But they already lost their virginity to each other a few chapters back and yeah, eventually, there'll be more of that.
For a while, though, the focus is shifting away from Jolie and Jonah to the story's *other* notable couple, Athena Ibaz and Hathaway Noah. Their storyline from Part 1 is unresolved, and will see resolution in coming chapters.
Episode 19 continued...
On Earth, the Federation High Council has agreed to accept General Miguel’s terms of alliance, which include (in exchange for his full military support against the Zeon Confederation Forces):
1. Upon victory over the Zeon Confederation Forces, the Earth Federation will recognize General Miguel as the new Sovereign of Zeon, under the title Archduke of Zeon.
2. Side 3 will revert to Zeon control, and the Earth Federation Forces will withdraw its garrison. The Federal Forces and the Archduchy Zeon Forces will, however, provide each other mutual support to eliminate ISRLA resistance.
3. The Earth Federation forfeits all claims to the Outer System.
Other terms and conditions involving the exchange of military technology have not been specified, but are also a part of the negotiations.
At the end of the conference, General Bright Noah announces his imminent retirement from the Earth Federation Forces. In the veteran Federal Forces commander’s words, “The Earth Federation has no further need for me, and I certainly have no further need for the Earth Federation. I wish you all well, but I fear that I wish, as I have so often in the past, in vain.”
General Noah’s retirement takes effect on the same day that the Federation will be signing the Shanghai Accords with General Miguel…ten days hence.
Deep in space…
Hundreds of space warships and thousands of mobile suits and assault fighters are en rout to the Cislunar Sphere. Their armor gleams, and weapons bristle from every nook and niche of their collective war machine.
Hundreds of thousands of Zeon-uniform clad soldiers stand at attention throughout the large war convoy, the fleet anchored by the asteroid fortress Deimos.
The Warlords of Zeon stand together in a show of unity on a high platform on the command deck of Deimos Fortress. Their images and words are transmitted throughout the Zeon Confederation Forces.
Generalissimo Hadrian Reglas of Titan Zeon speaks for all of them, “You are fighting for the pride and honor of Zeon, and for so much more: you fight for Zeon’s homeland, now under the yoke of the Earthists and their ally, the traitor Alexander Miguel. Our people await us in the homeland to liberate them from these tyrants, and will welcome us as heroes when we have completed our sacred mission. We will not fail them or their dreams! Sieg, ZEON!’
“Sieg, ZEON!” comes the collective roar of hundreds of thousands.
On the Cassius, General Miguel receives a new officer aboard his flagship, one who has been awaiting for three years.
Wide-eyed, smooth-skinned, and beautiful in an almost otherworldly fashion, she steps forward from the shuttle that brought her from the New Flannagan Training Academy located at Phobos Fortress to the Cassius. Her long, raven-black hair falls like a river from the top of her head.
A girl of seventeen, of East Asian heritage, emanates powerful Newtype PSI energies that reverberate throughout the ship and beyond.
The girl, salutes General Miguel dutifully, her porcelain features the portrait of dedication and duty, “My lord, I am First Lieutenant Kyoko Yamaguchi, Phobos Zeon Newtype MS Corps, 13th Raven Squadron.”
Alexander smiles, taking the girl’s hand and kissing it gallantly, “Lieutenant, I’ve been looking forward to welcoming you into the service. Project K has proven fruitful…in more than one sense.”
Alexander strokes the warm, smooth skin of Kyoko’s cheek as her prototype transformable mobile suit, AMX-88 Elmeth Gamma is loaded onto the MS deck of the Cassius.
End of Episode 19
Coming soon: Episode 20!
EPISODE 20: DEJA VU
November 20, U.C. 0099
For only the second time in history, a leader of Zeon (as the Earth Federation Government has provisionally recognized General Alexander Miguel of Phobos Zeon) will be addressing the Earth Federation Government’s Supreme Council. The only Zeon leader to have addressed the Federation Supreme Council was Premier Zeon Daikun himself some thirty-five years earlier…the very year, incidentally, that Alexander Miguel was born.
General Miguel landed at Shanghai, China, on Earth the previous day, and the formal signing of the Shanghai Accords two days hence will the culmination of a three day tour of the Federation capital that is as much media event and public relations campaign as it is a historic act of international diplomacy.
The public, certainly, is buying into it. To the surprise of most, the citizens of the Earth Federation have embraced General Miguel as a peacemaker…General Miguel, who has been rumored to behind not a few atrocities against citizens of the Earth Federation in the Cislunar colonies during the late U.C. 0080s and early U.C. 0090s. Perhaps after twenty years of ruinous, if not continuous warfare against the Archduchy of Zeon, the people of the Earth Federation have become so desperate for peace that they have rushed to embrace a Zeon leader who apparently extends an olive branch instead of a beam cannon to them. Perhaps General Miguel represents the Second Century’s answer to “only Nixon could go to China.” Perhaps the people of the Earth Federation find General Miguel too charismatic and compelling to resist. Perhaps hope outweighs history.
Whatever the reason might ultimately be, Alexander Miguel, the most notorious Zeon warrior since Char Aznable, has found himself ironically hailed as a hero of peace by the citizens of the Earth Federation.
Few ironies have ever been this treacherous.
The Centurion Special Operations Team is now assigned as the official Federal Forces security liaison for General Miguel. Moreover, Major Athena Ibaz has been appointed as tactical liaison between the Earth Federation Forces and the Phobos Zeon Forces. Hence, the Centurion Team has accompanied General Miguel to Earth.
For most of the Centurions, it is not their first visit to Earth. Half of them had come to Earth almost exactly a year earlier, also to Shanghai, to provide security to Generals Noah and Blackhead during the strategic conference that ultimately resulted in their being sent to the Outer System for the bulk of the current year. A few of the Centurions were actually privileged enough to have been raised on Earth (Doc Wooster and Cpl. Nick Van Dyck among them). Athena had spent her teenage years in Switzerland, growing to womanhood among the majesty of the Alps (the real Alps, not their artificial approximations in a dozen space colonies).
2Lt. Jonah Michaels is one of the Centurion Team’s few first-time visitors to Earth. A year…a lifetime ago…he had plans to come to Earth to matriculate at one of its illustrious art academies. He has arrived on the mother planet a year later than he had expected, and through a tortuous route that had, defying all expectations, seen him transform from an art student to a soldier of the Earth Federation Forces. During the past year, Jonah has taken more lives at the controls of his Centurion Gundam than he has completed paintings, much to his regret.
The past year has also seen Jonah encounter…and lose…the love of his life. From the moment he first set eyes on her, Jonah knew that Jolie Minh would be his soulmate – the one person in all the universe with whom he shared a connection that only the two of them could ever understand. Never naturally gregarious or energetic, Jonah took great delight in Jolie’s boundless energy, her fearless outspokenness, and sheer zest for life. They had grown very close during the months they spent fighting and living side-by-side aboard the Amuro Ray, protecting each others’ and untold millions’ lives battling the Zeon Confederation Forces in the Outer System, and just a little over a month ago, pledged to each other to spend the rest of their lives together…loving each other, bearing children together, pursuing peaceful lives together.
All of it shattered three weeks ago, when Jolie discovered that Jonah’s brother is Alexander Miguel…the same General Alexander Miguel of Phobos Zeon who, some eight years ago, had slaughtered Jolie’s parents and older brother, along with hundreds of thousands of other citizens of the Quebec Colony of Side 5.
Jonah had known about this horrible truth since the first day that he and Jolie met, but he had never been able to tell her whom he really was. He was afraid…afraid of losing her…afraid of the truth causing her to hate him.
And that fear has led him exactly to what he feared most. Jolie is gone…gone from his life…gone from the Centurion Team…gone to a place and life unknown.
Jonah frankly does not know if things would have been different had he shared the truth with Jolie from the beginning. Perhaps it would have been better for her to know before they had become so deeply involved with one another, but their attraction to each other had been irresistible from the first instant, and had the truth come out then…perhaps they could never have gotten together in the first place.
Such ruminations have brought constant turmoil to Jonah during the past three weeks. When awake, Jonah is assailed by unrelenting thoughts of Jolie. When trying to attain fitful sleep, Jonah has found that what few moments of slumber he can steal come unfailingly with dreams of Jolie. Jonah has struggled to set thoughts and dreams of Jolie aside…to be the effective officer that his commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, expects him to be. Jonah’s efforts to accomplish this have been valiant and dutiful, but hollow. Jolie continues to haunt him…and probably always will.
I’ll find you again, Jolie, Jonah vowed the night after she disappeared from his life, I’ll find you and we’ll be together again…forever.
At present, however, Jonah cannot even find the new junior executive officer that Col. Cairlay has assigned to replace Jolie on the Centurion Team…whom Athena had instructed him to meet and welcome into the Centurion Team. Jonah curses himself for allowing the distraction of Jolie to befuddle him and cause him to bungle even this simple responsibility that Athena has given him.
Jonah knows that replacing Jolie in the Centurion Team will be no less daunting than replacing the void she has left in his heart. Jolie was…is a warrior unparalleled…widely regarded as the greatest mobile suit ace in the Earth Federation Forces (or any military force) today. Many believe that she has surpassed, or will one day surpass, the accomplishments of Captain Amuro Ray, the famous Federal Forces ace who piloted the original RX-78 Gundam during the One Year War and who valiantly died thwarting Col. Char Aznable’s attempt to drop Axis Fortress onto the Earth in U.C. 0093. Athena once characterized Jolie as the only soldier who likely could single-handedly shift the outcome of a war. The anticipation of going into renewed combat against the Zeon Confederation Forces without their ace has the leaders of the Federal Forces concerned. Of particular worry to General Blackhead and Col. Cairlay is the possibility that Jolie might defect and sell her services to the Zeon Confederation Forces. Jonah and the Centurions understand that Jolie would never betray them in such a manner, but the leaders of the Earth Federation Forces have issued orders that Jolie is to be terminated with extreme prejudice on sight.
Terminated with extreme prejudice. The pronouncement sends a shocking chill through Jonah’s circulatory and nervous systems. Despite Jolie’s superlative warrior skills, how long can she elude the might of the entire Earth Federation Forces?
This line of thinking has troubled Jonah since Jolie’s abrupt departure, leading to many a sleepless night for the handsome young artist-turned-soldier.
He would likely dwell on that dark point all day, but for the sight of a young woman dressed in the Special Forces cut and trim of the Earth Federation Forces’ duty uniform…a slight, long-haired young woman of about seventeen years of age…
“Jolie…?” Jonah whispers in disbelief.
No, not Jolie…although the physique and hairstyle are similar. This young woman’s hair and eyes are brown, however, to Jolie’s jet black, and attractive in a wholesome, modest manner, distinct from Jolie’s striking, near angelic beauty. There is a familiarity to the young woman just out of reach of Jonah’s consciousness.
Jonah says, “Identify yourself, officer.”
The girl salutes, “Lieutenant, I’m Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah.”
Jonah returns the salute, “At ease, Chief. So you’re General Noah’s…?”
The girl smile pleasantly, “Yes, sir. General Bright Noah is my father.”
Jonah returns the smile, saying, “I’m 2Lt. Jonah Michaels, senior executive officer of the Centurion Team.”
Chieming replies warmly, “I know that already, sir. Major Ibaz and 1Lt. Minh have told me all about you.”
Jolie again, Jonah sighs internally, but quickly replies, “You already know Major Ibaz and 1Lt. Minh?”
Chieming nods, “Athena and Jolie are both good friends of mine. Jolie has already told me a lot about you…Jonah.”
Jonah replies, “Jolie’s not with the team anymore. She…resigned a few weeks ago.”
Chieming says, “That’s what I heard from Athena. I was pretty surprised to hear about it too. Athena wouldn’t say why beyond Jolie having ‘personal reasons,’ though.”
Jonah knows all too well about those “personal reasons.”
Jonah says, “You’ve been assigned to us by Col. Cairlay…as Jolie’s replacement…or maybe I should say as my replacement, since I was promoted to fill Jolie’s old spot as senior executive officer.”
Chieming offers that warm, friendly smile again, “I couldn’t begin to replace Jolie…as a pilot or as the heart of this team, but I’ll do my duty and do my best within the definition of my role on team.”
Jonah extends a friendly hand to Chieming, “Welcome to the Centurion Team, Chief Warrant Officer Noah.”
Chieming replies demurely, “Thank you, Lieutenant Michaels.”
“Call me Jonah,” the new senior executive officer of the Centurion Team replies, as the two begin walking together towards the Centurion Team’s residence hall, “I’m not surprised, with your pedigree, that you joined the military. Both of your parents are Federation war heroes from the One Year War, after all. But how did you get into mobile suit piloting and the Special Forces?”
Chieming replies, “That was probably the influence of Amuro Ray, who was a good friend of my parents, and Jolie. I already knew since I was a little girl that I’d probably join the military when I grew up, but it was Jolie who inspired me to go into MS combat training.”
Jonah nods, “I studied your files. Your scores were pretty good. Pretty solid performance overall.”
Chieming grins again, “But not nearly as good as Jolie, of course.”
“Nobody can compare to Jolie,” Jonah says, meaning it on several levels, “There’s nobody else like her.”
“I’m not surprised to hear you say that,” Chieming says in a gently chiding manner, “Hope I’m not being presumptuous here, but as I understand it, you and Jolie were…pretty close.”
Jonah’s eyes roll sidewise to glance at Chieming, “How much has Jolie told you?”
Chieming turns to Jonah, “Sorry, Jonah…that’s something girls don’t share with boys.”
Jonah feigns disgust, “Girls’ secrets: they’re even tighter than military secrets aren’t they?”
Chieming replies to that with an easy laugh. The two Centurion Team executive officers continue to find common ground as they head towards the team’s temporary dormitories.
Episode 20 to be continued...
Episode 20 continued...
“We can commit three-hundred capital warships and two-thousand mobile suits to the effort,” General Alexander Miguel says to Earth Federation Forces officers General Manron Blackhead, Colonel Peter Cairlay, and Major Athena Ibaz, “but the Zeon Confederation boasts five times the number of units that I have. Nevertheless, despite our numerical deficiencies, I believe that my forces hold the upper hand due to technological superiority and better-quality training. We will hold the line against the enemy; you needn’t worry about that.”
General Blackhead replies, “General Miguel, our intention is not to leave you and your forces to fight the Zeon Confederation Forces for us. We will honor our commitments to our allies, the Phobos Zeon Forces, and provide the full support of the Earth Federation Forces towards the effort to eliminate the Zeon Confederation’s threat to peace. The Zeon Civil War must end: it is time for enlightened, civilized leadership to take root for Zeon, so that it might coexist in peace with the people of our Earth Federation at last.”
General Miguel offers a humble nod and smile in response, “I am flattered, General Blackhead…by your trust in me. I am also deeply moved by the concern the Federation’s leaders have shown for the welfare and future of the Zeon people. We of Zeon will not forget the Federation’s benevolence and good faith, and will repay it in kind.”
“They say ‘blessed are the peacemakers,’ General Miguel,” Blackhead rejoins, “what we’re doing is nothing less than securing our blessings for our people, those of Earth and Zeon, for the future.”
Alexander turns to Athena, who has made no remarks throughout the discussion and appears to be inattentive and supremely bored by the exchange, staring absently out the window of the conference room on the penthouse level of the Earth Federation Government Deliberative Assembly’s headquarters towers along the famous Bund of Shanghai China. Athena’s attention seems focused on the white wintry wilderness beyond the city limits.
Alexander knows better than to believe that Athena’s indifference is authentic. He sees too much of himself in her to be that naïve. Although Athena’s attention seems to be far away, Alexander knows that her mind has been absorbing every detail of the conversation like a sponge absorbs liquid.
“Major Ibaz,” Alexander prompts with a provocative smile, “You’ve said nothing throughout this conversation. Among the younger generation of Earth Federation Forces officers, you undoubtedly possess the finest tactical mind. We would benefit greatly from your input, Major.”
Athena replies, “I’m content to leave policymaking decisions to those in a position to do so, General Miguel. My job is to execute the Federation’s orders, not decide what those orders are. Until the discussion turns in the concrete direction of battle strategies, my input is of no value.”
“You’re too modest, Major,” Miguel responds, “Your talents were clearly manifest in your leadership of the Special Forces against my forces and those of my former comrades in the Outer System. I trust that within a few years’ time, you will indeed be among the most important policymakers in the Federation.”
Miguel’s remark, which he makes with a knowing smirk, directs reproachful glances towards Athena from General Blackhead and Col. Cairlay; Miguel’s words land too closely to Blackhead and Cairlay’s unspoken fears for the two Federation senior officers’ comfort.
Athena narrows her eyes at Miguel and barely suppresses a smirk, unable to help feeling a slight admiration along with her discomfort at Miguel’s placing her in such an awkward position with a few strategically chosen words.
Athena counters carefully, without appearing to do so, replying, “My job isn’t to make policy, General Miguel, only to enforce it. I do have some thoughts towards that latter objective, sir, if you care to hear them.”
“With great eagerness,” General Miguel smiles.
Athena turns to her superior officers, “General Blackhead, Colonel Cairlay…if I may?”
Blackhead, his face still darkened by his displeasure at General Miguel’s remark concerning Athena, reluctantly replies, “You are at liberty to share thoughts, Major.”
“Thank you, sir,” Athena says, then, turning back to Alexander, “General Miguel, is it your intention, after defeating the Zeon Confederation, to reestablish the base of Zeon sovereignty at Side 3.”
“Indeed it is, Major,” Miguel replies, “and that is the reason that I am insistent upon the return of Side 3 to Zeon control. The people of Side 3 deserve to have their nation back.”
Setting aside the irony of Miguel’s remark, Athena presses on, “Then Phobos Fortress, your current base of operations, will be of less importance to you after your base of power is reestablished at Side 3, correct?”
