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Thread: Mobile Suit Gundam - The Second Century (Part 2: The Second Century)

  1. #201
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 14 continued...

    “No, you can’t board this ship without approval from the Captain!” 1Lt. Jolie Minh insists, trying to stop a convoy from the office of Governor Richard Linker of the Jupitorius Colonies, from muscling their way onto the Amuro Ray, “I don’t care what kind of credentials you have! This is an Earth Federation Forces ship, and until…”

    “What’s the problem, here, 1Lt. Minh?” Major Athena Ibaz asks, appearing on the gangway.

    “Are you the ship’s commanding officer?” a suited, sunglasses-wearing man demands.

    “The ship’s commanding officer is Captain Beecher Olech,” Athena says, “who is currently on leave in Woodhaven City. I’m Major Athena Ibaz, and I have operational command of the Amuro Ray until Captain Beecher returns. Can I help you gentlemen?”

    The leader of the crew Jupitorius officials, all dressed in dark suits, their eyes concealed behind dark shades, replies imperiously, “The Governor’s Office stipulates that all military ships in Jupitorius’ spaceports are subject to inspection. The Jupitorius Colonies cannot allow contraband or fugitives from the Earth Federation, the Archduchy of Zeon, or the ISRLA to enter Jupitorius.”

    Athena says to the official, “I regret that I cannot allow you to board the Amuro Ray.”

    “You have no choice in the matter,” the official says, as he and his men prepare to push their way past Athena, Jolie, and the ship’s own sentries.

    Jolie begins to reach for her sidearm, but Athena restrains her with a shake of her head.

    Captain Beecher Olech then suddenly appears, rushing towards the imminent confrontation, “What’s going on?”

    “Captain Beecher,” Athena salutes the commander of the Amuro Ray, “Sir, these gentlemen are from the Office of the Governor of Jupitorius. They wish to inspect the Amuro Ray.”

    “Permission denied,” Beecher says firmly to the Jupitorius officials, “Military ships are exempt from customs inspections. You should be aware of that.”

    “Perhaps that’s the case in areas governed by the Earth Federation,” the lead official says coldly, “but things are different out here in Jupitorius. If you are unwilling to submit to inspection, then your ship must leave the Jupitorius Colonies.”

    Athena indicates to Jolie with a flick of her head to enter the Amuro Ray with her, as this is a situation that Captain Beecher must personally handle. Catching Athena’s meaning, Jolie disappears with her best friend and commanding officer into the Amuro Ray.

    As the two Special Forces officers disappear into the ship, a motorcycle convoy escorting a sleek limousine pulls into the docking area where the Amuro Ray is berthed.

    A man in his late forties or early fifties, balding, bespectacled, and notably overweight, alights from the limousine. Governor Richard Linker of the Jupitorius Colonies is quite the archetype of the fat cat bureaucrat, smoking a suitably copious cigar, and wearing an almost comically ornate military uniform that brings to mind European military outfits of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries of the old Gregorian calendar, ornamented with numerous colorful medals. Not that it’s likely that Linker has performed a minute of military service in his life…if he has, it is not a matter of record.

    The dark-suited officials, sycophants as they are, remove their shades and bow deferentially as the Governor approaches. Beecher almost has to stifle his laughter. These people are practically living caricatures of inept and ineffectual government.

    And yet, these men govern the fate of the over five-hundred million people who populate the Jupitorius Colonies. No wonder Judau, Lu, and the others have been agitating for change.

    The Governor approaches Beecher haughtily, regarding Beecher as if he were a stray hound, “You are the commanding officer of this ship?”

    “Yes, sir,” Beecher replies, breaking protocol, but unable to bring himself to call this pig of a man, “Your Excellency.”

    “Your ship, like all military ships, is subject to inspection by our customs office,” the Governor says, “but in light of the efforts you and your crew have made in this colony’s behalf, I will use my personal authority to waive that requirement this time. Nonetheless, I want your ship and all of is personnel out of this colony in the next 72 hours, Captain.”

    Beecher understands the significance behind the 72-hour deadline, and it dawns on him why the Amuro Ray is suddenly being ushered out of the Jupitorius Colonies. Within three days, Jupitorius will be holding elections. Governor Linker will be running for his fourth term as governor, which most believe that he will win (not because of his merits, but because the elections are widely believed to be rigged).

    An opposition candidate has emerged who has acquired great popularity with the people of Jupitorius – a grassroots activist named Olivia King. A former member of the Earth Federation Government Governing Council, Ms. King had resigned from her post in disgust in U.C. 0093 after the Federation government agreed to ceding Axis Fortress to Colonel Char Aznable’s Neo Zeon. Subsequent events proved Councilwoman King correct, but the Councilwoman was so disheartened by the turn of events that she decamped not only the Earth Federation, but Cislunar Space altogether.

    King resettled at the Jupitorius Colonies, and after two years away from politics, began taking up various activist causes on behalf of the people of the Jupitorius. Her platform was based primarily upon her opposition to Governor Richard Linker’s pro-Zeon (indeed, Zeon-sponsored) government. In time, King came to be supported by the growing Independent Spacenoid Republic movement at Jupitorius, although officially, she is not affiliated with the ISR. Although no longer a member of the Earth Federation Governing Council, King has friends within the more liberal, pro-Spacenoid elements of the Earth Federation Government.

    The people of Jupitorius have placed their hopes for the future on the improbability that they can elect Olivia King to replace Richard Linker as Governor of Jupitorius, and on the even greater improbability that she will survive to ever take office. Already, there have been three attempts on her life during the past year, each time barely averted thanks to the intervention of the ISRLA intelligence network. Much of Jupitorius’ population, however, despairs that their lucky streak can be sustained for long. After all, Linker has the backing of Viceroy Ulysses Napoleon Spector of the Jupitorius Zeon, and can call in Zeon thugs to achieve through violence what cannot be achieved through politics.

    Little of this is known, however, to Captain Beecher, who humors Linker just to get him away from his ship, “We’ll leave this port within 72 hours, sir.”

    “Not a minute later, Captain,” Linker says menacingly, as he and his retinue depart.


    Twenty minutes later, Captain Beecher is inside a conference room aboard the Amuro Ray, making a proposition to Major Athena Ibaz.

    “I’d like for you to meet them,” Beecher says, “I think they can be of great help to us…and you could be of great help to them.”

    Athena smiles, “You’ve undoubtedly had difficulty persuading them to trust me.”

    Beecher nods, “They don’t trust anyone from Zeon or the Federation. Sometimes, I think that even includes me.”

    Athena says, “I’ll meet them. I see a way to bring them around.”

    “You…do?” Beecher responds tentatively.

    “Yes,” Athena says, “take me to them.”

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

    The Shangrila gang is gathered at Beecher’s home, which had escaped damage during the recent Jupitorius Zeon attack. They eagerly await Beecher’s return with Major Athena Ibaz.

    “I still say it’s dangerous,” Lu says darkly, “extending our trust to a Federal Forces officer…a Special Forces officer, at that. Brings back bad memories of the Titans.”

    Elle says, “You haven’t met Athena. I have. You can trust her.”

    “Hah!” Lu says mockingly, “Why? Because she and her troops came riding like the proverbial cavalry over the hill to the rescue? I’ll give her credit for that, but that doesn’t mean we should making our agenda known to her!”

    Eno adds a voice of reason, “You have to trust somebody sometime, you know? It’s going to be pretty hard to oppose the Zeon without some Federation help.”

    “We don’t need the Federation’s help,” Lu says, “We didn’t need it when we fought Haman, and we don’t need it now. Isn’t that right, Judau?”

    Judau says, “Let’s let this Major Ibaz of Beecher’s present her case. She may be of use to us.”

    As if on cue, Beecher Olech enters through the garage door of his home. At his side is an attractive young woman in her very early twenties, dressed in an Earth Federation Forces uniform, officer’s hat on head, shoulders covered by a long overcoat.

    “Oh my God, what...a…hottie!” Mondo Agake says quietly through short breaths, prompting kicks from Eno, Lu, and Elle.

    The young woman is indeed a very appealing eyeful – slender, but delightfully curvaceous, with reddish blonde hair topping a fresh, youthful face.

    Beyond her obvious beauty, however, the young woman evinces an air of intelligence, confidence, and integrity that belies her youth. Her presence is powerfully charismatic, and…familiar.

    “This is Major Athena Ibaz, commanding officer of the Centurion Special Operations Team and Deputy Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces,” Beecher informs his friends, “Major, these are my friends Eno Abbov, Mondo Adake, Lu Luka Ashta, and Judau Ashta. You’ve already met my wife, Elle.”

    Athena smiles pleasantly and shakes each of their hands, “My pleasure. It’s a privilege to meet the heroes of the Ahrgama.

    Judau feels a powerful and familiar psychic presence emanating from Athena as he takes her hand, “Major…Ibaz. You’re…a Newtype, aren’t you?”

    “So I’m told,” Athena says, “and your Newtype powers are already the stuff of legend.”

    “Major Ibaz,” Lu interjects, not sure whether she is presently motivated by political mistrust or personal jealousy (she’ll be damned, but Mondo is right: this Athena Ibaz is one hell of a hot chick, and seems to have Judau in a trance. He’ll hear about that later! But…there is something oddly familiar about her), “Captain Beecher tells us you have a proposition for us.”

    Athena nods, “Two-hundred GM-IV class mobile suits, twenty warships, full logistical support and training.”

    The Shangrila gang exchange meaningful glances with one another, before Judau replies, “In exchange for what, Major?”

    Athena says, “For what you already need to do with those provisions: defend these colonies from the Zeon, and disrupt their activities as much as possible.”

    “So your plan is to use us as proxies for the Federation’s war against the Zeon in the Outer Solar System?” Judau inquires.

    Athena smiles and nods, “You prove my point about your Newtype abilities.”

    There is a silence before Judau continues, “You do realize that we represent the ISRLA. You actually trust us to use the weapons you’re proposing to give us against the Zeon, and not the Federation?”

    “Federation or Zeon…whom you choose to use the weapons on does not concern me, as long as the people of this colony and their freedoms are protected. You assume that because I wear the uniform of the Earth Federation Forces, I pursue the Federation’s agenda,” Athena says coolly, “but…it’s enough that helping your cause helps mine.”

    Judau looks intently at Athena, “I…know you from somewhere, don’t I, Major?”

    Athena removes her officer’s hat to reveal her face more completely, “Yes, Judau…I’m Minerva Zabi.”

    The Shangrila gang gasps collectively in surprise and recognition.

    “Athena……..you……you’re…” Beecher begins, unable to find words through the shock, then laughs, “I should have known! I always thought you looked familiar!”

    “Your Highness,” Judau smiles, remembering the nine-year old child that he and Lu once attempted to kidnap, or actually liberate, from Regent Haman Karn’s custody, “I never imagined we’d see you again, much less as…”

    “It’s a long story, Judau,” Athena says, “one that isn’t worth recounting”

    “The hell it isn’t,” Lu interjects, eyeing Athena suspiciously, “assuming that you really are the Duchess Minerva Zabi.”

    Athena turns to Lu, looking at the other woman earnestly, despite Lu’s reproachful, untrusting glare, “I haven’t forgotten what you and Judau once tried to do for me.”

    Athena’s words at least confirm her identity to Lu. Such an incident did indeed occur in the waning days of the First Neo Zeon War, and only the real Minerva Zabi would know of it.

    But that gives Lu even less reason to trust Athena.

    Lu points an accusing finger at Athena, “You Zabis murdered billions during the One Year War and the Neo Zeon War. Now you come to us as a lapdog of the Earth Federation and expect us to fight your battles for you?!”

    “Lu, please,” Judau says, “I think it’d benefit us to at least hear Duchess Miner…Major Ibaz out.”

    Trying to bring the discussion back to center, Eno offers, “We have some problems to overcome before any of this discussion is meaningful. For starters, we don’t have the political authority to accept or reject your offer. The government of Jupitorius is actually controlled by the Zeon warlord Ulysses Spector. Any weapons the Federation supplies to Jupitorius would just end up in Spector’s arsenal. Governor Linker is just a puppet that Spector manipulates.”

    “So I understand,” Athena nods, “I also understand that the ISRLA, quietly, supports Olivia King’s bid for the governorship.”

    “Not that she’s likely to win,” Mondo adds acerbically, “and even if she somehow does, Linker’s thugs will take her down before she ever takes office.”

    “Enlighten me,” Athena says, inserting a cigarette between her lips and lighting it.

    “Three times during the past year, there have been attempts on Ms. King’s life,” Lu says, warily extending the slightest hint of trust to Athena for the first time.

    “Her assailants obviously weren’t successful,” Athena remarks, exhaling a cloud of smoke, “I’m guessing that Ms. King wasn’t simply extraordinarily fortunate in all three incidents.”

    “No,” Lu says, “ISRLA Intelligence Department identified and neutralized the threat early in all three cases.”

    Hathaway, Athena realizes. No one else in ISRLA intel would be so deadly ultra-efficient.

    “Why hasn’t your intelligence followed up by eliminating Linker as well?” Athena asks.

    “An infiltration plan was drawn up some months ago,” Judau explains, “but our top operative…the same one who foiled the three assassination attempts on Ms. King, has been removed from active duty after November of last year. That’s all we were told.”

    It’s my fault, Athena realizes, remembering how the vow she had exacted from Hathaway after thwarting his two attempts on the life of his own father.

    Such as it is, Athena feels an obligation to rectify the situation…personally.

    “Any other valuable intel to share on Linker?” Athena asks.

    Judau says, “Our intelligence personnel here at the Jupitorius Colonies captured an individual believed to be a liaison from Spector to Linker. They apparently meet at regular intervals…to relay Spector’s instructions to Linker, and Linker’s reports to Spector. We’ve had this character in our custody for several days already, and we haven’t been able to get anything of value out of him. Zeon intelligence officers are well-trained. They don’t give up information, not that we’ve been comfortable with the methods our own intelligence people have tried to get something out of him.”

    Athena smirks, “You’ll probably be even less comfortable with what I have in mind.”

    “What do you mean?” Lu asks, eyeing Athena warily again.

    “You’re right about Zeon intelligence,” Athena says, “they are very well trained to resist forceful attempts to compel information out of them. Force, however, at least the directly applied kind, isn’t the only way to loosen tight lips.”

    Intrigued, the Shangrila group gathers around Athena to hear out her plan.

    Episode 14 to be continued...

  2. #202
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 14 continued...

    An hour later, Athena has returned to the Amuro Ray, where she has called a meeting with 1Lt. Jolie Minh and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels.

    “I need your help,” Athena says to her two charges, “to…shall we say, remove an obstacle.”

    Jolie smiles, “I don’t like the sound of this…”

    Jonah, still somewhat naïve to the methods of his commanding officer, says simply, “At your command, ma’am.”

    Athena turns to Jonah first, “You’ve been on the team for several months now, Chief Michaels, and you’re third in command of the team overall. Thus far, however, you have no real experience commanding the squad. This current operation will be your opportunity to prove yourself. Chief Michaels: I want you to command the Centurion Team on stand by for deployment on my orders.”

    Jonah salutes dutifully, struggling to contain his anxiety, “Yes, ma’am.”

    “I’m going to borrow your Jolie for a while, Jonah,” Athena adds, taking Jolie by the shoulder, “Hope you don’t mind.”

    “Of course not, ma’am,” Jonah replies with a handsome grin, “but I want her back the way you found her.”

    Athena winks at Jonah, “No guarantees on that.”

    Jolie giggles, “’Thena, you don’t have anything kinky in mind, do you?”

    Athena smiles enigmatically, “In a manner of speaking…”

    “Ooooh,” Jolie says in mock surprise, “Then I’ve GOT to see what you have in mind.”

    “C’mon,” Athena says, wrapping Jolie in a headlock and dragging the pretty teenager away.

    Jonah smiles at his two departing senior officers, wondering just what kind of mischief they were going to get involved in.

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

    Athena has dragged Jolie to a storage room aboard the Amuro Ray called “The Inventory.” The room, which is the size of three officers’ quarters, was set aside before the mission began by Athena to store an assortment of “unconventional” items that she believed the team might find useful on their missions.

    “What’d you drag me here for?” Jolie asks, as Athena releases the grip around her neck.

    “Looking for some new clothes,” Athena says, “or perhaps I should say, some old ones.”

    “Well, Elle told me the other day that there’s a pretty good flea market in Woodhaven…” Jolie says absently.

    Athena drags out a Zeon-style normalsuit that Jonah had worn when he recently was a captive of the Callisto Zeon not long ago.

    “This is going to take some cutting and tailoring to work,” Athena says, setting the normalsuit aside, “It was big on Jonah, and I could practically take shelter in there.”

    Athena then removes a second article of clothing from the Inventory…a Zeon female officer’s uniform, in customary Zeon camouflage green, Zeon emblem emblazoned on chest.

    “How do you think this would look on me?” Athena says, holding the uniform in front of herself.

    Jolie, a bit weirded by Athena dragging her into the Inventory to play dress-up, eyes the short, tight skirt dubiously before saying, with typical frankness, “To be honest, you’d look like a sl*t.”

    “That’ll do then,” Athena replies, setting the Zeon uniform aside.

    “Then again,” Jolie adds on second thought, “if you’ve got legs, you might as well show ‘em.”

    “Uh-huh,” Athena rejoins noncommittally, locating a set of tailor’s scissors.

    Jolie ventures, “Hey, can you drop the mystery woman act and tell me what’s up? I hate it when you get all mysterious.”

    Athena replies, “Well, to keep it as simple as possible: Governor Richard Linker is an obstacle to my plans here, so I’m going to eliminate him.”

    “Just like that?” Jolie queries.

    “Just like that,” Athena says, beginning to snip away at the Zeon normalsuit with scissors.

    “Hey,” Jolie says, “What are you doing? You won’t be able to mend that to spaceworthy condition, y’know?”

    “I know,” Athena says, “I’m not planning to go out into space with it. It’s strictly for show.”

    “And what’s my role in all this?” Jolie says, getting to the heart of the matter.

    “You’ll be breaking heads for me,” Athena says, “Running interference while I’m taking care of my end.”

    “’Running interference,’” Jolie replies somewhat sourly, “That’s all you ever have me do, isn’t it?”

    “B*tch, b*tch, b*tch,” Athena says mockingly, “That’s all I ever hear from you…”

    “Yeah, well,” Jolie says, “I think I’m entitled, considering that you’re asking me to be an accessory to murder…AGAIN.”

    “You’ve read the dossier on Linker,” Athena says, “so I’m guessing that you don’t really mind.”

    “Well, no, I guess not,” Jolie admits. The dossier had been engrossing in all the wrong ways. Linker is not just a corrupt bureaucratic pig, but also a sadist and something of a sex fiend as well…

    That last thought worries Jolie suddenly, “Hey, ‘Thena. Whatever you have in mind, be careful, will ya?”

    Athena smiles as she applies needle and thread to the normalsuit she is modifying, “You care? I’m touched.”

    “I’m serious,” Jolie says, turning solemn, “I know you can take care of yourself, but this Linker guy is bad sh*t. I…I don’t want anything to happen to you, ‘Thena.”

    Athena gives her “little sister” an affectionate hug, “I’m not worried; not with you watching my back.”

    “What about Jonah?” Jolie asks, “Were you for real about wanting to give him more command experience?”

    “Partially,” Athena says, then admits, “but it’s also because I don’t want your boy toy to be corrupted by the darker side of what we do. He’s not like us…especially not like me. He’s a good kid…innocent and naïve. Let’s let him stay that way.”

    “Thanks, ‘Thena,” Jolie grins, “I appreciate that.”

    Athena replies darkly, “You might feel less appreciative after we finish what we’re about to start. But isn’t that always the case? Let’s get on with it.”

    Episode 14 to be continued...

  3. #203
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    Episode 14 continued...

    Captain Mitchell Curtis, Jupitorius Zeon Intelligence Corps, has been a prisoner of war before. During the First Neo Zeon War, then 1Lt. Curtis had been taken prisoner by the Earth Federation Forces at Luna 2, which he had infiltrated. He was held in a Federal Forces detention center for five months before being repatriated to Zeon. The Feddies were relatively civil; the Federation had just come out of their Titans period, and was desperate to separate itself from their former elite corps’ record of brutality. Curtis remembers being roughed up a bit by his Federal Forces’ handlers after first being captured, but during the months of his detainment, he was treated more or less humanely.

    The same cannot be said by these ISRLA punks, who have beaten him savagely to force information out of him.

    Part of the problem is that the ISRLA is not a political entity recognized by the Archduchy of Zeon, the Earth Federation, or any other legitimate sovereignty. The ISRLA is a rogue group, and thus, not bound by any treaties or rules of engagement.

    Secondly, and also related to the ISR’s underground, outlaw status, its so-called “liberation army,” both combat militia and intelligence personnel, lacks any true military professionalism or training. Mostly, the ISR “civilian militia,” as it likes to bill itself, is just a ragtag mob of kids long on courage and idealism, but short on discipline and experience. It’s a problem historically endemic to most guerilla forces. Curtis knows that some elements of the Federation and Zeon forces have defected or sold their services to the ISRLA (usually as independent contractors), and these could provide training to the guerillas, but such resources are scarcely available to the ISR, and it shows.

    It shows in his broken left arm, now in a sling, and the bruised head wrapped in a bandage.

    Curtis was scheduled to rendezvous with Governor Richard Linker tonight…to deliver Viceroy Spector’s admonition to Linker about the presence of the Federal Forces space battle carrier in port…and to make sure that he would win that election against Olivia King in two days’ time. General Spector had made contingency plans to ensure that such would be the case, and had sent Curtis to coordinate with Linker.

    Those plans would now almost certainly fall through.

    Or perhaps not…

    Curtis hears these noises in rapid succession in the following order: the voice of one his cell’s guards beginning to say, “Who?” followed by the sound of a quick strike of flesh and metal against other flesh, followed by pained grunts, which are in turn followed by bodies falling to the ground.

    An instant of silence ensues before a female voice calls out, “Stand clear of the door!”

    Curtis does.

    A single gunshot fired from an automatic weapon disables the lock mechanism.

    The door to Curtis’ cell opens. A petite feminine figure clad in a Zeon normalsuit, helmet on, visor down, enters the cell, reholstering her weapon.

    “Captain Mitchell Curtis?” the young woman inquires.

    “You are…?” Curtis inquires warily.

    The young woman salutes, “Sir, I’m 2Lt. Tina Mass, Intelligence Corps, Viceroyalty of Jupitorius Zeon.”

    The so-called 2Lt. Tina Mass of the Viceroyalty of Jupitorius Zeon, the proxy identity adopted by Major Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Forces (who in a double irony was born the Duchess Minerva Zabi of the Archduchy of Zeon), raises her helmet visor.

    Captain Mitchell smiles, obviously pleased by the youthful, pretty face behind the visor.

    “Captain Curtis, sir,” Athena, as Tina, says, “the Viceroy sent me here to free you, and to complete the mission for which you were dispatched.”

