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

  1. #301
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 35 continued...

    The Centennial Condor, the President of the Earth Federation’s designated air/space transport, is readied for imminent launch from its subterranean berth far beneath Formosa Island. Dr. Loren’s forecast of a forty minute window of relative atmospheric calm during which the Condor can breach Earth’s atmosphere and enter the cosmos is close enough to being on the money to take the calculated risk to reestablish contact between the Earth Federation Government with the Shambala Republic.

    For 2Lt. Chieming Noah, the calculated risk is personal: after all, it is her mother, Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah, who will be the envoy to the Shambala.

    Mirai is the logical choice for this mission for several reasons: first, she is among the most respected and trusted officials of the Earth Federation Government among the Spacenoid population. Second, she has been a good personal friend of Dr. Artasia Daikun for more than twenty years, and it is hoped that their good personal relations will ease the establishment of a formal alliance between the Federation and the Shambala Republic. Third, as a trained and experienced combat veteran with expert knowledge of capital spacecraft (Mirai was, after all, once the helmswoman of the White Base) and space navigation, she is among the Federal Forces’ foremost experts in evading Zeon surveillance systems.

    Escorting the Centennial Condor in its climb out of Earth’s soot-choked skies, but not accompanying the ship on its long voyage to Jupiter, is the Centurion Special Operations Team, provisionally commanded by 2Lt. Chieming Noah.

    “This is Centurion Three,” Chieming says, retaining her usual callsign despite effectively serving as Centurion Leader in Jonah and Jolie’s absence, “all units deploy ahead of the Centennial Condor. Exit azimuths provided by Dr. Loren are now being uploaded into your avionics computers.”

    None of the Centurion Team’s remaining mobile suits was constructed with atmospheric flight in mind. Only Jolie’s White Phoenix Gundam (and previously, Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon) is capable of sustained atmospheric flight and combat. Thus, several Dodai-class jet platforms have been procured from the Holy Sepulcher’s arsenal to enable the Centurion Team’s Jet Jegan and Guncannon 100 mobile suits to take to the skies.

    Like inverted snowboarders, therefore, the MS of the Centurion Team burst into Earth’s darkened skies.

    Almost immediately, the MS are stricken by tooth-breaking rush of turbulent air.

    “Whoa!” Sgt. Geoffe Sutcliffe grates as his Jet Jegan is buffeted by the powerful, sooty winds, “Almost lost it there. It’s hard enough to fly one of these Dodais in good weather conditions, but as it is…”

    “We already know what the conditions are, Geoff,” Chieming says flatly, “Just hang on and pay attention to your scopes.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Geoff replies.

    Chieming receives word from the control tower back at the Holy Sepulcher that the Centennial Condor has left the dock and has ascended to an altitude of 3,000 meters and climbing.

    Thus far, no interference from any Zeon units. Navigating Earth’s ruined skies is no easier for the Zeons’ mecha than it is for the Federation’s.

    The bridge of the Condor contacts Chieming, confirming the ship’s ascent through the atmosphere and supplying data on the progress of its flight. So far, it’s holding up.

    “2Lt. Noah,” Anna Horowitz chimes in, “I’ve got a bogey at approximately 40 km out, coordinates H-19.”

    “Damn,” Chieming curses, “I want you all to stay close in a defensive formation to the Condor. FSgt. Higashi, you and I will investigate that bogey.”

    “Roger, ma’am,” FSgt. Tomo Higashi replies from the cockpit of the Guncannon-100.

    Chieming and Tomo’s MS peel of from the formation and ply towards the coordinates indicated by Anna. For several long minutes, there is only a maddening blur of brown and grey haze, and then through the haze…the tracer lights of an aircraft.

    “Target identified,” Chieming says, “A Zeon recon plane: ZF-22 Flying Fox. I’ve got lock on.”

    “Roger,” Tomo indicates, “Lock on engaged on target. Range 4 km and closing.”

    “Commence firing!” Chieming orders.

    The Jet Jegan and the Guncannon-100 fire simultaneously. Chieming and Tomo’s shots hit home, sending the ZF-22 recon craft falling from the sky as a burning wreck.

    “No indication that the pilot bailed out, Lieutenant,” Tomo indicates, “I think we caught him off-guard.”

    “Hopefully, we also got him before he could send word back to the Zeon’s nearest base,” Chieming replies, “His people will notice he’s missing soon enough, though...Anna?”

    “Here, Lieutenant,” the reconnaissance officer replies.

    “What’s the status on the Centennial Condor?” Chieming asks.

    “It’s just entered the ionosphere,” Anna reports, “retracting atmospheric flight mechanisms and transitioning to spaceflight mode. I’ve got Senator Yashima-Noah on voice communications for you, Lieutenant. Patching you through now.”

    “Chieming,” the voice of Mirai Yashima-Noah comes through Chieming’s helmet receiver.

    “Senator,” Chieming replies.

    “You’re allowed to call me ‘Mother,’ sweetheart,” Mirai says, a smile in her voice, “your father isn’t listening in on our communications.”

    “Mom,” Chieming amends, “You be careful out there. Send Big Brother my love.”

    “I’ll be fine,” Mirai says, “I hope I’ll be able to see Hathaway while I’m out there…maybe convince him to reconcile with Daddy. My entire mission is about reconciliation…about rebuilding old bridges, and maybe building new ones.”

    “It’d be good to build anything again,” Chieming observes.

    “I know what you mean,” her mother replies, “You take good care of Daddy…and of everyone while I’m gone. God bless, Sweetie.”

    “Godspeed, Mom,” Chieming says softly as the Centennial Condor departs Earth.

    “Senator Yashima-Noah,” reports Captain Howard Blake of the Centennial Condor, “We’ve just made contact with Captain Beecher of the Amuro Ray. They’ve just left the Holy Sepulcher and will be escorting us the rest of the way to Jupitorius. They’ve pulled together a crack Special Forces team to provide us extra protection.”

    None of that Special Forces escort group, however, includes the Centurions, whom General Noah has elected to keep Earthside to assist in protecting the Federation’s last stronghold, and to be the spearhead of a counterattack, should the opportunity arise.

    “Thank you, Captain Blake,” Mirai replies, “Inform Captain Beecher to follow our lead. I know these spaceways, and I can navigate us a path that will enable us to exploit the Zeons’ surveillance gaps so we can avoid a confrontation on the way out of the Cislunar Sphere.”

    The Centennial Condor and the Amuro Ray ascend out of the haze of Earth’s skies into the clear blackness of space…on a mission of building bridges.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Some days later, the Mapother has arrived in Mars orbit.

    Inside their shared quarters, Minerva Zabi and Hathaway Noah don their normalsuits, pulling on their respective red and green helmets. They touch hands wishing each other luck, and then float towards the converted cargo ship’s makeshift MS launch deck.

    Also boarding their MS are Judau Ashta, Lu Luka, and Eno Abbov (ZZ Gundam), Dr. Camille Vidan (Z Gundam), and Mondo Agake (Gundam MK-II). Minerva and Hathaway welcome their veteran experience as well as the extra firepower they’ll bring into the fray.

    Minerva, as can be expected, serves as the mission commander, and presently transmits to her colleagues, “This is Director 1. All units confirm launch status.”

    “Roger, ma’am,” comes the chorus of replies.

    “Let’s move out,” Minerva instructs.

    The Aslans and Gundams deploy quietly from the Mapother, not deploying their thrusters, but simply drifting into space…allowing Mars’ gravity to bring them closer to their objective.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Zeon presence in the Martian Zone has been greatly reduced since the end of the Zeon Civil War. With the transferral of Alexander Miguel’s power base from the destroyed Phobos Fortress to Side 3, there has been very little interest by the Archduchy of Zeon to invest resources in securing the cosmic hinterlands to which they had once been banished. Hence, only three battlecarriers based at a single orbiting station, armed with fifty mobile suits, remains at what was, as recently as a year ago, the power base of the Principality of Phobos Zeon.

    Major Antoine Sarina is the commanding officer of the Zeon Forces that Archduke Miguel has left to patrol the Mars Zone. The Archduke’s long term plans call for the reconstruction of the mining facilities on Mars, but that plan is relatively low on the Archduke’s present list of priorities. Consequently, the Mars Zone has been quiet for many, many months now, and no action is expected.

    “Major Sarina,” a surveillance tech reports, “A Jupitorius Corporation cargo tanker, the Mapother, is requesting permission to enter the Mars Zone. They’ve got a hydrogen gas drop off for us as they’re en rout to Cislunar Space.”

    “Grant them permission to pass,” Sarina says, “We’re quite familiar with their registry and their routine.”

    “Yes, sir,” the tech reports, granting permission to the Mapother to approach.

    “These prosaic days have begun to wear on me,” Sarina sighs, dropping into his command seat.

    Relief is coming sooner and more spectacularly than the major could ever suspect…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    From the Z Gundam, Dr. Camille Vidan opens communications to the rest of the infiltration squad, “All right, boys and girls…time to open your presents.”

    A series of controls are activated; the response is awaited.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Sir,” the same Zeon surveillance tech reports anxiously, “We’ve got incoming bogies…five…wait, no…eleven…hold on…twenty-four…wait…”

    “What the hell is going on?!” Major Sarina demands, rising from his seat.

    “Sir,” the terrified surveillance tech reports, “They just showed up out of nowhere! Thirty-three targets! Earth Federation Forces MS! Jet Jegans and GM-V types!”

    “How could the Federation mount an attack out here?! From where?!” Sarina rages, then gets on the horn, “MS squads deploy! This is not a drill!”

    The Zeon pilots, most of whom have not been in combat for months, rush to their MS and launch immediately, all of them as perplexed as their commanding officer as to how the Federal Forces could suddenly mount such an attack against them.

    Captain Sasha Danilovic boards his Gellond and leads his squad from the launch bays of the Zeon battle carrier Loum into space.

    “Continuing to receive enemy target signature data,” Captain Danilovic reports following the launch of his MS, “but no visual confirmation. Have the Feddies started manufacturing invisible MS now?”

    The answer to Danilovic’s rhetorical question comes in the form of a well-placed missile launched from a tube mounted to the wing of Minerva Zabi’s Kizi Aslan. All around her, similar explosions ensue as her colleagues launch similar attacks on other Zeon targets.

    “Where is that fire coming from?!” Major Sarina demands angrily.

    “Sorry, sir,” the surveillance tech reports, “Our computers indicate multiple targets, but they’re all false signatures. There ARE enemy targets out there and our pilots were able to visually confirm them, but our tracking and surveillance systems are completely scrambled!”

    “Tell our pilots to…!”

    The Loum explodes into a balloon of hot shrapnel.

    Systematically, the Zeon MS and ships disappear, stricken by enemies that are like ghosts…seen in glimpses, but intangible.

    Below them looms Mars…its angry red surface invoking the name of the Roman war god.

    Once again, my mission begins here, Minerva reflects…

    The Kizi Aslan makes footfall to the ruddy Martian surface, claiming the fourth planet for the Shambala Republic.

    To be continued in Episode 36.

  2. #302
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    EPISODE 2-36: REQUIEM FOR THE INNOCENT

    Late September, U.C. 0100…

    For the first time in two decades, Side 3 has begun to once again take on the character of a great national capital. For twenty years, the capital of the Archduchy of Zeon had been reduced to a war ghetto occupied by the Earth Federation Forces. Today, Cosmic Alexandria, the new designation for the former Zum City, is a city whose skyline is dominated by gleaming new skyscrapers, with dozens more already under rapid construction. The streets of Cosmic Alexandria are immaculately clean and impenetrably secured, with an armed and operation Zeon mobile suit stationed at each city block, and two dozen more surrounding the restored Alexandria Palace (former Zum Palace). The Zeon flag flies proudly from each city lamppost and balcony, and the citizens of Cosmic Alexandria go about their daily business under the watchful eye of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces and ZIB.

    For the past few months, the citizens of Side 3, once again bearing the designation “The Archduchy of Zeon,” have enjoyed a level of material prosperity that those among them younger than twenty years of age have never known, but only heard described by their parents and grandparents, who lived during the reign of the Zabi Family during the 0070s. Indeed, the streets of Cosmic Alexandria are conspicuous with signs of newfound affluence: luxury automobiles fill the lanes of the colony’s newly repaved internal streets and highways, which are lined with immaculately maintained rows of tall, sturdy green conifers and colorful, fragrant flowers that fill the reprocessed atmosphere within the colony with their sweet, pungent scent. The retail shops that line the restored boulevards and avenues of Cosmic Alexandria display their fine wares, which for the first time in years, many citizens of the Archduchy of Zeon find themselves able to afford as the restoration of the Archduchy by the Miguel Regime has spurred robust new economic activity that has engendered new affluence. Five-star restaurants and sidewalk cafes do brisk business as numerous diners, who only a year earlier had been surviving off meager rations provided by the Earth Federation Government, enjoy sumptuous meals of which they previously could only dream. Schools have reopened for the first time in years, to educate the youth of Zeon, and the University of Zeon’s halls of research and learning have once again found themselves populated by aspiring academics (with Archduke Miguel placing a particular emphasis on supporting studies in the sciences). Libraries and museums have opened or reopened, producing a new blossoming of Zeon culture and civilization. It is a new Golden Age of Zeon, and it has come about through the will of the Great Leader, His Beloved Majesty Archduke Alexander Miguel.

    At the many Zeon elementary schools that have opened within the Archduchy, young children are taught of the ideals of Contolism, and of the great leaders whose sacrifices brought about these glorious times…Zeon Daikun, Degin Zabi, and especially His Majesty Archduke Alexander Miguel, who defeated the enemies of Zeon and reunited and revived the nation after a long period of disunity and diaspora. If the Archduchy had a state religion, it would perhaps be the worship of Archduke Alexander, whose portrait is affixed in a place of honor in every Zeon home, business, and public building. A popular saying within the Archduchy these days is that Alexander II of ancient Macedonia, who for millennia has been addressed with the sobriquet of “Alexander the Great,” must relinquish that epithet to Archduke Alexander, whose greatness has far surpassed that of the ancient Macedonian leader. Still, amidst the opulence of the new Zeon Empire, many of its citizens have silently come to wonder, although few dare to express, a gnawing unease: is it truly an age of greatness when those who refuse to celebrate or support Zeon’s rebirth, or who express any hint of doubt, disappear suddenly without explanation…or when laughing children must make their way to school beneath the armored legs of mobile suits, whose ominous monoeyes watch them even as the play in their schoolyards?

    The Archduchy of Zeon now covers a greater territory than it ever has in its thirty year history. In addition to Side 3, its domain extends to the Lunar cities of Von Braun and Anman, and the remaining Sides colonies of Cislunar space, including the previously independent Side 6. Already, Archduke Miguel is planning a vast military campaign to the Outer System to reestablish Zeon’s sovereignty in Mars orbit and to eradicate that upstart nuisance calling itself the “Shambala Republic” in Jupiter orbit.

    …and Earth? The Archduke’s armies have reduced that old gravity well to a smoldering ruin. The Archduchy of Zeon will claim from the Earth its still-vast mineral and energy resources, then leave the husk for nature to regenerate over the millennia, long after humankind has ceased to need it, for humanity’s destiny lies not on its tired mother world, but in the vastness of eternal space, and the Glory of Zeon’s Light will lead humanity to the stars.

    There remains, however, the matter of the Earth Federation’s lingering resistance, as pathetic and ineffectual as it is. Archduke Miguel has seen enough to know that not a single seed of revival must be allowed to take root for the Federation.

    Every seed of hope must be annihilated.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces enters the Imperial Court of Zeon, where Archduke Alexander Miguel contemplates the newly thriving capital of his vast domain through the expansive window of the court chamber.

    “My lord,” Kyoko salutes smartly.

    Alexander turns to face his most valued subordinate, smiling as his eyes descend upon her pleasant, raven-haired visage.

    “Kyoko,” Alexander says, “I’m sending you down with an elite detachment from the Phobos Division to mop up a troublesome group of Federation resistance fighters down in central China. They’d be little more than a nuisance and I wouldn’t waste your time with this, but this group improbably succeeded in wiping out Col. Dekker’s Grauwulf Battalion.”

    “You suspect the White Phoenix’s involvement, do you not, my lord?” Kyoko offers.

    Alexander replies, “The Federation’s remaining troops would not otherwise have any chance of overcoming Col. Dekker’s superior forces. Only the White Phoenix could have accomplished such a feat.”

    Kyoko salutes Alexander again, “My lord. With your permission, I will destroy the White Phoenix and bring Lord Jonah back to us.”

    Alexander smiles, holding Kyoko close to him, letting Kyoko rest her head upon his chest, “In all the universe, Kyoko, only you truly understand.”

    Indeed, only Kyoko can bring a feeling of tenderness to the Archduke’s otherwise cold heart…a feeling otherwise alien to him.

    For this reason, Alexander offers Kyoko one final admonition, “Kyoko, above all: I need you to return from this mission safely. I would like for you to eradicate the White Phoenix and the remains of the Federation’s resistance for me, but those objectives are secondary to your own survival, do you understand? I only want for you to carry out my orders, but I need you to return to me.”

    Kyoko’s moist black eyes reflect absolute understanding, “Yes, my lord. Do not worry for me. My life is given to you and to the Archduchy.”

    “Then make sure that life stays with me,” Alexander says gently, stroking Kyoko’s fine black hair, “because ruling this empire without you as its empress would make all we have accomplished vain.”

    The Archduke of Zeon and his intended future Archduchess look out over the central hub of their domain, with plans to choke the life out of any who resist Zeon’s destiny.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Two months have passed since The Skyfall (as the event has come to be called) brought Earth’s ecology to its knees.

    Less than half of Earth’s population of eleven billion that lived on the planet as recently as three months earlier remains living, bringing the total population of the planet to a level not seen since the final decades of the 20th Century. The accumulation of carcasses, not only human, but those of other animal and plant life, has created toxic conditions in the planet’s atmosphere, making the air unsafe to breathe in many areas of the planet, particularly near former urban areas.

    Conditions are somewhat better in higher elevations far removed from urban centers, such as the remote heart of the Kunlun Mountains in central China. Here, normalsuits and sealed helmets can be dispensed with, for the most part, although the air remains extremely sooty and difficult to breathe…a nightmare for asthmatics and those afflicted by allergies. Respiratory conditions once considered mere nuisances are now frequently fatal.

    For those who remain on the Earth, survival is a greater struggle than at any other time it has been since Homo sapiens first came to dominate the planet, but unlike previous occasions when ecological change transformed the balance of life on the planet, this time, those same Homo sapiens were the conscious catalysts of that change – a change not foreordained by nature.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The tension is palpable among even stalwart allies as they discuss the Federal Forces’ seesaw struggle against the Archduchy of Zeon Occupation Army across the Asian steppes. The surviving Federal Forces have reorganized themselves (in a very liberal interpretation of the term “organize”) into guerilla units that have had some success in harassing the occupation forces and denying them the stability to more quickly establish complete air, land, and sea superiority over the continent (especially the swampy rural south, the mountainous heartland, and the dry steppes of the north), but at the same time, the survivors of the Federal Forces are clearly on their heels…being increasingly marginalized by a far better supplied, better equipped, better conditioned Zeon Occupation Army.

    The Desert Dogs have succeeded in fighting their way to the region of China called Shaanxi, near what was once the Chinese city of Xian. The city was once one of China’s major metropolitan areas, and the hub of the nation’s aerospace industry during the early 21st Century of the old calendar. In fact, the Earth Federation Government assumed control of many of the spaceport facilities originally constructed by the People’s Republic of China and upgraded and modernized them for their own use during the recently First Universal Century.

    As such, the Zeon Occupation Forces made sure to take control of Xian as a key tenet of their occupation of Asia and, indeed, Earth in general.

    As the Zeon occupy the city itself, the Desert Dogs and other former Federation units have encamped in the Qinling Mountains approximately 100 kilometers to the west of Xian, which lies on the Guanzhong Plain. The Dogs’ camp is located in the shadow of Mt. Taibai, where it would be difficult for the Zeon Occupation Forces to locate and get at them.

    The Desert Dogs partake conservatively of their dwindling rations, uncertain if there will be any more nourishment available when the current supply does run out, they estimate, around ten days from now (maybe up to fourteen days if they really stretch it). Three weeks have passed since the Dogs took on supplies at a ruined and abandoned Federation supply depot on the China/Mongolia border. Foraging for crops that haven’t yet perished as a result of the new climatic conditions isn’t a promising prospect, and the Zeon occupy the plains below the Qinling Mountains in any case.

    “I say we take Xian NOW,” MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka insists, “we can’t just sit here and rot! Let’s take it to the Zeon! We’re soldiers! We win the war or splatter our guts in the attempt!”

    Captain Jonah Michaels of the Centurion Special Operations Team shakes his head, “No. We can’t just die valiantly, Sergeant; we need to persevere until we’re in a position to actually turn the tide. Those who remain are depending on us.”

    Tanaka bares his teeth, “You Spacenoids have no idea how to conduct a combat operation on Earth! If we don’t…!”

