EPISODE 28: REUNIONS
After a six-year period of development, Project White Phoenix Gundam is now only days away from rollout. The prototype unit has been thoroughly combat tested and is ready for deployment.
Anaheim Enterprises had been developing the White Phoenix Gundam in secret, and had made the existence of their new wonder weapon unknown to the leaders of the Earth Federation Forces until just after the end of the Zeon Civil War.
Naturally, the Earth Federation Forces placed a high proprietary bid on the White Phoenix Gundam. By custom as well as by contract, the Federation always gets first-bid priority on Gundam-class mobile suits, and after Camille arranged a demonstration of the WPG’s capabilities for a select guest list of Federation senators and flag-ranking officers, President Brenner rushed to green-light the purchase of the existing unit and any subsequent units.
The pre-delivery tests on the WPG are scheduled for later in the week. Test pilot Jolie Minh has decided, however, that today is the day she should make her plans known to her employer and mentor, Dr. Camille Vidan, the Project Director of the WPG development program.
“You’re planning on resigning?” Camille says in mild disbelief.
“Yeah,” Jolie says sheepishly, “I’ve had a great time working on the project with you and the crew, but I think it’s time for me to…move on.”
“To what?” Camille asks sincerely.
Jolie says, “I want to look for my friends. They need me.”
Camille steeples his fingers in front of his lips, “Minerva Zabi, you mean?”
“Yeah, ‘Thena,” Jolie replies, “She’s always been just like a big sister to me, y’know, Doc? She’s missing right now and I have to go find her.”
“I understand,” Camille says, “I’ll accept your resignation if you really mean it, Jolie, but I want you to think about it for a while first. How about this? I’ll give you three weeks’ paid leave while you look for your friend.”
Jolie’s eyes widen, “You mean it, Doc?”
“I mean it,” Camille affirms, “Good luck.”
“Thanks, Doc!” Jolie replies, kissing her mentor on the cheek, “You’re the greatest!”
Jolie rushes back to her apartment in the suburbs of Anman City. She pulls out her knapsack and begins to stuff supplies into it.
Jolie is about to strap the knapsack onto her back when she suddenly drops it in mid-motion, sensing a familiar presence.
No…no way. Not here…she can’t be here. Maybe I’m just too focused on her right now.
But there’s no mistaking it…or the proximity of it. Athena Ibaz is in or near Anman City.
Jolie streaks down to her motorbike, guns the engine, and speeds towards the spaceport.
The Anman Spaceport is, as ever, busy with all manner of traffic. Presently, an Earth Federation Government diplomatic envoy is arriving from Side 7…the good ship Samsara (so named because the ship was thrice destroyed, and thrice rebuilt).
Jolie parks her motorbike at the spaceport just as the ship docks. The familiar sensation within Jolie’s mind intensifies.
Is Athena aboard that ship?
Twenty minutes pass before the ship is fully docked and disembarkation/unloading planks are extended.
Slipping past surveillance systems and security personnel, Jolie steals into the cargo hold of the Samsara.
Jolie finds a flashlight and ignites it, its feeble light providing only scant illumination.
Jolie counts sixty ginger steps forward before she sees six chrome coffins, each draped with a flag bearing the insignia of the Earth Federation Forces.
Jolie draws out her pistol, the Walther mini-pistol that Athena gave her the previous Christmas, and holds it ready. Jolie is hoping she won’t need to shoot anybody, but she’ll do what she must.
To Jolie’s astonishment, the lid of one of the coffins opens internally, as if the restless undead within is rising to confront the hapless meddler who so thoughtlessly interrupted its eternal sleep.
Jolie points her pistol towards the rising coffin lid, her finger tensing around the trigger.
A normalsuited figure rises from the inside of the coffin. A part of Jolie is unnerved; has she lost her mind, is the dead really rising from the grave?
Casting caution aside, Jolie charges forward, leaps into the air, and catches the figure rising from the coffin with a flying kick.
The force of the kick is enough to knock the emerging figure onto his back. Jolie puts one knee on his throat and jams the muzzle of her pistol against the visor of his helmet.
“Who are you?!” Jolie demands, “What’s going on here?!”
The normalsuited figure turns towards Jolie, pauses in a posture of apparent amazement for a second, and then opens the visor of his helmet, “Jolie? Jolie, it’s me…Hathaway! Hathaway Noah!”
“Hathaway Noah?!” Jolie says, raising the pistol, a terribly confused look emerging on her fresh, pretty face, “What the hell…?”
“Jolie,” Hathaway says, taking the girl’s shoulders desperately in his hands, “You’ve got to help me get Minerva to a safe place!”
“Minerva?” Jolie says, trying to process the bizarre series of events that have occurred during the past few minutes, “You mean Athena is here?”
Jolie looks inside the coffin that Hathaway had so unexpectedly emerged from. Lying there is a second normalsuited figure.
“Ohmigod! ‘Thena!” Jolie says, lifting the helmet off the unconscious figure.
Minerva lies pale and unresponsive in the coffin; she looks dead.
Panicked, Jolie checks for signs of respiration, and exhales with relief when she discovers that her friend still draws the breath of life. Jolie then attempts to raise her friend’s left hand to check for a pulse, only to discover that the normalsuit’s left arm sleeve to be empty.
“No!” Jolie cries, tears forming, “Hathaway! What happened to ‘Thena?!”
“She was badly wounded while escaping from the Federal Forces,” Hathaway says sadly, “Her arm had to be amputated to save her life.”
“Oh, ‘Thena,” Jolie sobs, her hand balling into an angry fist, “I should never have left. If I’d been there, this wouldn’t have happened to you!”