    “Thank you for coming for me, 2Lt. Mass,” Curtis says, rising to his feet, “but why doesn’t the Viceroy want me to finish the mission?”

    “Sir, your identity has been compromised,” Athena says, “Moreover, the Viceroy has modified the plan since you were last heard from. Your intelligence is dated, and there’s no time to bring you up to speed. My orders are to assist you in returning to Io Fortress, and then complete the mission originally assigned to you.”

    Curtis, distractedly admiring the curves of Athena’s normalsuited figure, replies, “I’m disappointed. I was hoping that the Viceroy had ordered you to personally escort me all the way back to Io.”

    Athena says icily, “I’m afraid I’m taken, Captain. Now, if you’d please change into these,” handing Curtis a bag containing a suit of civilian men’s clothing, “I’m to take you to the spaceport, where a shuttlecraft will be waiting for you.”

    So saying, Athena removes her Zeon-style normalsuit, revealing civilian wear underneath – an inconspicuous turtleneck and jacket affair with blue jeans and tennis shoes.

    Captain Curtis dons the civilian clothing over his soiled and torn Zeon uniform, “You came very well prepared. I wouldn’t expect any less from a member of the intelligence agency. A rookie?”

    “Not exactly,” Athena replies noncommittally.

    “You’re awfully young,” Curtis remarks, exchanging his military boots for a pair of loafers, “bet you’re no more than nineteen…twenty at most. The Viceroy must be pretty impressed with your abilities to assign you to a mission like this.”

    “Let’s go,” Athena says, noting that Curtis has completed donning his disguise.

    Curtis, a feeling of familiarity dawning upon him, remarks, “You know…you look kind of like her.”

    “Her?” Athena asks innocuously.

    “Her Highness, Duchess Minerva Zabi,” Curtis says, “you do kind of remind of the Duchess.”

    “I’m flattered,” Athena says flatly, “It would have been nice to be a duchess. Better than being an intelligence officer, I’m sure.”


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

    “You really think it’s a good idea to trust Athena Ibaz…or Minerva Zabi…or whoever the hell she is, Judau?” Mondo Agake asks the onetime leader of the Gundam Team.

    “Yeah, I do,” Judau replies, “We need what only she can offer us right now, and I…know this girl. Even when she was little, and the Duchess of Zeon, I sensed nothing evil in her.”

    “That was a long time ago,” Lu interjects, “I liked her as a kid too. She was a sweet little girl, but c’mon, Judau! We were with her, what…a few hours, tops? She was still the monarch of the most murderous regime in history! She disappears for ten years, and suddenly, she reappears as one of the key officers in the Earth Federation’s Special Forces. Don’t you find that at all unsettling? We don’t know what she’s been up to the past ten years, or what her agenda is now.”

    “Newtypes aren’t mind-readers in the crystal ball sense,” Judau says, putting an arm around his wife’s slender waist, “but we can sense the general intent of other Newtypes. If Minerva has any malicious intentions towards us, believe me, I’d know about them. Just like I sensed in Haman all those years ago…”

    After a pause, Judau concludes, “Don’t worry. Minerva’s not like Haman.”

    Lu smiles sourly, “If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect you were hot on her, Judau…in which case I’d really kill you!”

    Judau winks at Lu mischievously, “I know you don’t mean that.”

    Lu elbows Judau, hard, in the stomach, “Don’t be so sure…”

    “You can trust her,” a new, but somehow familiar voice cuts into the conversation, “Her methods aren’t always orthodox, but her integrity is beyond doubt. If anyone would know, it would be me.”

    The figure, dressed in a dark overcoat, raises the wide brim of his felt hat to reveal the youthful, handsome face of Hathaway Noah.

    “Mafty,” Judau says, acknowledging the ISRLA agent whom he knows by no other name, “We didn’t expect you to appear again…here and now, anyway.”

    “I came because I knew she would be here,” Hathaway says, “and that I knew you would have reservations about her. Don’t. She’s a valuable ally, even if she wears the colors of the Federation.”

    “You sound like you’ve worked with her before,” Mondo says suspiciously.

    “’Worked with’ doesn’t accurately describe our…relationship,” Hathaway smiles, “but I am familiar with her. If you have any remaining doubts, you can contact Linda Ackerman…or even Dr. Mass herself.”

    “That won’t be necessary,” Judau says, “I’ve already decided that I trust her. One thing I’m not so certain about, however, is how Minerva will help us. She’s not a duchess anymore. She doesn’t have the Zeon army to call upon.”

    “Minerva is very resourceful,” Hathaway says, “and the leaders of the Earth Federation Forces have great faith in her abilities. That’s why they’ve entrusted her with command of the Special Forces even though she’s so young. She’ll help you more than you can imagine.”

    Lu snorts, “I sure hope she lives up to her reputation…for all our sakes.”

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

    Athena has guided Captain Mitchell Curtis to the Woodhaven Spaceport. Waiting near a seldom-used access port is a civilian space shuttle belonging to some transport company called “Easy Way Couriers, Inc.,” idling on the launch pad.

    Athena hands Curtis a Datachip, “These are your authentication access codes for leaving the colony. As soon as you’re outside the Jupitorius zone, transmit the code on the Datachip. Our force will rendezvous with you.”

    “Right,” Captain Curtis says, taking the Datachip, “Thanks for coming for me, Tina. Are you sure…?”

    “Absolutely,” Athena says coldly, expressionlessly, “Get out of here now, Captain.”

    “Prickly b*tch,” Curtis mutters to himself as he boards the shuttle, Very pretty to look at, and probably great in the sack, but who’d want to put up with that attitude?

    Athena waits for the shuttle to leave, then turns around and allows herself the slightest hint of a smirk. The time has come to move on to Phase Two of her plan.

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

    Twenty minutes after liftoff, Captain Curtis’ shuttle has left the Jupitorius zone. Following Athena’s instructions, he transmits the rendezvous code on the frequency that Athena had given him.

    Within moments, mobile suits appear and surround Curtis’ shuttle…Earth Federation Forces mobile suits…GM-IVs, Guncannon-100s, and a new Gundam…

    “What the hel…?!” Curtis begins, panicking. Then, the realization comes upon him, I’ve been tricked! That Tina Mass must have been with the Federal Forces!

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ voice comes through the communications receiver of the shuttle, “This is Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, Centurion Special Operations Team, Earth Federation Forces. Colonel Curtis: you are now a prisoner of war, and will be accorded all rights and privileges as specified in the Antarctic Treaty of U.C. 0078.”

    Curtis cannot help but smile bitterly…a prisoner of war…AGAIN. Just after he had been a prisoner of war. He has gone from being the POW of one enemy to that of another.

    Curtis sighs and resigns himself to Federal Forces custody. At least, he hopes, the Feddies will treat him more civilly than those ISRLA punks did. By treaty, the Federation is required to, although Curtis is not naïve enough to believe that the Federal Forces always conducted POW treatment by the letters of treaties…

    Not that Curtis has much choice in the matter. He knows that Viceroy Spector is not man who suffers fools, nor does he tolerate incompetence or failure from his subordinates. Curtis could have hoped for repatriation, perhaps, after being captured by the ISRLA…to whom he divulged no vital information.

    Unfortunately, Curtis knows, he has given away vital information to Tina Mass…or whatever that pretty b*tch’s name might really be.

    Curtis realizes that his only hope for survival might be to beg the Federation for asylum in exchange for information. He can’t go back to Io. Not now.

    Curtis admits that Tina completely fooled him. She was entirely convincing…right down to that Zeon accent she affected.

    And damn, did she ever look like Duchess Minerva. Maybe that’s why he trusted her so easily.

    Curtis sighs and allows the Federal Forces troops take him into custody. At least tonight, he’d likely get a clean cell…

    Episode 14 continued...

  4. #204
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    Episode 14 continued...

    Governor Richard Linker, having just departed from a reelection campaign event, returns to his office in the very early hours of the morning. Linker is not the most diligent of government officials. He prefers spending his days on the golf links (and his evenings at private clubs, usually in the company of a young woman that his wife knows nothing about), but tonight, two hours past midnight, he finds himself in his office as he does periodically for a very important rendezvous.

    “Your Honor,” a pleasantly lilting young female voice intones in the darkness.

    “You are…?” the Governor of Jupitorius demands warily.

    The flame from a stricken match lights a cigarette in the mouth of Major Athena Ibaz.

    Athena, leaning seductively with her back against a wall of the Governor’s office, exhales a cloud of smoke before replying, “2Lt. Tina Mass, Intelligence Corps, Viceroyalty of Jupitorius Zeon. I’m here with orders for you from His Excellency, Viceroy Ulysses Napoleon Spector.”

    Linker’s bespectacled eyes drink in the sight of 2Lt. Tina Mass, sending waves of lust coursing through his body. The honey-blonde young woman is dressed in a Zeon officer’s uniform unlike any other he has ever seen…with a short, tight skirt that barely covers the tops of her thighs. Tina’s long, smooth shapely legs give her a statuesque appearance, although she stands no taller than 170 cm. In lieu of the standard “moon” boots, Tina wears Zeon-green mid-heel pumps that further accentuate her erotic appeal.

    The sight of Athena is so mesmerizing that Linker momentarily forgets that she is not his usual Zeon contact, but his brain finally seizes control of his actions back from his loins, “Where’s Captain Curtis? He usually relays the Viceroy’s orders to me.”

    “Captain Curtis has been captured by the Earth Federation Forces,” replies Athena, “We can’t be sure what the Feddies will compel from the captain, so it’s imperative that you expedite the plans that are in place.”

    “Right,” Linker says, “My assassins’ squad is ready to go. All of them are among the best hired killers that money can buy. Half of them are positioned in mobile suits to destroy Olivia King’s shuttle as it arrives at Woodhaven Colony, and in the improbably event that they fail, the other half will get her when she gives her campaign speech tomorrow morning.”

    “Well done,” Athena, as Tina, says seductively in response, “The Viceroy generously rewards those who serve him well.”

    Linker approaches Athena, using his girth to back her against the wall, stroking her smooth face, then the back of her right thigh, lustfully, “I’d say he’s already rewarded me generously…”

    Athena smiles coolly, “Not really.”

    With a swift motion, Athena slaps away Linker’s pudgy hand, reaching along her inner thigh to extract her Walther handpistol, strapped to a strategically-placed holster. Athena presses the barrel of her weapon, sheathed by a silencer, against the chest of the Governor of Jupitorius. She pulls the trigger, and a high caliber bullet shatters Richard Linker’s heart.

    Linker falls to his knees, blood cascading forth from his mouth. His eyes stare at Athena in shock and horror, the likes of which he had inflicted upon many with his thugs for years, before dimming forever.

    Richard Linker, aged fifty-five, slumps dead in the office from which he has ruled the Jupitorius Colonies like a personal fiefdom for years.

    Athena looks coldly at corpse, and whispers, “Sorry, Your Honor: I’ve always been a heartbreaker.”

    This phase of the mission completed, Athena pulls out her military comset and speaks into it, “This is ‘Tina’ to Little Phuong. How’s it going, Phuong?”

    “Phuong,” the Vietnamese word for “phoenix,” is the given name of 1Lt. Jolie Minh, who replies, “Well, FINALLY! I thought you’d never be done!”

    “My apologies,” Athena says, “Judging from your attitude, I’m guessing you’ve been finished for a while.”

    Jolie, dressed in inconspicuous civilian clothing for a teenaged girl (a white sweater, denim skirt, and UGG boots), sits atop a pile of unconscious men dressed in dark clothing…some with broken teeth, others with limbs twisted at unnatural angles, and others yet with blood and pus leaking out of nostrils or lips.

    “’Assassins’ squad’ my a*s,” Jolie complains, “These guys went down in less the ninety seconds! I think I’m insulted that you thought it’d take me half an hour to beat these turkeys senseless!”

    “Didn’t mean to keep you waiting,” Athena says, “My end of the operation took a little more time. How many of them did you kill?”

    “Not even one,” Jolie replies, “What’s the point? They’re just flunkies. A few of them will probably never walk right again. One guy will probably lose his sense of smell for life. And a couple of others are looking at tens of thousands of credits worth of dental work in their future, but they’re all alive…to stand trial at a court or tribunal or whatever for what they’ve done.”

    Athena can’t help but smile, “So during the past two months, you’ve quit smoking, you’ve quit drinking, and now, you don’t even kill people unnecessarily anymore. Your loverboy has had quite a positive influence on you.”

    “What can I say?” Jolie says, mirth in her voice, “He’s the man!”

    Athena, as can be expected, turns serious, “All right, Lieutenant. I want you to hurry up and get your Centurion Gundam over on the double, just like we planned.”

    “Already on my way,” Jolie says, having just pulled her borrowed military motorcycle away from the curb, speeding towards the spaceport.

    Having ascertained that, Athena switches frequencies to Jonah’s Centurion Gundam Unit-2, “Centurion Leader to Centurion Three. What’s the situation, Chief Michaels?”

    Jonah’s reply comes immediately, “Centurion Three to Centurion Leader: ma’am, Captain Curtis told us everything. We know exactly where the enemy is coming from and we’re ready to intercept.”

    “Make sure Councilwoman King’s shuttle is safe,” Athena admonishes.

    “Will do, ma’am,” Jonah replies.

    Thirty seconds later, Sgt. Anna Horowitz reports to Jonah, “Chief Michaels, sir: incoming enemy mobile suits, twelve in number. Matching profile with database…RMS-106S Hizack Snipers.”

    “Open fire!” Jonah orders.

    The Centurion Team’s mobile suits pour a heavy volley of firepower into space towards the approaching enemy mobile suits.

    The Hizack Sniper squadron erupts into balloons of rapidly expanding metal and gas as the ordnance hits home. Sent to hunt and destroy a shuttle bearing the woman whose ideas represent Jupitorius’ hope for a free and just future, the Hizack Snipers find themselves hunted by the Federation’s Special Forces mobile suits, which proceed to immolate the entire their quarry down to the last unit.

    Episode 14 to be continued...

  5. #205
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    Episode 14 conclusion

    Jolie arrives back at the skyscraper in Woodhaven City that houses the offices of Governor Richard Linker. She brings the Centurion Gundam to hover at roof level, hundreds of meters above the ground.

    Major Athena Ibaz, still dressed in her Zeon officer disguise, awaits her. Somehow, Athena has managed to drag the very bulky, very heavy corpse of Governor Linker to the roof of the building.

    Jolie opens the cockpit hatch of the Centurion Gundam and takes a moment to regard her friend and commanding officer, admiring how the Zeon outfit with the tight skirt accentuates the qualities of Athena’s figure.

    “Yes, I know,” Athena says wearily, “This costume makes me look like a cheap sl*t.”

    Jolie smiles, remember one infamous occasion when she had described Athena that way, “Hey, well…if you’ve got legs, you might as well show them.”

    “Like you do?” Athena suggests.

    “Hey, sister,” Jolie replies, “You know damn well that my legs are at least as sexy as yours.”

    That much, Athena wouldn’t argue. Captain Beecher joked recently that if Athena and Jolie were to both join the Miss EFF Pageant, the judges would probably end up giving themselves strokes choosing between them.

    But Athena is presently more interested in comparing other notes.

    Opening communications with Jonah, Athena inquires, “How did it go, Chief Michaels?”

    Jonah replies, “Mission accomplished, ma’am. Enemy assassin squad neutralized, and survivors taken into custody. Councilwoman King’s shuttle should be touching down at the spaceport about now.”

    “Well done, Chief,” Athena says, “Bring the squad back to the Amuro Ray.”

    “Ma’am,” Jonah continues, “What about Jolie? Is she all right?”

    Jolie is both delighted by her boyfriend’s concern for her…and furious that he would doubt that she could take care of herself! Nonetheless, Jolie’s delight wins out, “I’m fine, Joboy. Tell you all about it when you get back.”

    “You bet, Jogirl,” Jonah’s reply comes cheerfully.

    “’Joboy? Jogirl?” Athena smiles, amused.

    “Yeah, well we have a thousand nicknames,” Jolie says.

    “One final detail to take care of,” Athena then says.

    “Right,” Jolie replies.

    Jolie extracts the Centurion Gundam’s beam saber, shortening to minimal length, but setting the heat intensity at maximum.

    Athena stands clear as Jolie uses the stream of ultra-heated Minovsky particle energy to completely disintegrate the corpse of Governor Richard Linker. The man who had ruled the Jupitorius Colonies so oppressively for so long is reduced to atomic particles.

    The job done, and all traces of Linker eliminated, Jolie uses the Centurion Gundam’s armored hand to lift Athena to the cockpit so her friend can board the mobile suit.

    “I’ve sanitized Linker’s office,” Athena tells Jolie after boarding the Centurion Gundam, gratefully donning a familiar Federal Forces normalsuit over that disgusting short-skirted Zeon uniform, “to all the world, it’ll look like Linker simply abandoned his post after being exposed as a Zeon traitor.”

    Jolie nods, but asks, “’Thena, doesn’t it bother you, sometimes? To kill a man in cold blood like that?”

    Athena replies, “To kill a man, I probably would…but I don’t have any reservations about killing pigs.”

    Jolie nods again, in full agreement.

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


    Former Earth Federation Government Councilwoman Olivia King arrives at the Woodhaven Spaceport, and disembarks from the commercial space shuttle that carried her there from neighboring Lake Forest Colony (also a part of the Jupitorius Colonies). She is greeted by the cheers of multitudes of Jupitorius citizens, including Judau Ashta, Lu Luka Ashta, Elle Viano Olech, Mondo Agake, and Eno Abbov.

    King expects to campaign hard and debate well against the incumbent governor, Richard Linker, in a bid to vote his corrupt regime out of office. Then, she will work with the people of Jupitorius to build towards a better future for the colony’s citizens.

    King is unaware, however, that the first, difficult step has been cleared out of the way for her. In two days’ time, when she is elected the new Governor of Jupitorius, she will know nothing of the circumstances behind the sudden disappearance of her rival, Governor Linker. History would attribute it to a coward’s having fled the scene of his crime after his treason was exposed by Ms. King’s supporters.

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

    Major Athena Ibaz, finally back in her usual Earth Federation Forces uniform (which to her is a great relief), returns to her office aboard the Amuro Ray.

    Athena sits at her desk and leans back in her chair, closing her eyes. That operation was intense…and she didn’t spend a minute behind the controls of a mobile suit. Some of the toughest missions are those that involve very little direct combat. To look at the results, the operation was a rout for the Special Forces. Only those who were in the midst of it will remember how precarious it all was.

    A buzz comes at the door of Athena’s office.

    “Come in,” Athena says, expecting Jolie to come in to bug her about one thing or another.

    One of the ship’s yeomen enters the room, carrying a bundle of two dozen roses.

    “Major Ibaz, ma’am,” the yeoman salutes, “Someone left these behind for you.”

    Athena raises an eyebrow at the flowers, “Who was it?”

    “A young gentleman, ma’am,” the yeoman replies, “He didn’t identify himself.”

    “Bring them to me please, yeoman,” Athena says.

    The yeoman hands the roses to Athena.

    “Thank you, yeoman. Dismissed,” Athena says.

    “Ma’am!” the yeoman replies, saluting, turning, and leaving Athena in privacy.

    Athena declines to sniff the roses, her mind already thinking along the lines of trap.

    Being raised by the likes Haman Karn and Char Aznable can make a person paranoid that way.

    Athena is about to chuck the roses into the refuse disposal chute when she notices a card attached to the stem of one of the roses.

    Athena reads the card.

    My Dearest Athena,

    Very well played. I’ve always known where your heart lay, no matter what flag you served under or whose uniform you wore. What you’ve done for the people of Jupitorius was nothing less than a turning point in their history, although few will ever know of it.

    You work in the shadows, as I do. You understand that it’s not for glory; it’s for justice.

    On their behalf, thank you.

    I still love you. I always will.


    Hathaway

    Athena cannot help but smile as a wave of warmth enters her heart for the first time since…

    Athena sniffs at the roses, holding them close to her chest…a proxy for the one who had sent them to her.

    End of Episode 14

    Next: Interlude...and Prelude!

  6. #206
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    EPISODE 2-15: INTERLUDE…AND PRELUDE

    A convoy of military cargo ships belonging to the Earth Federation Forces, thirty heavy freight transports escorted by eight Salamis-class battlecruisers, eight Magellan-class space battleships, and four La Kailum-class space battlecarriers, along with a Special Forces escort of sixty Jegan-II mobile suits and twenty Steelwing space fighter craft, arrives at the Jupitorius Colonies. The cargo borne in the freight transports includes two-hundred GM-IV mobile suits and their associated supplies and service equipment.

    The most massive display of non-Zeon military force yet seen in the Outer Solar System.

    The Earth Federation Security Council acted with surprising and uncharacteristic swiftness in approving and setting into motion the plan to arm the Jupitorius Colonies. Two developments spurred this uncommon decisiveness: first, the election of former Earth Federation Government Councilwoman Olivia King (who had left the Federation government over a dispute years earlier, but remained, at heart, loyal to the Federation, despite the development of friendly ties with ISR leaders) has increased the Federation’s profile in the Jupiter Zone. Second, intelligence reports from Major Athena Ibaz of the Special Forces have indicated a cessation of hostility among the various Zeon warlord factions in recent weeks.

    Initially, the Federation’s leaders responded to Major Ibaz’s report with relief and satisfaction, believing that the Special Forces had accomplished the mission for which they had been dispatched so far from Cislunar Space.

    Major Ibaz admonished, however, that the lull in fighting was a disturbing rather than encouraging sign – because she believes that the Zeon factions might be reunifying, with an eye towards consolidating their strength…possibly for a renewed Zeon invasion of the Cislunar sphere.

    The fear of that possibility hit the Federation’s leaders with force. If the Zeon are planning a renewed invasion of Cislunar Space, then the Federation wants a buffer zone between the Zeon and Earth. Fortifying Jupitorius would be a logical move towards realizing such a plan.

    As momentous as the buildup of Jupitorius’ military power is, it is being kept as quiet and subtle as possible. The citizens of Jupitorius certainly know nothing of such developments…save for a few.

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

    Governor Olivia King meets in her office with Major Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Special Forces and Independent Spacenoid Republic representatives Judau Ashta and Lu Luka Ashta. Four weeks into her administration, Governor King is already neck-deep in the many urgent issues that confront the Jupitorius Colonies…issues that her predecessor, the disgraced (and now dead) Governor Richard Linker had neglected, or exacerbated through his covert dealings with the Viceroyalty of Jupitorius Zeon.

    “You’ll be leaving?” says Governor King, incredulously, “Major, we have only begun to rebuild the political and social infrastructure of the Jupitorius Colonies, and defense is one of our most vital concerns. We need you and your people here to ensure the safety of Jupitorius’ citizens.”