“What are you driving at, Major Ibaz?” Miguel says, sensing that he might not much like what Athena has in mind.
“I need to know, General,” Athena responds, “if you’re prepared to sacrifice Phobos, if necessary, to win the war against the Confederation.”
Miguel leans back in his seat, steepling his fingers, contemplating quietly for a moment. He exhales with an air of uncertainty seldom seen from him.
“You’re not in a position to ask General Miguel for sacrifices, Major,” General Blackhead says ominously, “Don’t forget that…”
“General Blackhead,” Miguel interrupts, “Forgive me, but Major Ibaz asks a legitimate question that must be resolved if our allied forces are to have any success against the Zeon Confederation. Major…no war has ever been won without great sacrifices. Those who endeavor to alter history must be prepared to part with all that is dear to them…including their lives. Phobos Fortress is expendable, if such a sacrifice is necessary to winning the war.”
“If that development manifests itself at all,” Athena says, “it won’t be until the final stages of the operation. It might never come to that, General Miguel, but I wanted you to be prepared if that does come to be the case.”
General Miguel nods, “It’s of great comfort to me to know that you are a leader willing to make great sacrifices for victory, Major Ibaz. But forgive me for being so presumptuous as to ask…are you willing to make as great a sacrifice?”
Athena’s reply is matter-of-fact, “I don’t have a Phobos Fortress to sacrifice, General Miguel. I offer you my life, and those of my comrades-at-arms, in this struggle. Will that be sufficient?”
Miguel replies, “I could not, in good conscience, ask you for any more, Major.”
Miguel rises, and shakes the hands of each of the Federal Forces’ officers, “I believe that we have discussed as much of our plans as would be productive for the moment, my friends. If it is agreeable to you, I would like to adjourn our meeting for the day.”
“Very well, General Miguel,” General Blackhead says, wearing a transparently forced smile, “we will continue our discussion at 07:00 tomorrow morning.”
As the quartet of military officers begin filing out of the conference room, General Miguel takes Athena gently by the arm, “Major Ibaz…?”
“Yes, General Miguel?” Athena responds dutifully.
“I would like to speak with you…privately,” Miguel says, “about one member of your Centurion Team…2Lt. Jonah Michaels?”
Athena knew this had been coming for some time now, and is prepared for it, “I’m aware that Lieutenant Michaels is your younger brother, is that correct, General Miguel?”
“Correct,” Alexander confirms, “I would like to thank you personally for having protected, cared for, and trained my brother during the past year.”
Athena replies, “Jonah is a good soldier and an excellent friend. During the past year, I’ve come to regard him somewhat as my younger brother as well. General…is it your intent that I repatriate him to Phobos Zeon?”
Alexander shakes his head, and answers, “Jonah chose to stand his position as a man, and as his brother, I will respect that. As his brother, however, I would also…like to see him again. Major…as my brother’s commanding officer and good friend…could you arrange it?”
Athena flashes the hint of a grin at Alexander, “Shouldn’t be a reason that I can’t. I’m getting accustomed to the role of liaison.”
2Lt. Jonah Michaels and Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah of the Centurion Team are seated at a table in one of the officers’ cafeterias at the Whampoa Military Base outside of Shanghai. Two cups of coffee grow cold as the two young Centurion Team officers seek out common round, and the relatively senior 2Lt. Michaels seeks to make the rookie Chief Noah feel welcome on the team.
To that purpose, Jonah has a startling revelation for Chieming…one that Jonah has learned is better made sooner rather than later.
“No way,” Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah gapes, “You’re kidding me!”
Jonah remarks bitterly, “Jolie’s reaction was somewhat stronger.”
Chieming, still incredulous, presses further, “Are you seriously telling me that you’re the younger brother of Alexander Miguel, the notorious leader of the Phobos Zeon?”
“That’s the truth,” Jonah says solemnly, “and since you’re joining the Centurion Team as of today, it’d be best that you aren’t the only member of the team that isn’t aware of it. I made the mistake of not being upfront about it with Jolie and the rest of the team; I’m not making that mistake again.”
Accepting that Jonah is serious (because nobody would joke about such a thing), Chieming asks, “What I don’t understand is…why? Why did you join the Earth Federation Forces if your brother is one of the leader of Zeon, Jonah?”
“I never wanted to be a soldier…for any army,” Jonah confesses, “I’m an artist. I was planning to come to Earth to study art…I’d just gotten accepted at L’École des Beaux-Arts down in old Paris. But Alex wanted me to join the Phobos Zeon Forces to ‘honor our family tradition’ of military service, and I was dead set against it. I was a pacifist.”
“Something must have changed since then,” Chieming comments, noting Jonah’s Earth Federation Forces uniform with a slight toss of her head.
“On the way to Earth, I saw my brother lead a slaughter against a space colony,” Jonah said, “I survived, but hundreds of thousands died. I felt that I had a responsibility to stop him…even if it meant I had to fight.”
“But you never could have guessed that your brother would end up being an ally of the Federation, eh?” Chieming ventures.
“No,” Jonah admits, “That totally threw me. Threw all of us. Athena doesn’t trust Alex’s motives, and you know something? Neither do I. I know my brother all too well. I think it’s a mistake for the leaders of the Federation to trust him.”
Chieming nods, becoming glum, “That’s why Daddy decided to retire from the Federal Forces so abruptly a few weeks back. He was pleading with the High Council not to trust Alexander Miguel, but they basically ignored him. I guess the Federal Forces could only have one Noah enlisted at a time, hmm?”
That remark makes Jonah smile, and he says, “So did you join the Federal Forces to do what I wouldn’t? Honor your family’s history of military service? Or was it just to hang out with your friends, Athena and Jolie?”
Chieming replies, “All of the above, really. I’d been planning on joining the military since I was, oh, maybe about ten or eleven. Both of my parents served during the One Year War, of course, and so did Uncle Amuro. Then, of course, I met Jolie and Athena on Earth last year, and if I had any remaining doubts, meeting them swept those doubts away. I really want to be like them…heroes, helping people and fighting the good fight. I know I’m not as talented as they are, but I can serve…”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Jonah says, “Your performance results on training tests were pretty good. You wouldn’t have been able to make the Special Forces if they weren’t.”
“Yeah,” Chieming says, “but Jolie and Athena…and you…you guys are different You’re Newtypes. For all I know, I could be one too, but if I am, I sure haven’t discovered it yet.”
“Of course,” Jonah says, turning the conversation in another direction, “You weren’t expecting to get here and find Jolie…not on the team anymore.”
“No,” Chieming answers, “and that threw me. She…probably didn’t take the news that you were Alexander Miguel’s brother well, did she?”
“Not at all,” Jonah laments, “It was stupid of me…”
“I don’t know if I should concur with that,” Chieming says with a slight air of mischief, “I’d hate to be disciplined for insubordination on my first day in the Special Forces…but it’s understandable why you weren’t prepared to share your secret with Jolie…and it’s also understandable why she felt hurt by that.”
Jonah sighs, “Maybe Jolie and I weren’t meant to be…”
“From what Jolie has told me about how you two feel about each other, I don’t think that’s likely,” Chieming says plainly, “You two have something…special. Odds are, you two are going to find each other again.”
Jonah smiles, trying to accept that, “Then…”
He never gets to complete his thought, as he spots Major Athena Ibaz approaching. White flakes of fresh snow cover Athena’s black command overcoat and she carries an umbrella, indicating quite a snowfall outside.
Chieming turns to see the familiar, pleasant visage of her good friend, who greets her with that pretty smile that is seen far too little…
“Athena!” Chieming enthuses, rising from her seat.
Athena wraps Chieming in a warm embrace, “I’m glad to finally see you here. Welcome to the team…at last.”
Remembering protocol, Chieming steps back from Athena’s embrace and offers a crisp salute, “Major Ibaz: Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah reporting for duty, ma’am.”
“At ease, Chief,” Athena replies, returning the salute, “you’re not officially on duty until 04:00 tomorrow morning…so enjoy your last few hours of relative freedom.”
“You must be even busier than usual,” Chieming remarks, “as I understand it, they’ve put you in charge of coordinating the joint combat operations that the Federation and the Phobos Zeon are going to be undertaking against the Zeon Confederation.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Athena says, removing her overcoat, folding it on her lap, and taking a seat before continuing, “I’m guessing you’ve already gotten acquainted with 2Lt. Michaels, here.”
“Yes,” Chieming beams, “Jonah has already spilled his guts…about everything.”
Having learned that, Athena decides that she can be direct and frank, “Jonah…General Miguel, your brother…he wants to see you.”
A grim silence ensues for a long moment.
Athena then continues, “It’s your personal choice. If you don’t want to see him, you’re not obliged to. General Miguel asked me to let you know that.”
“It’s all right,” Jonah finally responds, “I think it is time that I talked to my brother.”
Athena says, “You can find him at his private suite in the penthouse of the Peace Hotel at Number 20 the Bund in Shanghai. Snow’s just begun to fall, so you can take my land rover after it’s refueled.”
Jonah nods with resolve. He will do what he should have done from the beginning. He will confront his brother.
Episode 20 to be continued...
Episode 20 continued...
An hour later, Colonel Ross Davenport salutes General Alexander Miguel in the latter’s private suite at Shanghai’s most historic and prestigious hospitality establishment, “My lord: Lord Jonah has arrived.”
“Send him in, Ross,” Miguel says placidly.
Ross turns, “Lord Jonah: Lord Alexander will see you now.”
The brothers are face to face at last: Alexander, calmly seated on a grandly decorated sofa, in his Phobos Zeon Leader’s regal raiment – Jonah, standing opposite to his brother, clad in his Earth Federation Forces uniform.
“Alex…,” Jonah begins awkwardly, not knowing what to say.
Alexander rises, and to Jonah’s surprise, flashes him a pleasant smile, “Jonah…I’ve missed you, brother.”
As if to prove his point, Alexander clasps Jonah’s hand in his own, and then pulls his younger brother into a warm embrace.
Jonah says, “Alex…I…”
“Look at you,” Alexander says with fraternal warmth, “an officer in the Earth Federation Forces. I could not have imagined…”
“Alex,” Jonah repeats, resolving to speak his mind this time, “I want to know: just what are you planning? Why are you joining forces with the Federation?”
Alexander grins, remarking, “Your Major Ibaz has been teaching you well. You’ve finally started to lose that hopeless naivety of yours.”
“After I left you…when I was on my way to Earth, I stayed at the Crosshaven Colony at Frontier 8 for a time. You attacked that colony, Alex, and you killed many people…including the family that I was staying with at the time. I joined the Federation after that because…because I had to stop you.”
“Stop me?” Alexander says with a smirk, “Jonah…I regret that those people died, but if your hope is to prevent more such deaths, then your best chance is by working with me.”
“I’m not joining the Phobos Zeon Forces, Alex,” Jonah says firmly, “Don’t even think about it.”
Alexander laughs, “Jonah, I’m not going to ask you to join the Phobos Zeon Forces. You’d be of much greater help to me where you are…in the Earth Federation Forces.”
Jonah can scarcely believe his ears, “What are you saying?”
“Jonah,” Alexander says, “Like you, the leaders of the Earth Federation don’t trust me. General Bright Noah has already resigned from the Federation in protest after the Federation High Council agreed to hear out my alliance proposal. I doubt that your Major Ibaz truly trusts me either, although she has been dutifully cooperative. I need your help to smooth over this lingering distrust so that the Federation and our Phobos Zeon Forces can work together towards a more peaceful future for all of us.”
Jonah shrugs, “I’m just a junior officer…a mobile suit pilot. I don’t have any influence on the policymakers in the Federation.”
“”For now, no,” Alexander concedes, “but Major Ibaz has spoken to me of your accomplishments in the Federation, and I believe that it’s only a matter of time before you are recognized by the leaders of the Federation as someone of import and substance.”
Jonah shakes his head, “Even assuming any of that is true, Alex, the question remains: what is your goal?”
Alexander says, “I don’t know if you’ll accept this as the truth, Jonah, but it’s the only reason I can give you: peace.”
“Peace?” Jonah says incredulously, “I don’t buy it, Alex. You raised me on the so-called ‘virtues’ of war, remember? You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical about your overtures to ‘peace.’”
“And you can’t be blamed,” Alex says in a tone that sounds almost confessional, “but I’ll be frank with you: I’m pursuing peace out of necessity. When your Special Forces launched its attack against the ore mines of Mars, you dealt more damage to my effort to combat the other Zeon warlords than you realize. The Phobos Zeon Forces were essentially crippled. I would not be able to hold out against the other warlords for more than four or five years, at most.”
“The same would apply to them,” Jonah says, “that was Major Ibaz’s plan: to destroy the Zeon forces’ capacity to wage war by crippling their industrial base.”
Alexander nods, “They’ll survive for a while by pooling their resources, but in the long run, their struggles are futile. Without resources from Earth, the Outer System space colonies cannot be sustained for long. That’s why…I’ve decided that for the good of Contolism, Zeon as we knew it must come to an end.”
Jonah glares suspiciously at Alexander, “That’s hard to believe coming from you, Alex. You’ve always been the diehard Zeon ultranationalist. I can’t believe that you’d give up on Zeon.”
Alexander pats his younger brother on the shoulder, “It’s not the ideal of Zeon that I’ve given up…it’s the Zabi Family’s vision of perpetual warfare with Earth. Jonah, while I don’t fault you for having reservations, let me ask you this: are you prepared to let a chance for peace slip away because of your doubts?”
Jonah bites his lip silently, not knowing how to respond to that. If Alexander is sincere, then maybe…
Alexander’s grim demeanor reshapes into a smile, and he says, “Enough of this heavy political talk. So how’s life in the military been treating you? Still have plans to pursue that art career?”
“I met a girl in the Federation Forces,” Jonah says, “her name is Jolie Minh. We fell in love.”
“Jolie…Minh?” Alexander says in recognition, “as in the Federation MS ace ‘White Phoenix?’”
“Yes,” Jonah replies, “that’s her. She and I became really close. We were talking about getting married. But…” Jonah chokes up, “…she’s gone now.”
“I’m sorry,” Alexander says, “but I didn’t receive any intelligence indicating that the White Phoenix perished in battle…”
“No,” Jonah says, “she didn’t die. She left…left the Centurion Team…left me…because she found out that I’m your brother!”
Alexander waits for Jonah to explain.
Jonah takes a moment to regain his composure, then continues, “Alex…do you remember…an attack you launched on Side 5’s Quebec Colony back in U.C. 0092?”
Alexander’s memory rolls back through the hundreds of battles in which he has engaged during his twenty-year long military career…he does remember that battle…which would have been unremarkable except that he had barely escaped with his life after a brief skirmish against Captain Amuro Ray, the Earth Federation Forces’ greatest MS ace of the One Year War. Other than that encounter with a formidable foeman, however, there is little to distinguish that battle in Alexander’s mind from so many other battles in which he has engaged during his long career as a mobile suit combat pilot.
Nonetheless, Alexander humors his brother with the reply, “I do remember it. I fought Amuro Ray that day, and I lived to tell about it. To tell you the truth, Jonah, that was the one and only time I ever feared for my life in battle. Amuro Ray was the one pilot in the Federation Forces who could best me. His skills were far superior to mine.”
From Alexander Miguel, whose pride in his piloting prowess is second only to his ambition, that is a startling admission, but Jonah does not pursue this subject to discuss his brother’s skill as a mobile suit pilot, “Alex…you killed Jolie’s family that day…her parents and her older brother.”
Alexander vaguely recalls a pretty Asian girl, around aged ten, who glared at him with fierce eyes…
“A ten year old girl, Alex!” Jonah says through bared teeth, “Jolie was just ten, and on her birthday, you orphaned her!”
Alexander rejoins bluntly, “You resent that she turned against you because of me, Jonah?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Jonah says, “Alex…whether I resent you or not, how can Jolie and I be together if you murdered her family? She hates you, Alex! She’s vowed to kill you!”
“I understand,” Alexander says, “would you let her?”
Jonah is silent, not knowing how he should respond to that.
“Jonah,” Alexander says softly, “Don’t forget: we are brothers. However much this Jolie Minh meant to you, remember: we are family.”
Jonah begins, “That…”
Alexander quiets his younger brother by saying, “If you can help me to establish lasting peace between the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon, perhaps Jolie would be more willing to overlook our…past personal conflicts. Jonah: we’re talking about a world in which tragedies like the one that happened to Jolie’s family…and to that family you met at Crosshaven…don’t need to happen anymore. You saw me kill that Crosshaven family. You heard of how I killed Jolie’s family. But you know in your heart, Jonah, that your brother isn’t the only one who has killed during this long war. How many people has the Earth Federation killed? How about you and your comrades in the Federal Forces? You recall from your history, what occurred in the U.C. 0080s with the Federation’s Titans Corps?”
“Stop trying to justify what you’ve done by comparing it to what others have done,” Jonah says bitterly, “but I do concede that you’re right about stopping the war. If you’re sincere…”
“I’ll let you decide the verity of that,” Alexander says, “Return to your squad, Jonah. I look forward to fighting alongside you…something I’ve dreamt about for years, though never with you in an Earth Federation Forces uniform.”
Thus, the Miguel brothers part company again, leaving much yet to resolve between them.
After Jonah has left, Alexander calls for his aide, “Ross?”
Colonel Davenport reports in immediately, “My lord.”
“Call Lieutenant Yamaguchi here immediately,” Alexander says.
“At once, my lord,” Davenport replies, and leaves to comply with the order.
Minutes later, the youthful, dark-haired beauty of 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi enters General Miguel’s private chambers.
The teenager salutes her liege reverently, “General Miguel, my lord. 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi reporting, sir.”
“At ease, Kyoko,” General Miguel says with a smile that betrays true affection. He touches the silky smoothness of her cheek, “You are…beautiful.”
“I’m flattered, my lord,” replies Kyoko earnestly.