    1Lt. Jolie Minh cuts the sergeant off, “Let’s decide in the morning, Sergeant. The weather isn’t cooperating with us anyway…not that we should expect anything much better by what passes for daylight nowadays.”

    “Agreed,” Jonah says, “We’re all tired and tense right now. We’re not going to get anything resolved. We’ll consider it again in the morning, after we see what the weather is like.”

    The ranking NCO of the Desert Dogs grumbles, but he and his men begin putting down their cots within their tents for the night.

    Jolie and Jonah retire to their collapsible ceramic tent, their home for the past two months, for the night. Another bleak, fruitless day comes to a close.

    Episode 36 to be continued...

  3. #303
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    Episode 36 continued...

    Jonah watches as his very beautiful de facto wife, who would turn nineteen within a few days’ time, works her delicate hands through two knitting needles, creating what looks like a miniature Earth Federation Forces uniform jacket from several balls of thread that the Desert Dogs had managed to salvage along with other supplies from their raid on Chengdu Base some months earlier.

    Jonah grins at the image of Jolie, seated crosslegged wearing nothing but a large t-shirt, exposing her long, shapely, silky smooth legs up to her upper thighs, looking absolutely contented as she works through her knitting, which she has done every night for at least three weeks now.

    Jonah can’t contain his laughter any longer and lets out a chuckle, “You know, I’ve heard that women change a lot after they get married, but seeing Jolie Minh knitting has GOT to be the most bizarrely surreal sight ever!”

    “Hey, well, my mom did teach me how to knit when I was a little girl,” Jolie says with a grin that melts right through Jonah’s heart, “but I really hated doing it and pretty much sucked at it. It was too girly for my tastes!”

    “So why are you doing it now?” Jonah asks, taking a sip of hot tea and offering Jolie a cup, which she declines.

    “Times change,” Jolie replies, “People change…and needs change.”

    “You obviously didn’t learn proportion from your mother,” Jonah cracks, noticing the very small size of the jacket, “or are you making that jacket for a doll?”


    Jolie has a revelation for Jonah...


    Jolie finally sets aside the knitting, runs her hands through her gorgeous long black hair, and unfolds her lovely legs to crawl towards Jonah on her hands and knees.

    She stares deeply into his eyes as she says, “Special Forces commanders are supposed to be smart people, and you are, most of the time. Sometimes though, Jonah, you’re as thick as a brick.”

    “What do you mean?” Jonah asks, taking another sip of tea.

    Jolie sighs and shakes her head, “Some people don’t get it until it’s explained to them in very simple words.”

    Jolie whispers those words into Jonah’s ear, and the young Centurion Team commander’s eyes go wide in astonished delight.

    “No…really? Are you serious?!” Jonah exhales, his mouth arcing into a wide smile of pure joy.

    Jolie blushes and smiles, nodding. To Jonah, Jolie looks more adorable than ever, and that’s saying something!

    Jonah takes Jolie lovingly in is arms and holds her close, “Oh, Jolie…I don’t know what to say. This…this is great! But…”

    They look around the wastelands around them, the realm of darkness and mist that was, only months ago, a thriving, living planet.

    What kind of a world would this be to bring new life into?

    “How long now?” Jonah asks, concerned.

    “I’m guessing around three months,” Jolie replies, putting her hand over a lithe belly that has not begun to bulge yet, “it’s been three months since I’ve…”

    The couple’s discussion is interrupted by the sound of an approaching aircraft.

    Jolie and Jonah rush outside of their tent and cast their eyes skyward, spotting the guidance lights of the aircraft.

    “A Zeon reconnaissance plane,” Jolie hisses, “a Z-25 Fox Volante.”

    “They’re looking for us,” Jonah replies, “and they’ll find us soon. We’ve got to organize with the Dogs and prepare to counterattack.”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Within a quarter hour, the Desert Dogs, many of whom also heard the approaching Zeon recon plane, are gathered with Jonah and Jolie in the large tent that functions as the resistance group’s conference area and mess hall. The sighting of the enemy recon craft means that the Zeon forces have discovered the presence of the Federation resistance force, or are very close to discovering it.

    Clearly, the Desert Dogs and their two Special Forces comrades will need to get moving quickly.

    “You might have been right about the need to make that offensive after all, Sergeant,” Jonah says to MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka, “if it wasn’t a good idea before, it definitely is now.”

    Tanaka grins, “Why the sudden change of heart, Captain?”

    Jonah crosses his arms and replies, “The situation looks very different now from how it looked just a few hours ago, so our strategy needs to shift to accommodate those changes.”

    “Simple as that?” Tanaka asks quizzically.

    “Simple as that,” Jonah affirms, his face not betraying his concerns.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The conversation takes a turn for the vociferous after Jonah has dismissed the Desert Dogs, leaving only Jolie and himself in the commons tent.

    “What do you mean you want to suspend me from combat operations?!” Jolie protests, “I’m NOT sitting out this battle, Jonah! No!”

    “You’re in no condition to be out there fighting,” Jonah counters, “I want you in the rear guard…to support us from the back, if necessary.”

    “There’s nothing wrong with me,” Jolie insists, “I can fight just as good as I ever did!”

    Jonah sighs, “I’m not risking you and the baby out there, Jolie. No way. I’m going to make it an order.”

    Jolie fumes silently for a moment, then explodes, “You’re out of your f*cking mind if you think I’m just gonna sit back and just watch while you’re out there against…!”

    Jolie doesn’t finish her sentence…suddenly, she feels lightheaded and weak as a kitten.

    “Oh, no!” Jonah groans as he sees Jolie about to collapse, and rushes in to catch her before she falls to the ground.

    Jonah settles his wife onto a bench, placing his hands on her shoulders, his brows beetled with concern for his beloved, “Are you all right?”

    “I’m OK,” Jolie says, the faintness beginning to pass, “I don’t know why…”

    “This is precisely why I don’t want you in any more combat operations,” Jonah says gently, but firmly, “Of course we all know how great your fighting skills are. We’ll miss them terribly, but you know what the risk is.”

    Jolie growls in frustration, and finally collapses into sobs, confused by the dilemma she suddenly finds herself in.

    Jonah envelops Jolie in comforting embrace, and says to her reassuringly, “I know you want to help out and protect all of us because you can, but circumstances aren’t the same now that our baby is growing inside you. Think about it, Jolie: I know how much you love this baby. You don’t want to endanger him or her unnecessarily.”

    Jolie agrees, her hand running to her mouth in realization of what she is up against.

    “We’ll be all right,” Jonah says soothingly, “I promise…we’ll be OK. Want to have something to eat? You’ve got to stay healthy…for yourself, and for the baby.”

    Jolie nods, never one to turn down a chance to eat.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Desert Dogs, on MSgt. Tanaka’s recommendation, have decided not to wait for morning’s light to make their move, and have suggested as much to Jonah. Thus, they make plans to move out to reconnoiter the local area before sunlight, as limited as it is, reaches the Kunlun Mountains. The morning mess, normally taken at 04:30 after reveille, is taken two hours earlier today.

    Jonah, Jolie, and the Desert Dogs make the best of their limited food supply…pouring out the contents of their ration cans (some combination of beans, corn, and rice) into a common pot and heating the contents before redistributing it, one can per soldier. It is probably all the nourishment they’ll have for the day.

    That likely being the case, Jonah spoons almost the entire contents of his rations can into Jolie’s can…as much as the latter can hold.

    “Hey, stop,” Jolie protests, “I’ve got enough.”

    “You’re eating for two,” Jonah says, “Skipping a meal won’t kill me.”

    “It will if you go down from low blood sugar in the middle of a battle,” Jolie continues, scooping the rations back into Jonah’s can, “and that will kill me. You’ve got to eat too.”

    “What’s this about ‘eating for two?’” the solicitous as ever MSgt. Tanaka demands amicably, taking a seat next to the couple.

    Realizing that they’re unlikely to be able to keep the secret for long, and that the Desert Dogs have become more than just valuable allies and comrades-at-arms, but good friends, Jonah tells Tanaka, “Sergeant…1Lt. Minh is expecting a baby.”

    “No kidding?” Tanaka says, grinning, “Well congratulations to you, Lieutenant! I’m, er, guessing that Captain Michaels here is the daddy!”

    Jolie begins giggling as Jonah crosses his arms and stares at Tanaka fiercely, “What do you mean ‘guessing,’ Sergeant?! Who else would it be?!”

    “I kid, I kid,” the beefy sergeant replies, then turns to his men, “Hey, boys! Got some good news for a change: Lt. Minh and Captain Michaels are gonna be a young mommy and daddy in a few months!”

    That brings a raucous round of congratulatory cheers from the Dogs, which Jolie and Jonah accept with humility.

    MSgt. Tanaka puts a spoonful of his rations into Jolie’s ration can, and then gestures each of his men to come forward to do the same.

    “Guys,” Jolie says, “Thanks, but c’mon! You all need to eat! You can’t share all your rations with me just because I’m gonna have a baby!”

    “We’re tough men, Lieutenant,” the sergeant says, “We can survive on a little less food if we have to. Your baby shouldn’t have to do the same.”

    Jonah says, “Because of Lt. Minh’s condition, she’s off the combat roster for the foreseeable future. I trust that you gentlemen understand.”

    Tanaka nods, affirming for his squad, “Don’t worry about a thing, Captain. Like I said, we’re tough men: we don’t expect a pregnant girl to protect us, even if she can kick all of our asses single-handed. We’ll just have to dig in and fight like the soldiers we are, no biggie. We’ll protect the Lieutenant and her baby with our lives, right boys?”

    “YEAH!” comes the response from each Desert Dog.

    Jolie smiles affectionately at the men of the Desert Dogs, as tender hearted as they are tough of muscle and sinew. As much as their teammates on the Centurion Team, Jolie and Jonah have come to see the Dogs as their brothers.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi and her detachment of elite shock troops from the Phobos Division have landed on Earth at the Zeon Occupation Army’s new base camp near Xian. Even as her Elmeth Gamma descended through Earth’s ruined atmosphere towards central China, Kyoko could sense the White Phoenix’s presence….a presence that exerts tremendous pressure upon Kyoko, and that she finds eminently threatening.

    But there is something…different, something odd about the White Phoenix’s aura that Kyoko did not sense during her previous, brief encounter with her. The harsh light of the Phoenix’s aura seems blunted, dulled somehow…

    Kyoko finds that idea disturbing. It is contrary to her warrior’s code to attack an enemy who is vulnerable or weakened, and yet, she has her vow to the Archduke to honor…

    “All units, follow my lead,” Kyoko instructs the fifty Phobos Division mobile suits under her direct command.

    “Yes, ma’am,” comes the collective response.

    Episode 36 to be continued...

  4. #304
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    Episode 36 continued...

    Jolie hands Jonah his normalsuit helmet as he finishes sealing the wrists of his gloves.

    Jonah smiles tenderly at Jolie, “We’re going to miss having you up there with us, but you understand this is for the best.”

    Jolie looks down at her booted feet and says, “Yeah, I understand, but I still hate it. I’m a soldier too. I should be out there with the rest of you.”

    Jonah puts his arms around Jolie, his gloved hands upon her belly, “It’d only distract me, and that’s something I can’t afford. Knowing that you and our baby will be safe here will help me focus on the battle, which increases our chance of survival.”

    Jolie looks into Jonah’s eyes, “Please come back safely, Jonah. I don’t want to raise our baby alone.”

    Jonah nods, “I’ll be back. I promise.”

    Momentarily, Captain Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam lifts off, with the GM-IID mobile suits of the Desert Dogs assuming a reconnaissance formation behind his mecha.

    Jolie watches them depart forlornly from the camp, her White Phoenix Gundam idle. Jolie is not accustomed to the role of noncombatant, watching from the sidelines as her beloved Jonah goes into battle. The grounded eighteen-year old Federation ace chews her fingernails in anxiety as her husband’s mobile suit disappears into the horizon.

    Corporal Lonnie Kingston has been ordered by MSgt. Tanaka to remain behind to protect Jolie, as ludicrous as the idea of “protecting” the White Phoenix is, even if she is carrying a child within her.

    “Don’t worry about a thing, Lieutenant,” Corporal Kingston says reassuringly, “Captain Michaels and the Sarge know what they’re doing. They’ll make it back without any problems.”

    “Thanks, Lonnie,” Jolie says, “Let’s hope so.”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Ma’am,” reports 2Lt. Roy Lithgow of the Phobos Division, “We have enemy targets up ahead…seven units, five signatures of GM-II, a Guntank type, and the seventh, a Gundam-100 type.”

    Kyoko smiles, “It’s them. No White Phoenix Gundam?”

    “No, ma’am,” Lithgow replies, “Only those seven.”

    “Phobos units converge on targets,” Kyoko instructs, “Leave the Gundam-100 to me. Destroy the GM-II units at will.”

    “Yes ma’am,” the Phobos pilots reply.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Captain,” MSgt. Tanaka reports, “Looks like we’re gonna be outnumbered…badly outnumbered.”

    “That’s not surprising, sergeant,” Jonah replies, “but we’ve got the advantage of knowing the lay of the land, and being used to fighting in these conditions. Drop down to ground level!”

    “Roger,” respond the Desert Dogs.

    The Earth Federation Forces drop to the heavily forested valley below, concealing their mobile suits amidst the dense woodlands.

    “Ma’am,” 2Lt. Lithgow reports, “Enemy targets have disappeared from our scopes.”

    “They’re down there,” Kyoko rasps, “They’re trying to take advantage of their knowledge of this terrain. Clever strategy, but it won’t save them.”

    So saying, Kyoko fires a shot from the beam rifle of the Elmeth Gamma, striking down one of the Desert Dogs’ GM-IIs, reducing it to burning wreckage.

    Kyoko’s eyes flash as she seeks other quarry.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Scatter!” Jonah orders, “and counterattack!”

    The Desert Dogs fill the skies with thundering volume, using both beam rifles and tube-launched missiles. MSgt. Tanaka’s Guntank unit directs shell after shell skyward, denying combat formation to the Phobos Division MS. The mass firepower finally brings down a Gellond Ground Striker, forcing the ebony-armored MS to crash into a soot-polluted nearby lake.

    “Down!” Captain Kyoko Yamaguchi orders, “Into the forest!”

    “But, ma’am,” 2Lt. Lithgow begins.

    “Do it,” Kyoko says coldly.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Lithgow responds uncertainly.

    The Gellond Ground Strikers descend into the forest to stalk their prey.

    Cpl. Ollie Bowser of the Desert Dogs gets a fix on a Gellond GS on the scopes of his GM-IID, and squeezes his finger around the joystick trigger, hitting home and watching with satisfaction as the Zeon MS collapses. His satisfaction is short-lived as another Gellond GS descends from above him and cleaves his MS in half with its beam saber, creating an explosion that sparks the parched conifers into an inferno.

    Less than a kilometer away, Lt. Col. Yamaguchi’s Elmeth Gamma has located her quarry, Captain Michaels’ Centurion Gundam, and hammers away at it with vulcan cannon and beam strikes that seem deliberately off-target.

    Lord Jonah, Kyoko communicates with the Centurion Team Leader, Lord Alexander has ordered me to bring you back to Zeon, alive. Please cease your resistance.

    Jonah’s reply is to fire a volley of beam blasts towards the Elmeth Gamma…blasts that the black, birdlike MS dodges with ease.

    MSgt. Tanaka adds the firepower of his Guntank unit to Jonah’s efforts, and nearly draws a fatal counterstrike from the Elmeth Gamma, but Jonah’s Centurion Gundam leaps in front of the Guntank, forcing the Elmeth Gamma to withhold its attack.

    “What the hell is that thing?!” Tanaka demands.

    “It’s an Elmeth Gamma,” Jonah replies, “Its pilot is a Newtype, like Jolie.”

    “Well, that’s great,” Tanaka gripes, “What a time for us to be caught shorthanded.”

    Jonah says nothing, directing the Centurion Gundam to another beam rifle attack.

    The Elmeth Gamma dodges Jonah’s shot, then moves in with its beam saber drawn.

    Jonah counters by drawing the Centurion Gundam’s own beam saber. The duel is engaged.

    With an almost contemptuous casualness, the Elmeth Gamma drives the Centurion Gundam back, fifty meters, a hundred meters, and knocks the Federal Forces MS onto its back with a powerful roundhouse kick.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Back at the Desert Dogs' campsite, a spark to her forehead alerts Jolie to Jonah’s danger, Jonah! He’s being attacked by the Black Raven! I have to go help him!

    Jolie sprints towards the White Phoenix Gundam.

    “Hey, wait a minute, Lieutenant!” protests Corporal Lonnie Kingston, “We’ve got orders to stay behind! You can’t…!”

    “The unit’s in danger, Lonnie,” Jolie says, pulling on her normalsuit and donning her helmet, “I’m not gonna sit here and let them get killed!”

    “But…!” Kingston protests.

    Jolie chops Kingston across the neck, knocking the Desert Dog unconscious before he can protest any further.

    “Sorry about that, Corporal,” Jolie apologizes as she boards the White Phoenix Gundam and brings its combat systems to life.

    The White Phoenix Gundam takes to the sky, rushing to the rescue.

    Episode 36 to be continued...

  5. #305
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    Episode 36 continued...

    The Phobos Division has the Desert Dogs on their heels, their superior numbers and skill outweighing the Dogs’ deep knowledge of the terrain. The Dogs’ experience fighting in these conditions has enabled them to draw the battle out and prevent a quick rout, but to a man, they know it is only a matter of time before the Zeon finish them off.

    A Gellond GS takes aim at MSgt. Tanaka’s stalled Guntank with its beam rifle, preparing to send the Federation MS and its pilot to oblivion with a single shot.

    Instead, the Gellond is skeeted from the sky by a precision strike from the rapidly approaching White Phoenix Gundam.

    “Hey! Look at who’s just joined the party!” Tanaka exults, seeing the mighty Federal Forces MS tear across the sky.

    The Elmeth Gamma is about to decapitate the Centurion Gundam with its beam saber when it finds its strike blocked by the beam saber of the WPG, the move forcing the Elmeth Gamma to withdraw momentarily.

    Jonah spots the WPG through the Centurion Gundam’s scopes, “Jolie! What are you doing here?! I ordered you to stay at the camp!”

    Ignoring her commanding officer and husband, Jolie launches the WPG in pursuit of the Elmeth Gamma, which has recovered from the WPG’s unexpected arrival and counterattacks.

    “The White Phoenix shows herself at last,” Kyoko hisses, her lips curling into a smile.

    “I’m taking you down today,” Jolie threatens from the cockpit of the WPG, “You won’t threaten anyone I love again, Zeon b*tch!”

    An awesome duel of beam sabers ensues, with movements so exquisite and refined that it seems scarcely possible that two armored mechanisms could execute them with such flawless precision and fluidity. A strike, a parry, a block…moves anticipated milliseconds ahead of execution. Such uncanny grace…combatants on both sides are compelled to pause in mid-battle to watch the awesome spectacle.

    For several long minutes, there is stalemate, as neither the White Phoenix Gundam nor the Elmeth Gamma seems able to gain the upper hand against the other, but then…the WPG seems to begin to falter…

    Jolie feels herself going lightheaded, and gripped by nausea…her limbs growing weak.

    No…not now, Jolie tries to clear her head and reorient herself.

    The Elmeth Gamma kicks the beam saber out of the White Phoenix Gundam’s armored hand, then proceeds strike the WPG in the midsection near the cockpit hatch with several powerful punches.

    Jolie is jostled violently in the WPG’s cockpit, feeling an intensifying pain in her abdomen. She coughs, and blood seeps from her mouth.

    No…

    Kyoko, sensing that the advantage has shifted in her direction, prepares to end it with a coup de grace, a beam saber strike that will immolate the White Phoenix Gundam.

    “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” comes the scream of Captain Jonah Michaels, who positions his Centurion Gundam in front of the disabled WPG, prepared to take the strike for his wife.

    Kyoko then senses it…within the White Phoenix, a second presence…innocent…helpless…afraid…

    She realizes the truth.

    No…I can’t!

    “All forces withdraw,” Kyoko orders.

    “Ma’am?” comes the confused response from 2Lt. Lithgow.

    “I said withdraw!” Kyoko spits out more vehemently, launching her Elmeth Gamma high into the air and vectoring away in its mobile armor configuration by way of example.

    At the cusp of victory, the Phobos Division pulls away, on a heading for their base camp.

    “Why’d they withdraw?” one of the Desert Dogs asks, “They had us!”

    “We’ll figure that out later,” MSgt. Tanaka says grimly, “We’ve got wounded.”

    The Centurion Gundam has helped the White Phoenix Gundam to a landing in a clearing in the midst of the forest.

    Jonah removes his helmet, leaps forth from the Centurion Gundam’s cockpit, and rushes to the unmoving WPG.

    Jonah pounds on the armored cockpit, “Jolie! Jolie, are you all right? Open up!”

    The cockpit hatch slides open. Jonah finds his wife slumped in the cockpit seat, panting shallowly, her face pale through the open visor of her helmet.

