLA, with whom he began associating two years earlier. Hathaway has been connected to a string of terrorist attacks on Earth Federation targets during the past two years, and his hateful anti-Federation screeds have been published in both fringe Contolist pamphlets and mainstream media outlets. Hathaway Noah has become an embarrassment to his father, to say nothing of a dangerous potential enemy. Despite the shame with which Bright has come to view his son, he acknowledges that Hathaway remains a brilliant and talented young man, with a natural charisma and a gift for strategy.


    Hathaway Noah now (U.C. 0097). Eighteen years old and a fierce Contolist idealogue.

    Episode 6 to be continued...

  20. #80
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    Episode 6 continued

    At a bar in Shanghai on Earth, a young man orders another glass of scotch, his third of the evening.

    Another, somewhat older man pays the tab for him.

    Hathaway Noah, a handsome eighteen year old youth, thanks the man paying for his drink with a nod, and says, "So if your three little birdies up there somehow don't manage to get the job done, you want me to finish it down here?"

    The other man, Kai Shiden, replies, "The White Wolf will back you up."

    "So the wolf has come down from the North," says Hathaway, sipping at the scotch, "to prey upon the creatures of the meadows."

    "Given your connection to one of the targets," Kai says, "your role is an important one. Few know Bright Noah better."

    "So you're asking me to commit patricide," Hathaway responds.

    "I'd have never asked if I thought you were incapable of it," comes Kai's answer.

    Hathaway is indeed capable of it. After Quess died, he had come to hate his father. His father...the hypocrite. Loyally serving the corrupt and cowardly Earth Federation Government after all that he had seen them do to Spacenoids. Hathaway would call no such man "father." Indeed, Hathaway had kept his father's name only to bring shame to it.

    "The man gave me life," Hathaway admits, "but I will give him death. What does family matter in the struggle for humanity's future? If I survive, I'll live a better life than he ever did."

    Kai Shiden grins, and places a briefcase on the bar counter, "Everything you need to know is in this briefcase, including the location of and activation code for a mecha we have prepared for your use, if necessary. With the White Wolf covering the actual execution, however, you probably won't need to use it. Just a precaution."

    Kai calls for the bill and prepares to leave. He turns to Hathaway one more time to add, "It's best that you keep a low profile until the operation is over. I know that there is family that you still care about here in Shanghai, but it would not be a good idea for them to see you before our work here is complete. If and when you do see them, however, say 'hello' to Mirai for me, for what it's worth."

    Hathaway smiles bitterly at that, "You're making plans to assassinate her husband, and you're still offering greetings to her? Mixed signals, Mr. Shiden."

    Kai replies, "Wars upend everything, son. Friendships being the first casualties, typically."

    ************************************************** ***************

    The next day, Athena has the Centurion Team gathered in their own conference room at their residence facility.

    "Generals Noah and Blackhead will be attending an unannounced security conference with the heads of the Earth Federation Government in Shanghai, China on Earth," Athena tells her team, "our team and four other teams have been ordered to provide security for the generals' transports on the way down to Earth. We'll be escorting the transports to the edge of Earth's atmosphere. As a precaution, all of our mobile suits will be equipped for atmospheric reentry and terrestrial combat."

    The members of the Centurion Team understand that to mean that their mobile suits will be fitted with Vollute systems, a combination parachute/ramjet that would slow their mobile suits adequately enough that they do not overheat and disintegrate from the friction of atmospheric reentry. Atmospheric reentry is undoubtedly the most dangerous conditions for mobile suit operations, especially if actual combat occurs simultaneously.

    Athena continues, "We're anticipating a possible attack by a team of soldiers of fortune called the 'Blackbirds.' They are former Titans ace mobile suit pilots who have caused a great amount of damage to the Federal Forces during the past twenty years. Records of their past actions against Federation targets have been uploaded to your MS combat computers and personal Datapads. I want you to study them carefully."

    Corporal Anna Horowitz asks, "What about the generals' security after they enter Earth's atmosphere?"

    "A special escort squad from Shanghai Whampoa Base will be handling that," Athena replies.

    As the members of her team study the information in their Datapads, Athena adds, "Supplemental information will be provided to you shortly about the enemy's mobile suits. They will be using a new model designated AMX-030 Gellond, produced by the Phobos Zeon Principality."

    "Alexander Miguel," Jolie snarls under her breath.

    Ignoring that, Athena tells her squad, "All right. You're dismissed until 18:00 tonight. Before that hour, I want mobile suit maintenance checks and all other equipment checks completed and documented."

    The Centurion Team salutes as one, "Yes, ma'am."

    ************************************************** ***************

    An abandoned warehouse in Industria Colony...

    A large, unmarked transport docks with the colony...typical of the spacecraft used to haul in unprocessed scrap metal or haul out recycled materials from Industria on a regular basis.

    This particular transport, however, carries a cargo that is anything but typical.

    The pilot of the shuttle disembarks, and is greeted by two men and a woman.

    "Recycling business pays well these days?" Dirk Kirscher asks the pilot casually.

    "We all pay and pray, eh?" the pilot answers.

    The proper pass phrases exchanged, the men shake hands.

    "I'm 1Lt. Adam Storm of the Army of the Principality of Phobos Zeon," says the pilot, "Colonel Davenport ordered me to deliver these mecha to you."

    Dirk leads his comrades Mugabe Gazi and Hyo-Kyung Song into the hold of the enormous transport craft. Within the hold are three sleek, black-colored mobile suits.

    "They're just...beautiful," Kirscher enthuses.

    "Powerful," Gazi agrees.

    "But how do they perform?" Song thinks to ask.

    "You may test them out immediately," 1Lt. Storm replies, "all three units are ready for full operation right now."

    ************************************************** **************

    Ten minutes later, Dirk Kirscher fires a shot from the beam rifle of one of the Gellonds at a floating piece of space debris. The explosion of the debris causes other nearby floating objects to move about. After destroying the first piece of debris, the beam arcs towards a second target, then a third, a fourth, and finally, a fifth...disintegrating five large, mobile-suit sized pieces of metallic space debris before petering out.

    "That's frigging awesome," Kirscher says, opening the visor on his normalsuit helmet.

    "Yes," 1Lt. Storm says from the mobile suit's passenger seat, "Phased Tracking Beam Weaponry. Allows you to track and strike five targets in succession on a single shot. The beam tracks motion to hit the nearest moving target."

    "Excellent," Mugabe Gazi comments, "we can't fail with these new weapons."

    "General Miguel looks forward to your success," Storm adds, "and hopes you will consider entering his service after you've completed this operation for the ISRLA."

    The Blackbirds look at each other as if to consider it. The Principality of Phobos Zeon is wealthy, and General Alexander Miguel is known to be generous to those who serve him well.

    Retirement could wait.

    Episode 6 to be continued...

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