“Kyoko,” Miguel says, “have you heard…of Jolie Minh?”
Kyoko nods, “Yes, my lord. Jolie Minh is the Earth Federation Forces’ greatest ace pilot. She’s called the ‘White Phoenix,’ and she has killed many of Zeon’s best warriors.”
“But you are superior to her,” Alexander says, stroking Kyoko’s cheek gently, “This ‘White Phoenix’ is a threat to Zeon, and a threat to me personally, Kyoko. When the opportunity avails itself, you must destroy her for me…and for Zeon, as I know you can.”
“I won’t let the White Phoenix harm you, my lord,” Kyoko says, “not as long as I live.”
General Miguel opens his arms to Kyoko in a welcoming manner. The girl leans upon the General’s shoulder as he caresses her hair gently, planting a gentle kiss on the temple of her head.
“I’ve never doubted your skill or loyalty to me,” General Miguel says softly, “and it brings me a great sense of security and comfort. You are special, Kyoko.”
Kyoko says nothing, but continues leans her head on General Miguel’s shoulder, taking comfort in the general’s powerful presence. He had discovered her, and revealed to her the magnitude of her talents, treating her as a true treasure since she was eleven or twelve. In the five years since, she has grown more attached to and devoted to him by the day.
And any who threatened the general or his directives would be eliminated.
A few hours later, Jonah is back at the Centurion Team’s temporary quarters at Whampoa Base in the rural zone just outside the Shanghai metropolitan area. He sits in the office of his commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, and the two Centurion Team officers discuss battle tactics and training exercises.
At length, the discussion turns towards Jonah’s conversation with Alexander.
“You’ll hate me for saying this, Jonah,” Athena says gravely, “but you need to be careful about trusting your brother. He’s very adept at manipulating emotions.”
“I know that, ma’am,” Jonah says, “I definitely have my reservations about Alex, but this could be the chance for peace that we’re looking for.”
“Perhaps,” Athena says, “but personally, I’m not sanguine about it. Whatever we believe or don’t believe about your brother, however, this much is true: we do need his assistance to meet the Zeon Confederation Forces’ threat. As loathe as I am to make that concession, it’s an incontrovertible fact. The Special Forces aside, the Federation’s military strength has been in a state of constant decline since One Year War. During the past two years, I’ve run a complete internal assessment of the battle-readiness of the Earth Federation Forces, and it’s completely unprepared to meet the threat of a Zeon invasion…and that was before the Federation lost Ceres Base in the Ouster System. Allying themselves with General Miguel’s Phobos Zeon Forces would level the playing field, but nobody in the High Council seems willing to acknowledge the price the Federation will pay for Miguel’s cooperation.”
“It’s quite a dilemma, isn’t it, ma’am?” Jonah offers.
Athena nods, “The same that you face in your personal relationship with your brother, Jonah, except magnified to a universal scale.”
The two officers sigh, and Jonah decides to turn the conversation in a more positive direction, “I think Chieming will work out fine in the Centurion Team. She’s a very good team player, and she has good judgment.”
Athena nods, “I don’t foresee any problems integrating Chieming into the Centurion Team. She’s a good, if unspectacular MS pilot, and a reliable, level-headed soldier. But you must admit…it isn’t easy replacing the White Phoenix.”
Jonah also nods in response, resignedly, “I know…”
“Right now, the Zeon Confederation Forces don’t know that Jolie is no longer with us,” Athena says, “as long as they believe that we still have Jolie, they have reason to fear us. We won’t be able to maintain that illusion indefinitely, however.”
Jonah says, “I’ve stepped up my training, ma’am,”
Athena replies, “And you’re improving, Jonah. That’s commendable, but let’s be realistic: you aren’t going to be as good as Jolie.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Jonah says contritely
Athena smiles, “You needn’t be. Not everyone can be a White Phoenix.”
Episode 20 to be continued...
Episode 20 continued...
The following day is a flurry of tactical conferences that Athena attends with the elite military staff of the Earth Federation Forces and General Miguel and his top-echelon officers. A plan for meeting the Zeon Confederation Forces in battle is drawn up, evaluated, discussed, and adjusted. By the end of the day, a basic framework of a workable battle plan has been agreed upon.
The plan calls for General Miguel’s Phobos Zeon Forces to take the point in an offensive against the Zeon Confederation Forces, drawing the bulk of the Confederation’s power while the Earth Federation Forces penetrate the Confederation’s key strongholds and destroy the foundations of its military strength. Further details are known only to General Miguel and Major Ibaz…even General Blackhead and Colonel Cairlay are not privy to them. This is an agreement made between General Miguel and Major Ibaz privately, as they wish to implement their plan without interference from the Earth Federation High Council. Athena knows that she is dangerously close to insubordination, but General Miguel has agreed to keep the plan a secret…to be revealed as a “new” tactic only at the time of implementation. Despite her innate distrust of Miguel, Athena allows for this; she understands that Miguel has nothing to gain by exposing her ruse.
Athena boards her land rover and prepares for the drive back out to Whampoa Base. She is bone tired, and would like nothing better after getting back to base than a long, hot soak in a lathery tub…
Athena sees a road block ahead and sighs…perhaps not.
“Ma’am,” the Shanghai public works officer says respectfully, “are you planning to drive out to Whampoa Base?
“Yes,” Athena replies, “Road closed due to weather conditions?”
The officer nods, “’Fraid so, ma’am. Snowstorm is quickly approaching, and it’s too dangerous to risk. If it’s an emergency, I can authorize you to pass through, but I strongly recommend against it.”
Athena says, “No need. I’ll stay in town until the storm passes.”
“Thank you for understanding, ma’am,” the officer replies.
Athena turns her land rover around. She drives the city streets aimlessly for a few minutes before turning her vehicle onto a quiet suburban side street.
Athena parks the land rover in front of an apartment complex, and gets out from her vehicle.
It’s been a year… Athena realizes.
Not knowing what she expects, Athena rings the bell on the apartment’s door.
The apartment occupied by Hathaway Noah.
The windows are dark. Athena concludes that there is likely no one home.
“Can I help you, Miss?” a voice asks.
Athena turns to find an elderly gentleman standing on the street.
The gentleman says, “I’m Mr. Zhou, and I’m the landlord here. Are you looking for the tenant of Apartment 106?”
“Yes,” Athena says, “Mr. Hathaway Noah?”
Zhou shakes his head and smiles, “As far as I know, he still lives here because I still get rent from him every month, but I haven’t seen him in a long time…at least four or five months. Nice young man, but he tends to disappear for months at a time. Makes me wonder why he bothers keeping this place.”
“I’ve got a key,” Athena flat out lies, “I’ve…made arrangements to meet him here. Would it be all right if I went inside? A storm is coming.”
Zhou eyes Athena probingly for a moment, then nods his assent, feeling that he could trust the pretty young woman, a senior officer of the Earth Federation Forces, no less, “Just makes sure you turn off all the electrical, water, and gas facilities before you leave.”
Athena thanks Zhou, and pulls out from her uniform belt a tool for picking locks. Athena inserts the tool into the doorknob and with a deft motion, opens the door.
A rush of stale air comes forth from inside the apartment. Evidently, no one has been here for months.
Athena turns on the lights. A light layer of dust has gathered on the furniture, further confirming her suspicions, and bringing her ambivalent feelings of both relief and disappointment.
A year has passed, Athena realizes, but it feels that no time has passed at all.
Athena looks to the wall. The paintings that had hung there, works by Paul Cezanne, are gone, but have been replaced by a Goya and a Renoir. Hathaway has continued his art piracy sideline, doubtless to help funding the ISRLA…
Athena steps into the bedroom. She stares at the white sheets of the neatly made bed for a moment…the bed where one snowy night a year ago, a night like this night, she and Hathaway made love. She remembers the thrill of his warm, gentle hands stroking every centimeter of her body, his warm embrace, their mingling breath. She remembers numerous long, passionate kisses, and their mutual surrender to one another, body and soul.
Athena steps out of her uniform boots and lies on the bed, closing her eyes as weariness overcomes her. She closes her eyes as a single teardrop rolls down her cheek from memories she cannot bury.
In another, ritzier suburb of Shanghai, General Bright Noah (retired) stretches and yawns in his living room as he settles into an easy chair in front of the television. Clad in a cardigan sweater and slacks, his stocking feet covered in comfortable leather slippers, the recently retired former Commander in Chief of the Earth Federation Forces enjoys the good the life for the first time in his adulthood.
His wife, Mirai Yashima Noah, arrives home. Clad in a business suit, Mirai has returned from a long day of political campaigning. She has been running for the office of Earth Federation Senator of Eastern China…a seat from which she would have a vote in policymaking for the Earth Federation Government.
“Hi, honey,” Bright says, rising to his feet and taking his wife into his embrace, “How did it go?”
“There was a larger than expected turnout,” Mirai replies with a smile, “I didn’t know that the Yashima family name still held such sway with the citizens of the Federation.”
“Your father was well respected both on Earth and in the space colonies,” Bright remarks, “they remember him as a selfless servant of the public whose record of honesty and humanity was impeccable. It’s not surprising that the people see so much of him in you.”
Mirai smiles, “Undoubtedly, some of it also comes from you. You are, after all, the Earth Federation Forces’ great war hero.”
“’Great war hero,’” Bright says bitterly, rolling his eyes, “Yeah…I’m so ‘great’ that Blackhead and that High Council refused to take my warnings about Alexander Miguel seriously. I’d sincerely like to be wrong, Mirai, but I have this feeling that trusting Miguel is a mistake and that many, many people will pay horribly for the Federation’s misjudgment.”
Mirai nods, “The Federation needs change…which is why I’ve decided to throw my gauntlet into the political ring.”
Bright smiles at his wife, “Are you sure it’s not just ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ now that Chieming has left home and joined the military?”
Mirai hits Bright playfully, “You should have the nerve to talk, influencing our daughter to become a career soldier like you!”
“As if you weren’t a dedicated officer back in the day,” Bright says, remembering their perilous times together on the White Base all those years ago.
Mirai sighs, “If only you’d stop being so stubborn and let Hathaw…”
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Bright says darkly, releasing his embrace.
“Bright, whatever he’s done, he’s still your son,” Mirai says.
Bright says sadly, “I had a son once. I lost him in the Second Neo Zeon War.”
Bright leaves the room, and Mirai watches him go sadly. If there were anything the Mirai wanted in this lifetime, it would be a reconciliation between her husband and her son.
Episode 20 to be continued...
Episode 20 conclusion
A few days later, at Whampoa Base, the mobile suit pilots of the Centurion Team and assorted other units watch as a space transport unloads its cargo: a pair of brand new jet black KMZ-X1 Karasu mobile suits, the latest product of the Kuromizu Corporation, and an equally ebony colored AMX-88 Elmeth Gamma unit.
All of these new mecha are unfamiliar to the MS pilots and technicians of the Earth Federation Forces, although a few of the engineers have suspected their existence for some time. The Federal troops stare at the new Phobos Zeon mobile suit with some awe and envy; with the possible exception of elite units such as the Cour de Leon and the Centurion Gundam, the Phobos Zeon’s mobile suits are much better-engineered, designed, and built than theirs.
But the Special Forces are also receiving new mobile suits. The Centurion Team and other Special Forces units will be retiring their GM-IVs in favor of the new RXJ-99 Jet Jegan…the fourth iteration of the Jegan series mobile suits with improved thruster output, superior armor, and a more diversified payload of weapons. The Jet Jegan is still in experimental stage…to be used by the Special Forces before the High Commands decides whether or not the mecha is cost-effective for further mass production and assignment to the regular forces.
Major Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon unit and 2Lt. Jonah Michaels’ remaining active Centurion Gundam unit (Jolie’s Unit-1 now mothballed until a suitable new pilot for it can be found and trained) remain in active service, but have also received upgrades in anticipation of heavy combat against the Zeon Confederation Forces.
The Earth Federation Special Forces and the Phobos Zeon Forces have never fought alongside one another before. Hence, both General Miguel and General Blackhead agreed that it would be useful for pilots from both camps to conduct joint training exercises in preparation for the operations ahead.
Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah, having just completed inspections on her new Jet Jegan, looks up in awe at the Elmeth Gamma, “That’s one mean looking machine, isn’t it?”
2Lt. Jonah Michaels agrees, “It’s designed to kill, and looks like it. The pilot of this thing must be a fearsome, ruthless character.”
Major Athena Ibaz, having completed inspections on her Cour de Leon, approaches, and adds, “Along with being one of Zeon’s best military commanders and mobile suit pilots General Miguel is also an excellent mobile suit designer. I understand that he worked side-by-side with Kuromizu’s top engineers on the Elmeth Gamma, going back to the original Elmeth design by the Flannagan Agency and the Zeonic Company from the One Year War and eliminating the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the original design. The Gamma unit also has a mobile suit configuration, as you see here. Lalah Sun’s original unit was limited by its mobile armor configuration, which made it vulnerable to close-in attacks by mobile suits such as the RX-78 Gundam. As for the fearsome look of it…well, let’s just say that General Miguel is a master of psychological warfare. He understands the power of fear, and he’s a master of using it.”
Chieming turns her head as she sees three figures approach, each dressed in signature black Phobos Zeon Forces normalsuits, helmets on, dark visors down. Very intimidating.
The leader of the squad, smaller than the other two, promptly waves the two subordinate pilots to their mecha, while remaining behind to address the Special Forces pilots.
The Phobos Zeon squad leader removes her helmet. Long, raven-black hair flows downward.
Jonah is agape, his voice lost for a moment, “It…can’t be!”
“J-Jolie?!” Chieming, equally agape, says in disbelief.
The dark-haired, wide-eyed girl salutes, “1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi, commanding officer, Black Raven Squadron, Phobos Zeon Forces reporting.”
Athena, also somewhat surprised, but not betraying any hint of it, returns the salute and extends her hand, “I’m Major Athena Ibaz, Deputy Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces and commanding officer of the Centurion Team. These are my executive officers, 2Lt. Jonah Michaels and Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah.”
Kyoko briefly regards Chieming with dismissive disdain, but says to Jonah, “2Lt. Michaels…or should I say, Lord Jonah?”
Jonah, still in shock at Kyoko’s uncanny resemblance to Jolie, can only stammer, “Y-you know…?”
“General Miguel has told me,” Kyoko says, “Among other things, I’m ordered to protect you in battle, Lord Jonah.”
Athena says, “Your Black Raven Squadron will be working in close conjunction with my Centurion Team. It’s important that we grow familiar with one another’s combat idiosyncrasies and methods of operation.”
“That’s what we’re here for, ma’am,” Kyoko says with an air of razor-sharp coldness that cuts through the three Centurion Team officers, “if you’ll man your mobile suits, we can begin our joint training exercise.”
So saying, Kyoko re-dons her helmet and lets the boarding crane lift her to the cockpit of the Elmeth Gamma.
“She’s just like Jolie…” Jonah says numbly.
“Except for that creepy cold aura,” Chieming says, “She looks like she could be Jolie’s twin, but…brrr…she’s about as comfortable to be around as an asp.”
Athena remarks, “It’s uncanny that there could be another like Jolie…another White Phoenix.”
“More like a Black Raven, if you ask me,” Chieming says.
Twenty minutes later, the three Centurion Team mobile suits – Athena’s Cour de Leon, Jonah’s Centurion Gundam, and Chieming’s Jet Jegan, sortie across the wintry Chinese wilderness, accompanied by 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi’s Elmeth Gamma and her two wingmates in their Karasu mobile suits.
“This is Major Ibaz to all units,” Athena says, “they’ll be testing us with live units. The incoming fire and obstacles will be real, ladies and gentlemen, so…”
“Targets acquired,” Kyoko cuts in, “weapons to combat mode.”
“Roger, ma’am,” the two Karasu pilots reply.
“1Lt. Yamaguchi, you aren’t…” Athena begins.
Kyoko ignores her, “Targets identified as GM-III units. Eighteen in number. Range fifteen kilometers and closing. Fire at will, gentlemen.”
“Roger, ma’am,” the Karasu pilots reply in unison.
Racks of missiles unfurl from the shoulder-mounted launchers of the Karasus, corkscrewing towards the approaching targets. Of the eighteen GM-IIIs, six go down immediately.
Kyoko thrusts the Elmeth Gamma directly into the midst of the remaining, A.I. operated GM-III units, putting her transformable mobile armor right in the middle of their crossfire.
The GM-IIIs open fire with their beam rifles and missile racks, their fire concentrated on the Elmeth Gamma.
Kyoko swiftly transforms the mobile armor into mobile suit configuration, pulling out its beam saber and plunging it directly into the cockpit section of the GM-III directly behind her while ripping the beam rifle free from the hand of the GM-III in front of her, opening fire to destroy the second attacker even while drawing the Gamma’s beam saber back from the wreckage of the first attacker.
The Elmeth Gamma then goes down on one knee and swings the beam saber in a wide arc that eliminates two more approaching GM-IIIs. Before those units even collapse, the Gamma is in the air again, beam rifle drawn, opening fire while in a spinning motion, quickly disabling three more enemy units.
That leaves five more.
One GM-III has drawn its beam saber and is descending from above the Elmeth Gamma, attempting to cleave the Phobos Zeon transformable mobile armor in half.
At the final possible instant, the Elmeth Gamma steps aside, bringing its armored knee up to split the GM-III in half with a titanic kick.
Another GM-III unit attempts to get the Elmeth Gamma into a full-nelson, but the Gamma, having tenfold the GM-III’s strength, almost casually flips the attacking drone mobile suit forward, sending it careening into another approaching GM-III, disabling both.
Then, unexpectedly, Kyoko brings the Elmeth Gamma to a complete halt…the ebony mobile suit’s arms resting almost casually at its sides as two more GM-IIIs close in for the kill.
