Jude Law still remains the front-running template for Alexander.
Yeah, only Episode 6...getting bogged down in details. I've noticed that the episodes are getting longer and longer.
I got impatient and although I'm currently writing up Episode 7, I actually took a break from it and jumped ahead some twenty or so episodes and wrote out the key episode where Athena and Hathaway reunite. Let me know if you'd like to see an advance copy of that.
Episode 6 continued...
An hour later, in a dark, austere detention room at the Earth Federation Forces’ regional command center at Frontier 8, Federal Forces Military Police beat Captain Duncan McAllister savagely with their truncheons. McAllister is bruised and bloodied, and sports several cracked bones, but still refuses to talk about the Deimos Zeon’s mining facilities on Mars.
Major Athena Ibaz, 1Lt. Jolie Minh, and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels enter the dark chamber. Under usual circumstances, Jonah would not have been asked to participate in such an interrogation process, but Athena has asked him to join them for what she deems as a “necessary experience” for him.
The trio of Special Forces officers is saluted by the military police. Athena is handed a dossier on the prisoner, which Athena gives but a cursory glance as she leads Jolie and Jonah to several seats in a corner of the dark room.
Athena seats herself casually in one of the seats, inserting a cigarette into her mouth and lighting it. She listens impassively to McAllister’s grunts and curses as the military police continue to beat on him.
Jolie turns takes a second seat and turns her head away, not wanting to watch, despite having been through this numerous times before.
Jonah stares in open-mouthed horror at what the military police are doing to the prisoner. Yes, he is an enemy combatant, but does that give the MPs the right to beat on the poor man like that? What about the laws regarding the treatment of prisoners of war? Why isn’t Athena or Jolie doing anything to stop it?
“Ma’am,” Jonah says to Athena, “Shouldn’t we…?”
Athena exhales a cloud of tobacco-scented smoke, and says calmly, “Jonah, please. Just be quiet and watch and listen.”
“But…!” Jonah protests.
“Jonah,” Athena says, again calmly, but more insistently, “please.”
Jonah looks towards Jolie for help. Jolie shakes her head sadly at Jonah and looks away in self-disgust.
Jonah looks at Athena again. The youthful, pretty face of the Centurion Leader and Deputy Director of the Special Forces is cold and expressionless.
Jonah continues watching in helpless horror as the MPs beat upon McAllister savagely.
Jonah toys with the idea of drawing his sidearm and threatening the MPs to stop. His hand begins to move towards his pistol when he hears Athena say, “That’s enough.”
Jonah feels his heart go cold until he realizes that Athena is talking to the MPs, not him.
The beating stops. Duncan McAllister looks more like a mass of bloodied flesh than a man.
Athena stubs out her cigarette. She rises from her seat and walks over to where the beaten and dazed McAllister sits on the ground. The two MPs stand to the side, their truncheons ready to continue the beating on Athena’s orders.
Athena crouches in front of the prostrate McAllister, her lovely face close to his beaten one. The confused and addled McAllister wonders if an angel has come to take him to the afterlife.
Athena extracts a handkerchief from the breast pocket of her uniform jacket. She uses these to wipe her fingers and the corners of her mouth before using it to clean the blood off of McAllister’s face.
Athena says softly, “I don’t like to watch people suffer. This can end now, if you decide that you want it to end.”
His mind clearing, McAllister laughs contemptuously, “I know what you want, pretty Feddie girl. You want information about Zeon’s resources, don’t you? Why don’t you tell these MP goons of yours to finish me off, then, because you won’t be getting anything useful from me.”
Athena inserts another cigarette into her mouth and lights it, exhaling a cloud of smoke downward, away from McAllister’s face, before stroking his wounded cheek with the handkerchief again and whispering, “Loyalty is the most precious commodity in the world. When given to the right people, under the right circumstances, it’s worth more than all the material wealth in the world. Captain McAllister: is Deimos Zeon’s leader, Field Marshal Von Bach, worthy of such loyalty?”
McAllister considers that for a moment. There is no love lost between himself and Von Bach. Both McAllister and Von Bach know that their association is one of pure mutual exploitation, and that McAllister’s “dedication” to Zeon is lip service at best. Giving away information about the mines to the Federal Forces, however, would mean kissing goodbye to that retirement to a life of wealth luxury for which McAllister lusts.
Assuming, of course, he lives to reach that retirement.
Never a true patriot of Zeon or a Contolist ideologue, McAllister the pragmatist is nevertheless unable to trust the Earth Federation, and so he spits back in contempt, “I’m loyal to myself only, and I know that once you’ve gotten the information you want out of me, I’m a dead man.”
“Perhaps,” Athena says, cigarette wagging between her lips as she speaks through clenched teeth, “but death isn’t the worst possible fate, Captain.”
Athena rises to standing position, and walks away from McAllister, saying, “1Lt. Minh?”
Jolie springs forward from the chair where she had been seated, tucking her legs in front of her. She approaches the Zeon ace pilot who had nearly killed her just over an hour earlier, and crouches in front of him as Athena had a moment earlier. She takes one of his rough, powerful hands into her own soft, delicate hand. Jolie stares the enemy pilot in the eye coldly.
McAllister smiles, “Another pretty Feddie officer. You know, there is a way you girls might persuade me to give you the info you want…”
Without responding to that remark, Jolie feels out the contour of McAllister’s fingers. Finding the correct spot, she smiles at the Zeon assassin coldly.
McAllister screams in agony as Jolie breaks the little finger of his right hand with a subtle motion that removes bone and cartilage from soft flesh. Already, the flesh connecting his limp, loose right finger to his palm begins to swell.
Tears flow from McAllister’s eyes as he curses and gapes in agony.
Jonah’s heart pumps rapidly as he witnesses this, and his mouth runs dry. How could Athena and Jolie do this? He thought he knew these two young women…what did he know?
Athena, leaning her back against the wall of the interrogation chamber, says quietly, “The human skeleton has 206 bones. 1Lt. Minh just broke your right phalange. As an expert martial artist, she knows the most painful techniques for breaking each bone in your body, one at a time. The only question I want to ask you now, Captain McAllister, is whether or not you believe you can endure the pain you’re presently experiencing 205 more times.”
To underscore Athena’s point, Jolie breaks the metacarpal on McAllister’s still throbbing right little finger, causing the man to howl with pain again.
“Athena, Jolie…stop!” Jonah implores.
Athena motions Jonah to be silent; he glares at her…and at Jolie, with outrage.
Athena steps forward and crouches in front of McAllister again; she pulls the half smoked cigarette out from between her lips and inserts it between McAllister’s lips. McAllister gratefully inhales.
Athena withdraws the cigarette from McAllister’s lips and stubs it out upon the ground. She looks him coldly in the eye and says, “I expect that you’re prepared to talk. What you say is up to you, and what happens to you next is also up to you. It’s your call, Captain McAllister. You’re in command of your destiny.”
Ten minutes later, a deposition has been taken detailing the size, capacity, location, and disposition of the Zeon mining systems on Mars, including fortifications and vulnerable points.
Episode 6 to be continued...
Episode 6 conclusion!
Having gotten the information they need, the three young Centurion Team officers leave the detention area. Captain McAllister is being taken to the infirmary, where he will receive treatment for his wounds.
Jonah glares furiously at Athena and Jolie as they leave the detention center, en rout to the spaceport where they will board a shuttle to return to the Amuro Ray.
Jonah’s outrage, however, does not impair his sensitivity, and he can see the anguish in Athena and Jolie’s eyes. Clearly, they are not proud of what they have just done, nor did they take any pleasure in it.
That’s still no excuse for having done it, however.
As the trio waits for a military vehicle to transport them to the spaceport, Athena finally says to Jonah, “I understand how you feel. It was important for you to see that. That’s why I wanted you to come along.”
“How could you?!” Jonah finally blurts out, addressing both Athena and Jolie, “What you just did to that prisoner, enemy combatant or not, was inhumane! You two are no better than the Zeon who attacked Frontier 8!”
Jolie says nothing, bowing her head ashamedly.
Athena looks Jonah coldly in the eye and says, “You’re right. We aren’t. That’s the reality of war, Jonah. You’re an artist; you see the beauty within humanity. But war reveals the ugliness in our nature. Compassion. Honor. Justice. These ideals mean nothing in war. What we did to McAllister today, someone will likely do to one or all of us tomorrow. I won’t try to justify it to you -- because I can’t. We do it to win this war.”
“So what if you do win?” Jonah demands, “Is that going to make it right to torture people?!”
Athena says darkly, “It’s not about ‘rightness,’ Jonah; it’s about survival.”
She steps away, needing a moment’s peace alone.
Jonah attempts to follow, but Jolie puts a hand on his shoulder, “Jonah, don’t.”
“Jolie,” Jonah says, disappointment in his voice, “How can you and Athena live with yourselves doing things like this? It’s wrong. Don’t you…?”
“You’re so quick to judge,” Jolie says, fire in her eyes, “you don’t know how much it hurts Athena…and how much it hurts me every time we do this! We hate ourselves for it! You ever wonder why me and ‘Thena drink so much? Why we smoke so much? It’s because we’re desperate to numb ourselves from these terrible things we see every day… that we do every day! That’s our reality, Jonah…we’re soldiers…soldiers at war!”
Jonah opens his mouth to respond to that, but he doesn’t know what to say. Somewhere between his mind and his throat are words condemning Athena and Jolie’s methods in their conduct of war, but the words won’t come forth…because at a certain level, Jonah understands what they mean.
That realization frightens Jonah. How close is he coming to becoming what they are…to doing what they do?
Jolie leans her head against Jonah’s shoulder, and he feels her light warmth against his chest, “Please don’t hate me, Jonah. I hate myself enough as it is; I can’t live if you hate me too. I hate this war. I hate having to do these things. That’s why I do them: so that the war can end and I can stop doing them. Don’t you understand?”
“I understand,” Jonah whispers, stroking Jolie’s back soothingly, “I could never hate you, Jolie. God help me, I…I do understand.”
Jonah holds Jolie tightly, angry…not at her, not at Athena, not even at his brother, the Zeon warlords, or the Federation’s leaders. He is angry at God for allowing people to suffer like this.
Athena returns from her short walk, and says softly, “I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me, Jonah. The things that I do, and that I often ask you, Jolie, and the others to do are despicable. In war, we sacrifice more than just our bodies; we sacrifice our souls as well. The better part of us…our morals…our compassion…it dies even when our bodies don’t. I regret that you needed to learn this Jonah, but it’s what you committed yourself to the day you decided to become a soldier.”
“It’s all right, ma’am…,” Jonah says, “I’m beginning to understand. I don’t know if I can ever really accept it, but I understand.”
Athena smiles weakly, patting both of her charges on their shoulders, “My only hope is that none of us is betraying his or her conscience in vain. We don’t do this because we like to see people suffer, but because we hate to. We do it so that the children that you and Jolie might have someday can grow up in a world where they won’t have to.”
Jonah and Jolie turn to each other and smile, the thought of bearing children together fortifying their spirits and shining a little light on the darkness.
