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

  1. #221
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 17 continued...

    Back aboard the Amuro Ray, the members of the Centurion Team are attempting to unwind in their various ways. Since the temporary end of combat operations in the Outer System and their withdrawal to the Cislunar Sphere, the Centurion Team’s duties have been rolled back to training routines. They know it will not be long, however, before combat operations resume, so the young Special Forces soldiers take advantage of the downtime for however long it should last.”

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels is in his quarters, working on a new painting for the first time in what seems like a lifetime.

    There are times when Jonah almost forgets that he is an artist, not a warrior, by profession. Athena and Jolie’s training has instilled a combat-ready mentality within him that has buried the sensitive artist in a place that Jonah sometimes fears will consume it completely.

    That’s why he values rare quiet moments like this…so he can remember who he truly is.

    Right now, he is a mind in turmoil, caught between a brother who, however, depraved, practically raised Jonah from childhood…and the love of his life.

    From the moment that Jolie told him, on that first day that the two of them had met, that Alexander had been responsible for the death of her family, Jonah has dreaded the day when that he would be forced to choose between his brother and the sprite-like young woman who has become his soul mate.

    Jonah knows that he doesn’t want to live without Jolie, but can he bring himself to betray Alexander?

    Jonah looks up as spark of energy emanates from his head. Jolie stands at the door to his quarters.

    “Hi,” Jolie says quietly, “Can I come in?”

    Jonah smiles, “Have I ever said ‘no’ when it’s you?”

    Jolie enters with an uncharacteristically meek demeanor, hands folded demurely in front of the hem of her uniform skirt, as she nearly whispers, “I’m sorry.”

    “About throwing a wrench at me?” Jonah says, affection in his eyes, “Forget about it. I…”

    Jolie continues, “Not just the wrench thing, stupid as that was. It’s for being such a b*tch recently. I guess I haven’t been the nicest person to be around lately, huh?”

    “Even if that’s the case,” Jonah says, “you’re the person I want to be around more than anybody else.”

    Jolie runs into Jonah’s arms, and he embraces her warmly and tightly, running his hands comfortingly through her long, luscious black hair.

    Jonah feels the warmth moist of Jolie’s tears on his chest, “I didn’t mean to take it out on you and everybody else, Jonah. I’m just so confused. I joined the military so that I’d have a chance to kill that monster, but now, the Federation is going to join forces with him. If that’s what’s gonna happen, what am I still here for?!”

    Jonah says gently, “Jolie, you’re in the military to protect, not to kill. You need to redirect your focus. Remember what you told me about Captain Amuro Ray being your hero? Amuro was a protector, not a killer. Although circumstances dictated that he often had to kill to protect, he didn’t become a hero by seeking out death. You understand what I’m trying to tell you?”

    Jolie shakes her head, “No. I’m sorry…I’m…I can’t accept that.”

    Jolie leans silently in Jonah’s embrace for a moment, then looks into her fiancé’s eyes and says to him, “I’m thinking about resigning from the Federal Forces. I can’t stay in the service if it means being on the same side with Alexander Miguel. You’re gonna come with me, right?”

    Jonah opens his mouth as if to say something in response, but no words come forth.

    Jolie gives Jonah a hurt look, “Jonah, we promised we’d always be together! You can’t be thinking that you wouldn’t go with me if I left the Federal Forces! You never wanted to be a soldier in the first place!”

    Jonah steels himself. He can’t bear lying to Jolie anymore.

    “Jolie,” Jonah says tentatively, “I…”

    Jolie tugs desperately at the sleeve of Jonah’s uniform jacket, “Jonah…”

    Jonah, losing all nerve and resolve at the thought of losing Jolie, says, “Wherever you go, I go, Jolie. To Heaven…to Hell.”

    That much is enough to satisfy Jolie. She trusts Jonah without qualifications or conditions.

    Jolie offers a tearful smile and buries her face on Jonah’s chest, not seeing the anxious, guilt-ridden expression on his face.

    Jolie’s hands find the back of Jonah’s neck, and his hands find the warm, smooth flesh of her thighs underneath her provocatively short uniform skirt.

    Concealments, material and otherwise, are soon discarded, with one exception within Jonah’s mind. The young man and young woman stand naked in each other’s presence, embracing each other warmly at every level.

    Their lips lock in a lustful kiss, the kind that teenaged lovers can know.

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

    “My lord, your guests have arrived,” Colonel Ross Davenport announces.

    General Alexander Miguel, known as the Prince of Phobos Zeon, turns to face his visitors. The general is at his most dashingly, charmingly handsome…a prince worthy of any medieval romance or fairy tale, but with an unmistakable dark edge.

    Alexander takes quick stock of the two Federal Forces officers. The Prince of Phobos dismisses Captain Beecher Olech immediately; the captain of the Amuro Ray is of no import and is unworthy of additional attention.

    Major Athena Ibaz, on the other hand, has Alexander completely mesmerized. He focuses on her as would the targeting scope of his Nightingale mobile suit on an enemy target.

    Easily one of the most exceptionally beautiful young women I’ve ever seen, Alexander judges, and he has seen (and bedded) many, many beautiful women. Better yet, there’s no mistaking Athena’s Zeon heritage, despite her Earth Federation Forces uniform…only Side 3 bred this particular strain of gorgeous female.

    Beyond Athena’s extraordinary beauty, Alexander notes a self-possession and searing intelligence in the young woman’s eyes that are seldom found in one so young…or in one of any age. Alexander reckons that Athena is around twenty years of age, but her mind is that of someone twice that number of living years. Her elegant, regal bearing suggests a privileged upbringing and advanced education…and yet, Alexander senses that this delicate-looking young woman is by every measure a warrior…someone accustomed to enforcing her will upon others and taking what she desires through directed use of force.

    Just like Alexander himself.

    But above all of these observations, Alexander finds a…familiarity to Athena Ibaz that he cannot immediately place. It lies just beyond the edge of memory and consciousness, palpable, but beyond grasp. That frustrates him.

    But Alexander lets none of that frustration show as he takes Athena’s hand charmingly into his own and kisses it gently, “Major Ibaz. I’ve never met an Earth Federation Forces officer under such circumstances before. Had I known that the Federal Forces had officers like yourself, it would have been much harder for me to wage war on them.”

    Alexander makes his remarks with a roguish grin, which Athena takes stock of.

    Truly the devil of my nightmares, Athena reflects wryly.

    “Thank you, your Excellency,” Athena replies with a demure smile, “it is our honor to be in the presence of the sovereign of Phobos.”

    Athena concedes that Alexander has charm. In too many ways, he reminds her of the late Colonel Char Aznable, upon whom Alexander likely modeled his own persona. Whereas Char could be understood through a prism of misguided idealism, however, Athena senses nothing so noble in Alexander Miguel. Instead, Miguel bears a much greater resemblance to Athena’s eldest uncle, Giren Zabi, whom Athena had never met, but knew through reputation.



    The Devil himself...Prince Alexander Miguel of Phobos Zeon

    Alexander represents the kind of Zeon scum that Athena has vowed to eradicate. Although Athena lacks any personal vendetta against Miguel, she can understand something Jolie’s antipathy towards him: Miguel is pure evil distilled into the form of a man.

    As such, Athena reasons, he is not one to be confronted directly…yet. She will need to probe him, discover what weaknesses he has for her to exploit. Athena acknowledges the difficulty of the challenge: Miguel is not like the other Zeon warlords, whom she knows she can outwit and outmaneuver. Miguel’s skill and capacity for manipulation rivals Athena’s own, and she knows it. She will need to use extra caution on dealing with him…

    While Alexander and Athena have been preoccupied scoping out the other, Captain Beecher has stood in awe of the confrontation between the Prince of Phobos Zeon and the Deputy Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces.

    Beecher, having set aside his irritation over Miguel’s complete disregard for him, has felt like a mere mortal observing two demigods in a struggle of wits. Beecher swears that a sort of electrical static seems to charge the very air between Miguel and Athena as the two master tacticians stare each other down. Beecher is reminded of two dangerous predators in the wild, sizing each other up in preparation to ruthlessly crush the other. The tension between Miguel and Athena causes Beecher to perspire nervously; he feels out of place there: a jackass caught between two lions.

    They couldn’t be more appropriately named, Beecher reflects. Alexander Miguel…Alexander…the conqueror…the ruler. Athena…the goddess of wisdom and of warfare. Beecher can imagine the two of them as Greek gods and heroes reincarnated for the Second Universal Century. Beecher cannot help but feel insignificant in their presence.

    “Your Excellency,” Athena says with a self-confidence and steadiness that precious few are capable of demonstrating in Alexander Miguel’s presence, “we would like to discuss with you your plans for cooperation with our Federation in meeting the challenge of the Zeon Confederation Forces.”

    Alexander flashes his most charming grin, “I’m as anxious to open that discussion as you are, Major. But I would be a graceless host if I were to expect my guests to conduct business with me without first receiving my hospitality.”

    Alexander makes a simple, elegant gesture, and a crew of stewards begins to convert a large conference table in the Leader’s private chambers for dining needs.

    Athena suppresses an urge to smirk, offering only a barely perceptible nod of, not quite admiration, but acknowledgment: Alexander Miguel is indeed a master manipulator.

    Athena recognizes that if she is going to successfully probe Miguel, she would have to play his game…or at least pretend to.

    Episode 17 to be continued...

  2. #222
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    Episode 17 continued (WARNING: some mature content)

    On their respective flagships, Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach and Viceroy Ulysses Napoleon Spector continue to confer privately hours after their full, in-the-flesh conference with their fellow warlords ended. The two warlords address a shared concern: their lack of faith in their colleague, Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas’ plan to assassinate General Alexander Miguel of Phobos Zeon.

    “There are way too many variables,” Spector complains to Von Bach, “Reglas really thinks that one assassin can make the difference. On Earth, no less! This isn’t some spy drama from the medieval ages! The future of Zeon is in the balance here!”

    “Agreed,” Von Bach rejoins, “I’m not prepared to stake the fate of Zeon on a single bullet. We are military men, not assassins. We must pursue a military solution.”

    “What options are open to us, Von Bach?” Spector asks, “Miguel and his Feddie lapdogs are well on their way to the Cislunar Sphere. We don’t have the means to strike at them there.”

    “I wouldn’t say that,” Von Bach replies with a self-satisfied smirk, “I’ve maintained reconnaissance fleets near the edge of the Cislunar Sphere for years…just outside the outer ranges of the Earth Federation Forces’ patrol zones. The fleets are not large or overwhelmingly armed, but they are oriented for surgical strikes.”

    Spector nods, seeing the tactical logic of Von Bach, “You’re suggesting a different sort of assassination…one more in line with the manner in which we conduct war.”

    Von Bach adds, “We don’t need too much carnage. The destruction of the Cassius will suffice. If my forces can take the Amuro Ray as well, even better.”

    “We’d best make our move now, then,” Spector concludes.

    Von Bach picks up a remote transceiver, “This is Field Marshal Von Bach. Get me Captain Vettnor of the Cimmerian…”

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

    Negotiations between General Alexander Miguel of the Phobos Zeon Empire and Major Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Forces have lasted through the evening into the early morning hours. The Prince of Phobos had treated his guests to a sumptuous evening meal, but Major Ibaz and Captain Beecher have left their repasts mostly untouched, preoccupied as they have been in studying and evaluating the Leader of the Phobos Zeon.

    Athena has already concluded that she does not trust Miguel, but she fears that the man’s powerful and compelling charisma and charm, together with his irresistible pitch towards Earth/Zeon peace, will likely sway key members of the Federation High Council. Athena finds that extremely worrisome.

    “Do you find my proposals reasonable and worthy of consideration, Major Ibaz?” Miguel asks Athena, with remarkable deference for one who holds a considerable upper hand.

    “Quite,” Athena replies, “You’ve made a compelling case for this alliance, your Excellency. I will present your plan to the Federation High Council, and we’ll see how they respond.”

    “Of greatest import to me is the restoration of Side 3 to Zeon control,” Miguel says with a latent menace that becomes all the more chilling for its deft and glib concealment, “Side 3, as you know, Major, is the birthplace of Zeon. Its sentimental value aside, the Zeon nation can scarcely continue to exist without its proper and traditional seat of government. The chaos that prevails in the Outer System is evidence of that.”

    Athena sips from a glass of finest wine that the General has graciously ordered brought out of his personal cellar (although on a space battleship, that cellar would be more properly described as a vault) for his guests. She deliberately, calmly sets down the glass, not so much as glancing at Miguel as she remarks casually, “Excellent quality Bordeaux… Cabernet Sauvignon from the Left Bank of the Gironde…undoubtedly of U.C. 0069 vintage.”

    Miguel barely conceals a smirk; this attractive young Federation officer has extraordinary self-possession the likes of which he has seldom encountered outside of himself. In Alexander’s thirty-five years, not a dozen people have dared to demonstrate so insolent an attitude in his presence; even fewer have lived to boast of doing so.

    Major Athena Ibaz, however, shows the Prince of Phobos no such deference; if she has any fear of him, it is undetectable.

    Athena fixes Alexander in a penetrating gaze as she says to him, in a quiet, but firm and authoritative tone, “The Federation will decide what is in Side 3’s best interests, Your Excellency. The Federation will extend its friendship to you if you make no demands upon it.”

    Miguel rises from his seat and extends his hand to Athena, “I look forward to meeting with the Earth Federation’s heads of state.”

    Miguel and Athena exchange cold handshakes. Miguel grants Athena and Captain Beecher permission to leave the Cassius and orders two of his troops to escort the Federal Forces officers back to the Amuro Ray.

    Alexander leans back in his seat, a slight smile lighting his lips, hands steepled in a gesture of contemplation.

    Miguel finally says to Col. Ross Davenport, his trusted adjutant, “A supremely remarkable young woman. Superlatively impressive.”

    Davenport says with a grin, “My lord, have you taken a fancy to Major Ibaz?”

    Alexander replies, “Did you not find her fascinating, old friend?”

    Davenport nods, “She is remarkably beautiful. Empress material, my lord?”

    Alexander laughs, “I don’t plan on letting her live that long. Major Ibaz is too clever and too resilient to be allowed to survive. She’s a dangerous woman...one we’ll need to eliminate sooner or later, but not before we’ve taken full advantage of that brilliant mind of hers.”

    “Indeed, my lord,” Davenport affirms.

    “Such a shame, really,” Miguel sighs with lament, “so beautiful...so capable…so powerful in spirit. She would indeed have been an ideal empress, if only she were not…”

    Empress…Duchess?

    A sudden realization lights in Miguel’s mind, and a dark smile comes to his lips. Miguel fingers his lips for a moment before instructing Daveport, “Ross, get our people over at intel to run a thorough investigation on the background of this ‘Major Athena Ibaz.’ Tell them to spare no detail. I want all the information that can be found…and some that can’t. I need hard data, Ross. Rumors, innuendo, and unsubstantiated claims won’t do.”