    “The commitment of the Special Forces reaches beyond Jupitorius, Your Honor,” Athena replies, “but we won’t be leaving you right away, and we certainly won’t be leaving you defenseless. My people and I will remain at Jupitorius for another month, helping to train the new citizens’ militia to defend the colony against Zeon attack.”

    Governor King turns expectantly towards Judau and Lu, “Mr. and Mrs. Ashta…are your people ready?”

    Judau rises and nods, “Yes, Your Honor. We’ve recruited over seven-thousand people so far, and more are joining every day. Most of them are young and inexperienced, I must admit, but there are veterans among them.”

    Athena adds, “My people and I will help train them, but here’s the caveat: they will be the Jupitorius Citizen’s Militia, not the Independent Spacenoid Republic’s Liberation Army. The assistance that I’m providing you is contingent on that condition, Judau. If the ISRLA uses those weapons against the Federation, my people will crush you.”

    Lu smirks, “Already making threats, Major? Typical of you Feddies. What makes you think you can stop us if we do decide to attack the Federal Forces?”

    Athena answers simply, “The White Phoenix.”

    The evocation of 1Lt Jolie Minh’s nickname brings a tense, fearful silence into the room.

    Athena continues, “You’ve seen Jolie’s power. You know what she’s capable of.”

    They do, and Athena’s implications are obvious.

    Athena’s voice softens, as does her demeanor, “It’s not my desire to make threats. I would like to see the people of Jupitorius able to live freely, securely, and independently…but not at the cost of the security of the people of Cislunar Space.”

    Lu replies icily to that, “In other words, you’re willing to sacrifice the lives of Jupitorius Spacenoids to save those who live closer to Earth.”

    “War doesn’t discriminate between Spacenoids and Earthnoids, Oldtypes or Newtypes, or Federation or Zeon,” Athena says evenly, “war is an eternally thirsty old wolf, and it drinks whatever blood is at hand. You now have the power to save lives; use that power wisely.”

    So saying, Athena rises from her seat, drapes her military overcoat over her shoulders, puts on her officer’s cap, and leaves Governor King’s office (formerly Governor Linker’s office, more simply and tastefully redecorated since being occupied by Governor King).

    “I cannot believe her arrogance!” Lu complains, “Who does she think she is?! It was a mistake to trust her!”

    “Actually,” Judau says reasonably, “She’s right. We’ve seen enough war to know that it doesn’t discriminate. We need every resource we can get to protect Jupitorius, and we can’t be picky about where it comes from.”

    Governor King adds, “I sympathize with the Independent Spacenoid Republic’s goal of carving out its own destiny, but the security of Jupitorius comes first. I’ve been a part of the Earth Federation long enough to know that it can’t always be trusted, but I’ve chosen to trust Major Ibaz.”

    “The things you don’t know,” Lu mutters under her breath.

    “Lu, I understand your reservations,” Judau says to his wife, “and trust me, I share them. Jupitorius needs security, however, if it doesn’t want a new Richard Linker or worse controlling its destiny again.”

    Not entirely convinced, but seeing that she is outvoted. Lu acquiesces, “So when do we get started training the citizen’s militia?”

    “Right away,” Governor King says, “we’ve already begun taking delivery of the mobile suits from the Federation, and our training exercises will be conducted at a location to be disclosed soon.”

    “It’s been a long, long time since I’ve piloted a mobile suit,” Lu says, running her hands through her lavender hair.

    Judau smiles, “Lu Luka, pilot of the Zeta Gundam, back in action at last!”

    Lu elbows Judau playfully, “You’ve been out of it as long as I have, hotshot! I’ll bet your skills are rusty too. We’re not getting anything as fancy as the Zeta or the Double Zeta this time around. Your Major Ibaz only deigned to get us GM-IVs.”

    “We’re lucky to have anything,” Governor King points out fairly, “we’ll make the most of it.”

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

    Major Athena Ibaz has returned to her office aboard the Amuro Ray, where she is simultaneously on the phone, her Datapad, and her office’s computer terminal coordinating the arrival of the weapons convoy into Jupitorius Colony. To move that much military hardware into an area and be inconspicuous requires some feat of coordination.

    Athena had advised the Federation High Council to send the armaments in piecemeal shipments…inconspicuously, gradually, with the general cargo that usually arrived at Jupitorius from Earth. As is usually the case, the Council ignored her advice, deciding to make a big show of force in sending the entire consignment in one large convoy. Athena had warned them that this would make the consignment known to the Zeon Forces…not to mention an easy target.

    But as was typically the case, nobody listened.

    Athena knows it is just dumb luck that the Zeon have not attacked the convoy yet…perhaps because they are still reeling from the series of defeats that the Special Forces have inflicted upon them recently. Athena is certain, however, that the Zeon must now know of the plan to arm Jupitorius. The advantage of surprise is already lost.

    And Athena also knows who likely made these foolish decisions: General Manron Blackhead and Colonel Peter Cairlay, who typically preferred a bombastic display of power to caution and stealth.

    Athena is fuming with frustration when a buzz comes at her office door.

    “Come in,” Athena says, not bothering to look up from her work.

    1Lt. Jolie Minh and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels tumble into the office, in civilian clothing, all fresh-faced teenaged energy and enthusiasm.

    And Athena, not quite three years older than either of the couple, feels a generation removed from them.

    “You’re still working?” Jolie says incredulously, “Come on, ‘Thena! This is our first shore leave in a month, and it only lasts forty-eight hours…oops, more like forty-five now.”

    “You need to take some time to rest, ma’am,” Jonah adds, “you’ve been working much too hard lately. You’ll burn out.”

    Athena smiles wanly, “Sorry. There’s just too much to do. You guys have fun, all right?”

    “Workaholic,” Jolie says, then notices the vase of roses, wilted almost to the point of complete disintegration, in a crystal vase on Athena’s desk, “You can’t be so busy you haven’t bothered to get rid of these. They’ve turned all brown and gross!”

    “Leave them alone,” Athena says.

    “They were really pretty when you first got them three weeks ago,” Jolie continues, “but they started sagging two weeks ago, and now they’re…”

    “Just leave them alone,” Athena repeats, more assertively this time.

    Jolie scowls at her friend, “OK, OK. Fine. Geeze, you’re on edge. We’re gonna go.”

    “See you later,” Athena says, turning back to her work.

    “C’mon, Jonah,” Jolie says.

    “Right,” Jonah replies, saying to Athena, “We’ll see you later, ma’am.”

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

    When they are out of earshot in the corridor of the ship, en rout to the exit gangway, Jolie remarks to Jonah, “Athena can be really, really, REALLY weird sometimes! She’s the most anal person in the world I know about neatness and cleanliness. Her uniforms, her quarters, her office are always spotlessly clean, but for some weird reason, she won’t get rid of those rotting roses on her desk!”

    “They must be special to her,” Jonah observes, “maybe it’s a matter of who gave them to her.”

    “Yeah, I asked her about that when the roses first showed up a few weeks ago, right after…Linker died. She wouldn’t tell me! I tell her everything, but she wouldn’t tell me!”

    Jonah smiles, “Athena is a very private person; she’s different from you.”

    “Still,” Jolie says, “we’re like sisters. She should know she can share anything with me.”

    “Everybody has personal feelings they can’t share,” Jonah replies, “Athena’s no different.”

    Jolie thinks about that momentarily before adding, “Anyway, you might be right about when you said it might be a matter of who gave those roses to her. But the only one who…nah. No way. He wouldn’t be all the way out here in Jupitorius.”

    “Hathaway Noah?” Jonah ventures.

    “Smart boy,” Jolie replies with a grin.

    Jonah returns the grin as he says, “This Hathaway character must be someone really special if Athena’s still carrying the torch for him after all this time. Our commanding officer has never stricken me as the sentimental type.”

    Jolie and Jonah arrive at the gangway, presenting their military identification cards to the sentries, who check them out of the ship.

    Jolie picks up the conversation from there, “She doesn’t let it show, but I know ‘Thena: she has a really big heart, but she hides it.”

    “Do you know why?” Jonah poses.

    Jolie thinks about it, “Maybe…maybe she’s afraid of being hurt.”

    “Smart girl,” Jonah replies with a grin.

    Jolie is silent for a moment before she says, “’Thena’s carrying a lot of hurt inside around her. I can’t tell you much because she has her personal secrets, but there are reasons she’s as driven as she is. I worry about her sometimes.”

    “Just like she worries about us,” Jonah says, “And I can understand your wanting to help her. I want to help too. But sometimes, the best way to help is to respect the other person’s privacy and need to cope in her own way.”

    “Huh,” Jolie says, “That was some mouthful, Joboy. You ought to be a psychologist or therapist or something.”

    “Artists train themselves to look deeper into the human condition,” Jonah says, “but I’m no shrink.”

    “Shrink this!” Jolie says, playfully directing a fist in Jonah’s direction.

    Jonah, his reflexes much improved, actually succeeds in dodging Jolie’s harmless “punch.”

    Jolie pulls her fist away before Jonah can grab it, and runs away, laughing.

    “You’re not getting away today, ‘White Phoenix!’” Jonah says, grinning madly, “I’m going to get you!”

    “Come on, then!” Jolie says, leading the chase.

    Jonah chases his beautiful, mercurial soul mate as she dashes across Woodhaven’s terra-formed rolling hills, fueled by love for youth and life.

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

    Back in her office on the Amuro Ray, Athena takes advantage of a brief lull in the flow of information to regard the dead, rotting remains of rose stems in the crystal vase that sits atop her desk.

    Athena fingers the dead husks of the once-brilliant rose petals briefly, with gentle fondness, and then discards the remains of the flowers into the refuse disposal chute.

    If only feelings could be so easily disposed…

    Episode 15 to be continued...

  7. #207
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 15 continued...

    Halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, four Zeon armadas converge: the Callisto Armada headed by the Governess Lara Constantinas, the Deimos Fleet headed by Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach, the Jupitorius Armada headed by Viceroy Ulysses Napoleon Spector, and Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas, Lord of Titan Zeon.

    Once, the four Zeon warlords had been allies, fighting side-by-side for the Glory of Zeon against the degenerate worms of the Earth Federation. Together, they had served valiantly and loyally under the regimes of the Zabis, the Karns, and finally, Grand Fuhrer Char. After the collapse of Char’s regime, they had splintered…each believing himself or herself the most legitimate successor to the Throne of Zeon. For years, they have waged bitter war among one another…each hoping to vanquish the others to reemerge the proven heir to the Archduchy of Zeon. For years, that war has been locked in stalemate, with none of the warlords powerful enough to overcome his or her rivals.

    Now, for the first time in over a decade, the Warlords of Zeon have come together, their weapons lain aside to discuss their common interests.

    But one among them is missing.

    General Alexander Miguel, the Prince of Phobos.

    It had been Viceroy Spector who had initiated the ceasefire after the loss of the Jupitorius Colonies to some sort of joint Federation/ISR alliance. Though wary of one another, the Warlords of Zeon nevertheless retain their loyalty to the Zeon ideal. Each of them hopes to seize suzerainty over Zeon and lead the Archduchy into the new century, but such personal goals are now set aside to confront the threat of the Earth Federation spreading its hegemony deeper into space…particularly space that, until now, has been claimed by Zeon.

    Despite the sudden renewal of Zeon unity, however, enough distrust exists among the four former colleagues that each has seen fit to bring sizeable armed forces with them (with plenty more held in reserve back at their respective centers of power). Moreover, none of the Zeon warlords have deigned to meet with one another in the same room, but have elected to videoconference from their respective flagships.

    Spector breaks the long, awkward silence with characteristic bluntness, dispensing with niceties that he knows his former comrades-turned-rivals turned-allies again would never be deceived nor mollified by, “We’ve set aside our own disputes for a matter of overriding importance to the future of Spacenoid civilization and to Zeon: in the past few months, each of us has confronted the Earth Federation Forces in combat even as we have battled each other. It is evident that the Earthists are not content to maintain their stranglehold on the mother planet and its gravitational orbit, but has set its sights on extending its hegemony into the deeper cosmos as well. To thwart them, we will need to pool our strength.”

    “We are one short,” however, Governess Lara Constantinas sees fit to point out.

    “Our dear brother-at-arms Alexander would not condescend to join this effort with us,” Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach remarks acidly, “After the Federation assaulted the mining facilities on Mars, I approached young General Miguel about joining forces against the Federation threat. Up to now, I’ve received no response from him.”

    Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas of Titan Zeon speaks next, “Alexander Miguel is an arrogant pup who amounts to nothing of consequence. We respected his father, General Carloman Miguel, as a valiant warrior and brother-at-arms who gave all of his self to the Glory of Zeon. Alexander, though a gifted and fearless warrior, is not half the man his father was: our brother Carloman loved Zeon. Alexander loves only himself. He is a narcissist, and would bring ruin to Zeon were he to gain power over the Archduchy.”

    The Warlords of Zeon, seldom in agreement on any matter, nod knowingly in agreement with Generalissimo Reglas’ assessment of the absent General Alexander Miguel. Once the Federation’s threat is thwarted, they would turn their attention to him…



    Zeon warships such as this Musai-Kai class battleship are readied for the Zeon Confederation Forces' confrontation with the Earth Federation Forces.


    Spector turns the conversation back to the immediate concern, “Our first priority is to dislodge the Federation’s growing power base from the Jupiter, Asteroid Belt, and Martian spheres. My intelligence agents have confirmed that the Federation is militarizing the Jupitorius Colonies…under the guise of arming a ridiculous so-called ‘citizens’ militia.’”

    “We’ll need to put a stop to that immediately,” Governess Constantinas concurs.

    “The Jupitorius ‘militia’ or whatever they call it is just getting underway,” Generalissimo Reglas interjects, “We’ll contend with that soon enough, but our first priority should be the Federation’s Ceres’ Base in the Asteroid Belt. That’s already fully militarized and operational, and represents the largest hub of Federation power this far out into the Solar System.”

    Von Bach rubs his eyes with his fingers, “We should have eliminated Ceres long ago…”

    “We would have, had we not been so consumed fighting each other,” Lara says bitterly.

    Before an uncomfortable silence is allowed to consume the conference, Viceroy Spector makes a resolution, “Here’s my suggestion: we’ll proceed on the Ceres and Jupitorius operations simultaneously. Our joint resources should be enough to support both operations, agreed?”

    “Agreed,” Generalissimo Reglas says, “I can support you on the Jupitorius assault, Spector.”

    Spector grins and nods, then turns to Von Bach and Constantinas, “Konrad, Lara…would you two take on Ceres?”

    Von Bach responds with an emphatic “No,” his rage manifested in a face that has gone pepper red in seconds, “Do you regard me as a fool?! You and Reglas take on the soft target of those upstarts at Jupitorius while sending Constantinas and me to take the brunt of the Federation’s hardpoint at Ceres?! Go to hell and kiss the devil, Spector!”

    Governess Lara Constantinas, no less outraged than Von Bach, but more cool-headed and diplomatic, intercedes with a measured, “We have all agreed to pool our resources, not divide them. Our collective strength will be required to overcome the Federation’s fortifications at Ceres. We either do it together, or we continue upon our separate paths.”

    “Even if it means Zeon’s demise,” Von Bach adds darkly, his temper cooling somewhat.

    Spector, disappointed at being unable to play his rivals off the Federation, finally accedes, “Very well, then. Reglas?”

    Reglas grins ferociously as he replies, “If there’s war to be waged, I’m game.”

    “Then it’s decided,” Spector says, “Taking on a target as well fortified as Ceres Base cannot be pursued without preparation. We’ll need a month to coordinate.”

    “Then we must begin immediately,” Governess Constantinas says.

    The Warlords of Zeon continue in greater detail their discussion of their plans to assault the Federation’s primary fortress in the Asteroid Belt. Resources will be marshaled for war against the hated Earthists and their pathetic Federation government and military.

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

    While some are make plans for war, others make plans for life after war…

    The Cupertino District of Woodhaven Colony is one of the most popular (and hence, expensive) residential neighborhoods in Jupitorius Colonies (or anywhere, for that matter). Designed and constructed with the newest terraforming and transplantation methods, Cupertino represents the most successful attempt yet at recreating Earth’s natural environment, as it had existed centuries earlier, before the advent of industrialization, within a space colony. Lush with green, flowered meadows, deep forests of alpine conifers, and assorted wildlife including many varieties of mammals, birds, and fish, Cupertino is an attractive community for those seeking a tranquil, idyllic lifestyle. The community has grown popular with young married couples looking to start families. Residing in Cupertino requires a robust financial profile…more than most military personnel (even comparatively well-paid Special Forces officers) can afford.
    Not that that consideration deters Jolie Minh and Jonah Michaels, who are spending at least a part of their day of R&R scouting out a home they could move into together when the war is over.

    Jolie smiles as she looks an unfurnished bedroom, larger than any she’d ever lived in.

    Jonah puts his arms gently around her, kissing her on top of the head, “What do you see?”

    “I see a playroom for the kids,” Jolie says wistfully, “Where they can have lots of fun.”

    Jonah chuckles, “You’re thinking way, way ahead, aren’t you? Kids?”

    Jolie turns to look up at Jonah earnestly, “If we’re gonna stay together, we’d better be having kids!”

    Jonah rests his chin atop Jolie’s head, “Sure. How fast can you have them?”

    Jolie gives Jonah a sly grin, “As fast as you can put ‘em into me. I mean…”

    The couple laughs…intoxicated by dreams of their future together.

    Jolie and Jonah disengage their embrace as Cupertino real estate agent James Wynne enters the room, proclaiming, “The best thing about this cottage is the surprising amount of space it offers. You’re looking at five full-size bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, den, formal living room, dining room, library/study area, and even an observation balcony accessible from the master bedroom.”

    “I bet the price is full-sized too,” Jolie remarks, poking her head into one of the bedrooms.

    “Price is negotiable,” Wynne says, “I offer a special discount to newlyweds. You two are married, I’m guessing?”

    Jolie and Jonah exchange grins, and Jonah answers for them, “Well, not yet…”

    “I see,” Wynne says pleasantly, “you two do look rather young. Still in your teens?”

    The young couple nods in affirmation.

    “That’s not a problem,” Wynne says reassuringly, “many of our buyers these days are younger. The wars have taken a heavy toll on the older population. People are getting married and settling down earlier now. You two are engaged, at least, right?”

    Jolie and Jonah look at each other. This time, Jolie replies, “What does it matter? Are you a real estate agent or a marriage counselor?!”

    Wynne continues to wear a pleasant smile despite Jolie’s snarky response, “It’s important before investing into something as costly as a home to be certain that you can support it, Miss. It saves everyone headaches down the line. May I be so bold as to ask what the two of you do for a living?”

    Jolie’s response is an uncharacteristically hesitant, “Uh…”

    Jonah, more forthright (and naïve), says plainly, “We’re officers in the Earth Federation Forces.”

    “I see,” Wynne says tactfully, but his salesman’s enthusiasm clearly deflated.

    Jolie kicks Jonah on the leg, then whispers to him, “Dummy! They don’t wanna sell to soldiers! They think we’ll die on them a few months into our mortgage payments!”

    Jolie steps between Jonah and the real estate agent, and asks with all the boldness she can muster, “So just what kind of price are we looking at for this house, Mr. Wynne?”
    Wynne pulls out a pocket calculator, punches in a sequence of numbers, and shows Jolie and Jonah a figure…a very, very large figure.

    Jolie and Jonah’s eyes widen in dismay. The figure is the equivalent of their combined annual salaries…provided they continue serving in the Federal Forces for another twenty years and have no other expenses.

    Pale-faced, Jolie says to Wynne, “Y’know, we’re gonna have to think about it. That’s A LOT of money…”

    Wynne says, “Don’t take too long to think about it. Many people are interested in this cottage, and you don’t want to lose the opportunity.”

    Knowing a dead sale when he sees one, Wynne leaves, and Jolie makes sure to take the opportunity to stick her tongue out at the real estate agent’s back.

    “Come on, Jolie,” Jonah says, putting his arm around Jolie’s waist.

    “Guess we’ll just have to find our dream home somewhere else,” Jolie says dejectedly, “Somewhere less expensive.”

    “As long as we’re together, does it matter where we live?” Jonah says, kissing Jolie on the cheek.

    Jolie brightens, giving Jonah a kiss back, “Guess not.”

    The couple leaves the unaffordable house behind, pursuing their dreams elsewhere…

    Episode 15 to be continued...

  8. #208
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    Episode 15 continued...

    Far away from the Jupiter Zone, at Phobos Fortress in Martian orbit, the armored troops of the Principality of Phobos Zeon conduct an extensive training exercise. War games, “played” with live fire, are a reality of the training regimen of General Alexander Miguel’s elite forces. The Leader’s reasoning behind this unique system follows his own impeccable military logic: it weeds out those too weak to serve, sparing the Phobos Zeon Forces the embarrassment of failure in battle, and heightens the bloodlust of those strong enough to be deemed worthy of calling themselves Soldiers of Zeon.

    The Leader takes great personal pleasure in these war games…honing his mobile suit piloting skills by taking on those who would serve him…eliminating those whose skills are do not meet the Leader’s standards.

    General Miguel docks his black Nightingale and disembarks from his mobile suit. Arrogant about his superior mobile suit piloting skills though he is known to be, Miguel is, perhaps, wiser than past Zeon mobile suit aces such as Colonel Char Aznable and Regent Haman Karn, who flamboyantly elected not to wear normalsuits when operating their mobile suits in space combat. Alexander Miguel is no such fool; his gleaming black normalsuit, dark demonic face etched onto its chest, is donned for self-preservation. Miguel understands that he cannot lead Zeon into the glorious future as a dead man.

    Colonel Ross Davenport, Alexander’s trusted subordinate, approaches the Leader and salutes, “My lord, I have news from the Jupitorius Zone.”

    “Tell me, Ross,” Miguel says as he stalks to the pilots’ locker.

    “The leaders of the Deimos, Callisto, Jupitorius, and Titan Zeon factions are gathering, my lord. Our intelligence personnel have confirmed that they are planning to join forces against the Earth Federation.”

    “Not an unexpected move on their part,” Alexander remarks noncommittally, as he doffs his normalsuit and exchanges it for his regal Leader’s uniform, “They are, after all, loyal men of Zeon…and truly valiant warriors. I’ve fought against them long enough to know.”

    “We will not be joining them, my lord?” Davenport ventures.

    “They are also fools,” Miguel says, continuing his line of thought, even as he buttons the collar of his uniform, “but fools can be of great value, Ross, if they are used thoughtfully.”

    “Such was always your plan, wasn’t it, my lord?” Davenport says.

    Alexander does not answer, saying only, “Our forces will be mobilized to the Jupitorius Zone. However, we will be merely…observers for now.”

    “Yes, my lord,” Davenport responds, understanding that to be his cue to ready the Phobos Zeon Forces for deployment.

    Alexander smiles. Federation. Zeon. All his pawns. All bricks to be smashed down, then reassembled into a stronger superstructure…the world of Alexander’s ambitious dreams.