An instant later, both GM-IIIs are simultaneously reduced to smoking, flaming wreckage as two Psychom units that Kyoko had discreetly deployed come to a neat rest back in the Elmeth Gamma’s backpack unit.
“God in Heaven…” Chieming says, horrified by the carnage, despite the fact that the drone GM-IIIs were not manned by living pilots.
“Just like Jolie…” Jonah repeats listlessly.
Athena says nothing, opening the visor of her helmet. This is all too familiar, and not in a welcome manner.
Thirty minutes later, the mobile suits are docked once again at the hangar at Whampoa Base.
Major Athena Ibaz confronts 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi. As Yamaguchi is not a soldier of the Earth Federation Forces, Athena can’t discipline her, but nevertheless, Athena gives the Phobos Zeon ace a piece of her mind.
“That was reckless and irresponsible, Lt. Yamaguchi,” Athena says, “We’re not going to be able to work together successfully unless you integrate your combat tactics with ours.”
Kyoko smirks at Athena disdainfully, “I take orders only from Lord Alexander. If anybody will be making adjustments, it’ll be you and your team, Major…not me and my people.”
“That sort of insolence will get us killed, Lieutenant,” Athena says grimly.
“Call it what you will,” Kyoko says, “I’m frankly disappointed in your much vaunted ‘Special Forces,’ Major Ibaz. I thought we would be working as equals. As it is, you and your comrades-at-arms will likely hinder us.”
With that, Kyoko turns and leaves.
Athena cannot help but smile…arrogant b*tch, this Kyoko Yamaguchi. Jolie was never so insufferably high-handed.
At least that’s one difference between them, Athena concedes.
December 31, U.C. 0099
Armistice Day has come.
Before an audience of the world, President Gloria Brenner of the Earth Federation Government and General Alexander Miguel, the Prince of Phobos, sign documents entailing a pact of peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation between the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon. It is a momentous, historical occasion…likely to be remembered throughout the lives of those who witnessed it, and would be studied by schoolchildren for generations hence.
The documents signed, General Miguel is prepared to address the citizens of the Earth Federation.
“My brothers and sisters of Earth,” Miguel begins, “it is beyond imagination that I find myself speaking freely before you as I do here tonight. Just a few short months ago, the historical exchange of peace and cooperation vows between the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon were unthinkable. But here we are now…”
After a dramatic moment’s pause, the Zeon leader continues, “From today, the people of Earth and the people of Zeon have the opportunity to leave behind the mistakes of the past and build towards a different kind of future. Zeon Daikun envisioned a peaceful future for humanity among the cosmos, but his dream was darkened by the shadow of the Zabi Family. We awaken now from the nightmare of the Zabis, of Haman Karn and Char Aznable, to dream Zeon Daikun’s dream anew. For both Earth and Zeon, and for all our posterity, we will not repeat yesterday’s mistakes or dwell on yesterday’s failures. My friends: the future is ours.”
General Miguel’s speech is met with applause that echoes wherever human ears can hear, where human eyes can see, where human hearts can be stirred, and where human hands can clap.
Major Athena Ibaz, watching the speech from her seat in the front row of the military VIP section of the Earth Federation Government’s Deliberative Assembly Hall, can only bite her tongue and shake her head.
Episode 21 coming soon.
EPISODE 21: NEW FRONTS
January 15, U.C. 0100
The Second Universal Century will begin much as the First ended – with war raging between the Earth- and Cosmos-based factions of humanity.
At Luna 2, final preparations are made for a massive space armada, five-hundred space battleships and ten times that number of mobile suits, to deploy beyond Earth orbit to meet the impending threat of the Zeon Confederation Forces, which have already overrun the outer frontiers of the Solar System and are pushing closer by the hour to the Earth Sphere.
This is a far more extensive operation than the previous peacekeeping expedition conducted by the Special Forces in the Outer System. The deployment of the Earth Federation Space Armada to the Outer System represents the single largest display of Earth Federation Forces’ military power since the end of the One Year War. Supporting the Earth Federation Forces are the Phobos Zeon Forces led by General Alexander Miguel, which boasts three-hundred warships and two-thousand mobile suits of its own…plus the use of the mobile colony/fortress Phobos, which General Miguel has ordered to be moved out of its customary Martian orbit to form the spearhead of a defensive line between the advancing Zeon Confederation Forces and the Earth Sphere.
Many have noted the apocalyptic implications of this confrontation. The media has dubbed the conflict the “War to End the Threat of Zeon.” All expect this to be the final showdown between Earth and Zeon after twenty-years of intermittent warfare.
Major Athena Ibaz, 2Lt. Jonah Michaels, and Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah watch as giant crane mechanisms load their mobile suits aboard the Amuro Ray. In the near two months since the La Kailum-II class space battle carrier returned to Luna 2, it has been completely refurbished and restored to prime condition after the terrible battering it sustained during the Battle of Ceres.
This time, the Amuro Ray will not be serving as the flagship of the Federation Armada (that role will fall to the larger, more powerful battleship Agamemnon, commanded by Admiral Christopher Stewart, field operations commander for the mission), but as a combat spearhead unit working in direct cooperation with General Miguel’s forces. The Special Forces will be continuing their role as liaisons between the Phobos Zeon Forces and the main Earth Federation Forces.
Captain Beecher Olech greets the Centurion Team officers and enlisted personnel as they board the Amuro Ray.
Major Athena Ibaz salutes the commander of the space battlecarrier, “Captain Beecher, sir. Major Athena Ibaz and members of the Centurion Team requesting permission to board.”
“Granted,” Captain Beecher replies, returning the salute, “Welcome back aboard, Major Ibaz.”
As the rest of the Centurions proceed to their assigned quarters (the same ones they occupied during their previous mission), Major Ibaz converses with Captain Beecher.
“I understand Jolie won’t be a part of our mission this time,” Captain Beecher says glumly.
“That’s correct, sir,” Athena replies, “1Lt. Minh…has left the Federal Forces.”
“That’s regrettable,” Beecher says with a sigh, “she was the biggest tactical advantage we had in our previous operation. This is going to be a far more dangerous mission, and we’re not going to have her abilities to rely on.”
Athena nods, “The Phobos Zeon Forces have a Newtype pilot, 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi, whose abilities are similar to Jolie’s. She could offset the disadvantage of losing Jolie…maybe.”
“You don’t sound so sure,” Beecher observes.
“The skills are comparable,” Athena explains, “but Yamaguchi’s loyalty is given strictly to Alexander Miguel. She’ll help us for as long as we’re useful to her general’s agenda, but…”
Beecher nods in comprehension, “Having that kind of power under Miguel’s command is a worrisome idea.”
Athena responds, “Nevertheless, that’s the situation that we’ll need to work through. Even as we face the Zeon Confederation Forces up front, it’d be wise for us to be guarding our backs.”
“I hear that,” Beecher says in agreement.
Beyond Side 7, ships from General Alexander Miguel’s Phobos Zeon Forces are preparing to deploy to rendezvous with their Federal Forces allies and the bulk of the Phobos Armada already situated in a defensive formation in the vast expanse between Earth and Mars. The Phobos Zeon Forces are to attack first, blunting the edge of the Zeon Confederation Forces so that the Earth Federation Space Armada can attack the industrial and logistical foundations of the Confederation deeper in the Outer System.
1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi, commanding officer of the Black Raven Squadron, is on the mobile suit deck of the Phobos Zeon flagship Cassius. The beautiful, but intense teenaged Phobos Zeon officer tersely orders her subordinates to action, “I want a man in the cockpit of each mobile suit, ready to deploy, around the clock! We’ll need to be ready to deploy at an instant’s notice, and I don’t want any of us to be caught off-guard!”
General Alexander Miguel approaches, confident smile on his lips, as he watches his favorite charge at work.
All the Phobos Zeon personnel present, including 1Lt. Yamaguchi, salute their beloved leader, “General Miguel, sir!”
Miguel casually returns the salute, and remarks, “You’ve been working hard, Kyoko.”
“To meet your objectives, my lord,” Kyoko says, “nothing else is of greater importance.”
Miguel responds to that with a gentle hand on Kyoko’s silk-smooth, perfect face, “I’d be a much weaker man without you, my dear.”
“You flatter me, my lord,” Kyoko says.
“On the contrary,” Miguel says, “I flatter no one under my command. If my subordinates displease me, you can be assured I will let him or her know about it. If they merit my praise, however, they can be equally assured of that.”
Kyoko accepts that as the truth, and then presses with a subject that has been on her mind for a number of days, “My lord, I’d like to speak with you candidly about something.”
Miguel gives Kyoko an encouraging grin, “Go ahead, Kyoko. You shouldn’t feel inhibited about speaking your mind to me.”
Kyoko looks earnestly into General Miguel’s eyes as she says, “I have concerns regarding the woman from the Federation – Major Athena Ibaz. I don’t think we can trust her, my lord.”
“Trust her, I don’t,” Miguel confides in his subordinate, “Use her talents, however, I will.”
“My lord,” Kyoko continues, “this Ibaz woman can’t provide you with anything…that I can’t provide you.”
Miguel turns to Kyoko, hand upon her shoulder, “Do I detect a hint of jealousy, my dear?”
Kyoko says evenly, “No, my lord. My objections to Major Ibaz are not personal.”
Miguel nods, “I need you to work with Major Ibaz, Kyoko. You are an excellent warrior, but you are still inexperienced as a tactician. There is much you still need to learn about the finer points of the art of war. For now, I have use for Major Ibaz: hers is the most brilliant tactical mind I have ever encountered…possibly better even than mine, Kyoko. Thus, she is useful to me – for the time being. You are, however, correct: in time, she will prove a threat. When the time comes, I will be counting on you to eliminate her for me.”
“I understand, my lord,” Kyoko replies with a cold rasp.
Miguel plants a warm kiss on Kyoko’s cheek, and moves on to tend to his other duties. Kyoko floats towards her Elmeth Gamma to make a final review of her pre-deployment checklist.
2Lt. Jonah Michaels looks glumly out of one of the viewports of the Amuro Ray as the Federation Space Armada pulls out of Side 7. Once again, the Centurion Team will find itself in the midst of combat…this time on a much larger and more intense scale than their previous mission…and this time, without Jolie.
Jolie…Jonah reflects, crestfallen. He pulls out from the interior pocket of his uniform jacket a photo taken of him and Jolie together nearly a year ago…not long after they had first met.
Jonah sighs, staring longingly at the comely visage of his disappeared fiancée.
Where are you, Jolie?
Episode 21 to be continued!
Episode 21 continued
The impending war between the Earth Federation Forces and the Zeon Confederation Forces has deeply unsettled the global and universal economies. Suppliers of all varieties and manners of goods are stockpiling their inventories and raising prices in anticipation of the war ahead. Reciprocally, consumers have become more conservative about spending their assets in the face of encroaching uncertainty, resulting in the economies of both Earth and the space colonies grinding to severe recession levels.
Life is hard during wartime, even for those far from the combat zones.
Anman City on the surface of the Moon has been among Contolism’s great success stories during the past quarter century. The home of Anaheim Electronics, Anman has been a boomtown for years…prospering where others have suffered through the long war between Earth and Zeon. Anaheim remains at the forefront of mobile suit research, development, and manufacturing, and infamously has been a supplier to both sides of the conflict for years.
Renewed warfare means a new flurry of business for Anaheim’s industrial operations, pleasing the company’s executives and major shareholders no end. But their prosperity does not necessarily trickle down, at least not immediately, to the common citizenry of Anman City and thus, many of its residents are left to struggle to survive…
…including its newest resident, a seventeen-year old military deserter.
Patrick McGregor has been an employee of Anaheim Electronics for twenty years. He started off as an assembly line worker at the Anaheim central plant’s shipping and receiving department, and has gradually worked his way up to the position of assembly line supervisor.
It’s steady work, and has so far financed two of his children’s college educations while at the same time, setting aside a decent retirement fund for himself and his wife. Overall, he can’t complain…life has been good for McGregor as an Anaheim employee.
McGregor is contemplating retirement within five years – he figures that by that time, the company will put him out to pasture anyway in favor of younger, less expensive, and more recently trained workers. That suits him just fine. The eight-to-six routine is getting old anyway…
McGregor orders up his usual morning cup of espresso from Boomer’s, a local favorite coffee franchise in Anman City. McGregor reaches into his pocket for his wallet to pay the 8.75 EFc for the caffeinated beverage.
But his wallet is gone.
McGregor turns his head to catch the barest glimpse of a lithe, tiny feminine figure trailing long, raven black hair disappearing onto the roof of a nearby warehouse building….
Five minutes later and nearly a kilometer away, Jolie Minh drops down a chute leading from the roof of one of Anman City’s scores of nondescript industrial structures and into a large metal receptacle filled with discarded cardboard.
Jolie lands (relatively) softly on the mound of cardboard, letting out an exultant, “WOOOO-HOOOO!” and breaking into giggles.
It feels so good to be a civilian again…no more drills, no more routines, no more starchy uniforms, no more saluting…no more “yes, sir” this and “no, ma’am,” that!
Jolie thrashes around amidst the cardboard refuse for a moment before inspecting her spoils…nice leather wallet, stuffed with cash…at least 150 EFc. Can’t use the credit cards, unfortunately…
Having secured enough funding for at least the coming week, Jolie leaps up, catches the interior top rise of the receptacle walls, and climbs up, over, and back into an alley.
Jolie Minh, onetime Industria Colony street thief and troublemaker, is back in circulation…now in a new town, which she’ll make her own as sure she once did Industria.
It’s been a week of the usual mischief for Jolie. Three days ago, on a whim, she deflated all four tires of a local police vehicle…all while the officers assigned to the vehicle were occupied by their morning pastries. Two days ago, she had covered the main entrance to City Hall in duct tape. The previous night, she had relieved herself on the doorstep of the Lord Mayor’s office.
And during the past few weeks, the streets, alleys, benches, and buses of Anman City have become marked with the grease paint inscription, “Little Phuong rules these streets!”
But being the Princess of the Backstreets isn’t as much fun at seventeen as it was when she was at fourteen or fifteen, and Jolie realizes as she chomps dejectedly into a supersized burger that has become a regular part of her diet since her departure from the Federal Forces.
It’s a good thing I’ve got this hyperactive metabolism, Jolie think to herself, taking another bite out of the burger, or I’d be the White Piggy now instead of the White Phoenix.
Playing street urchin/juvenile delinquent again has provided its momentary thrills, but Jolie can’t help but feeling that somehow…she doesn’t belong on the streets anymore, living on the edge.
I started living like this when I was ten, Jolie reflects, after my family was killed…until I was fifteen and ‘Thena found me and enlisted me in the Federal Forces. I’m done being a soldier, but am I really gonna be living on the streets like this for the rest of my life?
Obviously, that isn’t much of an attractive plan, but what can Jolie do? Formally, her education ended in the fifth grade, and although Athena has helped Jolie to catch up on a great amount of her education during the past two years, Jolie isn’t certain she can pass a GED…let alone get admitted into a college.
This isn’t the life she had hoped for. Jolie’s plan was marriage…children…having a family again.
Jolie takes from her pocket a photograph – a copy of the same image that Jonah also carries – of herself and Jonah together, happily, less than a year ago.
“Jonah…” Jolie says softly, a tear rolling down her cheek.
Jolie’s melancholy lament is interrupted by the harsh sound of a man’s rough, hoarse voice.
“Give me everything you have! Everything…NOW!”
A woman’s voice meekly replies, “OK…you can have anything you want, just leave us alone and go away…”
A little girl’s voice whimpers, “Mommy, I’m scared…”
The woman says to the child, “Don’t worry, honey…”
“I SAID HURRY!” the man shouts.
Jolie hears the soft sound of a handbag dropping to the asphalt of the street.
Some twenty or thirty seconds later, the man says, obviously enraged, “FIVE CREDITS? Are you fcking kidding me?!”
“Please,” the woman pleads, “It’s all we have. Take it if you want, but please go!”
“I’ll take something,” the man says menacingly, “You bet I’ll take something!”
There is the sound of a metal object, possibly a gun, striking against soft flesh, followed by the woman’s pained cry and the child’s terrified scream.
“SHUT UP, little b*tch!!” the man shouts, “SHUT UP!!”
Jolie has heard enough. She herself is a street criminal, but she will not stand by and watch innocents be harmed on her streets.
Jolie turns the corner out of the alleyway where she had been squatting and into the nearby street.
“Hey, yo!” Jolie shouts at the assailant.
The thug turns, aiming his weapon at where he heard the interloper’s voice.
No one is there.
The gun, a 15-round Beretta handpistol, vanishes from the thug’s hand.
The thug feels his kneecap shatter and his elbow break almost simultaneously.
Before he realizes what has happened, the thug is writhing on the ground, screaming in agony.
Jolie points the Beretta at the fallen thug’s head.
“Nice weapon,” Jolie says, “mind if I try it?”
Before the thug can say anything, Jolie arcs the gun a centimeter to the right of the thug’s hand and pulls the trigger. Jolie swings her hand back and forth, squeezing the trigger fourteen times in rapid succession.
The whimpering thug hears the whiz of bullets alternately passing each of his ears, at least one bullet nicking the short hair on either side of his head.
The bullets crackle and echo through the night. Finally, the blasts fall silent.
The barrel of the Beretta is once again pressed between the man’s eyes.
“One round left,” Jolie whispers harshly, “Might as well finish it so we can load a fresh clip, eh?”
Jolie’s finger tightens around the trigger once again. The bullet enters the firing chamber from the magazine…
The thug faints, mercifully.
Jolie fires the final round into the darkness of the night, and then pockets the Beretta.
Jolie turns to the frightened woman and child, putting on her most reassuring smile, “Are you two OK? Anybody hurt?”
The woman turns to her daughter, “Are you OK, honey?”
The child nods, and the woman turns to Jolie, “We’re…all right. Thank you for…Jolie?!”