    “Yes, my lord,” Ross replies, leaving to relay the Leader’s directives.

    Athena Ibaz, Miguel reflects with a chuckle, you can deceive the world, but you don’t deceive me, your Highness…Duchess Minerva Zabi.

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

    Aboard the inter-ship short-range space shuttle ferrying them back to the Amuro Ray, Captain Beecher Olech emerges at last from his awed silence, having witnessed a quiet duel of wits that had enough edge to cut through diamond.

    “Athena,” Captain Beecher says earnestly, “Tell me: do you think we can trust Alexander Miguel?”

    “No,” Athena says plainly, her expression unreadable, “but the Federation High Council will, I assure you. Miguel has charisma and charm, and he’s dangling the golden carrot of long-term peace between Earth and Zeon; all that flash will blind the Federation’s decision-makers to the proverbial knife Miguel carries behind his back.”

    “You really think he’d betray us, Athena?” Captain Beecher asks, already fearing the answer.

    Athena smiles bitterly, “His ship is called the Cassius.”

    The reference is lost on Beecher, who had never been one for much classic literature or ancient history, but even if he is undereducated in the particulars of Athena’s remark, it nevertheless does not escape Beecher that Athena strongly suspects treachery.

    This is profoundly disturbing, because Beecher knows that Athena’s judgment is seldom wrong.

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

    03:33, ship’s time, the E.F.S.S. Amuro Ray, Deck 6 crewmen’s quarters, Room 9.

    The quarters assigned to Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, mobile suit pilot, Centurion Special Operations Team.

    A single bed occupies the room, as one does in nearly all the officers’ quarters.

    For the first time, two naked, youthful bodies occupy the bed, bound in a tender embrace.

    Jonah’s gentle, sensitive artist’s hands burn with erotic fire as they caress the silk-smooth, warm skin of Jolie’s unclothed figure. He touches every centimeter of her, hands finally coming to rest upon the globes of her buttocks.

    Jolie’s hands reciprocate the favor, although her hands prefer the feel of Jonah’s chest over his derriere (which, amusingly enough, mirrors their preferences in battle formations: Jolie taking the front, Jonah taking the rear). When Jonah had first joined the Federal Forces nearly a year ago, his body fit that expected of an artist: undernourished and borderline sickly.

    A year in the Special Forces, with its rigorous training regimen, has corrected that; Jonah’s naked physique resembles that of the mythical Adonis, lined with strong chest and arm muscles.

    Jolie lets out a contented sigh. For the sixth or seventh time since 23:01 the previous evening, Jonah has filled her with a sensation so sublime that it defies any verbal characterization.

    Jolie’s sigh dissolves into laughing pants that heave her compact, but shapely chest, until she leans forward to engage Jonah in a long, deep kiss.

    “OK…I…give…up,” Jolie says, still panting, her body covered in a slick mixture of Jonah’s and her own perspiration, “You’re…more…fit…than…I…thought…you’d be.”

    Jonah smiles, fingers dancing along the curves of Jolie’s bottom again, also panting, “Don’t…underestimate…me…just…’cause…I’m…an …artist. In…lovemaking…we’re…just…as…fit…as…any…soldier. ”

    Jolie lays her head on Jonah’s chest, and Jonah pulls the covers of the bed over both their naked bodies, shielding them from the chill of the ship’s internal air conditioning system. He strokes the long, fine fibers of her space-black hair gently.

    The night passed too quickly. A night neither will ever forget.

    The first, they hope, of many such nights in an unlimited future.




    Jonah Michaels and Jolie Minh

    Jolie peers over Jonah to check out the chronograph mounted on Jonah’s desk, “Reveille in thirty minutes. One more round?”

    Jolie leans forward onto her hands and knees on the bed, her bottom pointed invitingly towards Jonah. Round is the word…

    Jonah positions himself behind Jolie, setting his hands gently on the sides of her thus elevated buttocks, “You’re on…”

    The sounding of a yellow alert klaxon destroys the mood.

    “Dammit!” Jolie curses, “Not now!”

    Jolie leaps out of bed with an acrobatic move. She picks up her bikini thong from the floor and pulls it on.

    Jonah also rises, quickly donning articles of clothing.

    “Don’t think you’re off the hook,” Jolie smiles as she pulls on her uniform top, “we’re finishing this tonight!”

    Jonah smiles as he pulls on his uniform boots, “Distractions during duty can be fatal, Lieutenant…that’s what Major Ibaz always teaches us.”

    Only thirty seconds have passed since the klaxons began to sound; in that short span of time, Jolie and Jonah have gone from completely naked to duty-ready.

    “Let’s go!” Jolie says, pulling Jonah along by the hand.

    They no sooner get out the door than do they run into Sgt. Anna Horowitz, who stares at the couple wide-eyed for a moment as she notes them coming out of the room together.

    “Yeah, it’s what you think it is, Anna,” Jolie says…to dismiss any potential embarrassment and to get Anna focused on the present, “What’s up with the sudden yellow alert…thirty minutes before reveille?”

    “Athena and Captain Beecher are back from Alexander Miguel’s ship,” Anna says, “and she’s got new orders for us.”

    “Great,” Jolie says sardonically, “Can’t wait to hear what ‘Thena has to say about that. C’mon, Jonah!”

    “Already ahead of you,” Jonah calls from down the corridor, drifting towards the conference room.

    Jonah too is apprehensive about what is to come. What sort of understanding did his brother and his commanding officer come to, and how would it affect his and Jolie’s future together?

    As they float towards the conference room, Anna sidles next to Jolie and asks in a whisper, “Did you and Jonah really just…?”

    “Shhhh!” Jolie says, index finger over her lips, “Like I’m gonna tell the intelligence and reconnaissance officer the details about that!”

    “Hey, well,” Anna says with a sly smile, “I do keep secrets well.”

    Secrets.

    Episode 17 to be continued...

  3. #223
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    Episode 17 continued...

    Fifteen minutes later, the entire Centurion Team is assembled in one of the Amuro Ray’s conference room. The team’s commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, wears a grim visage as she prepares to announce a momentous development that will influence not only her team’s future, but that of the entire world…

    Athena says plainly and frankly, “Alexander Miguel is planning to enter an alliance with the Earth Federation. I personally don’t trust him, but I’m afraid that the Federation’s leaders will. Thus, it is likely that we will find ourselves fighting side-by-side with the Phobos Zeon Forces. As distasteful as you might find that prospect, I expect each and every one of you to carry out your duty, as always. Is that understood?”

    The immediate reaction to that question, coming after that proclamation, is a vacuum of silence. For a moment, it seems as if the very air in the conference room has been sucked out, leaving the young Special Forces troops out in the cosmos.

    When breath and sound return to the chamber, there is the buzz of low-voiced discussion in tones of doubt and discontent.

    Faces, as well as voices, betray the mixture of moods in the room.

    For most of the Centurions, the faces are characterized by uncertainty, and mild indignation. Raised as Federation loyalists (they would not be soldiers in the Earth Federation Special Forces otherwise), they are naturally distrusting towards any incarnation of the Archduchy of Zeon, but particularly that of Alexander Miguel, whose record of atrocity is especially infamous.

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ face is pale and sickly, reflecting the horror and revulsion within him. He had joined the Earth Federation Forces to resist his brother’s bloodthirsty quest for power. Now, it appears that Jonah will be sucked right back into it.

    And worst of all, he will need to confront the terrible secret of his heritage to Jolie.

    Jolie…the beautiful, silky complexion has turned ashen with smoldering rage. Jonah can sense the volcanic anger burning within her heart.

    Athena asks again, placidly, “Is that understood?”

    One by one, the replies roll in.

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    Finally, the question has come around to Jonah.

    After a moment’s hesitation, he nearly whispers, “…Yes, ma’am.”

    Having heard enough, Jolie begins to stalk out of the conference room.

    “Lieutenant Minh,” Athena says, her voice firm and authoritative, “I have not dismissed you from this conference.”

    Jolie ignores her commanding officer, continuing to stalk towards the door, her teeth clenched in anger.

    “Lieutenant,” Athena says authoritatively, “if you have any objections, you may voice them.”

    Jolie stops, turns her head, and bites out, “I WON’T fight on the same side with that animal! NO!”

    “Lieutenant Minh…Jolie,” Athena says with a focused intensity that burns like a refined particle beam cannon, “don’t forget that you are a soldier of the Earth Federation Forces. You swore an oath to defend the interests and enforce the directives of the Earth Federation with your life. I understand your feelings concerning Alexander Miguel, but if you’re insubordinate, I swear to you I’ll have you court-martialed and incarcerated, is that understood, Lieutenant?”

    Jolie’s eyes lock onto Athena’s with a furious gaze that matches the Centurion Leader’s intensity. If one lit a match at this moment, the room would likely explode.

    Jolie bares her teeth, but finally snarls, “Yes…ma’am!”

    “All dismissed,” Athena orders the squad, not taking her eyes off of Jolie as she storms out of the conference room.

    “Jolie, wait!” Jonah calls out, giving chase.

    Athena sighs as she watches them go; she has known since the moment that Alexander Miguel entered the conflict that Jolie would become intractable. She worries that she might be losing her second-in-command and best friend.

    __________________________________________________ _____________

    He finds her at her favorite spot, atop the right shoulder of her Centurion Gundam Unit-1, knees drawn up to chest, face buried between those knees.

    “Jolie…,” Jonah approaches her tentatively.

    Jolie raises her face. Her cheeks are moist with the trails of tears, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to abandon ‘Thena and the others. They’re like family to me. But I can’t fight alongside them anymore if they’re fighting alongside that animal!”

    Jonah seats himself next to Jolie and takes her into his arms, letting her lean on his shoulder while she sobs.

    A dread mounts within Jonah. How much longer can he go without revealing to Jolie the truth of his identity?

    __________________________________________________ _______________

    The Deimos Zeon Remote Reconnaissance and Combat Support Fleet, led by the destroyer Cimmerian, stalks the Phobos Zeon Armada and the Amuro Ray in the sector of space just beyond the outer limits of the Cislunar Sphere.

    Captain Heinrich Vettnor of the Cimmerian is in command of the fleet. His orders from Field Marshal Von Bach are direct and uncompromising: destroy the Cassius and, if possible, the Amuro Ray. Most importantly, General Alexander Miguel of Phobos must die.

    Captain Vettnor has already prepped his best mobile suits and pilots for the task. They are to strike quickly and unexpectedly, then leave the field of battle just as quickly. They are outgunned and outnumbered by the Phobos Forces, and a standing engagement against the Phobos Zeon will not work in their favor.

    Vettnor speaks into the tactical net, “This is Captain Vettnor to all pilots. Deploy to target coordinates for decapitation attack on Phobos Forces. Remember: this is a strike/retreat operation. Eliminate the target, then withdraw immediately.”

    The Rick Diablo Snipers and Dreissen Mauler mobile suits of the recon/combat fleet move out, hunting their quarry in the blackness of space.

    __________________________________________________ ____________

    General Alexander Miguel is ready.

    Anticipating a possible attack prior to entering Cislunar, Federation-controlled space, Miguel has ordered his troops to yellow alert standby. The Phobos Zeon mobile suit corps is already “suited” aboard their MS, including the General himself aboard his Nightingale transformable MS on the launch deck of the Cassius.

    Aboard the Amuro Ray, Major Athena Ibaz also has her Centurion Team standing by aboard their mobile suits. She and General Miguel had already agreed on the high likelihood of an enemy assault outside of the Cislunar Sphere zone markers, and are ready to repel the anticipated attack.

    General Miguel’s black-normalsuited, helmeted visage appears on the tactical computer viewscreen in the cockpit of Athena’s Cour de Leon, “Major Ibaz, your forces are still mending from that last battle out at Ceres. Please direct your subordinates to hang back in a support position. My men and I will take primary responsibility for repelling the enemy attack.”

    Athena is amenable to that, as she would be to any plan that would keep her troops out of harm’s way, “Yes, your Excellency. Thank you. Centurion Leader to all units: prepare to deploy. We will begin the operation in a support position behind General Miguel’s forces. Do not engage enemy until so ordered.”

    The mobile suits of the Centurion Team deploy from the launch decks of the Amuro Ray and surround their flagship in a defensive ring. Ahead of them, the mobile suits of the Phobos Zeon Armada’s elite Black Raptor Squadron, whose pilots were handpicked, personally trained, and led by General Miguel. They represent the best of the Phobos Zeon Forces.

    The Black Raptor Squadron fans out into its standard battle formation, one that they have practiced thousands of times, and have used to vanquish hundreds of enemies.

    Miguel gives the terse order, “Smite them.”

    __________________________________________________ ______________

    1Lt. Esau Reiter, commanding officer of the Deimos Zeon Forces’ Hellbat Squadron, looks at his forward viewscreen in shock and disbelief, and advises his troops, “Hellbat Leader to all mobile suits: enemy approaching in attack position! Prepare for counterattack maneuvers!”

    In battle, there can be few things as disorienting to soldiers than being prepared for an offensive maneuver, then suddenly being forced to fight a defensive battle midstream. Thus, the Black Raptor Squadron’s initial assault against the Hellbat Squadron proves devastating, immediately cutting the Hellbats’ forces down by forty percent on the initial salvo.

    The black Geara Doga IIs and Nova Dogas of the Black Raptor Squadron then break their initial formation to hunt the remaining Rick Diablos and Dreissen Maulers down. One Geara Doga II slices its beam saber viciously through the cockpit of a Dreissen Mauler. Elsewhere, a Nova Doga tears its armored hand straight through the pilot’s module of a Rick Diablo, crushing the Deimos Zeon mobile suit’s pilot dead in an agonizing death grip. General Miguel’s Nightingale cuts open another Drei-Mauler with its beam saber, firing its vulcan cannon directly into the cockpit to reduce its pilot to piles of bloody flesh.

    The Phobos Zeon Forces are famous for their startling record of victories, and infamous for the spectacular savagery with which they attain those victories. General Miguel, a student of Genghis Khan, knows the value of psychologically overcoming an enemy through sheer brutality. The enemy is already half-beaten before the first salvo is exchanged if he fights in mortal terror of you. When Temujin led his armies across Eurasia during the early 13th Century, he was able to prevail against much larger and better equipped forces due to the sheer terror that the Khan and his men provoked. During his boyhood, Alexander Miguel pored with delight over military history texts as they detailed how, even after victory had been assured, Genghis would order his troops to raze a defeated enemy city to the ground, and for daring to resist his will, not a single living thing…not an ant nor a blade of grass, was spared annihilation. When all living things in the target area had been annihilated, the Mongol warriors would then proceed to crush rubble and stone to dust, then beat upon the dust with savage war howls when nothing else was left to destroy. To the Khan, this was not a pointless expenditure of energy…this was sewing the power of terror, demoralizing the enemy thousands of miles away.

