Episode 4 continued...
For years, Athena has been conscious of the emergence of her own Newtype abilities, although hers are not on par with Jolie or Jonah’s. Colonel Char had much to say about Newtypes during the years he spent caring for Athena during her adolescent years, and one of the things that the colonel had impressed upon Athena’s young mind at the time was that Newtypes represented humanity’s future, and needed to nourished rather than exploited.
Butting out her cigarette, Athena takes a second and last look at Chieming’s email message before deleting it. There is another line that is of interest to her:
“I got a message from Hathaway asking about U but I told him I hadn’t heard from U lately either.”
Hathaway Noah. Chieming’s elder brother. General Noah’s son.
The one man in all the universe who has ever moved Athena’s heart.
Hathaway Noah, ISRLA inteligence operative, son of General Noah, and the man whom Athena loves
Athena was raised as royalty, the Duchess Minerva Zabi, heir to the throne of the Archduchy of Zeon following the death of her grandfather, Duke Degin Zabi, and her father, Prince Dozle Zabi, as well as her uncles Giren and Garman and aunt, Kishiria. As a young girl, she had been kept sheltered from contact with other children her age. The matter of her education was handled by royal tutors and by her regent, Lady Haman Khan herself. The matter of Duchess Minerva’s eventual marriage when she reached maturity was a matter for Lady Haman and the Royal Staff to decide. The Duchess, being young (nine at the time she abandoned the throne), was not consulted for her input on this matter. Inevitably, she would be expected to marry a Zeon nobleman of elevated lineage, qualified to be the Prince Consort of Zeon.
The infant Princess Minerva Zabi in the arms of her father, Prince Dozle Zabi in U.C. 0079, shortly before Dozle's death in battle
Princess Minerva with her guardian and regent, Lady Haman Khan, in the late U.C. 0080s
The Duchess Minerva Zabi, Sovereign of the Archduchy of Zeon, U.C. 0088
The fall of the Archduchy of Zeon in U.C. 0089 saved Duchess Minerva from such a fate.
Minerva’s first intimate relationship of any kind with a man was Colonel Char Aznable, the famous “Red Comet” of the One Year War. Char, perhaps the most famous Zeon soldier of all and eventual Fuhrer of the Archduchy for a brief period in U.C. 0093, had served under the command of Minerva’s father, Prince Dozle for most of the One Year War. He had also served under Minerva’s uncle Garma and aunt Kishiria for a time, and there had been rumors among some officers that Char had betrayed and murdered them both. Those rumors were all too plausible, as it was later learned that Char was, in fact, Cassoval Rem Daikun, the son of Zeon Daikun, founder of the Zeon Republic. It was Minerva’s grandfather Degin who had murdered Zeon Daikun, reorganizing the pacifist Zeon Republic into the militaristic Archduchy of Zeon.
However Char might have hated her family, he had always had a soft spot for Minerva herself. Some of Minerva’s earliest and happiest childhood memories were of Colonel Char coming to play with her when she was a toddler. Colonel Char was extremely protective of Minerva, and he distrusted Lady Haman’s machinations upon the young monarch. After Char left on his extended undercover mission, infiltrating the Earth Federation Forces as “Captain Quattro Bagina” in U.C. 0084, Minerva did not see Char for several years. He reentered her life in U.C. 0087 as a leader of the AEUG and thus, according to Lady Haman, an enemy of the Duchess and a traitor to the Neo Zeon.
As the Federation/AEUG Alliance extinguished the final dying embers of the old Archduchy in Cislunar Space, occupying the Zeon capital of Zum City in U.C. 0089, it was Colonel Char who came to Minerva’s rescue, saving her not only from the Federation authorities who would take the young monarch custody as a prisoner of war (and despite her young age, possible war criminal), but also the life of enforced pomp and pageantry that Minerva had known since infancy and had come to hate. She had power. She had wealth. She had the adoration of billions (and the enmity of as many billions on the other side). What she did not have, and wanted far more than anything else, was freedom. Freedom to be herself…to have her own aspirations…and her own accomplishments.