Athena pulls the visor of her officer’s hat low upon her head and closes the collar of her command overcoat against a chill not physical in origin, and says to the two teenaged officers with grim finality, “We wear masks during war. Masks that let us to hide our hearts and do what we must as soldiers. I pray that someday, when the guns finally fall silent, we can still remember what we once looked like under those masks.”
The three young people look at each other with some doubt and some dread. Nothing can ever be certain in war, except that people will suffer and die.
An hour later, Athena, Jolie, and Jonah are back aboard the Amuro Ray. Jolie and Jonah have gone to their respective quarters for some much needed sleep after a brutal day, but Athena, as commanding officer, has one more duty to discharge before she can even think about turning in.
As operations commander, it is Athena’s duty and prerogative to decide Captain Duncan McAllister’s fate. On the Prisoner Report and Recommendations Form on her Datapad, Athena has three options: 1). Release the Prisoner (to his allied forces) 2). Limited Incarceration (length to be determined by operations commander), 3). Life Imprisonment, or 4). Termination.
Athena maneuvers the cursor over the option for Termination momentarily, ominously hovering over that irreversible option, and finally clicks on Life Imprisonment.
No more death. Not today. Tomorrow never knows.
END OF EPISODE 6
Next: EPISODE 7: THE BATTLE OF MARS!
EPISODE 7: THE BATTLE OF MARS
Earth Federation Forces warships, twenty in number, bearing four hundred mobile suits among them, enter Frontier 8 Space after a two-week voyage from Earth. It is the most substantial display of force that the Earth Federation has mounted in the Outer Solar System yet…a clear sign that the Neo Zeon civil war that has been raging for five years (and that the Federation has mostly ignored) has finally drawn its attention and concern.
Major Athena Ibaz observes the arrival of the Earth Federation Forces’ Frontier 8 Relief Armada from an observation deck of the Freemont City Spaceport. The first ship to enter the port is the Matilda Ajane, flagship of the relief armada, named after the Federal Forces’ Supply Corps heroine of the One Year War.
Aboard the Matilda Ajane is Colonel Peter Cairlay, Director of the Special Forces, and Athena’s direct superior. The colonel has come to congratulate Athena and her subordinates on a job well done, and to supervise the next phase of the operation.
The colonel arrives to muted fanfare. A military band plays a Federal Forces salute march, but from the Frontier 8 civilian authority, no officials are present. Few would dispute that the Frontier 8 government has not held the Earth Federation in great esteem lately.
Thus, only Major Athena Ibaz of the Special Forces is present at the spaceport to greet the arrival of Colonel Cairlay and the armada.
The Director of the Special Forces disembarks grandly from the Matilda Ajane. Tall, gaunt, and sinister, Cairlay has all the charm of a funeral director.
From the distance of several dozen meters, Athena regards Cairlay with the kind of gaze that one would give a snake slithering across the grass. Her gaze becomes more diplomatic and businesslike as the colonel approaches closer.
Athena salutes smartly as the colonel arrives within ten places, “Colonel Cairlay, sir. Major Athena Ibaz reporting.”
Cairlay returns the salute with an ostentatiously solicitous smile, “At ease, Major. First, let me offer you congratulations on behalf of the Federation Security Council and myself. You and your people have done an excellent job securing Frontier 8 from the Zeon incursion. We’re all very proud of you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Athena returns matter-of-factly, the only tone she ever uses when conversing with her superiors.
“I’d like to review with you in some detail the operation thus far,” the colonel adds, “and discuss with you how we should proceed with the next phase of the operation.”
“Yes, sir,” Athena replies, betraying no sign of her irritation that Cairlay will very likely foul up her intricately arranged plans…again.
The Director of the Earth Federation Special Forces and his chief deputy board a waiting limousine, which whisks them the Federal Forces regional headquarters in Freemont City.
Although their ranking officers are busy planning the next phase of the operation against the Zeon, the remainder of the Special Forces troops are granted a rare period of R&R after more than a week of sustained combat status. The downtime is not expected to last long, so the young soldiers make the best of it.
Chief Warrant Jonah Michaels has brought out his paintbrushes and paints for the first time in what feels like years. His refined hands have grown rough in recent months, having handled firearms and mobile suit control sticks more than pencils and brushes, losing much of their former delicacy. Jonah frowns…wondering if his hands will ever regain the keenness they had a year ago. His fingers feel clumsy to him, though by anybody else’s standards, they’d be dexterous to the extreme. The lack of refinement in his finger coordination frustrates Jonah; he needs that precision to render the beauty of his current painting subject.
A beeping tone comes from the emitter on Jonah’s door. Jonah doesn’t need to glance at the viewer to know who it is.
Jonah keys the door open button and plants an adoring kiss upon Jolie’s youthfully fresh, pretty face.
Jolie, her heart warmed by the kiss, glows with happiness as she smiles, eyes wide, “Thanks! Couldn’t be a better way to start the day.”
Jonah eyes the clock, 09:00, and eyes Jolie’s tiny, but enticingly curvaceous figure dressed only in a long t-shirt, “Did you just get up?”
Jolie stretches and yawns, “Yeah. It’s not every day that we get to sleep in until nine, you know?”
That much is true. Jonah had awoken at 06:30; on a normal training day, they’d all be up by 04:00. Athena almost certainly has.
“Where’s our leader?” Jonah asks.
“Meeting with Colonel Creepy,” Jolie replies.
By that, Jonah understands that Jolie means Colonel Peter Cairlay, Director of the Special Forces, “He’s here? I thought he was back at Side 7.”
“Well, now that we drove the Zeon out of Frontier 8 and gotten data on the Zeon mines on Mars, he’s come to share some of the glory,” Jolie says somewhat sourly.
Jonah sighs knowingly. Like almost all of the younger Special Forces officers, Jonah regards Colonel Peter Cairlay with a strong measure of contempt. The current generation of Earth Federation Forces soldiers is comprised largely of Spacenoids. They were raised to be sympathetic to the ideals of Contolism, even if not to Zeon-style imperialism. In the course of a military career spanning nearly forty years, Colonel Cairlay has infamously been, even when not the prime instigator, always never less than a key participant in a number of incidents during which Contolists or simply innocent, ideologically uncommitted Spacenoids have been murdered en masse. Whether it was as a young officer in the Earth Federation Central Intelligence Bureau during the U.C. 0060s and 0070s, a mid-level officer in the Interrogations Department of the Titans Corps under the command of Admiral Jamitov Haiman during the 0080s, or Director of the Special Forces now in the late 0090s, Peter Cairlay has left a trail of Spacenoid blood in his wake. At his behest, hundreds of thousands of Spacenoids have perished in the fire of mobile suit weapons or in clouds of toxic gas. His sinister presence has left its impression upon the culture of the Earth Federation Special forces.
A fact, Jonah acknowledges ruefully, confirmed by what he observed his two closest friends, Athena and Jolie, do to the Zeon officer Captain Duncan McAllister a few days earlier when they terrorized and tortured critical intelligence out of him, using a callously effective combination of Athena’s emotional torment and Jolie’s physical punishment. Jonah is horrified that the two young women of whom he has become so fond could be capable of such cruelty, and he is not mollified by such “reasons” as the Federal Forces’ need for concrete data about the Zeon mines on Mars.
At the same time, however, Jonah also acknowledges that Athena and Jolie are not like Cairlay. He resorts to cruelty because he can; they do so only because they must. While that does not justify Athena and Jolie’s actions, it does, in Jonah’s mind, distinguish them from the likes of Cairlay. Athena and Jolie are not monsters; they are, at heart, compassionate and noble young women…compelled by the circumstances of war to use the methods that weighed upon their consciences.
Jonah wonders how soon it will be before he too will be compelled to do something he considers unconscionable. That is the reason, after all, that Athena had brought him to observe the interrogation of McAllister that night. She wanted him to understand what is expected of him as an officer in the Special Forces.
But Jonah doesn’t want to dwell on decisions and darkness and death today…not when the beautiful and vivacious subject of his most recent painting is standing so enticingly at his door, her seductively long, shapely legs mostly unconcealed by the long t-shirt that is the only garment she is wearing.
Jonah smiles, “You got something against pants…,” and eyeing Jolie’s bare feet, “…and shoes?”
Jolie answers, “I hate pants and shoes. They make my legs and feet hot.”
“They’re already hot,” Jonah puns, “and from over here, they’re hotter when you don’t wear pants and shoes than when you do.”
Jolie giggles, runs towards Jonah and uses her momentum to knock Jonah onto his bed…or more accurately, Jonah allows himself to fall onto his bed as Jolie’s meager weight can hardly move him even running into him at full tilt.
Jonah lands on his back upon the bed – the ineffectiveness of the mattress’ cost-conscious military issue bedsprings bringing a pained grunt out of him. Happily for Jonah, that momentary, unpleasant shock to his back is compensated for by the delightful sensation of Jolie’s warm, smooth, bare thighs straddling his prostrate form. Jonah caresses those thighs backwards towards Jolie’s curvaceous buttocks, a sensation of unparalleled invigoration and sensual stimulation shooting through the nerves of his fingertips. Suddenly, the refinement and delicacy that Jonah feared he had lost return with a vengeance – tenfold, hundredfold – sensitive to every millimeter of Jolie’s delightfully warm, exquisitely smooth skin.
Jonah playfully pulls back Jolie’s white G-string, saying, “Speaking of comfort, how could wearing this be comfortable?” letting the thong snap back in place, drawing a little yelp from Jolie.
“Hey,” Jolie protests mildly, then smiles, “Actually, it really isn’t comfortable. It’s like having a wedgie all day.”
“Then why do you wear it?” Jonah asks, laughing.
“’Cause it makes me feel hot,” Jolie says, a gleeful glint in her electric black eyes.
“This discussion seems to have come full circle,” Jonah remarks, as Jolie leans her head upon his chest.
Jonah’s hands move up Jolie’s back to stroke her fine, long black hair. Jolie sighs blissfully; the sound sends waves of happiness through Jonah as well.
A moment of innocent teenaged affection, as pure as it is paradoxically lustful, understood only by the young and hopeful.
Jonah brushes through Jolie’s hair and kisses her once on the lips before saying, “There’s something I want to show you.”
“You’re finally done with the painting?” Jolie ventures.
”I wouldn’t say done,” Jonah replies, “but it’s close enough for you to finally see it.”
Jolie turns her head towards the easel standing in the corner of the room, its back turned to the couple on the bed.
Jolie rises from the bed and seems to glide towards the easel’s front side. Jonah regrets her leaving the bed, wondering how soon another such opportunity would arise again.
Jolie’s eyes light up with joy when she sees the image on the canvas, her hands flying to her cheeks in delighted disbelief, “Oh, Jonah…it’s beautiful!”
Artist Jonah Michaels' (b. U.C. 0083) first portrait of his girlfriend, Jolie Minh, completed in February, U.C. 0099
Jonah rises from the bed and joins Jolie in front of the easel, wrapping her tightly in his arms, “Considering the subject, it just had to be.”