    An Alexander Miguel not even old enough to inherit his father’s military command had committed those chapters of history to memory, as they set his mind and heart ablaze forever. Strength could be achieved only through the complete annihilation of the weak…and the memory of their weakness. This doctrine long ago became Alexander Miguel’s creed…one that he passed on to all who served him. Weakness is intolerable. Weakness leads to annihilation. Mere victory is inadequate. Only annihilation will do.

    Major Athena Ibaz and the rest of the Centurion Team watch in horror as the Phobos Zeon Forces carve up and tear through the Deimos Zeon Forces with ease. The level of skill among Miguel’s troop is breathtaking, but the utter ruthlessness and brutality of the Phobos Zeon’ attack is unlike anything the Special Forces troops have ever encountered. During their long months of combat against the forces of the other Zeon warlords in the Outer System, the Centurion Teams have encountered cruelty, inhumanity, and violence aplenty, but never like the sheer sadistic orgy of destruction for its own sake that they now witness.

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels looks upon the horrid scene and his heart breaks. Alexander’s lust for bloodshed is as intense as ever.

    1Lt. Jolie Minh watches the scene, her eyes burning with an outrage she can no longer suppress.

    The rifle-wielding right arm of the Centurion Gundam Unit-1 quickly rises, tracking the trajectory of General Miguel’s Nightingale even as Miguel lays another Deimos Zeon mobile suit to ruin.

    Die, monster, a voice that Jolie scarcely recognizes as her own hisses within her mind.

    A spark flashes in Jonah’s mind, Jolie, no! Don’t do it!

    The tip of the CG-1’s beam rifle begins to glow. The beam will score a direct strike on the black Nightingale on the Phobos Zeon transformable mobile suit’s present trajectory.

    Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon reaches out its arm, twisting the CG-1’s arm away just as the beam fires. The beam energy streams off harmlessly into cosmos.

    “Don’t be stupid, Jolie!” Athena whispers harshly over the tactical net.

    Jolie twists the beam rifle away, glaring at her teammates furiously. She momentarily toys the idea with pointing the beam rifle towards the Phobos Zeon Forces again, but her eyes are too blurry with tears…her mind too clouded by rage…for her to focus.

    Jolie directs the CG-1 to throw the beam rifle away in disgust.

    Helpless to vent her rage, Jolie slams her fists against the controls of the CG-1, damaging the control system, ripping her normalsuit gloves, drawing blood from her hands as flesh meets reinforced metal. She growls like a rabid animal in the midst of a cornered rage.

    Jolie’s mad assault on her own mobile suit’s internal cockpit controls causes several systems to begin shutting down. The combat computer goes offline, flashing error messages. Life support continues to function, as that is unaffected by cockpit control damage, but various other systems begin to malfunction.

    “Chief Michaels, escort Lieutenant Minh and the CG-1 back to the Amuro Ray,” Athena orders tersely.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jonah replies, maneuvering his CG-2 gingerly towards the struggling CG-1.

    The second Centurion Gundam puts its armored hands gently around the shoulders of the first, “Jolie, it’s me: Jonah! Just calm down, please!”

    The CG-1 begins to struggle even more fiercely in the CG-2’s grip.

    “Jonah,” Athena finally says, “Code-D.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jonah responds.

    Code-D – Special Forces code for “disable friendly, noncompliant mobile suit.”

    The CG-2’s service arms extend forth from their hidden nacelles in the mobile suit’s body. Quickly, deftly, they open access ports on the body of the CG-1, disabling the AMBAC motion system.

    Normally, such a maneuver would be impossible to pull against the White Phoenix. It is possible this one time only because of the combination of her own rage-addled state of mind and the fact that the intervening party is her beloved Jonah Michaels, to whom she would willingly submit under almost any circumstance.

    The CG-1 falls still as the CG-2 tows it back to the Amuro Ray.

    At the same time, the Phobos Zeon Forces have routed the Deimos Zeon’s Reconnaissance and Combat Support Fleet. Nothing remains of the ostensible “attackers.” They have been annihilated to the last man, mobile suit, and ship.

    But Miguel’s forces continue to incinerate the wreckage, clearly putting on a show for the Earth Federation Forces.

    These are the madmen that the Federation is poised to enter an alliance with? Athena reflects.

    She would make note of this incident in her report to the Federation High Council.

    Not that she expects that they’ll take much from it.

    Episode 17 to be continued...

  4. #224
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    Episode 17 continued...

    Fifteen minutes later, the entire Centurion Team is assembled in one of the Amuro Ray's conference room. The team’s commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, wears a grim visage as she prepares to announce a momentous development that will influence not only her team’s future, but that of the entire world…

    Athena says plainly and frankly, “Alexander Miguel is planning to enter an alliance with the Earth Federation. I personally don’t trust him, but I’m afraid that the Federation’s leaders will. Thus, it is likely that we will find ourselves fighting side-by-side with the Phobos Zeon Forces. As distasteful as you might find that prospect, I expect each and every one of you to carry out your duty, as always. Is that understood?”

    The immediate reaction to that question, coming after that proclamation, is a vacuum of silence. For a moment, it seems as if the very air in the conference room has been sucked out, leaving the young Special Forces troops out in the cosmos.

    When breath and sound return to the chamber, there is the buzz of low-voiced discussion in tones of doubt and discontent.

    Faces, as well as voices, betray the mixture of moods in the room.

    For most of the Centurions, the faces are characterized by uncertainty, and mild indignation. Raised as Federation loyalists (they would not be soldiers in the Earth Federation Special Forces otherwise), they are naturally distrusting towards any incarnation of the Archduchy of Zeon, but particularly that of Alexander Miguel, whose record of atrocity is especially infamous.

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ face is pale and sickly, reflecting the horror and revulsion within him. He had joined the Earth Federation Forces to resist his brother’s bloodthirsty quest for power. Now, it appears that Jonah will be sucked right back into it.

    And worst of all, he will need to confront the terrible secret of his heritage to Jolie.
    Jolie…the beautiful, silky complexion has turned ashen with smoldering rage. Jonah can sense the volcanic anger burning within her heart.

    Athena asks again, placidly, “Is that understood?”

    One by one, the replies roll in.

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    “Yes, ma’am,”

    Finally, the question has come around to Jonah.

    After a moment’s hesitation, he nearly whispers, “…Yes, ma’am.”

    Having heard enough, Jolie begins to stalk out of the conference room.
    “Lieutenant Minh,” Athena says, her voice firm and authoritative, “I have not dismissed you from this conference.”

    Jolie ignores her commanding officer, continuing to stalk towards the door, her teeth clenched in anger.

    “Lieutenant,” Athena says authoritatively, “if you have any objections, you may voice them.”

    Jolie stops, turns her head, and bites out, “I WON’T fight on the same side with that animal! NO!”

    “Lieutenant Minh…Jolie,” Athena says with a focused intensity that burns like a refined particle beam cannon, “don’t forget that you are a soldier of the Earth Federation Forces. You swore an oath to defend the interests and enforce the directives of the Earth Federation with your life. I understand your feelings concerning Alexander Miguel, but if you’re insubordinate, I swear to you I’ll have you court-martialed and incarcerated, is that understood, Lieutenant?”

    Jolie’s eyes lock onto Athena’s with a furious gaze that matches the Centurion Leader’s intensity. If one lit a match at this moment, the room would likely explode.

    Jolie bares her teeth, but finally snarls, “Yes…ma’am!”

    “All dismissed,” Athena orders the squad, not taking her eyes off of Jolie as she storms out of the conference room.

    “Jolie, wait!” Jonah calls out, giving chase.

    Athena sighs as she watches them go; she has known since the moment that
    Alexander Miguel entered the conflict that Jolie would become intractable. She worries that she might be losing her second-in-command and best friend.

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

    He finds her at her favorite spot, atop the right shoulder of her Centurion Gundam Unit-1, knees drawn up to chest, face buried between those knees.

    “Jolie…,” Jonah approaches her tentatively.

    Jolie raises her face. Her cheeks are moist with the trails of tears, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to abandon ‘Thena and the others. They’re like family to me. But I can’t fight alongside them anymore if they’re fighting alongside that animal!”

    Jonah seats himself next to Jolie and takes her into his arms, letting her lean on his shoulder while she sobs.

    A dread mounts within Jonah. How much longer can he go without revealing to Jolie the truth of his identity?

    The Deimos Zeon Remote Reconnaissance and Combat Support Fleet, led by the destroyer Cimmerian, stalks the Phobos Zeon Armada and the Amuro Ray in the sector of space just beyond the outer limits of the Cislunar Sphere.

    Captain Heinrich Vettnor of the Cimmerian is in command of the fleet. His orders from Field Marshal Von Bach are direct and uncompromising: destroy the Cassius and, if possible, the Amuro Ray. Most importantly, General Alexander Miguel of Phobos must die.

    Captain Vettnor has already prepped his best mobile suits and pilots for the task. They are to strike quickly and unexpectedly, then leave the field of battle just as quickly. They are outgunned and outnumbered by the Phobos Forces, and a standing engagement against the Phobos Zeon will not work in their favor.

    Vettnor speaks into the tactical net, “This is Captain Vettnor to all pilots. Deploy
    to target coordinates for decapitation attack on Phobos Forces. Remember: this is a strike/retreat operation. Eliminate the target, then withdraw immediately.”

    The Rick Diablo Snipers and Dreissen Mauler mobile suits of the recon/combat fleet move out, hunting their quarry in the blackness of space.

    General Alexander Miguel is ready.

    Anticipating a possible attack prior to entering Cislunar, Federation-controlled space, Miguel has ordered his troops to yellow alert standby. The Phobos Zeon mobile suit corps is already “suited” aboard their MS, including the General himself aboard his Nightingale transformable MS on the launch deck of the Cassius.

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

    Aboard the Amuro Ray, Major Athena Ibaz also has her Centurion Team standing by aboard their mobile suits. She and General Miguel had already agreed on the high likelihood of an enemy assault outside of the Cislunar Sphere zone markers, and are ready to repel the anticipated attack.

    General Miguel’s black-normalsuited, helmeted visage appears on the tactical computer viewscreen in the cockpit of Athena’s Cour de Leon, “Major Ibaz, your forces are still mending from that last battle out at Ceres. Please direct your subordinates to hang back in a support position. My men and I will take primary responsibility for repelling the enemy attack.”

    Athena is amenable to that, as she would be to any plan that would keep her troops out of harm’s way, “Yes, your Excellency. Thank you. Centurion Leader to all units: prepare to deploy. We will begin the operation in a support position behind General Miguel’s forces. Do not engage enemy until so ordered.”

    The mobile suits of the Centurion Team deploy from the launch decks of the Amuro Rayand surround their flagship in a defensive ring. Ahead of them, the mobile suits of the Phobos Zeon Armada’s elite Black Raptor Squadron, whose pilots were handpicked, personally trained, and led by General Miguel. They represent the best of the Phobos Zeon Forces.

    The Black Raptor Squadron fans out into its standard battle formation, one that they have practiced thousands of times, and have used to vanquish hundreds of enemies.

    Miguel gives the terse order, “Smite them.”

    1Lt. Esau Reiter, commanding officer of the Deimos Zeon Forces’ Hellbat Squadron, looks at his forward viewscreen in shock and disbelief, and advises his troops, “Hellbat Leader to all mobile suits: enemy approaching in attack position! Prepare for counterattack maneuvers!”

    In battle, there can be few things as disorienting to soldiers than being prepared for an offensive maneuver, then suddenly being forced to fight a defensive battle midstream. Thus, the Black Raptor Squadron’s initial assault against the Hellbat Squadron proves devastating, immediately cutting the Hellbats’ forces down by forty percent on the initial salvo.

    The black Geara Doga IIs and Nova Dogas of the Black Raptor Squadron then break their initial formation to hunt the remaining Rick Diablos and Dreissen Maulers down. One Geara Doga II slices its beam saber viciously through the cockpit of a Dreissen Mauler. Elsewhere, a Nova Doga tears its armored hand straight through the pilot’s module of a Rick Diablo, crushing the Deimos Zeon mobile suit’s pilot dead in an agonizing death grip. General Miguel’s Nightingale cuts open another Drei-Mauler with its beam saber, firing its vulcan cannon directly into the cockpit to reduce its pilot to piles of bloody flesh.

    The Phobos Zeon Forces are famous for their startling record of victories, and infamous for the spectacular savagery with which they attain those victories. General Miguel, a student of Genghis Khan, knows the value of psychologically overcoming an enemy through sheer brutality. The enemy is already half-beaten before the first salvo is exchanged if he fights in mortal terror of you. When Temujin led his armies across Eurasia during the early 13th Century, he was able to prevail against much larger and better equipped forces due to the sheer terror that the Khan and his men provoked. During his boyhood, Alexander Miguel pored with delight over military history texts as they detailed how, even after victory had been assured, Genghis would order his troops to raze a defeated enemy city to the ground, and for daring to resist his will, not a single living thing…not an ant nor a blade of grass, was spared annihilation. When all living things in the target area had been annihilated, the Mongol warriors would then proceed to crush rubble and stone to dust, then beat upon the dust with savage war howls when nothing else was left to destroy. To the Khan, this was not a pointless expenditure of energy…this was sewing the power of terror, demoralizing the enemy thousands of miles away.

    An Alexander Miguel not even old enough to inherit his father’s military command had committed those chapters of history to memory, as they set his mind and heart ablaze forever. Strength could be achieved only through the complete annihilation of the weak…and the memory of their weakness. This doctrine long ago became Alexander Miguel’s creed…one that he passed on to all who served him. Weakness is intolerable. Weakness leads to annihilation. Mere victory is inadequate. Only annihilation will do.

    Major Athena Ibaz and the rest of the Centurion Team watch in horror as the Phobos Zeon Forces carve up and tear through the Deimos Zeon Forces with ease. The level of skill among Miguel’s troop is breathtaking, but the utter ruthlessness and brutality of the Phobos Zeon’ attack is unlike anything the Special Forces troops have ever encountered. During their long months of combat against the forces of the other Zeon warlords in the Outer System, the Centurion Teams have encountered cruelty, inhumanity, and violence aplenty, but never like the sheer sadistic orgy of destruction for its own sake that they now witness.
    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels looks upon the horrid scene and his heart breaks. Alexander’s lust for bloodshed is as intense as ever.

    1Lt. Jolie Minh watches the scene, her eyes burning with an outrage she can no longer suppress.