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

    Back at the Woodhaven Colony, Jolie sprints to the peak of Inspiration Point, an artificial hill that is the highest point of “elevation” in the Woodhaven Colony. From here, the entire sprawl of the colony can be seen – the spaceport where the Amuro Ray is docked far on the opposite of the colony, and Woodhaven City and Parklands in between.

    Woodhaven Public Works and Environmental Services also use Inspiration Point as a cultivation site for flowers. Using a variety of soils at different elevations, with varying moisture and irrigation patterns, WPWES has made Inspiration Point into a venue teeming with just about every species of flower ever documented by humanity. Every color perceivable to the human eye dots the artificial slopes of Inspiration Point, and when Woodhaven’s internal vents create a downwind from the point, sweet fragrances find their way down into Woodhaven City kilometers below.

    Jolie, having kicked away her flip-flops at the foot of the hill (she could always recover them later, or buy a new pair if it came to that), runs barefoot to the peak of Inspiration Point, ahead of Jonah, who, less of a natural athlete than his girlfriend, chases his way up from a good twenty meters behind.

    Jolie pumps both fists into the air in triumph, “I made it! I got to the top first! YESSS!!!”

    Jonah smiles and shakes his head as he takes a short breather before joining Jolie at the top of the hill. Jonah accepts that he is in for a long, long lifetime of being “Number Two” behind Jolie…because she absolutely cannot stand being anything less than Number One!

    Which suits Jonah just fine, as long as he can be with Jolie…forever.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that he has to take being Number Two lying down.

    Not when she can lie down with him.

    Jonah knocks Jolie off her feet onto the soft, flowered turf. Jolie goes down giggling. With her lightning reflexes, she could have easily avoided Jonah’s tackle had she wanted to.

    But why would she want to?


    Jonah clutches a handful of flowers he had grabbed as he and Jolie went down, waving them mischievously in front of Jolie’s face, “You’re Number One…in recognition of your great achievement, you’re going to get to eat these flowers…”

    Jolie opens her mouth, preparing to be fed.

    Jonah dangles the flowers over Jolie’s opened mouth.

    With a quick, but gentle move of her hand, Jolie stuffs a handful of flowers into Jonah’s mouth instead.

    Jolie bursts into an uncontrollable giggling fit as Jonah extracts the petals from his mouth.

    I keep forgetting how fast she is…Jonah laments, spitting out the last of the flowers.

    “Serves you right for trying to f*ck with me,” Jolie says.

    “You do have a dirty mouth,” Jonah says, “That’s why you should eat flowers.”

    Jolie says, “Did your mommy tell you when you were little not to date girls who cuss?”

    “No,” Jonah replies, “but she did warn me about girls who break people’s legs…”

    “And stuffs flowers in people’s mouths?” Jolie asks innocently.

    “Yeah, and that…,” Jonah finishes.

    The couple takes a break from the smart-alecky repartee to quietly take in the beauty of their surroundings, the fact that it is all artificial temporarily set aside in their minds.

    A cool breeze from the colony’s internal vents soon blows upon them…artificial clouds drift by lazily overhead. It’s almost as good as the real thing.

    Jolie leans her head on Jonah’s shoulder, and Jonah takes her into his arms. Within moments, Jonah hears Jolie’s soft, gentle breathing, and knows that she has fallen asleep.

    Jonah holds Jolie closer, enjoying the warmth she emanates.

    She’s so beautiful…

    It dawns on Jonah that this is the first time Jolie has fallen asleep on him, literally and figuratively.

    Even the White Phoenix runs out of energy…

    After a minute, Jonah feels himself growing drowsy as well…consciousness….fades….away….


    In a dream, Jolie and Jonah find themselves inside a grand cathedral. They are immaculately dressed, not in their military uniforms, but in a white gown and an elegant dark suit, respectively.

    This is their wedding day.

    Gathered to wish them well are their closest, dearest friends…Geoff, Anna, Tomo, Karim, Doc Wooster, Molly, Captain Beecher, Elle, Haro, Chieming, General Noah…and Athena.

    As Jolie has no living father-figure, it is up to none other than the Executive Commander of the Earth Federation Forces, General Bright Noah, to give away the bride.

    Athena, Anna, Elle, and Molly serve as Jolie’s bridesmaids.

    Jonah, democratic as ever, has declined to select a specific best man, choosing instead to divide that role among Karim, Tomo, and Geoff.

    Jolie, more than ever, is breathtakingly beautiful in her wedding gown as white as the snowcapped peaks of the Earth’s highest mountains. Only her smile is more radiant.

    Jonah, an artist by disposition, training, and vocation, has seen and imagined great beauty many, many times. None of what he has seen or imagined will ever approach the beauty of his bride. He had come across the cosmos, not knowing, not anticipating her entry into his life, but now he knows that he is very, very blessed for having encountered her.

    The couple smiles brilliantly at one another as the chaplain approaches.

    “Jonah Michaels,” the chaplain says solemnly, “by the Grace of the Lord, do you vow to take Jolie Phuong Minh as your wife, to love and honor now and forevermore?”

    “I do,” Jonah says without hesitation.

    “Jolie Phuong Minh,” the chaplain says, turning to the bride, “by the Grace of the Lord, do you vow to take Jonah Michaels as your husband, to love and honor now and forevermore?”

    Jolie grins widely as she says, “I do.”

    The chaplain smiles kindly at the young newlywed couple, “Then by the authority vested in me by the Lord, I pronounce you now and forevermore, husband and wife.”

    Cheers erupt from the pews as Jolie and Jonah kiss as spouses for the first time.

    In a dream, time is fluid, perhaps even ephemeral. In an instant, a year passes.

    Twenty-year old Jonah Michaels works at his easel at the backyard of his rustic home in the countryside of southern France on Earth. He works diligently and painstakingly to capture the spirit of the subject of his latest painting…the subject of most of his paintings during the past few years.

    The subject is his wife of a year, Jolie Minh Michaels, now nineteen years old and still retaining her fresh-faced teenage youthfulness. The one notable visual difference between Jolie now and the days when she was a mobile suit pilot is the bulge in her belly, in which she is carrying her and Jonah’s first child.

    Jolie, reposing on a reclining chair clad in a long shirt suited for the warm summer days of the Mediterranean, exposing her long, luscious legs, has lost none of her signature impatience for having become a wife and mother-to-be, “I am SO tired of posing! Will you hurry, Jonah?!”

    Jonah says, “Creating beautiful art takes patience, Jolie,” Jonah replies, “You do want to look good, don’t you?”

    “Sure,” Jolie replies, “but wouldn’t it have been easier to just take a photo of me and paint from that?”

    “Photos aren’t alive, Jolie,” Jonah explains, “A painter doesn’t use just his eyes. He needs to feel the life emanating from the subject…and in the current case, it’s two lives. Two subjects.”

    Jolie smiles, her hand going to her belly, “Daddy thinks he’s Superman, sweetie. He’s got X-Ray vision and can see you inside me.”

    Jonah says, “Well, if you think I’m a superman, then…”

    Jolie lets out a little yelp of momentary pain.

    Jonah, alarmed, drops his paintbrush and rushes over to his wife, taking her into his arms as he asks, “Are you all right?”

    “I’m fine, I’m fine…she’s…ow! Kicking me!” Jolie giggles.

    Jolie rises into a cross-legged sitting position, stroking her belly lovingly with both hands. Jonah places his hands over Jolie’s, and they caress their unborn child together.

    “She’s already got your fire,” Jonah remarks, as he feels the baby kicking within her mother’s womb, “she’s going to grow up to be just like you…a bone-breaker, and a heartbreaker.”

    “I know,” Jolie purrs proudly, “I love her so much…”

    “I hope you don’t have any crazy ideas of having her join the military when she grows up,” Jonah says with a mischievous grin.

    “Hell, no!” Jolie says, “But I’m not sure I want her to be a painter either.”

    “What’s wrong with being a painter?” Jonah asks, kissing Jolie on the ear.

    “Too wimpy,” Jolie says, “Get picked on all the time.”

    “Wimpy, eh?” Jonah says, fingers tickling Jolie’s pregnant sides.

    “Hey, stop!” Jolie cries out through giggles, “You’re gonna make me go into labor early!”

    “At six months?” Jonah says dubiously.

    “Probably not,” Jolie admits, “but you might make me wet myself, and if I do, YOU’RE gonna do the laundry!”

    “I do the laundry anyway,” Jonah says wryly, “and the cooking, often the cleaning, and…just what do you do in this marriage anyway?”

    “You,” Jolie says with a grin.

    That’s all it takes. That’s all Jonah needs. He kisses Jolie tenderly.

    Time flows forward again, as if the “Skip” control were pressed on a cosmic video player.

    Jonah holds Jolie in his arms as his wife breathes deeply and rapidly. Today, it’s her turn to work…working at the most strenuous task her young body has ever undertaken, as she struggles to give birth to her child.

    Jolie squats on her and Jonah’s bed inside their rural French cottage. Early in her pregnancy, Jolie had elected to have her baby at home because she wanted the birth to be a private family affair, the nearest hospital with maternity facilities is two-hundred kilometers away, and, frankly, she simply hates hospitals. Besides, if she is going to grunt and strain and pass just about everything she could pass out of her body (including the baby), Jolie doesn’t want any strange doctors and unfamiliar nurses there to bear witness!

    Jolie is determined to deliver her baby on her own strength; Jonah knows better than to question his wife, but kneeling behind her, supporting her tiny, perspiration-drenched figure with his own body, arms gently around her, he cannot help but harbor doubts. Jolie has always been healthy, athletic, and energetic, and possesses greater strength than her sprite-like, willowy form suggests, but she is undeniably tiny…too tiny, Jonah worries, to deliver the baby.

    Jolie begins to pant rapidly, her body seized by a need to strain and push.

    Jonah, knowing what’s coming, holds Jolie tightly as her tiny body tenses for the effort to follow.

    Jolie catches her breath and pushes with a grunt, “Hnngggh!”

    Jolie clenches her teeth tightly as she strains with all the strength she can muster. Her hands dig into the flesh of her upper thighs as a sensation of intense pressure fills her bottom.

    “Unnnnnghh! Unnnnnggh!” Jolie bears down.

    Jonah slides his hands to the sides of Jolie’s hips, and peers down.

    “It’s coming, Jolie…don’t let up,” Jonah says encouragingly.

    “Mmmmmghh!” is all Jolie can manage in reply as she continues to strain.

    Exhausted, Jolie exhales and pants rapidly again, gasping and gulping oxygen into her body.

    Jonah looks down and smiles. He whispers into Jolie’s ear, “The head is out, Jolie. You can do it with the next push.”

    Jolie nods, gasping, “I’ve…got…one…more…in…me. I think!”

    So saying, Jolie catches her breath, and grimaces with the effort of another push, “Hnn…unnnghh!”

    Jolie feels a massive increase of pressure in her bottom. She continues to strain. Strength drains out of her legs, and she would collapse if not for Jonah supporting her from behind.



    Jolie's dream...

    Then…suddenly, all the pressure, all the pain…dissipates. Jolie drifts into a state of blissful tranquility.

    She hears the sound of a baby’s cry.

    Jolie opens her eyes. Jonah, smiling, hands her their newborn child.

    “Say hello to Mommy, little Joanie,” Jonah says.

    Jolie, thoroughly spent, nevertheless retains enough strength to reach out take her child into her arms, “Joanie…”

    The name she had chosen for her daughter…a combination of her and Jonah’s names, as this child is a product of their union.

    Tears flow from Jolie’s wide eyes as she smiles brilliantly, her heart overflowing with happiness and love.

    Jonah takes his wife and newborn child into his arms, savoring the greatest moment of his life…
    …and the dream fades in to reality.

    Jonah awakes, and Jolie also stirs. They have been sleeping on the hill at Woodhaven Colony for…Jonah checks his watch…more than an hour. The artificial solar lighting within the colony is drifting from late afternoon towards early evening levels.

    Jolie smiles quietly at Jonah, and snuggles closer into his arms. Jonah kisses her between her eyes.

    They need not say anything. They already know.

    They have just shared the same dream.

    A beautiful dream, which they both pray is premonitory.

    Episode 15 to be continued...

  9. #209
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    Episode 15 continued...

    Elsewhere, another dream…not a sweet and warm vision of the future, but a violent and horrible nightmare of encroaching darkness.

    Space colonies burn, falling out of their orbits to crash upon the Earth by the dozens. Hundreds of millions are already dead…burned by the fire of beam cannon or explosives, asphyxiated by poison gas, or left to die of exposure to the vacuum of space. Billions more will die in the days and weeks to follow, as the crash of several dozen space colonies upon the surface of the Earth cause an ecological catastrophe that will prove far, far more than sufficient to ensure the extinction of humanity.

    Somewhere, a grieving mother cries out in agony for her lost children.

    Elsewhere, a newborn child cries out, her parents already dead, her own life to end before it has even begun.

    And one who might have been able to prevent it watches helplessly, unable to do anything to avert the disaster…


    Major Athena Ibaz bolts upright in the seat of her office aboard the Amuro Ray, letting out a slight scream.

    Athena takes a moment to gather herself.

    The same nightmare as always, she muses.

    Athena reaches back to rub her neck, which has developed a painful crick after Athena has spent the past, she checks her gold pocketwatch (which Jolie had given her the previous Christmas), thirty minutes.

    Busy since the day that she joined the Earth Federation Forces, and especially since the beginning of the current mission, Athena cannot remember the last time she had a good, full night’s sleep. She remembers that she has not slept in the past forty-eight hours, busy as she is in coordinating the various details of arming and training the civilian militia of Jupitorius Colony. She had drifted off while planning out a training program that would get the recruits up to speed within a month.

    Her nerves shot, Athena heads to her office’s small bar and pours herself a shot of whiskey. She also lights up a cigarette, her twelfth of the day.

    I wonder which will kill me first, Athena considers wryly, the cigarettes, the alcohol, or the combat. Athena personally hopes it will be the combat: at least that would be resolved quickly.

    A buzz comes at Athena’s office door.

    “Come in,” Athena says, taking a sip from the whisky glass.

    Jolie enters the office, “Hey, ‘Thena. Hope I’m not bothering ya…”

    “No, Jolie,” Athena replies, glad for the company, “Have a seat.”

    Jolie pulls herself into visitor’s chair and seats herself crosslegged.

    “What’s on your mind, Jo?” Athena says.

    Jolie says, “Jonah and I just got back from house-hunting in Woodhaven.”

    Athena, smiling as she takes another sip of whisky, asks, “Did you two find a place you liked?”

    “We found several,” Jolie replies, “but, um…”

    “You guys can’t afford the asking price?” Athena finishes.

    “Hell, no!” Jolie says, throwing up both hands, “The down payment alone is twice what Jonah and I make in a year combined!”

    Athena pats Jolie fondly on the shoulder, “When you’ve found a place you guys both like, let me know. I’ll spot you.”

    Jolie blinks at Athena in disbelief, “You’re kidding, aren’t you?”

    Athena grins affectionately at her “little sister,” “You don’t think I took this job on for the paycheck, do you? Before Colonel Char liberated me from Side 3, he made sure he seized a sizable portion of the Zabi Family fortune first. It’s been diversified into various assets both on Earth and in various assets across the Solar System, including stocks in Anaheim, Luo, and Kuromizu, as well as a dozen Swiss bank accounts. I haven’t had much personal use for it, but it’s there…and it’ll easy buy you and Jonah your dream house hear at Woodhaven…or anywhere you guys decide to resettle…even on Earth.”

    Jolie doesn’t know what to say. She throws her arms around Athena, embracing the other young woman tightly.

    Jolie finally manages, “’Thena…you…that’s so sweet of you! But you don’t have to…”

    “No, I don’t,” Athena says, “but I’ve told you before that I want you and Jonah to be happy. I can help make that happen, so why shouldn’t I?”

    Jolie grins mischievously, “I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a different kind of price for all this. One that isn’t money.”

    Athena returns the grin, “No strings attached, although I do, as always, expect you to conduct yourself as a model officer.”

    Jolie lets out a mock sigh, “I’m not getting the money, am I?”

    The two young women exchange knowing looks and laugh.

    Jolie looks at the complex strategic charts on Athena’s office wall and across her desk. Jolie is familiar with such charts from her year-plus of fighting alongside Athena and the other Centurions, but never so many…or so complex.

    “What have you been doing?” Jolie asks, “Planning the end of the world?”

    “In a manner of speaking,” Athena replies, lighting a fresh cigarette.

    “You seem kind of tense,” Jolie observes, “Even more than usual, I mean…”

    Athena, deciding it’s pointless to hide anything from Jolie, says, “I’m afraid.”

    “Of what?” Jolie asks, more than just slightly surprised to hear such an admission from Athena.

    Athena inhales from her cigarette, blowing out a cloud of smoke before replying, “That we might have overreached. That we might have tipped the balance of power out here with consequences we didn’t consider. The entire area between Martian and Jovian orbits was already volatile before we began our operations out here; our actions might lead it to explode completely.”

    “It’s too late to worry about that, isn’t it?” Jolie asks, “Don’t get me wrong, but you were one of the ones pushing for the Federation to get involved in this whole Neo Zeon civil war thingy.”

    “Exactly,” Athena says, “I was working under the assumption that the Federation would put its full weight behind the effort…that we’d be able to move in quickly with overwhelming force and decimate the Zeon’s ability to make war by taking out their infrastructure. It started well, with the destruction of the mining complexes on Mars, but since then, we’ve basically been colony-hopping: putting out fires, saving lives, but not addressing the core problems.”

    “Are you saying we might have made a mistake by coming out here?” Jolie asks, feeling some of the weight on Athena upon herself as well.

    I might have made a mistake,” Athena says grimly, “and I’m afraid that many innocent people might pay the price for it.”

    “What can we do, ‘Thena?” Jolie says, determined to be helpful.

    Athena says, “We need to accelerate the training of the Jupitorius Civilian Militia. They must be combat ready in a month.”

    “A month?!” Jolie gasps, wide-eyed, “Are you out of your mind?! They’re civilians! You can’t expect…!”

    “You were ready on the first day I met you,” Athena points out, the hint of a smile returning to her face.

    “Well, that’s different,” Jolie says, perhaps with greater pride than she intended, “I’m a Newtype.”

    Athena responds, cigarette between her teeth, “So are many of the young men and women who’ve joined the JCM. Being this far from Earth’s gravity well has facilitated the development of their Newtype abilities. So far, there’s nobody among the inductees like you and Jonah, but they’ll be formidable after they’ve been trained.”

    “You know,” Jolie adds thoughtfully, “I’m still really unsure about this idea of training the Jupitorius civilians as soldiers. We all know that they’re ISRLA supporters.”

    “I don’t give a damn about that…” Athena begins.

    The hell you don’t, Jolie thinks to herself, but doesn’t verbalize, remembering a young man named Hathaway Noah.

    “…all that concerns me is that these people can defend themselves…if we can’t,” Athena finishes.

    Jolie begins to say something, but stops…not quite knowing what to say. She reaches out and takes a cigarette from the opened pack on Athena’s desk, inserting a cigarette into her mouth.

    Athena lights Jolie’s cigarette with a match from a matchbook she took from a certain restaurant in Shanghai on Earth, saying with a wry grin, “Didn’t you quit smoking?”

    “I did,” Jolie said, “but all your doom and gloom talk is making me want to start again.”

    So saying, Jolie hands Athena an empty whisky glass from the office’s small bar. Athena fills Jolie’s glass, and refills her own.

    “To doomsday scenarios,” Athena says, raising her glass.

    Jolie toasts Athena and drinks the whisky, wondering if dreaming about settling down and having children with Jonah might never be more than that…a dream.

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

    Days pass into weeks…

    At the Earth Federation Government’s capital in Shanghai on Earth, the political and military leaders of the Earth Federation are in session, discussing the ongoing issue of events of the Zeon Civil War in the Mars-Jupiter frontier.

    “…the public is still blissfully unaware of what’s going on out in the Outer System,” General Manron Blackhead tells the governing council, “but that’s going to change and soon if we continue stirring that poisonous Zeon brew out there…”

    President Brenner, having heard General Blackhead out, turns to General Bright Noah for a second opinion, “General Noah, do you concur with General Blackhead’s assessment of the situation?”

    General Noah says plainly, “I fear that we might have squandered the opportunity we had when we began this operation a few months ago. At the time, Madame President, and esteemed members of the Council, I had urged that the Council marshal the bulk of the Federation’s resources towards one quick, decisive strike against the remaining Zeon elements in the Asteroid Belt. The Council rejected that proposition, and chose instead to send Major Ibaz and the Special Forces on a probing mission understaffed and undersupplied. In effect, we’ve given our forces an empty gun with which to face down a lion in the jungle. We’ve succeeded in enraging this lion, but we did not enter the jungle with the means to kill it.”

    “General Noah,” General Blackhead retorts angrily, “your attitude is contemptuous and completely uncalled for! You should remember that the Council had been against intervening in the Zeon civil war from the start! The better counsel at the time had been to strengthen our Earthside defenses and concentrate on eliminating the ISRLA at Side 3. Instead, you and Major Ibaz insisted on this reckless adventure that…!”

    Bright rises from his seat, pointing an accusatory finger at Blackhead, “YOU are misrepresenting the facts, General Blackhead! You…!”

    President Brennan, sensing that the discussion is rapidly deteriorating, strikes her gavel, “Gentlemen, please. This is very counterproductive.”

    The two generals fall silent and take their seats, but continue to glare at each other angrily.

    “General Noah,” President Brenner says, “General Blackhead’s points, while perhaps somewhat overzealously stated, are not without merit. When this Council approved your and Major Ibaz’s proposal to probe and contain the Zeon threat in the Outer System, it was with the expectation that the situation would be resolved quickly.”

    That would have been much easier to accomplish if the Council had provided the Special Forces with its full backing at the beginning, Madame President, Bright thinks to himself, but decides against uttering. Instead, the Chief of Staff of the Earth Federation Forces says, diplomatically, “Madame President and esteemed members of the Council, I ask only this: we sent those young men and women into harm’s way on behalf of this Federation and its citizens. Ethically, we are committed to bringing them home safely.”

    There is some mumbling among the Federation High Council. Finally, after a time that is just minutes, but feels like days, President Brenner says, “The High Council will recess to take your input into consideration, gentlemen. We will reconvene here at 16:30.”

    With that, the Federation High Council disperses to its various individual private chambers. Generals Noah and Blackhead continue to glare each other in furious silence for a moment before both men also withdraw from the chamber without speaking further.

    Episode 15 to be continued...

  10. #210
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 15 continued...