Footsteps are heard approaching.
“Get back inside!” Jolie orders Hathaway with a harsh rasp.
Hathaway Noah needs no further prompting. He quickly eases himself back into the coffin next to Minerva, and Jolie helps him to close the lid.
With catlike agility, Jolie leaps up to an overhanging catwalk, squatting upon it, waiting for the source of the approaching footsteps to emerge.
Two Earth Federation Forces troops, armed with assault rifles.
This will be easy! Jolie smirks.
Jolie leaps silently between the two troops, knocking one out cold with a chop to the neck and the other to similar oblivion with an elbow to the forehead before they even notice her presence.
Having disposed of the two interlopers, Jolie lifts the lid off the coffin once again, and Hathaway Noah emerges, doffing his helmet.
“Hathaway,” Jolie says, “help me get these two troops into the coffin. Let’s get ‘Thena out of here.”
“Right,” Hathaway says, already moving, “but what’s your plan? There’ll be more guards outside.”
Jolie opens a nearby crate and begins removing its contents…electronic parts of various sorts, “This crate belongs to Anaheim Electronics. It’s headed for the main plant. I’m an employee for Anaheim so…”
“Good idea,” Hathaway says, already understanding Jolie’s intent. He lifts Minerva gently from the coffin and places her within the crate, then assists Jolie in stuffing the two oblivious Federal Forces troopers into the coffin, leaving a crack open in the lid so that the two soldiers do not suffocate.
This done, Hathaway joins Minerva in the crate, closing its lid.
Jolie locates a forklift vehicle and manipulates the machine to lift the crate bearing her two friends. She drives the forklift out of the cargo hold.
“Halt!” an Earth Federation Forces guardsman orders, “Identify yourself!”
“I’m with Anaheim Electronics,” Jolie says, flashing her identification card at the soldier, “This shipment is expected at the main plant ASAP, so I’ve come down to get it.”
“Odd that I didn’t see you go in,” the soldier says, scratching his head dubiously, “and where are my two subordinates?”
“Oh, um,” Jolie says, improvising, “They’re still inside. Very helpful, those guys. They helped me get the forklift to move this big crate. I think they’re still inside checking out the other stuff in there.”
“Wait here. Better let me clear it,” the soldier replies.
“Clear this!” Jolie says, flooring the pedal of the forklift, driving the vehicle off at its top speed, not especially fast, but faster than any human being can pursue on foot.
The soldier, nearly flattened by the forklift, futilely shouts “Stop!” towards the departing forklift.
Jolie drives the forklift towards a nearby parking lot. Over a dozen jeeps are parked there.
Hathaway emerges from the crate, Minerva held securely in his arms.
Jolie and Hathaway rush towards the nearest jeep.
Hathaway carries Minerva to the back seat of the jeep, laying her down tenderly. He jumps into the driver’s seat and hotwires the ignition mechanism of the vehicle.
Jolie hops into the shotgun seat, taking aim with her pistol as a jeep of Federal Forces MPs approach.
Hathaway starts the engine of the jeep as Jolie exchanges gunfire with the MPs.
“Where to, Jolie?” Hathaway asks.
“First, drive around to the front so I can pick up my bike,” Jolie says, ducking return fire from the MPs.
“Then?” Hathaway asks.
“Then follow me home,” Jolie says, squeezing off more shots from her sidearm.
Some more bullets strafe by them. Jolie shoots back, blowing out the tires of the pursuing MPs’ jeep, causing their vehicle to skid out of control.
Hathaway maneuvers the jeep towards the entrance of the parking lot, where Jolie quickly disembarks and hops onto her motorcycle.
Jolie pulls on her motorcycle helmet and guns the motorcycle engine. Within seconds, she is tearing down the street at speeds up to three times the legal speed limit.
Hathaway barrels down the road after her – caution being no more his natural inclination than it is Jolie’s.
A half dozen military vehicles pursue them through the streets, no guns drawn as there are too many civilians in the vicinity, but closing upon the two fleeing vehicles rapidly.
Jolie looks into the sky; she smiles as she sees a familiar mobile suit approaching.
The White Phoenix Gundam lowers itself to street level, bringing the pursuing military vehicles to a halt.
An enraged platoon sergeant disembarks from his stalled jeep, shouting at the massive war machine, “Get that machine off the road! You’re blocking road access and we’re in the middle of pursuing a joy rider who’s made off with a military vehicle!”
“Sorry,” comes the arch voice of Dr. Camille Vidan, “I’m from Anaheim Enterprises and we were conducting a flight test on this mobile suit, but it stalled unexpectedly. Let me see if I can get it going again.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the White Phoenix Gundam, the most advanced mobile suit yet conceived by the human mind and constructed by the human hand. But Camille, who had done a little high school drama before he became an AEUG mobile suit pilot, makes a good show of fumbling with the mobile suit’s controls, finally raising the WPG’s massive armored foot and coming within two meters of stomping on the lead military vehicle.
“Hey, watch it!” complains the platoon sergeant.
“Sorry,” Camille apologizes again, barely able to restrain an urge to laugh.
After all these years, I still get a kick out of harassing these goons! Camille admits to himself. Well, at least they don’t wear black anymore.
Realizing that Jolie and her friends are by now kilometers away, Camille decides to end the charade, lifting the White Phoenix Gundam into a hover.
“Many apologies for the interruption, gentlemen,” Camille says blithely, “Good day to you all.”
The White Phoenix Gundam lifts off, heading back towards the Anaheim plant just as Hathaway pulls the jeep into the enclosed parking garage beneath Jolie’s apartment.
to be continued...