Jolie smiles, turning her head to look up into Jonah’s eyes, “But c’mon: don’t you think you exaggerated all my good points a bit? I can’t possibly look that good.”
“I paint only what I see with my eyes…and in my heart,” Jonah insists earnestly, “That’s how I see you…the way I want to see you. The sweet, gentle, warmhearted girl you are…not the coldhearted warrior the war forces you to be.”
Jolie’s smile fades into a frown, “But you have to take me as I am, Jonah. The soldier and the girl. I’m both, and you can’t love just one part of me; you have to love all of me.”
“I know,” Jonah says, stroking Jolie’s silk-smooth cheeks, “I’m sorry. That didn’t come out right. It’s just that…the soldier part of you frightens me sometimes, Jolie. It’s like you become a different person in combat.”
Jolie looks penetratingly into Jonah’s eyes. Her gaze is mesmerizing, filled with the fire of her indomitable spirit, “Jonah…I love you as an artist, as a soldier, as a man. The way I see it, these things are all one. You aren’t Jonah the Artist, Jonah the Soldier, and Jonah the Man to me. You’re just Jonah, and it’s all the things about you that I love.”
Jonah smiles, “Your feelings are much clearer than mine. Mine have always been confused, muddled. Maybe that’s something you can teach me: how to feel more clearly. One thing I do know is how I feel about you…all of you. You’re the best thing in my life, Jolie. The one I paint for…the one I fight for.”
The couple loses themselves in a long, deep kiss…the warmth of well-being enveloping them. A moment of bliss amidst the horrors of enduring war.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
Elsewhere, more plans for war are being laid.
Colonel Cairlay reviews Athena’s mission report of events in the Frontier 8 and Mars zones thus far with interest and approval. As Cairlay expected, Athena has been extremely meticulous and thorough…both in the execution of her duty and her subsequent reporting thereof. No detail is spared. A plan flawlessly conceived and executed in a manner that the Federation High Command has come to expect from Major Athena Ibaz.
One final detail, however, does not meet with the colonel’s approval, and he calls Athena on it, “Major…would you please explain your decision to mandate life imprisonment rather than death for this enemy combatant, Duncan McAllister? McAllister is an established menace responsible for killing many of our people over the years. What value do you see in expending the Federation’s resources in keeping him alive?”
Athena, long knowing that she would need to answer for that decision, responds without missing a beat, “McAllister remains a valuable source of information concerning essential Zeon military data. Until we’ve gained all information possible from him, it would be unwise to execute him.”
“Agreed,” Cairlay says, “but what about after that? At some point, his usefulness as a source of information will be expended, and at that point, we’ll owe it to our fallen comrades and slain citizens to make this bastard answer for his past crimes.”
McAllister isn’t the only one who has much to answer for, Athena thinks to herself, but does not verbalize, responding instead, “With all due respect, sir, that point won’t be reached until after the Zeon have been eradicated, a goal whose end is not yet in sight. If McAllister knows that he is to be executed, then he has no incentive at all to yield us any information. Contrarily, he’ll dig his heels in and be extremely difficult to press any information from, as he would reasonably figure that we’d keep him alive longer as long as we believe he still has valuable information to share with us.”
As usual, and much to his annoyance, Cairlay cannot find any flaw in his canny subordinate’s reasoning. Cairlay, a male chauvinist at heart, believes it tantamount to a crime for a woman to be as intelligent as Athena is, but nevertheless, as a pragmatic man, he nods and says, “Very well, Major. In your position, I would have done things differently, but I will respect your judgment and your authority in this matter.”
“Thank you, sir,” Athena replies, relieved that she will not need to sign off on the death of another fellow Zeon, however vile and despicable he might be.
Cairlay studies the rest of the information presented to him, including a fairly detailed layout of the Zeon mining facilities on Mars and their projected defensive fortifications. Erring on the side of caution, Athena estimates the enemy fortifications on Mars to be at least three times the figure given by McAllister, the other surrendered Deimos Zeon troops, and what the sensors of the Centurion Team’s mobile suits was able to pick up during their sweep of the Martian surface.
“The next phase of your plan is an invasion of the mining colonies,” Cairlay remarks as he reviews the plan, “The thirty-five mobile suits under your command and five battle cruisers at your discretion should provide adequate firepower for such an operation. Unfortunately, the reinforcements I brought with me from Earth can’t back you up, as they were assigned specifically to shore up Frontier 8’s defenses – not engage in an offensive maneuver against enemy forces.”
“Understood, sir,” Athena says, “The Zeon are a multifarious threat these days. While the Special Forces engage one faction down on Mars, a second faction might strike against Frontier 8. That’s why we’ve had to delay the operation until your arrival, sir.”
Cairlay is not sure whether he should feel flattered or insulted by that remark; Athena’s words often bear a double edge. Trading repartee with Athena, Cairlay knows, is a fool’s game, so the reply he musters is, “I’m glad you understand, Major. The politics underlying this entire situation are extremely sensitive and delicate. You are cognizant of that, I trust?”
“Yes, sir,” Athena replies, “Officially, the Federation is not involved in nor will take sides in the Zeon Civil War. Our mission is only to protect Earth Federation citizens and interests from threats to their security.”
“That is correct, Major,” Cairlay says as he rises from his seat at the conference table, “and my expectation…the expectation of the entire Federation High Command…is that you will continue to carry out that directive as you have so effectively thus far.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Athena salutes, a cryptic gleam in her eye.
“Speaking of politics,” Cairlay says, “I understand the Frontier 8 civilian authority has not been entirely cooperative with us. In particular, Minister Barclay Cartier of the Customs Administration.”
“Minister Cartier is a powerful official here at Frontier 8,” Athena says, “and he does not view the Earth Federation Government favorably.”
“He’s a politician,” Cairlay says, “and his power comes from the aura of strength he’s projected at Frontier 8. I hear he holds considerable sway here…has far more influence on the Governor and the Central Legislature than do the Ministers of State and Defense because he was, after all, a chairman of the executive board of the Kuromizu Corporation at one point.”
“That’s right, sir,” Athena replies.
The Kuromizu Corporation…after Anaheim Enterprises, the second largest private security contractor in the world. Founded in U.C. 0083 by the ruthless industrialist and technological genius Yoshiyuki Kuromizu, Kuromizu has made its fortune during the past seventeen years by manufacturing and selling the weapons that even Anaheim Enterprises (and others) won’t. It is already an ill-kept secret that Kuromizu manufactures and supplies (to anyone willing to pay the price) mobile suits, fighter air/spacecraft, munitions, warships…and training on how to use these instruments of destruction.
Rumors, never verified, have also circulated that Kuromizu manufactures weapons strictly forbidden by the Antarctic Treaty of U.C. 0079…including nuclear, chemical, and biological armaments. Officially, the Earth Federation Government and the Archduchy of Zeon know of no such wares being manufactured or supplied by Kuromizu. Officially.
“Opinion, Major Ibaz?” Cairlay presses.
“I don’t care to speculate, sir,” Athena replies, “but Cartier is an obstacle we should remove – when it is politically expedient for us to do so.”
“Can you make it so, Major?” Cairlay inquires, lighting a cigar.
“Yes, sir,” Athena replies.
“Very well, then,” the colonel replies, blowing out a ring of smoke, “Let us give this piddling Frontier 8 official a lesson that the Earth Federation Forces are not to be trifled with.”
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
Several hours later, Athena has the troops of the Special Forces assembled in the Assembly Hall of the Federal Forces’ regional headquarters in Freemont City. She describes to them the next phase of the operation against the Zeon mining facilities.
“At 03:13 tomorrow morning, we will commence Operation: Skyfire,” Athena says, “the operation will begin with a massive orbital bombardment from our support fleet, using mega-particle beam cannon and missiles. This will be followed by additional bombardment of enemy targets by our fighter squadrons. Finally, after the enemy fortifications have been deemed sufficiently compromised, we will move in with mobile suits to finish the task. The objective: to cripple and/or cripple the Zeon mining facilities on Mars.”
At least, that’s the official objective, Athena leaves unspoken, in three years’ time…possibly less, you can expect that the Zeon mining facilities we destroy tomorrow will be rehabilitated…as Federation mining facilities, possibly in conjunction with Frontier 8 authorities and private sector entities such as Anaheim or Kuromisu.
And of course, even as every ethical alarm screams in protest against it, Major Athena Ibaz will carry out her duty like the good soldier she is.
Hearing no questions, Athena says, “A complete pre-mission file has been prepared and sent to each of your military Datapads. Study the information carefully before the time of launch, but a word of caution: the information gathered is based on limited intelligence compiled from Centurion Team’s reconnaissance sweep thirty-six hours ago and information gained from captured enemy combatants – information that naturally, is of dubious veracity. Unfortunately, we have neither the time nor resources to gather more precise information before we must move, so proceed with caution.”
Athena wishes she could offer her charges better than that. The generals lay down the objectives; the soldiers lay down their lives. As a mid-ranking officer, Athena has always held one objective higher even than accomplishing the mission: keeping all of her subordinates alive. No exceptions.
And fate has not dealt her one…yet.
By routine, mobile suit pilots in the Special Forces perform meticulous inspections on their mecha each day they are on duty. That goes double on the day before the commencement of a dangerous mission. Hence, all Special Forces mobile suit pilots work alongside engineering and mechanical crews to ensure that their mobile suits are at peak performance.
1Lt. Jolie Minh, her gorgeously girlish form dressed in work coveralls, removes a grease-covered device from a service nacelle of her RX-100-1 Centurion Gundam. Making a face of disgust, Jolie carefully examines the unit…noting that the component’s mechanisms are immobilized by grime. The part can be cleaned, but that would take more time than Jolie has. An entirely new part would need to be installed.
“Jonah!” Jolie calls out across the expanse of the mobile suit deck of the Amuro Ray.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels floats over from his RX-100-2 Centurion Gundam on the dock adjacent to the one servicing Jolie’s mecha, “What’s up?”
“Hey,” Jolie says, showing Jonah the oil-soaked damaged component she extracted from the innards of her mobile suit, “Don’t forget to replace the TC-235 hydraulic motivator unit in the secondary engine shaft. This thing gets gummed up easily when the lubricating fluid cools down after overheating in battle…especially down on a place like Mars’ surface. You need to keep it clean so it will work right, or you’re gonna have a hell of a time getting a restart on the secondary if it cuts out on you…which you know happens even on a Centurion Gundam.”
“Way ahead of you,” Jonah grins, “I knew Molly and her techs were busy with the BIG stuff, so I made sure I took care of the little stuff myself.”
“Aren’t you ever Mr. Efficiency today,” Jolie replies mischievously, her eyes creasing adorably as she returns Jonah’s grin.
Jonah eases himself closer to Jolie, putting an arm around her waist and pulling his girlfriend closer, “I wanted to finish my work sooner, so I could do this!”
Jonah pulls Jolie very close, kissing her full on the lips and reaching into her work coverall to touch the skin of her body.