    The rifle-wielding right arm of the Centurion Gundam Unit-1 quickly rises, tracking the trajectory of General Miguel’s Nightingale even as Miguel lays another Deimos Zeon mobile suit to ruin.

    Die, monster, a voice that Jolie scarcely recognizes as her own hisses within her mind.

    A spark flashes in Jonah’s mind, Jolie, no! Don’t do it!

    The tip of the CG-1’s beam rifle begins to glow. The beam will score a direct strike on the black Nightingale on the Phobos Zeon transformable mobile suit’s present trajectory.

    Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon reaches out its arm, twisting the CG-1’s arm away just as the beam fires. The beam energy streams off harmlessly into cosmos.

    “Don’t be stupid, Jolie!” Athena whispers harshly over the tactical net.

    Jolie twists the beam rifle away, glaring at her teammates furiously. She momentarily toys the idea with pointing the beam rifle towards the Phobos Zeon Forces again, but her eyes are too blurry with tears…her mind too clouded by rage…for her to focus.

    Jolie directs the CG-1 to throw the beam rifle away in disgust.

    Helpless to vent her rage, Jolie slams her fists against the controls of the CG-1, damaging the control system, ripping her normalsuit gloves, drawing blood from her hand as flesh meets reinforced metal. She growls like a rabid animal in the midst of a cornered rage.

    Jolie’s mad assault on her own mobile suit’s internal cockpit controls causes several systems to begin shutting down. The combat computer goes offline, flashing error messages. Life support continues to function, as that is unaffected by cockpit control damage, but various other systems begin to malfunction.

    “Chief Michaels, escort Lieutenant Minh and the CG-1 back to the Amuro Ray,” Athena orders tersely.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jonah replies, maneuvering his CG-2 gingerly towards the struggling CG-1.

    The second Centurion Gundam puts its armored hands gently around the shoulders of the first, “Jolie, it’s me: Jonah! Just calm down, please!”

    The CG-1 begins to struggle even more fiercely in the CG-2’s grip.

    “Jonah,” Athena finally says, “Code-D.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jonah responds.

    Code-D – Special Forces code for “disable friendly, noncompliant mobile suit.”

    The CG-2’s service arms extend forth from their hidden nacelles in the mobile suit’s body. Quickly, deftly, they open access ports on the body of the CG-1, disabling the AMBAC motion system.

    Normally, such a maneuver would be impossible to pull against the White Phoenix. It is possible this one time only because of the combination of her own rage-addled state of mind and the fact that the intervening party is her beloved Jonah Michaels, to whom she would willingly submit under almost any circumstance.

    The CG-1 falls still as the CG-2 tows it back to the Amuro Ray.

    At the same time, the Phobos Zeon Forces have routed the Deimos Zeon’s Reconnaissance and Combat Support Fleet. Nothing remains of the ostensible “attackers.” They have been annihilated to the last man, mobile suit, and ship.

    But Miguel’s forces continue to incinerate the wreckage, clearly putting on a show for the Earth Federation Forces.

    These are the madmen that the Federation is poised to enter an alliance with? Athena reflects.

    She would make note of this incident in her report to the Federation High Council.

    Not that she expects that they’ll take much from it.

    The Centurion Team returns to the Amuro Ray, relieved that they did not need to enter the fray.

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

    On the MS deck, 1Lt. Jolie Minh refuses to disembark from the cockpit of the CG-1. The senior executive officer of the Centurion Team has locked herself into the mecha.

    1Lt. Molly Duran works to override the internal lock mechanism from the service panel outside the Centurion Gundam Unit-1’s cockpit. Finally, after several long minutes of focused, intricate work, the CG-1’s cockpit hatch slides open.
    Jolie sits at the cockpit seat, helmet still on, dark visor lowered.

    The insides of the cockpit are a shambles. Both control sticks are broken. The console interface is smashed. The forward viewscreen is shattered. Cables and wires are torn from their housings and exposed everywhere.

    Chief Warrant Jonah Michaels peers into the cockpit cautiously, whispering, “Jolie…are you all right?”

    Jolie spots the normalsuited Major Athena Ibaz passing by, and springs out of the cockpit seat towards Athena like an enraged tigress out to kill an unsuspecting doe.

    Jolie releases a larynx-tearing shriek wrenched from the bottom of a shattering heart, “Why?! Why did you stop me from killing that ANIMAL?! HOW COULD YOU?!”

    As she screams, Jolie hits Athena again and again and again, landing multiple body blows to Athena’s chest, stomach, and kidneys before Jonah is able to drag Jolie away.

    Jonah pulls Jolie into a half-nelson, “Jolie, calm down, please!”

    Two MPs, hurriedly summoned to the deck by Molly, approach as the rest of the
    Centurions struggle to aid Jonah in pulling Jolie away from Athena.

    “I hate you! I hate ALL OF YOU!!” Jolie screams, “You’re all with HIM! That murderer!! I…!”

    One of the MPs ends it with a shot from a tranquilizer gun that strikes Jolie in the upper arm. Within seconds, her body goes limp as she drifts from consciousness, still muttering…

    “Hate him…so…much…kill…him. I have…to kill…,” Jolie drifts away.

    “Ma’am,” the MP salutes Athena, “we’ll take 1Lt. Minh to the brig, if that’s your command.”

    “No,” Athena says, blood leaking from a corner of her mouth. Jolie must have inflicted some internal bleeding on her…a cracked rib or two, possibly, “Take the lieutenant down to sick bay. Have Doc Wooster care for her. She isn’t well.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” the MPs salute, as they summon a stretcher for Jolie.

    “Jolie…” Jonah sighs plaintively, holding his unconscious fiancee’s hand, stroking it gently, taking her unconscious form in his arms.

    Captain Beecher, who has heard about the commotion, rushes down from the bridge of the Amuro Ray a few minutes later as the stretcher arrives to bear Jolie away.

    “What happened?” Captain Beecher asks Athena.

    “Hell,” Athena says brusquely, “Hell happened, that’s all.”

    Only the very first level of the hell to which they were all descending, in the company of a devil from whom they cannot escape.

    To be continued in Episode 18!

  5. #225
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    EPISODE 18: SHATTERING SHOT

    Many months and numerous battles after it left its homeport at Side 7, the Amuro Ray is finally home.

    “Garrison Noah Command to E.F.S.S. Amuro Ray,” a tech from the spaceport command tower relays, “Approach Dock 08A. Docking crews are standing by to receive you. Welcome home.”

    “Roger, Noah Command,” Captain Beecher Olech of the Amuro Ray replies, “It’s good to be home.”

    A flight of GM-IV mobile suits escorts the Amuro Ray into the dock. Not seen are the ships and mobile suits of General Alexander Miguel’s Phobos Zeon Forces.

    Uncertain about General Miguel’s intentions, though grateful for his timely rescue of the Amuro Ray and its crew, including the Centurion Special Operations Team, the Earth Federation High Command has requested that the Phobos Zeon Forces maintain a holding position outside the border of the Cislunar Sphere, where they are closely monitored by a fairly large force of Federal Forces Space Armada warships and mobile suits.

    As a show of good faith and benign intentions, General Miguel has ordered all weapons systems in his fleet deactivated and sealed. Should the Federal Forces find anything amiss, they can annihilate the Phobos Zeon fleet long before the latter can prepare any counterattack.

    General Miguel waits patiently, expectantly for word from the leaders of the Earth Federation.

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

    Major Athena Ibaz has scarcely returned to Reveille Hall at Side 7’s Garrison Noah before she is whisked into an emergency conference with Generals Bright Noah and Manron Blackhead, and Colonel Peter Cairlay, Athena’s direct superior and Director of the Special Forces. Joining them by teleconference from Shanghai on Earth is the High Council of the Earth Federation Government. So urgent is the matter at hand that even Athena’s report on the past several months of combat operations against the Warlords of Zeon takes secondary priority behind the issue of opening an official dialogue between the leaders of the Earth Federation and General Alexander Miguel’s Phobos Zeon regime.

    “He’s charming and glib,” Athena advises her superiors, “but fundamentally, what he wants is no different from what the other Zeon warlords want: control. I recommend against allying ourselves with Alexander Miguel.”

    “The Warlords of Zeon have taken control of all of our assets in the Outer System, Major,” General Blackhead replies, “and intelligence reports a marshalling of forces probably for the purpose of invading the Cislunar Sphere. This is a grave threat, and General Miguel and his forces would be an invaluable ally.”

    “At what price, Manron?” General Bright Noah counters, “Inviting a Zeon military presence back into the Cislunar Sphere is dangerous, and I agree with Athena’s assessment that Miguel isn’t trustworthy.”

    “That’s your prejudice talking, Bright,” Blackhead says, “You’ve been fighting against the Zekes for so long that you can’t relate to them as people anymore.”

    Bright smirks, “Coming from you, General, that’s humorously ironic. You relate better to these ‘Zekes,’ as you call them…so well that you ordered our forces to fire upon a group of harmless journalists at Side 3?”

    Blackhead and Cairlay redden and bristle in indignation in response to Bright’s remark.

    Blackhead retorts, “General Noah, how dare you insinuate that the Federal Forces would needlessly engage in such an atrocity? You know as well as I do that those were ISRLA insurgents bent on turning public opinion in the colonies further against the Earth Federation!”

    “And you delivered them better propaganda than anything they could have devised,” Bright says, “You don’t have much ground to stand on regarding the issue of Contolist rights, General Blackhead.”

    President Gloria Brenner interjects, “Generals, please…let’s focus on the matter at hand. Major Ibaz, we on the Council have read through your report, and we have read through General Miguel’s proposal. Other than personal distrust, is there any other reason you can offer for opposing the Federation’s entering negotiations with General Miguel?”

    “Madame President,” Athena replies, “if personal distrust were all that I held towards General Miguel, I would not even bring it up in these proceedings, as it would have no policymaking value. I have made my assessment based on my knowledge of General Miguel’s activities over the years: his record of brutality against the people of the Outer System surpasses that of any of his fellow Zeon warlords. My objection is to the idea that the Earth Federation Forces is aligning itself with the greater of two evils.”

    “Come now, Major,” Blackhead says, condescension in his voice, “General Miguel has chosen to ally himself with the Federation: this is the best chance for lasting peace between Earth and Zeon in years, and you want to reject it? History is unkind to warmongers, young lady.”

    You would have the temerity to say such a thing, you corpulent hypocrite, Athena thinks to herself, but does not utter, saying instead, “History is also unkind to those whose haste to seemingly simple solutions unleashes catastrophe. Adolph Hitler’s victims, I’m sure, felt little gratitude towards the peace-minded Prime Minister Chamberlain of Britain…”

    Blackhead fumes silently, holding his tongue despite the anger welling inside him from being mocked by Athena.

    The insolence of this young b*tch! Blackhead thinks as he glares at the attractive young Deputy Director of the Special Forces, I was leading men into battle before she was able to put two words together, and she presumes to lecture ME on matters of policy?

    President Brenner brings down her gavel, “We’ll need to consider General Miguel’s proposal carefully. We stand on a historical precipice, ladies and gentlemen. Our children, grandchildren, and their descendents for generations beyond will never forgive us if we make the wrong choices. This meeting is adjourned.”

    The teleconference ends.

    “Major Ibaz,” Colonel Cairlay says coldly, “please join me in my office.”

    “Yes, sir,” Athena replies dutifully, mentally cursing herself for having overstepped her authority. She figures that the colonel will give her quite a reaming.

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

    With the docking of the Amuro Ray at Garrison Noah, 1Lt. Jolie Minh is finally discharged from the ship’s sick bay so that she may disembark along with the rest of the Centurion Team and Special Forces support personnel. Their tour of duty aboard the space battle carrier, which has endured for eight months, has come to an end…at least for now. The Centurion Team will return to their barracks at Garrison Noah to await further orders…most likely to deploy back into the Outer System to combat the Zeon Confederation Forces.

    Whether they will do so with the Phobos Zeon Forces at their side is a question that has weighed upon Jolie during her weeklong stay in sick bay.

    Major Athena Ibaz, Jolie’s commanding officer and best friend, had Jolie committed to the sick bay for treatment of “emotional exhaustion.” Dr. Wenwu Zhou (“Doc Wooster,” as the Centurion Team’s troops affectionately call their staff physician) could find nothing physically wrong with Jolie: other than being chronically underweight, she is the portrait of seventeen-year old female fitness. The doctor did find that various natural chemicals in her system, however, were somewhat overstimulated…the result of some great emotional stress.

    Realizing that medication was not the appropriate solution, and really not wanting to risk unleashing a doped-up White Phoenix on an already suffering world, Athena ordered “No sedatives…no drugs of any kind” to be administered to Jolie during the latter’s hospital stay. Instead, Athena prescribed to Jolie her own medicine for what ailed the senior executive officer of the Centurion Team: a series of books, written by both secular and religious authorities, on calming the mind and spirit and finding inner peace. Athena stopped by with a new book with each visit.

    Jolie, of course, relegated them all to the drawer by her hospital bed, as Athena more or less expected.

    “We all have issues,” Athena told Jolie on the fourth day, “mine is that I never give up on you even though you’re the most stubborn molly of a woman I’ve ever met.”

    Jolie thought Athena was referring to 1Lt. Molly Duran, Chief Engineer for the Centurion Team’s mobile suits maintenance team, until Athena brought Jolie another book the next day – Animals and Their Names.

    It was then that Jolie realized that Athena was calling her an a*s. No wonder Athena called her “Jenny” too when she handed the book to Jolie.

    Athena’s dry, acidic humor has snapped Jolie out of her funk, but even more important has been Jonah’s constant tender, loving care. He has spent all of his non-duty time during the past week. Jonah’s joking with Jolie, patient listening to her endless rants, and earnest warmth and affection have done more to soothe Jolie’s nerves than any chemical medication or textual aphorisms ever could. During the past week, Jolie and Jonah have laughed, cried, and embraced (and, when there was no one else in Jolie’s hospital room, much more) during the past week, but Jolie cannot help sensing that there’s something that Jonah is keeping from her…

    But she trusts that when he’s ready, he’ll tell her in time.

    A wife should be able to trust her husband.

    Jonah stumbles into Jolie’s hospital room, carrying both his and her personal effects from their now vacated shipboard quarters. The ship’s being in low-gravity drydock means that the items, while not as heavy as they would be under fully gravity, do have enough mass to be awkward and troublesome.

    “Oof!” Jonah exclaims, dropping two very large, very overstuffed duffel bags to the deck.

    “I’ve packed up your stuff,” Jonah says with a grin, “If you’re ready, let’s go!”

    “Yay! Paroled at last!” Jolie exclaims cheerfully, leaping off the bed she had been sitting on.

    Jolie grabs her duffel bag, “Thanks for helping me to pack up!”

    “No biggie,” Jonah replies, throwing his own duffel bag and throwing it over his shoulder, “here: let me carry it for you.”