    The 1,400 recruits of the newly established Jupitorius Defense Militia (“civilian” now dropped from the title) are lined up at their new base of operations at the Jupitorius colony “Xiangyang,” where they are inspected by their provisional commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Forces.
    The Jupitorius Defense Militia is supported by, but autonomous from the Earth Federation Forces. Thus, the cut of their uniforms, while notably Federation-inspired and derived, are distinct from those of the regular Federal Forces (or even the Special Forces). They bear some resemblance to the uniforms (as such) adopted by the AEUG during the Gryps Conflict of U.C. 0087, although a bit more buttoned down than those occasionally motley costumes once favored by such heroes as Camille Vidan, Quattro Bagina, and Emma Sheen.

    Athena regards the recruits grimly. They are all so young. Most of them are Jolie and Jonah’s age, two to four years younger than Athena herself.

    They are, however, without exception, among the most talented group of young people the Outer System can offer.

    And now, Athena hopes, among the most well trained soldiers in the world as well.

    Athena addresses the Jupitorius Defense Militia’s troops, “My friends, I would like to congratulate you on the successful completion of the first phase of your training. Among your number, four-hundred have been selected for further training in the Jupitorius Mobile Suit Militia, which have been assigned the new Nemo-7 class advanced tactical mobile suits.”

    The Nemo-7, the newest incarnation of the Nemo series favored by the AEUG in the Gryps Conflict, is Anaheim Enterprises’ latest offering to the Earth Federation Forces. The Nemo-7 represents an overall upgrade in speed, power, maneuverability, and versatility to the Jegan-II and GM-IV mobile suits that currently comprise the bulk of the Earth Federation Forces’ mobile suit forces, and if successful, will eventually be incorporated as a mainstay of the Federal Forces. The first rollouts, however, will be tested by Jupitorius Defense Militia.

    Athena informs the recruits, “You have already completed simulator training for mobile suit combat, and beginning today, your training will be conducted in actual mobile suits in simulated combat situations. Your instructors will be members of the Federation Special Forces, including myself, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels.”

    Among the recruits, there is a palpable awe. The legend of the White Phoenix has reached even into the Outer System.

    Athena has been appointed as provisional commander of the Jupitorius Defense Militia, under the joint auspices of the Jupitorius Civilian Authority (headed by newly elected Governor Olivia King) and the Earth Federation Governing Council back on Earth. This provisional command structure will be in place until the end of the training period, at which point it has been agreed by the Jupitorius and Federation authorities that the Jupitorius Defense Militia would become fully autonomous of the Federal Forces, to be commanded by officers within the militia itself. There has been some discussion that Governor King is strongly considering AEUG veterans (and current ISRLA activists) Judau Ashta and his wife, Lu Luka Ashta, for the job.

    “You will be deploying for your first training exercise from Ports 85, 86, and 87 at promptly 07:15,” Athena finishes telling the recruits, “The engineering crew will see you through pre-sortie checklists. Be attentive during the training. Learn as much as you can. The Zeon will attack this colony again, and you know from your own recent experiences and from history the brutality they are capable of. Dismissed.”

    As the Jupitorius recruits salute and file away to duty stations, Jolie and Jonah approach Athena.

    “Hey, ‘Thena,” Jolie says, “You really think these guys are ready for combat?”

    “No,” Athena replies plainly, “They aren’t ready. We’ll have to make them ready.”

    “Ma’am,” Jonah says, remembering the difficulty of his own training to be a soldier…a role in which to this day, he feels uncomfortable and uncertain in, “They’re only human. Can we…?”

    Athena responds, “We didn’t recruit them to watch them die, Jonah. The responsibility is ours to make sure they don’t.”

    Jolie and Jonah take that as a directive rather than a commentary. They understand Athena all too well: her expectations are high…as befits a former duchess.

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

    Hours later, the Special Forces conduct the recruits through a practice drill in the Zero-G environment outside the Xiangyang colony.

    Twenty years of war waged with mobile suit technology has provided a wealth of test drones from salvaged wrecks, particularly the nearly ubiquitous Zeon Zaku and Rick Dom, and Federation GM series of the One Year War. While much of the refuse has been cannibalized and recycled into newer war machines, both the Federation and Zeon forces also value the wrecks for use in training exercises.

    Six Zakus, four Rick Doms, eight GMs, and two Hizacks, refurbished to operational condition and now guided by A.I. response systems rather than living pilots, are deployed for the training exercise. Athena, Jolie, and Jonah, in their usual mecha, prepare the squad of ten newly recruited Jupitorius Defense Militia mobile suit pilots for their first practice run against real mobile suits.

    “Mobile suit combat piloting engages your senses,” Athena explains, “Certainly, the attunement of your eyes and ears will be important. Perhaps more importantly, however, is your ability to sense beyond the limitations of your bodies. Each and every one of you was born in the low-gravity of space. You have abilities to perceive far greater than those of your ancestors. So do your enemies.”

    Having impressed the importance of that upon the pilot trainees, Athena moves on, “Lieutenant Minh will now present to you a demonstration of how to break a Zeon battle formation typically used by the Callisto and Jupitorius Zeon Forces. Lieutenant Minh, the stage is yours.”

    “Right,” Jolie says, advancing the Centurion Gundam Unit-1 forward, “Like Major Ibaz said, it’s a matter of perception. You kind of have to let your intuition take over. Not that you shouldn’t think before you move in…the Major would kill me if I told you that…but sometimes you kind of have to let the battle come to you. Watch this, you guys…”

    Responding to a transmission from a control device aboard Athena’s Cour de Leon, the A.I. operated mobile suits come to life, and quickly maneuver into a Zeon attack formation that has been reconstructed from the Centurion Team’s previous engagements against the Zeon Forces.

    The Centurion Gundam Unit-1 drifts almost casually into the middle of the formation, like a partygoer entering a roomful of familiar old friends.

    The Zakus, Rick Doms, GMs, and Hizacks level their weapons at the unmoving Centurion Gundam, subjecting Jolie’s mobile suit to lethal strikes from multiple directions.

    A spark erupts from Jolie’s helmeted head.

    The Hizack positioned behind Jolie’s Centurion Gundam fires its beam rifle towards the backpack/thruster of the Centurion Gundam, but by the time that the concentrated Minovsky particle stream lances forth from the barrel of the Hizack’s weapon, Jolie’s mobile suit is gone. The Hizack’s beam, however, does finally pierce through the center of the Zaku that had been situated in front of where the Centurion Gundam had floated so apparently vulnerably an instant earlier, even as the A.I. of the old Zeon mobile suit unsuccessfully attempts to calculate a course of evasion before the beam strikes home.

    The Centurion Gundam arcs back onto the scene at a speed too great for the now-defending Hizack’s A.I. to track. Jolie quickly eliminates the Hizack with a precise shot from the Centurion Gundam’s beam rifle.

    Jolie presses the attack, drawing out the Centurion Gundam’s beam saber to cleave into symmetrical halves a Rick Dom that had only started to draw its heat rod out of its back-mounted storage/charging unit.

    Jolie quickly hits reverse thrust to narrowly avoid being lanced by multiple beam rifle strikes by a phalanx of four GMs.

    Even as the Centurion Gundam vectors away, the missile launching tubes mounted on its backpack and hips open. A dozen missiles corkscrew forth at speeds that would surpass the sound barrier in Earth’s atmosphere, and streak forward silently through airless space.

    The GMs juke and dodge, while throwing forth a heavy volume of defensive beam fire from their head-mounted vulcan cannon and beam rifles.

    The beams intercept the bulk of Jolie’s missiles, but nevertheless, four GMs are reduced to the scrap from which they were reconstructed.

    A Rick Dom bears down on the Centurion Gundam with its heat rod extended, attempting to impale the Earth Federation Forces mobile suit.

    Jolie waits until the last possible moment, then maneuvers the Centurion Gundam aside ever so slightly, enough that the Rick Dom’s heat rod passes harmlessly through a space that the Centurion Gundam occupied a half second earlier, but not so much that the Rick Dom is out of the range of the CG’s armored knee, which Jolie rams into the monoeye/head unit of the Rick Dom, blinding it.

    Jolie, who had been Industria Colony’s greatest pickpocket before she became the Earth Federation Forces’ greatest mobile suit pilot, deftly relieves the blinded Rick Dom of its heat rod, twirling it forward just in time to impale a Hizack approaching with its beam saber drawn.

    The Centurion Gundam kicks away the Hizack, sending the drone MS a good hundred meters away before it explodes. At the same time, Jolie has plunged the heat rod into the back of the Rick Dom, jetting away before the Zeon MS self-destructs.

    The remaining drone mobile suits attempt to reestablish some measure of a formation.

    Jolie does not allow them.

    Three quick shots from the Centurion Gundam’s beam rifle down two Zakus and a GM.

    Jolie then unleashes a torrent of missiles that finish off the two remaining Rick Doms, which fire their bazooka cannon vainly at the streaking Centurion Gundam.

    Three Zakus and three GMs remain.

    In the cockpit of the Centurion Gundam, Jolie stretches tiredly. She feels a crink in her back. She’ll as Jonah to massage it later. He’s a great massager, very gentle…very precise…

    I hope those trainees can’t read thoughts, Jolie acknowledges, as she slices another Zaku in half with the Centurion Gundam’s beam saber, because if they can, then I’m setting a really bad example here.B

    ut Jolie can’t help thinking back with a smile to the dream she shared with Jonah during their R and R time, even as she trap shoots a GM approaching from behind.

    Screw this, Jolie thinks to herself, her youthful, pretty face the portrait of weariness, bored now.

    The Centurion Gundam swings its extended beam rifle in a wide arc as it lances forward, beheading two Zakus and a GM.

    One last mobile suit remains…a GM.

    Jolie drops her guard, bringing the Centurion Gundam to a halt and facing the GM with her mobile suit’s arms thrown wide open in a “Come and get me” gesture.

    The GM, operated by AI and thus, incapable of being goaded or taunted, merely targets the unmoving mobile suit and unleashes a blast from its beam rifle.

    The ray disappears into the endless darkness of the cosmos.

    The GM explodes, stricken by a beam from behind.

    “That’s how you break a Zeon mobile suit combat formation,” Jolie announces, settling the Centurion Gundam’s beam rifle back on the mobile suit’s backpack mount.

    The Nemo-7s float in position, their head/camera units focused on the Centurion Gundam as if in awe. Inside the Nemo-7s’ cockpits, the pilot trainees’ jaws hang silently open.

    Within the cockpit of the Cour de Leon, Athena has opened the visor of her helmet, her gloved hand covering her face, shaking her head.

    Athena rubs her eyes for several seconds before she begins shaking with laughter.

    Hearing Athena’s laugh on the tactical net, Jonah cannot help laughing as well.

    Nervously, the recruits join in.

    Jolie grins at the mirth she has created, “What? You thought that was funny? You guys in those Nemos are gonna have to do that yourselves after a few weeks!”

    The recruits swallow their laughter nervously.

    Athena, getting her laughter under control, remarks, “Stop hazing the rookies, Lieutenant Minh.”

    Jolie replies saucily, “These boys need to know what they’re in for.”

    Athena knows all too well, however, that the training is not a matter of levity and amusement. The survival of countless space colonists depends on how effectively the Special Forces can train these militia recruits.

    Episode 15 to be continued...

  11. #211
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    Episode 15 Conclusion

    Ceres Base, the central hub of the Earth Federation Forces’ military strength outside of the Cislunar Space. From here, the Federal Forces maintain a presence in the Outer System.

    Although well fortified by 20,000 troops, 2,500 space fighter craft, 1,200 mobile suits, and 200 combat ready ships, Ceres Base is the lynchpin of the Federation’s power from Mars to Jupiter.

    Unfortunately, across such great distances, even this fortification is hopelessly inadequate.

    The presence of Ceres’ fortifications has, since the early U.C. 0090s, prevented the fragmented Zeon factions from attempting any serious assaults on Federation interests in the Outer System. The best the Federation can do from Ceres, however, is pose enough of a threat to maintain the status quo. Provoking an assault upon the Zeon forces, however fragmented they might be, is out of the question.

    The commanding officers at Ceres Base, as well as their superiors back on Earth, are thankful that the Zeon forces have been splintered and fratricidal since Colonel Char’s attempt to drop Axis Fortress onto the Earth in U.C. 0093 failed. As long as the Zeon remain in a state of perpetual disunity, they pose no serious threat to the Federation.

    Such are the comforting thoughts that the leaders of the Earth Federation reassure themselves with.


    At a remote monitoring station situated 100 kilometers from Ceres Base, 2Lt. Ernie Rondo and 1Sgt. Marty Epstein share prosaic cups of coffee from a prosaic thermos bottle on another prosaic day at their duty posts.

    “…this hot babe I met at Side 5 once,” Rondo finishes telling Epstein, “We coulda been an item, but then I got transferred out to Ceres! What a waste!”

    Epstein laughs, “That’s life in the military for you, Lieutenant! No hours, no showers, and post-discharge life in bachelors’ apartment towers!”

    “If we ever get out of this place…,” sings Rondo the famous refrain from an ancient Paul McCartney song.

    Epstein chuckles, and buries his face in a men’s magazine. This month’s centerfold is particularly delectable…very hot.

    Like the paper that suddenly burns in his hands.

    Like his flesh, and that of Rondo’s, suddenly disintegrating in the heat of beam fire.

    Remote Patrol Station S-73X is no more.


    At multiple points on the outer perimeter of the Ceres Defense Zone, RPS S-73X’s demise is repeated.

    A patrol squadron of GM-IIIs, alerted to the disturbance, rush to the perimeter, but are promptly cut down by heavy beam and missile fire.


    At Ceres Command, Admiral David Szeto of the Federation Space Fleet, and ranking officer at Ceres Base, receives the information from dozens of fronts at once. The command center is overwhelmed with distress calls from its many patrol stations, mobile suit and space fighter patrol squads, and deployed vessels.

    “Admiral Szeto,” a tech reports, “we’ve lost contact with another patrol station: T-81R! The 31st Mobile Suit Squadron is reporting hostile forces in its patrol path, sir!”

    “Do we have any more data on the enemy?!” Szeto demands, “Numbers? Types? Where they’re coming from?!”

    “Negative, sir,” another tech reports, “I’m sorry! Our units are being ambushed on multiple fronts!”

    “How could we be caught so off-guard?!” Szeto demands.

    Admiral Szeto, one of the Federal Forces’ better strategic and tactical minds, mulls through the possibilities. Ceres position places it a fair distance from both the Martian zones controlled by the Phobos Zeon and the Deimos Zeon and the Jupiter zones controlled by Callisto Zeon and Jupitorius Zeon. Titan Zeon, located out near Saturn’s orbit, is even more distant. None of them would cross the treacherous space that separates their bases of operation from Ceres to launch an attack on the Federal Forces. Not one of them.

    Not one of them.

    The skin on the back of Admiral Szeto’s neck goes cold as he comes to a horrified realization.

    The Earth Federation’s most terrible nightmare is realized.

    “Send out a distress signal!” Admiral Szeto orders, “To the High Command on Earth, to Side 7, and to the Special Forces deployed out near Jupitorius! Tell them we’re und…!”

    Admiral Szeto does not finish his sentence before a large barrage of incoming missiles strikes Ceres Base, knocking the admiral off his feet.

    The admiral rises, greeted by an ominous sight on the remote monitoring screens.

    A Zeon armada, several hundred warships, thousands of mobile suits, bearing the distinctive markings of the Deimos, Callisto, Jupitorius, and Titan Zeon factions.

    United, at last, against the Earth Federation.


    Aboard the long-docked Amuro Ray in the Jupitorius Zone, Major Athena Ibaz leans against a rail on the mobile suit deck, watching as 1Lt Molly Duran and her team of engineers perform routine maintenance on the Centurion Team’s mobile suits.

    It is 0:12, but Athena finds herself, as is often the case these days, unable to sleep. She has therefore sojourned over to the mobile suit deck, not certain what to do with herself in the hours that remain until reveille.

    Despite the late hour, and the fact that the rest of her squad has been in bed for over two hours, Athena is clad in her normalsuit, helmet close at hand. Athena is uncertain exactly why she felt compelled to don her normalsuit – only an unidentifiable sense that she would need it…soon.

    Athena inserts a cigarette between her teeth and lights up.

    Athena inhales deeply from the cigarette, then slowly exhales a cloud of tobacco smoke.

    Soon, Athena knows, Very soon.

    A liaison officer rushes to the launch gantry. Breathlessly, he salutes Athena.

    “Major Ibaz, ma’am! We’ve just received a distress signal from Ceres Base: they’re under attack ma’am!”

    Athena hardly flinches, inhaling from the cigarette again, her eyes cold.

    It’s beginning, Athena realizes.

    What Athena has dreaded is coming to pass.

    The interlude has ended, as has the prelude.

    The war between Earth and Zeon has begun anew.

    Episode 16...SHIFTING ALLEGIANCES... coming soon!

  12. #212
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    2-16: SHIFTING ALLEGIANCES

    “Units 237 and 238, get out of the line of fire now!” Major Athena Ibaz calls out desperately from the cockpit of her mobile suit Cour de Leon.

    Too late. Units 237 and 238, both GM-IV units belonging to the 85th Mobile Suit Corps of the Earth Federation Forces’ Ceres Fleet, are immolated by Zeon beam cannon fire.

    “Damn it!” Athena curses, switching the Leon from mobile suit to Waverider configuration, swooping around for a missile run that downs a Callisto Armada Lord Jinba Ral-class command ship.

    1Lt. Jolie Minh and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ twin Centurion Gundams soar onto the scene, unleashing lethal torrents of missile and beam fire towards an advancing wall of assorted Zeon mobile suits. Nearly every make of Zeon combat mecha deployed during the past twenty years is present, with the older models having been upgraded so that they can hold their own against modern mobile suits.

    “No matter how many we destroy, they keep coming!” Jonah grates, the energy in his beam rifle quickly depleting.

    Jolie’s Centurion Gundam hands its counterpart a fresh e-clip, “Don’t quit on me now, Joboy! If you get yourself killed out here…”

    “…you’ll never forgive me, I know,” Jonah finishes, loading the fully-charged e-clip into his mobile suit’s weapon’s magazine.

    Nearby, MSgt. Karim Abdul-Al Said and 1Sgt. Tomo Higashi fill local space with silent thunder from the shoulder-mounted cannon of their Guncannon-100 artillery mobile suits, joined in their efforts by assorted other Guncannon, GM Cannon, and Guntank-class mobile suits. The power that the collected Federation mobile suits hurl into the skies would cow even the gods of old, but amount to attempting to burn Gibraltar with a matchstick against the sheer multitudes of the Neo Zeon Confederation Armada.

    Joining the mobile suits in the fray are twelve warships, La Kailum, Salamis-III, and Magellan-III class, led by the flagship Amuro Ray commanded by Captain Beecher Olech.

    The Federation fleet pours forth an even more devastating volume of firepower than its attendant mobile suits, enough to pulverize a space colony easily, or a corresponding city on the surface of the Earth, the Moon, or Mars.

    But against the collected might of Zeon swarm, all that thunder and lightning are of little avail. The tide of Zeon forces continue to advance, having aggregated and built over nearly a decade’s time to a war-making potential unrealized when the Zeon warlords struggled against one another, but now horrifically manifest that those warlords have combined their resources.

    The Zeon annexation of the Federation’s Ceres Base was swift, shocking, and devastating. The Federation’s vaunted fortifications were thoroughly blitzkrieged before the Federation’s defenses could react. The Zeon Confederation Forces (as the united Zeon warlords have now christened their united front) targeted Ceres’ hardest points and abruptly, brutally, and thoroughly annihilated them. Before the Federal Forces could launch a single mobile suit or space fighter or warship to counter the Zeon attack, Ceres had lost over sixty percent of its strength. Hundreds of mobile suits and dozens of space warships were rendered into scrap metal by an awesome display of Zeon firepower.

    Admiral David Szeto succeeded in evacuating approximately fifty warships, four-hundred mobile suits, eight-hundred space fighter craft, and seven-thousand Federal Forces personnel from Ceres Base as the Zeon took control.

    Information from Ceres has been extremely limited and of dubious accuracy since Szeto’s exodus, but the information the Federation has gathered indicates that the Zeon Confederation Forces commenced a slaughter within the fortress, killing off the bulk of the remaining personnel. The Zeon themselves confirmed as much, transmitting a threatening message to Szeto and the Federation High Command (and, for full effect, the general public) that it now held approximately three-thousand surviving Federal Forces personnel prisoner at Ceres, and that these personnel would be repatriated to the Federation only if it agreed to terms that the Zeon Forces would lay forth at their discretion.

    Almost immediately after the takeover was complete, the Zeon Forces began reconfiguring and reconstructing Ceres Base (and what supplies the Federation left behind there) for their own uses, converting Ceres Base into a construction, servicing, and supply center for Zeon war machines. Most importantly, the ore reserves stored at Ceres Base helps, at least temporarily, to offset the loss of the ore mines on Mars. Zeon logistics experts have concluded that by seizing control of Ceres Base, the Zeon war machine can maintain full production capacity of mecha and armaments for up to thirty-six months…and could hold out for possibly up to six years if the Zeon were to carefully manage production schedules.

    The Zeon are prepared for a long war against the Federation, if matters come to that. The Zeon Warlords, however, are aiming for a lightning campaign that will destroy the Earth Federation’s base of power. An invasion of Cislunar Space and Earth is already in the planning stages, pending the destruction of the last of the Federation’s resistance in the Outer System.

    The latest blow stricken to that cause is a heavy particle beam blast to the upper hull of the Shining Victory, a Salamis-III class battleship that is the flagship of the Federation Space Armada’s Ceres 11th Fleet, under the personal command of Admiral David Szeto.

    “Admiral,” a tech reports, “we’ve sustained heavy damage to the number one and number two gun batteries. We’ve also lost secondary threat sensors and some astronavigation units.”

    As if to punctuate the tech’s assessment, another strike…a missile hit, broadsides the Shining Victory.

    Before Admiral Szeto can even receive reports on the further damage to his flagship, another bridge tech reports, “Sir, we’ve received word from Captain Briggs of the 18th Archangel’s Sword mobile suit squadron: they’ve sustained heavy losses, admiral. Eighty percent of their mobile suits have been destroyed, and the remaining twenty percent are too severely damaged to continue combat operations.”

    Szeto bares his teeth in helpless rage for a moment before rational thought asserts itself and the admiral says, “We’ll fall back.”

    “Yes, sir,” the primary tech replies, patching the admiral’s command seat telecommunications setup to forces-wide broadcast.

    “Attention all Federation military units: this is Admiral Szeto from the bridge of the Shining Victory. Disengage from combat and withdraw to rendezvous point Charlie Delta-99.”

    Jolie hears the order from the cockpit of the Centurion Gundam Unit-1. She slams a tiny fist angrily on the control console of her mobile suit, “Dammit, no! We coulda penetrated through the enemy’s defensive screen in another hour! Now we’re gonna lo…!”

    “Follow the orders, Lieutenant,” Athena says mildly, but assertively.

    “Athena’s right, Jolie,” Jonah adds, “We’re not helping our allies by getting entrenched in a battle we can’t win.”

