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...