    “Jonah…” Jolie moans pitiably, “It hurts…”

    Jolie puts her hand on her abdomen to indicate where the pain us.

    Jonah removes Jolie’s helmet and scoops her into his arms, “It’s going to be OK, sweetie. Let’s get back to the camp.”

    Jonah radios MSgt. Tanaka, “Tanaka, come in.”

    “Sir,” the MSgt. replies.

    “Let’s get back to base,” Jonah says, “Lt. Minh is wounded.”

    “Roger, Captain,” Tanaka replies, “We’ll cover the withdrawal…make sure the Zekes don’t catch us on a return run.”

    “Thank you, Sergeant,” Jonah answers.

    Jonah switches on the WPG’s flight systems; he will pilot Jolie’s MS, and carry the Centurion Gundam on the larger WPG’s back.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Later, back at the Zeon Occupation Army’s base at Xian, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi explains her failure to Archduke Miguel, who appears to her on a video communications screen at Xian Base.

    “I should not have spared her,” Kyoko says contritely, “It was my weakness that cost us a crucial victory, my lord, and for that, I am prepared to accept any punishment you deem fit."

    Were it any other officer, a report of such failure would have guaranteed a swift execution, but to Kyoko, Archduke Miguel only smiles, “You did comply with my most important order, Kyoko, which is that you survived the battle. That pleases me. There will be other opportunities to destroy the White Phoenix. In fact, the National Armory will soon roll out a new mecha that I will provide you specifically for that purpose. You’ve done well. Please get some rest and I will provide you with new orders shortly.”

    “Thank you, my lord,” Kyoko says, thankful for Archduke Alexander’s generosity, but still disappointed in her failure to kill the White Phoenix.

    But on another level, Kyoko does not fully regret her lack of action. She is a loyal warrior of Zeon, and a true believer in the doctrines of Archduke Miguel.

    But Kyoko is no murderer of children, especially unborn children.

    Even now, the Black Raven cannot help but wonder about the condition of her enemy, whom she desires to someday defeat in a fair struggle.

    Someday…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Desert Dogs’ resources were spartan even before the colony drop attack on Asia, owing to the remoteness of their base in Inner Mongolia. Even so, they had access to engineering and maintenance facilities for their mobile suits and other armored weapons, and a hospital facility for their wounded troops.

    Now, however, they do not even have so much as a fully trained paramedic on hand.

    Special Forces officers have more training in this area, although combat personnel not specifically trained in the Medical Corps had little more than advanced paramedic training, and certainly, the Special Forces’ paramedic rubric didn’t have much in the way of helping a pregnant woman through a miscarriage…

    The Desert Dogs guard the tent occupied by Jolie and Jonah at a respectful distance, with MSgt. Tanaka checking in periodically to ask if he can lend a hand. Jonah thanks the Sergeant, but confirms that there is not much the NCO can do other than have his men stand guard and ensure that his and Jolie’s privacy is not disturbed.

    Corporal Tolui Sansar asks his commanding NCO, “How’s the Lieutenant, Sarge?”

    “Not good,” Tanaka replies, “Captain Michaels is hoping for the best, but it looks like 1Lt. Minh is probably gonna lose her baby."

    Sansar spits, “F*ck those Zeke pigs!”

    “Yeah,” Tanaka nods, kicking the dirt at his feet, “Next time we meet ‘em out there, we’ll tear those bastards apart for this.”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Jonah is seated behind Jolie on the floor of the tent, holding her gently in his arms. Jolie sits on Jonah’s lap, clad in only her uniform jacket, with her exposed legs spread wide and drawn back, knees nearly level with shoulders. Although the air within the tent is frigid, Jolie perspires profusely as she pants rapidly.

    “Just keep panting, Jolie,” Jonah says as reassuringly as he can, “It’ll be all over soon.”

    “Jonah…” Jolie moans fitfully, “Help me…I’m gonna push.”

    Jonah can feel Jolie’s pelvic muscles begin to contract on his lap. He holds her more tightly, taking her hand into his as he whispers into her ear, “OK. Push slowly, gently…not too hard. Just a little, like when you’re constipated.”

    “Hnnnnnghhh!” Jolie grimaces as she begins to strain.

    Jonah places his hands around Jolie’s thighs as she pushes, bearing down into her bottom as if to relieve severe constipation, as Jonah suggested.

    “Unnnnngh….nnnnnngh!” Jolie grunts, her hands gripping Jonah’s tightly as she continues to strain and push.



    Jolie suffers a painful loss...

    A warm gush of blood soon splashes from between Jolie’s legs, followed by a small, pitiful mass of dead flesh.

    Jonah stares in deep, soul-deadening grief at the tiny, pitiable fetus that Jolie painfully passed from her womb. The developing child lies pale and still in the silence of death.

    Their child…the latest casualty of this obscene war.

    Jolie takes the lifeless fetus into her arms and holds it gently, breaking into uncontrollable sobs as she buries her face in Jonah’s chest

    Jonah holds Jolie tightly and begins sobbing with her, stroking the slain child’s head lovingly with his gentle artist’s hand.

    Today is the darkest day the couple has ever known together. Jonah then remembers that, just a year earlier at the Woodhaven Colony near Jupiter, he and Jolie had shared a dream of starting a family together in a peaceful, beautiful place where they would be happy.

    That dream has been corrupted into a nightmare of a reality.

    And Jonah knows who is responsible…his brother, Archduke Alexander Miguel, Sovereign of the Archduchy of Zeon.

    You and I will have our day of reckoning, Alex, Jonah vows, clenching his teeth in hatred, you’re my brother, but now, you’re also the murderer of my child. I swear I’ll make you pay for that, Alex.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A day has passed since Jolie miscarried her and Jonah’s baby, which was to have been a little girl…a girl that they would have named “Joanie.”

    Jolie dresses the remains of Joanie in the tiny Earth Federation Forces jacket she had been knitting. It was to have been little Joanie’s first article of clothing. Instead, it will serve as her burial shroud.

    Jolie and Jonah set the remains of their beloved daughter in a grave dug in the mountain wilderness, marking the site with a stone inscribed by their military-issue survival and combat knives.

    Joanie Athena Miguel

    October 6, U.C. 0100

    Forgive us for being unable to protect you and bring you into this world.

    We will love you forever.

    Mommy and Daddy

    The Desert Dogs, having learned of the couple’s tragic loss, have come by with their condolences, vowing to protect and support the couple as far as they can.

    “Captain,” MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka says in as gentle a fashion as he can, “The boys and I are really sorry for your and the Lieutenant’s loss. If there’s anything we can do…”

    “Thank you, Sergeant,” Jonah says, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder, “We appreciate the thought. Right now, though, we just need some time alone.”

    Tanaka places a comforting hand on Jonah’s shoulder, and leaves the young officer with his thoughts and his boundless grief.

    Tanaka takes a seat on a nearby stone, and draws from his pocket a photograph…a photograph of a younger version of himself with his young wife and their newborn son, a decade ago.

    All ghosts…all memories.

    F*ck those Zeke bastards, Tanaka thinks as he lights a cigarette.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Jolie remains bedridden (or cot-ridden). The bleeding has thankfully subsided, and there are no complications thanks to a very thorough detoxification job by Jonah using the meager medical supplies available. Jolie’s womb has not been significantly wounded, and she will be able to bear children again someday.

    Someday…

    At the moment, however, Jolie is an emotional wreck…unable to come to terms with the loss of her unborn child. The cot beneath her is wet with an unrelenting flow of tears.

    Jonah shakes Jolie gently on the shoulder, “Jolie…”

    Jolie doesn’t respond.

    “Jolie,” Jonah says, his voice cracking, “I understand. Joanie was my baby too. We dreamed of having children together, but that dream turned into a nightmare.”

    Jolie remains motionless and silent.

    “Nightmares like this will keep happening, to other people, in other places, unless someone does something about it,” Jonah says, “That someone has to be us, Jolie. No one else is around to do it.”

    Jolie turns to face Jonah. He raises her to an upright sitting position and lets her bury her face in his chest to sob.

    “We’ll win this war, Jolie,” Jonah vows through his own anguished sobs, “We’ll set things right again and then, I promise you, we’ll have that family we promised ourselves.”

    Jonah feels Jolie nodding her head, knowing that she understands. Today, they grieve, but soon, they will need to set aside their grief to act again.

    War is by nature cruel. It produces sorrow like the land produces wild grass, and allows no time to grieve before inflicting its cruelty elsewhere. For Captain Jonah Michaels and 1Lt. Jolie Minh, war’s cruelty has come home, uninvited, but unavoidable.

    And the only response is a resolution: to bring the war to an end, whatever sacrifices might be asked of them.

    To be continued in Episode 37!

  6. #306
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    EPISODE 37: A NEW UNITED FRONT

    By the third week of October, U.C. 0100, the resistance among the remaining Earth Federation Forces against the Zeon Occupation Army has trickled to almost nil. The Occupation forces have established a firm foothold on the planet’s surface and have already begun the long, difficult process of reconstructing the ruined planet’s industrial base. Resistance units have done their best to disrupt the process via hit-and-run strikes, but realize with sagging hope that they are merely delaying the inevitable.

    Captain Jonah Michaels sighs as he stares at a crude map of the local region, in particular the Zeon encampments and supply bases and the approximate strength of each hard point, as best as the Desert Dogs’ reconnaissance personnel have been able to determine. With a red colored pencil, he draws circles around several possible targets that the resistance could strike to cause the Zeon Occupation Forces some substantial delays, but reconsiders when he does a reality check on the resistance’s resources versus the Occupation’s.

    MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka’s voice comes outside Jonah’s tent, “Captain Michaels, sir. MSgt. Tanaka requesting permission to enter.”

    “Please come in, Sergeant,” Jonah replies, still studying the map.

    “Thank you, sir,” Tanaka replies. The beefy Master Sergeant then steps into the Centurion Team Leader’s tent and salutes, “Sir.”

    “What is it, Sergeant?” Jonah asks, even as he crosses out another target selection.

    “Sir,” Tanaka says, “I wanted to report that all mobile suits have been repaired…at least to the extent they can with our resources. Most of the remaining units will function at 80% capacity or higher.”

    “Thank you, Sergeant,” Jonah replies.

    Tanaka eyes the map with its numerous red marks, “Planning a little hunting expedition for us, Captain?”

    “Yes, Sergeant,” Jonah answers wearily, “but it’s not going well, I’m afraid. We’re simply not in a position where we can make an offensive strike. The only thing that’s prevented us from being flattened by the Zeon Occupation Forces are these mountains.”

    “Even these mountains can’t hide us forever,” Tanaka remarks, “the recon boys got a few pics on their last run: images showed some new Zeon land MS that look designed specifically for mountain terrain combat. You can betcha we’re gonna be seeing those guys up here before too long.”

    Jonah turns to Tanaka, “Have you seen Lieutenant Minh around?”

    “Saw her at the morning conference and a few times around the WPG,” Tanaka answers, “but not in the last hour or so, no.”

    “I think I know where she might be,” Jonah says, donning his parka.


    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In a clearing in the wilderness a half kilometer from the Desert Dogs’ base camp, 1Lt. Jolie Minh kneels before the grave of her slain, miscarried daughter, Joanie Athena. Jolie’s hands are folded in prayer, pleading that her daughter’s soul is now at peace in Heaven, never to be troubled again by violence and war.

    Jonah approaches the site and sees his wife kneeling in the distance. With a heart as heavy as granite, Jonah walks to Jolie’s side, and kneels beside her.

    Jolie turns to her husband. One look at the forlorn expression on her youthful, silk-smooth face transfers the anguish in her heart into his.

    Jonah puts an arm around Jolie, holding her close, “I know…it still hurts. It probably always will.”

    Jolie closes her eyes, “I’ll be all right. You’re hurting as much as I am. This entire world has been hurt, Jonah.”

    Jonah nods in agreement.

    Jolie takes her head off Jonah’s shoulder and stares into his eyes, the look of sorrow now supplanted with fiery eyes of hatred and rage, “It’s because of them…Kyoko Yamaguchi and Alexander Miguel. They’re the ones who destroyed this world! They’re the ones who murdered our baby! I swear, Jonah…I swear to God I’ll kill them for what they’ve done.”

    Husband and wife rise to a standing posture, and Jonah says, “They have to be stopped, but we can’t do it by ourselves. Even we don’t have that kind of power. We’ll need help from our friends. ALL of our friends.”

    Jolie turns her eyes skyward, “’Thena…the Federation needs the Shambala Republic’s help if it’s going to make a counterattack.”

    “That’s right,” Jonah says, “The Zeon Occupation Forces are simply too overwhelming for us to take on with the meager forces we have. We need something to draw them back into space…to divide their strength.”

    Jonah also casts his gaze towards the skies, through which, at long last, a few stars are faintly visible again on occasion.

    A star, perhaps, to wish upon…


    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    On the surface of the planet Mars, Anaheim Enterprises’ utility Hydrosuits and heavy work vehicles ply the surface and low orbit of the planet, bringing in thousands of tons of materials and equipment, as well as tens of thousands of engineers, technicians, and laborers, to expedite the process of making Mars’ many metallic ore mining facilities, destroyed by an Earth Federation Special Forces attack over a year ago, serviceable again.

    Dr. Camille Vidan has been charged by Dr. Artasia Daikun and Executive Director of Operations Minerva Zabi with overseeing the operation…not so much because he has any expertise in mining operations (he does not), but because he is able to apply the knowledge supplied by the geological engineers working with him to developing new industrial work mobile suits capable of increasing the efficiency of mining operations. To date, most of Camille’s designs have been war machines, but an ingenious engineer can turn his craft to many more applications than war…

    A platoon of mammoth digger/drill MS, appropriately nicknamed “Moles,” are tunneling their way into the Martian crust. Waiting are scores of utility MS that will descend into the newly excavated holes in the red planet’s surface to begin new construction (or reconstruction) of the infrastructure that will permit ore mining once again. Already, surprisingly, 15 percent of the mines destroyed in the previous year’s assault have been brought back online, and their products have already been sent back to Jupitorius for production of combat MS.

    Fa Yuri, Camille’s wife of nearly ten years, floats over to her husband, “Camille, Mr. Carbine is at the office. He wants to talk to you.”

    That would be Mallon E. Carbine, Chairman of Anaheim Enterprises, and Camille’s employer.

    “Did he come to hand me my pink slip at last?” Camille jokes.

    “He can hardly afford to lose you,” Fa smiles, “When you see him, demand a raise. We’ll probably need a new house after the war because I bet the Zeon plowed down our old one!”

    Camille wishes he could kiss Fa through the visors of their helmets, but that being impossible, he settles for taking her hand as they drift from the work site towards the office compound.

    Ten minutes later, Camille sits for coffee with Mallon E. Carbine, the corpulent chief executive of Anaheim Enterprises. In truth, Camille has never had much fondness for the man. Carbine had grown rich profiteering from a series of wars that has killed billions…supplying mobile suits to the Earth Federation, the Zeon, the AEUG, and now, the Shambala Republic as well. Nevertheless, Camille has been willing to cooperate with the man, if only to gain access to resources that Camille hopes will enable the forces of justice to bring an end to the wars.

    “How soon do you estimate the mining facilities will be at full capacity, Dr. Vidan?” Carbine asks, blowing a ring of smoke from his very rare, very expensive Cuban cigar.

    Camille replies, “From what our geological and industrial experts have told me, Mr. Carbine, we’re looking at a timetable of between eighteen to thirty-six months before full capacity is feasible, but we’ve already been able to achieve nearly twenty percent capacity in a much shorter time than anticipated.”

    “Thanks in no small part to your ‘Mole’ mobile suits, Dr. Vidan,” Carbine says with a greedy smile, undoubtedly as he contemplates future profits, “We always knew you had a talent for designing war machines. Who knew that you were equally adept that creating industrial wonders?”

    “I look forward to a time when any machines I design will be used strictly for peaceful applications,” Camille says, even as he casts an eye out of the office windows to the army of Javelin MS (also his design) protecting the work site from Zeon attack, “but I can see that that time might still be far off.”

    “In any case,” Carbine says, rubbing his hands greedily, “Anaheim Enterprises will support your efforts, Doctor.”

    “I’m sure it will,” Camille says acidly, “profit margins depend on it, after all.”

    Pretending that he didn’t hear that remark, Carbine simply grins and leaves Camille to his work, taking his large entourage of bodyguards, handlers, and sycophants with him.

    Hard to imagine we’ll ever see peace with men like that controlling so much wealth and power, Camille reflects darkly.

    To be continued...

  7. #307
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    Episode 37 continued...

    “Javelins 179, 223, ID three bogies Gellond-S on your six,” Operations Director Minerva Zabi calls out from the cockpit of her Kizi Aslan, “watch for aft incoming fire!”

    Even as she warns her comrades about the impending threat to her lives, Minerva sends her sleek Waverider-configured Kizi Aslan into a steep dive to intercept the enemy units. Minerva’s missiles pick off two of the incoming enemy units, and a third is eliminated with single flash of Kizi Aslan’s beam rifle.

    Minerva sees a fresh wave of Rick Diablo type mobile suits approaching, seven in all, led by a Gellond-S, bearing down on Minerva’s position, weapon systems primed for assault.

    Minerva notes their presence and pays them little more heed; she knows she does not need to.

    Hathaway Noah’s Oglu Aslan streaks into the fray, sweeping the field with a massive barrage from its beam rifle and following with a devastating volley from the Aslan’s missile packs.

    The troublesome Zeon mobile suits are reduced to ballooning masses of superheated, fragmenting metal.

    “Great shooting,” Minerva compliments, “and even better timing.”

    “A man needs both to win a lady’s heart,” Hathaway replies, a smile in his voice.

    “You’ve always known how to please me,” Minerva replies, even as she directs her Kizi Aslan in taking down two more enemy MS.

    “This won’t please you, though,” Hathaway says, studying his cockpit monitor, “We’ve got two Zeon space carriers joining the fray…Garma-class ships, Honey.”

    “Must be new reinforcements from Cislunar,” Minerva observes, “We’ve been lucky that the Cislunar and Earth occupation have tied down the bulk of the Zeon forces so far, but that had to change sooner or later.”

    Minerva is about to order a retreat when two more large objects appear on her scopes. Minerva is expecting more Zeon warships, but the combat computer identifies one ship as a large Atlas-class civilian transport and the other as an Earth Federation Forces La Kailum-II class space battlecarrier.

    Minerva receives a hailing signal from the Atlas-class ship, “This is Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah of the Earth Federation Government hailing Shambala Republic Citizens’ Militia Forces…we’re requesting permission to approach aboard our cruiser, the Centennial Condor, escorted by the battle carrier Amuro Ray.”

    “That’s my mother!” Hathaway exclaims in surprise.

    “…and Captain Beecher,” Minerva adds, “Have the Centurions somehow escaped from the Cislunar Sphere?”

    Deciding that the answer to that question can be obtained later, Minerva orders the Shambala Forces to mount a stiff defense until the Federation envoy can safely pass.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Aboard the Amuro Ray, Captain Beecher Olech orders the mobile suits of the 35th MS Squadron, comprised of Jegan-IV class mobile suits, into the fray.

    The reinforcements from the Amuro Ray, combined with the Shambala Forces, prove adequate to repel the Zeon attack. Within minutes, the undeclared alliance between the Earth Federation Forces and the Shambala Republic Citizens’ Militia succeeds in forcing the Zeon armada to retreat.

    “Mom…Mom, it’s me, Hathaway!” the pilot of the Oglu Aslan calls over the tactical net.

    Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah is taken aback upon hearing the voice of her firstborn, “Hathaway? Hathaway, is it really you?”

    “It’s me, Mom,” Hathaway replies happily, “Mom…it’s so good to hear your voice, to know that you’re all right. Chieming and…Father…?”

    “They were fine when I left Earth several weeks ago,” Mirai answers, “I can only hope that’s still the case.”

    “Senator Yashima-Noah,” Minerva Zabi says diplomatically, “We’ll escort your vessel and the Amuro Ray back to the Jupitorius Colonies. We’re vulnerable out here in open space.”

    “Lead the way,” Mirai replies.

    The Shambala Militia Forces and the Federation envoy set a course for the Jupitorius Colonies, current stronghold of the Shambala Republic.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At Xian Base in the China Sector of Earth, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi meets in video teleconference with Archduke Alexander Miguel, who remains at Cosmic Alexandria (formerly Zum City) at Side 3.

    “I’ll be diverting a significant portion of our forces towards the Outer System colonies to eliminate that Shambala nuisance,” the Archduke informs the Black Raven, “Eventually, I’ll want you to join them, but for now, I want you to continue your work in eradicating the last traces of Federation resistance on Earth.”

    “Yes, my lord,” Kyoko replies, “I deeply regret that I have not, as yet, succeeded in delivering the corpse of the White Phoenix to you.”

    Miguel grins viciously, “That will come in due time, Kyoko…all in the natural flow of your duties. No need to fixate upon that goal; you will accomplish it when the time is right. Remember: you are superior to her. You have already defeated her once.”

    “But that…” Kyoko begins.