Jolie accepts the kiss eagerly, but gently pushes away Jonah’s probing hand, “Didn’t you enjoy me enough in bed this morning?”
“You mean literally, not figuratively, right?” Jonah says, his own mischievous grin still in place, “I mean, yeah, we were on my bed, but we didn’t…”
Jolie puts her finger on Jonah’s lips to shush him, “Hey, Chief Michaels. We’re on duty now, remember? There are other personnel watching and listening…right, Molly?”
1Lt. Molly Duran, and a crew of three engineers, emerge sheepishly from where they have been hiding, watching the hot action between Jolie and Jonah, from behind Jolie’s Centurion Gundam.
Molly blushes, “Right, Jolie…um, c’mon, guys! We still have a lot of work to do! Sgt. Al-Said and Sgt. Higashi’s Guncannon-100 units need servicing on their cannon mount systems and automatic balance units! Get to it!”
The embarrassed Chief Engineer of the Centurion Team prepares to abscond from the scene to return to her work (and escape her embarrassment), but Jolie pulls the engineer back, whispering to her, “So what did you see and hear?”
Molly whispers back, “Nothing! OK, that’s not quite true, but I only heard a little bit! Tell me the details!”
Jonah crosses his arms in amusement as he watches this go on.
Jolie says, “I’ll tell you all about it later!”
Molly replies with a grin as she floats away to work on another of the team’s mobile suits, “You’d better!”
Jonah remarks, “Looks like we’ve become a bit of a gossip item around here.”
Jolie hits Jonah gently on the chest, “Well, it doesn’t help matters when you come on to me on the mobile suit dock in the middle of a work day.”
Jonah says gently, stroking Jolie’s long, luscious black hair, “I can’t help myself. I wanted to see you…hear you…touch you…smell you.”
That last remark makes Jolie laugh, “I smell like grease right now! Don’t tell me that the smell of machine grease turns you on, Jonah!”
Jonah puts his arms tenderly around Jolie, sniffing her hair, “If it comes from you, it smells good to me.”
“Great,” Jolie says wryly, “Guess I’m gonna have to start wearing machine grease like it’s perfume from now on.”
So saying, Jolie playfully smudges the grease on her hands onto her smooth, baby-like cheeks, staining her light complexion brown.
Now, it’s Jonah’s turn to laugh, “Ewww! What a greasy little pig you are!”
“Takes one to know one!” Jolie says mirthfully as she smears the remaining grease all over Jonah. A smearing war ensues, the giggling couple growing grimier by the second.
War allows for few moments of joy or tenderness, and when such rare moments do emerge, they must be treasured. For Jolie and Jonah, at the moment, the war and all the suffering and bitterness it entails are forgotten. All they know, and all they want to know, is that being together makes both of them very, very happy. The two teenagers love each other with the pure passion that is characteristic of their youth, but with a degree of mutual devotion that is generally appreciated only by those several decades their senior.
But war is a demanding beast, and does not tolerate being ignored for long. The couple’s laughter fades into groans as they spot their commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, floating towards them in the low-G mobile suit dock.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
Athena greets Jolie and Jonah with her signature indecipherable grin, “Pardon me. Am I interrupting anything?’’
“No,” Jolie sighs sardonically, “nothing important. Jonah and I were about to start making babies when you showed up, but don’t worry about it.”
Athena suppresses a laugh as she studies the grease-covered couple and says, “You two might have redefined the concept of ‘dirty sex.’”
“Get to your point, ‘Thena,” Jolie says somewhat sourly, not keen on her best friend and commander constantly interrupting her intimate moments with Jonah for military-related reasons, “I’m guessing you aren’t here because Molly tipped you off to some hot gossip happening around Centurion Gundam Unit 1.”
Athena becomes serious, “Data Processing has finished analyzing the data we collected from Mars. We’re meeting with Captain Beecher at 15:00 in the main conference room to discuss our invasion plan. You two are going to need to be there.”
‘Yes, ma’am,” the couple salutes, Jolie perfunctorily, Jonah dutifully.
Athena returns the salute, and throws back over her shoulder as she leaves, “You two might want to clean up before the conference. Captain Beecher will appreciate it if you didn’t get grease all over the seats in the conference room.”
At 15:00, the Centurion Team is gathered in the Amuro Ray’s main conference room with the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Beecher Olech. At the same time, aboard the other ships of the Special Forces fleet, similar conferences are also being conducted.
The Centurion Team members sit around a large conference table, headed by a display screen on which multiple graphics illustrating the layout and fortification hardpoints of the Zeon’s mining colonies on Mars.
“The ships of the fleet will hit the surface defenses first with a heavy bombardment by mega particle beam cannon and concussion missiles,” Athena explains, “softening up the surface defenses for several hours before we move in with our mobile suits. As the key target points of the mining facilities are located several kilometers underground, the ordnance will need to be delivered directly via mobile suit onto and under the surface of Mars. Moreover, if the ordnance is fired from the ships, chances are they’d be intercepted by the enemy’s surface to air antiballistic defenses before the ordnance can reach its targets.”
“Ma’am,” Sgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said ventures, “Do our mobile suits carry any ordnance that can reach a target that far under the ground?”
Athena informs her subordinates, “Our mobile suits will be equipped with an experimental new subterranean device codenamed ‘Hellbuster.’ The DX-880 Hellbuster Subterranean Weapons System was inspired by the BLU-82 Daisycutter missile deployed by the United States military in Vietnam and Afghanistan during the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. You might say that the Hellbuster is the Daisycutter’s great-grandchild. Like the old Daisycutter, the Hellbuster is designed to burrow beneath the ground before detonating its heavy explosive payload. The Hellbuster, however, can burrow much deeper than its predecessor…up to 80 kilometers below the surface…and delivers a much heavier explosive punch: up to a megaton per unit.”
“Ma’am,” Jonah pipes up with grave concern, “is the Hellbuster a nuclear weapon?”
“No, Chief Michaels,” Athena replies emphatically, “Nuclear weapons are, as we all know, strictly prohibited by the Antarctic Treaty of U.C. 0079. The Hellbuster uses non-nuclear, non-radioactive explosive material. Nonetheless, the concussive force of its detonation can rival that of a mid-grade nuclear weapon. Undoubtedly, there will be heavy casualties among the enemy if they fail to evacuate before we deploy the Hellbusters.”
The Centurion Team members gulp. They are dutiful soldiers, but none of them think of themselves as murderers. Using this weapon against the enemy on Mars, however, would be tantamount to murder.
Athena, sensing this concern, addresses it thus, “We’ll make every effort to drive the enemy off the surface of Mars before we deploy the Hellbusters. Slaughter is not our objective, and we don’t indulge in it wantonly. The destruction of the Zeon mining facilities is our foremost goal, and in the fulfillment of that goal, we will endeavor to preserve as many lives, Federation or Zeon, as we can.”
Turning the subject back towards mission details, Athena adds, “Our team is responsible for destroying the facility located near Tharsis. We’ll be delivering three Hellbusters at the points indicated on this map. 1Lt. Minh, Chief Michaels, and I will deploy the Hellbusters personally; the rest of you will be providing cover and support. Are there any further questions?”
Jolie asks, “Which Zeon faction controls this mine we’re going after?”
Athena replies simply, “Phobos. General Alexander Miguel’s jurisdiction.”
A gleam appears in Jolie’s eye. Next to her, Jonah shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
“More questions?” Athena offers one last time.
Only the ones left unvoiced, such as Will we all make it back from this mission alive?
The ones with no answers, until the moment that battle ends.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
01:00, March 7, U.C. 0099, Mars orbit.
The Earth Federation Forces space battlecarriers Amuro Ray, Hayato Kobayashi, Wakane, Woody, and Ryu Jose (each named after a fallen Federal Forces hero of the One Year War, Amuro, Hayato, and Ryu being famous mobile suit pilots aboard the White Base under the command of then Captain Bright Noah and Wakane and Woody being heroic officers who had supported the White Base in battle during that war) array themselves for orbital bombardment around the planet Mars. The bridge and gunnery stations are scenes of carefully orchestrated chaos as the space warships prepare to unleash the fury of their weapons on the angry red planet below.
Captain Beecher Olech of the Amuro Ray is on the horn to the gunnery crews distributed across his ship, “Standby Megaparticle Beam Cannon. Target: Zeon mining facility Tharsis at coordinates 88-83-04. Commence firing on my mark: t-minus twenty-five seconds and counting!”
Aboard the remaining four battlecarriers, the scene is the same. A wrathful red glows at the titanic firing gates of each Megaparticle Beam Cannon of the ships. From the surface of Mars, they appear as five new red stars emerging suddenly in the black sky.
Stars that spew forth hellfire in a crackling beam of charged particle energy redder than Mars itself.
“Open fire!” Captain Beecher orders. At the precise same moment, four other Federal Forces ship captains issue the same order.
The Megaparticle Beams deliver heat, light, and shock upon the virgin surface of the planet Mars. Humanity’s insatiable urge to destroy its own, which has blighted its native Earth for many millennia, has now defiled the ruddy face of Mother Earth’s brethren as well. Humankind’s blood-soaked handprint now leaves its mark on a second world.
The Megaparticle Beams strike upon the Zeon mining facilities upon the Martian surface, disintegrating and thrashing machines designed to burrow deep into the bowels of Mars, extract its valuable ores, and transport those ores to the Zeon strongholds of Deimos and Phobos.
The response, as predicted, is fierce and almost immediate. Beam cannon batteries and missile emplacements emerge from armored blisters situated near the mining sites, answering fire with fire. In Martian orbit, a squadron of Zeon Chivvay-class battleships approach the Special Forces fleet, disgorging missiles, cannon fire, and mobile suits, including Gellonds and Geara Doga-IIs.
“Enemy units detected,” a bridge tech on the Amuro Ray reports to Captain Beecher, “twenty mobile suits, Gellond and Geara Doga type, plus five Chivvay-class ships. Location: twenty degrees starboard at point 13K.”
Taking that cue, Captain Beecher contacts Major Athena Ibaz, who is already aboard her RZX-97 Cour de Leon on the mobile suit launch deck of the Amuro Ray, “Major Ibaz! The enemy has begun its counterattack! Please launch your mobile suit units to intercept!”
“Roger, Captain Beecher,” Athena replies, “Attention all units: this is Centurion Leader. Deploy and intercept enemy units. We must neutralize them while our ships complete the orbital bombardment phase of the operation!”
“Yes, ma’am!” comes the collective reply.
The Cour de Leon is positioned on the launch catapult, “Major Athena Ibaz. Cour de Leon, launching!”
“1Lt. Jolie Minh, Centurion Gundam Unit 1, launching!” Jolie follows.
“Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, Centurion Gundam Unit 2, launching!” Jonah declares.
