EPISODE 40: TIMEPIECES
The Holy Sepulcher, Taiwan, Earth, the second week of November, U.C. 0100…
The last military hub of the Earth Federation Forces on humanity’s mother planet hums with more activity than it has seen in the three months since it began operations following Zeon’s Skyfall operation. Ships, aerospace fighter craft, and mobile suits are ready for combat deployment. Troops receive briefings down the chain of command from their superior officers…something momentous is about to happen, and an atmosphere of anticipation washes over every man and woman on the base.
The destruction of the Zeon Second Army in the highlands of western China, and the nearly concurrent destruction of a third of the Zeon Armada on Mars, has emboldened the survivors of the Earth Federation Forces. The planet being no longer occupied by Zeon forces, other surviving Federal Forces units from all the continents of Earth have succeeded in routing the last of the Zeon Occupation Forces, and are congregating at the Holy Sepulcher, bolstering the forces already stationed there.
General Bright Noah, supreme commander of the Earth Federation Forces, has summoned Captain Jonah Michaels, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, his daughter 2Lt. Chieming Noah, and all other surviving Special Forces officers to a conference. The initial Zeon assault at Side 7’s Garrison Noah some four months earlier had gutted the Special Forces, leaving the Centurion Team the only remaining intact Special Forces Team of the twenty-six that once performed special-ops duties for the Federation.
During the past few months, General Noah has worked towards recruiting new talent from the regular forces…to rebuild the Special Forces in the likely event that their special training, skills, and talents would be needed. The numbers and ability levels are not as robust as they once were, but with the return of Jolie and Jonah to the fold, General Noah is confident that the Special Forces will be able to reassert themselves on the field of battle.
But the Special Forces need new leadership, having lost their director Col. Peter Cairlay (killed in action, allegedly during an illegal operation involving the unauthorized shipment of weapons of mass destruction to Zeon forces) and deputy director Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz (now Executive Director of Operations Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic, rumored to have been the killer of Col. Cairlay) months ago. Hence, General Noah’s reason for convening this conference…
“Ladies and gentlemen,” General Noah announces, “I present to you the new Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces: Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie.”
The young Special Forces officers look with some degree of wonderment at the attractive, red-haired woman who stands before them, clad in an Earth Federation Forces uniform of a similar cut to their own. She is in her late thirties, and her green-hued eyes are bright, clear, and full of energy, intelligence, and understanding. In many ways, Christina reminds them of Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz, the previous commanding officer of the Centurion Team.
Twenty years earlier, 2Lt. Christina McKenzie had been the test pilot of the RX-78NT1 Gundam Alex, an improved version of the RX-78 Gundam, that was to have been delivered to 2Lt. Amuro Ray on the front lines of the One Year War, but was never completed in time for delivery to Amuro.
The NT1 Gundam unit was lost in a battle against a Zeon infiltrator, and Christina was reassigned to duties Earthside. She applied for duty with the Titans upon the establishment of the Federation elite corps, but withdrew her application upon learning of the group’s brutal practices. For much of the mid-0080s, Captain Christina McKenzie was sidelined for her constant opposition to the Titans. At one point, she had been considered as a test pilot for the RX-178 Gundam MK-II, but those plans were scrubbed after AEUG stole the three RX-178 prototypes from Garrison Noah (then called Green Noah 1) in U.C. 0087. Captain McKenzie served with distinction during the subsequent war against the Titans and Axis Neo-Zeon, serving as a Federal Forces liaison to the AEUG and Karaba forces. Upon the establishment of the Special Forces in U.C. 0095, Major Christina McKenzie was shortlisted as a possible candidate for the role of Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces, but for political reasons, was beaten for the job by Col. Peter Cairlay. General Bright Noah had supported Christina’s appointment to the role of Director of the Special Forces, but General Manron Blackhead, who had the Federation Security Council and the President’s ear with his anti-Spacenoid fear-mongering after successive Zeon invasions, prevailed in persuading the Council and the President to appoint Cairlay instead….a decision that has, in so many ways, backfired on the Earth Federation.
Lt. Col. Christina MacKenzie in her younger days. A green recruit during the final days of the One Year War, Christina is now among the Federation Forces' finest veteran officers.
For General Noah, therefore, this appointment, at last, of Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie, who once again proved her valor by standing her ground with the forces under her command at Whampoa Base against the initial Zeon attack after the Skyfall, as Special Forces Director is a vindication of his judgment and much more – it is the scale of justice balancing itself in response to the inequities of the past.
The young officers of the Special Forces have little to disagree with in General Noah’s assessment, as they immediately take a great liking to their new Director, especially after she offers them her warm smile and an earnest hand of friendship.
“I’m pleased to know that I’ll be serving alongside you,” Lt. Col. McKenzie says in a voice that is both strong and gentle at the same time, “I know of your many courageous exploits in defense of the people represented by the Federation, and it’s my privilege to stand among you.”
Captain Jonah Michaels takes Lt. Col. McKenzie’s hand and shakes it warmly, “Thank you, ma’am. We’re so glad to have you leading us.”
Lt. Col. McKenzie acknowledges the remark with a smile, and then says, “The priority of the Special Forces at present is to prepare for a counterstrike against the Zeon at Garrison Noah. We plan to take our base of operations back when the opportunity presents itself…which we have reason to believe will be very soon.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the Special Officers reply, already growing accustomed to taking orders from Lt. Col. McKenzie.
“Orders to deploy will come as developments progress,” Lt. Col. McKenzie instructs her new charges, “For the time being, please direct your attention to training of new personnel and maintenance of combat mecha. Dismissed.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the Special Forces officers salute their new Director before they file out of the conference room back to duty stations.
As they stride down one of the Holy Sepulcher’s myriad labyrinth corridors, Captain Jonah Michaels of the Centurion Team says to his wife and second-in-command, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, “I have a great amount of faith in this new Director, Lt. Col. McKenzie. I think she’ll provide the kind of leadership that the Special Forces have needed for a long time.”
Jolie nods in agreement, “Yeah, she’s hell of a lot better than Col. Creepy. It’s nice to finally have a human being instead of a snake in charge.”
Jonah continues, “Lt. Col. McKenzie mentioned an operation to take back Garrison Noah. I, for one, am really happy to hear about that. I can’t wait to get back into space.”
Jolie smirks, “Spacenoid!”
Jonah smiles back, “You’re one too, remember?”
“Yeah, like most of our generation,” Jolie concedes, “but I know what you mean. Besides not being our home turf, Earth…really hasn’t been the most enjoyable place to be, has it?”
Jonah sighs and nods. The past several months have been hell – in an environment that the Zeon attack has rendered nightmarish. Jonah regrets not having been able to see more of the mother planet when it had still been beautiful, lush, and green, and when the sun’s light reached the planet’s surface in brilliant glory each and every day.
Jonah fears that even if he is fortunate enough to live to be a very, very old man, he likely will never see such sights on Earth.
The indelible “gift” of Jonah’s brother, the Archduke of Zeon, Alexander Miguel.
At Cosmic Alexandria, the current designation of Side 3, Bunch 1 (formerly also known as Zum City), Archduke Miguel receives a gift of his own: Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi, the “Black Raven,” of immeasurable value to Miguel’s ambitions both as a combatant in his armies and…on a personal level.
Kyoko steps down the disembarkation ramp of the space battle carrier Starchild, which has transported her and the rest of what remains of the Phobos Division back to Side 3 from Earth. The Zeon Occupation Forces’ final engagement against the Federation’s resistance forces on Earth ended in a catastrophe for the occupation forces after the resistance very unexpectedly deployed nuclear weaponry against them.
Archduke Miguel has vowed to make those Earthist pigs pay for the loss to his troops, which includes a substantial portion of the elite Phobos Division, but at the very least, his most important subordinate has returned safely…
A downcast, but as always, breathtakingly beautiful Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi salutes her liege, “Archduke Miguel, my lord. Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi reporting.”
Alexander smiles fondly at Kyoko and places his hands on her shoulders, “It’s good to see you again, Kyoko.”
“My lord, I…” Kyoko begins, her eyes moist with hot tears of lament, “I…I failed you, my lord. I was unable to destroy our enemies as you ordered me to, and I lost so many of the comrades-at-arms you sent to assist me. I am unworthy of the faith you’ve placed in me, my lord, and I ask that you punish me to the severest extent possible for my failure. It is the Zeon way.”
“Kyoko,” the Archduke says with uncharacteristic gentleness, “You are being silly, my dear. You have already fulfilled the most important order: you have returned to me alive. As to what you call your ‘failure,’ it was my failure first. I underestimated our enemies. They have more resilience than I was willing to believe. Defeating them decisively will require a reconsideration of our strategies.”
“My lord…,” Kyoko begins again.
“Say no more,” Alexander whispers, holding Kyoko gently and leaning her head on his chest, “You received my proposal letter from General Mortoroff while on Earth?”
Kyoko lifts her head from Alexander’s chest and looks deeply into his black eyes, “Yes, my lord…but I do not feel worthy…”
Alexander cuts Kyoko off, “Two things, Kyoko, that you must bear in mind: first, you must stop referring to me as ‘my lord.’ You are among the very privileged few whom I would call a peer…no, more than a peer…a partner. You should call your partner by his name.”
“Alexander,” Kyoko says, “I…”
“Kyoko,” Alexander continues, a gleam in his eye, “You have not answered my proposal. Will you be the Archduchess of Zeon?”
Kyoko smiles, “If it pleases you, Alexander, I will be anything you ask.”
Alexander shakes his head, “My question is if it pleases you.”
Kyoko replies resolutely, “What pleases you, pleases me, Alexander.”
Alexander takes Kyoko’s hand in his own, “It’s decided then. We will defeat the Earth Federation and the Shambala Republic together, and then we will lead humanity – the true humanity, into a glorious new age.”
Kyoko smiles, thrilled by Alexander’s passion…not only for her, but for humanity’s future. As a young girl, she had idolized Alexander Miguel as a charismatic leader of the Spacenoid peoples, but now…now her girlhood idol is asking her to realize his dreams.
A request that Kyoko cannot, and would not, refuse.
To be continued...
Episode 40 continued...
The United Forces Armada, which includes an assortment of warships remaining from the Earth Federation Space Armada, others salvaged from the Zeon Confederation Forces, and a number of entirely new ships constructed for the Shambala Republic Defense Guard by the Troika (Anaheim Enterprises, the Luo Company, and the Kuromizu Corporation), approaches Cislunar Space from multiple vectors, which goes against the standard military procedure of space armadas crossing great distances en masse in an intimidating display of force and projection of invulnerability. Executive Director Minerva Zabi dismissed such traditional tactics as “stupid” – a ridiculous anachronism from a time when warships were confined by gravity to Earth’s oceans, and utterly inapplicable to gravity-free space warfare.
Minerva is not about to put her forces in danger of being eliminated in a single strike by the Zeon. Having mastered the tactic of drawing and concentrating enemy forces at one location, then eliminating the enemy in one hellacious strike of swift, overwhelming force, Minerva will be damned if she tolerates conditions that would make her own forces vulnerable to such a strike.
Thus, the United Forces Armada, which numbers dozens of capital warships, has been separated into smaller fleets of three to six ships, distributed based on needs and strengths. These fleets will each enter Cislunar Space at different times, from different locations, and will rendezvous only when so instructed by Minerva.
In the conference room of the flagship Ahrgama-III, Minerva outlines her strategy to her fleet admirals and vessel captains, a mixed force of Earth Federation Forces, Shambala Republic Defense Guard, and ex-Zeon Confederation personnel with no love lost for Alexander Miguel, and are thus willing to fight against Miguel as mercenaries under Minerva’s command. Security, as usual, is a top priority concern, especially now with mercenaries in the fold. Minerva has three leverages to use here: first, the hatred these ex-Zeon Confederation soldiers hold towards Alexander Miguel (many of them are loyalists to the late Governess Lara Constantinas of Callisto, the last of Miguel’s former rival Zeon warlords to fall in the Zeon Civil War that concluded some six months earlier) Second, the greed that spurs these mercenaries to continue fighting, despite the loss of their nation of allegiance. Third, the fear that Minerva has instilled in them…threatening swift and severe retribution for any elements found to have gone rogue and betrayed the United Forces.
Although the additional personnel, equipment, and firepower that the ex-Callisto Zeon troops turned mercenaries significantly bolsters the strength of the United Forces Armada, Minerva has brought them into the fold for another consideration: she has use for the fallen Governess’ former base of operations, Callisto Fortress, of which the Shambala Republic has taken control and, with the financial and material support of the Troika, has converted into a weapons manufacturing center…capable of the mass production of military equipment ranging from drinking canteens to mobile suit combat systems.
“Our first strike will be against Side 3,” Minerva informs her comrades, “we plan a bombardment raid by capital ship, aerospace fighter craft, and mobile suits against Zeon military objectives distributed throughout the Side 3 Zone, as highlighted by our intelligence personnel.”
“Opening with an attack on Side 3?” Admiral Shane McBride of the Earth Federation Ceres Command Armada responds dubiously, “With all due respect, Miss Zabi, I don’t believe that’s wise. Side 3 is where the Archduchy of Zeon Forces are most heavily concentrated, especially in light of the losses they’ve suffered on Mars and on Earth in recent days. With our current forces, I think our chances of penetrating through Side 3’s defenses are nil.”
“I agree,” Minerva says plainly, “Alexander Miguel would, logically, concentrate his forces there in anticipation of a massive attack, and I’m counting on him to.”
McBride smiles, “This isn’t another one of your Trojan Horses, is it, Miss Zabi?”
Minerva returns the grin, “Not this time….at least, not yet. This time, it’s a diversion. We need the Zeon to divert their forces to defending Side 3, which you’re right, we aren’t in a position to penetrate yet, because our real objective is Side 7.”
Minerva hears murmurs among the command staff, and continues to address their concerns.
“For our forces to have any chance of success in eradicating the Zeon from Side 3,” Minerva explains, “we must first secure a beachhead from which to conduct offensives within the Cislunar Sphere. Therefore, we must regain control of Garrison Noah and revive the Earth Federation Forces’ Cislunar Space Armada.”
The murmurs of doubt become murmurs of approval, as the various command staff officers begin to see the benefits of Minerva’s plan: for the Federation officers, it’s chance to liberate their surviving comrades and avenge their slain brothers-at-arms. For the Callisto Zeon, it is an immediate opportunity for revenge against Alexander Miguel. For the Shambala Republic, the strategy simply makes sound tactical sense: they must build towards an invasion of Zeon rather than attempting vainly to crack that tough nut immediately.
Minerva turns to Commodore Garwin Kerr, commanding officer of the surviving Callisto Zeon Forces. Kerr was the last of Governess Constantinas’ fleet officers to survive after the bulk of the Callisto Zeon Forces were wiped out by the Earth Federation/Phobos Zeon Alliance Forces that, ironically, Minerva (then as Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Special Forces) commanded. The war has made for some strange alliances.
“Commodore Kerr,” Minerva says, “as a veteran commander of the Zeon forces, you are more familiar with Side 3’s fortifications and weaknesses than most others. Therefore, I’m giving you and the former Callisto Zeon personnel forces under your command responsibility for the Side 3 diversion operation.”
Kerr grins, tipping his head forward respectfully, “It’ll be my pleasure, Miss Zabi.”
“Admiral McBride,” Minerva continues, “I’d like you to take charge of the operation of securing Side 7 and Luna 2. My mobile suit forces will be at your disposal.”
McBride nods in acknowledgement and gratitude, “I appreciate that. You and your special unit are among the best mobile suit pilots this side of Jolie Minh. We’ll really be able to use your help.”
“We’ll be ready,” Minerva affirms, “For now, it’s advisable to coordinate the details of the operation with your subordinates.”
At 15:30 (ship’s time), Minerva makes her way to the Ahrgama-III’s galley, where she had agreed to meet with her fiancé and intelligence advisor, Hathaway Noah.
Hathaway, as usual, is fashionably late (unlike Minerva, who is fussily punctual). Minerva sighs. She can’t really blame him. The nature of intelligence work sometimes necessitates that an intelligence agent be timely only when he needs to be. Minerva has done enough espionage-ops to understand that.
Minerva lights a cigarette as she waits patiently for Hathaway. A steward brings her a cup of tea…straight, hot…the way she prefers it.
Minerva has time for only one drag on the ciggie before she spots Hathaway entering the mess hall. He takes a seat opposite Minerva at the table.
“Hi,” Hathaway smiles with his usual debonair charm, “Miss me?”
Minerva smiles, pulling the cigarette away from her mouth and holding it casually in the air, “Not really. I’ve decided to leave you for Admiral McBride. You know how fond I am of tough, chiseled military men.”
Hathaway feigns a hurt look, “Well, damn it all, then…I’ve got to get out of the journalism business and start pumping iron.”
“Not before you deliver me the front page, spy boy,” Minerva says, taking another drag from the cigarette, and offering one to Hathaway, lighting it for him.
Taking a drag from the cigarette and then setting it aside in the ashtray, Hathaway installs a datachip into the miniprocessor built into the mess hall table. Data appears momentarily on the screen.
“This info is realtime,” Hathaway says, “you’re seeing Zeon troop movements within the Cislunar Sphere as they’re occurring.”
Minerva asks, “How’d you get your hands on this kind of tech?”
Hathaway takes up his cigarette and says, “Kuromizu designed trackers for the Archduchy of Zeon’s mecha before the Alliance broke down, and now, they’ve supplied us with the same technology.
Minerva exhales a curl of smoke thoughtfully, “Don’t you think the Zeon have anticipated that, and have modified the technology to throw us off?”
Hathaway answers, “We’ve had our flesh and blood agents verify the data: what they report is consistent with what the datachip tracker is indicating.”
Minerva extracts the datachip and hands it back to Hathaway, “Make sure that Admiral McBride gets one of these.”
“Will do,” Hathaway says, then takes out another item…a cardboard box he has kept hidden behind his back.
“And what’s this?” Minerva asks.
“Birthday present,” Hathaway grins.
“My birthday was more than two months ago, Hathaway,” Minerva, a Virgo born on September 2, U.C. 0079, says matter-of-factly.
“I know,” Hathaway says guiltily, “I meant to give this to you back on your birthday, but we were so caught up driving the Zeon forces off Mars at that time that I never had the chance to.”
“You’re always punctual when you have to be,” Minerva smiles, “If you weren’t, I wouldn’t be alive right now.”
So saying, Minerva opens the gift box, within which lies an elegant French Rococo clock…very similar to the one she once kept at her office at Garrison Noah back when she called herself Athena Ibaz.
Minerva grins beautifully, “It’s wonderful. Where did you get it?”