    “We will continue our discussion later, my dear,” Miguel says as he is signaled by General Ross Davenport, “my attention is needed elsewhere at the moment.”

    “Yes, my lord,” Kyoko salutes as the videoconference comes to an end.

    Kyoko sighs. A month has passed since she has been at her lord’s side, and she knows that until her mission is accomplished, she will remain apart from him.

    Perhaps this is the Archduke’s way of punishing her for failing to eliminate the White Phoenix…by keeping her removed from his presence?

    Kyoko pushes such thoughts aside. If this is punishment, then she very well deserves it…for having failed her lord, for having disappointed his complete faith in her.

    Kyoko finds herself wondering about her rival, her enemy, her doppelganger…Jolie Minh, the White Phoenix of the Earth Federation Forces. The Archduke was correct: Kyoko did have Minh at the brink of defeat…at the door of death, but Kyoko relented when victory would have been hers…relented because she sensed a second presence within the White Phoenix…a child.

    Jolie Minh’s child.

    A part of Kyoko wants to blame the White Phoenix herself for the disastrous outcome of that battle. Minh must have known that she was expecting, and if that were indeed the case, Minh should have known better than to go into battle against Kyoko thus disadvantaged. Were the situation reversed, Kyoko believes, she would not have taken the risk.

    Or would she have? Kyoko is unsure…if Archduke Alexander’s life had been threatened, Kyoko cannot be certain that she would not have done the same.

    Nonetheless, Kyoko cannot help but harbor a feeling of deep unease. Whether it ultimately was an act of murder or not, Kyoko knows she had her role in contributing to whatever fate befell Jolie Minh’s child, and if that is the case, Minh will have the advantage of righteous fury on her side during their next confrontation…a confrontation that Kyoko knows is inevitable.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Centennial Condor and the Amuro Ray dock at Jupitorius’ Woodhaven Colony. The passengers and crew of both the civilian government transport and the military battle carrier have not left the confines for their respective vessel for weeks, so all of them are grateful to feel the gentle tug of gravity again, even if it is artificial gravity produced by the centrifugal force of the space colony’s rotation.

    Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah disembarks from the Centennial Condor. Though born a Spacenoid, this is the first time Mirai has ventured so far away from Earth in her thirty-nine years of living.

    Two normalsuited figures, a dark-haired young man and a honey-blonde young lady, run towards her. Mirai recognizes the young man as her son, Hathaway.

    “Mom!” Hathaway calls out, breaking into a grin as he spots his mother.

    “Hathaway!” Mirai cries out in response, waving her hand wildly as she smiles broadly.

    Mother and son embrace warmly, having not seen one another in several years…and each recently fearing the other to be dead.

    “Mom, it’s so good to see you again,” Hathaway says quietly, “After the Zeon attacked Earth, I thought you might…”

    “I’ve lived with that fear for years, Hathaway,” Mirai says, looking earnestly into her son’s eyes…so similar to her own, “Why have you been avoiding your family?”

    “I’m sorry, Mom,” Hathaway says, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and…”

    Perhaps not wanting to discuss that sore old subject immediately, Mirai turns towards Hathaway’s companion, whom Mirai has never met, but whom she recognizes immediately.

    Mirai greets the younger woman cautiously, “Miss…Zabi.”

    “Senator Noah,” Minerva nods respectfully, “Please…it’s Minerva.”

    They extend their hands for a first handshake, which grows in warmth and firmness after a moment’s tentativeness.

    Mirai smiles warmly at the very beautiful young lady…known at various points of her life as Her Royal Highness, the Duchess Minerva Zabi, as Miss Tina Mass, as Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Special Forces, and now as Executive Director of Operations Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic.

    “Minerva,” Mirai says amiably, “I’m so pleased to meet you at last. Please, call me Mirai.”

    Hathaway glances back and forth between the two most important women in his life, and exhales in relief that their first encounter has been a friendly and pleasant one.

    “Mirai,” Minerva says earnestly, “We’re very glad you’re here. For personal reasons, of course, but also because we’ve been desperately attempting to reestablish contact with the Earth Federation’s leadership.”

    Mirai nods, “Hathaway and Chieming have always told me that you are very business-oriented, Minerva.”

    Mirai winks at her son, causing him to blush with mild embarrassment.

    Minerva cannot help but smile sheepishly.

    A brief, awkward silence is broken by the sound of an approaching jeep. Mirai’s eyes brighten as she recognizes the attractive blonde middle-aged woman at the vehicle’s wheel.

    “Sayla!” Mirai calls out.

    Dr. Artasia Daikun, the former Sayla Mass, smiles as she sets eyes upon her old colleague and friend, “Mirai…”

    Twenty-one years ago, a young 2Lt. Mirai Yashima and 2Lt. Sayla Mass were two of the most important crew members aboard the Earth Federation Forces space battle carrier White Base. Mirai was the White Base’s helmswoman, guiding the mighty warship through peril after peril as they fought against the forces of the Archduchy of Zeon. Sayla started out her military career as the White Base’s communications tech, but eventually was reassigned as a fighter pilot. The two women had grown up together on the bridge of the White Base during those four long months in U.C. 0079, and their friendship continued even as the war they fought together came to an end.

    Sixteen years have passed since Mirai and Artasia last met, but now, as they regard each other across locked arms, very little time seems to have gone by.

    “Mirai,” Artasia says affectionately, “You look just like you did all those years ago.”

    “Time has been kind to you too, Sayla,” Mirai returns the compliment, “Although I suspect taking care of my son has aged you a few years.”

    The two women laugh, turning to Hathaway, who turns with mild embarrassment towards his fiancée, Minerva.

    “Hathaway has been a very loyal and dedicated comrade,” Artasia says sincerely, “He’s passionate and loyal, like his parents. You should be proud of him. He’s taken over many of the responsibilities I previously gave to Kai.”

    Kai Shiden – another former crewman of the White Base, who had later served as Artasia’s Director of Intelligence until he died heroically during an intelligence-gathering operation some months ago.

    “I’d heard that Kai perished in battle,” Mirai says sadly.

    “It’s true,” Artasia confirms, her smile fading, “If not for Kai’s brave sacrifice, many people would have been killed at Side 3 by Alexander Miguel and his lackeys. I remember how I’d castigated him for being a coward, but he wasn’t one. Not at the end.”

    Mirai decides that this would be a good time to segue into the purpose for her having come to the Jupitorius Colony, as Minerva had attempted to do just before Artasia arrived, “Sayla, we need to talk: we need to discuss how we can join forces…the Earth Federation and the Shambala Republic…to end Zeon’s threat to humanity.”

    “You’re right,” Artasia says, “Come with me to my office. That’ll be a better place for us to discuss that. Hathaway, Minerva: we’d like for you two to be there as well.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” the couple replies, heading to the pilots’ lockers to change from their combat normalsuits into some more appropriate attire for a strategy discussion.

    As they watch the two youngsters leave, Artasia cannot help asking Mirai, “How do you like her? Minerva, I mean.”

    Mirai smiles, “A lot, actually. She’s a very bright young woman, and very much full of grace and elegance….and confidence and strength. Everything you’d expect from a young lady who was born and raised a duchess.”

    “Does it bother you?” Artasia probes, “That she’s the former Duchess of Zeon?”

    Mirai laughs, “I think what you mean to ask is if it bothers me that my son is in love with the former Duchess of Zeon.”

    Artasia covers a laugh of her own with her mouth.

    Mirai says, “I can definitely trust her if you do, Sayla. I don’t care who her parents were. This war will go on forever if we don’t let go of certain things from the past.”

    Artasia grins. Having Mirai as the Federation’s representative to Shambala will make things go much, much smoother.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At Side 3, Archduke Alexander Miguel is in a conference with his staff of generals and admirals, laying down final plans for the invasion and subjugation of the Outer System.

    “We first built our strength in the orbit of Mars after we were driven from the Cislunar Sphere by the Earth Federation,” Miguel says to his men, “and we abandoned the cosmic frontier to take back the Cislunar Sphere and Earth for ourselves. Now that that goal is accomplished, we once again extend our control to deepest space. We will crush those upstarts of the so-called ‘Shambala Republic,’ and then, Zeon will truly reign supreme. Do I have your support, gentlemen?”

    The staff of generals and admirals, among the finest military minds in the history of human warfare, rise and salute in unison, “Sieg, Zeon!”

    Miguel smiles, and then singles out one of his generals…a veteran experienced in terrestrial combat operations, “General Mortorff?”

    General Craig Mortoroff, a twenty-year veteran of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces who had begun his career under the command of Captain Garma Zabi during the One Year War, responds crisply, “My lord!”

    “General,” Miguel says, “You are hereby ordered to take the Zeon Second Army down to Earth to assist Lt. Col. Yamaguchi and the Phobos Division in eliminating all remaining resistance on Earth. You may use any means necessary, General.”

    “Understood, my lord,” Mortoroff bows, “With your leave, I will see to it that your wishes are carried out.”

    Miguel dismisses Mortoroff with a casual gesture, and then addresses his other generals, “The rest of you will stand by for deployment to the Outer System. I anticipate that we will be ready to deploy within four days’ time.”

    “Yes, my lord,” comes the chorus of replies.

    Episode 37 to be continued...

  8. #308
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    Episode 37 continued

    Dr. Artasia Daikun, Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah, Executive Director Minerva Zabi, and Intelligence Director Hathaway Noah meet in Dr. Daikun’s office in a modest government building in Woodhaven City. The humble surroundings belie the importance of their discussion to the fate of all humanity.

    “The Zeon Forces almost certainly have set preparations into motion to attack our position here in the Outer System,” Minerva tells her colleagues, “This is a development we’ve anticipated, and, strange as it may sound, welcome.”

    Mirai speaks next, “Your forces were successful at helping our forces to repel the Zeon at Ceres Base; our combined forces could mount an assault on Cislunar Space, but the Archduchy of Zeon Forces would still outnumber even our combined forces four to one.”

    “We’re not going to attempt a head-on assault,” Minerva says, “That would be playing to the enemy’s strength. The plan calls for us to draw them with a baiting force. I want to take them down to the surface of Mars…the sectors on the other side of the planet from where the mining operations are being restored.”

    “What sectors have mining operations not being restored?” Dr. Daikun asks, “There’s mining infrastructure all over the surface of the planet, except maybe at the polar regions.”

    Minerva and Hathaway turn to each other and smile, and then Minerva explains, “The mining infrastructure on the planet’s eastern hemisphere represents authentic, operable facilities. The infrastructure on the western hemisphere we’ve erected for show.”

    Dr. Daikun begins to see the logic behind Minerva’s reasoning, “Another Trojan Horse, Minerva?”

    Minerva nods, “Archduke Miguel knows a thing or two about Trojan Horses. He’s used a few himself, and he saw me use one during the war against the Zeon Confederation. He and his fleet commanders won’t be easy to fool, so we have to make it look real. The thing is: those mining facilities in the western hemisphere of Mars are legit. They can be used for mining, except that we’d need a decade or more to reach the ore veins located deep below the planet’s surface. The established ore veins are the ones in the eastern hemisphere. Miguel knows Mars. It was his bailiwick for years. Undoubtedly, over his years ruling from Phobos, he’s sent geological survey teams to Mars to determine where the ore resources are, and his industrial base had already begun exploring and building infrastructure on the planet’s western hemisphere before the Federation attacked and destroyed his Martian mining facilities more than a year ago. Miguel knows that there are ores down there…ores that we would want, in the long term, if not in the immediate future. He’s cynical that way, and we’re counting on his cynicism.”

    “You expect him to launch an attack on the western hemisphere of Mars?” Artasia asks, “To deprive us of mineral resources?”

    “Yes,” Minerva says, “Especially if we make a strong pretense of guarding it zealously. We must make them think we’re desperate to keep them off the western hemisphere of Mars, when in reality, we want them to land there…to occupy it.”

    “And then…?” Artasia ventures.

    “Endgame,” Minerva replies mysteriously.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Artasia and Minerva remain in the office to discuss the details of Minerva’s plan, allowing Mirai and Hathaway time to catch up. Mother and son have many important issues to discuss outside of the war. They go together to an apartment that Artasia has provided for Mirai’s comfort while she stays at the Jupitorius Colonies to help coordinate joint efforts between the Earth Federation and the Shambala Republic. Mirai represents the Earth Federation Government, and has been placed in a position by President Brenner and the remaining members of the Legislative and Deliberative Assemblies and the Federation Supreme Court to make diplomatic decisions for the Federation in regards to securing an alliance with the Shambala Republic.

    None of that, however, is of particular interest to Hathaway Noah at the moment.

    “So how do you like Minerva?” Hathaway asks his mother.

    Mirai smiles, “She’s a very charming young lady, very beautiful, and with a good head on her shoulders…a commanding presence, to be sure. There seems to be a part of her that’s…inaccessible, however.”

    “Are you saying that you don’t trust her?” Hathaway ventures.

    Mirai laughs, “No, that’s not what I mean at all. She does seem somewhat guarded, but I suppose that’s to be expected, being born into the Zabi Family and raised, according to what you’ve told me, by Char Aznable.”

    Hathaway sits down on a chair in the tiny kitchenette of the apartment, “Mom…Minerva and I decided we want to get married, although we’re going to wait until the war is over before we actually go ahead and do that. I want to know…”

    Mirai finishes for him with a smile, “Hathaway, I’d be very happy to have Minerva for a daughter-in-law. I like her very much and she’s welcome to be part of the family.”

    “But Father,” Hathaway says with uncharacteristic uncertainty, “Will he…?”

    “Hathaway,” Mirai says gently, “Your father and I want you to be happy. If you know in your heart that Minerva is the woman who will make you happy for the rest of your life, then by all means, we’ll fully support you in that. It doesn’t matter to us that Minerva is the former Duchess of Zeon, or what her family did during the One Year War. None of that is Minerva’s fault. In fact, I feel real admiration for her dedicating her life to rectifying the problems caused by her forebears. But on the subject of your father, Hathaway: I think the time has come for you and him to mend fences.”

    “I know,” Hathaway replies, “I’ve been wrong about so much. About him, especially. I’m not sure I’d be welcome in his presence. He did threaten to shoot me once.”

    “That was a long time ago,” Mirai says, “and in the heat of the moment. Hathaway, do you really believe your father would do that?”

    “He’s a man of his word,” Hathaway says, “and so was I, I once thought…”

    “Hathaway…” Mirai whispers.

    “Mom,” Hathaway says grimly, in a low voice, “There’s one more thing you should know about Minerva.”

    “What is it?” Mirai asks.

    Hathaway faces his mother, “She saved Father…twice…from me.”

    “What do you mean?” Mirai continues.

    “Do you remember,” Hathaway says haltingly, “two attempts on Father’s life in Shanghai…two years ago?”

    “I couldn’t forget it,” Mirai confesses, “but Hathaway, are you saying that…?”

    “Yes,” Hathaway says, his eyes full of shame, “I was the pilot of that mobile suit that attempted to take Father’s life. If not for Minerva’s intervention, I’d have succeeded…”

    “Hathaway,” Mirai says in a tone that is not judgmental, “What are you really trying to say?”

    Hathaway chokes out, “I’m glad Minerva appeared when she did, and did what she did, because if she hadn’t…you’d be a widow…and I’d be a murderer….the murderer of my own father.”

    “But you didn’t…” Mirai begins tentatively.

    “Because Minerva was there to stop me,” Hathaway confesses, “I’ve already wrongfully killed one innocent person, Mom…I’ll never forgive myself for it. I can understand the sense of guilt that tortures Minerva, because it’s also tortured me. Like her, I’ve decided to dedicate my life to making amends for it.”

    Mother and son embrace, knowing that painful process of reconciliation and coming to terms with past mistakes must follow, and will be the work of a lifetime. But that’s what Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah has come to Jupitorius for…why Dr. Artasia Daikun and Minerva Zabi, the heirs of Zeon Zum Daikun and Degin Zabi, have come to work together.

    A time of reconciliation must begin now.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    On Earth, Captain Jonah Michaels and 1Lt. Jolie Minh lead the Desert Dogs on a patrol…on foot. First, because mobile suits would attract undue attention and second, because the site they are patrolling is inaccessible by mobile suit…or any large vehicle, for that matter.

    The Federation troops’ interest in the site was first aroused during a reconnaissance patrol the previous evening, when the sensitive radiation sensors of 1Lt. Minh’s White Phoenix Gundam detected the presence of a radioactive energy source in the wilderness about twenty kilometers due south of the Dogs’ base camp in the Kunlun Mountains. It is a remote, desolate area, likely never seen by human eyes or trodden by human feet, much less occupied by human installations.

    Or so most of the world believed…

    A closer examination of the site reveals to the group a subterranean installation, apparently belonging to the Earth Federation Forces, hidden deep beneath the crust of the Earth, known to few…accessible to fewer…until now, that is…uncovered by cataclysm.

    The subterranean installation is reminiscent of the Earth Federation Forces’ old Jaburo Base in the Amazon River region of South America, which had served as the Federation’s primary planetary base until its destruction in U.C. 0087. This facility is only a quarter the size of the old Jaburo Base, but seems designed along similar principles.

    The two Centurion Team officers and their Desert Dogs allies, to a man and woman, are clad in their environmental normalsuits, helmets and O-rings sealed as if they were performing EVA in deep space. The WPG’s radiation sensors had detected only a faint trace of radiation from the air, but the exact roentgen count is unknown. The normalsuits can absorb 5,000 roentgens safely, provided the suits are properly sealed.

    The group uses nonelectrical glowsticks for illumination, not wanting to risk setting off an explosion or fire. Radiation sensors built into their normalsuits detect unusually high levels of radiation…

    The group descends down an elevator shaft, its lift mechanisms long disabled, rappelling down via rope.

    Jolie, being the smallest, lightest, and most agile among them, takes the point. Her illuminated glowstick clipped to the hip of her normalsuit, Jolie descends first into the darkness. The girl known as the White Phoenix descends through 100 meters of darkness before she spots the bottom of the shaft.

    Jolie somersaults down the final ten meters, landing deftly on her feet. Taking a moment to determine that the surroundings are safe, she signals for her comrades to come down to the base floor.

    Jonah, MSgt. Tanaka, and the Desert Dogs having all completed the descent, the group cautiously makes their way through the dark...fanning out to minimize the chance of total personnel loss in case of some unanticipated problem.

    Finally, after a seemingly interminable amble through the dark, they arrive at a sealed metallic door…solid and heavy, and though no longer impregnable after a series of massive earthquakes that have rocked the region following the cataclysmic Skyfall, nevertheless remains an imposing barrier.

    “We need a crowbar,” Jonah says.

    “Right here, Captain,” Tanaka says, producing the needed tool.

    Tanaka jabs the crowbar into a small tear in the alloy door, straining his mighty brachial muscles in an attempt to open the door.

    Jonah and Jolie each grab hold of a section of the crowbar, as do two other of the burlier Desert Dogs, heaving, bending the metal of the crowbar, until finally…

    The large metallic door creaks open, and the Federation soldiers enter the tomblike environment.

    Within the chamber are half a dozen five-meter tall armored cylinders…

    The Federal Forces troops’ eyes go wide with shock and horror as they recognize the cylinders for what they are.

    Thermonuclear warheads, each possessing five megatons of destructive power…

    To be continued in Episode 38...

  9. #309
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    EPISODE 2-38: DUST TO DUST

    Author’s Note: The events of Episodes 38 and 39 occur concurrently, and the storylines depicted in both episodes end at a common point.

    Early November has come to Earth once again. In the past, this would be the time across most of the Northern Hemisphere that the weather would grow cooler, and people would begin donning heavier clothing and admired the changing colors of the season as the green of spring and summer gave way to the red and yellows of autumn.

    None of that is relevant anymore in a world that has been changed, perhaps irrevocably, by the single most obscene act that humanity has ever committed against Nature.

    Cold gusts of gray, sooty wind blow across the silent steppes of a world that perhaps would never again know the turn of seasons as humanity had known it for time immemorial. It is a different world now – a world no longer resplendent with the cyclic colors of changing foliage, but of the monotonous gray of ash.

    A gray mood too has descended over the pitiable few who remain living on the planet that was humanity’s cradle. Theirs is a mood inescapably suppressed by the morbid realization that the time during which Earth could support human civilization has, very likely, come to an end.

    Amidst the grayness, however, red hot passion continues beating in the hearts of a few who are unwilling to surrender or die…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “No,” Captain Jonah Michaels of the Centurion Special Operations Team says firmly for the umpteenth time, “We won’t do it, Jolie…my decision is final.”

    Jonah’s wife and second-in-command, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, throws her hands up in exasperated disgust, “Why the hell not?! You can’t be telling me that you’re still hung up over some goddamned f*cking treaty signed more than twenty years ago! The men who signed that treaty are dead, Jonah, and none of them were really serious about respecting that treaty in the first place! One look out there, one breath of that toxic air, is enough to prove that!”

    “That’s exactly the reason why we can’t use those nukes we found down in that abandoned installation,” Jonah says in his characteristically gentle, patient manner, “The damage already done by the Zeon to this planet has already brought it to the brink of complete ecological meltdown. The detonation of those nuclear weapons could push the planet past the point of no return.”