And thus, once again, the battle is engaged. Another generation throws itself upon the fire of war.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
1Lt. Garrett Lockner of the Imperium of Deimos Zeon’s Talon Squadron leads nineteen Gellond and Geara Doga-II mobile suits in a forward assault against the Earth Federation Forces space warships bombarding Deimos Zeon’s mining facilities on Mars from high orbit. Lockner’s own mobile suit is a specially modified upgrade of the MSN-03 Jagd Doga designated MSX-13 Letzter Doga…regarded as the ultimate incarnation of the Neo Zeon Doga series mobile suits.
Tall, blue-eyed, blonde, and only nineteen years old, 1Lt. Garrett Lockner is a rising star in the Deimos Zeon Imperium Forces. A scion of old Zeon nobility, Garrett’s ambition is to prove himself a great warrior in his own right, not a mere fortunate son. The gods of war have favored Garrett: a gifted mobile suit pilot and confirmed Newtype, Garrett’s spectacular performance as a cadet at the Imperium Academy attracted the notice of Field Marshal Von Bach himself, leading the ruler of the Deimos Zeon Imperium to appoint Garrett the leader of his own mobile suit squadron despite his youthfulness and lack of combat experience. The field marshal’s gamble on the young mobile suit has paid off handsomely in the year since Garrett emerged from the Academy and began active duty with the Imperium Forces: to date, Garrett has wreaked havoc against the enemy (particularly General Alexander Miguel’s Phobos Foces and the Frontier 8 Defense Forces), having accumulated a kill record of thirty-three enemy mobile suits and four enemy ships shot down…a spectacular performance rivaling such Zeon mobile suit piloting legends as the “Red Comet” Colonel Char Aznable, the “White Wolf” Colonel Shin Matsunaga , and the “One Strike Killer” Colonel Braniff Oskar.
1Lt. Garrett Lockner, Talon Squadron Leader, Deimos Zeon Forces
In recent months, Garrett and his comrades have heard rumors about a Federal Forces ace pilot whose skill rivaled, maybe even surpassed that of the legendary Gundam pilot Captain Amuro Ray. Nicknamed the “White Phoenix,” this mobile suit pilot defeated and killed both Matsunaga and Oskar during the previous year…a stunning achievement that even Amuro Ray himself had never matched. Intelligence reports have revealed that the White Phoenix is a seventeen-year old girl in the Earth Federation Special Forces named Jolie Minh.
It would be an honor, Garrett knew, to kill her.
And 1Lt. Garrett Lockner is a “ladykiller” in more ways than one.
A handsome youth, resembling a fairy tale prince with his clear blue eyes, blonde locks, and smooth complexion, the young Zeon war hero and nobleman has become the idol of hundreds of thousands of teenaged girls living within the jurisdiction of the Deimos Zeon Imperium, and even young women living outside the territory of Deimos Zeon are known to be fond of Garrett’s image, even if they oppose his political and military allegiance. Garrett is conscious of this additional asset of his, and is understandably proud of it, even if he has no compunction to use it.
No, 1Lt. Garrett Lockner cannot give of himself to the legions of young women who would give themselves to him, because he is, in the end devoted to only one: his country, the Deimos Zeon Imperium. To Deimos and his lord, Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach, Garrett has sworn an oath of undivided loyalty. It is an oath he would honor with his blood, if necessary.
Today, however, Garrett plans to honor his lord and his nation not with his own blood, but with the White Phoenix. Nothing could be more glorious than delivering to his lord the broken corpse of the enemy’s greatest warrior.
“Enemy targets sighted, incoming at bearing two-five-zero,” Major Athena Ibaz informs her squad, “All units, stand by to intercept.”
“Major,” Anna reports, “enemy has just fired missiles. High explosive, a total of forty eight."
“Deploy antimissiles,” Athena orders, “Lay down a screen of beam fire to intercept incoming enemy ordnance, and maximize ECM jamming signal output.”
Antimissiles tear forth from the launch tubes mounted on the Centurion Team’s mobile suits on Athena’s orders, surging forth to meet the incoming Zeon missiles threatening the Federal Forces’ assault fleet. Spherical explosions light up local space as the two armies’ ordnance meets head on.
“KA-BOOM!” 1Lt. Jolie Minh supplies the sound effects for the explosions that erupt silently in the vacuum of space.
The calculations feed into the combat computers aboard the CenturionTeam’s mobile suits: the antimissile barrage has eliminated 83% of the enemy missile salvo.
The mobile suits of the Centurion Team next level their beam rifles and Vulcan cannon towards the remaining incoming enemy ordnance.
Strobes of scarlet energy pulse forth from the muzzles of the Centurion Team’s beam weapons. The energy is emitted in a wide field of fire, designed to affect as large an area as possible, in effect creating a net of beam energy through which enemy ordnance cannot penetrate.
The remaining Zeon missiles are vaporized by the multiple beams of the Centurion Team’s weaponry. A second salvo, however, is sure to come, unless…
“Attack!” Athena orders her subordinates.
The Centurions do…fiercely, relentlessly, precisely. They strike out of loyalty not so much to the Earth Federation Government under whose auspices they were raised, but out of loyalty to each other, and to their leader, Major Athena Ibaz, who has led them to safety through the fires of hell so many times before.
And speaking of fire…
“Jolie, burn down the heavens!” Athena calls out.
Burn down the heavens…, Athena’s code to Jolie giving her authorization to cut loose against the enemy without any qualms.
Jonah aside, Jolie loves nothing more.
A smile slowly spreads across the pretty teen’s lips as she gooses the Centurion Gundam Unit 1’s engine for maximum thrust.
The Gundam’s green-tinted eyes become the color of fire…the Fury of the White Phoenix is unleashed!
“Zeon dogs!” Jolie snarls as she deftly maneuvers around the enemy missile and beam fire, dodging the Zeon ordnance as easily as a butterfly would dodge shotgun blasts.
Placing her Centurion Gundam directly in the midst of the Deimos Zeon mobile suit squadron, Jolie commences her attack with devastating effectiveness.
Searing scarlet beam energy rips forth like Jovian lightning from the Centurion Gundam’s beam rifle, aimed at an angle that enables its beam to simultaneously immolate two Zeon mobile suits synchronized for the briefest of instants in Jolie’s line of fire.
At the same instant that her beam rifle rakes through the enemy units, Jolie also deploys the Centurion Gundam’s payload of short-range missiles. Guided in part by sophisticated electronic sensors and in part by Jolie’s own Newtype PSI powers, each missile scores a direct hit upon an enemy mobile suit, disabling it.
Fewer than ten seconds have passed since Jolie commenced her attack. Already, nine enemy mobile suits have been neutralized. Not even Amuro Ray had ever neutralized so many enemies so quickly.
The Centurion Gundam Unit 1 dances amidst the enemy’s massed display of firepower almost playfully. Beam rifle salvoes, missile torrents…nothing seems capable of touching Jolie’s mobile suit.
The inverse, however, cannot be said. The Centurion Gundam dives amidst the enemy again, tearing into them with beam rifle and beam saber like an enraged tigress through a flock of frightened sheep.
A deft flick of the Centurion Gundam’s wrist, with greater finesse, perhaps, than any human hand could move, decapitates a Geara Doga-II mobile suit. The crimson energy blade continues arcing to slice a Gellond cleanly in two, defying the Zeon pilot’s futile attempts to deflect or block Jolie’s slash.
The two defeated Zeon pilots are veteran aces of an earlier war; they have never encountered an opponent like this White Phoenix.
An angry 1Lt. Garrett Lockner has seen enough. The Federal Forces’ newest Gundam mobile suit has completely humiliated Garrett’s squadron, eliminating over half of them in fewer than thirty seconds. The moment has come for the Army of the Deimos Imperium’s best young mobile suit ace to punish the feddie pigs for their insolence, particularly the White Phoenix…this “Jolie Minh.”
Garrett lines up the Centurion Gundam Unit 1 in the targeting reticle of his Letzter Doga’s tracking computer, the most sophisticated and precise ever mounted on a mobile suit deployed by the Deimos Zeon Imperium Forces. In just an instant, with the slightest gesture, the Earth Federation Forces’ best mobile suit pilot and her apparently “invincible” mecha would be reduced to cosmic dust.
The instant passes. The gesture is complete. The Centurion Gundam has vanished.
Vanished, but in image only. The substance remains. The cosmic dust that Garrett had envisioned remains a vision only. The reality is the armored mass of the Centurion Gundam, reemerging in his aft position, strafing his mobile suit with beam rifle fire.
1Lt. Garrett Lockner is perhaps the most gifted Zeon mobile suit pilot of his generation…a proven ace less than a year after having piloted a mobile suit into combat for the first time. A prodigy whose prowess has already placed him among Zeon’s legends.
And all that is just enough save him by centimeters and milliseconds from being shot by the Centurion Gundam’s beam rifle straight through his Letzter Doga’s cockpit.
Jolie clenches her teeth in frustration, disengaging the Centurion Gundam’s targeting computer to attempt her next shot using her unaided eye, How could I have missed?! she wonders.
Garrett directs his Letzter Doga’s beam rifle in the direction where the Centurion Gundam’s beam had come from, but the Earth Federation Forces’ advanced mobile suit has disappeared once again.
It reappears “above” Garrett (relative “above,” as there is no true “up” or “down” in outer space) firing its beam rifle and missile payload at his Letzter Doga. The incoming fire, however, lacks any real aggression. The strikes seem to be directed towards driving Garrett away rather than killing him, which was not the case just a moment ago.
The enemy Gundam unit seems to have lost the intensity and moreover, the precision it had just a moment ago. Garrett takes a moment to scrutinize the Centurion Gundam (even as he dodges its fire) before he realizes that it is not the same mecha that the White Phoenix had nearly destroyed him with moments earlier.
Another one…how many of these new generation Gundam units does the Federation have? Garrett wonders. Gundam. The bane of the Zeon forces since the One Year War. In each campaign that Zeon have fought against the Earth Federation, the Zeon have met defeat by the Federal Forces’ Gundam series mobile suits.
Although technologically among the most advanced mobile suits ever deployed in war, the Gundam series is not necessarily superior to the best Zeon mobile suits. Such Zeon mecha as the Zeong, the Quebeley, and the Sazabi have proven to be, technologically, a match for (if not, indeed superior to) the Gundams. There is something about the Gundam, however…almost like a talisman of victory for the Federation, which always enables those gravity-bound savages to improbably triumph.
Garrett knows that his Letzter Doga is, technologically, the equal of any Gundam mobile suit the Federation can deploy. The White Phoenix might be good enough to outmatch Garrett, but this other Gundam pilot is clearly Garrett’s inferior. Garrett can take this enemy without undue effort.
White Phoenix or not, one fewer Gundam can only benefit Deimos Zeon.
Garrett levels the muzzle of his Letzter Doga’s beam rifle at the Centurion Gundam, tracking the deftly maneuvering Federal Forces mobile suit with both his keen eyesight and the Doga’s sophisticated electronics…
This time, Garrett knows, he will not miss.
Episode 7 continued...