    Sulking, but ultimately unable to disagree with the reality that the Federal Forces are overwhelmingly outgunned, Jolie joins her comrades in retreat, but making sure to mark her departure with a spectacular burst of firepower that increases the Zeon casualty toll by an additional six mobile suits.

    Ship by ship, mobile suit by mobile suit, soldier by soldier, the beleaguered Earth Federation Forces fall back, scattering to safety to rendezvous later.

    Colonel Trien Nguyen, commanding officer of the 208th Mechanized Division of the Deimos Zeon Space Legion, orders his troops to pursue the fleeting Federal Forces.

    And the desperate, chaotic scene repeats itself at space colony after space colony, stronghold after stronghold, as the collective might of the Zeon Confederation Forces continue their relentless onslaught upon the Asteroid Belt and Outer Solar System.

    Earth Federation flags fall and burn to cinders at outpost after outpost, as Zeon flags rise in their place.

    Angel Heights, Ceres, Cosmos Columbia, Duquesne, Houston Heights, Macrotown, New Plains, Providence, Queenstar, Rigel Crossing, Xavier…all have fallen. Only Jupitorius remains momentarily free, its newly trained defense militia tense and vigilant.

    Contolism, forever!

    Sieg Zeon!

    Episode 16 to be continued!

  13. #213
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    Episode 16 continued...

    The Earth Federation High Council is meeting in an unannounced, confidential emergency session, as it has numerous times since the attack on Ceres Base weeks earlier. Within an hour of the initial assault, the media had taken notice of the fierce fighting and word of renewed military confrontation between Earth and Zeon forces has saturated public discourse on Earth and Cislunar Space ever since. Although the mother planet and the area defined by its natural satellite remain peaceful thus far, there is mounting tension among the population of fifteen billion that the war, though now distant in the Outer Solar System, could burn its way towards Earth orbit.

    A nightmare scenario that the leaders of the Earth Federation Government seek to head off.

    General Bright Noah rises from his seat, his handsome features pale and aghast, his mouth dry, his palms sweaty. Those palms ball into trembling fists that betray the Federation war hero’s outrage.

    “This is unbelievable!” General Noah seethes, “We CANNOT abandon our people in the Outer System! Not after all they’ve…!”

    “General Noah,” President Brennan says, her dark eyes fixed firmly on the Chief of Staff of the Earth Federation Space Command, “I understand and share your frustration. Every member of this council’s heart aches for our brave young men and women now deployed in combat in the Outer System, but we have decided that for the protection of our citizens in the Earth Sphere, we must concentrate the Federal Forces’ remaining strength closer to home, as General Blackhead initially recommended. Ceres Command and the Special Forces…those courageous troops…they’re buying time for us. We won’t let their sacrifices be in vain.”

    “Madame President,” General Noah says, his eyes creasing in disbelief and disgust, “We owe those soldiers our full support. We must bring them home, alive!”

    General Blackhead rises from his seat, “General Noah, you’ve been in the service long enough to know that duty requires its sacrifices. I’m sure that our young people serving in the Outer System are well aware of and have accepted that reality. Frankly, I’m rather surprised at your attitude, Bright.”

    General Noah takes his seat, fuming quietly, but knowing that any further discussion would be of no help.

    Bright offers a silent prayer for the troops now left to their fate in the Outer System.

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

    The remains of Ceres Command and the Special Forces task force are moored at Devil’s Tail, a chain of asteroids on the fringes of the Asteroid Belt far from any military stations or civilian outposts, both Earth- and Zeon-aligned. Servicing facilities are nonexistent, but the location provides adequate cover as the remains of the Federal Forces in the Outer System do what they can to regroup.

    The Amuro Ray is dark and quiet, party to avoid detection by hostile forces, and partly to conserve energy. The ship shows extensive grind and tear, having not been serviced properly in many weeks, and having endured over a dozen battle engagements during that time. Stores of everything from ammunition rounds to sanitary napkins are running dangerously low.

    As are the morale and energy of the soldiers that serve aboard the ship.

    Late into the night, 1Lt. Molly Duran and her crew of mechanics struggle to repair and rearm the Centurion Team’s mobile suits as best they can. Spare parts are extremely limited in availability, and even fuel to operate welding torches is nearly depleted. What isn’t essential simply must be left for later.

    Assuming “later” is a prospect for the Special Forces crew.

    The probability of being called into combat at an instant’s notice suspended over them like a jagged boulder held on a titanium shoelace, the young mobile suit pilots of the Centurion Team have elected to take whatever sleep they can within or near the cockpits of their mobile suits. The two gunnery sergeants, MSgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said and 1Sgt. Tomo Higashi, nap fitfully at the controls of their respective Guncannon-100s. Sgt. Anna Horowitz, Sgt. Geoff Sutcliffe, Cpl. Nick Van Dyck, and Cpl. Phoebe Mendoza are each sprawled out, in their normalsuits, on the launch gantry walkway or against the foot of his or her mecha.

    1Lt. Jolie Minh and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, inseparable as always, have found a service niche with a cold metallic bench, and occupy it together, holding each other tightly. The two normalsuit-clad teenaged mobile suit ace pilots sleep serenely, as if there were no impending combat hanging ominously over their future.

    Watching almost maternally over them all is the Centurion Team’s commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, once again afflicted with insomnia.

    Leaning against a guard rail on the service gantry walkway, Athena smokes a quickly depleting cigarette as 1Lt. Molly Duran’s crews service the Cour de Leon mobile suit behind her. The Amuro Ray has not been resupplied in weeks; Athena has cut her cigarette intake to a mere six cigarettes per twenty-four hours. The nicotine withdrawal has been hellish, especially in tandem with the stress of constant combat.

    And more stress is definitely on the itinerary.

    A beep comes on Athena’s personal communicator – an incoming message from Admiral David Szeto on his damaged flagship, the Shining Victory.

    “Major Ibaz here, sir,” Athena says into the communicator.

    “Major,” the Admiral says, “I’d like you to come aboard the Shining Victory to discuss our battle plans.”

    “I’ll be there right away, sir,” Athena says, switching off the communicator and floating down towards one of the inter-ship shuttle craft.

    Under normal circumstances, a meeting such as this would likely be handled via teleconference. Wary of the enemy detecting their presence despite the cover of Minovsky particles, or intercepting crucial intelligence, the Federal Forces have opted for old-fashioned face-to-face meetings.

    Athena boards the shuttle and brings its fusion-powered engines to life. Joining Athena is Captain Beecher Olech, commanding officer of the Amuro Ray, whom Admiral Szeto has also summoned to the strategy-devising conference.

    Already, a counterstrike plan has been formulating in her mind for hours.

    All that remains to be seen is if her superiors have the mettle to assume its risks.

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

    At his office suite at Side 7’s Green Noah Base, General Bright Noah drops exhaustedly onto a couch. He buries his face tiredly in his hands, feeling the weight of abject failure that will, in the end, cost the lives of good soldiers.

    It wouldn’t be the first time, Bright reminds himself.

    Those old cowards on the Earth Federation High Council have shown no qualms over sacrificing youths to maintain its hold on power over the Earth. Those short-sighted fools fail to realize that they throw their own future into the fire. It is little wonder that the younger generation has so little faith in the Federation. In this war, parents have betrayed their children.

    Our children, Bright sighs, thinking to the son he lost to the war, though not to death.

    A pair of fine feminine hands reach towards Bright’s shoulders, bringing with them both physical comfort and emotional solace.

    General Noah smiles for what seems to be the first time in months, feeling the weight on his mind lift slightly.

    “Chieming,” Bright says warmly, acknowledging the presence of his daughter.

    An attractive seventeen year old girl replies sweetly, “Daddy.”

    “Sweetie, you don’t know how glad I am you’re here,” the general says, “I wish your mother were here too.”

    “Mom’s busy on Earth,” Chieming says, “she’s looking to get into the political scene…to better help you up here. Grandpa’s influence should be helpful.”

    “God bless your mother,” Bright says.

    The general turns around to see his daughter, beautiful at seventeen, clad in an Earth Federation Forces uniform…the same Special Forces cut worn by the Centurion Team.

    Bright Noah has spent nearly his entire adult life serving in the Earth Federation Forces. He has worn the uniform of the Federal Forces more than he has worn t-shirts and jeans. Even so, Bright still finds it jarring to see his daughter clad in the uniform.

    And the general couldn’t be prouder of her.

    “Tell me,” Bright says with grave concern, “when are they deploying you into a combat zone?”

    Chieming replies, “Col. Cairlay has decided that this would not be a good time to deploy new cadets into combat, with the situation being what it is out in the Outer System. I’m really worried about Jolie and Athena, Daddy.”

    Bright nods regretfully, knowing that his daughter had met the two Centurion Team officers nearly a year ago and had become close friends with both of them, “So I am.”

    “Daddy,” Chieming says as she massages the tight muscles in General Noah’s neck, “Could you promise me something?”

    “What is it, sweetie?” the general asks.

    “If I’m deployed into combat,” Chieming says, “Please don’t use your influence to keep me in a safe administrative position. I’m a soldier. I should stand alongside my comrades in battle.”

    Bright shoots Chieming a pained look. With his son Hathaway gone traitor, Bright values his daughter Chieming more than ever.

    But he also understands where her sense of commitment comes from. He would expect no less of her.

    Bright needs a few moments before he is able to gather an appropriate answer, “When your mother and I fought the Zeon in the One Year War aboard the White Base with Amuro Ray, Sayla Mass, Hayato Kobayashi, and Kai Shiden, we did so without much thought of what our deaths in combat would mean to our parents. We didn’t have such a luxury. The war wouldn’t allow it.”

    Bright rises and places his hands lovingly upon his daughter’s shoulders, “As a parent, the last thing I want to do is send my daughter into the peril of combat. As an officer of the Earth Federation Forces, I will deploy officers as necessary to defend the Federation’s interests. I…pray that you will fight well, and that you will return safe and sound after your mission is complete, Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah.”

    Chieming salutes her father, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

    Bright puts an arm around his daughter’s waist as the two look out the window of the general’s office to see young Federal Forces troops in training or on their way to duty. Both father and daughter wonder if they will ever see Major Athena Ibaz and 1Lt. Jolie Minh among them again.

    Episode 16 to be continued...

  14. #214
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    Episode 16 continued...

    At that moment, Athena hears the reaction of Admiral Szeto to her counterstrike plan.

    “This plan is extremely risky, Major,” the admiral says gravely.

    “I agree, sir,” Athena replies, “but in our current situation, it might be the one plan that has a chance of succeeding.”

    “But Athena,” Captain Beecher Olech of the Amuro Ray, “do you really think that in our present condition, we can actually mount an attack on Deimos Fortress?”

    Deimos Fortress, the smallest and thus, only mobile headquarters facility of the Zeon Confederation Forces (Callisto and Titan both being far too massive and distant to mobilize), now serves as a base of field operations for the entire active Zeon Confederation Armada. From here, Zeon space battleships, fighter craft, and mobile suits can be serviced, and Zeon troops can be housed, fed, given medical care, and trained within proximity to the active battle zone. Combined with the facilities from the captured Federation fortress Ceres, the Zeon forces hold the significant advantage of dual strongholds in the combat zone, while the Federal Forces have been forced to operate on practically nomadic terms.

    Athena addresses the two senior officers’ concerns, “We won’t be dedicating a large portion of remaining available forces towards the Deimos operation. The goal is not to overcome Deimos, which we indeed don’t have the means to accomplish, but to create as irresistible a distraction as possible.”

    Admiral Szeto begins to see the logic of Athena’s plan, “So you’re proposing to use the Special Forces to draw the Zeon’s defenses out of Ceres Base, giving the regular forces a chance to retake the base?”

    “That’s essentially the plan, sir,” Athena confirms.

    “I still have my reservations,” the admiral says after a moment’s thought, “The Special Forces under your command represent our best troops, but they are ludicrously outnumbered. Upon what basis do you have the confidence that you can succeed, Major?”

    Athena replies, “1Lt. Jolie Minh and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, and their Centurion Gundam units.”

    “1Lt. Minh and Chief Michaels are amazing combat MS pilots,” Szeto concedes, “but even they have their limitations. Two aces, no matter how skilled, can’t take on an entire armada, Athena.”

    “Sir,” Athena asserts firmly, “They won’t fail.”

    Admiral Szeto contemplates Athena’s proposal a moment further, then realizing that the Federal Forces have no better option, nods his assent, “All right, Major. We’re going to go ahead with your strategy. Be aware, however, that no margin for error is allowed. If you and your personnel fail, you will be left to your fate…as will all of us.”

    Athena rises and salutes, “Understood, sir. Thank you, sir.”

    Captain Beecher also rises and salutes the admiral, who dismisses the two junior officers back to the Amuro Ray to make preparations to execute their desperate strategy.

    After their inter-ship shuttle has launched from the landing bay of the Shining Victory en rout back to the Amuro Ray, Beecher asks Athena, “Major, are you really that confident that Jolie and Jonah can handle the assignment you’re about to give them?”

    Athena replies, “We’ve seen those kids accomplish feats that are incomprehensible. But I won’t speculate on whether that will be enough to see us through this mission. This is what people call a ‘Hail Mary’ play, Captain Beecher.”

    Beecher exhales tensely.

    Noting this, Athena says with a smile, “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you get back to Elle and little Athena. I don’t want the baby named after me to grow up without a father like I did.”

    Beecher smiles, “Thanks. I wouldn’t expect any less from the Duchess of Zeon…Minerva Zabi.”

    Athena says, “It’s ironic…that I’m here staking my life to help the Federation defeat my own countrymen.”

    Beecher broaches a question he had meant to ask for a long time, “Why…?”

    “Guilt,” Athena says, “Every day of my life, I’ve struggled with it. My family is responsible for the deaths of billions. I’ve dedicated my existence to making amends for it.”

    “Do you feel you’ve been successful?” Beecher asks.

    “Not at all,” Athena says, pulling out her handkerchief from the breast pocket of her uniform jacket and using it to wipe her fingers, “If anything, sometimes I feel that I’m causing even more deaths.”

    This leads Beecher to a final question, “Then why…?”

    Athena says, “That’s one of the absurdities of life, Captain: some things, you can’t avoid seeing through to the end, even when you know it’s a losing game.”

    The two officers continue their flight back to the Amuro Ray in silence.


    Forty minutes later, Athena has returned to the Amuro Ray, and has gathered Jolie and Jonah together to explain to them the importance and difficulty of their newest mission.

    “The outcome of this battle will shift the balance of power between Earth and Zeon,” Athena says to the couple, “If we fail, the future of billions of people will be Zeon’s to control.”

    Jonah nods dutifully, saying, “We understand ma’am. Don’t worry: we won’t fail.”

    Jolie glares at Athena silently, her large black eyes seemingly burning a hole through her friend.

    “Speak your mind, Lieutenant,” Athena says almost wearily.

    Jolie says, straight-faced, “You really don’t want to lay out the money for my dream house, don’t you?”

    Jolie and Athena stare at each other, expressionless for a second. Then, the slightest hint of a smile appears at the corner of Jolie’s mouth.

    Athena cannot hold back her own smile.

    The two very beautiful young women laugh, embracing.

    “You know me too well, don’t you?” Athena says to Jolie.

    Jonah, not privy to the conversation that Athena and Jolie shared that one evening back at Jupitorius’ Woodhaven Colony, is left bewildered by the turn of the conversation.

    Conscious of Jonah’s befuddlement, Jolie explains, “Athena promised to help us out with the money for us to get a place after the war, Jonah.”

    Jonah smiles, “That’s very generous of you, ma’am.”

    Athena says, “Think of it as an incentive for you two to succeed in the mission and come back alive, Jonah.”

    “There’s always a mission-related angle to everything, isn’t there, ‘Thena?” Jolie remarks saucily.

    Athena becomes serious, “We’ll be deploying as soon as we’re in striking range of Deimos Fortress. Captain Beecher tells me that we should catch up to it in about seven hours, so whatever you feel you need to take care of…take care of it now.”

    “That sounds ominous, ma’am,” Jonah remarks.

    Athena does not reply; she merely shoots Jonah a look that says, You don’t know the half of it.

    At the former Federal Forces stronghold of Ceres Base, now under the control of the Zeon Confederation, Federal Forces prisoners of war are forced by their Zeon overlords to perform various sorts of labor. The variety of tasks that the Zeon taskmasters require their Earth Federation prisoners to do ranges from the merely demeaning to the horrifically life-threatening. Still, overall, the Zeon forces have treated their Earth Federation prisoners humanely overall. Most of the brutality inflicted by the Zeon forces came during the initial infiltration phase of the Zeon operation against Ceres, with the Zeon intent on minimizing the Federation’s ability to resist or strike back by killing off as many of its troops as possible. After the fortress was secure in Zeon hands, however, the Warlords of Zeon ordered their troops to spare the remaining Federation troops…as potential hostages should the Federal Forces attempt a counterattack, and as a source of labor as the Zeon convert the fortress for their uses.

    Sgt. Chaga Dembo grew up in the shadow of the Earth Federation Forces’ Deliberative Council tower in Dakar, Senegal. Raised a Federation loyalist, Sgt. Dembo joined the Federal Forces at age sixteen, during the First Neo Zeon War. Now twenty-six and a veteran of numerous campaigns, Sgt. Dembo is defiant as a Zeon trooper brings him a meal ration.

    “This is the third meal you’ve skipped,” says 1Sgt. Saburo Hagesawa of the Callisto Zeon Armada, “if you pass on this one, we’re not bringing you another.”

    Sgt. Dembo slaps away the tiny box of processed food rations contemptuously, glaring defiantly at his captor.

    Enraged, 1Sgt. Hasegawa bares his teeth and raises his rifle, “Damned Federation dog! Eat this, then!”

    2Lt. Frederick Warren, another Federation soldier, rises to intercept Hasegawa’s blow, “Whoa, whoa! Easy, man! Look, my buddy Chaga here just wants to be left alone. Here’s a cigarette to smoke. Could you just move on, sergeant?”

    Taking the cigarette, 1Sgt. Hasegawa says menacingly, “You Feddies better keep yourselves in line. We’ve been patient with you up to now, but our patience is running out fast!”

    With that, Hasegawa leaves.

    2Lt. Warren turns to Sgt. Dembo, “What was up with that, Chaga, my man? You almost got yourself killed.”

    Dembo replies darkly, “I’m not giving those Zeon bastards the satisfaction of treating me like a slave.”

    “Don’t be a fool, Chaga,” Warren says, “Our forces that escaped are going to come back to liberate us. We’ve got to keep ourselves alive until then!”

    “Perhaps,” Dembo says, “but until then, I maintain my dignity as a man…and as a soldier of the Earth Federation Forces.”

    Not a hundred meters away, two young Zeon officers, a teenaged couple, sees to the maintenance of their mobile suits…a red and a blue Gellond unit each.

    “Brandon!” 2Lt. Meghan Walsh, a girl of seventeen, calls out to her fiancé, “Don’t forget to check the thrust ratio distribution unit on your Gellond’s left thrust output nozzle!”

    “Right, don’t worry!” replies eighteen year old 1Lt. Brandon Conrad, as he floats over to his Gellond’s thruster pack to see to that very detail.

    Meghan floats up to greet Brandon, wrapping her arms around him and leaning her head on his back.

    “You already done with your Gelly?” Brandon asks his girlfriend.

    “Hours ago, boy,” Meghan says, “Don’t forget: I’m faster than you are.”

    “Right,” Brandon replies with a grin.

    The couple had met in high school, become sweethearts, then joined the Deimos Zeon Forces together after Field Marshall Von Bach had personally visited their school to recruit youth for the Zeon cause. Brandon is a Zeon patriot to the soles of his boots, the son of a One Year War veteran decorated numerous times for victory. Meghan, though not as fervently patriotic as Brandon, is nonetheless very loyal to him, and thus joined him in the Zeon forces, where their talents as mobile suit pilots were discovered.

    “Brandon,” Meghan says, “promise me that after Zeon has won the war, we’ll leave the armed forces and settle down peacefully.”

    “Of course, sweetie,” Brandon says gently, “That’s always been the plan. We secure the future for our Zeon nation…and then for us.”

    The couple faces each other to kiss, committed to each other…and to Zeon.

    All around them, the Zeon war machine gears up for combat. A counterstrike by the Earth Federation Forces is anticipated, and although the Warlords of Zeon are confident that their collective might will be more than enough to deal with the shreds of the Federation’s strength in the Outer System, nothing is left to chance.

    Col. Rondell Reed, leader of the Callisto Zeon Forces’ 78th Starblazer Division, addresses his troops, which include Brandon, Meghan, and 1Sgt. Hasegawa, among thousands of others.

    “Attention all 78th Division personnel: you will be deploying for combat surely. The prayers of the Zeon nation are with you! You are the finest of our youth, and we know you will make us proud! Crush the Federation, and deliver our brothers throughout the cosmos from the shackles of the Earth! Glory to the Archduchy of Zeon!”

    “Sieg, ZEON!” comes the collective cry.

    Episode 16 to be continued...

  15. #215
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    Episode 16 continued...

    The Warlords of Zeon are in teleconference, each warlord still sufficiently distrustful of the others to warrant not meeting in a single location. Moreover, this arrangement makes it impossible for the Federal Forces to eliminate all of them in a single strike.

    “After we take Jupitorius to protect our rear flank, we’ll be ready to move in against the Cislunar Sphere,” Field Marshal Von Bach says to his colleagues, “We shouldn’t allow haste to guide our judgment.”

    “Agreed,” says Viceroy Ulysses Spector of the Jupitorius Zeon, “the Federation has armed those ISRLA upstarts at Jupitorius…undoubtedly to make it possible to attack us from a second front. We must eliminate that threat before we proceed to invade the Cislunar Sphere.”

    “No,” Governess Lara Constantinas of the Callisto Zeon objects, “We would needlessly expend precious energy and resources transporting our troops and weaponry back to Jupiter orbit, fight those upstarts, and then travel to the Cislunar Sphere to battle the Federation so close to its gravitational core. Jupitorius poses no imminent threat. We can deal with them easily after we have taken back Side 3 and established new supply bases on Earth.”

    “How long do you think that will take, my dear Lara?” Spector asks cuttingly, “Years? The ISRLA might represent no threat now, but give them a few years without my supervision and…”

    “Your supervision?” Constantinas cuts Spector off with a slight laugh of contempt, “You forget, Viceroy, that we are now part of the same Confederation. Jupitorius is no more yours than it is mine…or Von Bach’s…or Reglas’.”

    Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas of Titan Zeon, silent until now, remarks darkly, “If you two hadn’t made such an ugly fiasco of fighting over control of Jupitorius, we might have been able to convince the ISRLA there to side with us rather than the Federation. They are, after all, more aligned with us philosophically.”

    “I’m not so sure about that,” Spector says, “Their leader is Artasia Som Daikun, the daughter of the Founder, and her sympathy was with the Earth Federation during the One Year War. She seeks peaceful coexistence with the Federation, and has distanced herself from her Zeon legacy.”

