Episode 6 continued…
A twirling slash of Blackbird Two’s beam naginata nearly separates the head of Captain Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon from its body. Athena ducks it with hardly a centimeter to spare, bringing up the Cour de Leon’s beam saber to parry. Despite bringing all of her considerable training and skill in the use of a beam saber to bear, Athena feels that the enemy is simply toying with her…that he could destroy her mobile suit any time he chooses.
This is not exactly true. As relentless and complex as Mugabe Gazi’s attacking strokes are, Athena is proving to be an incredibly difficult nut to crack. Gazi is quite impressed. Few enemies have ever been able to last two or three strokes against his beam saber strikes; the enemy pilot he now confronts has already lasted twelve.
Had the mobile suit pilots of the Special Forces Teams the luxury of standing by and observing the battle, they would have witnessed one of the most spectacular displays of beam saber prowess in the twenty-year history of mobile suit warfare. Gazi and Athena wield their respective mobile suits’ weapons like two warriors out of an ancient wuxia film. Later, Cpl. Geoff Sutcliffe, who caught a glimpse of the battle while defending the Silverthread, would remark that the duel between Gazi and Athena reminded him of those ancient 20th/21st Century Star Wars movies, with Gazi and Athena going at each other like the Sith and Jedi from those fanciful films that Geoff’s great-grandfather’s great-grandfather had enjoyed as a youth.
The Federation mobile suit pilots, however, have no such luxury, struggling to prevent Blackbird Three’s damaged, but still deadly Gellond from doing further damage to the already crippled Silverthread.
A heavy blast from Sgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said’s Guncannon 100’s shoulder-mounted heavy shell cannon breaks Blackbird Three’s bead on the Silverthread, but the errant beam unleashed from the Gellond’s beam rifle nevertheless immolates three more Special Forces mobile suits, and nearly nails Cpl. Sutcliffe’s Jegan and Cpl. Horowitz’s GM-IV AWAC unit.
“Careful, you guys,” Sgt. Al-Said admonishes his squad mates.
An electronically processed voice enters the edge of Karim’s consciousness, which is focused on the battle, “One-hundred and twenty seconds until atmospheric contact. Vollute deployment in one-hundred seconds unless unit resumes lower G-position.”
We’re running out of time. Karim grates.
General Bright Noah, shuttle pilot Captain Antonio Donatelli, and his co-pilot 1Lt. Mindi Dulfer have donned their Zero-G normalsuits and have boarded the Silverthread’s escape/re-entry capsule. Ejecting from the damaged space shuttle is now their only hope of survival, but ejection means loss of maneuverability. They will be a sitting duck for any further enemy attack, and should that not come, they would still face the prospect of minimally guided freefall into Earth’s atmosphere.
One hell of a way to travel to a conference, Bright reflects.
In his twenty years as an officer in the Earth Federation Forces, Bright Noah has experienced nearly every danger imaginable on the field of battle. He has faced apparent imminent death so often that it no longer fazes him.
This time, Bright tells himself, will be no different. He will either live to see more threats to his life, or finally meet his end here and now and never concern himself with it again.
It’s that easy.
Or so Bright wishes.
As Bright straps himself with Captain Donatelli and 1Lt. Dulfer into the tight confines of the escape capsule, his inner calm is disturbed by two familiar and beloved faces.
Mirai, Chieming…. The thought of never seeing them again brings a creeping fear up Bright’s spine. The fear is manageable…containable…but unavoidable.
And then, another name, another face, comes unbidden into Bright’s mind…Hathaway.
They became estranged years ago. Bright had thrown his son out of his home, out of his family, out of his life. The man named “Hathaway Noah” had nothing in common with him anymore except a name, and Bright wishes it were in his power to take that back as well. His family had no place for traitors.
But now, as Bright faces the prospect of fiery death in the skies above Earth, he feels a tinge of regret in the midst of his resolve.
Hathaway…son. Why? Why did you turn traitor?
Perhaps the afterlife would offer answers that this life could not.
A synthesized voice interrupts Bright’s thoughts, “T-minus thirty seconds to escape pod ejection. All passengers secure safety restraints and stand by for recoil shock.”
Unknown to Bright and his pod-mates, Hyo-Kyung Song’s Gellond is a mere one-hundred meters away and closing fast. The Special Forces mobile suits, unable to strike the Gellond without also hitting the crippled Silverthread, are forced the cease fire.
In Shanghai on Earth, Mirai Noah (nee Yashima) drops a vase she had been cleaning, her head suddenly stricken with a sharp pain.
Her sixteen-year old daughter, Chieming Noah, notices her mother’s fainting spell and rushes forward to support Mirai, “Mom? Are you OK?”
“I-I’m all right…,” Mirai says, gathering herself, “I just had this sudden pain and…your father…”
“Daddy?” Chieming asks worriedly.
Mirai pales, her eyes widen in horror, “Oh, Chieming. Your father is in grave danger!”
Mugabe Gazi’s spearfighting technique was invented by his ancestors in the African wilderness on Earth many generations ago to subdue savage beasts many times stronger than men, and to overcome human enemies in the close quarters of jungle combat. It is unrelenting and intricate…reflecting thousands of years of progress and refinement in the art of slaying the enemy.
Athena Ibaz’s beam saber technique combines her military training with the fencing and other European swordfighting techniques she had been trained in as a child, back when millions recognized her as Duchess Minerva Zabi, Sovereign of the Archduchy of Zeon. Those techniques, although developed for warfare centuries ago in medieval Europe, have become more aristocratic sport than combat technique. It is enough to overcome most enemy mobile suit pilots, who typically use the beam saber with the subtlety and refinement of a thug swinging a length of metal pipe in a street rumble, but not enough to defend against the refined strokes of a seasoned warrior such as Mugabe Gazi.