“Down in Switzerland when we went to visit your foster parents during the summer,” Hathaway says, “When you first met Artasia again.”
“It’s very fitting,” Minerva observes, “Something to help both of us keep track of time, or to remind me how old I’m getting?”
“You turned twenty-one two months ago,” Hathaway points out, “Not exactly retirement age.”
Minerva smirks as she replies, “In some older societies, I would barely be old enough to drink, gamble, or get married.”
Hathaway’s mood becomes more serious, “You could think of it, the clock, I mean, as a reminder of that three-year deadline you set for yourself.”
“I’m still intent on meeting it,” Minerva says, repackaging the clock for later display…at an appropriate place…an appropriate…time, “Thank you very much. I’ll always treasure it…like I treasure you.”
Hathaway and Minerva lean forward until their lips touch, exchanging a kiss that lasts seemingly forever…or at least until their cigarettes, hardly smoked, have burned themselves out in the ashtray.
Reluctantly, the couple disengages their kiss. Duty calls once again…their time consumed by their mission.
“See you tonight,” Hathaway says warmly.
“Right,” Minerva responds, rising to attend to another aspect of preparing for the battles ahead.
“Oh,” Hathaway says, turning to Minerva once again, “You told me to share the data on this chip with Admiral McBride…but what about Commodore Kerr?”
“No need,” Minerva says coldly.
“Why not?” Hathaway asks, “If the Commodore is leading his Callisto Zeon Forces into Side 3 for a diversionary attack, this data would be of use to him.”
“My objective,” Minerva says with unnerving calm, “is to destroy ALL Zeon forces, not just Alexander Miguel.”
Hathaway’s eyes widen with understanding…and a bit of horror. His fiancée is playing Alexander Miguel’s own game.
“The Callisto Zeon Forces are of precisely two points of value to us,” Minerva says, “the first is access to Callisto Fortress and its resources, which they’ve given us. The second is the impending diversionary attack. After they deliver on that, they will be of no value to us…or anyone else, any longer.”
Hathaway inhales, “Terminate…?”
“…with extreme prejudice,” Minerva affirms, exhaling a stream of tobacco smoke and wiping her fingers, both flesh and mechanical, with her pocket handkerchief.
Episode 40 to be continued...
Episode 40 continued...
Back at the Holy Sepulcher on Earth, Captain Jonah Michaels and 1Lt. Jolie Minh await an important rendezvous…but not with a superior officer or any sort of military personnel.
They await ten-year old Amy Chu, a little girl whom the couple befriended amidst the ruins of the western Chinese city of Xian, and whom they helped to reunite with her parents.
Although the Holy Sepulcher is, for the most part, a military installation, it also serves as the provisional seat of government for the Earth Federation and a sanctuary for what few civilians the Federal Forces have been able to save. Within the barracks of the facility, the civilians attempt to continue their lives as normally as possible. Hence, Amy’s parents, both government administrative employees, have returned to work and Amy, to school.
Among the civilians rescued from Shanghai and brought to the Holy Sepulcher were 797 children under the age of thirteen. The addition of Amy has brought that number to 798. Also surviving were 436 teenagers between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, of which the 221 over the age of fifteen have been recruited into the Earth Federation Forces in various capacities, ranging from administrative assistance to frontline combat. Since Jolie and Jonah arrived at the Holy Sepulcher fewer than two weeks ago, they’ve been pressed by General Noah and the command staff into training some of these teenaged recruits, many of them only a year or two younger than Jolie or Jonah, to pilot mobile suits in combat.
But Amy is meeting with Jolie and Jonah for a different reason, at the couple’s request and with the blessing of Amy’s parents; they wish to say goodbye to a friend whom they will be leaving behind to return to the war.
Little Amy, looking adorable in her school uniform and wearing her copious backpack, smiles broadly and waves excitedly as she spots her friends. Jolie and Jonah are pleasantly surprised by the child’s resilience: just two weeks ago, Amy was lost, alone, and terrified in a dangerous war zone; now, she is back to living a life as close as possible to normal under the circumstances, and not showing any lingering effects from her ordeal. Who knows for certain, however, what long-term effects the horrors of war can have on the psyche of a child?
Amy runs over to the couple…her friends and her heroes, who delivered her from a hellish experience as the lone survivor of a school field trip that had been turned into a nightmare by the Zeon invasion.
“Hey,” Jolie says, grinning, taking little Amy into her arms and swinging her around affectionately, “How’s my favorite 5th Grader?!”
Amy turns to Jolie and Jonah, “You guys haven’t come to visit me in like a week now!”
“We’re sorry about that, Amy,” Jonah says, “We’ve been really busy…we’ve had to prepare for a possible attack against the Zeon in outer space.”
“Right,” Jolie says, “And that’s why we wanted to see you today. Amy, Jonah and I are gonna go back to space pretty soon…to destroy the Zeon and finish the war.”
A look of dismay crosses Amy’s face. Evidently, the child doesn’t wish to lose her friends, “When are you guys gonna go?”
“We don’t know,” Jonah says, “but General Noah believes it’s going to be soon. Maybe in a few days.”
“Will you come back?” Amy asks, tears forming in her eyes.
Jolie smiles reassuringly, “We’re going to space to defeat the Zeon so that you, your family, and your friends will be safe. You guys will stay on Earth for now, but when the war is over, you’ll be moving into the space colonies. People can’t live on the Earth anymore because the Zeon have damaged the environment too much with their colony drop attack. You’ll see us again…up there.”
Jolie points towards the sky, and Amy turns her head towards the heavens, imagining…dreaming.
Amy’s tears begin to flow, “I don’t want you guys to go. I’m gonna miss you so much. Promise me you guys won’t die up there?”
Jolie holds Amy close, “We won’t die, Sweetie. You said you wanted to be a pilot like us when you grow up. Well, take care of yourself…study hard in school and some day, when you’re old enough, maybe you can be part of our Centurion Team!”
“Right,” Jonah smiles, grinning, giving Amy an affectionate pat on the head, “Be a good girl and listen to your mom and dad. We’ll be out there fighting for all of you.”
Having said their goodbyes to their very young friend, Jolie and Jonah escort little Amy back to her parents. The couple resolves to do their best to keep their promise to Amy…and to each other, but both know such promises are not necessarily theirs to keep.
On the bridge of the Callisto Zeon flagship Ahrkov, Commodore Garwin Kerr meets with Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Sundollar, commanding officer of the 29th Mechanized Assault Corps, a mobile suit unit known colloquially as “Viper Squad.” Their CZS-90 Rick Dom Sting units are specially designed for lightning bombardment strikes.
“Our objectives are Miguel’s supply depots and manufacturing facilities,” Kerr tells Sundollar, “Our attack is expected to be a diversion for Zabi’s main attack on Side 7 and Luna 2, but even so, we don’t want to waste our efforts; we’re going to try to do as much damage as possible.”
“Damage is something we do very well,” Sundollar, a handsome blonde of about thirty, says plainly.
“Governess Constantinas treated us very well,” Commodore Kerr says hoarsely, “and had we not failed her, it would be we, not that bastard Miguel, who rule Zeon today.”
“Agreed,” says Sundollar, “Alexander Miguel is unfit to rule Zeon. He is a mad dog, and Zeon deserves better than the rule of a mad dog.”
Kerr puts a hand on Sundollar’s shoulder, “I’ll be counting on you, Benjamin. The Governess will be counting on you. The future of Zeon will be counting on you.”
Sundollar places his hand atop his friend’s in a show of solidarity, “Sieg, Zeon, Commodore.”
“Sieg, Zeon,” Kerr affirms.
“SIEG, ZEON!” the cry rings out from hundreds of Zeon soldiers at Cosmic Alexandria’s newly restored (and renamed) Alexandria Spaceport.
The Zeon soldiers stand at stiff attention as a mobile stairway is brought to the bulkhead of the shuttlecraft that has just taxied to a halt at the spaceport.
Waiting at the foot of the stairs, at the head of a red carpet, is Archduke Alexander Miguel himself and his entourage – Lt. Col Kyoko Yamaguchi, General Ross Davenport, and members of the Zeon High Command.
The passenger of the shuttlecraft, a beautiful, auburn-haired woman of about forty years of age, steps gracefully down the staircase to the artificial turf below. Elegant, svelte, and regal in bearing, Dr. Nanai Miguel is every bit as alluring a woman as she was when she was Col. Char Aznable’s last known lover.
Dr. Nanai Miguel, elder sister to both Alexander and Jonah Miguel, has been the Director of Zeon’s Newtype Laboratories for the past decade. After the death of Char, Nanai disappeared into seclusion, but never stopped working. For years, Nanai has worked quietly behind the scenes to supply her younger brother, Alexander, with the advanced weaponry that he needed to fulfill his ambition of reunifying Zeon under his rule and destroying the Earth Federation. In no small part due to Nanai’s work, Alexander’s forces have always enjoyed superior weaponry to those of their enemies.
Alexander’s forces have also been bolstered by Nanai’s work with Newtypes cultivated and trained from childhood to be adept mobile suit combat pilots. Of all of Nanai’s “acolytes,” as they are sometimes jokingly called, she is most proud of Kyoko Yamaguchi, whom Nanai discovered when the girl was scarcely old enough to walk, and who has trained under Nanai’s guidance virtually since she could remember to become the ultimate mobile suit pilot…superior even to Col. Char himself or his hated rival, Amuro Ray.
Amuro Ray….Nanai’s abiding hatred of the late Earth Federation Forces ace pilot is what has kept her alive and functioning all these years after the loss of Char. It was Amuro who took her beloved Char away from her, who had thwarted Char’s ambitions at every turn, and then had the temerity to die before Nanai could wreak her vengeance upon him for it, curse his soul. But Nanai has redirected the focus of her malice. Amuro Ray is synonymous with Gundam, and always…always, it has been a Gundam that stood in Char’s way. Nanai has thus dedicated her life to the destruction of all Gundams and the men and women who pilot them…Camille Vidan, Judau Ashta, and now, this Jolie Minh of whom Nanai has heard so much during the past two years, and whose abilities seem to rival even Kyoko’s. Nanai has marked each of them for death by her war machines.
And then, there is her youngest sibling, Jonah, who has committed the unforgivable act of treason by joining the Earth Federation Forces, and (much to Nanai’s bitterness), become a pilot of one of those accursed Gundams.
Archduke Alexander Miguel greets his elder sister with a demure kiss on the cheek, “It’s good to see you, Nanai. It’s been a long time.”
“Thank you, Alexander,” Nanai says somewhat colorlessly, “It’s good to be back in Zeon. I am very proud of all you have accomplished, and our father too, would have been proud, had he lived to see this day.”
Nanai looks beyond Alexander to lay eyes upon Kyoko, whom she has not seen in over a year since Kyoko was deployed to the frontlines of combat for the then-Phobos Zeon Forces.
Kyoko salutes, “Lady Miguel: Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi reporting, m’lady!”
“I’ve followed your activities since you left the institute, Kyoko,” Nanai says with the barest hint of a smile, “and I’ve been very pleased with your accomplishments.”
“Thank you, m’lady,” Kyoko responds, “None of it would have been possible without the preparation you gave me over a lifetime, m’lady.”
Nanai puts a hand fondly on her protégée’s shoulder, “Soon, you’ll need to grow accustomed to addressing me by a different title: Sister-in-Law.”
Kyoko blushes and smiles, and Alexander places an arm around his future Archduchess, “Nanai, you’ve outdone yourself: I expected for you to provide me with an excellent warrior. I did not expect you to provide me with an excellent wife as well.”
“We gain a member to our illustrious family,” Nanai observes, “but we also lose one.”
Alexander sighs and nods, “Jonah…”
Nanai clenches her teeth, “I understand that he pilots a Gundam for the Earth Federation Forces now.”
“I regret having not been stricter with him,” Alexander confesses, “I indulged his weaknesses…his goal to be an artist and his stubborn pacifist stance. Now he is a traitor to his people and a disgrace to his family.”
Nanai says, “I loved Jonah…I love him still. He is, after all, my brother, but treason against Zeon…dishonoring the Miguel family name: these are crimes that must not be tolerated.”
“Agreed,” Alexander says, “Kyoko?”
“Alexander,” Kyoko replies dutifully.
“Kyoko,” Alexander begins, “Should you encounter Lord Jonah on the battlefield, remember this: you need show him no deference as a member of the Miguel family. Treat him as you would any other enemy combatant. You need not single him out for destruction, but conduct the battle as you normally would.”
“It will be as you wish, Alexander,” Kyoko nods.
“Enemies, old and new, gather against us,” Alexander says, “So soon after we have reestablished Zeon are we again challenged. But the Miguels of Zeon will not fall!”
Nanai and Kyoko have resolved as much. The Miguels of Zeon stand together against the United Forces of Earth and Shambala who challenge them.
Episode 40 to be continued...
Episode 40 to be continued...
Shortly afterward, Nanai brings Alexander and Kyoko to the mobile suit maintenance dockyards of Cosmic Alexandria, where a cargo ship is unloading the Zeonic Corporation’s newest weapon…a design that Nanai has finally perfected after seven years of painstaking work.
“We speeded up development of this weapon after learning about the Federation’s White Phoenix Gundam and the problems it was presenting,” Nanai explains, “Kyoko can defeat the Federal Forces’ Jolie Minh, but her Elmeth Gamma might not be up to taking on the White Phoenix Gundam. We’ve eliminated that disadvantage with this new unit: the Gamma Azieru.”
It is simply an awe-inspiring engine of horrific destructive power. Built with a more anthropomorphic bent than its first ancestor, the NZ-333 piloted by Quess Parayana during the Axis conflict of U.C. 0093, the Gamma Azieru is designed primarily as a combat mobile suit, with a good balance of power and speed/maneuverability. It can also, however, convert into mobile armor configuration like Kyoko’s Elmeth Gamma, becoming a mobile battlefortress. The Gamma Azieru’s Biocontrol system has been specifically calibrated to Kyoko’s brainwave patterns, meaning that it will respond not only to her conscious commands, but will also anticipate and act upon her needs before she is even conscious upon them. The new Biocontrol system has been codenamed “Oracle,” literally capable, it would seem, of predicting Kyoko’s future up to thirty seconds in advance.
A gleam appears in Kyoko’s eye as she fingers the external lunar titanium shell of her new mobile suit. She can sense the machine’s great power…greater even than that of her previous mecha, the Elmeth Gamma.
Nanai explains, “The Gamma Azieru has a suite of thirty-six different weapons systems, all of which are keyed into your brainwave patterns, Kyoko. These systems will be fully operable through your PSI-energies, and one system…will even project and magnify that energy into a destructive wave of force.”
Kyoko smiles, “You want me to take this mobile suit and destroy the Gundams, m’lady.”
Nanai replies with a rasp, “All of them.”
“But Jolie Minh most of all,” Kyoko says insistently.
At that point, an aide comes to Archduke Miguel, breathless and obviously anxious, “Your Majesty. We have reports of an infiltration of the Side 3 Zone by hostile forces!”
“The Federal Forces?” Miguel asks coolly.
“No, Your Majesty,” replies the aide, “Initial intelligence reports indicates a squadron of Zeon-type warships, identification registry associates them with the former Callisto Zeon Forces.”
Miguel smiles darkly, “The ghost of Lara Constantinas rises to haunt me. Kyoko?”
“Alexander,” Kyoko responds with anticipation.
“I’d like you to perform an exorcism for me,” Alexander says, fingering the armored shell of the Gamma Azieru.
The Rick Dom Stingers, numbering three dozen total, initiate a quick, devastating raid on several of the Zeonic Corporation’s key supply depots and assembly facilities. With speed, stealth, and surprise on their side, the Callisto Zeon attack group is routing the Archduchy’s Gellond and Rick Diablo defense forces in the opening phases of the battle.
“We’re under massive attack!” shouts Col. Robin Cantilever of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces, “Deploy all units for defense and counterattack! Do we have a count on the number of enemy units?!”
“Negative, sir,” replies a tech, “Enemy struck at our tracking satellites and stations with the initial salvo! Judging from the damage done, though, their numbers are likely to be substantial!”
“Contact central command,” orders Cantilever, “Tell General Davenport we need reinforcements!”
General Davenport, having received the call for reinforcements, consults with Archduke Alexander Miguel.
Alexander says after a moment’s thought, “We cannot risk their penetrating too deep into Side 3; pass forth the order for reinforcements from our outlying bases. Have them form an iron perimeter around the Side 3 Zone. We’ll trap the enemy within the Side 3 Zone and crush them with a pincer formation.”
General Davenport leaves to pass that order through the chain of command. The Archduchy of Zeon Forces mobilize to safeguard their Homeland.
At the Federation’s former Garrison Noah at Side 7, a Zeon fleet deploys, its escort force of one-hundred mobile suits with it. Simultaneously, a similar-sized force deploys from Luna 2, all beginning the five hour voyage to Side 3 to strengthen the Archduchy’s defenses against those rogue Callisto Zeon traitors.
The main United Forces Armada, still lying in wait several dozen thousand kilometers from the Side 7 Zone, awaits in nervous anticipation. Combat pilots, including Minerva Zabi, Hathaway Noah, Camille Vidan, Judau Ashta, and Lu Luka, are strapped in their mobile suits, which are situated at launch catapults, awaiting the order to scramble.
But the time to strike has not come…not yet.
At the Holy Sepulcher on Earth, the Centurion Team and other remaining Special Forces units, their ranks bolstered by new recruits, also board their mobile suits and begin prepping the combat systems of their mecha for action.
Captain Jonah Michaels, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, 2Lt. Chieming Noah, MSgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said, FSgt. Tomo Higashi, Corporals Anna Horowitz and Geoff Sutcliffe sit quietly within the cockpits of their mobile suits. None of them speak. The tense silence is broken only by the system beeps of their mecha and occasional bursts of static from their helmet audio monitors. Nobody dares speak, fearing his or her next word could be his or her last…
Assorted delays related to the first combat deployment of such a sophisticated combat system has set back the first sortie of the Gamma Azieru by over ninety minutes. The engineering crew must make a few more adjustments before the Azieru is cleared as safe to operate.
Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi, the Black Raven, chews her fingernails in nervous anticipation, watching in agony as the mobile suit’s chronometer slowly ticks the minutes away, the combat computer feeding her data about the tide of battle between the Archduchy and Callisto forces locked in stalemate.
Finally, after two hours of waiting, Kyoko receives the word, “Gamma Azieru, authorized for launch deployment.”
Kyoko’s eyes flash with PSI-energy, “Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi, Gamma Azieru, deploying!”