    “Haven't you been listening?!” Jolie demands hotly, waving her hand wildly towards the world beyond the opening of the couple’s plastiform shelter, “Haven't you been paying attention to what your senses have been telling you for months, now?! This planet is already ‘past the point of no return,’ Jonah! The only damage those nukes will do is to those Zeon bastards who did this to the Earth!”

    “I’m not discussing this with you anymore,” Jonah says firmly, “You’re making decisions based on your emotions rather than on good sense, and that’s only going to lead you to more mistakes.”

    Jolie suppresses an urge to smirk bitterly; Jonah has started to sound like Athena used to, and Jolie remembers how much she used to hate it when Athena went into righteous-mode.

    Too proud to back down, however, Jolie clenches her fists and lets out a frustrated growl before turning to Jonah, pointing at him, and screaming, “You’re a bleeding-heart idiot!” before storming out of the tent.

    “Jolie, come back here!” Jonah demands, having come to the decision that he must stand firm with his second-in-command and the love of his life. Jonah loves Jolie deeply, and for that reason, he feels it to be his responsibility as both her spouse and commanding officer to rein in her more impetuous qualities.

    But Jolie, consumed by her outrage, is having none of it. She picks up a piece of scrap metal lying on the ground, turns, and chucks it in Jonah’s direction, “Leave me the **** alone!”

    Jonah sees the missile coming and deftly dodges it.

    “Jolie!” Jonah calls out, feeling more than a little frustrated himself now.

    Jolie covers her ears and rushes away from the scene; Jonah decides to let her go…so she can cool off.

    Jonah sighs and turns around, finding MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka, half-smoked cigarette hanging from his lips, chuckling at him.

    “Marital problems, huh?” Tanaka says with a shit-eating grin.

    “You might say that,” Jonah says noncommittally, heading towards the makeshift mobile suit lot to see to maintenance on his Centurion Gundam.

    MSgt. Tanaka joins the young Centurion Team commander, “That’s how it is with newlyweds, Captain. You know: when people are young, like you and the Lieutenant are, sometimes they’ll…”

    “Sergeant,” Jonah says abruptly, “Is there a reason you came to see me?”

    “Yes, sir,” Tanaka says, “Sorry about getting off-subject, sir. The boys and I were wondering about those nukes we saw in that underground installation the other day…”

    “I’ve already made up my mind,” Jonah says, “We’re not going to use those nukes.”

    “We aren’t?” the beefy master sergeant replies, genuinely surprised, “but sir, if we could use those nukes strategically, we could…”

    “I know,” Jonah concedes, “We probably could wipe out a sizable chunk of the enemy’s occupation force…maybe even eradicate them from the face of the planet altogether. But just take a look around you, Sergeant: can we afford to do any more damage to this world?”

    Tanaka looks around for a moment and sighs heavily, “I understand what you mean, sir. This planet’s become enough of a hellhole as it is…”

    Jonah nods, “I wish Jolie would realize that too…”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    An hour later, Jonah finds Jolie performing maintenance on the White Phoenix Gundam. The absence of a proper crew of technicians and engineers has forced the two Special Forces officers and their Desert Dog comrades to be innovative and resourceful in the upkeep of their war machines.

    Jonah notices the disassembled remains of an inoperably damaged coffee percolator that one of the Desert Dogs troops had managed to recover from the ruins of the Federal Forces installation that the group had discovered a week earlier. As a dispensary of coffee, the percolator was too far gone to be used to provide caffeinated liquid reinvigoration again, but that hardly meant that the salvaged artifact of kitchenware didn’t have its uses…

    Jolie grins in satisfaction and wipes the light perspiration that has formed on her forehead as she secures two disjointed units with a metallic ring-unit taken from the discarded coffee percolator.

    Jonah takes a seat next to his wife, who continues working on her mobile suit seemingly oblivious to his presence.

    Jonah attempts to break the ice with some small talk, “You think that binder ring you took out of the coffee percolator is going to hold those two power conduit units together?”

    “The actual component from Anaheim Enterprises would probably cost at least 6,000 Federation credits,” Jolie says dryly as she continues working, “which is about twice what I make a month. Lucky for me, though, a binder ring from that old Mr. Coffee machine does the job just as good…at least until we can find some place stocked with spare Gundam parts from Anaheim.”

    Jonah smiles, “What a waste of taxpayer money.”

    Jolie replies, “I know. Before the next election, I’m gonna demand an explanation from the President about how our tax money is being spent…”

    Jolie and Jonah exchange a smile, knowing that their earlier argument has not diminished the love they feel for each other the slightest.

    Jolie acknowledges as much, whispering contritely, “I’m sorry I lost my cool earlier, Jonah. I’ve thought about it, and I realize you’re right. Destroying the Zeon isn’t worth causing more damage to the Earth.”

    “We won’t use the nukes,” Jonah says resolutely, “But we’re still going to drive them off this planet. They’ve hurt this world enough; as soldiers of the Earth Federation Forces, we’ll be damned if we let them hurt it any more.”

    Jolie nods in agreement, and sets aside her work for an embrace with her husband. The couple shares a kiss even as a cold wind blows through the mountains that have become their fortress.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    General Craig Mortoroff, the commanding officer of the Zeon Second Army, specially trained and equipped for terrestrial combat, has landed with his forces at the Zeon Occupation Forces’ operational headquarters at the site the former Federation regional base near Xian, China. Mortoroff’s forces consist of some 3,000 combat aircraft, 500 combat mobile suits, and over 100,000 combat personnel. They have come to support the Phobos Division previously dispatched to Earth by Archduke Alexander Miguel.

    Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi, commanding officer of the Phobos Division, salutes General Mortoroff as the senior Zeon officer disembarks from the transatmospheric shuttle craft that brought him to Earth from Cosmic Alexandria, the new designation of the former Side 3 space colonies.

    “General Mortoroff, sir,” Kyoko says smartly, “Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi at your service, sir.”

    Motoroff returns the salute and shakes Kyoko’s soft, feminine hand, “At ease, Lt. Col. Yamaguchi. Archduke Miguel has dispatched my forces to lend you support in eradicating the remaining Federal Forces resistance on the planet.”

    “I’m grateful for the Archduke and General Mortoroff’s support,” Kyoko says diplomatically, although deep inside, she is disturbed by the idea that Archduke Alexander is showing a lack of confidence in her abilities by sending such an overwhelming ground force in her support.

    “We’ll begin stepping up operations against the remaining noncompliant forces,” Motoroff continues, “I’ve brought with me a wide range of specialized terrestrial assault weapons to help us in that endeavor. Have your personnel been able to determine the location or locations of the remaining enemy strongholds, Lt. Col. Yamaguchi?”

    “Yes, sir,” Kyoko replies, “We believe that the Federation’s resistance forces are penned in the Kunlun Mountains, but we’ve had difficulty pinpointing their location because of the adverse terrain. They’ve eluded us by moving around constantly within that range of mountains.”

    “We’ll flush them out with our forces,” Mortoroff declares confidently, “but before we discuss the details of that operation further, the Archduke has asked me to give you this, Lt. Col. Yamaguchi.”

    From the inner pocket of his command overcoat, Motoroff takes a small, green velvet box and hands it to Kyoko.

    Motoroff smiles, “The Archduke specified for you to open that personally, privately.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Kyoko responds, understandably curious as to the contents of the velvet box.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Two hours later, inside her private office at Xian Base, Kyoko at last opens the velvet box. Within is a diamond gold ring, along with a note written in the inimitable penmanship of His Majesty, Archduke Alexander Miguel of Zeon.

    Dearest Kyoko,

    No empire can be complete without its empress.

    This is a plea, not a command. In all my life, I have only commanded, never plead.

    I plea to you now, to you alone, to serve Zeon…and to serve my heart, by being the one and only Archduchess of Zeon.

    This is destiny. Please embrace it.

    With deepest love,

    Alexander

    Kyoko cannot contain a brilliant smile as her spirits soar. She has long anticipated this moment, but now that it has finally come, she can scarcely accept that it is real. She fears that it is all but a dream.

    Alexander, Kyoko vows, My love: I will fulfill the responsibility you have placed upon me. I will eradicate the Earth Federation Forces, and when my duty on the field of battle is done, I will serve you faithfully as your wife.

    To be continued...

  10. #310
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 38 continued...

    “Hey, Captain Michaels, Lieutenant Minh!” MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka grunts as he rushes towards them at Desert Dogs’ makeshift mecha maintenance yard, “We’ve got big news from the boys in recon!”

    “What is it, Sergeant?” Jonah asks; Jolie quickly and gracefully leaps down from the maintenance platform where she performs work on her White Phoenix Gundam to take in the news.

    “Recon patrol has sighted a HUGE Zeon force headed in the direction of these mountains,” Tanaka says grimly, “We’re talking about a massive army, Captain; they’re gonna try to overrun our position here.”

    “Assemble the Dogs for emergency deployment, Sergeant,” Jonah orders, “On the double!”

    “Yes, sir,” Tanaka replies, rushing to assemble his men.

    Jolie wipes lubrication grease from her delicate hands with a beaten rag and begins donning her normalsuit, “Here we go again…”

    Jonah grins bitterly as he begins donning his own normalsuit, “Once more into the breach...”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Within minutes, the mobile suits of the Earth Federation Forces’ resistance force has taken to the air and ground…moving stealthily across the Chinese wilderness to elude their numerically superior Zeon enemies.

    Jolie pilots the Wavediver configuration White Phoenix Gundam, using the mighty mobile suit’s stealth and VTOL capabilities to great effectiveness as she skims over the regional treetops.

    The Federation mobile suits pass over the ruins of a city that as recently as three months ago, had hosted a population of over 100,000 people. Previous sweeps through the ruins had indicated no survivors within a 20 kilometer radius of the city limits.

    This time, however, Jolie and Jonah simultaneously experience a PSI-spark from the ruins below, and both spot a tiny figure scrambling amidst the ruins.

    “Jonah,” Jolie says over the tactical net, “Down there…I think I saw…”

    “I saw it too,” Jonah replies.

    “Set ‘em down?” Jolie suggests hopefully.

    “Roger that,” Jonah responds, and then says to MSgt. Tanaka, “Tanaka. Establish a perimeter.”

    “Roger sir,” Tanaka answers dutifully, passing the order to his subordinates.

    The Federation mobile suits land within and around the ruins of the abandoned Chinese city.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Fifteen minutes later, Jolie and Jonah search through the rubble of collapsed buildings and blasted streets.

    “Find anything?” Jonah asks Jolie over their helmet radio wavelength.

    “Not yet,” Jolie replies, “But I’m sure...wait….”

    Jolie senses it, and so does Jonah. The two young Newtypes follow the trail of PSI-energy towards the narrow entrance of a collapsed building…formerly a shopping center, much of its merchandise still on display for consumers who will never come…an artifact of a civilization whose time has seemingly passed forever.

    Jonah lights a portable lantern as Jolie draws her sidearm. The couple enters the collapsed structure gingerly, their senses alert for the slightest hint of danger.

    The young couple walks farther and farther into the once-opulent marketplace, its abandoned displays of plenty seemingly mocking them with memories of a world that would never be the same again, and then…they hear it. A soft, pitiable sound that soon is identifiable as the frightened sobs of a young child.

    Jonah turns his lantern towards the source of the sound, and the sobs become a terrified scream.

    Jolie sets eyes on her…a young Chinese girl, no more than ten years old, attractive with long, straight, jet black hair. The child’s beautiful eyes are swollen from having cried numerous tears, and her thin arms and legs suggest inadequate nourishment.

    Jolie feels almost as if she were looking through a mirror of time, and seeing herself nine years ago…when the evil of Alexander Miguel transformed her life forever.

    Jolie smiles at the frightened child, holstering her sidearm, saying in a warm, gentle voice, “Hi, Sweetie. No need to be afraid. We’re not gonna hurt you. We’re friends.”

    The frightened little girl backs away, unwilling to trust.

    Jolie recognizes that look of sheer terror and isolation in the little girl’s eyes; it is the same look Jolie remembers having in her own eyes the day her parents and elder brother were slain, and when her home was destroyed.

    Jolie remembers that her own sanity might have been forfeit in the horror of that day were it not for the comforting presence of a hero…a protector, Captain Amuro Ray, the great White Knight of the Earth Federation Forces. It was Captain Amuro who had driven away the darkness with his valiant spirit and his supreme warrior skill, and who provided tenderness and sympathy to an orphaned child in her hour of greatest need.

    Jolie reaches out to the little girl with open arms, “Come here. Please, don’t be afraid. We’re here to help you.”

    The little girl reaches out tentatively, doubtfully at first, and then decides to place her faith in the very pretty young woman whose kind, reassuring smile induces trust.

    The girl surrenders herself into Jolie’s arms and begins sobbing, giving release to what must have been months of nightmares. Jolie’s embrace brings the girl great relief.

    “It’s OK, Sweetie,” Jolie says gently, “It’s OK. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. What’s your name?”

    “A-Ah-Mei,” the little girl says, “Amy…Amy…Chu.”

    “Amy’s a pretty name,” Jolie replies with a smile, “My name is Jolie. That young man over there is my husband, Jonah. We’re here to protect the people of this city from the Zeon.”

    “They attacked!” the little begins to scream hysterically, “Those soldiers from space! They made Heaven fall down on us and then they attacked us with their giant machine men!’

    “It was terrible,” Jolie agrees, “but we’re fighting them. We’re not going to let them win.”

    Jonah kneels by little Amy and begins to stroke the child’s fine hair fondly, “She looks hungry, and she’s got some minor injuries. Let’s get her back to the base camp and give her something to eat and some clean clothes.”

    “Right,” Jolie says, and then turning to the child, “Will you come with us? We’ll get you some food to eat and some new clothes to wear. Then we’ll find you a new home.”

    Amy nods, entrusting herself to the care of the young couple that represents her first benevolent human contact in months.

    Jonah radios MSgt. Tanaka, “Sgt.: withdraw all forces to the base camp. We’ve found a young girl in the city. She needs food and medical care.”

    “Roger that, sir,” Tanaka replies, relaying the withdrawal order.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Two hours later, Jolie hands little Amy Chu a third bowl of beans, corn, and rice…likely the first decent meal the child has had in months. Amy is wearing one of Jolie’s spare uniforms, which is somewhat oversized for the child, but is at least clean and warm.

    “There’s more here if you’re still hungry,” Jolie says with a smile to the little girl, “After you’re done eating, you should get some sleep.”

    “Thank you, Jolie,” Amy says gratefully.

    “Amy,” Jolie says to the child, whom she is increasingly beginning to see almost as a younger sister, “I hope I’m not asking you for something you can’t share, but I want to know: what happened? How did you end up by yourself in that city?”

    Amy stops eating, putting down the bowl and her spoon and says, “I’m ten years old. I’m in the 5th Grade. I live in Shanghai with my Mommy and Daddy, but I was on a field trip to the Kunlun Mountains with my school…when those bad space soldiers made Heaven fall!”

    That explains the Shanghai Central Primary School uniform patch, Jolie realizes, and it also means that Amy’s parents are probably dead.

    Shanghai, the most recent capital of the Earth Federation Government, was stricken hard by the one-two punch of a massive tsunami and a Zeon air- and ground-assault. Jolie and Jonah had managed to avert the complete destruction of the city by diverting the space colony California to a landing in the wastes of Mongolia, but were unable to counter the other disasters the Zeon inflicted upon the city.

    Not that little Amy needs to know any of that just yet…

    “It’s over now,” Jolie says comfortingly to the little girl, “I promise I won’t let anybody hurt you, Amy. I’ll also help you look for your Mom and Dad.”

    “Really, Jolie?” the little girl asks searchingly.

    “Really, I promise,” Jolie replies, meaning it.

    Jonah enters the tent, bearing a smile and a pair of comfortable-looking child-sized boots.

    “Hey, there,” Jonah says with his natural gentleness and easygoing demeanor, “We found some boots here that will probably fit you. They’ll help keep your feet warm. Here: let me help you put them on.”

    “Jolie,” Amy says, her eyes brimming with tears, “What if my Mommy and Daddy are dead?”

    “Don’t think about that,” Jolie says encouragingly, “You have to believe that they’re alive, and Jonah and I will help you find them.”

    “That’s right,” Jonah adds, “We’ll take care of you until you find your Mom and Dad. Until then, we’d happy to have you stay with us.”

    Amy sobs, perhaps partly in the fear that her parents might indeed be lost, and partly in gratitude to the young couple that has been so kind to her, “My Mommy and Daddy are workers for the government. We all live in Shanghai together!”

    Jolie and Jonah look at each other; government officials…there’s a slim chance that Amy’s parents might have been evacuated in time.

    “It’s getting late,” Jonah says, “You must be very tired, Amy. Get some rest. Jolie and I will be right here.”

    “Jolie,” Amy asks plaintively, “Can you tell me a bedtime story?”

    “Sure,” Jolie says smiling, “A long time ago, a terrible dark devil threatened the people of the great village. He hurt people with his terrible demon armies, and caused the people to live in fear and misery. But one day, a shining White Phoenix flew down from Heaven to challenge the devil and his demon armies…”

    Jonah smiles, leaving the tent to have a discussion with MSgt. Tanaka and the Desert Dogs about the resistance group’s next move as Jolie soothes Amy to sleep with her fantastic story.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Thirty minutes later, Jolie meets Jonah outside the tent. The night is cold…so cold that their breaths exhale as steam.

    “Is she asleep?” Jonah asks.

    “Sound asleep,” Jolie confirms.

    Jonah smiles, “‘Shining White Phoenix,’ eh? Is there no limit to your ego?”

    Jolie smirks, “Hey, well: Amy liked it.”

    Jonah nods, “She’s a sweet little girl.”

    Jolie replies resolutely, “I promised her we’d help her find her parents.”

    Jonah nods again, putting an arm around his wife’s shoulders, “We’re going to keep that promise. We’re pushing to Shanghai…find out what happened to the survivors of the Federation government and military. I’m confident that General Noah, President Brenner, our Centurion Team members, and Amy’s parents all made it. We have to find them.”

    “Right,” Jolie agrees, “We’ll fight our way through the Zeon army to get there.”

    Jonah bites his lip, “But we can’t endanger little Amy.”

    “I know,” Jolie says, “Taking a little girl into battle isn’t exactly the best idea.”

    Jolie and Jonah stare silently at the ground for a long, grim moment. The same thought is on both of their minds: their daughter Joanie Athena, who died six months before she was ready to be born, victim of a violent encounter against the Zeon forces.

    Jonah says quietly to Jolie, “You look at Amy, and you see little Joanie, don’t you?”

    Jolie sighs and nods, “We failed to save our daughter, but maybe we can help this little girl, Jonah. If we can somehow reunite her with her family, then maybe…maybe everything we’ve gone through would be worthwhile.”

    Jonah puts his arms around Jolie. It is slightly difficult for Jonah to believe that this is the same young woman who, a day earlier, had been advocating using a weapon of mass destruction to slaughter thousands of enemy troops. Jonah knows that at heart, his wife…the White Phoenix, is a valiant protector of the innocent and upholder of justice. But in her fervor to see justice done, Jolie will, at times, veer towards vengeful tendencies…something Jonah knows that Jolie struggles to rein in. That is the aberrant part of her personality; Jolie’s true heart is the one she has opened up to the little girl, Amy…that of the hero…the protector.

    “I agree,” Jonah says at last, “To put one small part of this broken world back together: it’d be worth the effort.”

    Jolie and Jonah enter the tent, finding little Amy sleeping peacefully. Jolie fixes the little girl’s covers…the way a mother…or a big sister would.

    Episode 38 to be continued...

  11. #311
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 38 continued...

    The Desert Dogs huddle around a campfire, exchanging jokes around late night mugs of increasingly weak and watered-down tea. What horrors have the Dogs not seen? What privations have they not endured during their many campaigns across the deserts and steppes? To be a Desert Dog is to know no fear, and to think only of today, never of tomorrow.

    …or yesterday.

    MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka flips open a locket containing a single photograph…of himself as he had been ten years earlier, of the young woman who had been his wife, of the toddler who had been his son. They are in the past now – cursed with living in the wrong place at the wrong time, and thus condemned to live in it no more.

    Tanaka regards the tent in the distance where Captain Jonah Michaels, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, and that little girl, Amy Chu, now reside: those kids, and that’s what they all are...they represent the future…those who might someday rebuild and repopulate this scarred planet.

    Tanaka closes the locket and speaks to his comrades, “Boys, I’ve gotta tell ya: our next mission could be our last. I wanted ya all to know that through all these years, you guys have never let me down. Never. We’ve been through a helluva lotta shit over the years together, and the one thing I’m glad about is that we got to go through it as a team because you guys are the ****ing greatest. Now before ya guys start saying I’m going soft on ya, remember this: tomorrow, I expect every single last one of ya to lay it all down on the line. We might be the Federation’s last line of resistance: let’s make the people of this planet proud!”