U.C. 0089 - Colonel Char Aznable secretly escorts Duchess Minerva Zabi from life as puppet ruler of the Archduchy of Zeon to a more quiet life in Switzerland on Earth.
Colonel Char gave her that. Freeing her from her golden prison, Char took Minerva to the home of his own foster parents, the Masses, in Switzerland on Earth. There, among the majestic beauty of the Alps, Minerva grew to womanhood under the care of the Mass family, who loved her as they would their own grandchild. As a young Duchess, Minerva had been trained in literature, history, the fine arts, and the etiquette of elite society. Now, Colonel Char trained her in other skills that she would need for the future…how to survive in a dangerous world replete with hidden enemies, the intricate and treacherous politics that governed humanity, the arts of stealth and espionage…every skill that Char himself had mastered in becoming Zeon’s most infamous warrior.
Duchess Minerva as a young teenager, newly renamed "Athena Ibaz"
Duchess Minerva, aged thirteen, shortly before Colonel Char's death
Minerva and Char were very close during the years he cared for her between U.C. 0089 and U.C. 0093. Minerva was too young at the time to call it a romantic relationship; she was only fourteen when she last saw Char, and he was twenty years her senior. She had always looked to Char as a benevolent, but enigmatic older brother. She remembers the heartbreak she felt when Char was reported killed in combat, but she did not weep for him then. Char had always taught Minerva to be strong…to be a warrior, and warriors do not shed tears lightly, not even when a beloved comrade loses his life in battle.
Char died with his dream unfulfilled. He had wanted to continue his father’s vision of helping humanity to literally ascend into the future by embracing the cosmos. Minerva had endured the loss of many loved ones to war: Colonel Char, her father, even Lady Haman. The wars needed to end, but how could they with such corrupt powers ruling the Earth Federation?
Six months after Char’s death, Minerva used the skills that Char had taught her and the skills he had given to her to refashion herself as “Athena Ibaz,” a name whose meaning was clear to her when she conceived it, and enter the Earth Federation Forces’ Officers Academy. Minerva Zabi “died,” at least figuratively, and from the ashes of the young Duchess of Zeon arose Cadet Athena Ibaz, promising young Federal Forces’ officers trainee.
While at the Academy, Athena picked up and mastered dozens of skills related to combat, tactics, espionage, communications, and most importantly, leadership. As a duchess, she had been born into leadership, but had not truly learned how to lead. Athena had taken early cues from Haman and Char, but at the Academy, Athena finally was able to coalesce those skills into a body of principles and methodologies that would effectively inspire and organize people to give their utmost to each and every task. Athena learned a great deal about human psychology…how people thought and behaved, their values and limitations, and how behavior could be modified and manipulated.
As a girl, Athena had been trained in the use of firearms by Colonel Char, who even bequeathed to her one of his vintage One Year War sidearms. By the time of Char’s death, Athena had already become an excellent markswoman, and her skills impressed even the Academy’s instructors. Nor did Athena lack abilities in hand-to-hand combat, mastering nearly a dozen different martial arts disciplines from various cultures. Until meeting Jolie Minh and being unable to overcome the gifted teenager’s singular fighting talent, Athena had never lost a one-on-one fight to anyone. Her reflexes became as quick and nimble as a cat’s, moving into and out of the shadows with the greatest of ease. Her brain a sponge, Athena had absorbed all the knowledge provided by the books in Char’s personal library in the Mass residence during her adolescent years. She became literate and fluent in fifteen languages. By the time she graduated from high school two years ahead of schedule at age fifteen, she had the equivalent knowledge of doctoral candidates in various fields of liberal arts, physical sciences (particularly astrophysics, mechanical and electrical engineering, and medical science), social sciences (particularly history, politics, and the art of government), and the fine arts.