The Gamma Azieru tears forth into space, hunting for death…
Aboard the Ahrkov, Commodore Kerr grits his teeth as two Archduchy missiles slam into his ship’s hull. The battle has continued for over two and a half hours, and the toll on both sides has begun to show.
“Damage report!” Kerr demands.
“Severe breach of hull on all upper decks, sir,” a tech reports, “Repair crews have been dispatched.”
“Get me Lt. Cmdr. Sundollar,” Kerr grunts.
The Callisto Zeon mobile suit ace’s helmeted visage appears momentarily on the forward monitor, “This is Sundollar. Commodore, do you need assistance?”
“Negative,” Kerr replies, “Continue pressing the attack. How many of our units remain?”
Sundollar replies, “Sixty-percent of our units are still in the battle, sir.”
“Good,” Kerr answers, “Don’t let up. We’ve got to break through!”
“Yes, sir,” Sundollar says, even as he directs his Rick Dom Stinger Officer Custom in a deft maneuver that brings down a Nova Doga and a Gellond-S unit, “We’re….hold on, sir…”
It’s coming…whatever it is…too fast to track…too fast to see.
In a flash of blackness, six of the Rick Dom Stingers disappear in balloons of exploding shrapnel.
“Saints and sinners…” Kerr hears Sundollar say, with a tone of awe that the commodore has never heard from the voice of the mobile suit ace.
Aboard the Gamma Azieru, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi’s eyes flash as she eliminates another half-dozen Callisto Zeon mobile suits and three warships with seemingly but a gesture of the Azieru’s beam-weapon-laden armored hand.
“All mobile suit units deploy immediately!” the voice of Federal Forces Admiral Shane McBride rings through the Ahrgama-III.
Minerva Zabi and Hathaway Noah’s Kizi Aslan and Oglu Aslan units swing forth from the launch catapults of the United Forces flagship. From the Amuro Ray’s launch decks, Camille Vidan’s Zeta Gundam, Judau Ashta’s Double Zeta Gundam, and Lu Luka’s Gundam MK-II also deploy for combat.
From dozens of other United Forces ships, hundreds of mobile suits…Javelins, Nemo-7s, Rick Diablos, Jet Jegans, and GM-IVs, deploy in combat formation, bearing down upon the Side 7 Zone.
On Earth, three dozen Special Forces mobile suits and fifteen Federation Space Armada warships, including the La Kaelum-II, from where Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie, Director of Earth Federation Special Forces, conducts the operation, launch from the Holy Sepulcher, their destination also Side 7.
The United Forces’ counterstrike against the Archduchy of Zeon has begun.
To be continued in Episode 41...
EPISODE 41: COUNTERSTRIKE AT SIDE 7
November 15, U.C. 0100
Cislunar Space sees its greatest space battle in over ten years. Not since the closing battles of the Axis War of U.C. 0088-0089 has there been such an extensive combat engagement between space warships, aerospace fighter craft, and mobile suits. Now, as then, the combatants are the forces of the Archduchy of Zeon and alliance of the Earth Federation and a populist, anti-Zeon Spacenoid movement.
One of the key figures of both conflicts has also seen the struggle from both sides, and thus, with a gnawing consciousness of the irony, Minerva Zabi, former Archduchess of Zeon and now, Executive Director of the Shambala Republic Defense Guard, leads a motley army of Shambala volunteer militia, Earth Federation Forces survivors, disaffected ex-Zeon troops, and assorted privateers and mercenaries in battle against the Archduchy of Zeon’s Space Armada. The objective of Minerva’s forces: the Side 7 space colonies, particularly the former Federation stronghold of Garrison Noah and the Luna 2 Asteroid that lies beyond it.
Minerva’s forces have two advantages working in their favor: first, naturally, is surprise. Having routed the Earth Federation Space Armada and driven them out of the Cislunar Sphere three months earlier, the leaders of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces had not counted on the Federal Forces being able to marshal what remained of their resources to mount a counterstrike. So complete and overwhelming had the Zeon forces’ victory been over the Federation that Zeon’s leaders, from Archduke Alexander Miguel on down, had reasoned that the Federation was irreparably broken; what the Zeon leaders had not counted on, however, was the resilience of the fledgling Shambala Republic in the Outer System, and how Shambala would lend its burgeoning power to support what remains of the Federal Forces.
Second, thirty percent of the Zeon garrison at Side 7/Luna 2 were dispatched some three hours earlier to Side 3 to bolster the Zeon central command and capital of Cosmic Alexandria against a lightning attack by surviving Callisto Zeon Forces. Its strength cut by a third, Zeon’s remaining forces at Side 7 are vulnerable to a quick, unanticipated strike.
The chaotic grand battle swirling like a cyclone of steel around her, Minerva takes advantage of the maneuverability and speed of her combat mobile suit, the Kizi Aslan, to dart around and through the Zeon forces’ defenses. Among the finest markswomen ever to pilot a mobile suit into combat, Minerva downs numerous Zeon mobile suits, mostly Gellonds, Rick Diablos, and Griphons, with efficient, energy-conserving single shots that land on enemy targets with pinpoint precision. That is the training and experience of a former Earth Federation Special Forces officer combined with Minerva’s innate talents.
The same cannot be said of most of the other Shambala Defense Guard mobile suit pilots, many of whom are young recruits between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. Inexperienced as combatants and thus, fighting with the burden of fear as much as with their enemies, these young pilots, typically, expend large amounts of E-clip energy charge in saturation blasts that mostly fail to inflict meaningful damage upon the enemy.
I’d better cover for them, Minerva resolves, unwilling to let her charges get picked off by the relentless, skilled, and experienced Zeon forces.
Minerva transforms the Kizi Aslan into Wavediver mode, then corkscrews into the enemy formation behind a torrent of missile fire, each stream of which finds a target to which to connect. Having broken the formation, at least momentarily, Minerva transforms the Kizi back into mobile suit configuration, picking off the disoriented enemy units before they can recover and counterattack.
Minerva finds the welcome relief of her fiancé Hathaway Noah’s strafing run in his own Oglu Aslan, the Kizi’s slightly better armed, slightly less swift counterpart. Hathaway converts the Oglu to mobile suit configuration, and is soon back-to-back with Minerva’s Kizi. Together, they clear a screen of Zeon mobile suits.
Minerva opens communications channels to her subordinates through her helmet transmitter monitor, “All units: advance into Garrison Noah. Eliminate all resistance, but use caution. There are allied survivors we don’t want to endanger, and we’re also very much interested in Garrison Noah’s facilities.”
“Roger, ma’am,” comes the collective reply.
Seems like I’ve been giving commands my entire life, Minerva reflects, it’s always been more a burden than a privilege; success will be determined by how soon and how completely I can leave that burden to someone else.
There’ll be time for reflection later – for now, only the battle exists.
Halfway between Side 7 and Side 3, Commodore Harlan Horn of the Zeon Space Armada, from the bridge of his flagship Torazon, receives the distress call from Zeon’s Side 7 Command.
“They attacked without warning!” comes the voice of Brigadier General Ivan Venz, Zeon commander of Garrison Side 7, “I need backup units over here right now, Commodore Horn!”
Horn takes a moment to consider that. From Side 3, General Davenport had called for reinforcements over three hours ago, and Horn’s relief force is presently halfway between the Side 3 and Side 7 zones. To whose aid should he go?
Horn arrives at a decision within seconds; his forces will go to Side 3. Archduke Miguel would forgive Horn for sacrificing Side 7 if it meant preserving Cosmic Alexandria and the main garrison.
Horn opens his mouth to deliver his reply of regret to General Venz that his forces will not be able to come to the Side 7 garrison’s aid, but before he can utter a single syllable, the Torazon is slammed with an impact so forceful and a flash of light so brilliant that they defy human comprehension, let alone expression.
For better or worse, Horn will never need to concern himself with understanding or describing the experience, which lasts but a fraction of a second. Indeed, Horn is rendered into atoms before the firing of neurons to form such considerations can even begin.
As the ships and mobile suits of Horn’s fleet balloon into superheated shrapnel, over one-hundred kilometers past the shattered fleet’s position streak the mobile suits of the Earth Federation Special Forces, propelled by M-Booster packs at a speed approaching Mach 60 towards the heading of Side 7. A torrent of hundreds of missiles, fired backwards from the M-Booster’s weapon system launch nacelles (opposite to the flight direction of the M-Booster), were responsible for the quick destruction of the Torazon and its accompanying fleet.
What of the Torazon fleet survived the Special Forces’ blitzkrieg bombardment is quickly mopped up by cannon fire from the Earth Federation attack fleet spearheaded by the La Kaelum-II and its escort fleet of destroyers, frigates, and battle carriers launched from the Holy Sepulcher on the island of Taiwan on Earth.
On the bridge of the La Kaelum-II, captained by Captain Chad LaRosa, but serving as the flagship for the Federation assault force, Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie, the newly appointed Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces, orders the forces under her command forward.
“Advance quickly into the Side 7 Zone,” Christina commands with a calm that comes from confidence, “We’ll rendezvous with the United Forces Armada already assaulting the Zeon forces at the garrison.”
Across the Cislunar Sphere, in the Side 3 Zone, the situation is not nearly as sanguine for the Callisto Zeon Forces. Though reinforcements for the Archduchy of Zeon Forces have not arrived to bolster the units deployed from Cosmic Alexandria, the force dispatched by General Ross Davenport under the orders of Archduke Miguel are proving more than adequate in repelling the Callisto Zeon with brutal effectiveness.
That result is due primarily to the contributions of a new war machine that the Archduchy’s forces have just posted to the battlefront…an ebony titan of terror designated NZ-555 Gamma Azieru, piloted by the Archduchy’s dark angel of death – the Black Raven, Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi.
Using the staggeringly awesome power at her command, which dwarfs even that of her previous combat mecha, the mighty Elmeth Gamma, Kyoko toys with her enemies…dispatching them with contemptuous ease.
Not so much “exorcise” as “exercise,” Kyoko laments, Where is Jolie Minh? Who else can make combat an art rather than acts of mindless slaughter?
As if by design, a Rick Dom Stinger, painted a distinct shade of yellow and black as opposed to the dark crimson and black of the standard RD Stinger units, darts towards the Gamma Azieru’s six o’clock position, deftly firing a triple barrage of rocket propelled grenades with the sort of effortless precision characteristic of an ace pilot.
In the cockpit of the Azieru, Kyoko grins…not the White Phoenix, but for now, Kyoko will settle even for someone who can provide a momentary diversion.
With casualness unnatural to such intense combat, Kyoko twists the Gamma Azieru out of the converging flight paths of the three incoming missiles.
To be continued...
Episode 41 continued...
In the cockpit of the Rick Dom Stinger (Officer’s Type), Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Sundollar, commanding officer the Calliston Zeon Forces’ 29th Mechanized Assault Corps, the infamous “Viper Squad,” hisses in frustration…and growing unease.
Nobody has ever dodged all three of my Triple Shots before, Sundollar considers, even if an enemy managed to not get bitten the first two times, he’s always fallen to the third. She’s something special, this “Black Raven.”
Having acknowledged as much, Sundollar sets aside his pride in his own prowess and calls in the rest of the Viper Squad to circle in for a brood kill.
The Vipers move in for the kill, surrounding the Gamma Azieru in an unbreakable coil of lunar titanium…a coil that constricts more tightly, suffocating, like the muscles of a mighty giant python.
Kyoko allows the pressure to build upon her for a moment…just so that she can feel something other than a gnawing sense of growing ennui. Kyoko knows that her adversaries are formidable – likely among the Callisto Zeon Forces’ elites. Their superior skill was likely the factor that has enabled them to survive for so long after the demise of the bulk of their erstwhile comrades.
But the extraordinary skill that saved them previously will be inadequate for the Viper Squad today…inadequate against the Black Raven’s overwhelming might.
The Rick Dom Stingers’ multiple weapons systems are brought to bear upon Kyoko’s advanced transformable mobile suit, leaving no time or margin for error.
As if there could be any…
As Nanai had promised, the Gamma Azieru’s advanced Biocontrol system anticipates Kyoko’s needs ahead of the incidences of the battle itself. Five seconds ahead of when she needs to, Kyoko twists and spins the Azieru out of the enemy’s attack trajectories. Before the Rick Dom Stinger pilots’ minds have even begun a transition from attack to evasion/defense, the Gamma Azieru has already targeted, locked on, and deployed a selection of its thirty-six weapons systems against them.
All wreckage, all memories, in an instant…all except Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Sundollar and his lone remaining Rick Dom Stinger…not so much as a consequence of his considerable skill as Kyoko’s unwillingness to let the game end so soon.
Desperate, his mobile suit’s ranged weaponry expended and his comrades all fallen, Sundollar makes one last final gambit to survive – to avenge his brothers-at-arms – and to bring victory to the Callisto Zeon. Drawing the Rick Dom Stinger’s heat saber, Sundollar twists his mobile suit in an upward thrust and brings the weapon down in a beautifully executed, unstoppable downward arcing slash towards his enemy.
But the Gamma Azieru simply isn’t there.
An instant later, the Azieru’s beam saber flashes through the Rick Dom Stinger’s midsection before Kyoko withdraws her mobile suit’s weapon and returns it with a quick flourish to the Azieru’s internal nacelle.
As Sundollar’s Rick Dom Stinger Officer Custom begins to collapse, he has time for one final curse – directed not only towards Kyoko, but towards Alexander Miguel and his regime, “Minerva Zabi will BURY YOU!”
Sundollar’s defiance is rewarded with a quick blast from one of the Gamma Azieru’s beam cannon completing his destruction.
The cream of the Callisto Zeons’ mobile suit forces eliminated, Kyoko turns her attention to their capital ship fleet…
On the bridge of the Ahrkov, Commodore Garwin Kerr receives word of the Viper Squad’s demise.
If only we had better intelligence on Miguel’s troop movements before we committed to this assault, Kerr laments, maybe we could have…
It is to be Kerr’s final, incomplete thought as a bolt of beam fire from the Gamma Azieru atomizes the Ahrkov and its crew, putting an effective end to the Callisto Zeon’s final assault on Side 3.
At Side 7 clear across the diameter of the Cislunar Sphere, the United Forces continue to mount a furious assault against a relentless Archduchy of Zeon Forces defense. The United Forces are gradually chipping away at that defense, whittling it down at a steady, but agonizingly slow pace. Casualties are beginning to mount on both sides, although at a much more alarming rate among the Zeon defenders than among the United Forces’ assault force.
Still, Minerva knows that unless her forces can score a breakthrough soon, they will be very much in peril. They are in hostile territory now; there is nowhere to which to retreat.
Cognizant of that fact, Hathaway Noah opens communications to Minerva, “Babe, we’re going to need to score that knockout punch soon or this whole operation is going to holy hell.”
“Don’t worry,” Minerva says reassuringly, “it won’t.”
Prophesy on the dime.
With flash and fury, the mobile suits of the Earth Federation Special Forces streak into the midst of the battle, still hot from the velocity achieved by the M-Booster packs they had ditched several thousand kilometers back. The Special Forces take the scene by storm, striking out with a vigor that has been held in store for too long.
“TELL me you didn’t plan this!” Hathaway exhales in disbelief.
Minerva does not reply, offering nothing more than a slight, enigmatic grin.
The Zeons’ defense, which until now had proven stubbornly resilient, collapses completely – unable to resist the intervention of the Special Forces on top of the United Forces Armada’s sustained assault against them…
…especially not against the White Phoenix Gundam piloted by 1Lt. Jolie Minh.
For a moment, the WPG appears to be routing the entire Zeon Armada by itself. Dozens of Zeon mobile suits and at least seven Zeon capital warships disappear in a storm of beam and missile fire.
The Zeon forces fall back towards Side 7 in disarray.
Minerva hails the incoming Earth Federation Special Forces assault group, "This is Executive Director Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic Defense Guard - thank you, Federal Forces support."
A familiar, girlish voice comes excitedly over the receiver unit in Minerva’s normalsuit helmet, “’Thena! ‘Thena! It’s us!”
Minerva can’t help smiling at the sound of the familiar voice, “It’s good to hear your voice again, Jolie.”
Soon, Minerva’s helmet receivers are filled with the sounds of other familiar voices…her former teammates on the Centurion Team, all eager to greet her again after having lost her for so many months. Without exception, the voices are warm and affectionate, as the Centurions remain loyal to their previous commanding officer, who had led them through peril after peril to so many improbable victories.
But sentimental reunions will need to wait; the Zeon still occupy Side 7 and until that is changed, the mission cannot be judged a success.
Minerva opens communications to her present and former charges alike, “We must take Side 7 and Luna 2 now.”
The United Forces follow Minerva’s lead past the perimeter of the Side 7 Zone on a heading directly towards Green Noah 1, site of Garrison Noah.
Before they can penetrate the space colony, however, the United Forces are met by fresh resistance from Zeon Forces deployed from within the stronghold that is Garrison Noah.
The United Forces, however, prove superior, and quickly gain the upper hand.
But there is something else accounting for the quick collapse of the Zeons’ resistance beyond the superiority of the United Forces. Minerva observes closely and notices that more than a few of the enemy mecha are simply…falling apart…or beginning to function poorly of their own accord.
“Hey, ‘Thena,” Jolie demands, “What’s going on? We’re not even hitting ‘em and these Zeke mecha are breaking up like cheap toys! Is Miguel getting crappy merchandise from his arms suppliers or…?”
“Saboteurs,” Jonah surmises.
“Jonah’s right,” Minerva concurs, having reached the same conclusion, “somebody inside Side 7 isn’t much of a supporter of Zeon, and has access to Zeon military technology.”
Minerva has half a guess about whom that “somebody” might be…
Within the MS docks of Garrison Noah, currently occupied by the Archduchy of Zeon Forces, Zeon military technicians scramble to get mobile suits ready for deployment…a hectic enough demand under optimum circumstances, and presently, circumstances are far from optimum.
One immediate problem is that the mobile suits on both the active and reserve deployment rosters are suffering from myriads of maintenance problems. These problems range from comparatively minor to catastrophic, but they are hindering at least a third of the mobile suits from deploying, and even those that can be deployed are functioning at less than full capacity.
Upon gaining control of Side 7 in August, the Archduchy of Zeon Forces took a number of Earth Federation Forces personnel as POWs. A majority of these, the Zeon Forces summarily executed soon after taking command of Garrison Noah, but some have been spared and imprisoned because their specialized skills have proven useful…particularly the MS engineers and technicians whose expertise is of immeasurable value.