A flash of recognition comes across Jolie, “Sang-ah?”
Sang-ah Han, born in U.C. 0079 and thus, three years older than Jolie, was once a resident of Side 5’s Quebec Colony and a student at the same elementary school that Jolie had attended. Despite their difference in age and grade levels, Jolie and Sang-ah had been friends at school…often playing handball, softball, volleyball, or jump rope together during recess and after school. The friends had last seen other at school on October 10, U.C. 0092…Jolie’s tenth birthday, and the day that the Phobos Zeon Forces launched their murderous assault on the space colony.
Through the years, Jolie and Sang-ah had assumed each other to be dead, casualties of the Phobos Zeon attack. During the past year, however, Sang-ah had heard and read news reports of a Federation mobile suit ace pilot named “Jolie Minh”…whom the media had nicknamed the “White Phoenix”…but was uncertain if this White Phoenix was her childhood friend.
Jolie and Sang-ah clasp arms and embrace.
“Jolie…it is you! You’re alive!” Sang-ah exults.
Jolie grins at her childhood friend, “I thought I’d never see you again! After the Zeon attacked Quebec Colony, I didn’t know if anybody else made it out!”
Sang-ah turns to her daughter, who looks up at Jolie with curiosity, “Sunny…this is mommy’s friend, Auntie Jolie. She went to school with Mommy.”
“Auntie…Jolie,” says the little girl as she reaches out to Jolie; the child can’t be much more than three years old.
Jolie smiles and lets the toddler tumble into her arms, “You are soooo cute!”
“She’s three,” Sang-ah confirms.
“Settled with kids already, huh?” Jolie says.
“Yes,” Sang-ah says, “my husband is an engineer with Anaheim Enterprises.”
“You’re very lucky,” Jolie says as little Sunny leans against her.
“Jolie,” Sang-ah asks, “That ‘White Phoenix’ we keep hearing about on the news…um…”
“Yeah,” Jolie nods, “That’s me. But I’ve quit from the military.”
“But…how? Why?” Sang-ah queries.
“It’s a long story,” Jolie says, noticing the thug who had attempted to rob Sang-ah moaning and coming to.
Jolie steps over to the thug and strikes him with a quick blow to the face, sending him back to oblivion.
“Let me package this guy for the cops,” Jolie says, “then I’ll tell you everything.”
“Why don’t you come home with me?” Sang-ah says.
“You don’t know how glad I am you asked,” Jolie says, tying the unconscious thug to a lamppost with a length of cord she finds among the refuse in the alleyway.
Five minutes later, Sang-ah, her daughter Sunny, and Jolie leave. The thug, still blissfully out cold, is bound to the lamppost, a note left tied to his chest:
Yo, Anman PD cops,
Been causing you guys lots of trouble past few weeks. Sorry ‘bout that. Nothing personal.
Here’s a gift for you guys to make up for it. Lock him up good. He’s a creep.
An hour later, Jolie is at Sang-ah’s townhouse in a better part of Anman City – a comfortable, middle-class family home the kind of which Jolie missed so much.
Jolie and Sang-ah have caught up with each other’s activities during the past seven years. Two years earlier, at age eighteen, Sang-ah married Steven Lin, a robotics engineer five years her senior. At the time, they had already had a one year old daughter together, Sunny.
Without getting into many specifics, Jolie tells Sang-ah about her five years on the streets of Industria Colony, her subsequent two years in the Earth Federation Forces, and the personal conflicts and trust issues that caused her to abruptly desert the military.
“So, you’re homeless now?” Sang-ah asks, pouring Jolie another glass of fruit juice.
“Guess you could say that,” Jolie says, gulping down the drink, “I lived on the street before I joined the military, so I can manage.”
“You could stay with us,” Sang-ah said, “if you don’t mind sharing a room with Sunny here.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Jolie says, grinning at the lovable child, who grins back from her set of wooden block toys, “Sunny’s adorable, but I can’t just stay here like a leech, Sang-ah. You’ve got a family in this home.”
“Maybe my husband can help you get a job,” Sang-ah says, “Anaheim is always hiring people.”
Jolie replies, “If he could, I’d really be grateful. All I need is something that pays decent.”
The door to the townhouse opens. A young Chinese man around twenty-five years of age, of medium height and build, walks in. His eyes framed by dark-rimmed glasses, he appears bookish and polite.
“Steven,” Sang-ah says, “This is my childhood friend, Jolie Minh…from Quebec Colony. I met her downtown earlier and invited her over.”
“Hi,” Steven says with an amiable grin, extending his hand, “I’m Steven…Sang-ah’s husband and Sunny’s daddy. I’m pleased to meet you. Did Sang-ah say your name was…?”
“Jolie Minh,” Jolie confirms, “Yeah, the White Phoenix.”
“It is you!” Steven says excitedly, “Wow! I’d never thought that Sang-ah had a famous war hero among her circle of girlfriends!”
Jolie laughs, “I’ve…left the military. I’m looking for a job, and Sang-ah says you might be able to help me.”
Steven nods, “You pilot mobile suits, of course.”
“It’s about the only real skill I have,” Jolie says.
“Let me talk to my supervisor,” Steven says, “I think there might just be something for you…”
The next morning, Steven is in the office of the Head of Mobile Suit Research and Development (Special Weapons) at Anaheim Enterprises, speaking with his supervisor…a young gentleman whose hair is a distinctive shade of dark blue.
“Jolie Minh, eh?” says the soft voice of the young man with the blue hair…he chuckles, “Eventually, we would have had to find her anyway. It’s just serendipity that she’s come to us.”
“Does that mean we’ll bring her into the program?” Steven says eagerly.
The other man says, “Well, I’d like to talk to her first…make sure she’s someone we can trust. Too much is at stake here to put into the hands of someone we can’t count on. Invite her in. I’ll interview her myself.”
“Right,” Steven says.
Dr. Camille Vidan steeples his fingers…anticipating meeting the most powerful Newtype yet identified by the Earth Federation.
Episode 21 to be continued...
Episode 21 conclusion...
Steven calls home and gets Jolie on the line, “Jolie…my supervisor says he’d like to meet you in person. Why don’t you come down to the plant? He can talk to you this afternoon at two o’clock.”
“That’ll be great!” Jolie replies eagerly over the phone, “I’ll come right down! I don’t know how to thank you and Sang-ah for this, Steve!”
“Actually,” Steven says, a smile in his voice, “You’ll be of great help to us…assuming you take the job.”
Jolie arrives at the Anaheim Enterprises Mobile Suit R&D Central Plant in Anman City within the hour. Having scrubbed and groomed, Jolie has also borrowed a business pantsuit from Sang-ah for the interview. Jolie has never worn a pantsuit before, and it’s uncomfortable as all hell (besides, Sang-ah is somewhat taller than her, and the pantsuit is somewhat too big). Nevertheless, Jolie figures it’s better than wearing her torn jeans and denim jacket to the interview.
Steven greets Jolie in the lobby, “My supervisor is waiting for you in his office.”
“What’s his name?” Jolie asks curiously as she and Steven board an elevator up to the Executive Suite.
“I’ll let him tell you himself,” Steven smiles mysteriously.
The elevator doors open, and Steve guides Jolie into a private office that more resembles an electronics workshop.
Sitting at a work desk is a handsome, blue-haired young man in his late twenties. Jolie finds him oddly familiar…
The young man smiles and rises from his seat, extending his hand, “You must be Jolie. I’m Camille Vidan, Head of Mobile Suit R&D.”
Jolie’s eyes widen in disbelief, “No…no way! You’re HIM! You’re Camille Vidan…pilot of Zeta Gundam!”
Camille says sheepishly, “I get that a lot…and you’re Jolie Minh…pilot of Centurion Gundam.”
The two Gundam pilots take each other’s measure. In Jolie, Camille senses an intensity and depth of Newtype PSI-energy that dwarfs his own. Nobody that Camille has encountered…not Amuro Ray, not Char Aznable, not Four Murusame, not Rosamia Baudam, not Haman Karn nor Judau Ashta…has ever attained. The potential in Jolie is staggering…perhaps infinite…
In Camille, Jolie identifies a calm center…similar to what she sensed in Jonah, but more self-assured…more grounded by maturity and experience. It is a tranquility, Jolie notes, that was hard won…and not without its scars.
“Wow,” Jolie says, finding her voice, “I can’t believe I’m standing in a room with Camille Vidan, the hero of the AEUG!”
“You’ve compiled a combat record that puts mine to shame,” Camille replies modestly, “and I haven’t flown combat in over twelve years. Don’t plan to take it up again either, if I can help it. Which brings us to why you’re here today…”
“Huh?” is all Jolie can say in response.
Camille smiles encouragingly, “Come with me. I’d like for you to see something.”
Camille guides Jolie from his office back to the elevator. They descend into the plant compound’s underground levels. They thread a maze of corridors, along which way there are several security checkpoints that Camille must clear for them.
They finally arrive at a mammoth hangar complex. Several mobile suits, their designs unfamiliar, are under construction or study.
“Welcome to Anaheim Skunk Works,” Camille says, “In a world of dozens of billions, only two or three dozen souls know that this facility exists…and for good reason.”
Jolie spots it, and jaw drops in awe…a new Gundam prototype evidently near completion, at least fifty-percent larger than the Centurion Gundam, with an extremely powerful engine mount (far superior, Jolie reckons, to even the thrusters on Athena’s Cour de Leon transformable MS). Moreover, the weapons pack mounted on the mobile suit’s backpack unit includes a wing-like apparatus that bears…what Jolie can only characterize as metallic quills…like the wing feathers of an enormous bird of prey.
“Wh-what the fu…?” Jolie begins.
Camille says, “That’s the NCX-01 White Phoenix Gundam…a new project we’ve been developing for the past six years, but only recently named.”
“‘White Phoenix Gundam?’” Jolie repeats dubiously.
Camille explains, “It’d be a lie to say that we designed it with you in mind. After all, the project started when you were still a little girl. It incorporates many of the lessons that we’ve learned over the years from the previous iterations of the Gundam mobile weapons platform…beginning with the RX-78 through the Mark-II, Zeta, Double Zeta, Psycho, and Nu units…as well as some of the Newtype bio-interface systems we acquired from the Flannagan, Murusame, and Augusta research facilities. The Centurion Gundam and Cour de Leon were offshoot products of this development project. We sent them to the Federation as stop gaps while we continued to develop the NCX-01. After we began receiving the combat data from your sorties in the Centurion Gundam Unit-1 last year, however, we’ve gradually been reorienting the development of the NCX-01 prototype to your specific combat idiosyncrasies. The plan was to deliver it to you after final testing…”
“Guess you had to scratch that plan after I quit, huh?” Jolie remarks.
“Yes and no,” Camille replies, “We ran into a delay because the only suitable test pilot for this mobile suit…is you. You were occupied with the Special Forces in the peacekeeping exercise in the Outer System, however, so we’ve had to put the testing phase for the prototype on hold. We recently learned that you’d left the Federal Forces, however, so we’d been planning on delivering the prototype to the Special Forces’ other Newtype pilot for testing…”
“Jonah,” Jolie says with a sigh.
“Yes,” Camille confirms, “We were hoping that your colleague Jonah Michaels, to whom we’d assigned the Centurion Gundam Unit-2, would be able to fulfill the role we had in mind for you. But now that you’re here…”
Jolie says, “Let me get this straight: you’re gonna have me test this bruiser of yours here, and then you’re gonna send it for Jonah to use in combat?”
Camille nods, “That’s the general idea. Will you do it, Jolie?”
Jolie thinks it over for a moment. Despite all that has happened, she still deeply loves Jonah and cares for him, and her greatest fear since leaving him is that she won’t be able to protect him in battle. This White Phoenix Gundam is a devastating engine of destruction…far more powerful than the Centurion Gundam. It might just be the edge that Jonah needs to survive the war against the Zeon Confederation Forces…
“I’ll do it,” Jolie says.
Camille smiles and shakes Jolie’s hand, “Welcome to the project, Jolie.”
Just like that, I’m a mobile suit pilot again, Jolie reflects wryly, but it will be interesting to do it as a civilian contractor this time…a test pilot rather than a frontline combatant. Camille is already beginning to discuss with her the terms of a generous and attractive compensation package (Jolie hears something about six-thousand EFc per month, which is more than twice what she had made as an officer in the Special Forces).
Of far greater importance to Jolie, however, is the knowledge that the White Phoenix Gundam will be able to better protect Jonah in combat. For that, she would test pilot the White Phoenix Gundam…even without any other compensation, monetary or otherwise.
“You know something,” Jolie remarks, “since I’m not gonna be the actual combat pilot of this MS anymore, maybe you oughta rename it.”
Camille says, “What do you suggest?”
Jolie smiles, “Maybe you could call it the ‘White Dove’ Gundam.”
Camille grins, “This mecha wasn’t designed with peaceful intentions in mind, I regret to say.”
“It suits Jonah perfectly, though,” Jolie replies. I wonder how he is now…?
In the vast expanse of space between the Earth Sphere and Mars orbit, the mobile suits of the Earth Federation Special Forces and the Phobos Zeon Forces converge on a number of mobile targets.
“Targets acquired. I have a lock-on,” the cold, raspy voice of Black Raven Squadron Leader 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi transmits across the tactical net.
A dozen test drone Geara Dogas, operated by onboard A.I. systems, explode simultaneously in the wake of Kyoko’s Elmeth Gamma transformable mobile armor. A beam rifle extends from an arm-housing to lockinto the Elmeth Gamma’s left hand, a blinding white beam of energy erupting force to disintegrate two Musai drone ships.
2Lt. Jonah Michaels and Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah of the Centurion Team watch in awe from their Centurion Gundam Unit 2 and Jet Jegan mobile suits, respectively. 1Lt. Yamaguchi’s demonstration of prowess invokes terror even among her allies.
“Damn, this girl’s good,” Chieming remarks, “We don’t have anyone like her in our forces.”
“Not anymore,” Jonah says glumly.
Chieming replies ruefully, “Sorry. I know. If Jolie were still here, I bet she’d be better than this Yamaguchi chick.”
Jonah responds, “I’m not so sure. I fought side-by-side with Jolie for months, and I have to admit: 1Lt. Yamaguchi has been able to, at the very least, duplicate almost anything I’ve seen Jolie do. Heck: during the past few training exercises, I’ve seen Yamaguchi pull a few maneuvers that I’ve never seen Jolie even attempt! It’s scary to think there’s another Newtype pilot like Jolie out there…and that she’s loyal to Zeon.”
“Especially if she ever turns on us,” Chieming observes, “I think Daddy was probably right when he said that the Federation is trusting Alexander Miguel too readily.”
“He’s my brother,” Jonah says, “I know him well enough to have to same doubts. Still, maybe…”
Jonah and Chieming continue to watch in silent amazement as they watch 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi’s Elmeth Gamma methodically sanitize the training area of targets. They sense the cold touch of Kyoko’s Newtype-PSI energies, and it chills them to the core.
Kyoko brings the Elmeth Gamma to a halt directly in front of Jonah’s and Chieming’s mobile suits…startling them.
“Lord Jonah,” Kyoko says, addressing the brother of her liege. Kyoko ignores Chieming, as always.
“We were really impressed with that drill, Lieutenant Yamaguchi,” Jonah says diplomatically, “your performance was remarkable.”
Kyoko says coldly, “I understand that you were close to the White Phoenix, Lord Jonah. You are one of the few who has seen both of us in action. Tell me: how do her skills compare to mine?”
Jonah opens his mouth, but all that comes out is, “Uh…”
“Lieutenant Yamaguchi,” Chieming says calmly, “Lieutenant Minh is no longer in the service. We’re all counting on you, ma’am.”
Kyoko eyes Chieming disdainfully on the communications monitor of her mobile suit’s cockpit for a moment, then presses the question to Jonah, “Lord Jonah…?”
“She’s great,” Jonah says at last, “but you’re probably better.”
Kyoko offers a frigid smile, “You flatter me, Lord Jonah.”
“I don’t flatter,” Jonah says evenly.
“In any case,” Kyoko says, “it is my greatest regret that the White Phoenix resigned before I had an opportunity to test her skills. I would have given anything short of Lord Alexander’s welfare for it.”
This chick is completely psycho, Jonah and Chieming each think.
Kyoko zeroes in on Jonah, “I’ve heard that you’re a formidable pilot yourself. Care to spar?”
“Uh, all right,” Jonah says.
The Elmeth Gamma stands motionless in space, its weapon systems on standby mode.
Jonah draws the Centurion Gundam’s beam saber and adopts an en guard stance.
“Well, come on,” Kyoko says tauntingly.
Jonah maneuvers the Centurion Gundam into attack position, hitting the thrusters to 80, spinning around and over the Elmeth Gamma before bringing the crimson blade of the CG-2’s weapon to bear on the heart of the Elmeth Gamma.
An instant later, the beam saber is detached from the CG-2’s hand, swung into the hand of the Elmeth Gamma, the blade leveled at the throat of the Gundam.
Chieming advances her Jet Jegan forward, only to find her path to Jonah’s mobile suit blocked by the same crimson blade.
Kyoko looks towards Jonah and Chieming as if in disappointment, and discards the CG-2‘s beam saber…flinging the weapon back towards its host mobile suit.
The Elmeth Gamma transforms into its mobile armor configuration and jets away, leading its Black Raven Squad of Nova Doga and Gellond escorts away with it.
“Well…there’s a woman who’s full of herself,” Chieming remarks sourly.
Jonah says nothing.
Death’s Herald: the Black Raven, 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi.
Episode 22 coming soon!
EPISODE 22: WAR JOURNAL
Log Entry: S333RF
Entrant Serial Code: G1179587888
ID: Ibaz, Athena (Maj., Special Forces Team-C, C.O., C.M.C.U.)
Security Clearance: Privy-5
At 03:34 on 10-February-0100, combat operations began in Sector J-117 of the Mars Zone.