It had taken Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels a few minutes to fight through the screen of Gellond and Geara Doga-II mobile suits that had rushed forth to meet the Centurion Team. Jolie’s blitzkrieg attack had eliminated half of them in a literal flash, but that still left the other half for the remaining Centurions to contend with.
Jolie had torn through the grunt enemy units like flame through tissue paper, but the enemy squadron leader is clearly an ace pilot. He had managed to dodge Jolie’s shot, albeit barely, an accomplishment few could claim.
Jonah would not let Jolie face so dangerous a threat alone. Every chivalric cell in his blood cannot tolerate it.
A more sensible part of Jonah, which he kept suppressed, screams an undeniable fact: Jolie is a far better pilot than Jonah could ever hope to be. If this enemy ace pilot can challenge even her, what chance does Jonah have?
Jonah tries not to become petrified by the finality of that question’s answer as he notes the faint glow at the barrel of the enemy mobile suit’s beam rifle.
Yellow-tinged Zeon beam energy bursts forth in staccato pulses from the Letzter Doga’s beam rifle…enough kinetic energy to instantly annihilate an entire city block.
True to Garrett’s prediction, this second Centurion Gundam, not piloted by the White Phoenix, lacks the instincts and reflexes to dodge his shot. What Garrett did not count on, however, is that the enemy pilot, though not nearly as swift as the White Phoenix, nevertheless proves quick enough to bring up its arm-mounted armored shield to block the incoming beam energy.
The Gundarium shield was designed to ward off incidental Vulcan cannon fire and absorb the impact of blunt strikes by mobile suit melee weapons. Against beams, it might provide, at the correct angle, limited, one-time protection. Thus, the Centurion Gundam Unit-2 survives the Letzter Doga’s beam rifle shot, but the shield is sacrificed, reduced to a smoldering mass of burnt, twisted metallic scrap.
Better the shield than me, Jonah acknowledges, struggling to remain calm.
Jonah raises the Centurion Gundam’s beam rifle, attempting to get a bead on the quick and powerful enemy mobile suit.
Garrett never gives Jonah that chance.
With graceful violence, Garrett’s Letzter Doga kicks the beam rifle out of the outstretched armored hand of Jonah’s Centurion Gundam. Before Jonah can recover from the shock of the move, the Letzter Doga’s beam saber is already arcing towards the Centurion Gundam’s throat, threatening to cut off power lines to the camera, sensory, and navigational instruments in the Gundam’s head.
Garrett’s vicious slash is blocked by the sudden intervention of 1Lt. Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam Unit 1, which uses its crimson beam saber to turn away the slash.
“You’re not gonna threaten Jonah while I’m here!” Jolie says resolutely as she takes on Garrett’s challenge.
“Jonah, clear out!” Jolie orders, “Go help ‘Thena and the others!”
“I’m not leaving you,” Jonah insists stubbornly.
“That’s an order, soldier!” Jolie snaps angrily, doing her best to mimic Athena’s authoritative tone, “Get out of here, now!”
Without waiting for Jonah to comply, Jolie launches her Centurion Gundam to attack Garrett Lockner’s Letzter Doga.
Jonah, for whom military priorities are a distant second to Jolie’s well-being, prepares to join the fray. He is cut off, however, by an attacking trio of Dreissen-IIs, which assault him with their beam cannon and beam tomahawks.
Surrounded by the Dreissen-IIs, whose pilots are tough veterans who give him all the fight he can handle, Jonah is unable to go to Jolie’s aid. Jonah fights with a ferocity that he has never previously demonstrated…that he never knew was in him. A pacifist at heart, Jonah will fight savagely for the girl he loves.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
Not that Jolie particularly needs help, of course.
From the day he first sat at the controls of a mobile suit at the age of twelve, Garrett Lockner has never been on the defensive in mobile suit combat…be it a training mission or an actual battle. Indeed, the thrill of battle had evaporated early for Garrett, as no opponent had ever managed to last as long as a full minute against him.
But here, now, Garrett finds himself being driven back on his heels by the White Phoenix’s Centurion Gundam…and he senses that the Federal Forces ace is merely toying with him.
The Centurion Gundam’s beam saber slashes are beyond merely fluent and graceful; they are uncanny, perhaps even divine. Seemingly defying the physical limitations of a mobile suit’s construction, the Centurion Gundam attacks with maneuvers that hearken to ancient Earth martial arts skills, developed thousands of years ago in the Far East. Was it Japanese kendo? Or was it Wudang swordplay from China? It is all of these, yet none of these.
To Jolie, any academic assessment of her fighting style is beyond irrelevant. Her spirit conducts her actions, even before her mind processes them. She simply moves, gracefully, inexorably, invincibly, to victory.
This guy is tough, Jolie concedes. Rarely in her eighteen-month old career as a mobile suit pilot has she needed to battle a single opponent for more than ten seconds, and that typically owed to her relative inexperience (especially during her first few sorties) and the relative superiority of her enemies’ mecha. But Jolie is now a certified combat veteran, having bagged several enemy ace pilots (including two legends), and her current opponent’s mobile suit, though more advanced that the standard Zeon mobile suit units, is unlikely to be superior to her Centurion Gundam.
Tired of toying with her opponent, Jolie uses a twirling attack with her beam saber that separates the Letzter Doga’s hand from its arm, depriving the Zeon mobile suit of its own melee weapon.
Damn! Garrett grates, launching the Letzter Doga into the Martian sky. It is his first defeat in mobile suit combat…no, he has not been defeated yet. This is merely the opening round. Today, his legend will attain an even greater scale as he brings down the mighty White Phoenix…the Federation ace who felled the White Wolf and the One-Strike Killer.
To goad the White Phoenix into pursuing him to where the advantage would be his, Garrett rains a hail of missiles down upon the Centurion Gundam. A part of him hopes that one of his missiles will find its way to its target, finishing the White Phoenix then and there.
Sure enough, however, Jolie dodges the barrage with balletic grace, the line between combat and dance blurred…a butterfly amidst bullets.
Trailing a cloud of Martian dust thrown into the atmosphere by Garrett’s missiles, Jolie’s Centurion Gundam surges forth like an angry tiger; Jolie is heedless of any consideration other than hunting down and subduing her foe, relentlessly pursuing the rapidly disappearing Letzter Doga.
Follow me, White Phoenix, Garrett directs his thoughts to his opponent, follow me, and I will crush your wings and ensure that you will never fly again.
Over a dozen kilometers away, Jonah is contending with a crushing ordeal of his own.
The trio of Dreissen-IIs are not merely individually excellent pilots, but they appear to attack in unison…as if they have been accustomed to fighting together in formation for years. That is indeed precisely the case. Jonah’s opponents are the Karazda Brothers, identical triplets whose psychic link has enabled them to create a deadly coordinated three-prong attack.
Indeed, so impeccable is the three brothers’ attack that Jonah feels that he is up against six, nine, eighteen, thirty-six opponents rather than just three.
For every move he makes, each of the brothers makes three to counter it. Frankly, Jonah is surprised that he is holding his own against the trio; even Jolie, he reasons, would have trouble with these three.
The Karazda Brothers, the eldest Ramini, the second brother Hamini, and the youngest Shazan, maintain their tight formation against Jonah’s Centurion Gundam. Individually, perhaps, their opponent is stronger than any one of them. He cannot hope, however to counter the brothers in unison.
A fact that Jonah knows all too well.
Jonah clenches his teeth in frustration. He would rather not be here, fighting this trio of Zeon mobile suits, likely piloted by young men or women his own age. He is an artist, not a warrior. He was born to bear witness to the beauty of life, not destroy it in acts of violence. But now…now these three were impeding him from protecting one of the two people he loves most in this world, and his outrage mounts.
Outrage that is transformed into power…
Jonah unleashes a savage, throat-tearing war cry unlike anything he ever believed could emit from him. It comes from a dark part of his soul that he has never dared to explore, let alone unleash. It is an internal purgatory that Jonah has seen in his brother Alexander…in Athena and even in Jolie, but that he never thought he would see in himself.
The heart of the warrior. The heart of savagery.
The Centurion Gundam Unit 2 surges forth, its exposed left shoulder armor, no longer protected by the armored shield destroyed by Garrett Lockner’s Letzter Doga, rams viciously into the body of 1Lt. Ramini Karazda’s Dreissen-II, felling the powerful Neo Zeon mobile suit. Jonah sinks the armored knee of the Centurion Gundam onto the Dreissen-II’s throat, pressing down upon it with crushing force.
The adrenalin coursing through his body, Jonah extracts the Centurion Gundam’s beam saber and prepares the drive it through the Dreissen-II.
“Hamini! Shazan!” Ramini calls to his two brothers, “Electro-Mag-Nets!”
Responding to their elder brother and squad leader’s command, Hamini and Shazan deploy their Dreissen-IIs’ Electro-Mag-Nets…nets of titanium alloy, that ensnare Jonah’s Centurion Gundam.
Jonah, momentarily confused and disoriented by the unconventional attack, relents from his assault on Ramini’s lead Dreissen-II, which also ensnares the Centurion Gundam in a titanium alloy net.
“Switch the power on!” Ramini bellows.
They do: the three Dreissen-IIs channel all the reserve power in their nuclear fusion engines through the Electro-Mag-Nets, sending several hundred million volts of lightning surging through the Centurion Gundam!
Jonah screams in pain as his mobile suit is enmeshed in the lightning storm. The insulation within the cockpit module shields Jonah from the worst of it, but Jonah knows that even if the electric shock doesn’t kill him, the Centurion Gundam’s nuclear fusion engine is likely to feedback, overload, and explode if he can’t cut off the flow of electricity.
But try as Jonah might, he cannot get the Centurion Gundam to move; the sudden flow of energy most likely has already burned out the mobile suit’s circuitry.
Knowing that he is likely to soon die, only one thought fills Jonah’s mind: Jolie…
“Increase the voltage,” Ramini orders his brothers, “we’ve got him…”
In combat, however, seemingly absolute victory can be twisted into horrifying defeat within a draw of breath.
A bolt of beam energy, shot by the Earth Federation Forces’ top markswoman, lances through Hamini Karzada’s Dreissen-II, instantly annihilating it. The explosion topples his two brothers’ mobile suits as well.
Major Athena Ibaz takes advantage of the enemy’s momentary shock and disorientation to remove the cut the Electro-Mag-Nets off of Jonah’s Centurion Gundam.
“Jonah!” Athena calls out in concerned alarm, “Are you all right?!”
Jonah opens communications, “Yes, ma’am. Thanks for saving me.”
“Get up, fast!” Athena orders, shooting and destroying Shazan Karzada’s Dreissen-II before it can give her and Jonah any more problems.
“I can’t, ma’am,” Jonah replies, “Those electric net things have burned out the Centurion Gundam’s circuits.”
The Cour de Leon kicks down Ramini Karzada’s rising Dreissen-II, putting its beam rifle to the Zeon mobile suit’s cockpit, “The Centurion Gundam was designed to withstand much more electrical punishment than that. Reroute the nuclear fusion engine energy conduits through Power Backs 3 and 4, Jonah…that’ll bypass the primary converter relay and enable you to get a quick restart.”