At the Academy, Athena picked up more than just the skills she would need to fulfill her goals. She also picked up a litany of vices that she knew she might come to regret, provided she lived long enough (a dubious proposition in light of her profession). Federal Forces officers drank heavily, particularly young cadets facing pressure-inundated training conditions. Char had introduced Athena to liquor when she was thirteen. By the age of fifteen, she was a heavy drinker, although with enough self-discipline to avoid slipping into alcoholism. By the age of sixteen, she was a chain smoker, easily inhaling up to three packs of cigarettes in a twenty-four hour period. Athena had done a calculation: at her rate of alcohol and cigarette consumption, she would likely die of liver cancer by age thirty-eight…provided she did not die of lung cancer by age thirty-six. The point was moot, however. She calculated her odds of living to thirty to be quite low in light of the work she would do as an officer after she graduated from the Academy. That being the case, the small comforts of fine wine and cigarettes were more than welcome.
One vice that Athena did not indulge in during her days at the Academy, however, was sex. Not that the opportunity had not presented itself on numerous occasions. Athena endured no shortage of attention from her fellow cadets, who were mostly male. The previous wars had greatly cut down on the number of qualified young men who could serve in the military, and the Earth Federation Forces had come to be comprised almost half by female soldiers…except at the elite levels. Of flag-ranking female officers in the Federal Forces there were still comparatively few, and in Athena’s class of seven-hundred officer cadets, only two dozen were women. Having inherited the exquisitely beautiful looks of her mother, Senna Zabi, Athena could scarcely get through a week at the Academy without being approached by a half dozen different solicitations by male fellow cadets for dates. Without exception, she turned these solicitations down. None of Athena’s cadets interested her, and she let them know it: by the time that she graduated, Athena had acquired a reputation among the men: hot-faced, hot-bodied, cold-hearted. Of the young men who lusted after her, almost all learned to be intimidated by her. It was just as well; Athena’s goals were far too important for her to become distracted by a romance.
The focus of Athena’s life was to reshape the world as a better, more peaceful place. Athena knows that to accomplish this goal, she will need power…power as she once seemingly had as the Duchess Minerva Zabi.
To that end, Athena applied for Special Forces duty after graduation from the Federal Forces Officers’ Academy. She was assigned to the Centurion Team as junior executive officer to Captain Rick Tinne, the team’s original leader. Athena’s initial plan had been to gradually undermine Tinne’s authority until the team leader position fell to her, but the opportunity rose during her very first mission (to recover the then top-secret, stolen Gundam-100 prototype) to eliminate Tinne and make it look like an inevitable casualty of battle.
It was the most evil act that Athena had ever committed…a murder that she was able to commit and get away with through deliberate omission. It was just the kind of act that her family had been known for. That vile Zabi blood ran true in Athena’s veins, much to her self-disgust, as unlike her forebears, Athena still had some remnants of a conscience…not that it would stop her from acting, however.
Before her nineteenth birthday, Athena was a Captain in the Federal Forces and the commanding officer of a Special Forces unit.
All grown up: the former Duchess Minerva Zabi, now Major Athena Ibaz of the Earth Federation Special Forces
During the mission to recover the Gundam-100 prototype, Athena encountered and befriended the Newtype girl Jolie Minh, an orphan from Side 5. Athena recruited Jolie into the Federal Forces, and the two soon became partners…and friends. A more unlikely friendship probably could not be imagined: Athena and Jolie were different in so many ways. One was raised as royalty; the other grew up on the streets. One was governed by careful planning and calm, rational thought; the other was passionate and guided by her emotions. One took an essentially amoral, Machiavellian view of the world; the other was stubbornly principled and saw the world in clear lines of black and white. Surprisingly, however, this oddest of pairings also had an essential piece of common ground: both were war orphans whose nightmare it was to see others lose their loved ones to war as they had, and both were willing to go to any lengths to prevent that from happening to others. This common ground has been enough to sustain their friendship as they shed blood and tears together on the field of battle. They became like sisters: sisters of war, forever guarding each other’s backs as they ran down their enemies, one after another, en rout to their goals.