Thus, Earth Federation Special Forces MS Chief Engineer 1Lt. Molly Duran and the team of junior engineers and technicians with whom she has worked for years have been pressed into forced service by their enemies after the fall of Garrison Noah to the Zeon. At first, Molly and her crew fiercely resisted the Zeons’ attempt to force them to service their combat mecha, but after several weeks of imprisonment, torture, and threats, Molly and the crew finally acquiesced…
...or at least pretended to, so they could gain access to the Zeons' weaponry and sabotage it.
Not long after 2Lt. Molly Duran graduated from the Earth Federation Forces Officers’ Academy, she was assigned to duty with the Special Forces. From their officers, particularly her commanding officer Athena Ibaz, Molly learned not a few things about the art of warfare…
Molly and her crew’s monkey work with the Zeons’ mecha has been subtle…nothing that would cause undue notice. A missing component here…an improperly calibrated gear or nut there. Everything would *seem* to pass muster…until the Zeon pilots pushed their mecha to meet the demands of combat.
A harried Zeon junior officer opens the lock to Molly’s cell, barking fiercely at her, “You! We need you on the launch deck immediately! Our Gellonds’ thruster systems are breaking down! You’ll repair them or face a firing squad!”
Molly has heard such threats before, and knows that she can risk the enemy not carrying those threats out. Her expertise, and those of her crew, are simply to valuable to squander that way.
As Molly is led at gunpoint to the launch deck by three Zeon MPs, she overhears a conversation between two other Zeon officers in a nearby corridor, “…Federal Forces are breaking through are last lines of defense. We might have to give up the Side 7 Garrison…”
Molly’s heart pounds in excitement…is it possible? Is the Federation about to mount a counterattack? Is Garrison Noah about to be liberated?
Molly receives the answer to her unspoken questions in an equally nonverbal form…as a series of hellacious explosions that throw her and the Zeon officers off their feet and send them crashing violently upon the corridor walls.
Molly opens her eyes and coughs as dust and soot choke the air around her. Through the dry, grey mist, she sees and hears chaos as Zeon soldiers rush – some in fearful flight, others bravely towards combat, and most simply out of shock and confusion. It takes a moment for Molly to gather herself and figure out precisely what is happening.
The sight of Captain Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam through the blasted roof of the barrack provides Molly all the information she needs.
Molly grins, Well, it’s about freakin’ TIME, guys!
Molly notes one of the MPs who had been escorting her towards the MS dock rising, groaning in pain. His partner lies dead.
Molly sends the enemy soldier to oblivion with a sharp elbow to the nose. As the man goes down, Molly dispossesses him of his rifle.
A few more Zeon soldiers rush into the corridor, Molly chases them off with some rapid fire from her newly acquired rifle.
Molly searches the corpses of the fallen Zeon MPs for keycards…time to spring her people from the coop.
Episode 41 to be continued...
Episode 41 continued...
The Battle for Side 7 has become an urban MS battle on the streets of Side 7. MS from both sides take behind multistory buildings and other large structures as they snipe each other out of the war.
Both the United Forces and the Archduchy of Zeon Forces have fielded the some of their best warriors to this engagement, but the sabotage that the POW ex-Federation engineers and technicians have inflicted on the Zeon mecha is telling. Even if they hadn’t been saddled with that disadvantages, Archduke Miguel’s finest would be hard pressed to deal with 1Lt. Jolie Minh and her White Phoenix Gundam, which simply immolates the Zeon mobile suits one after another as if they were stationary objects the size of the sun.
To Jolie Minh, they might as well be.
The struggle continues for the better part of an hour and then, responding to a retreat order from Side 3, the Zeon Occupation Forces at Side 7 withdraw.
“After them,” Minerva orders tersely, “No prisoners!”
The United Forces surge forward, complying with their leader’s instructions to spare not a single fleeing Zeon combatant.
Only one member of the United Forces contingent seems hesitant: Captain Jonah Michaels, commanding officer of the Centurion Team.
“No prisoners?” Is that what Minerva’s game is? To kill anyone and everyone who stands in the way? What makes what she’s dong any different from what Alexander has done? And Jolie…Jolie seems so eager to follow Minerva’s lead.
Despite these misgivings, Jonah joins his comrades-at-arms in a massive bombardment attack against the fleeing Zeon forces. Their ordnance, though plentiful, will not be equal to the task that Minerva has given them.
Minerva, of course, is already aware of that, and thus, her next command, “Jolie…finish them!”
“Roger, ma’am,” Jolie replies reflexively.
But Jolie does not prime the WPG’s targeting computers for a beam or missile attack. To carry out Minerva’s orders, Jolie must use an entirely different dimension of the WPG’s power…and her own.
Jolie focuses, channeling her PSI-energy, coalescing it into a singular force.
Jolie screams fiercely as she unleashes that power through the WPG’s Biosensor system.
A sheet of white flame…many dozens of kilometers wide and hundreds of kilometers long, lashes forth from the WPG, engulfing the fleeing Zeon units…mobile suits, aerospace fighters, and warships in pure light. The light shines impossibly bright, overwhelming the tinted light filters of the United Forces pilots’ helmet visors, forcing them to cover their faces with their arms and hands.
Then, the light fades; of the Zeon forces, there is no trace.
“Oh my God…,” someone gasps.
“God” is perhaps the only appropriate word to describe what has just transpired.
An hour later, a wild reunion erupts in the streets of Green Oasis City as the citizens and Federation troops who reside in the colony celebrate their liberation after three brutal months of occupation by the Archduchy of Zeon Forces.
“Molly!” Jolie screams joyfully as she spots the Centurion Team’s chief engineer and her crew of mechanics.
“Hey, punk!” Molly says, grinning, giving her teammate a warm embrace, “Thought you f*cking DIED!”
Jolie makes a face, “You think those Zekes could nail me? Get real, Molly!”
Molly sees Captain Jonah Michaels...and Minerva Zabi, whom Molly once knew as Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz, and embraces them both.
“Jonah…Athena,” Molly says fondly, “God, I’m so glad to see you guys again. I knew you wouldn’t let us down.”
“It’s ‘Minerva Zabi’ now, Molly,” Minerva says to the loyal Federation MS engineer, “We all missed you too.”
“What now, Minerva?” Jonah asks, looking out at the smoking ruins of the streets of Green Oasis Colony.
Minerva says, “Get Garrison Noah up and running again as soon as possible. Help the people here rebuild their homes and their lives as best we can, then move on. We still have many miles to cover before this war is over.”
Side 7 belongs to the Earth Federation (under the aegis of the United Forces) again, but the rest of Cislunar Space remains.
At Cosmic Alexandria, Archduke Alexander Miguel gazes coldly out a colony window, watching as construction crews work feverishly on a dozen of Side 3’s abandoned colony cylinders…hollowing them out for some unspecified purpose.
General Ross Davenport enters and salutes, “Your Majesty, my apologies. I regret to report that our occupation forces at Side 7 have been routed. The United Forces have taken Side 7, Your Majesty.”
“That is regrettable,” Miguel says resignedly, “but we have not lost the war – not by a long shot. Let the United Forces come closer…we will burn them with the flame of the stars themselves.”
As Miguel gazes on the construction crews working endlessly on the nearby colonies, he smiles as images of flame, light, and death come into his imagination.
To be continued in Episode 42...
EPISODE 42: SIEGE AT LUNA 2
November 18, U.C. 0100…
The United Forces have secured Side 7, and are working rapidly to refurbish Garrison Noah to full active combat status. Mobile suit repair and production facilities, inactive or in the process of being converted to Zeon use, are restored to their original function of servicing and producing Earth Federation Forces combat mecha, and are swiftly returned to service. Already, work is being performed on these facilities in repairing damaged Federal Forces mobile suits and other mobile war machines, and production of new mecha and weaponry expected to begin again by the end of the week.
At the same time, newly produced mecha manufactured for the Federation and the Shambala Republic by the unholy corporate triad (Anaheim, Kuromizu, and Luo) have begun to arrive at Garrison Noah from the Triad’s manufacturing plants in Jupiter orbit along with a sizable supply of compressed hydrogen gas fuel and a fleet of warships from the Jupitorius shipyards.
A plan is coming together to drive the Archduchy of Zeon Forces out of Cislunar Space…entrap them, and eradicate them from the universe.
A hunt of cosmic proportions is on, and the prey is one man: Archduke Alexander Miguel.
But this prey is himself a dangerous predator, and will not have his blood spilled without spilling that of his tormentors first…
Garrison Noah hums with activity as the United Forces make preparations to continue their counteroffensive against the Archduchy of Zeon. The base, which is being reinforced by personnel and equipment being shuttled up from the “Holy Sepulcher” on Earth, is on 24-hour alert.
Even so, there is much necessary downtime, and the members and ex-members of the Earth Federation Special Forces’ Centurion Team are taking advantage of a few quiet hours to catch up with each other after several months apart.
The bulk of the Centurion Team was forced to retreat to the Holy Sepulcher on the island of Taiwan in the aftermath of the Zeon Skyfall assault. The team was under the temporary command of 2Lt. Chieming Noah after commanding officer Captain Jonah Michaels and senior executive officer 1Lt. Jolie Minh went missing action while attempting (unsuccessfully) to thwart the Skyfall operation. To a man and woman, the team speaks of their feelings of utter helplessness and frustration as the Zeon Occupation Forces unleashed catastrophe upon the people of Earth, and the Centurions could do nothing to protect the planet’s people or put a halt to the Zeon assault upon the planet. They are thus now eager to take the fight to the Zeon…to put an end to the threat of those murderous fanatics and avenge the memories of the billions they slaughtered on Earth and in the space colonies.
Captain Jonah Michaels and 1Lt. Jolie Minh relate a harrowing tale of their experiences fighting alongside the 8th Battalion, 15th MS Corps, 3rd Army Earth Federation Forces – a ground-based unit nicknamed the “Desert Dogs” commanded by a gritty master sergeant named Cunningham Tanaka. Jonah, Jolie, and the Dogs were pinned down for months in the Kunlun Mountains of the central China, and only MSgt. Tanaka and his men’s brave sacrifice finally resulted in inflicting crippling losses to the Zeon Occupation Forces in East Asia via the detonation of nuclear weapons hidden at a previously undiscovered subterranean Federation base located far beneath the Chinese hinterlands.
Executive Director Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic Defense Guard, who was once Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz, commanding officer of the Centurion Team and Deputy Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces, catches her former charges up on her activities during the past few months in her new role, particularly an operation she directed on Mars that resulted in the destruction of a third of the Zeon Armada, paving the way for the current counteroffensive.
The gathering takes place within the Special Forces Commissary, a once-familiar venue for the Special Forces operatives that they frequented to unwind as well as dine. Thankfully, the Zeon occupation of Garrison Noah did not alter Special Forces’ favorite old haunt much…
Footsteps alert the Centurions and their onetime commanding officer to the arrival of an attractive, red-haired woman. The Centurions rise and salute as they spot Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie, the newly appointed Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces.
Christina crisply returns the Centurions’ salutes, and then extends her hand and a smile to Minerva. Minerva returns the smile and takes the other woman’s hand in her own.
As a cadet at the Earth Federation Forces Officers’ Academy, Minerva, then operating under her Athena Ibaz name and identity, trained in MS combat tactics under then-Major Christina McKenzie’s tutelage. Christina found Athena more than simply an extraordinary student; indeed, Athena taught Christina a few new maneuvers and strategies based on exploiting innate weaknesses in Zeon MS combat techniques. Instructor and pupil became good friends, and it was Christina who endorsed Athena’s enlistment for Special Forces duty even before Athena had graduated from Academy.
Christina says warmly, “It’s been a long time, Athena…or is it ‘Minerva’ these days?”
Minerva replies, “More than three years, Chris…or is it Director McKenzie these days? You don’t know how much it’s pleased me to hear that the Federation has finally deigned to appoint you the new head officer of the Special Forces.”
That earns a chuckle from Christina, “The Command Staff finally ran out of sycophants to promote.”
“Peter Cairlay was much more than a sycophant,” Minerva remarks dryly, “He was a dangerous anti-Spacenoid reactionary who saw genocide as a legitimate military tactic.”
Christina nods knowingly, “You purged him from our ranks…at considerable personal cost.”
Christina indicates Minerva’s cybernetic left arm with a sympathetic glance at the synthetic limb.
“While we’re on that subject,” Christina continues, her expression lightening, “I want to be the one to tell you that the Federation Security Council and President Brenner have cleared you of all charges. You’re no longer wanted by the Federation authorities for treason, murder, or any associated charges.”
Minerva responds with a knowing smirk, “So I figured: I’ve been here for days, and no Federal Forces MPs have seen fit to throw me into the stockade.”
“You’re too valuable right now for the Federation to even think of pressing charges,” Christina answers, “You say that you have a plan for taking back Luna 2?”
“I do,” Minerva says straightly, “Jonah, Jolie?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the couple responds reflexively.
Minerva can’t help chuckling, “At ease, you two. I’m not in the Federal Forces anymore, so you two aren’t my subordinates any longer. Still, I’d like the favor of your private company, along with Lt. Col. McKenzie here, in my office for an hour or so if that’s possible.”
Christina answers for them all, “Lead the way, Minerva.”
Lead the way…
The quartet gathers in Minerva’s temporary office, which in a stroke of irony, is the same office she occupied when she was Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Special Forces.
I’ve made a long, tortuous journey only to find I’ve just completed a huge circuit to return here, Minerva sighs internally.
Seating herself at her old desk, Minerva turns her head to find her old Rococo clock still in its place on the shelf…still ticking away.
Jonah smiles, “I left your office exactly the way it was when you were still here; I am surprised, though, that the Zeon were similarly considerate.”
“The Zeon might be militant fanatics,” Minerva points out, “but we have, historically, also proven to have a touch of class.”
Minerva gives Jonah a knowing wink as she voices the pronoun “we.” Her own identity as the former Duchess of Zeon is no longer a secret to anyone, but Jonah’s identity as Jonah Miguel, younger brother of the notorious Archduke Alexander, is known only to his teammates on the Centurion Team. The Federation at large does not know of the current Centurion Team Leader’s Zeon noble lineage. Although Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie is a friend who can be trusted with such a secret, Minerva decides that some things are best left unsaid…
Christina gets down to business, “Minerva, what of this plan to assault Luna 2? Despite our regaining control of Garrison Noah, Luna 2 is an extremely tough nut to crack.”
Minerva nods, “Nuts are always difficult to get at from the outside…but what about rotting them from within?”
“What do you mean?” Christina asks.
“My intelligence people have been surveying Luna 2 for the past few days,” Minerva says, “The Zeon have stationed quite a force there…more than we can overcome in a direct confrontation. If we launch a direct assault, our chances for success are only 40 percent, and even if we do succeed, the cost in terms of personnel and equipment lost would be unacceptably heavy.”
A knock comes at the door. An operative of the Shambala Republic Intelligence Agency enters, handing Minerva an Infochip.
“This was obtained by Director Noah within the hour, ma’am,” the operative reports, “It contains the data you wanted on the current internal schematics of Luna 2.”
“Thank you,” Minerva says to the operative, “When is Director Noah due to return from the field?”
“Ma’am,” the operative says, “Director Noah reported that he’d be back at approximately 06:00.”
“Eight hours from now,” Minerva remarks, glancing at her Rococo clock, “Please return to your duties.”
“Ma’am,” the operative salutes and departs.
“You haven’t lost that command confidence,” Christina observes with a grin.
“You saw too much of it back when you were my instructor at the Academy,” Minerva grins.
“Tell me about it,” Christina says, “I wrote in your file that the officer staff should give you command immediately because if they didn’t, you’d take it from them.”
Minerva only smiles; Christina jests, but the red-haired Director of the Special Forces is closer to the truth than she could even guess.
Leading the discussion back on topic, Minerva inserts the Infochip into the terminal built into her desk. Momentarily, an image of Luna 2’s current internal schematic layout appears as a three-dimensional hologram in Minerva’s office.
“Ever since taking over Luna 2,” Minerva explains, “the Archduchy of Zeon Forces have been converting it for their use. For the most part, these conversions have been relatively minor modifications, but the Zeon have almost completely overhauled Luna 2’s nuclear fusion power core…which is understandable as it was running on pre-One Year’s War technology. The key change to the system is the installation of a tripartite energy route from the core to the three major fueling and maintenance dock platforms that comprise the Luna 2 Strategic Command Headquarters. These energy routes operate on a relay system. If we can compromise this relay system, then we can effectively shut Luna 2 down.”
“What’s the best way to accomplish that?” Christina asks.
“Infiltration by a small number of personnel without mecha,” Minerva replies, “Three operatives will do…provided that they’re the right people for the job.”
So saying, Minerva turns to Jolie and Jonah.
Jolie rises with a grin, “The Three Musketeers are back in business?”
Minerva returns the smile, “Seems like we can’t get away from it.”
Jonah interjects, “How are we going to get into Luna 2, Minerva?”
Minerva says, “My people are working on it. Details in a few hours.”
Sensing that the three close comrades need some more privacy, Christina rises and says diplomatically, “You’ll need MS support for a follow-up attack and to cover your getaway after you’ve succeeded in crippling Luna 2. I’ll make arrangements for it.”
So saying, Christina leaves to see to that detail. Minerva, Jolie, and Jonah smile. Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie is an immeasurable improvement over Col. Peter Cairlay as Director of the Special Forces. Cairlay expected them all to die to execute his anti-Spacenoid vision; McKenzie’s expectation is to do whatever can be done to preserve as many lives as possible. Trust, never an expectation within the Special Forces during Cairlay’s tenure as their director, is now a more viable expectation under Lt. Col. McKenzie’s leadership.
Even so, certain things can only be discussed among those who have faced death together in the fires of combat.
Minerva inserts a cigarette between her lips and lights it as she says, “I sense there was something you two wanted to tell me earlier, but didn’t want to mention to the others.”
Jolie and Jonah look at each other solemnly, and are silent for a long moment before Jolie whispers, “When we were on Earth, Jonah and I were going to have a baby. We lost her during a battle against the Zeon Occupation Forces.”
Minerva exhales with a sigh, “I’m very sorry to hear that, Jolie…and Jonah. Both of you deserve better than that. But this damned war…”
Minerva shakes her head and takes another toke on her cigarette.
“We were going to name her ‘Joanie Athena,’” Jolie continues, “after you.”
Minerva, genuinely touched, slowly unfurls a smile, “Such a burden, that name.”
Jonah sighs, “I only wish she could have had a chance to live up to it.”
The mood in the room turns somber.
Minerva rescues the situation with the remark, “In Joanie’s memory then, we must bring an end to this war.”
Jolie and Jonah nod in agreement – their thoughts the same as Minerva’s.
Seizing the initiative to turn their spirits in a more positive direction, Minerva takes her two friends’ hands into her own and smiles at them, “So you two have finally gotten married?”