    “Is that what husbands do for wives?” Jolie asks with a grin.

    Jonah replies with a smile of his own, “Among other things…”

    “S’okay, I got it,” Jolie says, “’Thena says muscles turn to flab if you don’t use ‘em, and I’ve been lying in this damn hospital bed for a week!”

    The couple walks (no longer able to just drift in the limited gravity of the docked ship) through the Amuro Ray's corridors, finally disembarking through the main gangway on Deck 2.

    Jolie soaks in the environment as her feet touch the artificial turf of Side 7 for the first time in months, “Boy, oh boy: it feels so good to be on Federation territory again!”

    “Synthetic turf is synthetic turf,” Jonah remarks, “no matter whose flag flies over it. It’d be nice to walk barefoot on Earth one of these days, however…”

    “I’ve done it,” Jolie says, “Of course, that was all indoors of course. Can’t really go barefoot outdoors in northern China in winter…”

    A thought strikes Jolie, however, and she removes her uniform boots, stuffing them into her duffel bag, to walk unshod on the Side 7 turf.

    “Would Athena approve?” Jonah asks, looking at Jolie’s beautifully-shaped toes.

    “’Thena doesn’t know,” Jolie says, taking Jonah’s hand, then says with a grin, “Hey, it’s been months since had pizza at Rondino’s in downtown Green Oasis City!”

    “You’re on!” Jonah enthuses, “but who’s buying?”

    “You, of course,” Jolie beams.

    Jonah sighs, “Fine. I have a feeling we’re going to end up at the Andromeda Club afterwards, huh?”

    Jolie kisses Jonah on the cheek and darts towards the center of the city. Lugging his duffel bag, Jonah follows her.

    Two duffel bags disappear into the city streets of Green Oasis.

    To be continued...

  6. #226
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 18 continued...

    “That was indiscreet of you, Athena,” Col. Cairlay says to his Deputy Director, his eyes snakelike in their beady intensity, “You’ve always been a model Special Forces officer; it’s unbecoming of you to treat your superior officers with such flagrant disrespect, especially in the presence of the Federation High Council. You would be looking at some serious consequences were it not for your excellent record, Major. Do I make myself clear?”

    “Yes, sir,” Athena replies dutifully, but without any real meekness or contrition, “I agree that I was indiscreet.”

    “But you don’t agree that you were wrong,” Cairlay smirks knowingly.

    “No, sir,” Athena says firmly.

    Cairlay rises from his seat to pat Athena on the shoulder. There is no warmth in the gesture…only a menacing air of admonition, “Athena, you are without a doubt the most capable and gifted officer in the Special Forces, and one of our most valuable assets. But I’m warning you: your arrogance will be your downfall one day. Bear that in mind.”

    “Yes, sir,” Athena replies, “Thank you, sir.”

    “Your report on the Zeon Confederation Forces was very thorough, and very insightful. It will be of great use to use,” Cairlay says, strategically softening his tone, “It is likely that you and your people will be sent out to the Outer System again in the near future.”

    “We’ll be ready, sir,” Athena responds.

    “Dismissed,” Cairlay says.

    “Sir!” Athena salutes, donning her officer’s cap and overcoat.

    Cairlay steeples his fingers as Athena leaves, leaning back in his chair, Nothing is more tragic than watching intelligent people do foolish things. Such uncommon brilliance in one so young…what a waste it would be. Don’t make this mistake, Major Ibaz.

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


    At Rondino’s Pizzeria in downtown Green Oasis, Jolie and Jonah are sharing a large pepperoni pizza and a double chocolate malt. The pizzeria’s staff is glad to see them after so many months, glad that their heroes are home for the war…alive…for now.

    Jonah puts a question to Jolie as she inhales chocolate shake through a paper straw, “Jolie, are you serious about leaving the Federal Forces if the Federation decides to ally itself with…the Phobos Zeon Forces?”

    “I gave it a lot of thought while I was lying in that hospital bed,” Jolie says, stirring the drink with her straw, “I can’t let Athena, you, and the rest of the team down. You guys are my family, and I did swear an oath to fight to the death for the Federation. But none of you can understand the pain that bastard Miguel caused me. There’s no way I can on the same side with him, Jonah…I don’t know for sure what I’m gonna do.”

    Seeing how agitated Jolie is growing discussing the subject again, Jonah says contritely, “I’m sorry I brought it up. You’re still just recovering, and I’m…”

    “Hey, I can talk about it,” Jolie says, “I want to talk about it, and I want to ask you…”

    Jonah stiffens, the skin on the back of his neck going cold.

    “…if I leave the Federal Forces,” Jolie continues, “Are you gonna come with me?”

    Jonah exhales, then says, “Like you have to ask? We promised each other we’d be together anywhere, Jolie, no matter what.”

    “It means deserting the Federal Forces,” Jolie says quietly, “that means we’re gonna be fugitives, and the Federal Forces are gonna be out to get us. If they find us, they’ll kill us for being traitors and deserters. I really rather you not take that risk with me, ‘cause I can’t see you get hurt Jonah…I can’t see you die.”

    Jonah takes Jolie’s hands affectionately into his own, “I’m not to afraid to die…I’m only afraid of you not letting me be with you. I’d have no regrets if we could die together.”

    “Together,” Jolie smiles.

    “Together,” Jonah agrees, leaning forward to kiss Jolie.

    Together.

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

    Athena is back in her office at Reveille Hall. She never thought she’d live to sit in it again.

    Athena’s staff has, per her orders, kept the office in pristine condition during the long months that she was away directing the peacekeeping operation in the Outer System. She returned to her office to find not a speck of dust, not an item out of place, not a thing unlike how she left it months ago.

    Aside from that, however, everything has changed.

    The phone on Athena’s desk rings. She has been dreading its soft beeping tone.

    “Major Ibaz speaking,” Athena says into the transceiver more steadily than she is feeling, “go ahead.”

    “Athena,” the cold voice of Col. Cairlay says ominously, “The Federation High Council has decided it will begin a dialogue with General Miguel. He’ll be coming to Garrison Noah to meet with Generals Blackhead and Noah in person at 09:00 tomorrow morning. Your squad is to serve as General Miguel’s escort and security detail.”

    “Yes, sir,” Athena replies dutifully, betraying none of her displeasure in her vocal tone.

    Jolie’s going to love this one, Athena thinks to herself wryly.

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

    “Why?!” Jolie demands in Athena’s office an hour later, “Why us?!”

    Athena, deciding to tell Jolie privately about the team’s new assignment instead of risking more drama in front of the others, places a cigarette into her mouth and lights it before saying, “Because General Miguel is familiar with and comfortable with us, and because General Blackhead and Colonel Cairlay have decided that our experience in these matters makes us the best suited for this assignment.”

    Jolie pulls at her long, straight black hair, looking frenzied, “Tell those dumb officers to shove those orders up their as*es! I’m not gonna protect that bastard Miguel! NO!”

    Athena stubs out her barely smoked cigarette angrily, stares Jolie in the eye, and points an admonishing finger at the younger woman, “You listen to me: the Earth Federation Forces are not your personal army. You’re a soldier like the rest of us, and you’re expected to follow your orders like the rest of us. I regret letting you behave like a spoiled child since the Phobos Zeon Forces approached us. We are at war, Lieutenant, and as soldiers, we have to be ready to make sacrifices for victory. You’ll follow your orders, Lieutenant Minh, or I’ll make sure you face the most severe consequences permissible. Is that understood?”

    Jolie stares Athena in the eye with a look that could kill. The facedown between the two young Special Forces officers fills the room with unbearable tension.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jolie finally whispers.

    Athena’s voice softens as she says, “Alexander Miguel is a dangerous threat, but the Federation’s leaders fail to see that. Eventually, we will need to move against him. Now, however, isn’t the time.”

    “Why not?” Jolie demands.

    Athena says, “You know how I always beat you at chess? Why do you always lose?”

    “’Cuz you’re smarter than me,” Jolie says, “What the hell are you getting at, anyway?”

    “That’s not it,” Athena says, “You lose not because I’m supposedly ‘smarter’ than you; it’s because you have no patience, and you’re unwilling to sacrifice even pawns to set up my king. I’ve played you enough times to see the pattern: you always protect every single one of your pawns, even when it meant losing the game in the end.”

    “It’s not really victory unless everyone gets saved,” Jolie protests.

    Athena can’t help but smile at her protégée’s idealistic naivety, “You really need to learn how to play chess.”

    “Do you have a point in telling me all this?” Jolie says irritably.

    “Jolie,” Athena says slowly, gently, “Life and war are part chess, part poker, and part crapshoot. If you want to take down Alexander Miguel, you’ve got to know and execute your chess moves.”

    So saying, Athena pours out a shot of whiskey and hands it to Jolie.

    Jolie declines, saying, “I’ve quit drinking, remember?”

    “Take this one anyway,” Athena says, setting the shot on her desk, “It’ll help inure you to what you need to do next.”

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

    Not long afterwards, Athena relays the High Command’s orders for the Centurion Team to the rest of her squad. Each member of the team takes the news with his or her own measure of displeasure, although none nearly as strong as Jolie’s.

    Nothing unexpected there, Athena notes, but the oddest reaction comes from Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, who blanches and nearly collapses upon learning that the Centurion Team would be providing security for General Miguel.

    “Hey, Jonah,” Jolie says, concerned, holding onto Jonah’s arm, giving him support, “You OK?”

    “Chief Michaels,” Athena says, “if you’re unwell, then report to sick bay.”

    “I’m fine, ma’am,” Jonah replies, regaining his composure.

    “You sure?” Jolie asks.

    Jonah nods, giving Jolie a smile meant, but not quite able to be reassuring.

    Athena finishes by saying, “Many of us here are distrustful of General Miguel and his intentions. Given Miguel’s infamous track record, none of you can be blamed for your misgivings. Even so, we are soldiers of the Earth Federation Forces, and the High Command has decided that the best course of action for the Federation at present is to seek rapprochement with the Phobos Zeon Forces under Miguel’s command. Our duty is to enforce this directive, do I make myself clear?

    “Yes, ma’am,” the Centurions salute in unison, including Jolie (reluctantly) and Jonah (anxiously).

    “We’re just going to listen to what Miguel has to say, Bright,” General Manron Blackhead says almost dismissively, “Nobody has agreed to anything yet.”

    “We’ve listened to charismatic madmen like Miguel before,” General Noah retorts, “Degin Zabi. Jamintoff Haiman. Haman Karn. Char Aznable. Every one of them came to the Federation at one point extending an olive branch, but held a dagger behind his or her back. What makes you think things will be any different with Alexander Miguel?”

    “Bright,” Manron says with a tone of smug condescension, “the wars have made you hard and cynical, old friend. Weren’t you always the one who encouraged the Federation to make peace with the Spacenoids?”

    “Men such as Alexander Miguel have no interest in ‘making peace,’” Bright protests, “He wants to use the Federation’s power to conquer his Zeon rivals, and once he’s overcome them and consolidated his power base, he’ll turn on the Federation!”

    “You sound paranoid, Bright,” Blackhead admonishes, “Maybe you’ve been working too hard…you’re exhausted. Maybe it’s time you took a leave.”

    Bright grumbles in silent frustration for a moment, then sighs, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it is time…to leave.”

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

    Colonel Ross Davenport enters the private chambers of General Alexander Miguel aboard the Cassius, bearing good news for his liege.

    “My lord,” Ross salutes, “I’m pleased to report that the leaders of the Earth Federation Forces have extended you an invitation to meet with them at Garrison Noah at Side 7.”

    “Of course they will,” Miguel says matter-of-factly, as he pours Davenport and himself a glass each of expensive burgundy wine, “They’d be insane to turn down an opportunity for peace after twenty years of war. Unequivocally insane.”

    Miguel toasts his subordinate, who sips from the glass, tasting the exquisite sweetness of the spirit. Miguel lifts the glass to his nose, sniffs the contents of the glass, and pours the red liquid slowly onto the cold metallic floor of his chamber.

    “Unequivocally insane,” Miguel says, “to so waste this excellent wine, but what will it matter, Ross, when by this time next year, we will walk freely on the vineyards from which this wine was derived?”

    Ross grins, “Indeed, my lord.”

    The pool of dark burgundy spreads silently across the cold steel deck plates.

    Episode 18 to be continued...

  7. #227
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 18 continued...

    In a coffee shop at Side 6, two women meet at a corner table. Their mood is as heavy as the coats they wear.

    They are soon joined by a man who enters from the programmed rain shower outside the coffee shop. Reclaimed water soaks his hat and coat.

    A waitress directs the man to the table where the two women sit, quietly discoursing over cups of coffee.

    Kai Shiden greets the two women with his trademark roguish grin, “I’d forgotten the colony climate authority had scheduled a rain shower for this afternoon; if I’d remembered, I wouldn’t have come.”

    “Some things haven’t changed so much in twenty years, have they, Kai?” smiles the pleasant face of Dr. Artasia Daikun, once known as “Sayla Mass” to Kai and her crewmates on the White Base during the One Year War, “Once a slacker, always a slacker?”

    “Hah!” Kai laughs self-mockingly, “I wish. I’m nearly forty. By all rights, I should be a good 10 kilograms heavier than I am, but running around on all these errands has kept me from putting on any weight. Here we are in the Second Universal Century, almost, and I’m still doing legwork the old-fashioned way!”

    “So for all your comings and goings,” Artasia says, “do you bring us good news, or bad news?”

    “I bring you strange news,” Kai says, taking a seat as a waitress brings him a cup of fresh, hot coffee, “The Federation will be entering negotiations to establish an alliance with General Alexander Miguel, Prince of Phobos Zeon.”

    Artasia exchanges a disbelieving look with the third party at the table, Dory Ischinda, also known as Linda Ackerman.

    “That is a surprise,” Artasia responds, “Why would the Federation ally itself with the Phobos Zeon?”

    Dory adds, “Alexander Miguel’s father, General Carloman Miguel, was one of the greatest military leaders in the Archduchy of Zeon Forces. Alexander has inherited his father’s tactical genius, but none of his conscience. I’m afraid that he has motives behind this alliance with the Federation that will threaten the future of Side 3 and the ISR movement.”

    “I think you’re right,” Artasia says, “and that being the case, we need to get back to Side 3 right away. We need to take control of the situation before the Federation and the Phobos Zeon do.”

    “I hear that,” Dory says, then adds, “Should I get in touch with Minerva? Maybe she could give us some help…”

    Artasia says, “Not just yet. Even though I personally believe that we can trust Minerva, I don’t want to tip our hand to anyone actively associated with the Federal Forces.”

    Kai says, “On a related front, I met with Hathaway recently. He says that Mirai is running for a seat on the Federation Senate. If she wins the election, we’ll have an important ally in the Federation government.”