    “It might be different among their rank and file,” Reglas suggests, “They are Spacenoids. Surely, they understand that their future lies with Zeon, not Earth.”

    Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach takes the conversation out of the more speculative realm and back to more immediate matters, “In any case, I have already ordered the return of three of my divisions to Deimos Fortress. The forces we have stationed among the five of us are more than enough to hold Ceres secure, and I’m loath to leave our most important mobile hard point vulnerable.”

    “Not thinking of abandoning us, are you, Konrad?” Constantinas asks accusatorily.

    Von Bach contains his indignation at Constantinas’ insinuation, “I’m not Alexander Miguel, Governess.”

    The absence of the Prince of Phobos and his elite forces are glaring. The Warlords know that with Miguel’s contribution, they might already be at the gates of the Federation capital on Earth. Hate and distrust him as much as the Warlords do, they nevertheless regret that he is not among them.

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

    From the launch ports of Ceres Base, three divisions from the Deimos Zeon Forces deploy en rout to their home base of Deimos Fortress, itself en rout to a defensive position from which it can defend against possible counterstrikes by Federation reinforcements that might arrive from Cislunar Space. Navigation crews estimate that the divisions will intercept Deimos Fortress near Martian orbit in approximately six hours.

    Among these forces are 1Lt. Brandon Conrad and 2Lt. Meghan Walsh, the armored soles of their twin blue and red Gellonds magnetically attached to the hull of the Deimos Zeon mobile suit battle carrier. The two mobile suits are hand in armored hand, their pilots able to “feel” each other despite the intervening armor.

    It is the same, whatever flags fly, whatever uniforms are worn.

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

    Jolie and Jonah have been given two hours’ downtime by Athena. The two teenagers are spending at least a part of that time at a station of the Amuro Ray that only a few who know the couple well would even imagine them going to: the chapel.

    Jolie was raised a Catholic, and although not actively religious, nevertheless feels compelled to make a supplication to greater powers in what promises to be the most desperate battle she and the other Centurions have yet faced in their careers. The Miguels are lapsed Catholics as well and Jonah, who has not attended church services since childhood, offers up his prayer to his maker as well.

    Their prayers done, Jolie and Jonah turn to each other.

    “So what did you pray for?” Jolie asks Jonah.

    “I prayed to God to keep you safe, and that after the battle, we’d always be together,” Jonah says with a smile.

    Jolie returns the grin, “That’s exactly the same as what I prayed for!”

    Jonah adds, “I also prayed that somehow, this battle won’t need to be fought at all, and that nobody will need to die today.”

    Jolie smirks, folding her hands behind her head, “Sometimes, Jonah, I think you’re too good for me.”

    Jonah asks, “What do you mean”

    “You’re so good-hearted,” Jolie says, “You really don’t hate anyone, even those who’ve tried to kill you so many times. You always forgive and try to see things from your enemy’s point of view. That’s something I don’t think I can ever do, Jonah. Alexander Miguel killed my family; I won’t ever be at peace until I’ve killed him with my own hands.”

    Jolie’s words chill Jonah to the core, but he takes her into his arms and holds her tightly, “Jolie, I…understand how you feel. Just remember: the enemy is really no different from us. Somewhere on the other side, fighting for the Zeons, are another Jolie and Jonah who also have dreams of spending their lives together in peace. If we forget that, we become our own enemies.”

    Jolie says noting, burying her face deeper into Jonah’s chest. Jonah caresses her hair gently. Little more needs be said.

    The couple takes to the floor of the chapel, Jolie on her back, Jonah aside her.

    Jonah’s normalsuit gloved hand dances to the seal of Jolie’s normalsuit collar O-ring, and begins to release it.

    Jolie’s gloved hand meets Jonah’s, and stops its motion.

    “You really don’t want…?” Jonah begins, dismayed.

    “Of course I do,” Jolie says with a smile, “But we’re in a chapel. We should have some respect.”

    “Right,” Jonah replies, grinning, “Stupid of me. Maybe we could…”

    Jolie shakes her head, “Later…after we’re married, that is.”
    Jonah says mischievously, “What’s this? I never thought that Jolie Minh would claim to be a good girl!”

    Jolie strikes Jonah gently with her fist, “I was raised Catholic, you know? I was taught that a girl shouldn’t have sex until she’s married – and only with her husband.”

    “Do you really believe that?” Jonah says.

    “Yeah, I do…I really do,” Jolie replies, “’Thena and I had one of our more, um, interesting arguments about that once. She’s more liberal about that kind of thing than I am.”

    “Anything else Athena teach you?’ Jonah asks archly.

    “Yeah,” Jolie says with a grin, “I learned from ‘Thena that to boost a soldier’s chances for survival, it’s important to give him something to look forward to coming back to!”

    “I guess that I’ll just have to come back alive, huh?” Jonah says.

    “For sure,” Jolie adds, “if you’re gonna keep your promise about us having kids together someday.”

    Jonah says, “You know, I’m not superstitious or anything, but since we’re in a chapel and we’re about to go into maybe the worst battle we’ve ever been in, maybe…maybe we should take care of that marriage business now.”

    Jolie replies, “Nuh-uh. Like I said, we need something to come back to.”

    “How about this?” Jonah proposes, “As there isn’t an on duty chaplain aboard the ship to officially marry us anyway: why don’t we make our personal vows to each other now, and then make it official later?”

    “I’m game,” Jolie says, “So are you really ready to take the plunge?”

    “Jolie,” Jonah says earnestly, all playful mirth set aside, “I knew from the first time I saw you that I wanted to be with you forever…will you be my wife?”

    Jolie, moist in the eyes, whispers, “Yes…when I was a little girl, I tried to imagine what my husband would be like when I was grown up and ready to get married, but I could never picture him. When I saw you…that’s when I finally knew.”

    Jonah takes Jolie’s hand, “Forever?”

    Jolie kisses him, “Forever.”

    Nothing more need be said. In their hearts if not yet in the law, husband and wife.

    Episode 16 to be continued...

  16. #216
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    Episode 16 continued...

    In his grandiose office chamber at Reville Hall at Side 7’s Green Noah Base, General Manron Blackhead, commanding officer of the Earth Federation Forces Space Command, receives Colonel Peter Cairlay, Director of the Special Forces.

    Col. Cairlay salutes Gen. Blackhead, “Sir, I have word from His Eminence.”

    “Let’s hear it, Peter,” Blackhead says.

    “Yes, sir,” the colonel replies, then reports, “Poised to move in. Operation: United Front is go!”

    Blackhead smiles, “Excellent, Colonel. Send word to His Eminence that we will be ready here.”

    “Yes, sir,” Cairlay says, saluting.

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

    In her office aboard the Amuro Ray, Major Athena Ibaz makes an entry into her Datapad log. She is painfully cognizant of the possibility that it might be the last entry she ever makes into the log.

    …whatever our individual fates today, this conflict is likely to continue until leaders on both sides prove willing to stand down from intransigent, dogmatic positions and embrace unconsidered alternatives.

    With that, Athena signs the entry, timestamps it, and transmits it to the central data processing server on Earth for posterity. Centralizing the Federation’s crucial data in a single database is yet another errant practice that Athena, should she live, hopes to correct…

    …if she lives.

    How many regrets can a person have in a lifetime, Athena muses, and do any of them matter after life ends?

    Athena opens her desk drawer, from which she takes a photograph of Hathaway Noah sent to her by Hathaway’s sister, Chieming.

    For months, Athena has kept the photograph hidden in her desk drawer, lest it draw too many unwanted questions.

    Athena sets the photograph atop her desk, resolving, whatever may come, never to hide it again.

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

    Jolie and Jonah sit atop the right shoulder of Jolie’s Centurion Gundam Unit-1, leaning their backs against the mobile suit’s head/camera unit. The (unofficially) “newlywed” couple anxiously awaits the call to deploy.

    On the thickly armored wall opposite the launch bay door is an engraved bronze image of their ship’s namesake: the legendary Amuro Ray, the greatest mobile suit pilot in Earth Federation Forces history…at least before Jolie’s advent.

    Jolie points at the image, which she and Jonah have walked underneath hundreds of times in the past, but had never previously discussed.

    “That man is my hero,” Jolie says to Jonah, “not only because he saved my life when I was a little girl, but because he stands for everything I want to be. Captain Amuro spent most of his adult life fighting against the Zeon and the Titans. He saved a lot of lives.”

    “And took many of them too,” Jonah points out, “From what little I know about him, I think he was a good man, but he was a soldier, and soldiers kill. However many he saved, he probably killed at least as many.”

    “Hey,” Jolie says with a hint of irritable indignation in her voice, “if not for Captain Amuro, you wouldn’t have a fiancée today, Jonah.”

    “Point,” Jonah says with a smile, “I’ll always be grateful to Captain Amuro for that.”

    Jolie asks, “Don’t you have heroes, Jonah?”

    Jonah replies, “Lots of them…Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso…”

    “People who aren’t artists, I mean,” Jolie says.

    “Well, sure,” Jonah says, “I’m an admirer of Jesus Christ, Siddartha Gautama, Mahatma Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon…”

    “All people from ancient history…” Jolie remarks absently.

    “Unfortunately,” Jonah says, “we haven’t had enough leaders for peace in our time. But Dr. Artasia Daikun has some ideas that maybe we can all build upon.”

    “Artasia Daikun,” Jolie ponders, “the leader of the ISR? She used to call herself ‘Sayla Mass’ and she served with Captain Amuro on the White Base under General Noah back when he was just a rookie officer during the One Year War. She’s also Char Aznable’s sister! Anyway, ‘Thena’s a big fan. Made me read one of her books. I think she might be right about some stuff, but for chrissakes, we spend the time that we aren’t fighting to Zeons fighting her ISRLA goons, who are kinda like freelance Zeons anyway…”

    “Jolie,” Jonah says in a mildly disapproving tone, “the world was never meant to be divided into ‘Earth Federation,’ ‘Archduchy of Zeon,’ and ‘ISR.’ In the end, we’re talking about human beings…human beings who are still struggling to learn how to coexist.”

    “Peacenik,” Jolie says with mock irritation.

    Jonah says, “You do want our kids to grow up in a safe, peaceful world, don’t you?”

    “Yeah, of course,” Jolie replies, “but I think the only way to do that is to wipe out the Zeon threat.”

    Jonah says, “Setting aside the question of whether or not that’s even an ethical goal, do you think it can actually be done? Can Zeon actually be destroyed with weapons like this Gundam here, or by people like you and me who have gifts that shouldn’t be used in war?”

    Jolie has no response for that. She is beginning to feel irritated, not because her beloved Jonah disagrees with her, but because she recognizes that essentially, he’s right.

    But the time for questions…and contemplation, has come to an end.

    The lights of the mobile suit launch deck flash red as klaxons sound throughout the Amuro Ray. Major Athena Ibaz’s voice comes through the shipwide P/A system.

    “Attention all personnel: the enemy objective Deimos mobile fortress has been sighted! Man your battle stations! All pilots to mobile suits!”

    “It’s time,” Jonah says.

    “Yeah,” Jolie replies.

    The couple exchanges one last kiss, then dons their helmets ahead of boarding their mobile suits.

    Athena, who made the announcement from the cockpit of her Cour de Leon, already has her mobile suit on the launch catapult.

    “Major Athena Ibaz, Cour de Leon, launching now!”

    “1Lt. Jolie Minh, Centurion Gundam Unit-1, launching now!”

    “Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, Centurion Gundam Unit-2, launching now!”

    The mobile suits of the Special Forces hurtle forth into space for their most important battle yet.

    Athena brings the targeting scope of the Cour de Leon online, targeting crucial strategic points.

    “Weapons systems to combat mode,” Athena instructs her squad.

    The Centurion Team and its companion units load and lock their weapons.

    “Commence firing,” Athena orders.

    The first blow is stricken.

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

    “Fire megaparticle beam cannon and all missile turrets at objective!” orders Captain Beecher Olech from the bridge, “Target all enemy ship and mecha deployment ports!”

    The primary and secondary gun batteries of the Amuro Ray and its escort fleet hurl a heavy hammer of beams and ballistics at the most vulnerable points of Deimos Fortress, selected by Major Athena Ibaz after months of carefully studying the fortress’ external and internal layout.

    Sure enough, the initial barrage eliminates over half of Deimos’ MS and ship access ports, and shuts down two of Deimos’ five mighty nuclear pulse engines. The fortress’ mobility and speed are drastically reduced.

    But a wounded animal is most dangerous when it’s cornered.

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

    His fleet anchored near Ceres Base, Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach receives the emergency call from Deimos Fortress on the bridge of his flagship.

    “Under attack?!” Von Bach rages, his face turning a demonic red, “Those insolent Earthist swine! Butcher them! We will come to your support!”

    Von Bach rises in his command chair, broadcasting to all ships and mobile suits in his fleet, “This is Field Marshall Von Bach to all Deimos Zeon Forces: our mobile base is under attack by Federation Forces! We will deploy to relieve our comrades immediately!”

    The ships of the Deimos Zeon Fleet, representing a quarter of the Zeon Confederation’s strength at Ceres Base, immediately launch from port.

    Von Bach’s fellow Zeon warlords appear abruptly on his flagship’s communications screen.

    “Wonderful,” Von Bach says, “I could use all of your support.”

    “Field Marshal,” Generalissimo Reglas says, “we can understand the importance of Deimos, but we were able to secure the Federation’s former Ceres Base as our own only through great shared sacrifices. If you should abandon us now…”

    “Who is abandoning whom, Generalissimo?” Von Bach cuts off his confederate acidly, “the idea behind this alliance is mutual support. Deimos Fortress is an asset to all of us, and you expect me to defend it alone?”

    “We expect you to keep the bigger picture in mind, Field Marshal,” Viceroy Ulysses Spector of Jupitorius Zeon says, “Deimos might need to be sacrificed. It is more important for us to keep our forces unified in the event of an attack on our position here.”

    “’Unity’ only matters when it benefits only you, eh?” Von Bach says mockingly, “This communication is over. My forces and I will return after we have secured Deimos. You are on your own.”

    “Konrad, wait!” Governess Lara Constantinas beseeches her comrade.

    But Von Bach turns a deaf ear to his allies, taking his forces to relieve his men back at Deimos Fortress.

    Episode 16 continued...

  17. #217
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    Episode 16 continued...

    At Deimos Fortress, the Special Forces have infiltrated the Zeon fortress and use shock as their ally in a devastating blitzkrieg attack. Major Athena Ibaz’s forces hold nothing back, doing as much damage as they can as quickly as they can.

    Doing the most damage of all, nearly single-handedly turning the internal decks of the Zeon mobile fortress including an inferno, is 1Lt. Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam. The mighty Earth Federation Forces mobile suit strikes with strategic hits from all of its weapon systems…targeting ammunition depots, fuel storage tanks, idle mobile suits…anything that would likely result in concussion and fire.

    Jolie takes no joy in causing wanton destruction. This is not combat…at least not in the terms that she understands as combat. But this is part of the “big picture” perspective to winning wars that Athena has always understood much better than Jolie ever could.

    That’s why she’s the commander and I’m the soldier, Jolie realizes, as she torches another fuel unit.

    Not far away, Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels engages in a more deliberate, directed form of…perhaps demolition would be more precise and apt a description than destruction. Jonah is an artist. His forte is creation, not destruction. The only thing he is willing to destroy is war itself, and to that end, instead of taking the lives of combatants, Jonah is content to, meticulously and with as little collateral damage as possible, dismantle the weapons of war. It is a delicate sort of reverse-art that Jonah has grown quite adept at, although it is not always a tactic that is available to him.

    Directing the efforts of not only Jolie and Jonah, but dozens of other Special Forces mobile suit pilots is Athena from her Cour de Leon. Athena’s troops are carrying out her orders to the letter. Whether or not her plan bears fruit, however, depends on whether or not the enemy takes the bait.

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

    A mobile suit patrol from the Jupitorius Zeon Forces scans the perimeter of the Ceres Zone. All is quiet, perhaps even prosaic.

    The monotony is broken by a fusillade of red beam fire…the signature frequency of concentrated Minovsky beam particle weapons favored by the Earth Federation Forces.

    The Shining Victory and its escort fleet pour on a cascade of energy and solid ordnance at their own former headquarters, catching the Zeon Confederation Forces if not exactly off-guard, then at least off-balance.

    Scores of Zeon mobile suits of a half dozen different models and makes are disintegrated, but the Zeon respond quickly with heavy fire from both their warships and from weapons turrets on the external surface of Ceres Base itself.

    Even without a significant portion of Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach’s Deimos Forces, the remaining Zeon Confederation Forces led by the troika of Governess Lara Constantinas of Callisto, Viceroy Ulysses Spector of Jupitorius, and Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas of Titan more than merely overwhelm Admiral David Szeto’s comparatively paltry strike force. When the Zeon seized control of Ceres Base, they captured or eliminated nearly two-thirds of the Federation’s military strength in the Outer System.

    “Press the attack!” Admiral Szeto orders spiritedly, “Deploy all mobile suit units and penetrate the enemy defense screens! Use extreme caution: we still have many of our people inside Ceres Base!”

    And therein lies another handicap, Szeto laments.

    The Federation and Zeon forces clash. Through the flashes of exploding ordnance, ships, mecha, and men, it is difficult to tell who is winning.

    Assuming that winning is a concept truly applicable to war.

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

    Back at Deimos Fortress, 1Lt. Jolie Minh has developed a severe case of combat fever…

    The Centurion Gundam Unit-1 has literally become a killing machine. With terrifying precision and efficiency, Jolie directs the CG-1 through the destruction of one enemy mobile suit after another. The CG-1’s combat computer has already recorded thirty-nine kills since the battle started some ninety minutes earlier, and Jolie continues to pile on the body count.

    Jolie’s face is expressionless…betraying no rage, fear, triumph, confidence…or any other thought or sensation of any kind. The maneuvers of her Centurion Gundam, though lightning-fast, deft, unpredictable, fluid, and precise, come forth with a mechanical character beyond the Gundam’s obvious mechanical nature. It is almost as if Jolie has sublimated herself within the mecha, the Centurion Gundam feeding off her soul to animate itself.

    Vulcan cannon, missiles, beam rifle blasts, beam saber slashes: all come in rapid succession as the CG-1 smites one enemy target after another.

    Insensate slaughter, a Newtype’s power focused on destruction.

    And then, she locates it.

    The nuclear fusion heart of Deimos Fortress…with five hundredfold the destructive potential of a one-hundred megaton hydrogen bomb.

    Destroying it would surely annihilate everything within a radius of several thousand kilometers.

    The Centurion Gundam Unit-1 stares at the device motionlessly for a moment, its weapons idle at its side.

    A voice alien in tone, but that Jolie recognizes as her own comes into her head, urging her, Do it. This is the end that will come to pass.

    Another voice, which Jolie also recognizes as her own, but more familiar to her in tone, screams, No! What are you doing?! Do you realize what you’re doing?!

    The Centurion Gundam’s weapons systems swivel towards the nuclear heart of Deimos Fortress.

    Two Deimos Zeon mobile suits, one a blue Gellond and the other a red mobile suit of the same model, burst into the nuclear core chamber, having fought their way through defensive screens of Federation mobile suits to reach this point.

    “The Gundam! It’ll destroy the core! It’ll destroy all of us!” 2Lt. Meghan Walsh calls out.

    “We’re not letting that happen!” 1Lt. Brandon Conrad retorts.

    The dual Gellonds bear down on the CG-1, beam sabers drawn.

    The CG-1 turns to face the interlopers, its green eyes intensifying to a burn.

    The CG-1 brings up its armored shield with deft, almost casual ease to deflect the beams fired from the Gellonds’ beam rifles.

    Taking the two young Zeon pilots completely by surprise, the CG-1 charges on them, beam saber drawn.

    The CG-1 batters 1Lt. Conrad’s blue Gellond onto its back with its armored shield, simultaneously disarming 2Lt. Walsh’s red Gellond with a beam rifle shot through its head/camera unit.

    The CG-1 puts its armored foot onto the body of the blue Gellond, pinning it down while pulling back its beam saber for a lethal strike into the Zeon mobile suit’s cockpit.

    At the same time, 2Lt. Megan Walsh has gotten her red Gellond back on its feet, her Newtype senses guiding her although her mobile suit’s camera eye has been blinded.

    “I won’t let you kill Brandon!” Megan snarls fiercely, “I’ll kill you first!”

    “Megan, don’t!” Brandon pleads helplessly, watching in horror as the Centurion Gundam turns its beam rifle on his fiancée’s red mobile suit again, this time targeting the cockpit.

    In the cockpit of the CG-1, Jolie’s face remains frozen in its impassive expression, even as her mind continues to scream, alternatingly, Do it!....What are you doing?!

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam Unit-2 appears abruptly on the scene. In an instant, he senses the passion of the two Zeon pilots about to perish at Jolie’s hand. He feels as if he were staring into a mirror…

    “Jolie!” Jonah cries out, “Don’t do it!”

    That, at last, snaps Jolie out of the strange “search and destroy” trance she has been in for the past several minutes. Her Newtype mind clearly senses the souls of Brandon Conrad and Megan Walsh reaching out towards each other.

    No…Jolie realizes to her horror...that couple in those Gellonds…they’re just like me and Jonah!

    The CG-1 aims its beam rifle away from the red Gellond, and steps back off of the fallen blue Gellond.

    The two Gellonds do not mount a counterattack against the twin Centurion Gundams, but instead tend to each other.

    “Branden…,” Megan says lovingly.

    “Megan,” Brandon replies softly.

    The two Centurion Gundams, taking note of the situation, turn to leave.

    Jolie and Jonah would never know where the cannon volley originated from…whether it was fired by a Zeon warship or a Federation one…only that it was sudden and all-consuming, in an instant reducing 1Lt. Brandon Conrad and 2Lt. Megan Walsh and their blue and red Gellonds to atoms and memories.

    Forever? Megan’s soul asks as it merges into the eternal cosmos.

    Forever, Brandon’s soul affirms, joining hers in the grand unity.

    “NOOOOOO!!!!” Jolie screams.

    The Centurion Gundam Unit-1 turns its camera/head skyward to see reinforcements from the Deimos Armada arriving. Casualties among the Federation’s Special Forces detachment are mounting.

    “Who?!” Jolie demands, “Who murdered them?! WHO?!!”

    The CG-1 launches from the innards of Deimos into space, seeking vengeance.

    “Jolie, wait!” Jonah pleads, launching the CG-2 in pursuit.

    They run into heavy resistance, outnumbered at least twenty to one.

    The CG-1 fights with renewed ferocity, destroying a half dozen enemy units in one pass, but could even Jolie maintain this defense for long?

    Episode 16 to be continued...

  18. #218
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    Episode 16 continued...