Sustained combat operations continued through 11-February and continues at the time of this log entry. Centurion Team has been called back to the Amuro Ray so that both mecha and personnel can be allowed time to refurbish.
Enemy forces included five Gwadjin-kai battleships, eighteen Kublai-class destroyers, and seven Prince Garma-class carriers. Combat data from reconnaissance units have confirmed deployment of three-hundred-and-seventeen mobile suits of the Gellond, Letzter Doga, Dworvak, Zimmfer, Enma, Overlord, Geara-II, and Dreissen-II types. Of these three-hundred-and-seventeen, one-hundred and forty-six were destroyed by the mobile suits of our Alliance forces, and eighty-nine were heavily damaged. Moreover, two battleships, eleven destroyers, and three carriers were eliminated.
Our forces have also sustained losses and damages. General Miguel’s fleet lost one battleship, six destroyers, and two carriers. Our own Federation Space Armada sustained the loss of two battleships, and four destroyers, although we were fortunate to have sustained no losses to our carrier group. General Miguel’s forces sustained the loss of seventy-two mobile suits, and our own forces lost forty-nine mobile suits.
Human casualties for our Alliance totaled two-thousand, five-hundred-and-ninety-seven dead, one-thousand, two-hundred-and-twenty-two seriously wounded, and five-hundred and-fifteen mildly wounded. Casualties on the enemy side can only be estimated, but are likely comparable to our own.
Considerable losses sustained, and this is merely the opening salvo. The liberation of the Outer System will prove a costly operation.
The dual Guncannon-100 units of MSgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said and 1Sgt. Tomo Higashi hurl silent thunder into the cosmos, piercing the hull of a Zeon Confederation Forces space battlecarrier. The disabled Zeon warship is nonetheless able to disgorge a flight of missiles towards the two Federal Forces mid-range artillery MS, apparently dooming the two Centurion Team sergeants.
2Lt. Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam slices into the path of the oncoming salvo, spinning as it fires its beam rifle at the incoming projectiles.
The subsequent hellacious explosion sends heated shrapnel vectoring in multiple directions, extremely threatening to human flesh, but of little consequence to reinforced Gundarium armor.
“Asante sana, Lieutenant!” Karim calls out to his team’s executive officer.
“Arigato, gozaimasu!” Tomo echoes.
Log Entry: S334JS
Entrant Serial Code: G1179587888
ID: Ibaz, Athena (Maj., Special Forces Team-C, C.O., C.M.C.U.)
Security Clearance: Privy-5
Combat operations have been in progress for eight days. The Zeon Confederation Forces have delayed our advance beyond the Mars Zone. Our Alliance forces have secured the Martian surface, including the heavily damaged mining facilities. Federation High Command has dispatched the Engineering Corps to begin operations to restore these facilities. I objected to no avail. Restoration operations will require, at minimum, three years even with full logistical support from Earth.
The enemy’s defense has begun to betray signs of fatigue, but so have our offense. General Miguel has proposed a more aggressive offensive program, and I am inclined to agree with the general. Out here, our forces cannot win a war of attrition against the Zeon Confederation.
The most heartening development in our combat operations has been the development of 2Lt. Jonah Michaels as both an officer and a mobile suit combat pilot. 2Lt. Michaels has made great progress in recent operations, and has grown to become an excellent combatant. I sense that this is his response to the departure of 1Lt. Jolie Minh, with whom 2Lt. Michaels shared an intimate relationship. He seeks to fill the void that she left in our ranks. For this, I must give him credit.
At the same time, I recognize his limitations. 2Lt. Michaels’ Newtype potential rivals 1Lt. Minh’s, and his combat instincts grow more refined with each sortie. Nevertheless, he is not the natural warrior that 1Lt. Minh was, and he never will be. Hence, I do not hang my hopes of a breakthrough in current combat operations on him.
1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi, however, of the Phobos Zeon Forces is a different matter.
“29th Mobile Suit Squadron Leader to all units,” 1Lt. Seth McBride commands from his GM-IV Officer Custom, “Regroup to coordinates Foxtrot-Eight-Zero-Niner for second attack run.”
“Lieutenant, sir,” reports Chief Warrant Officer Nattie Turgeyev, “I have a correction on that. Enemy flagship signature now registering at coordinates Juliet-Six-One-Five.”
“Copy, Recon-Niner,” replies 1Lt. McBride, “All units: supersede previous regrouping order to new target coordinates Juliet-Six-One-Five.”
“We have lock on,” confirms Chief Turgeyev.
“All units: commence firing,” McBride orders.
Missiles rush forth by the hundreds from the mobile suits’ hip- and –shoulder mounted tubes, and beam weapons unleash streams of concentrated and superheated Minovsky particles in the direction of the approaching Deimos Zeon Armada, including the flagship Kaiserkraft, personal combat vessel of Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach himself
Explosions register in the distance, creating multiple hellacious flashes of silent light.
“Confirm positive contact of ordnance launch,” Turgeyev says tersely, “awaiting data on damage to targets.”
The flashes gradually dim, and the dark stillness of eternity reasserts itself.
The Deimos Armada remains intact.
“That CANNOT have happened!” McBride rages, “We hit them with enough ordnance to vaporize a city!”
But the evidence of McBride’s eyes is undeniable. The ships of the Deimos Zeon Armada bear ominously forward like barracudas on the hunt.
“All units,” 1Lt. McBride exhales grimly, “All right, let’s…”
“Lieutenant,” Chief Turgeyev interrupts, “We have incoming enemy ordnance closing on our position.”
“Evasive maneuvers!” McBride shouts, “Deploy countermeasures!”
A furious storm of Deimos Zeon firepower, both solid ordnance and beam energy, vectors in from multiple directions. McBride hears clipped, truncated screams through his helmet receivers as the mecha units of the 29th Mobile Suit Squadron, Earth Federation Space Armada, are quickly reduced to shards – the mecha’s pilots dispatched beyond their bodies.
The armored, anthropoidal forms of Deimos Zeon Armada mobile suits, eighteen of them in all, storm into the area with palpable menace.
Barely concealing his terror, McBride shouts into the tactical network for any survivors of his squad to hear, “Retreat! We’re…”
1Lt. Seth McBride’s GM-IV Officer Custom is dispatched with a single slash from the beam saber of the Raker mobile suit piloted Captain Ricardo Peron, commanding officer of the Von Bach Corps.
Peron surveys the damage that he and his colleagues have inflicted, and nods with more resignation than satisfaction, “Not the best work we’ve done, but the hunt continues. Let’s move on, gentlemen.”
The Von Bach Corps, the most feared mobile suit pilots of the Deimos Armada, maneuver their Raker mobile suits into attack formation.
A single beam lances forth from an unseen distance, eliminating the Raker of Sgt. Jason Ortiz of the Von Bach Corps. Ortiz’s death scream fills the pilots of the VB Corps with a dread that they have long been adept at inflicting, but have never themselves experienced.
“Ortiz is down!” Captain Peron growls hoarsely, “I want a fix on the origin point of that shot now!”
Before the VB Corps’ reconnaissance specialist, 2Lt. Trien Pham, can comply, Pham suffers the same fate that his colleague Ortiz did a moment earlier.
“That beam came from a different direction than the first shot that took down Jason,” chimes in Sgt. Zaire Nassar, VB-6.
“Break formation,” Peron orders in response, “Keep moving! Don’t let yourself get tracked!”
Then it soars among them…a titanic mass of black moving at a velocity that defies visual identification.
Two more VB Corps mobile suits are destroyed as a result of the UFO’s pass.
“Did you guys see that?!” Sgt. Val Luger exclaims terrifiedly, “What the hell WAS that?!”
“Processing the scan,” Peron says to reassure his men, “negative ID match with any mecha in our database. Best available approximation available is a cross between the old Elmeth mobile armor from the One Year War and a Federation Gundam-type. Something new in the Feddies’ or Miguel’s arsenal. Something fast…something dangerous.”
“Captain,” VB-9, Chief Warrant Officer Warren Corsair ventures, “It must be the White Phoenix!”
“Yes…you’re probably right, Chief,” Peron says, “Tell me: do men hunt birds, or do men allow birds to hunt them?”
Peron doesn’t expect an answer from his men…at least not in words. He has trained them to respond through action, not language.
“Let’s go bird-hunting,” Peron finishes, “The wish bone for our fallen brothers, gentlemen.”
Having overcome their fear, the VB Corps reclaims the attack position, both physically and mentally. The Corps are hunters; they will not endure the humiliation of being prey.
Their revelry does not last long.
This time, the beams come at them in a twisting funnel pattern, cutting off escape paths. Several of the VB Corps MS attempt to maneuver to safety, only to vector directly into a lethal beam of energy.
“Pham, Corsair…GET OUT OF THERE!” Captain Peron shouts to no avail.
One by one, his men…his brothers…the proudest, most skilled warriors in the Deimos Armada, whom he had personally trained and triumphed alongside in hundreds of sorties, are being systematically eliminated…by an unfathomable opponent.
Finally, he is alone. The Von Bach Corps is reduced to one man.
Peron draws out the beam saber of his Raker mobile sit, firing a blast from his beam rifle into space.
“Show yourself!” Peron demands, “Or do you only murder from a distance like a coward?!”
“Hypocrisy is unbecoming to a man who aspires to leadership,” comes a lilting feminine voice through Peron’s helmet audio receivers.
“Identify yourself!” Peron snarls, “Are you the White Phoenix?”
A black mobile suit, its form suggesting a raven, becomes visible as the distant rays of the sun reflect upon it.
“No,” the feminine voice replies coldly.
Peron opens fire with every ranged weapon system of his Raker. Missiles, beam cannon, beam rifle, vulcan cannon…all come into play.
The black mobile suit avoids the fire deftly, with contemptuous ease. It draws a beam saber with a long green blade…
Peron draws the Raker’s own yellow-bladed beam saber to block the incoming slash.
It never comes.
Peron’s Raker explodes as two Psychom funnels blast it from the back.
The head unit of the Raker soars in the direction of 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi’s Elmeth Gamma. Kyoko catches the unit casually in her mobile suit’s hand, and crushes the Raker’s head in the Elmeth Gamma’s hand.
“…and it’s your misfortune that I’m not the White Phoenix…or a man…or a leader,” Kyoko finally finishes, “I’m the Black Raven.”
And she is death.
to be continued...
Episode 22 continued...
Log Entry: S339ZD
Entrant Serial Code: G1179587888
ID: Ibaz, Athena (Maj., Special Forces Team-C, C.O., C.M.C.U.)
Security Clearance: Privy-5
1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi is the greatest ace pilot in the Zeon Confederation Forces. She is likely the greatest active mobile suit pilot in the world at present.
I am ambivalent towards 1Lt. Yamaguchi. She is a great asset for the Alliance on many levels. Our breakthrough in the Mars Zone is largely the result of her efforts. Her contributions will be essential to our victory. Recent history has proven that the outcome of war can hinge upon one or two exceptional combatants.
1Lt. Yamaguchi is fiercely dedicated to General Miguel. This loyalty is likely personal as well as professional. The extent of 1Lt. Yamaguchi’s willingness to cooperate with our forces hinges upon her sense of how useful that cooperation will be to the general. Communicating with 1Lt. Yamaguchi is, at times, difficult.
1Lt. Yamaguchi fills the tactical void left by the departure of 1Lt. Minh. They are two of a kind. If the Alliance had the services of both the Black Raven and the White Phoenix, this war might already be won.
By early March, U.C. 0100, the Earth Federation/Zeon Confederation Alliance has established a beachhead on the surface of Mars, constructing an operations base for personnel, space warships, and mobile suits at the site of a former mining facility.
Surveying the maroon landscape of the Sol System’s fourth planet, Major Athena Ibaz cannot help but smirk slightly at the irony. A year ago, she had led the Special Forces on a mission to this very location to destroy the mining facilities that had supplied the metallic ore necessary to forge the war machines of the Phobos Zeon and Deimos Zeon Forces. That operation, which was successful, had been hailed as a great triumph for the Federal Forces at the time.
Now, an exchange of calendars later, she is here again…helping to start operations for restoring the facility.
General Miguel’s ore stockpiles are adequate, by his own calculation, to fully supply his Phobos Zeon war machine for approximately five more years. As early as four years earlier, the general had dispatched Astro geologists to identify suitable mining facilities within the Asteroid Belt. Already, one such facility is in operation…and one of the terms of the treaty that the Federation will sign with General Miguel’s post-war Zeon government will cede all mining facilities and operations outside the Cislunar Sphere to the Zeon.
Utter stupidity, Athena realizes, but fatalistically resigns herself to upholding. She already registered her disapproval…and was ignored by the Federation High Council, as she had predicted she would be.
“You’re thoughtful…as usual,” 2Lt. Jonah Michaels says as he and Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah approach.
All three Centurion Team officers are clad in their normalsuits, as necessary for the human body to survive the atmospheric conditions and temperature extremes of the Martian surface.
“We’ve succeeded in decimating the Deimos Line,” Athena says to her two subordinates, “but from here, we need to penetrate the Asteroid Belt and invade the Jupiter Zone. The easy part of the operation is over.”
Jonah and Chieming exchange a glance, both thinking, She’s calling what we’ve been through the past two months “easy?”
Two more individuals join the trio of Centurion Team officers…General Alexander Miguel and 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi, as always, by his side. Since General Miguel appointed 1Lt. Yamaguchi as his personal bodyguard, he had dispensed with other security arrangements, and is escorted by no other guardsmen.
The Federation and Phobos Zeon officers exchange salutes.
General Miguel holds in his hand a sealed envelope, which he lifts into view, “You wanted these materials quite urgently. I needed time to hunt them down from the files of our Science and Engineering Corps. Of what value is this data, Major Ibaz?”
Athena takes the envelope from General Miguel, “Sir, please accompany me to atmospheric shelter module, and I’ll explain.”
The five – Athena, General Miguel, Kyoko, Jonah, and Chieming, enter a modular, prefabricated shelter facility for the troops and engineers stationed on Mars. The group sequesters themselves into a conference room within the facility.
Athena unseals the envelope and extracts from it a series of photographs, maps, charts, and documents concerning the location and compositions of various asteroids scanned and studied by the Phobos Zeon Astro Geology Bureau in recent years.
“This reflects the data most relevant to your requests going back six years into the Astro Geology Bureau’s files,” General Miguel says.
Athena nods, drawing out a marker from one of her normalsuit pouches and circling several asteroids identified simply as M-74, G-56, X-119, R-81, T-9, and B-10.
“Each of these is an asteroid that was a comet relatively recently in its life…say, within the past two-hundred years,” Athena explains, “according to the data compiled by your scientists, these asteroids still contain high concentrations of volatile material…as well as considerable mass.”
“Fascinating information, Major,” General Miguel remarks, “but of what value is this matter of astro geology to us?”
Athena extracts a document of her own from one of her normalsuit’s other pouches, “Please examine these figures, General Miguel.”
In addition to being an excellent combat pilot, military commander, and political leader, Alexander Miguel is also a considerably gifted mathematician and space physicist. During his academy years, Miguel excelled in both advanced mathematics and physics.
Thus, it does not take him long to grasp the gist of Athena’s plan.
“Yes…I see,” General Miguel says, a smile of understanding and appreciation coming to his lips, “All that is required is an adequate kinetic source.”
“I’ve already talked to the engineers aboard the Amuro Ray about increasing the intensity of the ship’s Megaparticle Beam Cannon…” Athena begins.
“…but you’ll need more thermal energy than even an MBC can supply,” Miguel finishes, “I do have parts that were meant to be spares for Supreme Commander Giren’s Solar Ray Cannon during the One Year War.”
Athena says, “We can cannibalize them – convert them for use with our ships’ MBC systems and amplify their beam intensity.”
“It will be done,” says General Miguel rising, offering Athena his hand, “It’s a brilliant plan, Major. I’m extremely impressed.”
Athena rises, shaking the general’s hand, “We don’t know its true merit yet, General. That’ll be determined on the battlefield.”
As the five officers leave the room, there is a momentary passing of glances: General Miguel glances towards Major Athena Ibaz with a wary admiration. 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi glances towards General Miguel with apprehensive protectiveness, and then spares a glance of smoldering malice towards Athena. 2Lt. Jonah Michaels glances towards his brother with a tinge of guilt, but also a growing hope. Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah glances towards Jonah glancing furtively at his brother and his brother’s raven-haired protector and escort, and can only smile wryly.
Never knew I was getting myself involved in something this complex, Chieming reflects.
Episode 22 to be continued...
Episode 22 continued...
Log Entry: S341XB
Entrant Serial Code: G1179587888
ID: Ibaz, Athena (Maj., Special Forces Team-C, C.O., C.M.C.U.)
Security Clearance: Privy-5
Preparations are well underway for our plan to penetrate the Asteroid Belt. The goal here is to eliminate a large segment of the enemy attack fleet in a single strike.
The Antarctic Treaty of U.C. 0079 and subsequent accords and agreements have outlawed the use of weapons of mass destruction. These refer to the armaments manufactured by human beings for the express purpose of waging war on other human beings.
The accords are silent on the manipulation of the natural phenomenon.
To violate the laws of humanity is to answer only to other men and women. To violate the laws of the universe is to have no answer at all.
Centurion Team, Black Raven Squadron, and dozens of other combined Earth Federation/Phobos Zeon Alliance units engage in a massive, vicious dogfight against the remains of the Deimos Armada and reinforcements from the Callisto Armada. The Zeon Confederation units operate out of the Federation’s former Ceres Base, and retaking the base is the Alliance’s first priority.
Major Athena Ibaz opens communications across the Alliance’s tactical network, “Centurion Leader here: time to get our partners into the groove. This dance party ends with a fireworks show.”