    “That’s encouraging,” Artasia remarks, “Bright has done much for us on the military end, but I sense he’s getting increasingly outvoted by the other top-echelon Federal Forces officers. We need support in the civilian government as well as the military hierarchy. Mirai can help us with that.”

    Kai nods, but also sighs, “It’s a different Earth Federation from the one we fought for twenty years ago, Sayla. It’s even worse now.”

    “I know,” Artasia concedes, “and that’s why it’s so urgent for the ISR movement to succeed. Neither the Federation nor the Zeon will lead the peoples of Earth and space to a better world. We, the people, need the freedom to find that world for ourselves, not have it dictated to us by militarists.”

    A moment of silence, then Artasia finishes solemnly, “We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

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

    The mobile suits of the Centurion Team escort an Earth Federation Government Diplomatic Corps shuttle craft from the Phobos Zeon flagship Cassius. Aboard the shuttle craft are General Alexander Miguel and the most important and high-ranking military and diplomatic advisors of his regime.

    Major Athena Ibaz keeps her Cour de Leon close to the shuttle – the last line of defense should the diplomatic convoy be assaulted by unfriendly forces. Although an attack is unlikely so close to the Federation’s core of strength at Garrison Noah near Side 7, the recent fall of Ceres Base has compelled the leaders of the Federation to take no chances. Not with such crucial stakes.

    The rest of the Centurion Team, five other Special Forces teams, and three other squadrons of the regular forces from the Space Command and two dozen MP units form the rest of the security detail.

    Athena keeps one eye on the shuttle, and the other on 1Lt. Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam Unit-1. So far, Jolie is following the plan, taking her position in the security ring, weapons systems in combat-ready mode, but not directed in the direction of the diplomatic shuttle.

    Next to Jolie’s mobile suit is Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam Unit-2, which is also alert to its twin’s movements, ready to intervene should anything…inauspicious happen.

    So far, nothing has.

    Even so, Jonah’s nerves are so tense that he fears they will snap. At some point, soon, perhaps as soon as later today, he and Alexander will come face-to-face. What, then?

    Jonah regrets his cowardice. He regrets his dishonesty to Jolie. A catastrophe of his own making looms over him.

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

    Mace Vidor, known as Lt. Cmdr. Mace Vidor during his days as an officer in the Archduchy of Zeon Space Armada, is a twenty-year veteran with the Zeon Intelligence Bureau (ZIB). Vidor made his initial mark as a front line combat specialist with the Space Armada, taking part in the Loum Operation and the first Colony Drop Operation in the opening months of the One Year War. Vidor served capably in this role, but it soon became apparent to both his commanding officers and to Vidor himself that his true gifts lay in espionage work.

    Vidor has an uncanny gift for insinuating himself into and blending into any environment, accessing otherwise inaccessible information, and discreetly relaying that information back to his Zeon superiors. In the middle stages of the One Year War, Vidor planted himself at Side 7, and sent first word back to Zeon about the development of the Federation’s V- Project. This act prompted Prince Dozle Zabi to dispatch Colonel Char Aznable to Side 7 to investigate the V-Project, and the rest has since become One Year War folklore.

    After the One Year War, Vidor continued to serve as a spy for the Axis Neo Zeon. He remained in Cislunar Space in the years between the One Year War and the Gryps Conflict, often acting as a liaison between the Axis Zeon in the Asteroid Belt and their allies among the Titans.

    Assassinations have long been Vidor’s forte, being blessed with one of the best shots ever in Zeon Forces and, just as importantly, to make those shots undetected and quietly slip away while the scene is still reeling with shock. Over two decades, he has compiled quite a list of assassinations on key figures in the Federation’s military and civilian chains of command, particularly those known for supporting anti-Zeon agendas.

    Occasionally, in leaner times, Vidor has taken an odd job or two…the oddest being hired by the Titans to eliminate AEUG leader Blex Forra in Dakar in U.C. 0087. This, Vidor accomplished with ease, murdering the AEUG’s patriarch in his hotel bed the night before Forra was to have addressed the Federation Deliberative Assembly. Vidor had fled the scene before he could be discovered by his old colleague Char Aznable, who was then operating under the guise of AEUG officer Captain Quattro Bagina.

    More recently, Vidor has been planning to carry out assassinations on such current prominent Federation figures as President Gloria Brenner, General Bright Noah, General Manron Blackhead, and Col. Peter Cairlay. Assassinations are frequently about seizing the right opportunity, and Vidor nearly lost his to kill Noah a year ago when he was upstaged by Mafty, that ISRLA upstart, whose had an impressive record of his own and who, Vidor acknowledged, had a talent not unlike his own for this kind of work…but was likely not even born when Mace Vidor first took a man’s life.

    Ten days ago, Vidor had received a work order from an old patron, Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas of Titan Zeon, who had been a major in the old Archduchy of Zeon Forces during the One Year War and had been Vidor’s first commanding officer when Vidor was a rookie out of the Archduchy of Zeon Military Academy. Reglas had taken Vidor under his wing, and first recommended him to ZIB.

    Reglas and Vidor soon became like father and son. Several times, the generalissimo had offered Vidor opportunities to join his senior staff, but Vidor always declined. He was pleased to serve his mentor and friend, but disdained the rank and file life of the regular military, and abhorred the deskbound work of a senior military staffer even more. Vidor stuck with his first love and greatest gifts, espionage and clandestine ops, and has served both his friend and his nation in this furtive, unacknowledged manner.

    Vidor accepted this newest mission without reservation or hesitation. General Alexander Miguel is the scion of one of Zeon’s greatest military leaders, but the Prince of Phobos Zeon has gone rogue, taking the side of the Earth Federation against his fellow Zeon. Vidor would be pleased to execute Miguel…even if Generalissimo Reglas were not offering that reward of five million Zeon credits for the job.

    Moreover, Vidor is aware that several ranking officers of the Earth Federation Forces, including Generals Noah and Blackhead, will be present. This is an opportunity to do away with all of them in one strike.

    Vidor cleans, loads, and inspects his weapon…a sleek Mauser retractable carbine that is easily concealed beneath clothing.

    Vidor applies makeup and false facial hair, assuming the guise of a photojournalist.

    Thus prepared, Mace Vidor begins his hunt. Blood will spill at Side 7 today.

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

    The reception accorded to General Alexander Miguel and his retinue at Side 7 is the grandest accorded a foreign leader since nine-year old Duchess Minerva Zabi made her official state visit to the Federation capital in Dakar, Senegal on Earth eleven years earlier. The Prince of Phobos Zeon is received with an elaborate show of color by the Earth Federation Forces, and tens of thousands of curious civilians from Green Oasis City have gathered along the motorcade route to catch a glimpse of the notorious Phobos Zeon leader.

    The citizens of the Earth Federation are not sure what to make of Miguel. Most know of him for his notorious reputation as a bloodthirsty Zeon warlord. Not a few find it suspect that he, of all people, is now seeking to ally himself with the Earth Federation.

    Just as many, however, see Miguel’s appeal to the Federation as a sign of change that perhaps, just perhaps, can be taken as a reed of hope upon which to grasp. Some historians have likened Miguel’s decision, somewhat hyperbolically, to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s ameliorative approach, after years of infamy as a fervid anti-Communist, towards the Soviet Union and Communist China during the early 1970s of the old Gregorian calendar. More cynical historians liken it more to late 20th Century Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi’s sudden friendly turn towards the West after years of being viewed as a terrorist and rogue dictator.

    Perhaps the most apt analogy, however, would be between Miguel and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin during World War II. During that war nearly three centuries ago, Stalin had stood with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the leaders of the United States and Great Britain, as the “Big Three” Allies against the Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime. The American and British leaders regarded Stalin as the lesser of two evils, and thus accepted his help against Hitler, perhaps unaware…or simply uncaring that Stalin’s record of atrocity against his own people easily rivaled that inflicted by Hitler against the latter’s victims in the European Holocaust.

    The Western powers entered an alliance that they would spend the next five decades regretting, and the Earth Federation, it would seem, is doomed to do the same.

    If only the Federation were fortunate enough to merely be dealing with a Josef Stalin, as opposed to an Alexander Miguel…

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

    Mace Vidor, whose falsified press credentials rename him as “Mark Simmons,” a photojournalist for the Associated Press, stands amidst a sea of his “colleagues.” Vidor reaches into his pocket, and if anybody notices the casual gesture, it would not be anything more worthy of attention than if were pulling out a digital voice recorder, a pen and writing pad, or a camera.

    For the briefest of instants, nobody notices that “Simmons” points a firearm, not a camera or microphone, in the direction of General Miguel.

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

    Jonah is grateful that he is able to remain anonymous within a crowd of hundreds of soldiers in Federal Forces uniforms. His brother Alexander walks a mere two meters ahead and slightly to the right of him, but Alexander’s attention is focused ahead on General Blackhead, who greets him with a smile and a handshake. General Noah, too, shakes Alexander’s hand…albeit reluctantly, out of duty more than out of enthusiasm.

    Jonah glances to the side to notice Jolie, staring at Alexander’s back with a furious, bloodthirsty glare. If Jolie’s eyes could emit particle beams, Alexander would surely be atomized by now…

    But Jolie’s malicious gaze turns away from Alexander for an instant, looking towards a crowd of journalists jamming forth their dozens of microphones, note pads, and cameras.

    Jonah sees Jolie’s hand go for her sidearm.

    Instinctively, Jonah lunges towards the man who had raised him…

    Athena notices it too, at the same instant…her sidearm is also already out of its holster.

    Ever since Athena and Jolie began making a name for themselves in the Special Forces, many have argued and speculated about which one of the two is the better shot. Athena graduated from the Earth Federation Forces Military Academy as, by far, the best markswoman ever trained in its halls…able to strike a moving target the size of a cockroach from up to 50 meters away, without looking at it. Jolie is the deadeye Newtype known to have put twelve bullets through the exact same 5mm hole on a target on multiple occasions in practice.

    That mystery will not be resolved today.

    The Walther handpistols of the two Centurion Team officers are pointed towards Mace Vidor, would-be murderer of Alexander Miguel…

    Jolie turns the muzzle of her sidearm skyward…away from Vidor. Her weapon remains silent.

    A single bullet rips forth from the barrel of Athena’s pistol, penetrating Vidor’s skull and splattering his cerebrum an instant later…

    …but not before Vidor has already succeeded in triggering his own shot, which leaves the barrel of his weapon in the instant before Athena’s bullet sends him to eternal oblivion.

    Jonah tackles Alexander to the ground, the bullet from Vidor’s weapon grazing the hair on his scalp.

    There is mass commotion. There are screams. There are piles of MPs and other Federation officers securing Generals Blackhead and Noah. There are dozens of other MPs and Federation and Phobos Zeon officers with their sidearms trained on the corpse of Mace Vidor. A security ring is formed around the scene as it becomes increasingly frantic and frenzied. Before the day is done, at least two dozen bystanders, military and civilian, would be trampled to death or sustain serious injuries in the panicked melee.

    Through the din, a worried Jolie shoves and shimmies her way towards the fallen Jonah, her heart sinking at the thought that he might be hurt.

    What she sees and hears next, however, shatters her heart completely.

    Jonah says, “Big brother…are you all right?”

    Alexander looks at the young Federal Forces soldier who has saved his life, his face betraying rare surprise, “JONAH?!”

    Jolie’s legs become as soft as gelatin. She sinks to her knees, dropping her sidearm.

    Big brother…

    Episode 18 to be continued...

  8. #228
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    Episode 18 continued...

    Athena makes her way to the corpse of the would-be assassin. She is unable to identify him.

    “What do you make of it, Major?” asks Colonel Cairlay, who has joined Athena by the side of the fallen gunman.

    “Most likely someone with the Zeon Confederation Forces,” Athena concludes, “they’re the last ones who want to see the Federation and the Phobos Zeon form an alliance. What simpler way to prevent that from happening that murdering Alexander Miguel?”

    Athena turns in Miguel’s direction. She sees instantly that the Phobos Zeon leader is unhurt, and quite unruffled. Miguel takes a moment to wave to the crowd around him, showing that he has not been harmed.

    For the first time in history, a crowd of Earth Federation citizens applauds a Zeon leader.

    A medical crew arrives on the scene, offering its services to General Miguel. Miguel declines, saying that he is anxious to get on with business.

    Under heavy security, Miguel disappears with Generals Noah and Blackhead into Reville Hall.

    Athena steps over to Jonah and pats him on the shoulder, “Excellent work, Jonah.”

    Jonah whispers listlessly, “Thank you, ma’am.”

    Athena sees Jolie, kneeling on the ground, tears streaming from her eyes.

    “What’s wrong?” Athena asks, sensing the worst.

    Jolie does not respond to Athena, staring at Jonah with a look of hurt and betrayal that seems to crush his heart.

    Jolie approaches Jonah slowly, staring at him with wide, plaintive eyes, “Jonah…who are you?”

    Jonah looks shamefully at his feet, then into Jolie’s eyes, and says to her, very quietly, “My true name is Jonah Miguel. General Alexander Miguel is…my older brother.”

    The other Centurions gather around the couple. They are oblivious to the scene of chaos around them, lost in their own stunned disbelief.

    Jonah kneels before Jolie, “Oh, God…I’m so sorry, Jolie. I shouldn’t have lied to you.”

    Jolie raises her hand in a manner that her teammates recognize as a “Phoenix’s Claw” martial arts strike…a blow, if stricken, would certainly be fatal.

    Jolie’s hand flies up in a swift arc towards Jonah’s neck…then stops, a centimeter away from lethal contact.

    Jolie redirects the blow to a nearby street tree, tearing the five-meter tall arbor in half, causing it to fall onto the sidewalk.

    “You lied to me…,” Jolie whispers, her eyes more sorrowful than angry, “I’ve loved you so much…but you’ve lied to me. How could you, Jonah? HOW COULD YOU?!”

    Jonah says awkwardly, “Jolie…I…”

    Jolie picks up her sidearm from the ground and runs from the scene, sobbing bitterly.

    Jonah chases after her, calling out her name.

    “Ma’am,” Sgt. Horowitz says to Athena.

    Athena holds up her hand, “Let them be…they need to work this out on their own. There’s nothing we can do.”


    Jolie doesn’t stop running until she reaches her quarters at the Centurion Team’s barracks. She seals the door, throws herself on her bed, and wails with sobs that threaten to tear her apart inside.

    “It…can’t be….it can’t…,” Jolie sobs, blind with tears, “Jonah…it can’t be true…”

    Seconds later, Jonah pounds desperately on Jolie’s door, “Jolie! Let me in, please! I just want to talk to you! Jolie! Jolie! JOLIIEEEE!”

    Jonah continues pounding on the metal door for an hour…to no avail. He finally collapses in front of the door, weeping in despair.