    Nearby, Major Athena Ibaz surveys the situation from her Cour de Leon, even as she cautiously fights for center against the advancing tide of enemy mobile suits. Athena is a master ace pilot of that defensive tactic, but she knows its limitations.

    All around her, the situation is collapsing. Each of the Special Forces’ combat ships has taken heavy damage, including the Amuro Ray. Although her own Centurion Team is still intact, Athena is receiving word of heavy losses among the other Special Forces units.

    Athena soon sees them…reinforcements from the Deimos Armada.

    How could they have gotten here so quickly? Athena muses, The plan was indeed to draw the Deimos Armada away from Ceres Base, but there was to be more than ample time for our forces to withdraw before they arrived.

    The truth soon illuminates in Athena’s mind…in defiance of her meticulously arranged plans, the Deimos Armada must have left Ceres Base before the Special Forces started their attack on Deimos Fortress.

    Athena’s battle plans have been rendered completely worthless by a stroke of misfortunate timing…by a turn she had not anticipated.

    And all of her comrades would pay the price.

    Regrets, Athena reflects, even as she struggles valiantly against the oncoming tide of Deimos Zeon mobile suits, and here is one final one to plummet me into hell.

    More deaths on her conscience, including those of two whom she loved like a sister and a brother.

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

    At Ceres Base, things are not going much better for the Earth Federation Forces.

    Admiral David Szeto, his flagship Shining Victory too heavily damaged to continue the battle or to withdraw, is readied for one final defiant gesture against the Zeon.

    The Admiral, his face scorched by sparks and flame, one eye leaking blood, crawls weakly to the helm of his ship, pulling aside the corpse of the slain helmsmen.

    “Zeon dogs,” the Admiral curses, as he readies his ship for ramming tactics, “I lose this battle, but you don’t win it either…”

    The flaming wreckage of the Shining Victory bears down on the flagship of the Jupitorius Armada…Viceroy Spector’s Jovian Thunder.

    “My lord,” the Jovian Thunder’s scanner tech reports, “enemy flagship preparing to ram us.”

    “Minovsky Particle Hypercannon,” the Viceroy orders calmly.

    The order is relayed, the Jovian Thunder spews forth firepower that more than lives up to the ship’s name.

    Before he is reduced to atoms, Admiral David Szeto manages one final salute towards Earth, “May the Lord bless and preserve the Earth Federation!”

    All around, it is the same. The remains of the Federation’s Ceres Fleet are hopelessly broken. The unified Zeon Armada tightens its grip on the Ceres Zone.

    For a moment.

    A sudden heavy volume of fire, seemingly coming from all directions, suddenly lances the area. With horrific swiftness, Zeon Confederation Forces mobile suits and ships are incinerated from existence.

    “Federation reinforcements?!” Viceroy Spector demands.

    “Negative, my lord!” a bridge tech replies, “We’re attempting to identify!”

    But the Viceroy doesn’t need the bridge tech to run through the combat databases to confirm what his eyes soon tell him.

    Spector rises from his command chair, his eyes wide in disbelief as he witnesses the arrival of thousands of black mobile suits.

    Him!

    Spector issues a new order, “Withdraw! Back to Ceres!”

    The Zeon Confederation Forces withdraw towards Ceres Base, even as a fresh armada of ships enters the Ceres Zone.

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

    The Deimos Zeon Armada has encircled the remaining Special Forces into a small area outside of Deimos Fortress. Only the Amuro Ray and the Centurion Team remain.

    The mobile suits of the Centurion Team form a ring, back to back, as hundreds of Deimos Zeon mobile suits surround them.

    The twin Centurion Gundams of 1Lt. Jolie Minh and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels reach their armored hands towards each other. They had witnessed those two unfortunate Zeon pilots die together. They had seen how, to the very end, the couple had been united in their love for each other.

    Jolie and Jonah know that it will be no different for them.

    Jonah sends a thought to Jolie, I love you.

    Jolie responds, I’m not afraid…not if we’re together.

    A flash of white light, an explosion.

    Deimos Zeon ships and mobile suits go down in large numbers, turning in shock, immolated before they can even understand what has happened, let alone react.

    “Where’s that fire coming from?!” Field Marshal Von Bach demands, “Who?! Federation reinforcements?! Where could they come from!”

    “My lord, look!” one of Von Bach’s bridge techs points at the monitor screen.

    “Damn him!” Von Bach curses, “NOW he appears, and to oppose us rather than assist us!”

    “My lord,” another bridge tech says, “Word from Ceres Base! They’re under attack, my lord!”

    After a moment’s contemplation, Von Bach issues an order to his forces, “Withdraw! We don’t want our forces divided into two fronts!”

    The Deimos Zeon Forces withdraw from the battle zone, leaving behind the wreckage of the Federation Special Forces…save the severely damaged Amuro Ray and the depleted mobile suits and pilots of the Centurion Team.

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

    On the bridge of the Amuro Ray, Captain Beecher Olech receives a report from a communications officer, “Captain Beecher, sir…we’re being hailed by the approaching fleet.”

    “Open communications channels,” Beecher orders, then, as the channel is tuned in, says, “This is Captain Beecher Olech of the Earth Federation Space Fleet. Identify yourself.”

    A rich, strong, aristocratic voice replies, “This is General Alexander Miguel of Phobos Zeon. We seek a cessation of hostilities. Please hold your fire. We intend you no harm.”

    The Phobos Zeon!

    General Alexander Miguel!


    He is an observer no more.

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

    Aboard the mobile suits of the Centurion Team, the young mobile suit pilots have also received the communication.

    Alex, Jonah’s eyes go wide, his heart pounding as he hears the voice of his elder brother again for the first time in nearly a year.

    Nearby, 1Lt. Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam has gone still and silent. Jonah senses a dark rage building within the cockpit of the CG-1, wrathful and full of malice. He opens his mouth as if to say something to Jolie, but his mouth is dry and will produce no sound.

    In the cockpit of the Cour de Leon, Athena opens the visor of her normalsuit helmet, So Alexander Miguel enters the game…a game he will attempt to win at anyone’s expense but his own.

    Tomorrow’s game, as this day of battle, at least, comes to a costly end.

    Episode 16 conclusion.

  19. #219
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    2-17: DEAL WITH THE DEVIL

    Three weeks after the disastrous battles at Ceres and Deimos, the Amuro Ray, badly battered and operating on auxiliary power, limps back to Cislunar Space after a nine-month tour of duty in the Outer Solar System. Throughout its journey home, the Earth Federation Forces space battle carrier has been escorted by the Cassius, the flagship of General Alexander Miguel of the Phobos Zeon Forces, and a detachment of elite troops from the Phobos Zeon Forces. The voyage back to the Earth Zone has been, thanks to the protection provided by the Phobos Forces, without incident.

    Phobos Zeon Forces engineers and technicians dispatched on General Miguel’s personal orders to the Amuro Ray have patched the heavily damaged ship and its mobile suits back together as best they can, but owing to the discrepancies between Federation and Zeon military technologies, there is only so much that the Phobos Zeon techs can do. The Amuro Ray was barely spaceworthy in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Ceres/Deimos, but Miguel’s techs have at least mended the ship adequately enough that it could make the long voyage back to Cislunar Space. A lengthy period at the shipyards of Luna 2 will be required before the Amuro Ray is combat ready again.

    The Centurion Team is in relatively good condition, at least physically. None of its members sustained anything much worse than minor contusions and scrapes during the largest battle the team had yet faced (the team credits Major Athena Ibaz’s rigorous training program and defense strategies for that), although its Special Forces brethren were not so fortunate. Several other teams were wiped out completely, and casualties have been extremely high among what remains of the Ceres Fleet.

    Ceres Base, for the present, is firmly in control of the Zeon Confederation Forces, and its resources, undoubtedly, are being cannibalized by the Confederation for further attacks against the Earth Federation. Presently, General Miguel’s Phobos Forces, under the field command of Admiral Klaus Eichmann, are holding the Confederation Forces at bay. The Phobos Zeon Forces are the best-trained and best-equipped among the armed forces of the various Zeon warlords, and thus, can hold their own, at least for a time, against the 4:1 odds.

    But events in the Outer System, dire and urgent as they are, having taken a momentary second priority to a sudden and completely unexpected development that has had the government and the citizens of the Earth Federation buzzing for weeks. The controversy has dominated all public discourse in print and on the airwaves, in coffee shops and family dining rooms, on college campuses and on the mean streets.

    General Alexander Miguel is seeking an alliance with the Earth Federation.

    The first ever alliance between the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon (discounting the brief alliances between the disfranchised Titans Corps and the Axis Neo Zeon during late U.C. 0087).

    The heads of the Earth Federation Government have taken General Miguel’s proposal into consideration. General Bright Noah immediately objected to it, his reasoning being simply that he “didn’t and couldn’t trust Miguel.” General Manron Blackhead, however, has surprised the Federation High Council by wholeheartedly supporting the idea of an alliance between the Federal Forces and Miguel’s Phobos Forces. The debate has raged fiercely for weeks, but as the Phobos Armada and the Amuro Ray approach Cislunar Space, the High Council is leaning in favor of the alliance.

    Much of the public views the prospect of the alliance with a hopeful, if wary eye. During the past twenty years, every family has lost a son or daughter, a father or mother, a brother or sister, or a husband or wife to the series of wars between the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon. A chance for peace is to compelling an enticement for people afflicted by twenty years of periodic war to turn down…

    Not everybody, however, is pleased by this new development.

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

    He finds her sulking, by herself, seated with her knees drawn to her chest atop the right shoulder of her idled Centurion Gundam Unit-1 in the mobile suit maintenance bay of the Amuro Ray.

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels approaches cautiously, not wanting to rile up the fierce wrath of his fiancée, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, who has been in a constant state of snarling rage since the intervention of the Phobos Zeon three weeks earlier.

    “Jolie…” Jonah says tentatively.

    “Go away,” comes the terse reply.

    “Jolie, come on…” Jonah pleads.

    Jolie picks up a wrench lying nearby and chucks it in Jonah’s direction, the tool whizzing dangerously past his ear.

    “Just f*cking leave me alone!” Jolie screams, then buries her head between her knees.

    Jonah sighs. Trying to communicate with Jolie during these past three weeks has netted him responses that have alternated between smoldering, withering silences and volcanic outbursts such as this.

    Realizing that he’s getting nowhere trying to talk to her, Jonah despondently decides to leave Jolie alone…for now. He would try again later…until he gets through to her.

    Jonah turns to find Major Athena Ibaz passing by, Datapad in hand, as is often the case.

    Athena looks up momentarily from her work to say, “No luck, eh?”

    “No, ma’am,” Jonah confirms sadly, “Ever since the Phobos Zeon…”

    Athena nods, saying, “Since the day Alexander Miguel murdered her family before her eyes, Jolie’s focus has been to spill Miguel’s blood in retribution. That’s the reason that Jolie initially agreed to join the Federal Forces. She’s waited for years for the chance to kill him, and now the Federation is considering an armistice with Miguel.”

    Jonah grips the rail of the mobile suit deck gantry walkway tightly, his knuckles draining of color from the tension. The young artist turned soldier is filled with conflicting and agonizing emotions: frustration, guilt, regret, anger, fear, uncertainty. These feelings coil through his heart and guts like a twisting mass of poisonous serpents.

    Athena puts a comforting hand on Jonah’s shoulder, “You feel responsible somehow?”

    Jonah turns a guarded look towards Athena, looking into his commanding officer’s incandescent green eyes, whose gaze seems to be able to see through souls.

    An unnerving thought runs through Jonah’s mind as he regards Athena’s words, How much does Athena know?

    Athena adds, “Jolie’s wrath is directed at Alexander Miguel, not you, not me, not anyone else. Miguel’s sudden reappearance in her life, in this completely unforeseen manner, has reawakened a great deal of pain for Jolie, and no small amount of confusion. You have the right idea in wanting to redirect her focus, but you’ll have to be patient and wait until she’s receptive.”

    Jonah has to suppress a bitter chuckle, remember how just a few short weeks ago, he fell a little short in persuading Jolie to be receptive to something much more pleasant.

    That seems a world away now.

    “But ma’am…,” Jonah begins tentatively.

    Athena nods knowingly, “Jolie’s a stubborn one. I know her all too well. But she’s not a fool. At the moment, her emotions are in disarray, but she can sort out whom she loves and whom she hates. I’ve….been through this with her before.”

    “Thank you for your advice, ma’am,” Jonah says, “Is there anything you want me to help you with?”

    Athena thinks for an instant before responding, “Perhaps. Jolie’s been sulky and sullen the past few weeks, but she still has been scrupulous about carrying out her duties as second-in-command of the Centurion Team. Even so, there’s no way in hell she’ll consent to coming along with me on my latest assignment.”

    “What do you mean, ma’am?” Jonah asks.

    Athena briefly takes measure of Jonah before telling him, “Alexander Miguel has invited Captain Beecher and me to his flagship to discuss his plans to ally the Phobos Zeon with the Earth Federation. In such a situation, I’d customarily have my executive officer accompany me, but obviously putting Jolie and Miguel in the same room would be as wise as lighting a blowtorch inside an explosives depot. So, since you’re my junior executive officer, I want to know: would you like to come with me to meet with the infamous leader of the Phobos Zeon?”

    Jonah responds hesitantly, tentatively, “Uh…”

    Athena gives him a surprised look, “You don’t want to come?”

    Jonah says meekly, “Ma’am…I…”

    Athena smirks slightly, “You’re not intimidated by the infamous Prince of Phobos, are you?”

    “No, ma’am,” Jonah replies quickly, “That isn’t it. It’s because…I…”

    “Everyone has matters they don’t feel at liberty to discuss,” Athena says, fixing Jonah in a penetrating gaze that unnerves him, “don’t worry, Jonah. I’m only requesting that you go; I’m not ordering you to go. You might find it an edifying experience. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea, however, you aren’t obligated to come with me.”

    “Thank you, ma’am,” Jonah says, “I’ll pass on this opportunity, then. I think I can contribute more elsewhere.”

    “Very well, Chief Michaels,” Athena says with that pretty smile that Jonah knows so well, “Carry on, then.”

    Jonah salutes Athena and turns to leave. Athena also leaves to make preparations to deal with a devil.

    Episode 17 to be continued...

  20. #220
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    Episode 17 continued

    Back in the Outer System, the Warlords of the Zeon Confederation meet at Ceres Base. For the first time, the four warlords of deigned to gather, in the flesh, for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the complication in their campaign against the Earth Federation.

    “We were fools to not take down Miguel first,” Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach says bitterly, sipping from a cup of richest Colombian espresso (particularly expensive in the Outer System, where hydroponics farms have had very meager success in cultivating coffee beans in the artificial environs of space colonies), “now we’re fighting a two-front war.”

    “Worse than that,” Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas of Titan Zeon points out, “we might be facing a united front of the Phobos Zeon and the Earth Federation. You are right, though: since we failed to get Miguel to join the fold at the outset, we should have eliminated him before he could take the opportunity to backstab us.”

    “While I can believe that Alexander Miguel would backstab any one or all of us,” Viceroy Ulysses Spector of Jupitorius Zeon remarks, “it is inconceivable that Miguel would align himself with those Earthists. Through all that has divided us over the years, that was the one thing we were always able to agree on…that the Earth Federation is an enemy to all.”

    “Let’s not be naïve, Ulysses,” Governess Lara Constantinas says wryly, “the subject under discussion is Alexander Miguel. He would ally himself with Satan if he saw an advantage to it.”

    “You mean they’re two different people?” Reglas says dryly.

    That brings subdued laughs from the Zeon warlords. They only know their one-time comrade too well…

    But their dark amusement quickly fades; the warlords know only too well the gravity of their dilemma.

    “We should push up the time table for our assault on the Cislunar Sphere,” Von Bach suggests.

    “Agreed,” replies Spector, “we should take them down now, before they have an opportunity to marshal their resources against us.”

    “We should retake the ancestral Zeon homeland of Side 3 first,” Reglas suggests, “so that we can have a proper base of operations in the Cislunar Sphere. It will also send a strong message to the people of Earth and Cislunar Space that the Zeon, the true Zeon, not those Phobos traitors, have returned.”

    “The ISR movement has taken root there,” Governess Lara Constantinas sees fit to point out, “they have no military strength to speak of, but could be a nuisance. Artasia Daikun will likely urge the people of Side 3 to resist a Zeon resurgence there.”

    “That’s of very little concern to us,” Spector says coldly, “We will simply eliminate them if they obstruct us.”

    Lara responds indignantly, “Those are the people of Zeon, Viceroy. All of us were born and raised there. We will not murder our own in the homeland.”

    “When their war with the Federation was at stake, the Zabis turned even against each other,” Spector says balefully, “War knows no kinship.”
    Reglas says, “I was there when Supreme Commander Giren ordered the Solar Ray to fire on the Federation’s Reville Fleet, even though the flagship of his own father, Grand Duke Degin, was directly in the firing path. I was still there when Lady Kishiria shot Supreme Commander Degin in the back of his head. For betraying each other, what did the Zabis lead the Archduchy of Zeon to?”

    “We’re all losing sight of the objective of this discussion,” Von Bach interjects impatiently, “an invasion of Side 3 will be necessary sooner or later…but that’s the critical question here: do we invade Side 3 now, or at some later point? I don’t think that the homeland is of great tactical value to us now. Its infrastructure and resources are shot. It’s just floating mass of dead and decaying shells. We should begin the attack on the Federation’s Side 7 stronghold…take it like we took Ceres Base.”

    Reglas responds, “Side 7’s Garrison Noah would be a much tougher nut to crack that Ceres Base was. Don’t forget: Cislunar Space is the Federation’s home turf.”

    “In any case,” Spector says with irritation, “we must move in quickly before the Federation and Miguel can solidify any kind of alliance. We can’t afford to sit and wait.”

    “We also can’t afford to be hasty,” Governess Constantinas parries.

    “I propose an alternative solution,” Reglas finally says, “one that will buy us some time without putting us at disadvantage, and help us to avoid having to commit our resources before we’re certain about what we’re getting into.”

    Reglas’ fellow warlords wait expectantly for him to offer his proposal.

    After a poignant pause, Reglas says, “The snake’s body will fall still if its head is crushed: we can defeat the Phobos Zeon with a bullet: we will assassinate Alexander Miguel.”

    A vacant silence permeates the room; the chamber becomes seemingly as airless as the void beyond the shell of the stone fortress that the Zeon warlords occupy.

    Momentarily, however, each of the other warlords begins to nod his or her quiet approval of Reglas’ simple, brilliant plan.

    “We can’t afford to fail,” Constantinas says tentatively, “Whom should we send to carry out this critical assignment?”

    “Commander Ricardo Peron of the Von Bach Corps,” Field Marshal Von Bach immediately proposes.

    “Captain Renaldo Desmond of the Callisto Newtype Corps,” Constantinas counters.

    Reglas raises a hand for silence, “My colleagues, I don’t believe it’s necessary for you to waste your precious pilot resources on this assignment. Moreover, execution of this plan requires a specialist in undercover operations, which Commander Peron and Captain Desmond, though brilliant combat officers, lack.”

    “Then whom do you propose?” Spector demands impatiently.

    Reglas says, “I have a man inside the Earth Federation Forces; he’s been helping me keep abreast of the Federation’s movements down in old Shanghai for years. He’s been instrumental in eliminating a few Feds officials who were really pushing hard for a Federation campaign against the Outer System during the middle part of this past decade. He’s been planning to eliminate Noah during the past six months, but has not yet had an opportune shot at it.”

    “That’s inauspicious,” Spector remarks, “what if he doesn’t find this ‘opportune shot’ at Miguel? Then your plan would be worthless.”

    Reglas responds, “If Miguel and the leaders of the Earth Federation are to negotiate an alliance, which is what we fear will happen…and which will likely happen…they will do so in the Federation capital of Shanghai on Earth. This will present the necessary opportunity, as the Federation is likely to make a tremendous public spectacle of the event. Ideal conditions for our man to do his work. Moreover, this might also provide us the opportunity to eliminate Noah and other key members of the Federation’s upper-echelon military apparatus as well.”

    There is another moment of tense, silent consideration, before Von Bach shatters it with a stentorian declaration of, “All right. I’m in.”

    Governess Lara Constantinas then adds, “It seems the most effective course of action possible. I accept.”

    Finally, Viceroy Ulysses Napoleon Spector grumbles, “This had better not fail, Reglas.”

    Reglas replies confidently, “I know the consequence of failure, Uly. If Miguel does not die, eventually, he will be the death of all of us.”

    That final remark leaves the Zeon warlords silent for a much longer time.

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

    Major Athena Ibaz and Captain Beecher Olech of the Earth Federation Forces are escorted aboard the Phobos Zeon flagship Cassius by a platoon of General Miguel’s elite troops. To a man, the troops are immaculately dressed in Phobos Zeon’s distinctive cut of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces’ duty uniforms, with Phobos’ signature black replacing the more traditional Zeon olive green.

    Athena notes the interior décor of the Cassius. There is no doubt the ship is battle-ready, and its character is definitely military, but the ship’s decks seem designed to impress as much as they are to conduct the gritty business of combat. The Cassius is as much a mobile palace as it is a combat ship.

    It’s an environment that Athena finds uncomfortably familiar, as childhood memories invade her consciousness.

    The two Federal Forces officers are greeted by Colonel Ross Davenport, General Miguel’s senior adjutant.

    Athena and Captain Beecher salute Davenport.

    Davenport returns their salutes, “I am Colonel Ross Davenport, executive officer under the command of his Excellency, General Alexander Miguel, Prince of Phobos Zeon. I extend the general’s welcome to the officers of the Earth Federation Forces.”

    Although Captain Beecher Olech, being a naval captain, has rank priority over Major Athena Ibaz (Special Forces being a branch of the Federation army), the officers break with usual ranking protocol as Athena has been the operational commander of the mission in the Outer System that brought the Federal Forces into contact with the Phobos Zeon, and because frankly, Captain Beecher has decided that he would much prefer the quick-witted and unflappable Athena negotiate with Miguel than trust his overmatched self with the challenge.

    Thus, Athena replies to Davenport, “Thank you, sir. On behalf of the Earth Federation Forces and the Earth Federation Government, we accept General Miguel’s hospitality. I am Major Athena Ibaz, Deputy Director of the Earth Federation Special Operations Forces. This is Captain Beecher Olech, commanding officer of the space battle carrier Amuro Ray.”

    Ravenport replies pleasantly, “We are honored by your presence. General Miguel awaits you within his private chambers. Undoubtedly, you haven’t had a decent meal in weeks, if not longer. The general would like to invite Major Ibaz and Captain Olech to dine with him, if you’d grant him the honor.”

    Athena answers, “General Miguel does us a great honor. We look forward to discussing the possibility of Phobos Zeon and the Federation working together towards mutual benefit with his Excellency.”

    Ravenport leads the way to General Miguel’s private chambers.

    Into the devil’s den, Athena reflects wryly.

    Episode 17 to be continued...

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