The Alliance mobile suit and space fighter pilots are well aware of the import of Athena’s commands, as colloquial and embedded in coded language as they appear to sound.
The battle rages savagely amidst the drifting rubble of the Asteroid Belt. Mobile suits of numerous different Federation and Zeon-associated models pursue each other across space, hurling streams of beam fire and racks of missiles against each other, exchanging hacks, slashes, and jabs with beam sabers and beam tomahawks. Hundreds have already perished on both sides in the hours since the struggle began…
2Lt. Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam cartwheels through space as it fires its beam rifle, dropping two more Confederation mobile suits. Jonah has already taken down seven enemy targets today, and he searches for more, through both his traditional and Newtype senses.
I’ve gotten too good at this, Jonah realizes. The irony does not escape Jonah that he had left his brother and his home to avoid joining the ranks of killers, and now…
Jonah senses danger, not directed towards him, but towards his commanding officer.
Sure enough, a Gellond is closing in behind Athena’s Cour de Leon.
“‘Athena!” Jonah calls out, “bogey hot on your six!”
Athena has already sensed it. She hits the afterburner on her Waverider-configuration Cour de Leon, arcs her mecha back towards the assailant, and looses a spread of incendiary missiles at the Gellond. The enemy mobile suit fires its beam rifle in a desperate attempt to intercept the incoming ordnance, but finally collapses to the combined impact of three of the Cour de Leon’s missiles and a beam rifle shot from the Centurion Gundam.
“Good shooting, Lieutenant,” Athena says, “Thanks for the assist. Back into the groove now…”
Jonah can’t help but chuckle in response to that. This battle is all about getting into the groove.
If only Jolie were here, she’d appreciate the joke even more…
Jonah raises the beam rifle over the Centurion Gundam’s head, gets a bearing on another incoming enemy target, and blows another Confederation mobile suit to shapeless metallic shrapnel.
Jonah notices a great amount of activity at his four o’clock low position…a whirlwind of flashing light and explosions concentrated in an approximately spherical zone of a ten kilometer radius.
Jonah knows that the area is where 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi, the “Black Raven” of the Phobos Zeon Forces, is wreaking unfathomable havoc against the enemy. The Centurion Gundam’s sensors register Confederation mobile suit signatures disappearing at a rapid pace in the area…much faster than even Jonah and Athena could eliminate.
Jonah has seen such complete dominance of the battlefield in only one other…
The battle has gone on for over five hours, and both sides are beginning to demonstrate fatigue. Athena knows that neither the Alliance nor the Confederation can sustain the battle for much longer…
A message comes to Athena from Sgt. Anna Horowitz, “Major Ibaz, ma’am. I’m picking up signatures of enemy reinforcements. It’s a large force, ma’am: at least seventy ships, and a minimum of two-hundred and fifty mobile suits! They’ll have us in range in three minutes, ma’am.”
Athena responds, “Roger that, Sergeant. Centurion Leader to Amuro Ray bridge command: have you been tracking, Captain Beecher?”
“Roger that, Major,” Captain Beecher Olech’s voice comes through the tactical net, “We’ve already started warming up the lava lamps.”
Indeed, the Megaparticle Beam Cannon of the Amuro Ray and twenty other Federal Forces warships, begin to glow telltale sunrise pink to blood red.
“Open targeting scope,” Captain Beecher orders, “set the range and adjust bearing. Correction fourteen degrees up, five degrees starboard. Target R-81. Standby for order to fire.”
Aboard the Phobos Zeon flagship Casstonius, Captain Otto Kruger-Stahl receives parallel orders from General Alexander Miguel, engaged in combat alongside 1Lt. Yamaguchi and the Black Ravens.
The ships of the Phobos Zeon Armada similarly direct their recently retrofitted Megaparticle Beam Cannon towards targets in the Asteroid Belt.
Major Athena Ibaz issues the orders to all Alliance mobile suit units, “Partners are in the groove. Clear the dance floor for the laser and fireworks show.”
All Alliance mobile suit units comply except for the Elmeth Gamma of 1t. Kyoko Yamaguchi, which continues to pursue and destroy enemy mobile suit units and ships even as her colleagues withdraw.
“Lt. Yamaguchi, you must withdraw from the target zone now,” Athena says evenly.
Kyoko hears the order, but disregards it. She sees notneed to take orders from that Feddie b*tch.
…until General Miguel affirms those orders, “Let’s withdraw, Kyoko. Our work here is done.”
“Yes, my lord,” Kyoko responds dutifully. The Nightingale and Elmeth Gamma vector out of the battle zone ahead of the remaining Black Raven MS.
Athena’s voice comes through the tactical net again, “Be sure to mach schau on the way out. Make it look worse than it is.”
The Alliance mobile suit forces withdraw in a limping manner from the battlefield as Confederation mobile suits give pursuit.
Aboard his flagship Brandenburg, Vice-Admiral Paolo Caboto, one of Governess Lara Constantinas’ finest commanders, notes this development and nods with satisfaction.
“Press the attack,” Caboto orders, “Decimate what remains of them! They leave their lives here with us!”
The Zeon Confederation Forces pursue the fleeing Earth Federation/Phobos Zeon Alliance Forces through the Asteroid Belt. A number of Alliance units, in their rush to flee, are destroyed by the massing enemy forces – unwilling to slow their escape momentum through counterattack measures.
This victory is costing us, Athena acknowledges as she accelerates her Cour de Leon, mindful of the location of her squad mates, who are, thankfully, all still present and accounted for.
A few near misses, however, has Cpl. Geoff Sutcliffe complaining vociferously, “Major!”
Athena raises the Amuro Ray bridge, “Enemy location status?”
The reply comes from the Amuro Ray’s long-range scanner tech, “Eighty-five percent within effect zone.”
“All units,” Athena orders her subordinates, “off this dance floor, NOW!”
An enemy beam strikes the thruster pack of Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah’s Jet Jegan, sending her mobile suit careening out of control.
“Chieming!” Jonah shouts, eyes widening in alarm. The Centurion Gundam breaks the escape formation to come to the relief of the Jet Jegan.
“Damn!” Athena curses, leaving the formation to assist her teammates, issuing additional orders, “MSgt. Said, you take command. Get yourself and the rest of the squad out of the effect zone on the double!”
“Roger, ma’am,” comes MSgt. Said’s reply.
Athena and Jonah struggle to align their Cour de Leon and Centurion Gundam with Chieming’s damaged Jet Jegan, which spirals out of control at multiple mach speeds.
Amidst all this, Athena receives an update from the Amuro Ray, “Major Ibaz, ma’am: enemy forces now ninety percent and counting in effect zone.”
“Roger that,” Athena says, even as she maneuvers the Cour de Leon around drifting asteroid debris and enemy fire to line up with Chieming’s Jet Jegan, “As soon as the indicators read ninety-five percent, commence firing.”
“But ma’am…” the tech begins.
“DO IT!” Athena insists.
“Yes, ma’am,” comes the reluctant reply.
“Jonah!” Athena calls out, “Have you got match on speed and trajectory with the Jet Jegan?!”
“Affirmative, ma’am,” Jonah replies.
“Closing to distance of one-hundred meters,” Athena indicates, “Deploy magnetic clamp cables in five seconds…four, three, two, one…deploy!”
Magnetic clamp cables shoot forward from housings in the Cour de Leon and Centurion Gundam. The mighty steel cables attach themselves via magnetic heads to Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah’s Jet Jegan.
An update comes from the Amuro Ray, “Major Ibaz, enemy forces now niner-two percent within kill zone.”
The Cour de Leon and the Centurion Gundam are jostled by bone-rattling jolts. All three Centurion Team mobile suits are now in danger of spiraling out of control.
“Chieming, get a restart on the operational starboard thrusters of the Jet Jegan,” Athena orders, “Jonah, ease up on the Centurion Gundam’s engine…take it down to seventy percent and slowly decrease the output.”
Simultaneously, Athena engages thrusters to one-hundred percent on the Cour de Leon’s boosters.
Finally, after several tense moments, the Cour de Leon, the Centurion Gundam, and the Jet Jegan bring themselves and each other on a controlled course heading.
But time is running out.
“Ma’am,” the bridge of the Amuro Ray indicates, “enemy is ninety-four percent within effect zone. We’re thirty seconds from firing.”
“Get out of there, Athena!” Captain Beecher shouts hoarsely, rising from his command seat.
Athena calmly intones, “Chieming, switch off all thrusters in t-minus five seconds. Jonah, engage thrusters at maximum overdrive in t-minus four…three…two…one…GO!”
The Jet Jegan’s engines go cold and dead as the Cour de Leon and Centurion Gundam’s flare to 110 percent thrust output.
The three Federal Forces mobile suits, tethered by strands of steel cable, erupt forth from the edge of the effect zone.
“Enemy now ninety-five percent within kill zone,” the bridge tech on the Amuro Ray reports, “Megaparticle Beam Cannon set for firing on Captain Beecher’s orders.”
“Commence firing!” Captain Beecher orders.
The order is repeated on all ships of the Alliance fleet.
From the darkness and silence, red and yellow hellfire spews forth in jagged streams from barrels ten meters wide.
The beams strike none of the Confederation’s ships, and Vice-Admiral Caboto can only wonder at how the Alliance’s gunners could possibly have such abysmal aim.
Then, the beams strike in rapid succession on asteroids M-74, G-56, X-119, R-81, T-9, and B-10, each of which had been towed to this location days in advance to create the cataclysm to follow.
Concentrated Minovsky particles, superheated and supercharged through extreme pressure, ignite dormant volatile compounds within the ore of the asteroids, unleashing a hellacious explosion equivalent to the detonation of a half-dozen 500-megaton nuclear warheads.
A blinding flash lights the bridges of the Alliance ships beyond the edge of the effect zone. The Confederation ships and mecha, drawn to the center of the zone, are incinerated with unfathomable immediacy.
“Holy Mother of God…” Captain Beecher exhales. His bridge crew members have all risen from their seats, marveling at the unimaginable scope of destruction they have unleashed.
Aboard the Casstonius, General Alexander Miguel takes a glass of wine handed to him by 1Lt. Kyoko Yamaguchi. Thanking her, Miguel takes a sip of the expensive, delicious spirit and smiles with satisfaction. Another piece of the puzzle in place…
In their mobile suits, Major Athena Ibaz, 2Lt. Jonah Michaels, and Chief Warrant Officer Chieming Noah are buffeted by the shockwave of the powerful explosion. For a moment, the powerful force threatens to tear their mobile suits apart, but Federation engineering prevails over cosmic cataclysm…for the moment, with the help of distance and velocity.
In the cockpits of their mobile suits, Jonah and Chieming are agape…left dumbfounded and speechless by the mass destruction they have just witnessed. A staff of Federal Forces and Phobos Zeon astrophysicists had explained to them before the battle the likely result of Major Ibaz’s strategy, but that knowledge did not prepare them to see it for themselves. The two teenagers are deeply shaken.
In the cockpit of the Cour de Leon, Athena is silent and grim, I finally did it. I’ve just unleashed more death and destruction than my father and my Uncle Giren did. Is that the inescapable destiny of a Zabi?
Athena looks to her gloved hands, expecting to find them stained the crimson of blood, but their silver shine is suddenly glaring, blinding.
But the Alliance’s path to the Jupiter Zone is now unobstructed.
Log Entry: S382NF
Entrant Serial Code: G1179587888
ID: Ibaz, Athena (Maj., Special Forces Team-C, C.O., C.M.C.U.)
Security Clearance: Privy-5
The ides of March are come, but not gone.
Like Caesar, the Federation faces its greatest danger in the aftermath of triumph.
Like Caesar, the Federation might find its most formidable enemies standing alongside it rather than opposite it.
Like Caesar, the Federation places little stock in history, failing to take note of the final fate of Pompey.
The war continues, and to further the Caesarian metaphor, we have crossed our Rubicon – on more levels than one.
End of Episode 22
EPISODE 23: CELESTIAL PHOENIX
For eons, silence and stillness have were constants on the dark side of Earth’s moon. The occasional meteorite impact notwithstanding, the half of the lunar surface that turned away from the mother planet was forbidding…unyielding of its mystery.
The dawn of the era of space colonization ended that long era of silence, as humanity brought its technology, its industry, and its attendant noise to the far side of the moon.
During the One Year War, the military forces of the Archduchy of Zeon established a vast military complex within Tsiolkovskiy Crater. The complex, christened “Granada,” became the site of one of the larger battles between the Archduchy and the Earth Federation Forces during the closing phases of the One Year War.
During the Grypps Conflict and First Neo Zeon War of the late U.C. 0080s, Granada once again became a hotbed of military activity as the AEUG occupied Granada and used it as their base for space operations.
In the ten years since the end of the First Neo Zeon War, Grenada has once again fallen silent. In U.C. 0095, Anaheim Industries outright purchased ownership rights to the site from the Earth Federation Government, and has closed off access to Grenada and Tsiolkovskiy Crater ever since.
Anaheim’s security measures over the former site of Grenada are elaborate and dense. The perimeter is ringed with multiple banks of motion sensors, automated beam cannon, missile launchers, and a squad of Nemo-7 and Rick Dias IV mobile suits on patrol at all times. Above, satellites in lunar-synchronous orbit constantly survey the area through visual, infrared, and ultraviolet scans. Sensors placed beneath the lunar surface detect any motion underground.
Such extreme security and secrecy has led to the rise of various modern folk tales concerning the secrets of Tsiolkovskiy Crater, reminiscent of the many myths spun during the late 20th and early 21st Centuries of the old Gregorian calendar surrounding the infamous “Area 51” in the deserts of New Mexico on Earth.
Just what is Anaheim hiding in that godforsaken wasteland…?
Near the center of the Tsiolkovskiy Crater, amidst the abandoned remains of Grenada’s facilities, two human figures float lightly across the lunar surface.
The two figures, distinguished as one slender, shapely female and one somewhat taller, but thinly-built male, are clad in the black and grey helmets and normalsuits of Anaheim Industries’ Skunkworks Division. On the upper left arms of each of their normalsuits is a patch bearing a fierce avian image, and the stylized inscription, “Project White Phoenix.”
The figures float towards an armored, anthropomorphic mass that stands towering over the flat lunar surface and the abandoned buildings that once housed the Granada military base’s facilities.
After the pair reaches the armored giant, the masculine figure fingers in a security code on an electronics control panel built into the side of a door in the giant’s belly.
The door slides open, and the two figures disappear into the giant.
The female figure seats herself in the front, mecha pilot’s seat of the mobile suit; the male seats himself behind and slightly above her in the auxiliary systems station.
A gloved feminine hand reaches out, and its index finger finds a button marked, “Startup Sequence Initiator.”
The feminine finger applies slight pressure upon the button, which begins to glow a bright orange.
The NCX-01 White Phoenix Gundam’s eyes light up…a brilliant shade of flame orange-yellow.
The voice of Camille Vidan intones, “Energy buildup to forty-five percent. T-minus thirty seconds to critical mass.”
Jolie Minh’s voice replies, “Roger, that. Combat system computer coming online…now.”
The internal monitors of the White Phoenix Gundam fade in to life, displaying data in the 360-degree panoramic view of the linear seat cockpit.
Camille continues the countdown, “Ten seconds to critical mass: nine, eight, seven, five, four, three, two, one...all systems online.”
“OK, go!” Jolie calls out with gusto as she pushes forth the lever that activates the White Phoenix Gundam’s primary engines.
The White Phoenix Gundam lifts off from the lunar surface, tearing forth across the face of the moon at multiple mach speeds.
Jolie eyes the acceleration gauge, “Geezus…We’ve gone from zero to Mach Eight in just thirty-seconds!”
A flashing indicator on the forward view panel alerts Jolie, “Beam cannon array coming up! Contact in ten seconds!”
Camille says calmly, “Deploy deceleration system in five seconds…four, three, two, one.”
Camille fingers the control that activates the White Phoenix Gundam’s state-of-the-art deceleration system.
Multiple ion engines fire to bring the White Phoenix Gundam from nearly March Ten to a near glide with picoseconds to spare before the White Phoenix Gundam comes into contact with a sizzling beam of concentrated Minovsky particle energy.
Jolie thumbs a button on the thrust lever, “Main booster engaged!”
The White Phoenix Gundam vaults straight into the lunar sky, ascending twenty-thousand meters above the lunar surface.
Jolie issues the next command, “Disengage main booster.”
“Main booster disengaged,” Camille confirms.
The White Phoenix Gundam drifts in lunar orbit.
“Engage Wavediver configuration,” Jolie instructs.
“Wavediver configuration engaged,” Camille replies.
The White Phoenix Gundam changes its external configuration from that of an anthropomorphic armored warrior into a sleek aerospace craft, reminiscent of the Waverider configurations of the Zeta Gundam, the Re-GZ, and the Cour de Leon. The White Phoenix Wavediver, however, is much more heavily armed than any of its forbearers, and testing its capacity for mayhem is next on Camille and Jolie’s agenda.
Jolie presses a button on the side of her helmet to activate the targeting scope, then intones, “Weapons systems to combat mode.”
“Combat mode online,” Camille confirms.
The “wings” of the White Phoenix spread open, each “feather” in those wings a deadly minimissile guided by Jolie’s mind.
“Acquiring targets,” Jolie reports.
The Wavediver hurtles towards the lunar surface at a gut-twisting velocity; Camille and Jolie are indifferent to its effects.
Jolie thumbs a trigger button and a half dozen missiles rip forward from multiple nacelles in the White Phoenix Wavediver’s fuselage. The missiles swarm towards the cannon emplacements, annihilating them with precise hits.
“Target drones approaching,” Camille warns, “Fifteen targets total, assorted types: MS-06, MS-R09, MS-14, RGM-79, RMS-154, RMS-106, RMS-108, and RX-178 signatures.”
Jolie turns her helmeted head towards Camille, “We still have Gundam MK-IIs in the inventory?”