    The Desert Dogs howl in support of their commanding NCO and his rousing address, “For the Earth Federation!”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In the predawn hours of the following morning, the Zeon Occupation Forces, now consisting of the Phobos Division and the Zeon Second Army, rolls towards the Kunlun Mountains from their base in Xian.

    The Zeon Occupation Forces have been deployed around the globe for a decisive, overwhelming, strike against the last vestiges of Federation resistance on the plane, but three-quarters of the Occupation Forces’ total strength is concentrated in central Asia, where ZIB has determined that most of the remaining Federation resistance forces have taken sanctuary. Since the early U.C. 0090s, the Earth Federation had concentrated the terrestrial base of its political, military, and economic strength in Asia and hence, it has become the focus of the Zeon Occupation Forces’ mass offensive.

    Aboard her Elmeth Gamma, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi fixes her gaze upon her mecha’s scanners, even as her mind seeks out the presence of her adversary…her nemesis, the White Phoenix. Before returning to space to serve her lord as his wife, Kyoko must bring victory over her lord’s enemies back to him.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “My spare normalsuit is a little too big for you,” Jolie tells little Amy Chu as she helps the 5th Grader into the protective garb, “It’ll be a little uncomfortable, but it’ll protect you from some of the dangers of riding in a mobile suit.”

    “It’s OK, Jolie,” Amy says, “It’s kind of cool. I haven’t worn a spacesuit before.”

    After much discussion with Jonah the previous evening, the couple has decided that as great as the potential risk is in taking Amy into a likely combat scenario with them, the risk is even greater leaving her alone in the mountains. There is a chance that none of the adults will return from this operation alive, and if they do somehow break through the enemy blockade, then the Federation units will make a run for the Chinese seaboard several thousand kilometers to the east.

    Without unduly frightening the little girl, Jolie and Jonah have explained the risks involved, and she has chosen to go with them into battle. Young as she is, the child has come to the conclusion that being left alive, but alone, would be a fate worse than perishing alongside her friends in combat.

    Such is the insanity of this war.

    The normalsuit secured as well as it can be on her, Amy allows Jolie to help her into the cockpit of the White Phoenix Gundam. The powerful battle mecha leaves the little girl gaping with understandable awe.

    “Wow…” Amy manages, wide-eyed.

    Jolie smiles, “That was my first reaction too. The White Phoenix Gundam is amazing, isn’t it?”

    Amy can only nod as Jolie straps the child into the engineering station seat.

    Jolie takes the opportunity to warn Amy, “Now you’ve got to be a good girl and not touch any of those devices you see on the console. Those instruments are very sensitive, and if you accidentally hit the wrong switch, we might crash. So you leave those controls alone unless I say otherwise, OK?”

    “OK, Jolie,” Amy replies.

    Captain Jonah Michaels passes by, en rout to his Centurion Gundam. He peeks his head into the cockpit of the WPG and offers Amy an encouraging smile, “Amy, you sit tight in there and listen to Jolie, OK? We’re going to do everything we can to get you home.”

    Amy nods.

    Jolie and Jonah share an embrace for luck. They are determined that this will be their final showdown with the enemy on Earth.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Thirty minutes later, the two Centurion Team mobile suits and those of their Desert Dogs allies are airborne, ready to meet the Zeon Forces they know lie ahead.

    “How's it going back there?” Jolie calls back to Amy.

    “I’m fine,” Amy says, then pauses for a moment before continuing, “Jolie, is it OK if I ask you a question?”

    “Go ahead,” Jolie says, keeping her eyes on her scopes even as she holds her conversation with the little girl.

    “Are you and Jonah really married?” Amy asks.

    Jolie is caught off-guard by the question, turning her head at a 90-degree angle to glance over her shoulder at Amy before replying, “Well, yeah…even though we aren’t, officially, yet. We just sort of agreed to it between ourselves. Why are you asking?”

    Amy says, “Because you and Jonah are so young. Married people are supposed to be older like my mom and dad. They’re about forty years old. But I think you guys are like in high school or something right?”

    Jolie smiles, “I just turned nineteen years old last month. I stopped going to school in 4th Grade, but yeah, if I had continued going to school, I would have graduated from high school last year. Jonah is twenty. He did graduate from high school two years ago and he should be in his second year of college now, but both of us are caught up in this war instead.”

    Amy grins in response, “When I grow up, I want to be a pilot like you guys.”

    Jolie sighs, “You might change your mind about that when you grow up. What we do isn’t always so cool. Jonah and I have had to kill people before, you know? It’s part of our job. We’re soldiers.”

    Amy says, “I don’t like killing people.”

    Jolie nods, “I’m not too crazy about the idea either. Sometimes, though, it can’t be helped. There’s just too much evil in the world.”

    The two girls continue the flight in silence. Jolie and Amy have given each other much to think about.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At the “Holy Sepulcher,” the last stronghold of the Earth Federation Government on the island of Taiwan, General Bright Noah receives a report from an excited intelligence officer, “General Noah, sir! Our intelligence units have determined that the Zeon Forces are massing for an attack in the Kunlun Mountains region!”

    “Which means they haven’t discovered our position here,” Bright says with some measure of satisfaction, “But what’s out there in that wasteland that’s got the Zeons’ attention?”

    The intelligence officer replies, “As best as our people can determine, a group of resistance fighters have been harassing the Zeon Occupation Forces out there for weeks. The Zeon are trying to stomp them out there in one big decisive blow.”

    Bright mulls that over, “If that resistance group can sap away enough of the occupation forces’ strength, maybe that’ll give us the chance we need…”

    In the three months that have passed since the Skyfall, General Noah has marshaled the remains of the Earth Federation Forces to utilize their resources to rebuild their forces as best they can. Their resources are very limited, but Bright’s forces do have at their disposal approximately forty combat-worthy mobile suits and twice that number of combat aircraft. That is but a pittance compared to the massive occupation force that the Zeon have dispatched to take control of the planet, but if they were to strike in a coordinated, well-planned way…

    Bright hedges on observing the results of the Zeon’s attack on the resistance fighters in the Kunlun region. The outcome of that struggle would likely determine his next course of action.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The JoMis and the Desert Dogs have grounded their mobile suits in a thick forest at the entrance to the Kunlun Pass. It is here that they will make their stand.

    Jolie sits in the darkened cockpit of the WPG; behind her in the engineering station seat, Amy closes her eyes, attempting to sleep.

    In the cockpit of the Centurion Gundam, Jonah steeples his artist’s fingers nervously, his mind reaching out.

    “They’re here,” the Centurion Team Leader whispers.

    The Federation resistance fighters take up combat positions. Cannon are swung skywards; targeting computers begin seeking out objectives.

    From beyond the horizon, they appear: a massive force of Zeon mobile suits and combat aircraft, overwhelming the pitiably small Federation resistance forces several dozenfold.

    Each of the Federation soldiers finds his or her skin drenched in perspiration. The anxiety of waiting is agonizing. It is an experience worse than fear.

    The word forms on Jonah’s lips, locking in their destiny, “STRIKE!”

    White Phoenix Gundam, Centurion Gundam, GM-II Desert Types, and a Guntank-III. One dozen Earth Federation Forces mobile suits against more than forty times that number of enemy Zeon mecha…hopeless.

    The way that heroes achieve the greatest of glories.

    The Federal Forces hurl thunder and lightning into the skies above the Chinese wastelands.


    Episode 38 to be continued...

  12. #312
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    Episode 38 continued...

    “We’re being fired upon,” reports the pilot aboard a Zeon AWAC, “enemy ground units!”

    General Mortorff rises from his command chair aboard the Gaw-III class assault aircraft Skystalker, “Saturate the area.”

    Zeon aircraft, hundreds of them, begin raining heavy explosive bombs down upon the Earth – an aerial bombing raid dwarfing the scope of similar operations during wars of centuries past.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In the cockpit of the WPG, Jolie and Amy brace themselves against the concussion of nearby explosions. Jolie keeps the WPG one step ahead of the descending bombs.

    “Jolie,” Amy cries tremulously, “I’m scared!”

    “Hang in there, kiddo,” Jolie replies calmly, “I won’t let these bombs nail us.”

    “Jolie,” Jonah’s voice comes through the tactical net, “Let’s get into the air.”

    “Roger, that,” Jolie replies, launching the WPG skyward.

    Jonah follows suit, rocketing the Centurion Gundam into the sky.

    Jonah opens communications to the Desert Dog units, “This is Michaels. All Desert Dog units, disperse. We’ll run as much interference as we can from the air. You guys keep on hitting them from below.”

    “Roger that, Captain,” MSgt. Tanaka replies.

    The White Phoenix Gundam switches to Wavediver configuration. In this aerodynamic mode, the WPG assaults the larger, slower, more cumbersome Gaw-III aircraft, lancing them out of the sky with precise shots from its multiple beam cannon.

    At the same time, the Centurion Gundam meets the Zeon ground mobile suit units head on, challenging them to melee combat with beam rifle, beam saber, Vulcan cannon, and armored shield.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At Cosmic Alexandria, Archduke Alexander Miguel receives a communiqué from General Mortoroff.

    “We’ve initiated contact with the enemy,” Mortoroff reports to the Zeon leader, “I expect that we will be able to declare the success of our mission within the hour.”

    “Avoid haste,” Miguel says casually to his subordinate, “Be thorough rather than quick.”

    “Yes, my lord,” Mortoroff salutes.

    Miguel leans back in his seat, contemplating the battle. It seems unlikely that anything could go wrong at this point…Motoroff is among the finest commanders in the Zeon Forces, and he is more than well-equipped to accomplish this mission.

    And of course, Kyoko is present to ensure the success of the mission.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Across the Chinese sky, White Phoenix and Black Raven exchange thunderous volumes of beam rifle fire. The White Phoenix Gundam and the Elmeth Gamma create a white and black whirlwind of pure combat…the upper hand shifting between them dozens of times per second. The margin between life and death is measured in millimeters and microseconds.

    A flashing signal on Jolie’s monitor screen indicates an engine failure on one of the starboard side stabilization thrust nozzles, causing the WPG to overcorrect in its defensive rolls.

    Damn it, Jolie realizes, That quick fix with the coffee machine binding ring isn’t holding up!

    “Amy?” Jolie calls back to the little girl seated behind her.

    “Jolie,” Amy answers.

    “I need a little help, kiddo,” Jolie grates as she struggles to dodge the WPG out of the Elmeth Gamma’s field of fire, “Could you type in the letters ‘RNRST’ for me?”

    “Yeah, sure I can!” Amy answers, fingers flying to the keyboard, “Just like IMing with my friends back at home!”

    “Just like it,” Jolie says, with a grin.

    The little girl types in the letters deftly, “R-N-R-S-T.”

    The right thruster nozzle of the WPG flares to life as Jolie throttles the thrust output level into overdrive.

    Jolie is about to launch a counterstrike against the Elmeth Gamma, but is preempted by the arrival of Jonah’s Centurion Gundam, which strafes the transformable mobile armor with beam rifle and Vulcan cannon fire that forces the enemy mecha to fall back momentarily.

    “Looks like you damsels in distress could use a knight in shining armor,” Jonah says.

    “We girls can take care of ourselves,” Jolie replies lightly, “but since you were so kind, why not stay for our party?”

    “Roger that,” Jonah replies with gusto, “First, some fireworks to keep our guests entertained?”

    “Showtime,” Jolie affirms.

    The WPG and the Centurion Gundam unload a heavy torrent of missiles at the Elmeth Gamma and other Zeon mobile suit units. Numerous Zeon units are destroyed by the salvo, but the Elmeth Gamma remains untouched. Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi’s unit is, however, forced to momentarily retreat…

    “Initiating Psi-Gundam docking procedure,” Jonah intones.

    “Docking procedure Stage 1 engaged,” Jolie confirms, “Energy output at 120%. Standby for linkup.”

    Gears and servos turn on both Gundam units. The White Phoenix Gundam converts into a configuration that is neither its anthropomorphic MS mode nor its aerodynamic Wavediver form, but instead form that wraps itself around the Centurion Gundam like an extra suit of armor.

    The PSI-Gundam’s eyes flash and burn a bright green.

    “Psi-Gundam combat mode engaged,” Jonah confirms.

    “All right!” Jolie enthuses, “Now take this!”

    The Psi-Gundam draws out its beam whip, which lances out to singe the armor of the Elmeth Gamma.

    Inside the cockpit of the Elmeth Gamma, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi is shaken as sparks fly momentarily from her mecha’s instrument panel.

    Kyoko clenches her teeth in rage, “You insolent Earthist dogs! You think that you can defeat me?!”

    The Elmeth Gamma deploys dozens of Psychom Funnels that swarm after the Psi-Gundam.

    Jolie and Jonah respond by deploying the Psi-Gundam’s own Psychom Funnel units…a storm of concentrated kinetic Minovsky particle energy rends through the sky, flashing like Jovian thunderbolts.

    Jolie turns to Amy, “Still think this is fun?”

    Amy says nothing, too stunned to think, let alone speak.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    On the ground, the Desert Dogs have sustained grievous losses. Of the twelve mobile suit units, only five, including MSgt. Tanaka’s Guntank-III, remain.

    “Withdraw to the south!” Tanaka orders, ignoring the pain of his singed and shrapnel-gored right arm, “Towards that installation we found!”

    The remaining Desert Dogs obey, withdrawing from the battlefield, rushing south.

    MSgt. Tanaka engages the Guntank-III’s Core Fighter ejection system. The top half of the Guntank disengages, revealing the fighter aircraft hidden within. With the flip of a few switches, Tanaka takes the fighter aircraft into the sky.

    Tanaka takes the control stick in the hand of his uninjured left arm, struggling to keep the aircraft aloft.

    Tanaka hits turbo thrusters; the Core Fighter streaks southward.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “General Mortoroff,” a bridge tech aboard the Skystalker reports, “Enemy units are retreating.”

    “Follow them,” Mortoroff says, “They’re likely heading back towards their base of operations. This is our opportunity to root them out and destroy what remains of their ability to resist us.”

    The Zeon Occupation Forces head southward in pursuit of the dwindling, fleeing Federation Forces.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Jonah notes the movement of the Desert Dog units southwards.

    “MSgt. Tanaka,” Jonah says into the tactical network, “Where are you going?!”

    “Captain Michaels,” Tanaka replies, “The boys and I are trying to lead the enemy towards the installation we found. We’re gonna use those nukes against them.”

    “The hell you are,” Jolie interjects, “You guys are gonna get killed trying that!”

    “Yeah, well,” Tanaka replies, “This is war. Sacrifices are expected.”

    “MSgt.,” Jonah says, “We’re not letting you get yourself or your men killed. I’m ordering you withdraw back into the mountains. Do you understand me? This is a direct order! Withdraw to our mountain base camp now and await further orders!”

    Tanaka does not acknowledge.

    “MSgt. Tanaka,” Jonah tries again, “Do you hear me?! I’m ordering you and the Dogs to…”

    “Captain,” Tanaka’s voice comes through the tactical net, “Sir, my men and I have been honored to fight by your and 1Lt. Minh’s side. You two are fine soldiers…and fine young people. The world’s gonna need more people like you two.”

    “Tanaka…,” Jonah says helplessly.

    Tanaka’s voice is tranquil, resigned when he speaks again, “We’re just a pack of old dogs, and our den has been scorched, flooded, and poisoned by these Zeke bastards. As f*cked up as this planet is, it's still our den. We’re gonna go down making sure these Zekes don’t lay their dirty, stinking hands on it.”

    “Sergeant, don’t!” Jolie pleads.

    “This is goodbye, Captain, Lieutenant,” Tanaka says, “You guys…you have to take care of that little girl. People like her and like you: you’re the future of this world. Maybe someday, you can make it a world where the sky is clean and blue again…where kids can play and go to school and not have to worry about the sky falling on them. That’s what we’re doing it for.”

    Jolie, Jonah, and Amy are all in tears; as loath as they are to acknowledge it, they know that the brave master sergeant is right, and that there is no turning him away from his destiny.

    Jonah salutes, a heavy lump in his throat as he whispers, “Godspeed, MSgt. Tanaka. And thank you…for everything.”

    The last two of the Desert Dog units fall as they are stricken by beam fire from the pursuing Zeon mobile suit units.

    “Go ahead, boys,” Tanaka says to his fallen comrades, “I’ll be joining ya’ll in just a minute. Just gotta finish up our business here…”

    Tanaka sees the massed Zeon Occupation Forces bearing down behind him, well within the kill zone.

    One last time, Tanaka extracts the locket containing the photograph of himself and his family, “Maddie…l’il Richie…Daddy’s coming home…”

    The Core Fighter plows into the entrance of the underground installation.

    Episode 38 to be continued...

  13. #313
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    Thanks for sharing.

  14. #314
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    Episode 38 continued...

    General Motoroff receives from disturbing news from his bridge tech.

    “Sir,” the tech says nervously, “I’m detecting a massive surge of thermal energy coming from beneath the ground.”

    “Is it volcanic?” Mortoroff asks.

    “Negative, sir,” the tech replies, “It…SIR!!!”

    Pure hellfire erupts from beneath the Earth’s surface, as if Satan himself has awakened after a long sleep of eons, angered and prepared to vent his rage upon the inhabitants of the earth and the heavens.

    The wave of destructive heat and concussion radiates upward and outward, flattening and igniting forests, leveling hills, and incinerating Zeon war machines by the hundreds…aircraft, ground assault vehicles, mobile suits…their reinforced titanium armor is no match for forces that divide molecules into atoms.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “MSGT. TANAKA!!!” Jolie and Jonah scream simultaneously even as they convert the Psi-Gundam to Wavebooster configuration and vector away at multi-mach speed from the wave of annihilation speding towards them.

    Aboard her Elmeth Gamma, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi also sees the destructive heat and concussion wave coming, and converts to mobile armor mode, hitting maximum thrust to stay ahead of the destructive energy.

    The all-consuming shockwave continues to expand…10 kilometers, 20 kilometers, 30…until finally petering out at a radius of 45 kilometers.

    Once again, the surface of the Earth has been scarred by a gaping, smoking, radioactive crater…

    From her damaged Elmeth Gamma, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi calls out to the half dozen or so remaining Phobos Division mobile suits under her command, “Withdraw! To the mountains in the north!”

    An army that numbered into the thousands mere moments ago, now reduced to a mere six or seven, soars north of the towering mushroom cloud looming over the Chinese wilderness.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Twenty minutes later, and more than 100 kilometers away, Jolie, Jonah, and Amy have disembarked from their mobile suits, but continue to wear their normalsuits, helmets sealed against potential radiation hazard.

    All three youths look towards the smoldering mushroom cloud in the distance with tears in their eyes, silent with shock and grief.

    Jolie, Jonah, and even little Amy offer a final salute to their fallen comrades, MSgt. Cunningham Tanaka and the Desert Dogs.

    It is Jonah who speaks for them, “Rest well, my comrades. You were the bravest, most noble men we’ve ever known, and we were proud to serve alongside you. Please rest assured that we will defeat the Zeon and bring peace, freedom, and justice back to this world. Your courageous sacrifice will not have been in vain.”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At Cosmic Alexandria, Archduke Alexander Miguel receives word that a massive nuclear explosion from beneath the Earth’s surface has apparently destroyed nearly the entire Zeon Occupation Army.

    Miguel receives the news with eerie calm, but his frustration…and worry, are palpable. The first words from the Archduke’s lips are, “Lt. Col. Yamaguchi…?”

    “We’ve received contact from Lt. Col. Yamaguchi,” General Ross Davenport says, “she and seven units of the Phobos Division survived and have made contact.”

    Alexander breathes a sigh of relief, “Send a transport ship to the Earth’s surface immediately to bring Kyoko home.”

    “Yes, sir,” General Davenport says.

    An aide rushes in, whispering something into Davenport’s ear that causes the senior Zeon officer to blanch.

    “Your Highness,” Davenport whispers grimly.

    “What is it Ross?” Miguel says, his teeth clenched.

    Davenport says after a moment’s grim silence, “I just received word from Vice Admiral Karlitz in Mars orbit. I’m afraid I’ve got more bad news…”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Psi-Gundam soars eastward, unopposed by enemy forces. Two hours after departing from the Xian region, the Psi-Gundam closes in on the former Federation capital city of Shanghai, China.

    Jolie, Jonah, and Amy are stunned by the devastation they witness. The once great metropolis is an ash-covered ghost town, with few of its buildings standing.

    “Devastating,” Jonah exhales.

    Little Amy begins to cry, “Jolie…Jonah…my parents… are they?”

    “We don’t know that, honey,” Jonah says reassuringly, “We know that some of Shanghai’s people were evacuated before this happened. There’s still a chance. Don’t give up hope.”

    “Jonah,” Jolie says, “I’m receiving a communications signal…Federation frequency!”

    Jonah has picked it up too, “This is Captain Jonah Michaels…Centurion Team. Please acknowledge.”

    After a moment of maddening static, Jolie and Jonah can hardly believe their ears as a girlish, familiar voice comes through their communications receivers.