“Roger, ma’am,” Jonah replies, manipulating the controls as Athena suggested.
Inside the cockpit of the remaining Dreissen-II, a bloodied and disoriented Ramini Karzada senses the violent deaths of his two brothers. His face is twisted in vengeful rage as he snarls at the Cour de Leon that destroyed them, that threatens to destroy him now, “Federation PIG! We’ll go to hell together!”
Ramini rams the wrist-mounted tri beam cannon of his mobile suit directly in front of the head unit of the Cour de Leon. In the instant before he can fire, however, a beam from the Leon’s beam rifle penetrates his cockpit, disintegrating him. Mercifully, the Karzada Brothers’ separation was short…alive together ninety seconds ago; dead together now for all eternity.
Someday, it’ll be my turn, Athena thinks morbidly to herself as she observes the three smoking piles of burning metal she has created. One day, Athena knows, her luck will run out, and she will be the one whose mecha lies in ruin.
There is no time for these somber contemplations, however. Having followed Athena’s instructions, Jonah has succeeded in bringing the Centurion Gundam’s systems back on line.
The Centurion Gundam rises to its feet, having taken quite a battering, but still functional.
“I can’t believe it’s still moving,” Jonah says, testing out various systems and satisfied to find most of them operating correctly.
“The Centurion Gundam is the most advanced mobile suit the Earth Federation Forces are currently fielding,” Athena remarks, “it was designed to withstand punishment.”
“Oh my God, Jolie!” Jonah’s eyes widen in sudden alarm. Jonah’s mobile suit blasts off in the direction where Jolie and that enemy ace had disappeared several long minutes ago.
“Jonah, wait!” Athena commands to no avail.
Despite her exasperation, Athena cannot help but smile wryly Lovers…they follow their own chain of command.
Athena transforms the Cour de Leon to Waverider configuration and blasts off after Jonah. She too, is concerned for Jolie.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
The Letzter Doga of 1Lt. Garrett Lockner, Deimos Zeon Imperium Forces, leads the Centurion Gundam of 1Lt. Jolie Minh, Earth Federation Forces, in a hair-raising pursuit through the Valles Marineris , a long, deep crevice on the Martian surface that dwarfs Earth’s Grand Canyon by magnitudes.
Despite even her superior skills, Jolie finds herself hard-pressed to maneuver safely through the confines of the Valles Marineris at speeds surpassing Mach One while attempting to draw a bead on the Letzter Doga at the same time. This is the enemy’s home turf, putting Jolie at a disadvantage.
“Chase me, Little Phoenix, chase me,” Garrett grins with mad glee, as he spots the Centurion Gundam following him doggedly, “soon, I will bury you on this red world.”
So saying, Garrett increases the thrust output on his Letzter Doga’s propulsion rockets, having no qualms about maneuvering through the canyon’s numerous twists and turns. Garrett had flown through these curves hundreds of times while training to be a mobile suit pilot. He knows every niche of the canyon as well as he knows his own home.
The Letzter Doga leads the Centurion Gundam to the deepest part of the canyon…a part, Garrett knows, hosts many large, heavy boulders.
Abruptly, the Letzter Doga turns around, halts, and fires a salvo of missiles from shoulder-mounted packs – not at the approaching Centurion Gundam, but at the walls of the Valles Marineris itself.
The consequent explosions rock the Martian surface for dozens of square kilometers.
Massive rocks, larger than any mobile suit, and weighing thousands of tons, come crashing down into the canyon. Even taking into account that Martian gravity is only a third of the strength of Earth gravity, the collective weight of those boulders is enough to crush any object constructed by human technology.
It takes all of Jolie’s skill and talent to avoid the cascade of massive Martian stones. Jolie twists and jukes the Centurion Gundam through breathtaking maneuvers that would shock the engineers that designed the mobile suit – far exceeding the limitations of the mecha as they knew them.
Even Jolie, however, cannot work actual miracles. Garrett Lockner had led her into an inescapable trap, and soon, despite Jolie’s superior skill and the Centurion Gundam’s excellent maneuverability, the collapsing canyon inevitably swallows the Federal Forces mobile suit.
The boulders land upon the Centurion Gundam with bone-crushing force. Jolie cries out in pain at the force of the impact. The scopes of the Centurion Gundam go dead, leaving Jolie in the darkness of the unlit cockpit.
As Jolie loses consciousness, the image of Jonah’s handsome face fills her mind.
Minutes later, Major Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam arrive at the section of the Valle Marineris where Jolie’s Centurion Gundam had last been detected. Telltale clouds of Martian dust and soot, rising high into the scarlet skies and visible for dozens of kilometers, represent an obvious sign of recent geological calamity.
“Oh, God…Jolie…,” Jonah whispers slowly, his face drained of blood, his limbs flaccid, his guts contorted, his heart aching with despair.
Desperately, Jonah uses the Centurion Gundam’s mighty arms to lift away boulders that weigh hundreds of tons. Athena lands the Cour de Leon next to Jonah’s mobile suit and joins in.
“Come on, Jolie,” Athena says breathlessly, “You didn’t die out here…you didn’t!”
“JOLIE!” Jonah screams as he continues go dig away at the boulders, tears welling behind his dark eyes, “Jolie, where are you?!”
Athena, equally distressed, but calmer, checks her Cour de Leon’s sensors. She detects a faint emergency signal coming from the Centurion Gundam Unit 1’s automatic distress broadcaster, approximately two hundred meters southwest of her and Jonah’s current position.
“Over there, Jonah!” Athena says, indicating the way with the Cour de Leon’s right index finger.
The two mobile suits blast towards the location from which the emergency signal was detected.
Once again, the Centurion Gundam Unit 2 and the Cour de Leon dig through the rubble, using not only the titanic strength of their hydraulic-powered arms, but also their beam sabers, beam rifles, and magnetic clamp cables.
Finally, after several long minutes that feel like hours, the Centurion Gundam Unit-1 becomes visible, badly battered, but intact.
Without giving a second’s thought to the possibility of an enemy sneak attack, Jonah opens the cockpit of his Centurion Gundam, and glides out using his normalsuit’s rocket pods towards the cockpit of Jolie’s mobile suit.
Athena, sensible as always, stands on guard in the Cour de Leon, ready to pick off any opportunistic foeman.
The Unit 1’s electrical systems are offline, meaning that the power lock of the cockpit hatch is down, but so is the motor that opens and closes the hatch. Jonah is forced to muscle the hatch open. Straining with all his might, Jonah finally manages to pry the cockpit open widely enough to squirm inside.
Jonah’s heart drops as he spies Jolie’s helmeted, normalsuited form slumped back in the cockpit seat. She is deathly still. Could she really be…?
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
His breath and heartbeat seemingly halted, Jonah seals the cockpit of the Centurion Gundam, floods the cockpit with oxygen from the emergency tank underneath the pilot’s seat, undoes the O-ring connecting Jolie’s helmet to her normalsuit, and lifts Jolie’s helmet off.
Jolie’s silky-smooth, youthful, face is as pretty as ever…and though somewhat pale, still shows the color of life. Jonah notices the slight heave in Jolie’s chest; she’s still breathing.
Thank God! Jonah sighs with relief, a grin twisting his face.
“Jolie…” Jonah whispers softly, gently touching her face, “Jolie…?”
Jolie’s eyes flutter open. The teenaged Federal Forces ace pilot is delirious, but soon recognizes the helmeted, normalsuited form in front of her…the handsome face revealed as the helmet visor opens, “…Jonah?”
“Jolie!” Jonah exults, wrapping his beloved girlfriend in a tight embrace, “Oh, thank God!”
“Easy…there…,” Jolie gasps, “You’re…crushing…me!”
“Jolie!” Jonah cries out, “Are you all right? Does it hurt anywhere?”
“I’m fine,” Jolie groans, “other than the fact that my whole body hurts.”
“Jolie…” Jonah says fondly.
Jolie stretches, and then touches her tiny hand on Jonah’s cheek, “There are definitely worse things to wake up to.”
“Jolie,” Jonah says, taking her into his arms again, “I thought I’d lost you.”
Jolie says nothing, losing herself in Jonah’s embrace; she is moved by the depth and sincerity of the love that he feels for her – making everything, her life, her struggles, all worthwhile.
Athena has finally floated down from the cockpit of the Cour de Leon, having ascertained that there is no enemy presence within a 50 kilometer radius, “Jolie…are you all right?”
“Yeah,” Jolie replies, “As long as you’re still around, I’ll be around to annoy the hell out of you. I’m not gonna die on you guys.”
Athena and Jolie exchange a warm, sisterly embrace, and Athena says teasingly, “You had me worried for a while there. I was struggling to come up with what I was going to say about you at your funeral.”
“Just tell it like it is,” Jolie says, her sarcastic sense of humor undamaged by her close encounter with eternity, “tell them I was a feisty little b*tch that gave you no end of grief day in, day out. It would have been the most honest thing you’ve ever said, ‘Thena.”
“That wouldn’t do you justice,” Athena replies, “If I were to say what I really think of you, I’d be heavily censored!”
The young trio laughs…exhilarated to just be alive…and together.
Her friend and valued subordinate safe and sound, Athena refocuses on the mission, “We’re not done. We haven’t even started. We need to reach the mining system’s vulnerable points and plant those Hellbusters.”
Jolie pushes on the Centurion Gundam’s levers, getting no response, “I can’t move, ‘Thena! How am I gonna be able to help you guys plant those explosives?!”
Jolie’s lack of mobility frustrates her, and that frustration soon escalates into rage, as she snarls, “I’m gonna MELT that bastard who did this to my Centurion Gundam! The f**cker tried to bury me alive; I’m gonna fry his a*s for that!”
Athena opens the circuitry access panels in the cockpit of the Unit 1, “Calm down, Jolie. There’s no doubt that your MS is badly damaged, but I think with a little field maintenance, we can get it up and running…at least temporarily.”
“Right,” Jolie says, extracting the emergency tool kit from under the cockpit seat.
Jonah and Athena also go to their mobile suits to gather up tools for the work to be done.
Athena contacts Msgt. Al-Said, “Centurion Leader to Centurion Four. What’s the situation at your end, Master Sergeant?”
“Centurion Four to Centurion Leader,” Al-Said replies, “Ma’am, we have the enemy routed in designated target sectors A through E. We are continuing pursuit and await your orders to deploy Hellbusters.”
“Roger that, Centurion Four,” Athena says into the tactical net, “1Lt. Minh’s mobile suit was seriously damaged in combat. The Lieutenant is all right, but Chief Michaels and I are going to need to assist her in getting her mecha functioning again.”
“Ma’am, do we wait for you before we deploy the Hellbusters?” the circumspect master sergeant inquires of his commanding officer.
“Negative,” Athena replies, “you are to deploy Hellbusters at designated target points as specified in the mission plan. Master Sergeant, as ranking officer, it’ll be your discretion to judge the best time to deploy the Hellbusters. Remember: time is of the essence. We’ve driven off the enemy momentarily, but they will likely return with reinforcements. The targets must be destroyed as quickly as possible.”