Camille grins, “That was my doing. You know how it is: you never forget your first ride.”
The White Phoenix Gundam is, by a considerable margin, the most massive of the mobile suits on the battlefield. Standing twenty-five meters tall, it towers over the One Year War and Grypps Conflict-era mobile suit drones deployed as its target drones (or “stooges,” as Jolie prefers to call them). Various advances in materials technology and construction methodologies, however, have resulted in the White Phoenix Gundam actually weighing less than its predecessors, and certainly, though massive, the White Phoenix Gundam moves more nimbly than the drone mobile suits sent to attack it, gliding like a ghost amidst unmoving trees.
A beam rifle extends from a nacelle of the White Phoenix Gundam’s forearm, using less than a tenth of a second to lock into the attack position in the White Phoenix’s armored right hand.
The White Phoenix Gundam rapidly squeezes off three shots, each of which catches a drone mobile suit square in the center. The White Phoenix has already taken off in pursuit of other prey before its first three targets explode.
The White Phoenix Gundam attacks next with the multiple rotating beam cannon mounted like a fan of gleaming metal sticks upon its back. Such a weapons system was first mounted on the Jupitorius mobile suit Pallas Athenas, designed and built by Paptimus Scirocco and piloted by former AEUG pilot-turned-Titans operative Reccoa Londo during the Grypps Conflict. Camille has since studied the design of the Pallas Athenas’ cannon system and significantly upgraded it, integrating the improved rotating beam cannon into the armaments set of the White Phoenix Gundam.
Jolie, as can be expected, makes much more effective use of the weapon than Reccoa Londo did, dropping eight mobile suits with a single rotation of the cannon.
Not a single drone mobile suit, programmed to mimic the maneuvers of such great bygone ace pilots such as Captain Quattro Bagina (AKA the Red Comet, Char Aznable), 1Lt. Emma Sheen, Captain Lyla Mira Lyla, and even Camille himself, has succeeded in landing a single shot anywhere near the White Phoenix Gundam.
Jolie draws out the White Phoenix Gundam’s beam saber, stabbing it backwards to impale an attacking Hizack before swinging it forward to bisect an attacking Rick Dom.
Two targets remain: the Gundam MK-IIs, painted in old Titans colors.
Jolie’s eyes flash.
Camille feels an enormous…well, he wouldn’t exactly call it pressure. It lacks the stifling, choking sensation that he remembered from his dealings with Paptimus Scirocco and Haman Karn during the Grypps Conflict. The PSI-energy exerted by Jolie is vaster, more intense than theirs, but lacks their oppressive darkness. Jolie’s PSI-energy burns like a gentle fire, capable of incinerating, but when controlled, warm and soothing.
The Gundam MK-IIs charge the White Phoenix Gundam, beam rifles blazing, beam sabers drawn and raised in attack position.
The White Phoenix Gundam’s “wings” spread again, dislodging a single Psychom bit shaped rather like a bird’s feather. The bit drifts slowly, almost lazily around the approaching MK-IIs before firing off four quick shots that deprive the MK-IIs of their primary and secondary weapons systems.
Jolie reaches out the White Phoenix Gundam’s armored right hand like an enormous claw, grabbing the head unit of one of the MK-IIs, crushing it.
The second MK-II attempts to attack the White Phoenix Gundam with its vulcan cannon, but Jolie boosts the White Phoenix Gundam out of the MK-II’s firing range.
An instant later, the White Phoenix Gundam lands with bone-breaking force on the MK-II, crushing it.
Jolie opens the visor on her helmet, and after a moment, lets out a sigh, “I f*cked up, didn’t I, Doc?”
“What makes you say that?” asks Camille, his smile indicating that he already knows the answer.
Jolie replies, “I should have deployed the Psychom System immediately instead of f*cking around with the beam rifle, beam sabre, rotating beam cannon, etc. The fight should have ended in fewer than ten seconds instead of the...” Jolie glances at the combat computer recorder, “...thirty-five seconds I wasted on these sonsab*tches.”
Camille pats Jolie’s helmet, “Don’t worry about it. We need a diagnostic of ALL of the White Phoenix Gundam’s systems, not just the Psychom System. If there are any flaws and inadequacies in any onboard system, we need to recalibrate and adjust them before we deliver the White Phoenix to the front lines.”
“The sooner we get it done, the better!” Jolie says hotly, “Jonah needs this!”
Camille cannot help chuckling, “Still worried about your boyfriend, hmm?”
“Well, yeah,” Jolie confesses, “He and I were gonna get married, but…”
Already knowing the story, Camille decides to turn Jolie’s thoughts in a more constructive direction, “We’re not going to get much more accomplished today, because you burned out the neural link diodes in your helmet again.”
“Again?” Jolie groans, “This is the third time in a week!”
“Tell me about it,” Camille replies, “I’ve triple-reinforced the insulation since we first began testing the Psychom System, but your PSI-energy is just too intense for the insulation to handle.”
“Back to the shop, then, I guess,” Jolie says, goosing the thruster for the return trip to New Anman City, “Damn it, this is frustrating!”
Camille says, “Well, like I said when you signed the employment contract, I was going to make you earn your paycheck.”
“Life in the military was so much easier,” Jolie says mischievously, “At least ‘Thena didn’t count how many rounds I had left in my weapons at the end of the day!”
Camille returns with, “I could always send you back…”
“…to face a firing squad,” Jolie says, humor dissipating, “I am a deserter, after all.”
“They who test pilot experimental weapons also serve,” Camille observes.
“Tell that General Blackhead and Colonel Creepy,” Jolie says wryly.
“Seriously,” Camille says, “we need to keep our test activities as discreet as possible. The Earth Federation doesn’t know we’ve been working on this White Phoenix project. I don’t plan on letting them know until the time is right. If we give them the technology now, they’d just abuse it.”
As Camille says this, the White Phoenix Gundam lands on a platform in a remote sector of the moon’s far side. The White Phoenix Gundam is thus returned to its secret maintenance facility deep below the surface of New Anman City.
Camille and Jolie emerge from the Skunkworks factory complex into the former’s office in the Anaheim Industries Business Tower above ground level.
The mentor and pupil chat about the ongoing war between the Earth Federation/Phobos Zeon Alliance and the Zeon Confederation Forces raging in the Outer System when they spot a familiar, friendly face waiting for them.
Her hair is as black as Jolie’s, though not as long. Her Chinese bloodline is evident in the shape of her features and the tone of her skin. Time has matured her gracefully, and a decade after she adventured as an AEUG pilot in the Grypps Conflict and First Neo Zeon War, Fa Yuri (now Fa Yuri-Vidan) is as beguiling a woman as ever.
Fa Yuri, originally of Side 7’s Green Noah space colony, saw her life change forever on that fateful day in February, U.C. 0087, when her boyfriend Camille Vidan stole the Titans’ new experimental mobile suit RX-178 Gundam MK-II with the aid of operatives from the AEUG. Fa and her family soon found themselves refugees fleeing from the Titans until Fa reunited with Camille aboard the Ahrgama. Fa then joined the Ahrgama crew, first as a member of the support staff, and later as a mobile suit pilot assigned to the transformable mobile suit MSA-005 Metas. Fa continued piloting the Metas into combat until early U.C. 0088, when she elected to resign from active duty in the AEUG to care for Camille, who had fallen into a catatonic state after falling prey to a psychic attack by the dying Paptimus Scirocco during the Battle of Zedan. Camille finally recovered after a year of therapy and Fa’s tender loving care.
The couple remained on Earth until U.C. 0090, and married in U.C. 0091. That same year, Camille began working in Anaheim Skunkworks, assisting his old friend and mentor, Captain Amuro Ray, in the design of the Re-GZ and Nu Gundam mobile suits. After Captain Amuro perished in U.C. 0093, Camille concentrated his efforts on designing and building the ultimate mobile suit. Using data from the original RX-78 Gundam, the Zeta Gundam, the Double Zeta Gundam, the Psycho Gundams, and the Nu Gundam, Camille labored for years to design a superior mobile suit. The RX-780 Gundam 100 (since redesignated “Centurion Gundam” after being assigned to the Centurion Special Operations Team) and the Cour De Leon were experimental byproducts, quickly delivered to the Earth Federation Forces to meet their demands for new high-performance combat mobile suits even as Camille and his team continued to the develop the NCX-01 unit.
Fa runs into her husband’s warm embrace, and the two exchange a kiss. Four Murusame, Rosamia Baudam, Sara Zabiarov – Camille has since realized that they were all temporary infatuations. In the end, it was Fa who always has been his true soulmate.
Nevertheless, Fa says to Camille with a smile, “Dr. Vidan, if I didn’t know you better, I’d suspect that you were having an affair behind my back.”
Fa shoots Jolie a mischievous glare, and offers the younger woman a conspiratorial wink.
Jolie winks back, grins, and points her thumb back at the massive White Phoenix Gundam, “The doc is in love with that lady back there.”
Camille brought Jolie home and introduced her to Fa on the day that he hired her as the NCX-01’s test pilot. Wisely deciding that it would be better than setting up the field for awkward and embarrassing misunderstandings later on, Camille acquainted his wife with his attractive young charge.
To Camille's relief, Fa and Jolie became fast friends, and the Vidans have since practically adopted Jolie as an unofficial goddaughter…the joke being that their godchild is only a decade younger than the Vidans themselves.
Jolie continues, “Doc’s lady’s got some berko muscle, but she’s still somehow light on her feet.”
Camille remarks, “There’s much more we haven’t tested yet. You’ll really be blown away by some of the things the White Phoenix Gundam can do…that no other mobile suit has EVER been able to do before.”
Jolie asks as she rubs her belly, “Can it make dinner? I’m starving!”
Fa laughs, “If you want to eat, you two better get cleaned up so we can get home. We’re having dumplings tonight, but I’ve only wrapped about half of them, and six hands can wrap them three times faster than two can…”
“Say no more,” Jolie says, heading out of the office, “I’ll meet you guys at your place.”
After Jolie has left, Camille takes from his inner coat pocket a small metallic device and frowns at it.
“What is it, Camille?” Fa asks, knowing when her husband is troubled.
Camille shows her the metallic device, which looks a bit scorched, and tells her, “This is the neural link in Jolie’s helmet…the one that enables her to mentally operate the Psychom systems in the White Phoenix Gundam. Look at it: Jolie overloaded it – completely fried its circuitry. It’s the third time this has happened.”
Fa says, “Camille, you can’t blame Jolie for…”
Camille answers, “I’m not blaming her. It’s just…unsettling how powerful Jolie’s Newtype abilities are. I’ve never encountered anything like her. Nobody I’ve met…not Amuro, Char, Judau, Four, Rosamia, Scirocco, Haman…not myself…no one has ever demonstrated power like this.”
Fa puts a comforting hand on her husband’s shoulder, “Are you worried that someone might abuse that power?”
Camille shakes his head, “Jolie’s very strong…and very much in control of her abilities. She’s not like Four or Rosamia. They were victims of the Federation, cruelly enslaved to be unwilling agents of destruction. I can’t see anybody being able to subjugate Jolie that way, but she could be vulnerable in other ways…”
Fa remarks, “You sound like a worried father.”
Camille cannot help grinning in response, “She’s our little girl. I’m serious about Jolie’s strength and self-control, however. She has a much better handle on her abilities than Four or Rosamia…or even I ever had. Four and Rosamia’s left them emotional wrecks, deprived of individual thought and independent will. That isn’t the case with Jolie at all. I’ll tell you something, Fa: that attack by Scirocco that left me a vegetable for over a year…?”
Fa shudders to remember those dark days, and is surprised that Camille would even bring them up, but she responds, “Yes?”
Camille tells her, “If Scirocco had tried that on Jolie, she would have absolutely melted his mind.”
Fa nods in understanding. Their newly adopted “goddaughter” is a walking mindbomb.
Episode 23 to be continued...
Episode 23 continued...
Thirty minutes later, the Camille, Fa, and Jolie are at the Vidans’ home in New Anman City. The trio is in the kitchen, wrapping Chinese dumplings (a favorite recipe of Fa’s mother) for dinner. While Fa and Camille’s dumplings look proper and appetizing, the ones wrapped by Jolie are, without exception, hysterically deformed (the result of Jolie’s incorrigible impatience). Nevertheless, within minutes, a pile of dumplings large enough to feed a small army are simmering in a pot of chicken broth, sending delicious odors throughout the house.
Since joining Anaheim Enterprises, Jolie has begun earning enough money to lease a comfortable bachelorette townhouse a block away from the home of her friend, Sang-Ah Han-Lin, whose husband Steven is a member of Camille’s engineer staff. Hopelessly inept as a cook, however, Jolie, on most evenings, dines with the Vidans (with a promise by Camille not to take meal expenses out of her pay).
As has become customary for many households since the mid-20th Century, the Vidans and Jolie have gotten into the habit of late of dining with the television set on. The object of their attention, however, is not some frivolous sitcom, drama, or so-called “reality” program, but live news coverage of the war raging between the Earth Federation/Phobos Zeon Alliance and the Zeon Confederation in the Asteroid Belt and the Jupiter Zone.
UNN war correspondent Andrea Christensen reports from a press Ball pod, “…you’re looking at live footage right now of a massive firefight between Alliance and Confederation mobile suit squadrons and warships. It’s hard to tell from what we’re seeing just who has the upper-hand. From our position here in the Ball pod, we can see massive explosions on both sides…wait…can we confirm that a warship registered with the Earth Federation Forces has just exploded? Robert, could you get us confirmation on that? This just handed to me, ladies and gentlemen: casualties today are listed in the thousands. We’ll have an exact figure for you in just a few minutes. We have just confirmed the destruction of the Federation destroyer Dublin.”
Fa leans closer to her husband while Jolie clenches her fists upon her knees, the teenager’s teeth gritted in anxiety.
How are Jonah, Athena, and the others doing? Jolie wonders, If only I could be out there with them…
Jolie’s heart begins racing and her eyes widen as Andrea Christensen announces, “We’re now going to live footage of a press conference with Major Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Special Forces.”
‘Thena! Jolie’s heart exults, breaking into a grin as she sees her friend appear on the screen.
Above a caption that reads, “Live: from the Conference Room of the E.F.S.S. Amuro Ray,” Athena, still clad in her normalsuit having apparently just returned aboard ship from a melee of MS to MS combat.
“Major Ibaz! What’s the progress of the battle?!” asks one reporter.
“Major Ibaz! Did your unit sustain any casualties?!” demands another journalist.
“Major! Is it true that the Alliance violated the Antarctica Accord of 0079 and used a nuclear weapon against the Confederation during the battle on March 15?!” comes another question.
“Major!” yet another reporter shouts, “Rumors are that the war is nearing its end and the Alliance Forces are winning! What do you say to that?!”
Athena stares down the reporters calmly, silently, waiting for the clamor to die down. Something about Athena’s unflappable serenity…her unshakable self-possession amidst chaos, exerts a calming effect upon her audience, and soon, they fall into silent expectation.
Across four-hundred million kilometers of space, Jolie smiles, Heh! That’s my girl, ‘Thena! Always knows how to shut ‘em up without even saying anything!
Athena finally speaks. Her voice is calm, firm, and even, “The Alliance Forces are presently engaged in combat against the Zeon Confederation at multiple points across the Asteroid Belt. The space colonies Frontier 8, Landsowne, New Syracuse, Ceres, Montserrat 9, Lacoste, St. Michael, Wuhan, Incheon, Yucatan, New Lagos, San Juan Salvador, and Everpool have been liberated from Confederation control, and relief convoys are already arriving at those colonies to assist civilians affected by the Confederation occupation. The war, however, is not close to an end. The explosion that destroyed a significant portion of the Deimos Armada on March 15 resulted not from the use of a nuclear weapon, but from the unexpected detonation of volatile gases contained within several asteroids in the area. To date, my unit has sustained no casualties. That will be all.”
Athena leaves the podium despite the outpouring of further questions from the media. Military Police units keep the journalists at bay as Athena departs…likely for the MS deck to resume the battle.
Jolie breathes a sigh of relief; Athena said “no casualties”…meaning Jonah is all right.
But how much longer will he be all right if the war continues? Jolie wonders, We’ve got to get the White Phoenix Gundam to him as fast as we can!
Jolie turns around to her employer and mentor, “Doc?”
“What is it, Jolie?” Camille responds.
“What time do we start continuing the tests on the White Phoenix Gundam tomorrow?” Jolie asks.
Camille replies, “We’re scheduled to start at 06:00.”
“Can we move it up a few hours?” Jolie asks, “Maybe 03:00?”
“Why the rush?” Camille inquires with a smile.
“The sooner it’s cleared for combat, the sooner we can get it to the Federal Forces troops in the Outer System who need it!” Jolie answers.
Camille teases, “Your Jonah, you mean?”
Jolie reddens, but replies, “Well, yeah…”
Camille and Fa exchange grins, and then Camille says, “We can get started at 03:00 if you’re up to it, but the maintenance crews need to check everything out before we can sortie. Don’t expect to be able to lift off until around 05:30 at the earliest.”
Jolie rises, saying, “I’ll be ready! Gonna go home now! Gotta get enough sleep for work tomorrow! Thanks for dinner! Bye!”
So exclaiming in a single breath, Jolie dashes out of the Vidans’ home, onto her motorcycle, and speeds off across town to her own home.
“That girl certainly has a flame in her fanny,” Fa remarks.
Camille smiles, “I think she drinks jet fuel for breakfast. I like her energy.”
Fa wraps her arms around Camille lovingly and leans against him, “Is she your kind of woman?”
Camille holds Fa closer, “No, I prefer mine more…domestic.”
Camille and Fa share a passionate kiss.
A kilometer away, Jolie skids her motorcycle to a halt, makes a sharp 90-degree left turn, and tears down New Anman City’s main boulevard.
Episode 23 to be continued...