The beam naginata of Blackbird Two’s Gellond lances forth at the speed of thought towards the cockpit of the Cour de Leon.
Athena knows that she has absolutely no chance of blocking the incoming strike.
Death imminent, Athena feels nothing but an ocean of calm. She has anticipated this moment for years.
She will not take her regrets with her; she will leave them here in this world.
The beam naginata arcs ever closer.
Mugabe Gazi smiles with the satisfaction of an imminent kill.
The tip of the beam saber digs quickly and cleanly into the cockpit, instantly melting the flesh and blood of its pilot.
In the cockpit of the Cour de Leon, Athena Ibaz blinks in disbelief as the scene unfolds before her. Almost too quickly for the senses to process, 2Lt. Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam deftly plunges its activated beam saber deep into the central body of Mugabe Gazi’s Gellond.
Without pausing to even reclaim its beam saber, the Centurion Gundam dives forth…past Gazi’s immobilized Gellond, beam rifle first, towards where Blackbird Three is about to finish off the space shuttle Silverthread.
Regaining her senses, Athena directs her Cour de Leon to draw the still-activated beam saber of the Centurion Gundam from where it lies embedded in the overheating and self-destructing Gellond of Blackbird Two.
The Gellond explodes. Mugabe Gazi, one of the greatest mobile suit pilots in history, is now a part of the eternal cosmos.
Athena transforms the Cour de Leon to Waverider mode and takes off in the direction where she had seen Jolie’s Centurion Gundam disappear.
Now, you’ve got me following your lead, Jolie, Athena thinks to herself, a slight smile coming to her beautiful young face.
A synthesized voice reports, “Thirty seconds to atmospheric contact…”
The escape pod deploys from the burning wreck of the Silverthread. The sudden dislodgment of the pod from its mothercraft rocks the passengers violently. Momentarily, however, the pod is floating free in space, the blue and white mass of the Earth below it and the black emptiness of space offset by thousands of glittering lights above it.
Then there is a second, much more violent shock, thrashing the three passengers inside.
“Seems like something…grabbed us,” Captain Donatelli surmises.
“Enemy mobile suit,” Bright agrees.
Hyo-Kyung Song, Blackbird Three, clutches the Silverthread’s deployed escape pod in its one good arm, like a rugby player clutching the all-important gameball.
The bone-shattering force of Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam slamming feet-first into her Gellond forces Song to release the escape pod. The pod plunges closer to the planet, as does Song’s mobile suit.
“Damn Feddie dog! Die, NOW!”
Song’s Gellond aims its beam rifle directly at the cockpit of the Centurion Gundam. With a deft maneuver, the Centurion Gundam wrenches the weapon out of the Gellond’s hand. With a grace seemingly impossible for such a massive machine, the Centurion Gundam tosses the Gellond’s weapon back over its shoulder, where it is caught by the metalshod hands of a Moscow Team mobile suit.
Under Jolie’s direction, the Centurion Gundam pummels Hyo-Kyung Song’s Gellond with a series of powerful blows from its Gundarium fists. The Gellond’s monoeye unit is shattered. The mighty punches snap critical gears and servomotors aboard the Gellond, further immobilizing it.
Certain now that her enemy is vanquished, Jolie grabs the wreck of the Gellond in one of the Centurion Gundam’s mighty hands. Servomotors straining, the Centurion Gundam throws the Gellond deeper into the grasp of humanity’s mother planet.
Already critically damaged, the Gellond begins to burn more intensely as its titanium hull scrapes against the ever thickening Terran atmosphere.
Its combat processing computer seriously damaged, the Gellond can no longer report its systems status to its pilot. Hyo-Kyung Song does not need the computer to tell her, however, that her Gellond’s Vollute system has been severely damaged and will not deploy.
Spacecraft and mobile suits lacking the correct aerodynamic profile and heat shielding for atmospheric reentry must use a Vollute (parachute) system to reenter Earth's atmosphere from space. Attempting atmospheric reentry without a Vollute system has inevitable and catastrophic consequences.
It will be a long, agonizing death unless her enemy possesses the decency to make it otherwise.
The disembodied voice of Dirk Kirscher seems to speak to Hyo-Kyung gently from somewhere deep in the center of her mind, “We really don’t deserve much decency, Luv. Not after all we’ve done, but the universe is kinder than we’d be.”
Another voice, Mugabe Gazi’s, adds, “A warrior’s end is not a destiny to flee from. It’s one to be embraced, Hyo-Kyung.”
Dirk’s voice sounds as if it smiles, “This isn’t the retirement I had in mind, but maybe it’ll be even better. You with us, Luv?”
Hyo-Kyung smiles weakly and answers through her own voice, “Shortly, my friends. Very shortly.”
An unbearable heat begins to envelop the Gellond.
Jolie extracts the Centurion Gundam’s beam rifle and levels it at Hyo-Kyung Song’s slowly disintegrating Gellond. Her enemy is beaten, but true to Hyo-Kyung’s hopes, Jolie is a soldier with a deep sense of decency. Knowing how slow, painful, and terrifying it would be to die burning through atmospheric re-entry, Jolie shows Hyo-Kyung Song the one act of mercy she can.
The Centurion Gundam opens fire with its beam rifle.
The Gellond of Blackbird Three, Hyo-Kyung Song, is vaporized immediately, along with its pilot.
The Blackbirds are reunited in the eternal tranquility of death.
The Centurion Gundam’s combat computer reports, “Atmospheric contact in thirty seconds. Vollute System deploying.”
Episode 6 to be continued...