    “Centurion Three to Centurion Leader…Jonah…Jolie, is that you guys?” comes the voice of 2Lt. Chieming Noah.

    “CHIBI!!!” Jolie yells, unable to contain her joy!

    Jonah smiles broadly as he replies, “Roger, Centurion Three. Centurion Leader and Centurion Two are here.”

    Jolie and Jonah hear spontaneous whoops of joy on the tactical net; they recognize the voices as those of their teammates on the Centurion Team…MSgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said, SSgt. Tomo Higashi, Cpl. Anna Horowitz, Cpl. Geoff Sutcliffe…

    The Centurion Team is reunited at long last.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    An hour later, the newly reunited Centurion Team has landed at the Holy Sepulcher in Taiwan.

    Jolie and Jonah are recipients of tearful, elated embraces from their teammates, who had long believed their two officers to have perished.

    General Bright Noah arrives aboard a military jeep with an escort. Jolie and Jonah salute to the Commander in Chief of the Earth Federation Forces.

    Jonah salutes smartly, “General Noah. Captain Jonah Michaels and 1Lt. Jolie Minh reporting, sir!”

    Bright returns the salute and offers warm embraces to Jonah and Jolie, “Welcome back, Captain…Lieutenant. We were afraid we’d lost you both forever. It’s so good to have you both back.”

    From one of the other jeeps, a middle-aged Chinese couple steps forward, summoned by President Brenner herself after word was received from Centurion Leader and Centurion Two that they had brought a little civilian girl named "Amy Chu" back with them - a girl whose parents were Mr. and Mrs. Feng and Lan Chu, administrative employees of the Earth Federation Government.

    Little Amy looks at them and her eyes widen in disbelief.

    Tears flow from the child’s eyes, and her mouth opens in a wide smile as she cries out, “MOMMY! DADDY!”

    The couple rushes towards their child, sobbing with uncontainable joy, “Ah-Mei…Amy?! Oh, thank God!”

    “Mommy! Daddy!” Amy cries as she rushes into her parents’ arms.

    A miraculous moment…a rare moment of joy and triumph in a war that has brought so much suffering and misery.

    Jolie gazes at the reunited family, who are bursting with love and joy. Jolie smiles as relieved, happy tears run down her cheeks…of all the victories she has won in battle, none has been as sweet as this.

    Jonah puts an arm lovingly around Jolie and holds her close, kissing her gently. He too, cannot hold back his tears as he smiles broadly at the reunited Chu family.

    Amy says something to her parents and indicates Jolie and Jonah. Mr. and Mrs. Chu…father Feng and mother Lan, warmly embrace the two young Centurion Team officers with infinite gratitude.

    “Thank God for you,” Mrs. Chu says to Jolie, all but bowing before the young woman, “Bless you two angels for saving our daughter.”

    Jolie is about to make a humble reply to Mrs. Lan Chu, but before she can think of what to say, the group is interrupted by the arrival of a breathless aide to General Noah.

    “What is it, Lieutenant Stevens?” Bright asked, concerned.

    Stevens has a fiery look in his eye and a twisted grin on his face as he reports, “Sir! Surprising news from Mars! A massive explosion on the Martian surface has taken down a third of the Zeon space armada!”

    Jolie and Jonah look at each other with the same thought…Athena!

    To be continued in Episode 39!

  15. #315
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    EPISODE 39: WRATH OF THE WAR GODDESS

    Author’s Note: The events of Episodes 38 and 39 occur concurrently, and the storylines depicted in both episodes end at a common point.


    The Jupitorius Space Colonies, late October, U.C. 0100…

    The E.F.S.S. Amuro Ray, rearmed, restocked, and refurbished at the Shambala Defense Fleet’s main dockyards amidst the asteroids of Jupiter’s rings, is running through departure procedures. The ship leaves early the following morning to rendezvous with a joint Earth Federation Forces/Shambala Defense Guard armada operating out of Ceres Base, where the united Federation and the Shambala forces recently succeeded in repelling the Archduchy of Zeon Forces that had occupied the fortress for two months.

    An important operation will take place on the surface of Mars – the defense of industrial bulwarks vital to the Shambala Republic’s future, and determined by the Shambala Intelligence Ministry to have been targeted for destruction by the Zeon. Time is of the essence, as the Zeon forces dispatched from Earth are expected to arrive in Marspace within ten days.

    A shuttle bears Captain Beecher Olech of the Earth Federation Forces from his home in the Jupitorius Colonies to his command ship. Accompanying Captain Beecher is his wife, Elle Viano-Olech and their daughter, Athena Elle Olech, just over a year old.

    “Goo ga goo ga!” Captain Beecher utters, making comical faces to the delight of his infant daughter.

    Elle smiles, “Maybe you shouldn’t, Beecher. It’s sort of unbecoming for an Earth Federation Forces officer…a space cruiser captain, no less, to be making silly noises and silly faces!”

    Beecher smiles at his daughter and gently fingers her delicate little nose as he replies, “Don’t sweat it, babe. I’m gonna have to be serious, grim ol’ Captain Beecher soon enough. I think I’m entitled to be little ‘Thena’s silly daddy for a few more minutes.”

    Elle becomes serious, “Beecher, what’s going to happen? Are we going to win this war?”

    “Nobody can say for sure,” Beecher says soberly, even has he cradles little Athena gently in his arms, “but I have a lot of faith in Minerva. When she served with me during the war against the Zeon Confederation, I never knew her judgment to ever be wrong. If anybody can lead us to victory, it’s Minerva.”

    “It’s still so risky, though,” Elle says worriedly, “No matter how great a plan you go in with, war is so unpredictable. And every time you go into combat, I…”

    Elle does not finish – her thoughts being too terrible to give utterance to.

    Beecher places a comforting arm around Elle, “Look, stop worrying: I’m gonna be fine. Judau, Lu, Eno, Mondo, and Camille are all going to be part of this operation too. There’s nothing they can’t handle. We’re gonna be all right, I tell you. I’m not gonna make a widow of you, Elle.”

    “Promise?” Elle pursues, her eyes watering.

    “Promise,” Beecher says, taking her into his arms.

    Even as he holds his wife closely to him, Captain Beecher Olech can only wonder if keeping that promise is entirely his decision to make.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    From Ceres Base, a United Forces (Earth Federation and Shambala Republic) fleet prepares to deploy for Mars orbit: heading the fleet is a newly delivered space battlecarrier, the Ahrgama-III, commanded by Captain Mark Crane, former crewman of the White Base during the One Year War.

    The bridge of the mighty warship, third-generation descendant of the AEUG’s flagship during the Gryps Conflict and the first phase of the Neo Zeon War, buzzes with activity as the ship makes its way out of spacedock.

    “Engine room reports maximal turbine capacity,” a bridge tech intones, “energy output now at 100%.”

    “Airlocks sealed and pressurized,” reports a second bridge tech, “all personnel in position for spacedock departure.”

    “Engage primary and secondary thrusters,” orders Captain Crane.

    “Roger, sir,” the bridge techs report.

    Also on the bridge of the ship are Executive Director of Operations Minerva Zabi and Intelligence Director Hathaway Noah. Although strictly speaking, they are leaders in the civilian government of the Shambala Republic, Minerva and Hathaway’s previous combat experience has led Prime Minister Artasia Daikun to assign Minerva as operational commander of the Shambala Republic Defense Guard. All United Forces officers, including generals and admirals of the Earth Federation Forces, are subordinate to Minerva for at least the duration of this mission.

    Minerva bites down nervously on fingernails enveloped within the gloves of her scarlet normalsuit. Her nerves could certainly use a cigarette right now, but Minerva has been a military officer long enough to know the hazards and improprieties of smoking on the bridge of a warship…particularly one that is leaving spacedock.

    Hathaway puts a comforting hand on Minerva’s shoulder, the presence of other personnel on the bridge inhibiting him from a more exhibitive display of his concern and affection, “Nervous?”

    “Yes,” Minerva replies candidly, “I can’t help but consider the consequences for so many people if we fail.”

    “We’re not going to fail,” Hathaway says reassuringly, “not with you in charge.”

    Minerva smirks, “I’m only human, Hathaway. God knows I’ve made many mistakes in the past.”

    “Never when it mattered, though,” Hathaway counters, “and those who follow you see you as more than human: to them, you’re their war goddess. Pallas Athena.”

    Minerva sighs, “If only reality were as predictable as mythology, and besides,” Minerva continues with a sly glance in Hathaway’s direction, “Athena Parthenos was a virgin goddess.”

    That brings a chuckle out of Hathaway as he tickles her chin with his finger, “Fortunately, we’ve debunked that part of the myth.”

    Hathaway is about to engage Minerva in a kiss, but she pushes him away gently and whispers, “Hey, we’re on the bridge of a warship at the beginning of a major campaign; let’s show a little decorum and discipline here. We don’t want to set a bad example.”

    “True,” Hathaway says, taking a half step back and attempting to look attentive and serious, “This good enough?”

    Minerva covers her laugh with her gloved hand, “Not nearly, but I’ll take it.”

    “Glad you’re feeling better,” Hathaway says earnestly.

    Minerva sighs again, “Let’s see how I feel after the Mars operation goes down.”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Admiral Rondo Buchard, commanding officer of the 86th Zeon Mechanized Fleet, has been given command of a task force of 300 capital vessels, 2,500 space fighter craft, and 1,300 mobile suits and mobile armors. This task force represents a third of the Zeon Armada, and has been organized by Archduke Miguel for dual purposes: 1. the complete eradication of Earth Federation and Shambala Republic resistance in the Outer System and 2. subjugation of the outlying space colonies in Martian and Jovian orbits to the control of the Zeon Empire. The Archduke has instructed Admiral Buchard to use any and all means deemed necessary towards accomplishing these goals: maximum brutality has not only been authorized, but strongly encouraged by the Archduke.

    In the Archduke’s own words, “Return to Cosmic Alexandria with an empty arsenal, or do not return at all.”

    And what an arsenal it is, loaded not only with the usual beam cannon and heavy explosive missiles, but also toxic gas canisters and viral bioweapons. “Rewards,” as Archduke Miguel characterized them, for those who demonstrated enough mettle to resist.

    The Zeon fleet’s first objective is Mars, mineral base for the Outlying Colonies. Once, the ore mines of Mars supplied the backbone of the Phobos Zeon Forces’ military might, and were Alexander Miguel’s most valued asset. Miguel temporarily sacrificed control over the mines of Mars to maneuver his enemies against one another, but that objective now long met, he seeks to take this valuable resource back into his possession.

    Thus, those who occupy it, who seek to benefit from it and turn its ores into weapons of war that could be leveled against him, must be crushed like the vermin they are in the Archduke’s ennobled eyes.

    Admiral Buchard’s fleet bears down upon Mars; their ETA to Martian orbit is approximately forty hours. Surely, their enemies…the so-called “United Forces” of the Earth Federation and Shambala Republic, are aware of the Zeon fleet’s advance towards the Red Planet.

    For all the good it will do them…

    Episode 39 to be continued...

  16. #316
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Batman View Post
    EPISODE 39: WRATH OF THE WAR GODDESS
    “Athena Parthenos was a virgin goddess.”
    Ever since you made a blunder on Elizabeth 1 of England, The Virgin Queen, glad your Greek Mythology right, Bat. Urgh....! already read this chapter at fanfiction the last time!

    PM you later.... heh, much much much later...

  17. #317
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sheraldine View Post
    Ever since you made a blunder on Elizabeth 1 of England, The Virgin Queen, glad your Greek Mythology right, Bat.
    Any time I use anything that obscure, I do the research first.

    Urgh....! already read this chapter at fanfiction the last time!
    The story is already posted up to Episode 46 at FanFiction.net

  18. #318
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    Episode 39 continued...

    On the surface of Mars’ Western Hemisphere, industrial crews working under the joint corporate aegis of Anaheim Enterprises, the Kuromizu Corporation, and the Luo Company…an unholy troika of soulless greed that, nonetheless, will do its part in providing the industrial background of the resistance against Zeon. Greed, after all, feeds vampirically upon conflict and strife, and conflict is impossible under singular, totalitarian rule. The nationalization of their assets by Zeon is definitely not in the interest of profits for Anaheim, Kuromizu, and Luo, so they are willing to stand against the Miguel regime, in the name of profit.

    Genocide vs. Profiteering – choosing between the lesser of evils. Such a universe.

    At present, the industrial machines of the unholy troika are being pushed to the limit…digging into the Martian soil, erecting yet other machines that will swallow the Red Planet’s precious ores so that they can be used to build the materials for living…and dying, in space.

    Or so it seems…

    The mining sites are heavily guarded by United Forces mobile suits, most of which are registered to the Shambala Republic Defense Guard (the Earth Federation Forces have traditionally had very little presence in the Mars Zone). They await the arrival of their enemy in an apparently defensive position.

    A cargo ship arrives on the Martian surface, as they do routinely, at least a half dozen times per day, delivering the scores of supplies necessary to facilitate the process of reaching the rich ore deposits deep within Mars’ substrata.

    This ship, however, the Mapother, bears a different kind of cargo, though meticulously disguised to appear as nothing out of the ordinary. The Mapother’s cargo, quite apart from the norm, consists of implements not of construction, but of destruction.

    The newly arrived cargo is unloaded from the Mapother with a sort of routine casualness that belies its grim, all-important purpose. The cargo is distributed onto over a dozen flatbed trucks, and then driven to various pre-designated locations across the Western Hemisphere, to be taken by hydraulic lift systems deep into the newly excavated mining tunnels.

    Buried deep beneath the angry red planet named after the Greco-Roman god of war, who by the grace of one given the name of his half-sister will drink deeply of the libation of blood to be spilled upon the face of the world given his name, are instruments designed not to excavate stones, but incinerate them. Today, the miners bore into the flesh of Mars not for mineral ore, but to plant steel seeds that will blossom most terribly into flowers of fire…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At the Woodhaven Colony at Jupitorius, Shambala Republic Prime Minister Artasia Daikun and Earth Federation Government Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah, confer on present and future plans. There is tension between the two friends, arising not from one another, but from the tremendous responsibility that has been placed into their hands. Twenty-years earlier, as crewwomen aboard the E.F.S.S. White Base, Artasia (then known as Sayla Mass) and Mirai had felt the pressure of being responsible for the lives of the hundreds of fellow crew members aboard the legendary Federation warship. At times, the two women had felt that the pressure was more than they could bear…particularly during such moments when Captain Bright Noah (now General Bright Noah, Supreme Commander of the Earth Federation Forces and Mirai’s husband of nearly twenty years) fell ill and Mirai needed to take temporary command of the ship as it crossed the Zeon lines of the Taklimakan Desert on Earth…or when Artasia filled in as temporary Gundam pilot in lieu of Amuro Ray while Amuro served time aboard the ship’s brig for desertion and insubordination.

    Such pressures now seem trivial by comparison as Artasia and Mirai carry forth with plans that will affect tens of billions of lives on Earth and across its star system.

    Direct communications between Earth and the Outer System have been completely severed by the Archduchy of Zeon Forces. Hence, the leaders of the Earth Federation Government had sent Senator Noah as their envoy to the Shambala Republic – to ask the Republic for its assistance in resisting the Zeon. To facilitate this process, the Federation has vested Senator Noah with emergency executive powers to make any and all treaty agreements and military alliances with the Shambala Republic on behalf of the Earth Federation Government…an extraordinary measure for extraordinary circumstances, and one that has placed a great burden of responsibility upon Mirai’s shoulders, but one that she bears with grace; she is a stronger woman than she was twenty years ago.

    Helping matters is that Mirai has complete trust in her partner in these developments, Dr. Artasia Daikun.

    “If we’re successful with the Mars operation, then Minerva’s plan calls for our United Forces to advance quickly into Cislunar Space for a counterattack,” Artasia says, “Hopefully, Bright will be able to deploy some forces from Earth so that we can have a two-pronged attack against the Zeon and outflank them.”

    Mirai sighs, “Really hard to be sure about that, Sayla. When I left Earth, there wasn’t much left of the terrestrial forces. The Skyfall attack by the Zeon Forces left everything in disarray. There were vast losses of personnel, equipment, weaponry, and infrastructure. It’s doubtful that much recovery has taken place on the planet since I left several weeks ago.”

    Artasia recognizes the tone of a worried wife and mother in Mirai’s voice, and places a comforting hand on the Federation senator’s shoulder, “I understand. You’re worried about Bright and Chieming. The smoother our operation turns out, the sooner we’ll be able to help them.”

    Mirai nods, “That much is understood. Sayla…”

    “Mirai?” Sayla replies tentatively, sensing a momentous turn in the conversation.

    “Sayla,” Mirai begins again, “The Earth Federation. It’ll never be the same after what’s happened. The Earth itself will never be the same. Sayla…if we succeed in defeating Zeon, the Shambala Republic will represent the hope of humanity’s future. Can we…can we rely on your help in rebuilding the Earth?”

    Artasia smiles warmly, “My father always believed that although humanity’s destiny lay among the stars, humankind should never forget its roots upon the Earth. Father loved our home world, and that’s one of the reasons why he encouraged humanity to migrate into space. Our exploitation of the planet had left it exhausted…like a mother who has struggled to raise her children. Our responsibility, as adults, is to take care of ourselves…and our aging, ailing mother. The Zeon twisted my father’s ideals, taking his name to act upon their greed and malice. That ends when Alexander Miguel falls. After that, Mirai, yes…the people of Shambala will extend a helping hand of friendship to our brothers and sisters upon the Earth. We will work together with the Earth Federation to make the planet beautiful and whole again, no matter how difficult the task…no matter how long it takes.”

    Mirai takes Artasia’s hand in her own and smiles, “Thank you, Sayla. Just like during our days on the White Base, I know that I can count on you.”

    Artasia says, “Whatever our plans might be, we’re depending on the success of Minerva’s plans now. Both of us have been soldiers, but neither of us are tactical geniuses. Minerva is. It’s in her Zabi blood.”

    Mirai asks Artasia, “Does that worry you…her Zabi blood?”

    Artasia cannot help but grin, “I seem to remember asking you a similar question not long ago.”

    Mirai returns the grin, “I answered your question; answer mine. Her grandfather murdered your father. Her father nearly killed all of us during the One Year War. Doesn’t that ever cross your mind?”

    “All the time,” Artasia admits, “Maybe I should hate Degin Zabi for murdering my father. Maybe I should hate Giren Zabi for murdering so many in my father’s name. But I’ve never been able to. I think my brother did enough hating for both of us.”

    Char…

    “But…” Artasia continues poignantly, “I have no reason to hate Minerva. She is as much a victim of the Zabis as any of us were…even though she is a Zabi herself.”

    Mirai nods, “She’s not like her grandfather and father. She has no malice in her that I can sense.”

    “No malice…no,” Artasia agrees, but then demurs, “but just as capable of being ruthless, when needed…and that’s why I needed to recruit her.”

    Mirai’s eyes gleam with understanding, “To do the things that you need to do, but can’t.”

    Artasia sighs, “I’ve always been something of a bleeding heart. I give the Shambala Republic its conscience, perhaps, and that’s not unimportant, but until I was able to persuade Minerva to join me, I didn’t have anyone to serve as its fist of arrows in times when war was unavoidable. Fortunately, Minerva is one Zabi who doesn’t believe in gratuitous brutality as a workable doctrine.”

    Mirai folds her hands together thoughtfully, “Strategic application of force…the goddess Minerva of Antiquity?”

    “As your daughter-in-law,” Artasia teases playfully, “Tell me the idea doesn’t make you tingle a bit, Mirai.”

    Mirai smiles, “My entire family has been defined by war, on one level or another. Without war, this family of mine wouldn’t even have started.”

    “You must all be ready to give peace a chance,” Artasia observes, “to quote the great John Lennon.”

    Mirai nods, “Not just my family, but yours…all the world’s families.”

    The two friends settle down to the business of building bridges to peace, even as their charges prepare for more acts of war.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Amuro Ray and its escort fleet have rendezvoused with the Ahrgama-III and the United Forces armada just beyond the far side (Earth-relative) of Martian orbit. Final preparations are made for a third of the United Forces’ armada to land on the Western Hemisphere of Mars.

    Captain Beecher is among the fleet commanders who have gathered aboard the Ahrgama-III, which has been designated as the flagship for the United Forces armada. Beecher cannot help but gaze nostalgically around the environs of the ship’s decks. The original Ahrgama, after all, had been the vessel aboard which Beecher had begun his life of adventure, and the first Ahrgama’s immediate successor, the Nahl Ahrgama, became Beecher’s first command through a series of bizarre twists of fate never to be repeated and too implausible to believe.

    Bizarre twists of fate indeed, for the same young girl against whose armies Beecher and his allies fought in that war more than a decade ago is now the young woman under whose command they will fight against the successors of those enemy Zeon armies. This war has seen the lines between allies and foes blurred, erased, and rewritten numerous times.

