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...