Athena has never had difficulty separating official business from personal in terms of her friendship with Jolie: Athena could easily be Jolie’s stern, uncompromising, and exacting commanding officer when on duty, then easily transition into being Jolie’s affectionate, nurturing “big sister,” sounding board, and best friend when they were off-duty. Jolie, afflicted with the same vices as Athena (picked up on the street rather than at the Academy), could drink and smoke at the same capacity as Athena, a fact that brought them even closer together. Their off-duty hours were often spent together at nightclubs, glass of brandy or whisky in one hand, cigarette in the other. Perhaps that was the only way either of them could cope with the seeming futility of their quest, which they could nevertheless not turn away from. Athena accepted it; so did Jolie. They would change this vile, venal world that they were born into, or die in the attempt. It was that simple.
Things were not nearly as simple, however, when it came to Hathaway Noah.
It was only three months ago, when General Noah had gone to Earth to attend a top-secret conference with the High Command Council in Shanghai, and the Centurion Team was dispatched to provide security for the general after Central Intelligence had gathered information indicating that the ISRLA was likely to attempt to assassinate the general during the conference. Athena quickly discovered that the general’s would-be killer was none other than Mafty, the ISRLA’s infamous top assassin; Athena also quickly learned that Mafty was, ironically, none other than the general’s own son, Hathaway, who had had a bitter falling out with his father years earlier and was prepared to commit patricide for ideological reasons.
Athena could appreciate the irony of a son attempting to kill his own father. She had come from a family wherein such occurrences were common: her uncle Giren had murdered his own father, Athena’s grandfather Degin, to secure the Zeon throne for himself. Giren, in turn, was murdered by his own sister, Kishiria. That Hathaway had designs on murdering his own father hardly fazed Athena.
What did catch Athena off guard, however, was that she and her quarry would fall in love with each other.
Duty-bound to protect General Noah from Mafty, Athena took advantage of the fact that Hathaway Noah was greatly attracted to her to shadow his movements, learn his plans, and uncover his weaknesses. Athena went to all lengths, including making love to Hathaway, to fulfill her duty. On a cold, snowy late autumn night at Hathaway’s residence in Shanghai, Athena compelled Hathaway to surrender himself to her…paradoxically by surrendering herself to him, body and soul.
But the strangest thing happened: in the process of carrying out her duty, Athena found that she had truly fallen in love with Hathaway – a curve that blindsided Athena and complicated matters.
Athena has never been able to account for exactly why she fell in love with Hathaway. He was deliciously handsome and supremely charming, that was certain, but Athena had never been one to be easily swayed by a handsome face or a charming demeanor. In Hathaway, however, Athena recognized a kindred spirit: like Athena, Hathaway understood what it was like to live a lie. He lived behind a mask every much as she did, and for much the same reason…to reject a heritage that he could no longer embrace. Athena Ibaz lived a lonely life because essentially, she did not really exist; Athena was merely a mask for Minerva Zabi. Hathaway understood that. Most importantly, however, was Athena’s sense that Hathaway’s love for her was sincere; his feelings for her compromised the secrecy that he needed to operate, but he was willing to surrender that secrecy for her. Hathaway trusted Athena more than she even trusted herself, and that, above all, moved her.
As a Federal Forces officer, Athena’s duty required her to neutralize Mafty, but although she overcame him in a brutal battle in the wintry Chinese hinterlands, she was unable to bring herself to kill Hathaway. Athena was more than capable of killing any man in cold blood if her goals required it…any man except the man she loved.
In dereliction of her duty, Athena spared Hathaway’s life, with the admonition to him to never let her see him again, because if he did, she must surely take his life then.
General Noah’s life secured and the conference completed without further incident, Athena and the Centurion Team returned to space, but that mission had left Athena with an ache in her heart that has not gone away since.
Athena shakes herself out of these reflections, wondering just when she has gotten so sentimental. Perhaps it’s the danger involved in their new mission.
Athena opens up her desk drawer, and draws from it her one physical link to the man to whom Athena had given her love.
Athena stares at the photo of the handsome young visage of Hathaway Noah for a moment, and holds the photo close to her heart.
Episode 4 to be continued...