Jolie and Jonah smile and blush, and Jonah answers first, “We’ve sort of agreed to it ourselves. We consider each other as husband and wife now, even though our marriage isn’t registered with or sanctioned by any government or church.”
Minerva nods, “Then you two are married, congratulations. In a world where doom can literally fall out of the sky at any moment, of what importance is a government or a church? If you love each other uncompromisingly in your hearts, then you’re married in the only sense that it matters.”
Jolie and Jonah find themselves once again in agreement with Minerva’s perspective, and the subject provokes Jolie to ask, “’Thena…what about you and Hathaway? Are you two…?”
Minerva smiles coyly, “We’re not as freewheeling and footloose as you two. We still want government sanction, but…Hathaway proposed to me a few months ago, and I accepted.”
Jolie and Jonah burst with delight, taking turns hugging Minerva tightly.
“Oh, ‘Thena!” Jolie gushes, her joy uncontainable, “I’m so happy for you!”
“Congratulations, Minerva,” Jonah adds warmly, “You two will be very happy together.”
“So when’s the wedding?” Jolie asks with a mischievous grin, “I so wanted to be your bridesmaid, but I jumped the gun and got married first myself…sorry!”
Minerva laughs, “You wanted to beat me at something other than MS combat. You finally did it. You got married before I did. Like you and Jonah, Hathaway and I already regard ourselves as husband and wife, but we’re putting off the wedding for three years.”
“Why?” Jolie asks.
“That’s about as much time as I figure we’ll need to end the war and get the Shambala Republic really functioning as a sovereign state,” Minerva says, “I want to be married and settled in an orderly, peaceful world…not a chaotic and ceaselessly violent one.”
“We can understand,” Jonah says quietly, his thoughts turning again to his unborn daughter, as do Jolie’s.
Not giving discouraging reflections a chance to settle in, Minerva says, “We’d better turn our attention to the details of how this plan will work. Hathaway and his personnel are bringing back a Zeon hydrosuit mobile work pod. That’ll be our ticket into Luna 2. Apart from needing its facilities to supply further attacks into Zeon-controlled space, we also want to do as much damage to the Zeon forces stationed there. That’ll significantly reduce the Zeons’ ability to resist our attacks against them in Cislunar Space.”
Minerva directs Jolie and Jonah’s attention to the schematic of Luna 2’s inner layout, highlighting the vulnerable areas where she wants them to attack, “We’ll lay a series of timed explosives at these points here. We don’t need a large number of explosives; just a few at the right spots will get the job done.”
Jolie and Jonah study the schematic carefully, memorizing the layout of Luna 2, with which they are generally familiar from routine patrol stops in the past. The locations indicated by Minerva are no mystery to them. The trio then discusses their best options for entry, delivery of the explosives, and exit.
Just like old times…
To be continued...
Episode 42 continued...
Three Shambala Republic Defense Guard mobile suits, led by Hathaway Noah’s Oglu Aslan, guide a slightly damaged Hydrosuit work pod into Garrison Noah. The Zeon had brought a number of these with them to Side 7 when they occupied the colony, but all the units that the United Forces were able to find in the aftermath of the battle to retake the colony were too severely damaged to be salvaged, thus necessitating Hathaway and his personnel capturing a unit from their surveillance sweep of Luna 2.
The Hydrosuit docks at Garrison Noah’s military spaceport, and 1Lt. Molly Duran and her crew of technicians immediately get to work on it. For Molly and her technician crew, there is the tremendous satisfaction of plying their expert skill and knowledge for the Earth Federation Forces again after months of being forced to work at the behest of those damned Zeon dogs, even though there had been some gratification at having sabotaged the Zeon’s war machines enough to contribute to their defeat at Side 7.
Within two hours, Molly and her personnel have completed their repairs to the Hydrosuit unit. All is ready.
“I really wish you’d let me go with you,” Hathaway Noah says to his fiancée, “You guys are putting yourself into a very dangerous situation. You’re going to need all the help you can get.”
“You aren’t Special Forces,” Minerva replies with a coy smile.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Hathaway says with mild exasperation, “I wouldn’t want to interfere with your Feddie fraternity business.”
Minerva cannot help having a titter at Hathaway’s jealous tone, then says soothingly, “I know you’re good…the finest espionage and intelligence man in the world, maybe. But this is a Special Forces mission. There are certain procedures…certain areas of intuitive knowledge that comes only with our shared training and experiences. As good as you are, Hathaway, you weren’t trained a 'Feddie,' like Jolie, Jonah, and I were.”
“I know,” Hathaway says, wrapping Minerva warmly in his embrace and holding her close, stroking her feathery blonde hair, “I just want to help.”
“You will,” Minerva says, “I’ll need you in another aspect of the operation…leading the MS assault and recovery operation with your sister and the other Centurions after we accomplish our end of the mission. That’ll be no less important to achieving our objectives than what the three of us will be doing inside Luna 2.”
Hathaway smiles and nods understandingly, “I won’t let you down.”
He means that on several levels beyond the most direct and literal.
Fifteen minutes remain before the operation is set to begin. The couple makes the most of it, holding each other quietly for a few minutes.
“You say that you and Jolie and Jonah have a shared intuitive sense because of your training and combat experiences together,” Hathaway says at last, “As Newtypes, though, isn’t it possible for all of us to share that?”
Minerva gives Hathaway a gentle slap on the shoulder, “You just won’t give up, will you?”
“I’d never have gotten you if I gave up so easily,” Hathaway points out.
“Probably,” Minerva says, addressing both the original question and the follow-up comment, “But part of trusting…of loving…of being together, is knowing when it’s necessary to be apart for a while.”
Hathaway accepts that at last, “Good luck, honey. Please come back to me safely. If something happens to you, I…”
“…will complete the mission,” Minerva finishes for Hathaway, “That’s more important than anything else, Hathaway. If…if I can’t come back, then finish what we started. Promise me that.”
Hathaway looks worriedly at his beloved for a moment, and then their lips draw closer until they touch. The two drink deeply of each other’s love, perhaps fearful that it could be a final taste.
Jolie and Jonah take advantage of the final few minutes before deployment to re-familiarize themselves with the internal layout of Luna 2…their targeted locations, and the details of how they will execute Minerva’s plan. They commit the knowledge to their memories, as ironclad as their own names.
Jonah closes his Datapad and stores it away in his utility belt. The young commanding officer of the Centurion Team sighs, closing his eyes. Even now, after more than a year as a combat officer with the Special Forces (and more near-death experiences during the past eighteen months than some other, more fortunate troops see in decades), Jonah cannot help but experience that creeping sense of anxiety in the moments before a battle begins. He’s gotten quite good at tuning everything else out and focusing on the moment during a battle, but the pre-battle fears are something he still hasn’t overcome.
Jonah opens his eyes as he feels the warm, soft touch of Jolie’s hand on his. Her beautiful smile dispels all the fears.
Jolie leans her head against his shoulder, and Jonah holds her gently. When they are together, as they are now, they have nothing to fear…
Executive Director Minerva Zabi, Captain Jonah Michaels, and 1Lt. Jolie Minh board the repaired Hydrosuit, each clad in a current style Zeon technicians’ normalsuit. Strategically concealed about their persons are the various mini-explosive devices essential to executing their plan, as well a sidearm each.
Three handpistols, a total of 24 rounds of fire against an army of thousands…
The mood within the cockpit/cabin of the Hydrosuit, piloted by Jolie, is surreally calm. Aside from the lack of banter among the three operatives, there is no indication of the apprehension that would come as a natural consequence of the daunting challenge before them. The journey towards Luna 2 is as sedate as a sleepy Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside.
Hard-drilled professionalism, or hard-driven fatalism? Perhaps both…what Castiglione had called sprezzatura and Hemingway later rephrased as “grace under pressure”… a quality that comes naturally to Minerva Zabi, and that she has imparted to her charges.
Special Forces Esprit de Corps.
“Luna 2 Zeon Command to Hydrosuit Unit K-11997214,” a Zeon traffic control tech from Luna 2 Command intones icily, “Transmit your security code now.”
From the Hydrosuit’s engineering station, Minerva transmits a security code she had hacked out of the work pod’s onboard computer. Obtaining the code had taken some doing, buried as it was under multiple layers of logarithmic encryption that took even Minerva and a bank of the most powerful computers at the United Forces’ disposal many hours to fully unsnarl.
But the code proves viable, as Hydrosuit Unit K-11997214 is cleared to dock with Luna 2 at Berth 953-V on Platform Three.
They have crossed the point of no return.
The United Forces Armada lies in wait just within the Side 7 Zone, awaiting the signal to deploy. They anticipate no such communication for at least three hours.
Aboard their mobile suits Oglu Aslan and Jet Jegan-S, siblings Hathaway and Chieming Noah wait in tense silence for word from lovers and friends gone into the heart of danger…word that they can intervene and help.
The Earth Federation Special Forces, newly reorganized, and the Shambala Republic Defense Guard are ready in combat formation, ready to swarm in on Luna 2 after they receive a pre-designated coded signal.
For now, however, they can only wait…
Jolie drops Jonah and Minerva off at their respective target sites, and then maneuvers the Hydrosuit towards her own target objective. They are synchronizing their efforts towards accomplishing the mission in precisely ninety minutes…
Minerva approaches Power Conduit Route 1 with unaffected casualness, giving no hint of her true intentions. Clad in the work coveralls of the Zeon Engineering Corps, she looks quite inconspicuous with toolkit in hand among the dozens of similarly garbed and equipped engineering personnel within the mammoth maintenance deck.
Minerva stops at a security checkpoint near the power conduit, a mammoth construct dwarfing the largest petroleum pipelines built on Earth during the 20th Century of the old calendar.
Minerva flashes the two Zeon guards her most winning smile and says, “Hi! 2Lt. Tina Mass, Engineering Corps! I’ve come to replace some worn components on this section of the conduit!”
So saying, Minerva hands the guards a forged authentication chip that she had crafted before she had left Side 7; she had given similar chips to Jolie and Jonah.
Minerva plants herself near the conduit, opening an access hatch and making a believable pretense of repairing its components.
With a deft sleight of hand, she slips in a tiny triggering mechanism and sets the countdown for forty-five minutes.
Minerva closes the access hatch and moves on to plant a second such device further along the relay conduit.
Episode 42 to be continued
Episode 42 continued...
At another maintenance deck on the opposite side of Luna 2, Jolie uses her stealth and agility to shimmy around the Zeon security. Not nearly the great thespian that Minerva is, Jolie has opted against trying to act her way through the security detail; Jolie’s gifts have always been more physical, and she exploits that gift to circumvent the Zeons’ security provisions.
Jolie drops gracefully and silently near the massive Power Conduit Route 2. She opens an access hatch as a guard passes by, looking as inconspicuous as possible as she makes a pretense of maintenance work.
At a moment she deems safe, Jolie plants an explosive in a strategic position as pre-designated by Minerva. This is the most vulnerable part of the relay pipeline.
Jolie closes the access hatch and moves on.
At Maintenance Platform 3, Jonah makes his way past security using a combination of the thespian skill of Minerva and the physical stealth of Jolie. He’s not as good at either skill as either of the two young women, so he must rely on a combination of both to clear the security lines.
But get through the Centurion Team’s commanding officer does, and soon, he is also affixing explosive charges to the vital power conduit.
Thirty minutes remain until detonation.
Aboard the Federation flagship La Kaelum-II, Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie receives the first of two coded signals she expects from Minerva Zabi.
Christina says, “Begin moving our forces towards Luna 2.”
The United Forces Armada collectively fires their engines, en rout to Luna 2.
Jolie picks up Jonah in the Hydrosuit at their pre-designated rendezvous.
“We’ve got only eight minutes,” Jonah says as he climbs into one of the engineering seats, “We’d better get Minerva, fast.”
Jolie nods, “On the way,” jetting the Hydrosuit towards Maintenance Deck 1.
Minerva is waiting for Jolie and Jonah to arrive in the Hydrosuit when she is approached by a burly trio of Zeon MPs.
“2Lt….Mass, is it?” the brusque sergeant of the MPs demands, “We’d like to check your security credentials again. We think there might have been a misunderstanding."
Minerva remains calm as the two MPs flanking the sergeant sling their rifles off of their shoulders.
At that moment, Jolie’s Hydrosuit blasts onto the scene, forcing the Zeon troops in her path to scatter or risk being impaled on the suit’s utility arms.
Minerva takes advantage of the MPs’ momentary distraction to act. With three deft maneuvers faster than the eye can follow, Minerva punches out the sergeant (no simple task, as he’s nearly twice her size and weight), wrenches a rifle away from one of the MPs, and kicks the last MP painfully in the groin.
Minerva fires her appropriated weapon in a wide arc, not so much to kill as to scatter and create chaos.
Having created enough of it, Minerva scrambles into the Hydrosuit.
“Ninety seconds before the explosives detonate, Jolie,” Minerva says, settling into the remaining engineering seat, “Better get us out of here.”
“You got it,” Jolie replies, gunning the thrusters and heading for the nearest exit port.
In the Luna 2 Command Center, Brigadier General Ty Bolton of the Archduchy of Zeon Forces receives word that a massive United Forces Armada is bearing down upon Luna 2.
“Alert our forces for immediate counterattack,” Bolton says.
Before his order can be relayed, however, Luna 2 is rocked violently by several large explosions emanating from within the asteroid fortress!
“That didn’t come from enemy fire!” Bolton grumbles as he rises from where the violent vibrations had dropped him.
“No, sir,” a tech replies, “We’re getting reports of multiple explosions along the energy relay system. We have fire on several decks and, we’re losing power…”
Ominously, the instruments and lights in the command center go dead. Luna 2 is left in dark, cold silence. After a few seconds, emergency backup power comes on, re-starting life support systems and bathing the interior decks of the fortress in an eerie red glow.
But the major systems, those needed to service and launch warships and mobile suits, are inoperable.
“Commence attack!” Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie orders.
The United Forces launch a massive strike against Luna 2, targeting Zeon gun emplacements, mobile suits, and fighter craft. Care is taken to avoid damaging the fortress’ infrastructure.
“All units, follow my lead,” commands 2Lt. Chieming Noah from her Jet Jegan. The mobile suits of the Special Forces descend towards Luna 2.
At the same time, Hathaway Noah’s Oglu Aslan leads an MS transport carrier towards a pre-designated rendezvous point.
Momentarily a Zeon Hydrosuit blasts free from an access hatch within Luna 2’s rocky external shell.
Three figures, clad in normalsuits, float free from the Hydrosuit’s cockpit as its reinforced transparent plastic shield opens.
The transport carrier opens its hatch to unleash its cargo…the Kizi Aslan, the Centurion Gundam, and the White Phoenix Gundam.
Minerva, Jonah, and Jolie board their mobile suits and join the attack that has already commenced against Luna 2.
Without power for their communications systems or launch mechanisms, the Archduchy of Zeon Forces at Luna 2 are caught flatfooted and helpless by the lightning strike of the United Forces Armada. Hundreds of Earth Federation and Shambala Republic mobile suits rush into the asteroid fortress weapons blazing, targeting Zeon weaponry and personnel in a swift, brutal strike.
History would record this as the Siege of Luna 2, although “rout” would be a more apt characterization. The United Forces mobile suits continue their relentless advance, unopposed and unchallenged by the immobilized Zeon forces.
Within three hours, the struggle is over, with the Zeon forces crippled and taken as prisoners of war. An Earth Federation Forces flag is once again raised at Luna 2 for the first time in three months.
On the newly reclaimed Maintenance Deck 1, Minerva Zabi collapses into Hathaway Noah’s arms, exhausted, but immensely gratified for the success of the mission. Luna 2 is free of Zeon control, and the United Forces have an industrial/military base for further attacks against the Zeon Forces in Cislunar Space.
Jolie and Jonah approach Minerva and Hathaway. There are hugs and smiles aplenty, especially after the couples are joined by 2Lt. Chieming Noah and the Centurion Team.
“What next, Minerva?” Jonah asks.
Minerva says, “Sides 1 and 5 are suffering under the yoke of Zeon oppression. We liberate them next.”
The war continues, drawing closer each day to Side 3…
To be continued in Episode 43
EPISODE 2-43: OMENS
From the window of her temporary office at the Luna 2 Command Center, Executive Director Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic inhales deeply from a cigarette as she watches through creased eyes the marshaling of the United Forces Armada outside the Earth Federation Forces’ asteroid fortress. The armada represents a massive collection of strength, but Minerva knows that the application of brute force by itself will not bring forth the better world she and her comrades have striven so long and hard for.
For this reason, among others, Minerva is dreading the arrival of Dr. Artasia Daikun at Luna 2 in approximately four hours – or to be more precise, the arrival of the guest that Artasia had mentioned she would be bringing in her communiqué…a guest whose name had set off alarms in Minerva’s mind, and has deeply troubled her in the days since.
Thus, Minerva finds the entrance of her best friend, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, the senior executive officer of the Earth Federation Special Forces’ Centurion Team, a welcome relief.
“Where’s your Jonah?” Minerva says coyly, not turning around to greet Jolie as the younger woman enters Minerva’s office.
“In a meeting with Lt. Col. McKenzie and General Noah,” Jolie replies, “Command-level officers only, so I wasn’t asked to attend.”
“Feeling left out?” Minerva chides gently.
“Hell, no,” Jolie says, “I hate meetings. But it has kept me and Jonah apart for several hours already. Hey…where’s your Hathaway?”
“Away on an intelligence-gathering mission,” Minerva replies, “He…wasn’t comfortable with his father being at Luna 2.”
“He’s gonna have to face up to it sooner or later,” Jolie remarks, “General Noah is his dad, after all.”
Minerva nods, “You’re right.”
Jolie fixes Minerva in a thoughtful gaze, “Something’s bothering you…I can tell, and it’s got nothing to do with Hathaway or his dad.”
Minerva smiles wryly, “Is that Newtype empathy, or women’s intuition?”
“Both or maybe neither,” Jolie says, “Maybe it’s just a friend knowing when another friend has a lot on her mind.”
Minerva takes one final toke on the cigarette before dropping its butt on the ground, stamping it out beneath her boot. She wraps a sisterly arm around Jolie’s shoulder, “Let’s go for a cup of coffee. I’ll try to help you understand it.”
At Side 3, Archduke Miguel, escorted by Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi and Gen. Ross Davenport, takes an inspection tour of a space colony whose population has recently been transferred en masse to another Side 3 colony (although not Cosmic Alexandria, which the Archduke has set aside as the exclusive domain of Zeon’s aristocratic class). In all, three dozen of Side 3’s colonies have been depopulated and hollowed out…converted for a new purpose known only the Archduke Miguel and a privileged few.