    Mace Vidor, the great Zeon marksman, fired a shot to shatter Alexander Miguel’s skull. The shot failed to find that mark.

    But it has, quite effectively and thoroughly, shattered two young hearts…


    At Reveille Hall, the talks between General Miguel and the Federation High Command go well.

    Too well, for General Noah’s liking.

    At the end of the day, General Miguel and the High Command (with the exception of the demurring General Noah) have agreed, in principle, to an armistice between the Earth Federation Forces and the Phobos Zeon Forces, which if ratified by the Earth Federation Government Deliberative and Legislative Assemblies, and approved by President Brenner, would be made official before the end of the month with a formal treaty to be signed at the Federation capital in Shanghai.

    General Noah never made it to the end of the talks. He left the room in disgust when General Miguel began laying out his terms for the alliance.

    The first thing he asked for was the return of Side 3 to Zeon control.


    Later that night, General Alexander Miguel enters his hotel suite at the Savoy Green Oasis, the most exquisite hotel at Side 7 and one of the finest hotels in all the space colonies.

    Miguel is dressed in an elegant formal version of his duty uniform, in preparation of a grand ball being held in his honor at Reveille Hall that evening.

    Col. Ross Davenport arrives with the final vanity item…a cape to match the uniform.

    “Ross,” Alexander says, “did you notice that young Federation soldier who saved my life this afternoon.”

    Davenport nods, “That was Lord Jonah, wasn’t it sir?”

    “Indeed it was,” Miguel says, his lips tight, “The little bastard wouldn’t fulfill his duty to his heritage, but has joined the enemy.”

    Davenport says, “Lord Jonah is a traitor. I expect that we will treat him as we do all traitors?”

    “No,” Alexander says.

    “No, my lord?” Davenport responds quizzically.

    “He’s still personally loyal to me,” Alexander says, “otherwise, he wouldn’t have risked his life to save mine. This can work to our advantage. We will need a man on the inside of the Federation. Jonah can be that man.”

    “You’re probably right, my lord,” Davenport says, “but what could have compelled Lord Jonah to join the Federal Forces? It’s unfathomable, my lord.”

    Alexander says, “Youthful naivety, perhaps. Jonah sees all that we do as a great abomination…acts of pointless savagery. What he’s too young and foolish to understand, Ross, is that all dominant civilizations come into being, and survive, through savagery.”

    “As you’ve taught us many times, my lord,” Davenport affirms.

    Miguel seals the collar of his jacket, “Jonah will see, very soon, the truth.”


    At Reveille Hall, a despondent, listless Jonah sits with his back to the door of Jolie’s quarters. Jolie has not emerged from the room in twelve hours.

    A world away, across seven centimeters of alloyed ceramic, Jolie sits with her back on the opposite side of the same door.

    And they are oblivious to each other’s presence.

    Their psychic link, a product of their deep affection for one another, is broken.

    Shattered.

    End of Episode 18

    To be continued...

  9. #229
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    EPISODE 19: FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX

    Jolie places the last of a precious few items inside her backpack…just a few changes of clothing and not much more, really. Her choices – a few t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, and a pair of Doc Martens heavy boots…best suited for the streets.

    Much like Jolie herself.

    That’s right…just Jolie, not 1Lt. Jolie Minh. Not anymore.

    Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a soldier, Jolie thinks, Maybe I just can’t fit in…especially when I can’t trust the people I’m supposed to be fitting in with.

    Jolie looks at the items she leaves behind…mostly military uniforms and other military equipment that really were Earth Federation property, not hers. There are the sexy civvy outfits she acquired, but she won’t be needing those.

    What for? The only man Jolie would ever love, could ever love…has become a stranger to her.

    Jolie looks to the arm of one of her disowned uniform jackets, focusing on the “JoMi! JoMi!” patch sewed to it. She fingers it lovingly, her eyes brimming over with tears.

    Jolie tears the patch from the jacket, and stuffs the patch into her backpack.

    Jolie is attired in her normalsuit…the last time she will wear it. She needs it for what she has in mind, but once her objective is accomplished, she will never wear a military normalsuit again.

    Which leaves one final item to discard.

    From the holster of her normalsuit, Jolie draws out her Walther sidearm…the one Athena had given to her the previous Christmas. The one that she failed to use to fell Alexander Miguel…and the one that she inexplicably failed to use to end that pig’s life.

    She has no use for it now. It’s a symbol of a past that is broken for her.

    For the second time in her life, Jolie has lost her family.

    Jolie sets the gun down on the bed of her soon-to-be vacated quarters, atop two envelopes – one addressed to Athena, the other to Jonah.

    Jolie sighs and starts towards the door…towards the rest of her life (however long it might last), and finds Major Athena Ibaz standing at the threshold.

    Athena looks sadly at Jolie. After a moment of heavy, awkward silence, Athena finally says, “So you’ve decided to quit?”

    “Yeah,” Jolie says quietly.

    Athena says to Jolie, “I’m disappointed. You’ve never been one to quit.”

    Jolie replies, “That’s because there used to be things worth fighting for. When there aren’t anymore, what else can I do except quit?”

    Athena shifts to a different tack, “We’ve been here before. When you found out that I was Minerva Zabi, you also threatened to quit. You came back because you wouldn’t let your friends down.”

    Jolie’s eyes turn fiery with anger, “Don’t look for that to happen a second time! I was able to forgive it once, but…!”

    “You won’t a second time,” Athena finishes, then proceeds, “Why not?”

    Jolie points an accusing finger at Athena, “How would YOU feel if the people you loved most turned out to not be who you thought they were again and again?! Do you know what it’s like to have your heart ripped out of your chest once, twice, three times, ‘Thena?! Do you know what it’s like having your world turned upside down?! Do you know what it’s like not being able to trust the people you love the most?!”

    More than you could ever know, Jolie, Athena thinks privately, but wisely does not verbalize.

    Jolie takes Athena’s silence differently, “Can’t answer that, can you? You’d never get it! You’re the smartest person I know, ‘Thena, but you don’t get me at all!”

    Jolie takes a step towards Athena, when she suddenly notices that Athena has pulled out her own Walther handpistol and, unbelievably, points it at Jolie.

    Athena says calmly, “Earth Federation Forces, military ordinance 1-13A21: ‘Any soldier of the Earth Federation Forces who deserts his or her comrades in the course of duty is subject to imprisonment or death.’”

    Jolie cannot believe it! Would Athena actually shoot her? Jolie has always known Athena to have a certain callous ruthlessness to her, but this…

    Jolie adopts a combat stance. Were Athena unarmed, Jolie is certain she could defeat her former commanding officer and best friend effortlessly, but Athena Ibaz is the finest markswoman…possibly in the world.

    Even Jolie is wary of taking this risk…

    …but she might not need to.

    Athena raises the muzzle of her sidearm, saying, “I never was nearly as good a hand-to-hand fighter as you are. Looks like you beat me again.”

    Athena gives Jolie a knowing smile.

    Jolie returns the smile, “Thanks, ‘Thena. For being my best friend…for being my sister. I won’t ever forget you.”

    Jolie chops Athena swiftly across the neck, rendering the Centurion Team Leader unconscious.

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

    Jolie discreetly makes her way to the mobile suit maintenance dock of Garrison Noah. She sees the Centurion Gundam Unit-1 being maintained by 1Lt. Molly Duran’s engineer and mechanic crews.

    Another thing I’m gonna miss, Jolie realizes. Piloting the Centurion Gundam into battle was such a blood-racing thrill!

    One last time…

    Jolie nonchalantly approaches the launch gantry.

    “Lt. Minh,” the tech crew salutes her.

    That’s one thing I won’t miss! Jolie thinks wryly, Being called by rank all the time!

    Jolie says, “I’m gonna perform some field tests. Clear out your equipment. I’m gonna launch.”

    “Right away, ma’am,” the chief technician on duty replies, instructing his crew to rapidly disengage the various maintenance gear in preparation for sortie.

    Got to work fast, Jolie realizes, They’re gonna be onto me in a minute…


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

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels drags himself down the corridor towards Jolie’s quarters. After a day of self-recrimination and despair, he has finally worked up the courage to seek out Jolie again to try to come to an understanding with her. Their love for each other is too strong to simply crumble like this…even after the disastrous revelation that Jonah’s brother is the man who murdered Jolie’s family during her youth.

    Jonah doesn’t have much of a plan for this. He’s not a schemer, and he’s never been good at expressing himself through words. He could only show Jolie his heart, and pray that she recognizes that his love for her is unchanged…untainted by whomever his brother might be.

    Jonah sees the door to Jolie’s quarters open…an encouraging sign!

    Jonah pokes his head into the doorway to find a scene that chills him: Jolie isn’t there, but Athena lies motionless on the ground, unconscious!

    “Ma’am…Athena!” Jonah exclaims with alarm, rushing to the side of his fallen commanding officer.

    Jonah helps Athena into a sitting position, and the leader of the Centurion Team begins to regain consciousness.

    “Jonah…” Athena says, recognizing her junior executive officer, “Jolie’s…gone.”

    “Gone?!” Jonah says, the chill returning, this time freezing his heart, “Athena…what do you mean ‘gone?!’”

    Athena rises to her feet, rubbing her neck where Jolie had stricken her, “Jolie’s leaving. Leaving the military…leaving us. She feels she can’t trust us anymore, and that makes it impossible for her to continue fighting alongside us…”

    “NO!” Jonah cries out, rushing out of Jolie’s abandoned quarters, into the corridor, towards the mobile suit launch bay.

    “Jonah, wait!” Athena calls out, chasing after the artist-turned-soldier.

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

    Jolie has just begun the startup sequence on the CG-1’s nuclear fusion engine when she sees Jonah approaching.

    Jolie begins to seal the CG-1’s cockpit, afraid the sight of Jonah will cause her to change her mind…

    “Jolie!” Jonah cries out desperately, “Don’t do it! Don’t leave us! Don’t leave me!”

    Jonah pounds his hand desperately against the armored hatch behind which Jolie has concealed herself.

    Jolie refuses to activate the CG-1’s forward viewscreen, not wanting to see Jonah. It would only make what she must do next more difficult and painful.

    “Energy output at 100%,” the synthesized voice of the CG-1’s AI reports, “Ready for launch.”

    Jolie seals the visor of her helmet, and moves the control stick to the forward position.

    The CG-1 disengages from its dock, and begins marching towards the launch bay.

    Jonah falls back onto the launch gantry as the mighty Earth Federation Forces mobile suit goes into motion. He is helped up by Athena.

    “Molly!” Athena calls out, “Seal the exit port! We have an unauthorized launch!”

    “Roger, ma’am!” Molly replies, rushing to close the armored gate of the MS deck.

    That won’t stop Jolie, Athena realizes, but it’ll serve its role in establishing an alibi for our letting her get away.

    But Athena knows it’ll take more than that to provide that illusion, so she activates her comlink, “This is Major Ibaz to all Centurion Team MS pilots: man your mecha. 1Lt. Minh is attempting an unauthorized launch of the CG Unit-1. Your orders are to stop her.”

    Jolie has brought the Centurion Gundam to the launch catapult, which to no surprise of hers, has been disabled. The exit port has been sealed by a mammoth armored door.

    Jolie directs the beam rifle of the Centurion Gundam at the door and opens fire with a single shot that blasts the door apart. The door was meant to take heavy punishment from the outside, but is are more easily penetrable from the inside.

    Jolie engages full thrusters…the CG-1 tears forth into space at 300 knots.

    The CG-1 clears the launch bay just as the other Centurions board their mobile suits.

    “Centurion Leader to all units,” a normalsuited Athena says from the cockpit of the Cour de Leon, “Your priority is to recover the CG-1 and 1Lt. Minh intact and alive. Lethal force…is authorized only in case of extreme emergency.

    There is a momentary silence across the tactical net before reluctant “Yes, ma’ams,” come from the Centurion Team MS pilots. In the cockpit of his CG-2, Jonah experiences a sick feeling in his stomach.

    The launch catapult system quickly reengaged by 1Lt. Molly Duran, Athena maneuvers her Cour de Leon to the launch catapult, “Major Athena Ibaz, Cour de Leon, now deploying!”

    In pairs, the remaining Centurions also launch in their mobile suits in pursuit of their wayward member.

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

    Jolie is pushing the CG-1 ahead at maximum thrust. She has a two minute head start on them, and will likely increase that lead on most of them, thanks to the superior thrust power of her Centurion Gundam.

    But Jonah’s Centurion Gundam will be able to keep that two-minute pace with her, and Athena’s Cour de Leon, whose power is allocated in higher proportion to thruster output, is likely to overtake her…

    …which it does, eighteen minutes into the pursuit, just as Jolie reaches the edge of the Side 7 Zone.

    Jolie hits maximum reverse thrusters, leveling the beam rifle of the Centurion Gundam at the Cour de Leon in her path.

    “You said you weren’t going to stop me!” Jolie exclaims hotly into the tactical net, “Get out of my way, ‘Thena, or I swear I’ll blast you, sister or no sister!”

    Jolie, Athena connects with Jolie psychically, via their Newtype abilities, not wanting her communications picked up by anyone monitoring the Federation tactical net or recorded on either the CG-1’s or the Cour de Leon’s black box recorders, I’m not going to stop you, but you need to leave the team an “out.” Can you go in good conscience knowing that you’ve left your friends behind to take the fall for failing to stop you?

    Right, Jolie sparks back, I’ll take care of it.

    Athena draws out the beam rifle of the Cour de Leon and fires it aimlessly into space.

    Jolie brings forth the Centurion Gundam and draws out one of its beam sabers, approaching the Cour de Leon for a carefully guided slash.

    Athena pulls out the Cour de Leon’s own beam saber for a half-hearted parry.

    The CG-1’s beam saber tears viciously through the sword arm of the Cour de Leon, severing it.

    Jolie arcs the CG-1’s beam saber in a different direction, and eliminates the Leon’s powerful thruster units.

    “Jolie!” Jonah’s voice comes through the tactical net.

    Jolie spots the CG-2 approaching, no weapons drawn.

    Dammit, no! Jolie thinks to herself as Jonah’s MS draws near hers.

    “Jonah!” Jolie says, “Go away!”

    “Jolie,” Jonah pleads, “Stop, please!”

    “Jonah,” Jolie says, her eyes beginning to brim over with tears, “You don’t understand. Maybe you can’t…but I’ve got to leave. Let me go, please!”

    “No!” Jonah persists, the armored hand of the CG-2 locking onto that of the CG-1’s, “There’s no way I’m going to allow for us to be separated, Jolie! I WON’T!”

    “Dammit!” Jolie swears, forced into a confrontation she hoped to avoid.