    Gathered in a conference room aboard the Ahrgama-III are Shambala Republic Executive Director of Operations Minerva Zabi, Intelligence Director Hathaway Noah, Dr. Camille Vidan and President Mallon E. Carbine of Anaheim Enterprises, President Stephanie Luo of the Luo Company, President Akira Kanazawa of the Kuromizu Corporation, Admiral Shane McBride of the Earth Federation Ceres Command Armada, Judau and Lu Ashta of the Jupitorius Defense Force, and Captain Beecher.

    Beecher sidles up to his old friends Judau and Lu, with whom he shares a bond of comradeship forged over years. Their unity is but a part of a greater unity that now fills the conference room…a confluence of Earth Federation, Zeon, A.E.U.G., and Shambala Republic personnel that, until recently, had been unthinkable.

    “I’m concerned about the fact that we have only one trigger mechanism for the weapon system,” Minerva says tactfully, but insistently, “The enemy need only to destroy the location of the trigger and our plan becomes worthless. Those weapons are designed to detonate only upon receipt of a coded electronic signal; they cannot be detonated by mere impact.”

    Hathaway addresses the cause of that problem, “The weapons themselves and their trigger mechanisms were stored in separate cargo ships when we…liberated them from the Federation/Zeon Alliance control. Since then, we’ve had to move the weapons cache from location to location to avoid their being discovered and recovered by the enemy. According to Dory Ischinda, our personnel had a close call in the Asteroid Belt just one week after we acquired the weapons. Our forces were able to transport the weapons to safety intact, but the trigger mechanisms were lost. Fortunately, Dr. Vidan was able to reverse engineer the trigger mechanism and install it aboard the Amuro Ray.”

    “That’s why I came late for the rendezvous,” Captain Beecher fills in, “Installing the trigger mechanism took some time.”

    Minerva turns to Camille, “Dr. Vidan: how much time would it take you to construct a second trigger mechanism?”

    “At least twenty-four hours,” Camille replies, “Now that I’ve done it once, it’ll be easier the second time, but it’s still an extremely complex and delicate procedure.”

    “We’ll need it,” Minerva says, “Redundancy might be the key to success; please begin work on it right away, and when it’s functional, install it onto the Kizi Aslan.”

    “Will do,” Camille answers with a nod.

    “Ladies and gentlemen,” Minerva continues, “The outcome of this campaign will set the course for the war ahead. The nature of the plan, however, yields the likelihood that casualties will be high. I trust that you’ve prepared your personnel for that.”

    The Shambala Republic Defense Guard and Earth Federation Forces commanders solemnly nod. Beecher bites back some guilt and regret that he hadn’t told Elle just how dangerous this mission would be.

    The conference ends, and the United Forces commanders return to their duty stations to clarify the details of the plan with the rank and file of their subordinates.

    Episode 39 to be continued...

  19. #319
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 39 continued...

    Aboard his flagship Leviathan, Admiral Buchard is in communications with Archduke Alexander Miguel.

    “Our forces have reviewed and simulated the assault campaign in triplicate, Your Majesty,” reports Buchard, “Our blitzkrieg attack will lay waste the Shambala Republic’s mineral supply base, leaving the Outer System at our mercy.”

    The Archduke of Zeon amends, “Butcher their forces if you must, Admiral, but try to leave as much of the mining infrastructure as possible intact. Eventually, we will need those resources.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty,” Buchard replies dutifully.

    “Buchard,” the Archduke continues emphatically, “I want you to accelerate the timetable for the operation.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty,” Buchard says once again.

    “We cannot allow the enemy time to marshal their forces at Mars,” the Archduke explains, “Intelligence reports that a large combined fleet of Shambala Republic militia elements and Federation survivors from Ceres Base has convened near Mars; they know we’re coming. We must assume that the advantage of surprise is no longer ours, but the surprise of speed might still be if you and your personnel act accordingly.”

    “It will be done, Your Majesty,” Buchard vows with a chest salute.

    “Burn and bury the enemy on Mars, Buchard,” Archduke Miguel says darkly, ending the communication, the coda of “or do not return,” left unspoken, but understood by Buchard.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “I’m afraid this is the best I was able to do with our limited resources and time,” Dr. Camille Vidan explains apologetically to Minerva Zabi even as he works with the Executive Director of Operations for the Shambala Republic in installing a remote nuclear detonator device to her mobile suit, the transformable Kizi Aslan, “This detonator is functional only within 300 meters of the primary warhead. If we had the time and the materials, I could extend that range a thousandfold to match that of the Amuro Ray, but…”

    “You did the best you could, Camille,” Minerva says, “how much lead time is there between ignition and detonation?”

    “One-hundred and eighty seconds,” Camille replies, “the blast radius of the sequential detonations will reach approximately 60 km from ground zero.”

    Minerva does a quick calculation in her head, then radios Admiral Shane McBride of the Earth Federation Forces, “Admiral McBride: Minerva Zabi here. Do you have any M-Booster packs in your arsenal?”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Minerva and Hathaway return to their quarters aboard the Ahrgama-III late that evening, with various details concerning the Mars operation requiring their attention. It is well past midnight by the time they drop wearily, still clad in their normalsuits, onto the bed in the small room.

    A uniform design has been approved by Dr. Artasia Daikun and Executive Director Minerva Zabi for use by the Shambala Defense Guard: a simple, dignified coat, shirt, and tie costume patterned after the military uniforms used by the armed forces of the United States of America during the late 20th and early 21st Centuries of the old Gregorian Calendar, down to the blue and green colors that once characterized American military forces nearly two-hundred years ago. The uniform lends a new psychological edge to the young recruits of the Shambala Defense Guard: it provides them a sense of unity of purpose and legitimacy that the movement lacked when it was still called the ISRLA. It gives them the sense of being something new…something different and unseen in the Universal Century era – the birth of a nation of Spacenoids that owes its allegiance to neither the Earth Federation Government nor the Archduchy of Zeon.

    None of that is on Minerva or Hathaway’s minds, however, as they sprawl (as much as they can, anyway) on the not-quite queen-sized bed in the quarters they share. As members of the civilian government rather than the Defense Guard military apparatus, they would not wear those uniforms, despite their present active combat status.

    The military-grade combat pilot normalsuits wrapped tightly around their bodies, however, are decidedly uncomfortable, but neither one of them has the energy at the moment to make the minimal effort it would usually take to rectify the problem.

    And they’d be deploying for combat again in fewer than four hours.

    Minerva and Hathaway lie motionless and silent on the bed for what each of them reckons is ten minutes before Hathaway finally says wearily, “So…did the second detonator get installed onto the Kizi?”

    Minerva replies equally tiredly, “It’s done…but the range presents a problem. Because of time and material limitations, Dr. Vidan was only able to give it a range of 300 meters.”

    Hathaway covers his forehead and eyes with both hands, “That’s what the M-Boosters are for, I’m guessing.”

    Minerva nods, “McBride only had two on hand. That’s all the Federal Forces managed to salvage from Ceres Base. I had the engineering crew install one on each of our Aslans.”

    Hathaway takes Minerva’s normalsuit gloved hand into his own and clutches it tightly, “This could be it. These might be our last few hours.”

    Minerva says, “It’s always in the realm of possibility; we’re not fighting to die, though it might be unavoidable.”

    With that, Hathaway rolls towards Minerva and unseals the O-ring of her normalsuit. He undoes the zipper mechanism along the front of the suit, removes it from her upper torso, and then goes to work on removing the duty suit underneath…

    Minerva smiles, “Don’t you ever get enough?”

    “Of you, no,” Hathaway says, as he continues to disrobe Minerva, “I’m greedy by nature, especially for you…especially if there’s a chance…”

    Hathaway doesn’t finish; it would ruin the mood.

    Minerva’s hands go to work, beginning to remove Hathaway’s normalsuit and underlying clothing. Their lips join together in a long, deep kiss.

    “You know, I just realized,” Hathaway says with a lightness that belies the danger they are due to encounter mere hours from now, “that almost every time before we’ve gone into a major battle, we’ve had sex…and we always came back unhurt those times. The one time we didn’t have sex, you got hurt.”

    Hathaway gently fingers Minerva’s cybernetic left arm, which replaces the natural arm that needed to be amputated after she had been gravely wounded by the Archduchy of Zeon Forces’ Black Raven, Kyoko Yamaguchi.

    Minerva bites her lower lip seductively before she replies, “We’d better not break with tradition, then. I’ve never been superstitious…but why take chances? ‘Virgin war goddess’…it’s mythological bullshit, anyway.”

    The two young bodies, finely sculpted and emanating graceful sensual appeal, are now completely unfettered by normalsuits or any other attire. The discarding of the clothing is accompanied by the discarding of unsettling stray thoughts, and dread for the future is, for the moment, replaced by the passion of the moment.

    A joining of bodies and minds, the sum of which would be known shortly.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The ships of the Zeon assault armada commanded by Admiral Rondo Buchard maneuver themselves into attack formation based on what Admiral Buchard, his second-in-command Vice Admiral Darius Karlitz, and Archduke Miguel himself have determined to be most capable of dealing a devastating blow against the United Forces elements defending Mars.

    Mobile suits and space fighter craft are swung onto catapults and launched by the dozens….Gellonds, Rick Diablos, and Griphons, primarily, with the officer’s Sazabi-II model for every thirty standard mobile suits. Armaments include heavy missile packs, grenades, and shock cannon in addition to the standard beam rifles and beam sabers.

    “Cover fire for the landing force,” Admiral Buchard instructs, “all cannon and long-range artillery pieces target enemy forces at designated coordinates; avoid damaging mining infrastructure if feasible, but above all…eliminate the enemy.”

    Hundreds of cannon swing into attack position, their muzzles glowing with hypercharged Minovsky particle energy. The shots blast forth, almost invisible against the daytime Martian sky.

    The battle for Mars resumes…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Emergency! Emergency!” a voice rings out aboard the Ahrgama-III, “This is not a drill! All mobile suit units deploy for combat!”

    Hathaway Noah and Minerva Zabi, once again clad in their normalsuits, the sticky film of perspiration resulting from the previous night’s passion still on their youthful skin, sprint towards their mobile suits…the Oglu Aslan and Kizi Aslan. Exchanging a quick, final kiss for luck before donning their helmets, the two mobile suit pilots rapidly board their combat mecha.

    Minerva and Hathaway deftly bring the combat systems of their mobile suits online, checking and rechecking multiple systems that they had already checked a dozen times over just hours earlier.

    Minerva tests the nuclear detonator device through a few “dry runs,” with the actual trigger mechanism disengaged. She’ll need to trust that it’ll work properly when she needs it to…

    “Hathaway Noah, Oglu Aslan, launching now!”

    “Minerva Zabi, Kizi Aslan, launching now!”

    Just two of hundreds of assorted mobile suits launching from dozens of ships…to meet the challenge of Zeon.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Amidst the derricks, cranes, drills, and trams of Mars’ mining systems, hundreds of mobile suits from the Archduchy of Zeon Forces and the United Forces of the Earth Federation and Shambala Republic engage in a fierce, brutal firefight. Thunderous volleys of beam cannon fire and missiles are exchanged, while other mobile suits engage in close-quarters combat using beam sabers and beam tomahawks. Mobile suit leap forward to gain momentary positions of advantage, only to be stricken down by enemy units, which are in turn brutally knocked out of position.

    It is the most expansive, most mobile suit rumble ever on the surface of Mars…involving hundreds of mobile suits from both sides. A ground-based mobile suit struggle on this scale has not been seen on *any* planetary surface since the final weeks of the One Year War, and neither side, it would appear, is willing to give up as much as a meter of the Martian surface.

    High above the Martian surface, the situation is no different, as the Zeon and United Forces armadas clash…hurling voluminous volleys of firepower at one another across the darkness of the cosmos. Ships are sunk in the coldness of space, and hundreds of men and women perish in instants.

    The war gods drink greedily and thirstily from this mass libation, and eagerly await the promise of more as the battle drags on.

    Minerva Zabi’s Wavediver-configured Kizi Aslan unleashes a torrent of missiles at a squad of Rick Diablo mobile suits menacing a small fleet of parked mining vehicles on the Martian surface. Military jargon would characterize Minerva and her mobile suit as combatants in a “theater of war,” but in this case, “theater” is not so much metaphorical as literal, and Minerva and her comrades are serving as much as actors as they are combatants.

    The United Forces struggle as if desperate to keep the Zeon forces from the surface of Mars’ Western Hemisphere; efforts are concentrated towards repelling enemy units arriving on the Martian surface.

    So it appears.

    “How long do we keep this act going, Honey?” Hathaway asks inconspicuously over the tactical net as he blasts two Gellonds with the beam rifle of his Oglu Aslan two-hundred meters above the Martian surface.

    “As long as we need to,” Minerva replies cryptically, “They’re still coming.”

    Good, the thought forms, but remains unuttered.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    On the bridge of his flagship, Captain Pieter Eckhorn of the Leviathan turns to Admiral Rondo Buchard, “The United Forces are putting up very stiff resistance, Admiral. You have to admire their resilience, but they won’t be able to maintain their defenses much longer. They’re already beginning to crack.”

    Buchard nods, “Press the attack. Maneuver all ships towards the Martian surface for landing. It’s time to make the final push.”

    As Eckhorn passes on the command, Buchard contacts his second-in-command, Vice Admiral Darius Karlitz aboard his battle cruiser Hiro, “Darius, we’re moving in. Maintain your group’s orbit and stand as rear guard for us. Don’t let us get ambushed from behind.”

    “Roger, sir,” the vice-admiral replies.

    Buchard smiles, anticipating a declaration of victory for Archduke Miguel within the hour.

    Episode 39 to be continued...

  20. #320
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    Episode 39 continued...

    “Minerva, they’re moving in!” Hathaway reports.

    Minerva contacts the Amuro Ray, “Captain Beecher, get into position.”

    “Roger, Athe…Minerva,” comes Beecher’s reply.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Prepare for transmittal,” Beecher orders his bridge techs.

    “Roger, sir,” the techs reply, preparing to send the coded signal that will open the gates of hell…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Target sighted at 4,000 meters,” says a Zeon gunnery tech aboard the destroyer, “energy charge to guns at 100%. Ready to fire upon your orders, sir.”

    “Strike!” orders Captain Raul Saucedo of the destroyer Blackthorn.

    The guns of the Blackthorn flash blindingly, unleashing waves of destructive energy that strike the hull of the Amuro Ray. The Earth Federation Forces space battleship begins leaking flame from breaches through which oxygen gushes forth before being sealed by internal airlock bulkheads.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The impact knocks Captain Beecher and his bridge crew out of their seats. The lights on the bridge darken momentarily before emergency lighting kicks in.

    “Damage report!” Beecher demands, scrambling back into his command seat, putting his officer’s hat back onto his head.

    “Heavy damage to the starboard bulkhead, sir,” a bridge tech reports, “A fire crew is already on its way…Decks 5-13 are heavily damaged on the starboard side.”

    “Are we still spaceworthy?” asks Beecher.

    The tech answers, “Yes, sir, but we’d better not take another hit like that one again.”

    “Descend towards the surface,” Beecher orders.

    “Sir?” the tech replies dubiously.

    “Do it!” Beecher orders, his eyes fierce.

    “Yes, sir,” the tech answers.

    The heavily damaged Amuro Ray descends towards Mars’ surface.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Minerva receives word from Captain Beecher and orders the mobile suit forces to withdraw…slowly, and to continue fighting even as they withdraw…to make the withdrawal look as reluctant as possible.

    Casualties are mounting on both sides; the battle cannot be sustained much longer.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Amuro Ray continues descending towards the Martian surface, fighting off attacks by enemy mobile suits and warships with the assistance of its own squad of mobile suits and several escort cruisers.

    “Minerva,” Captain Beecher reports, “You’ve got five minutes to get your people out of there.”

    “Roger,” Minerva replies, passing on the withdrawal order.

    The United Forces lift off from the Martian surface.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Sir,” Captain Eckhorn says to Admiral Buchard, “Enemy forces are retreating.”

    “Mars is Zeon’s domain once again,” Buchard says, “Have our forces secure the surface.”

    “Yes, sir,” Eckhorn replies, once again relaying the orders to the front lines.

    The mobile suits of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces land on the Martian surface in triumph, having dislodged the United Forces, which are now withdrawing in disarray…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “All personnel and mecha are clear,” Minerva reports to Captain Beecher.

    “Begin the countdown,” Beecher orders.

    “We’re at the edge of the safe zone,” a bridge tech replies, “T-minus ten seconds to ignition... nine, eight, seven, six, five, for, three, two, one, ZERO!”

    “Execute!” Beecher orders.

    A sequence of commands is typed onto keyboards.

    No response is received from the warhead's detonator…no indication that critical mass has been achieved…or is even impending.

    “What’s wrong?!” Beecher demands.

    “Sir,” the tech replies, “Our transmitter mechanism isn’t functioning. Most likely, it was damaged when we took those hits from the Zeon destroyer.”

    Beecher blanches, raising Minerva on the tactical net, “Minerva, this is Captain Beecher. We've got a problem here…”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Roger that, Captain,” Minerva replies after receiving word from Captain Beecher, “Withdraw the Amuro Ray. We’ll take care of it.”

    “Roger, Minerva,” Captain Beecher answers ruefully, “I’m sorry…so sorry.”

    So sorry I’ve condemned you to certain death, Captain Beecher almost seems to say.

    “Hathaway,” Minerva says, “Back me up.”

    “You’ve got it,” Hathaway replies.

    The two Aslans, transformed to Wavediver configuration, dive back towards the surface of Mars…two mobile suits against hundreds of enemy units.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Admiral Buchard receives word of the final two interlopers…diehards, apparently, refusing to withdraw with the rest of their defeated allies.

    “Smite them quickly,” Buchard orders, “They’ve wasted enough of our time already.”


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Aslans skim the Martian surface, dozens of enemy mobile suits on their tail, dozens more ahead of them.

    Minerva and Hathaway fight deftly through it all, weathering the storm of enemy fire, answering with precisely-placed fire on their own, taking glancing hits and realizing that they will probably last only thirty seconds more against the overwhelming pounding.

    “Minerva,” Hathaway grates, “We’re not going to be able to hold up much longer.”

    As if to underscore that statement, both Aslans take hits that threaten to destabilize the two mecha and send them crashing upon the Martian surface before the two pilots regain control.

    “Target approaching,” Minerva announces calmly, “Six-hundred meters and closing…five-hundred…four-hundred…three-hundred…EXECUTE!”

    Minerva thumbs a special trigger button newly installed on the joystick of her Kizi Aslan.

    Without waiting to confirm the results, Minerva orders Hathaway, “Engage M-Booster system NOW!”

    The M-Booster systems attached to the Aslan units flare to life, and with sickening, lurching force, push the Aslans away from the Martian surface at speeds that soon reach Mach 60.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Sir,” a bridge tech reports on the Leviathan, “Ground mobile suit forces report seismic activity on the planet’s surface.”

    “Seismic?” Captain Eckhorn says curiously, “That’s…wh?!”

    The surface of Mars explodes…such sudden, all-consuming release of cataclysmic force has not been witnessed on the face of Mars since the planet’s formation some five billion years ago.

    And the mines of Mars’ Western Hemisphere…and the Zeon mobile suits and warships sent to wrest control of them from the United Forces, disappear with them…disappear into the closest that the physical realm has ever come to emulating the hell of legend.

    In a single instant, a third of Zeon’s Space Armada is rendered nonexistent…atomized.

    Racing just ahead of the destructive wave of kinetic energy are two transformable mobile suits, one step ahead of annihilation at sixty times the speed of sound.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    From the bridge of the Hiro high in Martian orbit, Vice Admiral Karlitz and his crew shield their eyes from the blinding flash and brace themselves against the ensuing shockwave.

    Several long, tense moments later, as their eyes overcome their momentary flash blindness and their nerves begin to calm, their minds reel as they take in the reality behind the hellish spectacle they see through their viewport….half of Mars engulfed in a billowing cloud of dust and choked fire…their fleet amidst the firestorm.

    After several more long, silent minutes, Vice Admiral Karlitz croaks through a parched throat and lips, “We…we need to contact Archduke Miguel…”

    Karlitz can only imagine the Archduke’s reaction when he hears of this…


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Aboard the Kizi Aslan, Minerva opens the visor of her helmet, gulping in oxygen through quick, deep breaths. Her youthful, pretty face shines with the gleam of perspiration.

    “Minerva,” Hathaway Noah’s voice sighs tiredly over the tactical net, “We did it.”

    “”We did,” Minerva says in a tone that is equal parts relief and lament, “blew half a world to hell to send our enemies to hell. What price victory, Hathaway?”

    “We can discuss that when we get home,” Hathaway says gently.

    Home, Minerva ponders, wondering what that word means to her now.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    At Cosmic Alexandria, Archduke Miguel covers his eyes and shakes his head as he receives word from Vice-Admiral Karlitz regarding the destruction of the assault armada.

    Combined with the destruction of the Zeon Second Army in the Kunlun Mountains of Earth, the Archduchy of Zeon has lost half of its fighting strength within a day.

    The rout has once again become a war.

    The wrath of the war goddess…Pallas Athena…Athena Parthenos…has visited itself upon Zeon.

    To be continued in Episode 40

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