The work, however, is intense and heavy…mobilizing the bulk of the Zeonic Corporation’s industrial muscle. Even the production of mobile suits and warships has taken a second priority to this project, codenamed “Zeon’s Celestial Light.”
Archduke Miguel gravely observes the coldly efficient construction work and nods with approval as he turns to Dr. Lenape Timberland, former dean of the College of Applied Sciences at Zum University and a longtime engineering and sciences consultant to the Archduchy of Zeon since the days of the Zabis.
“When do you estimate we’ll have complete operational capacity, Dr. Timberland?” Miguel asks.
“Your Majesty,” the scientist replies, “We will have at least five of the systems online within the next ten days. We will gradually be able to bring the other systems online within the next thirty.”
Miguel smiles, glancing towards his boots, “You have fifteen days, Doctor.”
Timberland grins nervously, “Your Majesty, accelerating the construction process could have unintended and unwelcome consequences.”
“Kyoko,” the Archduke says, not taking his eyes away from his immaculately shined boots, upon which his dark reflection appears.
“Your Majesty,” Kyoko says, addressing Alexander in the manner required outside of their private relationship.
“Dr. Timberland intimates that he will have difficulties bringing our plans to fruition within the allowed time constraints, Kyoko,” Miguel says, not taking his eyes from his boots, “I therefore must send you to the front line to buy some time for the doctor to do his work properly.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Kyoko replies dutifully, sparing the scientist a glance that chills his heart before she leaves to comply with the Archduke’s order.
“She is of great value to me,” the Archduke, still staring at his boots, says with quiet menace, “I have plans for Lt. Col. Yamaguchi to become the Archduchess of Zeon after we conclude our war with the Earth Federation and those upstarts of that so-called ‘Shambala Republic.’”
“Congratulations, Your Majesty,” Dr. Timberland says timorously.
“I would be devastated if something where to happen to the Lieutenant Colonel before that time,” Miguel says, his slight grin turning into a scowl.
“I understand, Your Majesty,” Timberland says through dry lips.
Miguel looks up at the scientist at last, his smile returning, “Remember, Doctor: your weapon is only the second most important in the Zeon arsenal.”
Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi’s mobile armors Elmeth Gamma and Gamma Azieru are loaded aboard the Zeon battle carrier Haman Karn. Archduke Miguel has ordered both of Kyoko’s signature mecha to be deployed to give Kyoko greater flexibility for all situations.
The Elmeth Gamma has been painstakingly repaired and restored after sustaining serious damage in a nuclear attack by the Earth Federation Forces on the planet’s surface. Moreover, the transformable mobile armor/suit has been refitted and upgraded for better performance.
Newtype Laboratories Director Nanai Miguel personally advises Kyoko on her newer mecha, the Gamma Azieru, “We’ve recalibrated the Biosensor control system on the Azieru since your previous sortie…fit them more precisely to your unique brainwave signature. You’ll find her even more responsive to your commands than before.”
Kyoko smiles coldly, “She functioned very well the first time, but I need every edge I can have to defeat the White Phoenix. She’s a formidable opponent.”
“From the intelligence we’ve been able to gather on her, including your previous skirmishes against her, I’m inclined to agree,” Nanai remarks, “but she does have a vulnerability that you can exploit.”
Kyoko nods, “Lord Jonah.”
Nanai sighs, “I must confess that I’m not as ready as our Archduke to write off the life of our youngest sibling, traitor though he might be. I helped to raise Jonah, Kyoko…”
Kyoko says, “The Archduke has ordered me to destroy the White Phoenix at any cost, m’lady…including Lord Jonah’s life, if it comes down to it.”
“Accepted,” Nanai says, “but remember, Kyoko: I had no small role in your development. If you feel obliged to ever return that favor, I urge you to remember that Lord Jonah is my brother.”
Kyoko says, “I will not deviate from my objective of destroying Jolie Minh for Lord Jonah’s sake…not when Alexander has ordered me not to. However, I will not go out of my way to target Lord Jonah. His fate is in the hands of something beyond us, m’lady.”
Nanai was afraid of as much, and as abhorrent as the thought is to her on one level, a part of Nanai cannot help but hope, for Jonah’s sake, that Jolie Minh is as good as her reputation would indicate.
Episode 43 to be continued...
Episode 43 continued...
Minerva and Jolie sit at a table in one of Luna 2’s dozens of mess halls, this one with external windows giving a terrific view of the landing route to Platform 1, where the largest ships are received.
Minerva sits silently, cup of coffee growing cold before her, cigarette dangling loosely between her lips. She pulls out a gold pocket watch, held on a chain and fastened to a button in the lining of her blazer, checking the time gravely as she exhales a stream of heated tobacco smoke.
Jolie notices the gold watch and smiles, “You still have it!”
Minerva returns the smile and pockets the watch, “Somehow, through all the calamities we’ve been through, I’ve managed to hang on to it.”
“God,” Jolie says, “How long was it ago I gave that to you?”
“Two years, come Christmas,” Minerva replies.
“Is that all?” Jolie asks, eyes widening in surprise, “It feels like a lot longer than that.”
“Only because so much has happened to us since then,” Minerva says, “It’s not the amount of time that passes; it’s what happens within that time that you feel.”
“A lot has happened to both of us,” Jolie agrees, “Who’d have thought two years ago that now both of us would be married women?”
Minerva smiles again, flicking burning ash from her cigarette into the ashtray, “That’s how it goes with expectations. Few of them ever materialize in the manner you want them to. And speaking of marriages…”
Minerva rises as she notices a passenger shuttle marked with the emblem, BUCH CONCERN, enter Luna 2’s Platform 1 Main Dock under heavy mobile suit escort…mobile suits of unfamiliar design, being not of Earth Federation, Archduchy of Zeon, or Shambala Republic design or registry.
“Who are they?” Jolie asks, noting the crossbones-and-dagger design emblazoned on the shield of each mobile suit.
“The Crossbones Vanguard,” Minerva replies.
“The Cross…what?” Jolie says quizzically.
“A private army sponsored by and supporting the Buch Concern,” Minerva replies.
“You mean that big corporation that makes…well, pretty much everything?” Jolie presses, “The one owned by Meizu..Metzer…Whasisname?”
“Meitzer Ronah,” Minerva corrects, then abruptly adds, “Jolie, I’ve got to go now; we’ll catch up again later, all right?”
“Sure,” Jolie says, “Executive Directors are busier than mech jockeys.”
To that, Minerva takes an item from the inner pocket of her blazer and tosses it at Jolie, who catches it deftly in her right hand.
The small, gleaming object is Jolie’s sidearm…a Walther handpistol that Minerva had given her as a gift during the same Christmas that Jolie had given Minerva the gold pocket watch.
“I’ve been holding on to that for you,” Minerva says, “I didn’t know if there’d ever come a day when you’d be in a position to reclaim it, but it’s yours again.”
“Thanks,” Jolie says, holstering the pistol.
“I only hope that when the time comes for you to use it, you’ll know whom to shoot it at,” Minerva says darkly as she leaves the commissary.
In Conference Room F-91, Director Artasia Daikun of the Shambala Republic introduces Minerva to Chairman Meitzer Ronah of the Buch Concern.
Meitzer Ronah, age forty-six, was born the year before his father and uncle, Jormer and Dieter Ronah, founded the Buch Concern in U.C. 0055. From its inception, the corporate organization has been an industrial powerhouse…beginning in the U.C. 0050s with Buch Construction and Buch Salvage, expanding into Buch Energy and Buch Aerospace during the U.C. 0060s, and further expanding into Buch Financial and Buch Mobile Systems during the U.C. 0070s. Along with Anaheim, Jupitorius, Kuromizu, and Luo, Buch was among the Zeon Republic’s corporate and industrial backers when Zeon Daikun and Degin Zabi began their separatist movement during the early U.C. 0060s, and continued to back the Zabi Family’s first incarnation of the Archduchy of Zeon during the U.C. 0070s, but at a much lower profile than its rivals (mostly to avoid too much scrutiny from the Earth Federation). This judiciousness served the Buch Concern (first renamed such from the Buch Corporation in U.C. 0080) well during the Eighties, when it lent its monetary and industrial muscle to the Federation as it had the Zeon during the previous decade.
Buch continued to expand and grow into every conceivable field and industry – from artificial environment agriculture (Buch Agriculture) to medicine (Buch Biotech) to, of course, armaments…including the unique mobile suit systems of the Crossbones Vanguard, the Buch Concern’s own private security army, established during the early U.C. 0080s to protect Buch’s interests from Federation and Zeon alike. Knowledgeable mobile suit engineers, on the whole, hold the opinion that the Crossbone Vanguard’s mobile suits are built with a level of technological sophistication that neither the Earth Federation nor the Zeon can match…at least not on the mass-production level. Some of the Vanguard’s frontline infantry MS are believed to be Gundam-class in their combat performance profiles.
The Federation and Zeon political authorities, though both beneficiaries of the Buch Concern’s support in the past, are wary of this corporate wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Earth and Zeon governments agree on little else, but both agree that the Crossbones Vanguard are essentially gangsters armed with mobile weapons, making them, at the very least, a deadly nuisance.
Meitzer Ronah inherited the Buch Concern a decade ago, at age thirty-six. His dark hair now giving way to salt-and-pepper, the man has lived his entire life an aristocrat, as evident by his mode of dress (an immaculately tailored three-piece suit) and his haughty bearing. A lifelong man of industry, Ronah sees other human beings as mere utilities – valued according to their usefulness to the growth of his corporation, to be discarded when their usefulness is spent.
Notwithstanding, Ronah puts on his most benign smile as he extends a hand…his left…to Minerva.
Minerva extends her own left hand, the bionic one that has replaced her natural limb, to the corporate titan. The sensors embedded within the synthetic fingers and palm of Minerva’s cybernetic hand detect the coldness of Ronah’s grip, no warmer for its flesh than the cold metal and plastic of Minerva’s own hand.
Minerva notes the irony that her bionic arm is a product of Buch Biotech, the Buch Concern’s medical products wing. Through Ronah’s (figurative) iron grip, Minerva cannot set aside the message Ronah sends her in the seemingly cordial gesture: you are mine to command.
“Your Majesty,” Ronah begins grandly, “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Minerva offers a wan smile in return, “It’s not ‘Your Majesty’ anymore, Mr. Ronah. These days, it’s just ‘Citizen Zabi.’”
Ronah says, “My father was a good friend of your grandfather’s, and of Artasia’s father. Perhaps it is destiny that we would come together today to do the work of Spacenoid liberation as our forefathers did before us.”
Artasia explains, “Mr. Ronah is pledging the full financial and industrial support of the Buch Concern to the Shambala Republic…including establishing an independent agricultural and manufacturing base after the war’s end.”
The cord that feeds us and strangles us, Minerva thinks to herself, but she says with a deferential bow of her head, “We value the contributions that you and your corporation will bring to the Shambala Republic, Mr. Ronah.”
“As a citizen of the Shambala Republic,” Ronah says, “I could do no less. What a future our nation has ahead of it! And what a privilege it is for all of us to be at the vanguard of it.”
A Crossbones Vanguard.
Episode 43 to be continued...
Episode 43 continued...
An hour later, after Ronah has departed to attend to other business, Artasia and Minerva share a tense private conversation about the Buch Concern’s joining the Shambala Republic movement.
“I understand and share your misgivings about establishing ties with the Buch Concern, Minerva,” Artasia says imploringly, “However, there’s also no denying how useful their financial and industrial backing will be to the Republic…both during and especially AFTER the war. Earth’s agricultural and industrial base is all but destroyed. Life on the planet is threatened with extinction unless we do something, Minerva, and we need all the resources we can marshal to take the necessary steps.”
“You don’t need to sell me on the idea, Artasia,” Minerva says, her back turned to her senior partner, “I understand the needs that prompted you to make this decision, and I don’t blame you for making it. Even so, you’re right that I don’t like it; I think we’ll all pay later for this ‘marriage of convenience’ with the Buch Concern.”
“But you’ll support it?” Artasia asks hopefully.
Minerva only smiles, leaving Artasia to her thoughts.
Jolie sits atop the shoulder of her White Phoenix Gundam on Maintenance Platform 1, hugging her knees close to her chest, waiting impatiently for her husband Jonah to emerge from the meeting with General Bright Noah, Lt. Col. Christina McKenzie, and other commanding officers of the Special Forces as they reorganize and establish new priorities in bringing the war against the Archduchy of Zeon to a close.
Jolie can’t help smiling as she rests her chin atop her knees and thinks about how much she’s acting like one of those traditional housewives waiting for her husband to come home at the end of a workday. The smile turns into a giggle as she sees Jonah approaching, attaché case in hand…precisely matching the image in her mind.
Jonah spots Jolie floating down from the White Phoenix Gundam to greet him. Perhaps sensing her thoughts, he greets her with a cheerful, “Hi, Honey! I’m home!”
The attractive young couple meets in zero gravity, floating gracefully into each other’s warm embrace before they exchange a sultry kiss.
Jolie leans her head softly against her husband’s chest, “How was work today, Sweetie?” she asks, going along with the running joke.
“We’ve got overtime,” Jonah says, indicating the attaché case, “General Noah and Lt. Col. McKenzie want to rebuild the Special Forces from the ground up, and since the Centurions are the only one of the original teams still intact, we’re taking the point on this.”
“Is it a good plan?” Jolie asks.
Jonah nods, “It’s better than the system that General Blackhead and Colonel Cairlay had in place. It incorporates many of the ideas that Minerva recommended, but were never implemented because Blackhead and Cairlay didn’t like how they decentralized authority.”
“In other words,” Jolie amends cynically, “they didn’t want to use them because they were afraid ‘Thena’s ideas would work, and if they did, everybody would figure out how useless Blackhead and Creepy really were.”
“Pretty much,” Jonah smiles.
“Anyway, let’s talk business after dinner,” Jolie says, tugging Jonah along, “I’m starving!”
“Me too,” Jonah says, “Lead the way.”
The couple floats towards the nearest commissary.
Minerva and Hathaway are already at that same commissary, sitting down to an early dinner in anticipation of a busy evening of work ahead. The couple is more interested in conversing than dining, leaving their meals mostly untouched as they commiserate about the newest developments.
“This is going to be costly in ways we haven’t even imagined yet,” Minerva remarks to Hathaway, “and the worst part of it is that we do indeed need it.”
Hathaway sips on his cup of coffee and says, “I did an expose on the Buch Concern a few years back, so I understand why you’re worried. On the surface, Buch is one of the largest, most respectable, and well-established entities in the universe…a household name to two generations…with great blue chip value and a name and reputation that command instant respect across the universal markets. Even school kids know their corporate slogan…”
“‘Buch Concern…Your Concerns,’” Minerva recites.
“Right,” Hathaway smiles, “but dig deeper, way deeper, and you see the foul brew churning below the gleaming surface. Lots of contracts…and I’m not talking about the kinds of contracts that get things built or honest business deals made.”
“That’s what I was afraid of. We can’t afford to be careless, Hathaway,” Minerva says, “Or at the very least, we’ll be setting ourselves up to repeat the mistakes of the past thirty years…and speaking of past mistakes, have you gone to see your father yet?”
Hathaway takes another sip of coffee before replying, without looking at Minerva. “Not yet. I know I probably should, now that he and the rest of the family are all here at Luna 2, but I just I haven’t been able to work up the courage yet.”
“I know how you feel,” Minerva says sympathetically, reaching out a hand to gently touch his, “Sometimes, it’s easier to face your mortal enemy than it is to face your family.”
Hathaway smiles bitterly, “Not long ago, I thought at least one member of my family was my mortal enemy.”
“But that’s not the case,” Minerva says, “You’re very lucky, Hathaway. I wish I could say the same, but…”
“You’re not one of them, Minerva,” Hathaway says, taking her hand into his own, “You carry their name and their blood, but your soul is yours.”
Minerva answers Hathaway’s smile with one of her own, whispering, “Go talk to him…your father, please, for my sake. Before I can be accepted into your family, you have to be reaccepted into your family.”
Hathaway nods quietly as Minerva peers past him to spot Jolie and Jonah entering the commissary.
“Hey, you two,” Jolie says, taking a seat next to Minerva while Jonah takes a seat next to Hathaway opposite to Jolie.
Jonah hands an Infochip to Minerva, saying, “This is the Special Forces’ plan for the assault on Side 2 and Side 5…our next objective. General Noah and Lt. Col. McKenzie wanted me to give this to you.”
Minerva accepts the chip, “I’ll stop by to thank the general and Lt. Col. McKenzie personally later.”
“You guys sure don’t look happy,” Jolie observes, noting the glum expressions on Minerva and Hathaway’s faces, “What’s bothering you?”
Minerva answers straightforwardly, “The Buch Concern has just pledged its support for the Shambala Republic.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” asks Jolie.
Minerva and Hathaway’s quiet, downbeat responses indicate otherwise.
Jonah explains by way of question, “Minerva…are you and Hathaway worried about what Meitzer Ronah wants in exchange for his support?”
Minerva and Hathaway’s silence says it all.
Minerva finally says with a wan grin, “Congratulations and condolences, Jonah: you’ve finally lost your innocence.”
Some hours later, General Bright Noah, his wife Senator Mirai Yashima-Noah, and their daughter 2Lt. Chieming Noah patiently await a rendezvous at the Noahs’ temporary quarters at Luna 2.
At 22:30, Hathaway Noah approaches, Minerva Zabi on his arm.
Bright, Mirai, and Chieming rise.
Father and son face each other for the first time in over seven years.
At first, there is only a tense, awkward silence as Bright and his firstborn stare intently at each other…neither one, it seems, prepared to take the first step. Neither one willing to concede.
Chieming opens her mouth and steps forward as if to say something, but Mirai stops her with a gentle hand on her shoulder and a shake of the head.
Minerva, at Hathaway’s side, looks on impassively, supportively.
Hathaway finally gathers up the strength to do what he knows he had needed to do for years, “Father…”
A long moment passes before a slight smile tugs at the corner of Bright’s mouth and he says softly, “Hathaway…son.”
“Father, I…” Hathaway says, faltering.
Bright puts a hand Hathaway’s shoulder, “You’ve traveled a billion kilometers, and asked yourself a thousand questions. And now that you’ve reached the next milestone of your journey, you look back with some wonder…and some regret…at all that has passed before you.”
“Father,” Hathaway begins again, “I’ve made many mistakes…beginning with the way I…murdered Chien Agi all those years ago. I almost murdered you too at one point…except that fortunately, Minerva stopped me. I…”
“We both acted out of anger,” Bright says to his son, “And in my anger, I wanted nothing more than to see you pay for your crimes with your death.”