    The CG-1 twists its hand free of the grip of its twin, then strikes its newer counterpart hard in the camera/head unit, disorienting Jonah within the cockpit. Jolie then further disables the CG-2 by using the CG-1’s beam saber to disable the former’s thrust engines, just as she had done to Athena’s Cour de Leon a moment earlier.

    No sooner has Jolie accomplished this than does she notices that the rest of the Centurion Team’s mobile suits have surrounded her, and are training her weapons upon the CG-1.

    “1Lt. Minh,” MSgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said transmits through the tactical net, “Stand down immediately, or we’ll be forced to fire on you.”

    Jolie responds by vectoring the CG-1 away at maximum speed. Before the Centurions can react, Jolie opens fire with ALL of the Centurion Gundam’s ballistic weapons payload, whose sum kinetic output of concussive power would equal to twice that of the first atomic weapon that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan centuries earlier at the end of the Second World War.

    “Allah!” Karim exclaims as hundreds of missiles swarms towards the Centurion Team.

    But Jolie’s intent is not to destroy or kill…not against her family…

    The massive ordnance dump creates a hellacious explosion that momentarily blinds the pilots of the Centurion Team, but Jolie had set the missiles to detonate well short of team’s position. The Centurions are unharmed, but the tremendous flash and concussive wave generated by Jolie’s maneuver prevents them from taking any further action for three minutes until the harsh, intense light and shockwave subside.

    “Jolie!” Jonah cries out.

    “Jonah,” Athena says, trying to calm the youth down.

    As their scopes clear, they see Jolie’s CG-1, smoke emitting forth and instantly freezing solid in the coldness of the void from the opened access ports from which her last torrent of missiles had ripped forth.

    The cockpit module is gone, having been ejected.

    The Centurions gather around the CG-1 as if it were a corpse.

    Athena orders her squad, “Centurion Leader to all units: the pursuit has ended. Sgt. Horowitz, see if you can get a tracking signature on the CG-1’s cockpit module. The rest of you: begin recovery procedures on the CG-1.”

    “Jolie!” Jonah screams, tears flowing from his eyes, “JOLIE! JOOLIIIIEEEE!!!!!”

    Jonah fires the beam rife of his CG-2 into space, in each squeeze of the trigger is heartrending regret, lament, and self-directed anger.

    “Ohmigosh, he’s gone crazy!” Centurion Team MS pilot Cpl. Phoebe Mendoza exclaims.

    MSgt. Al-Said and 1Sgt. Tomo Higashi move their Guncannon-100s in to restrain Jonah’s thruster-disabled CG-2.

    Sgt. Geoffe Sutcliffe and Cpl. Nick Van Dyck guide Athena’s similarly thruster-disabled Cour de Leon towards the CG-2. When the Leon is within reach of the CG-2, the Centurion Leader’s mobile suit reaches out with its arm, grabbing the CG-2 by its throat as if to strangle the other mobile suit.

    “Chief Michaels, calm down, damn it!” Athena says with seldom-seen fury, “1Lt. Minh is now a deserter, and you need to pull yourself together and start acting like a soldier, do you understand me?!”

    After a moment of silence, Jonah’s sobbing, “Yes…ma’am” is heard on the tactical net.

    “Let’s go back,” Athena says darkly, “There’s still the fallout to deal with.”

    Episode 19 to be continued...

  10. #230
    Senior Member GuGu's Avatar
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    i've been a silent reader since you started this story, it's actually the only fanfic i read on spcnet. but i thought i should tell you what a wonderful job you're doing so far. unfortunately, i've decided to cut about 50% of my internet usage so i won't be able to read this fanfic anymore. i'll miss your jolie minh. keep up the wonderful job and good luck!

  11. #231
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuGu View Post
    i've been a silent reader since you started this story, it's actually the only fanfic i read on spcnet. but i thought i should tell you what a wonderful job you're doing so far. unfortunately, i've decided to cut about 50% of my internet usage so i won't be able to read this fanfic anymore. i'll miss your jolie minh. keep up the wonderful job and good luck!
    First: wow! Thanks. A very unexpected fan for my work and I really appreciate the readership and the compliments.

    Second: Arggh! You finally spoke up about reading my fanfic...only to leave right after (sort of a running theme in my life, really).

    And the worst part is, you're going to be stopping right when things are starting to get exciting. Jolie and Jonah have reached a crisis point in their relationship, and this is only the beginning.

    But you said you're only cutting your Internet time by 50%, so you can still follow it, maybe, at half-speed.

    Glad you've enjoyed it so far, and hope you do come back for more. It only gets better from here.

  12. #232
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 19 continued...

    Hundreds of kilometers away, the CG-1’s ejected cockpit module floats freely in space, abandoned by its occupant.

    Jolie drifts away from the abandoned module, using her normalsuit’s maneuvering thrusters to propel her towards the nearest space colony…from which it will be easy for her to smuggle aboard a cargo shuttle for…well, anywhere away from Side 7.

    Jolie turns her head to face, one last time, the life she has left behind, and the people she loves most, Jonah…Athena…my friends. I’m sorry. Good bye and God bless all of you!

    Later, at Col. Cairlay’s office inside Reveille Hall, the Director of the Special Forces glares reproachfully at Athena.

    “It’s commendable that you were able to recover the RX-780-1 intact,” Cairlay says, not taking his gaze off of Athena, “but allowing Minh to escape is inexcusable, Major Ibaz.”

    “Yes, sir,” Athena says steadily, “we were overwhelmed by 1Lt. Minh’s superlative skills and abilities, but that does not excuse our failure.”

    “I wonder if there isn’t more to it than that,” Cairlay rejoins menacingly, “You and the rest of your team do not lack for skill, not even against an opponent like Minh.”

    “We are human after all, sir,” Athena responds reasonably, “1Lt. Minh was our comrade-at-arms.”

    “And you of all people,” Cairlay replies, “Know better than to let personal feelings cloud your judgment or stop you from performing your duty as an officer.”

    “Yes, sir,” is all Athena can manage to say, “Of course, you’re correct, sir. It won’t happen again.”

    “Pursuit of 1Lt. Minh will be left to the intelligence authorities, Major,” Col. Cairlay says, “Finding her and bringing her back for court-martial and likely execution will be their responsibility. You and your team will be needed elsewhere.”

    “Yes, sir,” Athena says again, her heart freezing at the prospect of the Federation’s intelligence hounds pursuing Jolie, but her mind calming her heart as she reminds herself that with Jolie’s skills, the intelligence personnel do not have a strong chance of locating or subduing her.

    Cairlay says, “Athena, you and your team will be serving as the Federal Forces’ official liaisons to the Phobos Zeon. Negotiations between the Federation High Council and General Miguel are progressing well, and General Blackhead tells me that a formal armistice agreement will announced within a week. The Zeon Confederation Forces are already deep into preparations to invade Cislunar Space, and our forces and the Phobos Zeon Forces will meet them as a united front. It’s a historic occasion, Athena…and I do know you are enamored of history. This will be the first true alliance between the Earth and Zeon Forces.”

    Athena says nothing, knowing that to be a half-truth at best. The Federation and Zeon have collaborated before, but never under any circumstances that either side would wish to parade proudly and publicly…

    “What are our orders, sir?” Athena finally says.

    “You’ll be reporting to General Miguel directly for the time being, Major,” Col. Cairlay says, “Your first assignment will be to provide the General with security during his meeting with the High Council in Shanghai on Earth.”

    Athena salutes, “Yes, sir.”

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

    Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels sits alone dejectedly in Jolie’s abandoned quarters, reading for perhaps the hundredth time the letter that Jolie left behind for him. The paper of the letter has gone limpid, and the text is smudged, the result of having been soaked in warm tears.

    The text on the page lingers like a curse in Jonah’s heart.

    Jonah,

    I don’t know what to say.

    I still love you. I always will.

    Forgive me for leaving you. I had to because of what your brother did to my family when I was little. Please try to understand.

    Goodbye forever. You’ll always be in my heart.

    Jolie


    Jonah folds the letter neatly and puts it into the pocket of his uniform jacket. Heavily weighed down by his aching heart, Jonah rises and leaves Jolie’s room.

    Jonah passes by the quarters of Major Athena Ibaz. Athena is reading a mission update report, glass of wine on the small table in front of her, lit cigarette in ashtray.

    “Jonah,” Athena says, without looking up from the report, “Please come in and have a seat. I’d like to have a word with you.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jonah replies, entering the room and taking a seat on the sofa opposite Athena.

    Athena lays the report aside and pours out a glass of wine, handing it to Jonah.

    “I know you’re not much of a drinker,” Athena says with a bitter smile, “but I thought you might need this.”

    “Thank you, ma’am,” Jonah says, taking the glass.

    Athena fills her own wine glass halfway, and lifts it in a toast, “To absent friends.”

    Athena sips the wine slowly, as per habit. Jonah gulps it down in a single swallow, in a hurry to anesthetize the pain.

    Athena takes a puff from her half-smoked cigarette, saying, “Are you going to be able to cope?”

    “…Yes, ma’am,” Jonah says absently, distractedly.

    “You don’t sound so certain,” Athena remarks, “That will need to change, Jonah. With Jolie gone, I need to be able to depend on you more than ever.”

    “…Ma’am?” Jonah replies tentatively, suddenly alert.

    “You saved General Miguel’s life,” Athena remarks, “To the extent that you thought about it at all when you acted, you probably thought only that you were saving your brother’s life…but you’ve become a hero to both the Phobos Zeon and the Earth Federation, Jonah. Orders from Col. Cairlay have just come through: you’ve been promoted to Second Lieutenant, and with Jolie gone, you’re my new senior executive officer. Congratulations.”

    “Thank you, ma’am,” Jonah says unsurely, his mind still reeling with confusion and disorientation.

    “The entire squad knows of your heritage,” Athena says, “but unlike Jolie, each of them has assured me that this new knowledge will not affect their trust in you, or change their willingness to serve alongside you and someday, likely, under your command.”

    Under normal circumstances, such a proclamation from Athena would make Jonah anxious, but he is so distracted by thoughts of Jolie that it barely registers. He still feels as if he is ambling through a nightmare, expecting to awake and find everything, especially Jolie, back in place if only he could wake up.

    Athena’s next statement, however, brings Jonah back to reality with abrupt shock, “We’ve been assigned as liaisons to General Miguel’s forces. We’ll be providing his security on Earth during armistice negotiations in the coming week.”

    Jonah’s eyes widen. He’ll be coming face to face with Alexander again!

    “It will be awkward for you,” Athena says, understatedly as always, “General Miguel has put forth a request to meet with you beforehand…privately…as brothers. Are you up for it?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jonah says with sudden resolve. He and Alexander were overdue for a confrontation. What does he have to lose? With Jolie gone, there’s not much else worth lamenting if lost.

    “Jonah,” Athena says “I want you to level with me: why are you in the Earth Federation Forces?”

    Jonah answers, “My brother Alexander wanted me to join the Phobos Zeon Forces, to honor our family’s tradition of military service to the Zeon cause. But I detested war and the idea of being a soldier. I was an artist, so I ran away from Phobos.”

    Athena nods, and then comments, “Somewhere along the way, you lost your pacifist stance, however.”

    Jonah sighs as he recalls horrible memories, “I decided to travel to Earth to study at one of the art academies in France. I ran out of money before I could reach Earth, and spent a few months living with a family at Crosshaven. They were the kindest, most loving people I knew, the Hans. Two great kids, Kirby and Jocelyn. When Alexander’s forces attacked the colony during a battle with the other Zeon warlords, they were killed. They died horribly, ma’am, in great pain and terror. And I wasn’t able to do anything to protect or save them!”

    “That’s when you enlisted in the Federal Forces,” Athena observes.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Jonah affirms, “and you know the rest.”

    Athena snubs out her exhausted cigarette, declining to light another, and says to Jonah, “You’re an idealist. This world is hardest on idealists. Idealists are the first to be broken. I know that because I’m also an idealist...and so is Jolie.”

    The mention of Jolie’s name darkens Jonah’s mood again.

    Athena continues, “It’s a hard universe, Lieutenant Michaels. Horror and heartbreak are inevitabilities. Harden yourself to them, or you’ll be broken by them. If you believe you have the mettle, I’ll show you how.”

    “Thank you, ma’am,” Jonah says.

    Athena smiles, This boy isn’t like Jolie. He’s not a warrior by nature. On the other hand, he’s much better disciplined. He’ll make a good second-in-command.

    Plans and personnel change; the objective remains.


    Episode 19 to be continued...

  13. #233
    Senior Member GuGu's Avatar
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    Jonah,

    I don’t know what to say.

    I still love you. I always will.

    Forgive me for leaving you. I had to because of what your brother did to my family when I was little. Please try to understand.

    Goodbye forever. You’ll always be in my heart. Forever.

    Jolie
    NOooooooooooooooo!
    why ken? why?

  14. #234
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuGu View Post
    NOooooooooooooooo!
    why ken? why?
    Well, you know...it's never that simple.

    The first, innocent, pure phase of their relationship is over, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's OVER.

  15. #235
    Senior Member GuGu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Well, you know...it's never that simple.

    The first, innocent, pure phase of their relationship is over, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's OVER.
    i know it's not over, but it's just sad. and how long will they be apart?

  16. #236
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuGu View Post
    i know it's not over, but it's just sad. and how long will they be apart?
    Well, read on and you'll find out.

    I assure you it won't be nearly as long as sixteen years.

    Of course, even after they meet again, they'll have more problems.

  17. #237
    atlantean0208
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Well, read on and you'll find out.

    I assure you it won't be nearly as long as sixteen years.

    Of course, even after they meet again, they'll have more problems.
    I hope it will be a happy lovey-dovey ending, or else I will stop reading coz I hate tragedy and stuff

  18. #238
    Senior Member GuGu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Well, read on and you'll find out.

    I assure you it won't be nearly as long as sixteen years.

    Of course, even after they meet again, they'll have more problems.
    can i have a reunion like the one yg and xln had?
    with tears and slowly feeling each other's face.

  19. #239
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    Quote Originally Posted by atlantean0208 View Post
    I hope it will be a happy lovey-dovey ending, or else I will stop reading coz I hate tragedy and stuff
    Well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?

    My characters tend to have bittersweet fates. They don't always end up with what they want, but they do learn something important about themselves and the world.

    Thanks for the comments, people. I really appreciate it. It's provided enough critical mass to get the engine moving again.

  20. #240
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuGu View Post
    can i have a reunion like the one yg and xln had?
    with tears and slowly feeling each other's face.
    Jolie and Jonah are not as calm as the Divine Condor Couple. Their reunion is likely to be more, er, physical in certain ways.

    But getting back together physically is the easy part. There's still that 8,000 lbs. gorilla problem of Jonah's evil brother waiting in the wings. That's the constant thorn in their side.

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