A chill passes through the room as Mirai and Chieming’s heartbeats begin accelerating; Minerva remains impassive and calm.
“But death is wasteful,” Bright continues, “And God knows there’s been too much of it these past twenty years. Hathaway: if you want redemption, it lies in what you do with the rest of your life.”
“I…understand, Father,” Hathaway says, “I’ve dedicated my life to building a new nation with Minerva…and with Dr. Daikun. I’m helping them to work towards a more peaceful, more just world.”
“A man must be willing to undertake challenges,” Bright tells Hathaway gently, “but he cannot do so alone. He needs the support of family. You have ours…all of ours.”
Father and son embrace at last. Chieming and Mirai cannot hold back their smiles and their tears as they welcome their brother and son back to their family at last.
Minerva smiles at them benignly. Somehow, this victory matters to her more than any of those she has attained on the battlefield.
“And on the subject of family,” Bright says, “Yours is beginning.”
The patriarch of the Noah family turns to Minerva Zabi, a warm smile on his face, “Minerva…I understand that you and Hathaway plan to be married.”
“Yes, sir,” Minerva replies, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to do so with your blessing, but nevertheless, that is our decision.”
Bright says with a smile, offering an open arm to Minerva, “I cannot think of anyone else I would be prouder and happier to call ‘daughter-in-law.’ Will you be a member of our family, Minerva?”
Minerva allows herself to join the family embrace…the Noah family…her family.
United at last, the Noahs…Bright, Mirai, Hathaway, Chieming…and Minerva.
Chieming cannot help letting out an excited giggle, “I can finally call you my sister-in-law, Minerva!”
Minerva is momentarily overwhelmed by emotion. For the first time in her life, she feels that she truly belongs to a family…one whose legacy is not a terrible burden on her conscience…one for which she feels genuine feelings of love.
“You all right?” Hathaway asks, concerned, placing his hands on Minerva’s shoulders.
Minerva wipes away her tears, “I’m…all right. It’s…just…”
Hathaway holds her close, bringing her into the fold with his sister and his parents.
The war would return to darken their lives soon enough; for now, however, there is harmony and true affection.
The star falls upon the earth, engulfing the blue globe in hellish flame…
From the flame, a white phoenix rises…its color turning the red of rage.
Lightning shoots forth from the phoenix’s angry eyes, striking upon a white dove, bathing it in its own blood.
Jolie awakens with a scream, her body drenched in her own perspiration, her breathing quick and shallow.
Next to her, Jonah rises, turning worriedly to her, “What’s wrong?”
Jolie buries her face in her hands, “Nightmare…same one I’ve been having off and on for months.”
“You too?” Jonah asks. The couple doesn’t need to describe the content of those nightmares to know they’ve been seeing the same terrifying images…hearing the same terrifying sounds.
“Jonah,” Jolie says at last, “I’m afraid.”
That admission, coming from Jolie, is extremely disturbing to Jonah. As long as Jonah has known Jolie, he has never heard her admit to being afraid.
But, as any good husband would do for his wife if she were to make such an admission, Jonah offers his arms and soothing words of comfort, “It’s all right; I’m right here.”
Jolie buries herself in the warm comfort of Jonah’s arms, but nevertheless, she trembles from a cold that comes from no external source…the coldness of the void.
The stillness of their quarters is soon broken by the sounds of alarm klaxons wailing and emergency lights flashing.
“Red Alert! Red Alert! All personnel to battle stations! Enemy units approaching!”
Jolie and Jonah rush out of bed, hastily donning their normalsuits and sprinting towards the launch docks.
Minerva and Hathaway also rush towards their mobile suits, the Kizi Aslan and the Oglu Aslan. Within minutes, the Aslans, Jolie and Jonah’s Gundams, and dozens of United Forces mobile suits deploy for battle.
Awaiting them is a Zeon assault armada, headed by Vice Admiral Hoang Tran, with a mobile armor assault force led by Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi and her Gamma Azieru.
Watching it impassively from the office of his private passenger shuttle, departing Luna 2 for Jupitorius, is Meitzer Ronah, escorted by his Crossbones Vanguard.
“All in the game,” Ronah remarks to no one in particular, studying the battle on his office monitor, martini in hand.
To be continued in Episode 44...
EPISODE 45: THE HOME FRONT
The completion of Side 1, originally known as the Zarn Province, marked the beginning of the Universal Century era in the equivalent old Gregorian calendar year of CE 2081. At ninety-nine years old, what was cutting edge four generations ago is, by current standards, antiquated. Even before the One Year War introduced the era of mobile weapons warfare to the space colonies, Side 1’s infrastructure had been atrophying from sheer age. Twenty-plus years of warfare have only accelerated this deterioration, with huge swaths of the first human space colonies no longer suitable for human habitation.
Still, there are those who call Side 1 home, and for this reason, refuse to allow it to remain subject to the yoke of the Archduchy of Zeon’s authority.
Judau Ashta and his wife, Lu Luka Ashta, look longingly out from the viewport of the United Forces space battlecarrier Amuro Ray at the cluster of Side 1 colonies that includes their home, the Shangrila Colony. Judau and his friends grew up there, and it was where Judau and Lu first met more than twelve years…seemingly a lifetime ago. Judau’s younger sister, Reina, still lives there…teaching at the same high school where Judau once studied as far as the 10th Grade before the war with the Zeon changed all of their lives forever.
The fact that Reina is still at Shangrila, with the Zeon occupying the colony, gives their mission to liberate Sides 1 and 5 all the more personal urgency. Judau remembers all too well his days as a young AEUG freedom fighter, separated from Reina by the Zeon, believing for months that she had been killed, only to joyously discover that she had survived thanks to the assistance of Dr. Artasia Daikun, now the Director of the Shambala Republic movement. Judau has no desire to relive those days.
Sensing as much, Lu touches Judau gently on the arm, saying to him quietly, “Worried?”
“Yeah,” Judau replies with a heavy sigh, “I just have this really weird feeling about this, and it’s nothing good.”
Not knowing what to say to that, Lu settles for leaning her head gently against Judau’s arm.
Captain Beecher Olech, unlikely Earth Federation Forces officer, shipmaster of the Amuro Ray,and another native resident of Side 1’s Shangrila colony, joins his two old friends at the observation port, gazing longingly at their home colony, “Look at that…we’re home, people! Home!”
“I don’t remember you loving it so much when we left,” Judau wisecracks, “You couldn’t wait to escape the junkyard!”
“I also pulled a near mutiny on the Ahrgama to take us back when I found out that life with the AEUG wasn’t going to be as cushy as I thought it’d be,” Beecher amends.
“And now you’ve chained yourself to a career of commanding battleships,” Lu observes with some amusement.
“Yeah, well,” Beecher says, “I’ve made stupider choices, you know?”
“You top yourself at that all the time,” Judau says with harmless acidity.
The three old friends laugh, breaking the tension.
But their mirth is short-lived as Judau’s concerns return to the forefront of his mind, prompting him to ask Beecher, “How soon before we can go in?”
Beecher swallows nervously and shuffles his feet uncomfortably for a moment before answering, “It’s hard to say. The Federation High Command and the leaders of Shambala are taking a different approach to this than they did Side 7 and Luna 2. They seem to think a full scale military assault isn’t the way to go…at least not at the outset. This part of space is closer to Side 3. The closer we get to the heart of Zeon, the stronger their defenses are. What worked out at Garrison Noah might not work out here.”
“Sounds like a Minerva Zabi scheme,” Lu observes, not bothering to mask the distrust in her voice.
Beecher replies with a wry grin, “She was definitely on the committee that made that decision, but it was hardly her call alone. There were also the heads of Anaheim, Kuromizu, Luo, and the Buch Concern.”
“Corporate fat cats will get into bed with anyone if there’s a juicy profit in it for them,” Judau says darkly, “We’ve seen their kind before.”
“Their kind will probably always be around,” Lu says, “as long as there are wars to make them rich. Their fortunes are built on mountains of corpses.”
Lu’s observation is closer to the mark than even she suspects. Even after a century in space, humanity’s soul has not escaped the material pull of its mother planet so far that it has transcended avarice.
The bulk of Side 1’s space colonies loom ahead, obscuring the light of the sun, throwing the observation port of the Amuro Ray into darkness…
A light cargo transport, one of thousands that normally cross in and out of the Side 1 Zone each day, tears forth at a speed that is neither legal within a space colony zone’s navigational lanes nor within the spacecraft manufacturer’s recommended safe space range. Such considerations, normally taken seriously and observed conscientiously, are presently of no value…not when said cargo transport is on the run from a dozen United Forces mobile suits…Javelins, GM-IVs, and Nemo VIIs.
Light cargo transports of the STS-83 class are extremely common, and are used by both private and government entities to transport light goods, often consumer items ranging from stationeries to dry food products to clothing, and sometimes, if the cargo is important enough to its owners, a private security attachment is hired to accompany the transport to its destination.
It is remarkably unusual, however, for that security to include over a dozen Rick Diablo and Gellond mobile suits from the Archduchy of Zeon Forces.
The Zeon and United Forces mobile suits begin to exchange salvoes of beam and missile fire, rocking local space with silent explosions of lunar titanium shrapnel. The battle hardly ranks among the largest in the numerous combat engagements between the United Forces and Archduchy of Zeon Forces in recent months, but is as brutal as any other. As has been the case so many times before, brave men and women die…often in tongues of flame that engulf and disintegrate their flesh before they can even acknowledge death with terrified screams.
Certainly, this much bloodshed and loss of valuable mobile weaponry would not be incurred on account of a shipment of pharmaceuticals, which the transport, registered as belonging to “Galen Biomedical Technologies, Inc.,” and whose widely-recognized corporate logo the external hull of the cargo transport bears. Medicine is a valuable commodity, particularly during times of war, but not to the extent that it warrants the combat deployment of mobile suits…particularly for the negligible amount represented in a single STS-transport shipment.
No, smuggled medical supplies do not represent the raison de la guerre for this latest violent exchange between mobile weaponry-armed forces. Instead, two passengers aboard the would-be medical supply transport are of interest to both sides.
Col. Jeremiah Putnam of the Zeon Occupation Forces is the officer assigned by the Zeon Forces as liaison to the Side 1 civilian authority, meaning that Putnam’s function is to enforce Side 1’s compliance with the directives of the Zeon Occupation Forces. A veteran of the Zeon Intelligence Bureau, Putnam is authorized and under orders by the Zeon High Command to control the flow of information into and out of Side 1, and to inflict whatever brutality is necessary to ensure that Side 1 remains docile within Zeon’s sphere of influence.
Putnam’s coconspirator in this business is Governor James D. Cadena, who had been elected Lieutenant Governor of the colony two-years earlier on a platform of security and reform. Governor Cadena’s idea of “security” and “reform” was to rapidly sign off on the surrender of the colony’s autonomy to the Zeon authority after his predecessor and former superior, Governor Henry K. Yeh, was summarily executed by the Zeon Occupation Forces for refusing to acquiesce even after the Col. Putnam’s Zeon mobile stormtroopers had overrun the paltry defenses that the Earth Federation Forces had stationed at Side 1.
During the past several months, Cadena has essentially been a puppet for Side 1’s Zeon overlords, gladly, fawningly providing the Zeon whatever conveniences he could supply to deprive the very constituents who had voted him into office of life, liberty, and property - all for Col. Putnam’s promises of a retirement of wealth, luxury, and privilege among the Zeon elite at Cosmic Alexandria.
Of course, Cadena had expected a far less perilous voyage to Zeon…
A shot from one of the United Forces’ mobile suits disables the last of the STS-83’s thruster nozzles, sending the spacecraft careening through the void.
The pilot at the helm of the STS-83 struggles to correct course, but without engine power, there is little that the can do but guide the craft into a semi-controlled veer.
The craft spins violently along its axis as it is blasted by a salvo of Vulcan cannon fire, strategically aimed to disable further motion, but to spare the spacecraft’s passengers.
Within the cargo-hold-come-passenger-cabin of the transport ship, Col. Putnam and Governor Cadena strain against their restraint harnesses as their spacecraft is violently rocked and buffeted.
Finally, all motion stops with sickening, bone-shattering abruptness.
The two men look out the port window in terror to see that their motion has been stopped by the powerful armored hand of a United Forces mobile suit…a red Kizi Aslan.
To be continued...
Episode 45 continued...
Two hours later, Governor Cadena wakes up in a large, dark room…a warehouse, by the looks of it. Metal crates filled with unidentified contents are stacked a dozen meters high, dozens of rows deep. He is seated on such a metal crate, its cold surface palpable through the fabric of his trousers.
His woozy vision slowly coming into focus, Cadena notes that his arms and legs are free…unbound. The reason for this becomes immediately apparent as he feels the cold steel of rifle muzzles on both sides of his cranium.
Across the small clearing within the warehouse, seated at a table, is Col. Putnam. Cadena can see that his Zeon puppet master has been beaten – his face bruised and blistered, his teeth broken, and his uniform soaked in blood.
In the darkness, Cadena can make out a feminine silhouette…that of a slim, attractive young woman, her shapely profile barely illuminated by the flame at the end of the cigarette extending from between her lips.
“Col. Putnam needs to freshen up before he’s ready to speak to us,” the feminine figure says, her voice seductive and definitely that of a woman no more than twenty years old, “Can we have a basin of fresh water here for the colonel's use?”
Momentarily, two armed young men bring the requested basin of water…water boiled to such a high temperature that, even now, removed from a heat source, its gurgling can be heard, and steam can be seen rising from its surface even in the dim light of the warehouse.
The basin of boiling water is brought before Col. Putnam, who swallows through a parched throat as he gazes through pain-wracked vision at the superheated liquid.
The hands of the young woman begin to gently loosen the collar of Col. Putnam’s uniform, preparing him for his toiletry with the tenderness of a masseuse…
But tenderness turns to brutality with sickening swiftness, as the young woman’s left hand grabs Putnam by the hair and dunks his head violently into the boiling liquid.
Cadena closes his eyes, and wishes he could close his ears as well, as he listens to Putnam’s painful screams.
After twenty seconds, which to Putnam must feel like twenty hours, the young woman pulls the Zeon officer’s head out of the liquid.
Putnam gasps for air, his voice choked and sobbing, his face blistered and bleeding.
“Where?” the young woman asks softly, patiently, without a hint of rancor, but with her quiet menace all too apparent.
Putnam coughs and sputters, “I…I…don’t…know…!”
The young woman submerges Putnam’s head deep into the boiling water once again, letting the man thrash helplessly in the titanium grim of her left hand, through which the scalding heat of the water is not detected with its sensors deactivated.
“The central nervous system suffers irreversible damage after about four minutes without fresh oxygen,” the young woman says, more for Cadena’s benefit than Putnam’s (who cannot hear her beneath the water), “The Archduchy will undoubtedly honor the memory of a martyr such as Col. Putnam…pity if he were to spend the rest of his days in a vegetative state of mind, unable to savor the glory.”
The young woman lifts the bedraggled and blistered Col. Putnam’s head and face from the scalding water again. The fingers of her organic, flesh-and-blood right hand pass a centimeter above the surface of the water, drawing back as it feels the intense heat.
“This water will cool soon,” the young woman says to the colonel, “my colleagues, however, already have another basin waiting. If you need a fresh basin…”
“Nostos…!” Putnam chokes out at last, “Our…our armada has withdrawn…to Nostos! W-waiting for your forces to enter…Side 1…then ambush you…with new weapon!”
“What weapon?” the young woman asks with unnerving casualness, no hint of urgency.
“D-don’t…know!” Putnam sobs, “H-high command…told…us…classified! I…”
The young woman mercifully sends Putnam to oblivion with a single strike of her mechanical left hand. When he awakes, Putnam will find himself in a jail cell, awaiting trial for his crimes against Side 1.
Having gotten the information she wanted from Putnam, Minerva Zabi, Executive Director of the Shambala Republic movement, turns her attention to Governor Cadena.
Despite Minerva’s pleasant appearance, Cadena recoils from her fearfully. The young woman’s pretty face and gorgeously sultry body, Cadena knows, belies a heart capable of a ruthlessness the likes of which even Cadena, no saint of compassion himself, has never seen until today.
Minerva gently fingers Cadena’s facial wounds with her right hand…the flesh one. She smiles benignly at him as she extracts a handkerchief from the breast pocket of her black blazer and begins gently dabbing his bloodstained cheeks.
“Governor Cadena,” Minerva says, again in a soft, gentle voice, “the people of Side 1 need their leader. They need him to look like a leader. I hope you’ll forgive my being frank, but at the moment, you look more like a stray mutt than the Governor of Side 1. You’ll also need a freshening up.”
Minerva’s assistants bring a fresh basin of boiling water into the room.
Cadena’s eyes widen in horror and his breath accelerates into sobs.
Minerva takes a towel from one of her assistants, submerges the towel into the boiling water with her left hand, and squeezes the water from the towel with that same hand. She brings the towel gently to Cadena’s wounded face, providing the governor with a soothing sensation that nevertheless causes him to cry out in fear.
“Why so afraid, Governor?” Minerva says in her unnervingly gentle tone as she wipes the blood and grime from his cheeks, “Surely, a grown man…a leader of men like yourself, isn’t afraid of a hot towel. Did you react this way as a boy when your mother washed your face?”
Minerva drops the towel into the basin and takes the Governor’s jaw in the grip of her titanium left hand, “You’ve worked hard for the Archduchy of Zeon, Governor Cadena. Now, you’ll do some working for us.”
Cadena swallows painfully and nods, too afraid to do much else.
The Earth Federation Special Forces are currently deployed aboard the battle carrier La Kaelum-II, which leads a Federation armada to the edge of the Side 1 Zone. Side 1 orbits Earth on the opposite side of the LaGrange Point 5 that it shares with Side 6, home of the Riah Republic…the first successful independent Spacenoid state…or at least nominally so.
Side 6 came to an agreement with the Earth Federation Government in U.C. 0077, two years before the outbreak of the One Year War, gaining the Federation’s recognition of its independence in exchange for neutrality in the impending war against the Archduchy of Zeon that would break out two years later.
The citizens of the Riah Republic have proudly vaunted their peaceful independence from the Federation, especially compared to the bedlam that characterized the Zeon Republic’s bid for independence, but beyond Side 6’s borders, the rest of the Cislunar Sphere knows the reality: the Riah Republic remains dependent upon the Earth Federation for logistical support and defense in times of peace, and has been at the mercy of the military might of the Archduchy of Zeon during times of war.
Despite its boasts of two decades of independence, the people of the Riah Republic are more beholden to the Federation and more at the behest of the Zeon than their leaders would ever let them know…
None of these matters, however, are upon the mind of 1Lt. Jolie Minh of the Earth Federation Special Forces’ Centurion Team as she watches Side 1’s Shangrila Colony, the oldest human space colony, loom into view. In recent days, only one thought, one image has dominated her thoughts.
She sees Archduke Alexander Miguel lying dead in a pool of his own blood, and prays that her vision is prophetic.
Captain Jonah Michaels, commanding officer of the Centurion Team and Jolie’s husband, approaches his wife cautiously, almost as if afraid to disturb her ruminations. As the United Forces Armada has drawn closer to Side 3, and as the war reaches a critical phase in which the final showdown against the Archduchy of Zeon appears to be impending, a veil has seemingly fallen between the young couple, and they no longer feel transparent to each other.
Jonah removes his command overcoat and drapes it upon Jolie’s shoulders. Jolie turns to him and offers him a brief smile, but it is devoid of the usual warmth.
After several moments of awkward silence, Jonah tentatively attempts to initiate a conversation, “I’ve spoken with Christina. She’s gotten word from Minerva: we’ll be deploying soon…perhaps as soon as tomorrow. We’re on standby alert status until we receive further orders.”
“Damn it,” Jolie mutters under her breath, “We waste half our lives on ‘standby.’ If there’s one thing that shouldn’t move slowly, it’s a war.”
“Take it easy,” Jonah says soothingly.
“YOU take it easy!” Jolie snarls, ripping Jonah’s overcoat off her shoulders and flinging it angrily to the ground, “That pig Miguel murdered my family! He’s murdered too many people for his insane ideology! I swore I’d make him pay with every drop of blood in his body, and I’m not going to ‘take it easy’ until that happens! He took away my home, Jonah…he took away any chance I have of ever going home again! ”
Jonah steps forward, cupping his hands gently around the soft, smooth, delicate curves of Jolie’s cheeks, “Jolie…we swore that we’d bring Alex to justice together, but murder isn’t justice. You’re right that Alex has committed too many crimes against humanity and he must pay for them, but justice has to be delivered in the right way…in an ethical and humane way…a way that Alex himself hasn’t…”
“Save it,” Jolie fumes, shaking free of Jonah’s touch, “I’ve had enough of your pacifist philosophizing. I only want to know one thing: when the time finally comes that we kill Miguel, can I count on your backing me?”
It’s a question Jonah has been dreading. He opens his mouth, but not a sound emerges.
Jolie glares at him, a bitter smile emerging on her lips, her voice full of acid, “I should have known. He is your brother, after all, isn’t he, Jonah?”
Jonah sighs, “Jolie, come on! That’s not fair!”
Jolie backs Jonah down as she fixes him in an angry gaze, “Not fair? I’ll tell you what’s not fair: my parents, my brother, and my friends have been dead for nearly ten years, but Miguel still lives to kill millions more like them…again and again! Do you call that fair, Captain Michaels? Or is it Captain Miguel?”
Jonah covers his eyes and shakes his head in exasperation. After another sigh, he says to Jolie quietly, “I can’t go home either…”
Realizing the truth of that statement, Jolie is at a loss for more to say, staring at the ground, perhaps in realization of how hurtful her words have been.
“The day I chose to leave Phobos, I rejected everything my brother stood for,” Jonah says, “I’ve seen him do those terrible things of which you’re speaking, Jolie…I haven’t been blind to any of it. I’ve been there with you in all the battles…I’ve seen the streets run red with rivers of blood….I’ve seen corpses stacked by the thousand…I’ve seen good people needlessly lose their lives because Alex saw them as obstacles on the path to his vision of a so-called ‘pure and perfect’ world. I’m an artist, Jolie. I see the beauty this world has to offer…and I also see its horrors. In you, I see all the beauty I could ever want in the universe, but in the anger and hatred inside you, I see horror that makes me want to close my eyes forever.”
Jolie finally looks up at Jonah, the fire in her eyes smoldering in tears.
Jonah holds her close as her fury subsides, “The only home either of us has to go to is each other, Jolie.”
As the couple embraces, a squad of Earth Federation Forces MS streaks past the large viewport behind them, deployed on a reconnaissance mission that Jolie and Jonah know heralds their own deployment into combat.
to be continued...
Episode 45 continued...
Executive Director Minerva Zabi is in a private meeting with her superior, Director Artasia Daikun, in the latter’s mobile office aboard the converted heavy freighter Mapother.
“I don’t quite understand your reasoning for keeping Cadena in charge as acting Governor of Side 1,” Artasia says, tying her luscious blond hair into a ponytail for convenience, “He’s a collaborator with the Zeon; he should be facing a citizens’ tribunal like Col. Putnam, not restored to office.”
Minerva gently wipes the fingers of both of hands, the flesh and the mechanical, with her handkerchief and repockets it before replying softly, “Cadena was legitimately elected to office by the people of Side 1.”
“As Lieutenant Governor,” Artasia points out reasonably, “and before he became a collaborationist and sacrificed thousands of his constituents.”
“He will face the wrath of those whom he betrayed,” Minerva nods, “but they who elected him to office must be the ones to remove him from office. If the Shambala Republic orders Cadena’s removal from office, we’d be no different in the eyes of Side 1’s people from the Zeon who appointed him their overlord.”
Artasia begins to understand the twisted logic of Minerva’s plan, and she smiles, “I have much to learn from you about politics.”
“Politics,” Minerva says, pouring out two tumblers of whiskey, handing one to Artasia, “is a game played not for immediate gains, but for future goals. If your objective is to win a war, you need to win the home front first.”
Minerva raises her glass in a toast, and sips the whiskey as she turns towards a map of Cislunar Space hanging on the wall of Artasia’s office…her gaze fixed upon Side 6, the Riah Republic.
At Cosmic Alexandria, Archduke Alexander Miguel stands in front of the vast dressing mirror that forms one wall of his palatial private quarters, donning not the usual military uniform that serves as the Zeon ruler’s state attire, but a combat normalsuit…a black affair emblazoned with a muted gold Zeon state emblem.
On most days, Alexander would be preparing for another long day of conferring with the dozens of military experts and bureaucrats that assist him in managing the glorious sprawl of the Zeon Empire. The United Forces, that infernal gaggle of upstarts comprised of Earth Federation holdouts and Shambala Republic radicals, is proving more resilient than anyone had anticipated. The Empire would not be secure until this resistance is flattened beneath Alexander’s proverbial boot.
Today, however, Alexander will see to the future of his empire from a different seat of government…the linear seat of a mobile armor cockpit.
Alexander seals the collar of his normalsuit. More than a year has passed since he has personally engaged in mobile suit combat. He has certainly been in mobile suit cockpits during that time…supervising vital combat theater operations, but he has not actually logged any real combat time in eighteen months.
Too much time has passed since Alexander has personally shed blood, and while he does not necessarily thirst for the experience, he is curious about whether or not the skills with which he once terrorized the enemy combatants are intact. As the supreme ruler of Zeon, Alexander has found that affairs of state have claimed more of his attention than combat over the past two years, and so he relishes this rare opportunity to once again exercise the battle prowess upon which he first built his fearsome reputation as a young man.
An important factor to Alexander’s infrequent sorties has been the introduction of Lt. Col. Kyoko Yamaguchi to his forces. With Kyoko directing the Archduchy’s mobile suit corps, Alexander has had little need to face the enemy in personal combat.
Alexander lifts his helmet from where it has long sat on idle display on his desk as he turns to look fondly upon Kyoko, who lies sleeping upon the bed they have now shared for months.
Alexander strides silently towards the bed, sitting upon it as he strokes Kyoko’s hair gently: Poor girl – she’s exhausted. I’ve been driving her too hard. I’ll let her rest today.
Kyoko stirs, becoming alert as her vision lands upon Alexander, “Alex…did I miss the call to reveille? Why…?”
Alexander settles Kyoko back onto the bed, shushing her with a finger to her lips, “I’ve ordered the high command staff to give you a three-day furlough.”
“But why?” Kyoko asks, “I have…”
Alexander smiles, shushing Kyoko again, “You need to rest. You nearly collapsed when you returned from your last mission. That was my fault. I’ve been driving you to the point of exhaustion. I want you to stay home and rest for a while, Kyoko.”
Kyoko’s expression becomes gloomy and her eyes moisten, “I know: you’ve lost faith in me. I’ve failed you so many times. You ordered me to destroy the White Phoenix for you, but to this day, Jolie Minh lives. I know I don’t deserve your trust anymore.”
Alex cups Kyoko’s face in his hands, gazing deeply into her black eyes as he says, “That’s nonsense, Kyoko. Other than myself, I trust only one other in this vast universe, and that other is you. Today, I need you here…on the home front. When the war is over, your work will require you to invest much more time here, because you will be the Archduchess of Zeon, not an officer in my army.”
Kyoko shakes her head, “I only want to be by your side. Being an archduchess isn’t important to me, Alex. Even if you were only a common soldier, I’d still always be at your side.”
Alexander smiles and holds Kyoko close, “I know that. You’re my partner in everything I do. My quest was a lonely one until you became a part of it, Kyoko. Soon, we’ll win this war and light the flame of Zeon for ten thousand years. After that, there will be a different and most vital duty I’ll need you to fulfill for me.”
Kyoko gives Alexander an attentive nod, ready to consign her soul to the devil for him if that’s what he wants from her.
Alexander strokes Kyoko’s hair again, offering her a fond grin as he says softly, “I want you to bear our children. We will raise them together as the first of a new breed of superior humanity. The breed of Zeon.”
Kyoko smiles at the prospect of becoming the mother of Alexander’s children, an idea she has dared to dream, but presently blushes at now that it has grown from mere fancy to probable future.
Alexander kisses Kyoko tenderly on her forehead and says, “Rest well. I’ll return before this time tomorrow.”
“Are you going into combat, Alex?’ Kyoko asks, wrapping the bed sheets around portions of her naked form as she rises into a sitting position.
“Yes,” Alexander replies, “As I told you before, I want for us to be partners, not superior and subordinate. You are my only true peer, Kyoko, and I’ve been remiss in not treating you that way. I’ve been sending you out alone to defeat our enemies when I should have been fighting them by your side. That was…my mistake. Our strength comes from our unity. To defeat our enemies, be it the White Phoenix or anyone else, we need to fight together.”
“Then I should deploy with you today,” Kyoko insists, dropping the sheets, exposing her breathtakingly alluring figure.
“Not yet,” Alexander says, “It’s been too long since I’ve engaged in actual mobile suit combat. If my combat instincts or my reflexes have become dull due to my long period of inactivity, then it’s important that I rectify that before I join you in combat. I can’t endanger you, Kyoko.”
Kyoko dons a black nightshirt that barely covers the tops of her thighs, and takes Alexander’s hands into her own, “I’ll be waiting for you. Please come back to me safely, Alex. I only want to live so long as we live together.”
She rises on tiptoe to kiss him.
Half an hour later, Alexander is aboard a troop carrier from Cosmic Alexandria bound for the Side 1 Zone. To avoid undue attention, Alexander has elected to travel discreetly amidst his troops rather than with his usual retinue.
The new mecha Alexander will be piloting into combat has already been posted to the Zeon Forces’ temporary regional base of operations at the Nostos Colony of Side 1. The presence of their Archduke among them...going into combat alongside them…greatly lifts the morale of the young Zeon troops who share the troop carrier with Alexander. The impressionable, idealistic young Zeon soldiers, many of them youths who would be in high school in a more peaceful world, are heartened by the knowledge that their Archduke is not one who would send them into peril’s path without willingly putting himself in the same jeopardy. Archduke Miguel is a leader that each of them is willing to lay down his life for.
A torrent of thoughts rushes through Alexander’s mind as the transport departs the Side 3 Zone: the future of Zeon (including the fates of the young men now about to join him in battle), his own future with Kyoko, and the future of…Jonah. Although he has all but signed Jonah’s proverbial death warrant as a traitor to Zeon and to the Miguel Family, a part of Alexander cannot help wishing that his younger brother would have a change of heart and come home.
Alexander shunts these thoughts aside; his many months in a command chair rather than a combat cockpit have made him soft…sentimental. The Archduke of Zeon can afford to be neither.
Zeon’s destiny is to rule the best of humanity, and if Jonah is an obstacle to that destiny, he will be eliminated.
The United Forces mobile suit squadron aboard the Amuro Ray is being prepped for deployment. Among the mobile suits is an MSZ-010S ZZ Gundam…an upgraded version of the mobile suit that famously won the First Neo Zeon War by defeating Regent Haman Karn and her Quebeley at Core 3 in U.C. 0089. The new ZZ Gundam is a gift from Dr. Camille Vidan to Judau Ashta for all the things that Judau and his friends did for Camille and his wife, Fa Yuri, during those dark days when Camille’s sanity had been lost to Paptimus Scirocco’s final act of malice.
Eno Abbov and Mondo Agake, junk salvagers-turned-freedom fighters-turned-mechanical industry proprietors-turned freedom fighters again, cannot help but feel a wave of nostalgia wash over them as they assist their old friends Judau and Lu in fine-tuning the systems of the ZZ Gundam’s component Core Base, Core Fighter, and Core Top units. If only Elle Viano, wife of Captain Beecher Olech, were present, their old “Gundam Team” from the war against Axis Zeon would be together again. Fortunately, Elle and her one-year-old daughter, Athena, are safe far across the Solar System at Woodhaven Colony in Jupiter orbit.
As freedom fighters during that earlier war, Eno and Mondo were never the bravest of men. Although ultimately, neither ever let his allies and friends down, both would be liars if they didn’t admit they spent much of the war scared shitless of buying it from the business end of a Zeon gun. There were times when they’d toyed with the idea of abandoning their friends to the Zeon…even JOINING the Zeon if Zeon happened to be the winning side. In the end, they never did: Eno and Mondo discovered heroism late, but discovered it they did, and after discovering it, they’ve never relinquished it.
Presently, Eno is beneath the Core Base, soldering together a partially ruptured thruster nozzle unit. Mondo is recalibrating the targeting computer of the Core Top, ensuring that the firing mechanism works fluidly and reliably.
Mondo rises from his work to take a breather, grinning as he sees Eno, Judau, and Lu approaching him with boxed containers of food.
“Just in time,” Mondo says cheerfully, “My stomach was getting ready to digest itself!”
“I wonder if the food on these warships has gotten any better since we last served,” Eno says, opening his boxed meal.
“Not if Beecher’s still the Captain,” Lu remarks sourly, “This potato salad here looks like it dates from our Ahrgama days!”
Lu’s comment brings everyone to laughter, and Judau adds, “Ahrgama? That’s giving Beecher too much credit! I think he scooped this stuff out of a refuse bin in the wreckage of the White Base! Oh, look: isn’t this a sandwich that Captain Bright didn’t finish back in October, 0079?”
The four friends laugh. They always had been a wacky crew…the “Kids From Shangrila,” though kids they no longer are.
“Still talking sh*t about me behind my back?” Captain Beecher says, approaching with his own boxed lunch, “Some things never change, I suppose.”
Beecher takes a seat among his friends as they continue dining on their rations.
“It’s so much like old times that it’s scary,” Mondo remarks, drinking cola from a pressurized tube, “I thought that after we beat Haman Karn and Glemy Toto, that was it: our days as freedom fighters were over. But now here we all are doing it all over again more than ten years later!”
“It is different in lots of ways, though,” Judau answers, making a face as he sniffs the contents of his food container, “We were all a lot younger back then, and we didn’t give a damn because we couldn’t see tomorrow anyway. Now a lot of us are settled with families.”
“I’m married with a child and I’m wearing an Earth Federation Forces uniform collecting an Earth Federation Forces paycheck,” Beecher says, “all of which would have seemed ridiculous ten years ago."
“Even more ridiculous is the idea that we’re now fighting under the command of Minerva Zabi,” Lu says, “Last time, she was the reason that we had to fight.”
“That’s not really fair,” Eno points out, “she was just a little girl back then, and she was being manipulated by Haman Karn. You tried to rescue her from Haman once back then, so you know that she didn’t want the war any more than any of us did.”
“You’ve heard the old saying about ‘the apple not falling far from the tree,’ right?” Lu responds, “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that she’s a Zabi. She also used to be Federation Special Forces…you know, like the Titans? Beecher, you worked with her…you know about how Minerva Zabi gets her results.”
Beecher stares hard into the black coffee inside his thermos bottle, and reflects a moment before replying, “She can be pretty ruthless about meeting her goals, but we all have to be. This is war, Lu. You can be sure that Alexander Miguel won’t have any trouble being ruthless towards us…and the people we love.”
Judau, Eno, and Mondo nod in agreement, and after a moment, even Lu has to agree. Back in their Ahrgama days, Lu had been the most ruthless among them…every bit as willing to use underhanded methods to accomplish her mission.
The reassembled Gundam Team continues their lunch in grim silence as the Amuro Ray disappears behind Side 3’s shadow.
Episode 45 to be continued...
could this writing be seperated in 2 books ?
i find my self skipping massive clumps of writing to read one particular charecters activities... then going ack read thos clumps as another charecters perspective.
its like... lord of the rings... frodoes story could allmost be a separet book to araguns. do you know what i mean ?
otherwise im really enjoying ur imaginative writings.
keep up the good work and thanks for making the effort :-) really kinda fun seeing how other people interpret culture and war .
Last edited by aliderhamy; 10-06-09 at 05:58 AM.
Hi. Thanks for reading and commenting. All feedback is deeply appreciated.
The separation of the books, however, is not by character groups (because they are very much an ensemble), but by time period. Part 2 takes place directly after Part 1 (a year/two years later), while Part 3 jumps ahead five years after the end of the events of Part 2.
Which characters, might I ask, particularly interest you?i find my self skipping massive clumps of writing to read one particular charecters activities... then going ack read thos clumps as another charecters perspective.
Yeah...but all the threads of the characters do come together, so it isn't the best idea to take them apart. Everything feeds into an ultimate conclusion. The two central characters through all three parts, however, are Minerva Zabi (Athena Ibaz) and Jolie Minh. Through everything that happens to them, together and separately, it comes down to these two sisters-at-arms and their tempestuous friendship. In Part 3, this will become manifest.its like... lord of the rings... frodoes story could allmost be a separet book to araguns. do you know what i mean ?
Thank you. I'm glad you're enjoying it. There is *much* more to come.otherwise im really enjoying ur imaginative writings.
keep up the good work and thanks for making the effort :-) really kinda fun seeing how other people interpret culture and war .