“Roger that, ma’am,” Karim replies.
“Centurion Leader, out.” Athena finishes.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
Athena returns to the site of the Centurion Gundam Unit 1, where Jolie and Jonah are already taking stock of the damage to the mobile suit and figuring out ways bypass the most severely mauled components and get the mighty Federal Forces mecha functional again.
Deep beneath the surface of Mars, a figure monitors the firefights occurring on the planet’s surface kilometers above him. He knows it is only a matter of time before the mines would fall.
Should that happen, much more than even the metallic ores that feed the Zeon war machine would be at stake.
And so, Zeon Brigadier General Brock Kincaid, the ranking officer with immediate authority over and responsibility for the Zeon mining base on Mars, sends a coded transmission on a classified frequency…to his direct superior…and to another interested party in a distinguished office at Frontier 8.
The text of the message reads: “The mining colony is likely to fall within the hour unless reinforcements arrive immediately. If necessary, and with your authorization, I am prepared to execute Code Omega to eliminate relevant material for the sake of the concerned parties – Brig. Gen. Brock Kincaid, Archduchy of Zeon Forces, Mars mining colony.”
At that office at Frontier 8, the message is received grimly. After several long minutes, an emphatic, but cryptic reply is sent in the same code on the same classified frequency back to Mars:
“Our investment must be protected at all costs. Take any and all measures necessary – The Entrepreneur.”
In his office at the Ministry of Customs at Freemont City, Minister Barclay Cartier puts his Datapad on “sleep” mode and steeps his fingers worriedly in front of his mouth.
At the same time, General Alexander Miguel of Phobos Zeon receives the same news on the bridge of his flagship Cassius with surreal calm, the slightest hint of a smile creasing his lips.
Miguel opens communications to all personnel aboard the flagship, “This is the Leader. Prepare to move out, gentlemen.”
Miguel switches the channel to the MS launch deck, “MS deck crew: prepare my Nightingale for immediately deployment.”
“Yes, your eminence,” comes the reply.
Miguel tells Col. Ross Davenport, “Ross, you have the bridge. I’ll be overseeing the remainder of the operation from my mobile suit.”
“Yes, my lord,” Davenport replies as the leader of Phobos Zeon heads for the mobile suit deck.
Minutes later, the signature black MSN-04-II Nightingale of General Alexander Miguel is lifted onto the launch catapult of the Cassiusp. The mighty upgrade of Col. Char Aznable’s MSN-04 Sazabi powers up for deployment.
“This is the Leader,” Miguel intones,”all units launch!”
The mobile suits of Phobos Zeon launch to join the fray.
Jolie, Jonah, and Athena work furiously with their limited tools and even more limited spare parts to get the Centurion Gundam Unit 1 combat-ready again. Without 1Lt. Molly Duran and her crack team of technicians, the facilities of the MS dock of the Amuro Ray, and the luxury of twelve to eighteen man hours of work time, the Unit 1 cannot be restored to prime condition. It’s the best that the three young Special Forces officers can do with their limited technical knowledge. Among them, only Athena is a certified mechanical and electrical engineer. Jolie has good instincts for mechanical work and has received some formal training, but is by no means an expert technician. Jonah is a complete neophyte to mechanics outside of the basic training required of all Federal Forces officers.
Nevertheless, their combined effort has, even in brief half hour that they have spent, gotten some results. The trio has rerouted the power conduit path from the nuclear fusion battery to the rest of the mobile suit’s systems around components that have been damaged. None of them has any illusions about the Centurion Gundam being able to operate at full normal specifications, but just it being able to work at all will be adequate for now.
“Jolie,” Athena says into her helmet communications transmitter as she solders two damaged components back together, “go for a quick start up. See if you can get the engine started and see what systems come online.”
“Right,” Jolie replies, floating up to the cockpit of her damaged mobile suit.
Jolie initiates the start up cycle of the Centurion Gundam’s nuclear fusion engine. It starts with a protesting whine, which soon fades into a growing hum. The green eyes of the fallen Centurion Gundam light up and begin to glow.
“All right!” Jolie enthuses, “I’ve got power!”
“Don’t get too excited,” Athena admonishes, “The best we’ll be able to do with what we have is forty-percent engine output at best. We’ll need Molly and her team and the facilities aboard the Amuro Ray to do any better than that. On top of that, the superstructure of the external armor isn’t going to withstand too much more punishment. Gundarium alloy can soak up damage like all hell, but it still has its limitations, and having an entire wall of the Valles Marineris crash down on it has pretty much taken it to the edge of those limitations.”
“In other words,” Jolie says wryly, “’be careful,’ right, ‘Thena?”
“Precisely,” Athena says, with a smile.
“Well, you could’ve just said so and spared me the lecture,” Jolie replies.
“Jolie,” Jonah proposes, “why don’t we swap mecha? Aside from having no shield on its arm, my Centurion Gundam hasn’t taken much damage.”
“No!” Jolie responds vociferously, “There’s no way I’m gonna risk letting you go back into the battle with a damaged MS! Forget it!”
“Jolie, listen to me,” Jonah tries again calmly, “You’re a much better pilot than I am…”
“Which is why you need to use undamaged Centurion Gundam,” Jolie insists.
“Let me finish,” Jonah says, “It’s important to the mission that you’re able to fight at the top of your abilities, which will be hampered if you use a seriously damaged mecha. I’m not as good a pilot as you are, so it’s not so important if I’m really in the battle or not.”
“I’m not gonna be able to concentrate and fight well anyway if I’m worried about you,” Jolie says, “so it wouldn’t make any difference if I’m piloting a better mobile suit or not.”
“Jonah’s right,” Athena interjects, “so Jolie, I want you to use the Cour de Leon.”
That floors Jolie, who is silent for a moment before saying, “You want me to take the Leon? And you’re gonna use my Centurion Gundam?”
“Yes,” Athena replies, “Its high speed and maneuverability will enable you to take advantage of those lightning reflexes of yours…and besides, haven’t you always wanted to fly it?”
Yes, Jolie indeed has…ever since the first day she was inducted into the Centurion Team and set eyes on her commanding officer and best friend’s sleek, aerodynamic mecha. The Cour de Leon might not possess the Centurion Gundam’s sheer firepower, raw strength, and overall durability, but Jolie has long admired its superior speed and extraordinary maneuverability, which surpassed those of the Centurion Gundam. Many times, Jolie has begged Athena to allow her to pilot the Leon; aside from a few training runs, however, Athena has seldom given Jolie such permission.
But now, Athena was offering to let Jolie pilot the Leon into actual combat.
“But ‘Thena…that’s gonna leave you vulnerable,” Jolie protests, “I don’t want you to get hurt any more than I want Jonah to get hurt.”
“1Lt. Minh, this is an order, not a suggestion,” Athena says, hating to play the authority card, but knowing that Jolie won’t comply otherwise, “I’ll be all right. The rest of the team will cover me; as long as I’m able to direct the operation from the field, it doesn’t matter whether I’m actually engaging in direct combat or not.”
Jolie opens her mouth as if to protest again, but finally decides against it, “Yes, ma’am.”
Athena and Jolie trade places, Athena to the Centurion Gundam, Jolie to the Cour de Leon.
“You take good care of the Leon,” Athena says, as she and Jolie pass by each other, “if you wreck her, I’ll kill you if the enemy doesn’t.”
Jolie grins, “Good luck, ‘Thena.”
“You too, kid,” Athena replies with a fond smile.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued...
Elsewhere, Msgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said leads his troops to on of the locations that Athena had determined would be the best location to deploy the Hellbuster warheads for maximum damage. Distributed at five other points across Mars are other Special Forces units led by other officers and NCOs, each getting into position to unleash apocalypse into the bowels of Mars.
A part of Msgt. Al-Said regrets having to carry out his orders. Humanity is not content with desecrating its homeworld; now, it brings catastrophe to other worlds as well.
Karim looks upon the face of the virgin planet, wondering if what he and his comrades are doing is a sin against nature.
Even if it is, however, the master sergeant is too good a soldier to not carry out his orders.
“Centurion Four to all units. Prepare to deploy Hellbuster. We will commence Stage 1 deployment sequence in T-minus ninety seconds.”
“Hey, Sarge!” the voice of Corporal Nick Van Dyck cuts in, “Check it out! Bogies incoming at four o’clock high!”
Karim turns the head-mounted monitor camera of his Guncannon-100 in the direction indicated by Nick and curses as he spots the incoming enemy mobile suits, “Dammit, not now!”
1Lt. Garrett Lockner has returned, reinforced by a new squadron of AMX-118 Gaza-E and DZS-66 Giren mobile suits, the latter a newly rolled out advanced production unit named after the late Prince Giren Zabi of the Archduchy of Zeon.
“Hold them off!” Karim bellows into the tactical net, “don’t let them interfere with the deployment of the Hellbuster!”
Or worse, detonate it right here, in our faces. Karim leaves unsaid.
Several hundred kilometers away, Major Athena Ibaz, aboard the battered Centurion Gundam Unit 1, receives the distress signal from Msgt. Al-Said.
“Karim, what’s going on over there?!” Athena demands.
“Major Ibaz, ma’am! The enemy has returned with reinforcements! We’ve begun the process of deploying the Hellbusters, but we’re under heavy attack!”
Damn! Athena thinks to herself, This is what we get for going in without adequate support! A part of Athena curses the bureaucrats in the Federation High Council and the Frontier 8 authority for their asinine policies preventing the Special Forces from receiving backup from the regular forces; the better part of Athena, however, curses herself for putting her people at risk like this.
If any of them die, their blood is on my hands, Athena acknowledges.
Athena knows, however, that if she is to save her comrades, she must brush aside such distractions and think and act quickly.
Athena issues new orders to Jolie and Jonah, “1Lt. Minh, Chief Michaels: you’re both directed to reinforce our other units immediately!”
“We can’t leave you isolated out here, ‘Thena!” Jolie protests.
“JUST GO!” Athena snaps with alarming urgency.
Knowing that relentless tone, Jolie doesn’t challenge Athena further, “All right. C’mon, Jonah!”
The Cour de Leon, now piloted by Jolie, and Jonah’s Centurion Gundam Unit 2 blast off to reinforce their comrades, leaving Athena isolated within the damaged Centurion Gundam Unit 1.
Athena steps the wobbly (the automatic gyro balancer is among the damaged components of the Centurion Gundam that she, Jolie, and Jonah could not restore to complete functionality) mobile suit towards a device that she and her two executive officers had been setting up when Msgt. Al-Said’s distress signal came in: a Hellbuster warhead, a mega-explosive capable of unleashing kinetic force rivaling that of a nuclear weapon.
The device has been set up to begin burrowing into the Martian crust within thirty seconds. When it reaches a preprogrammed depth of one kilometer, it will detonate.
Then, it happens.
Athena detects a hostile, sinister presence in the area. Her mind and soul are touched by a sensation as cold as death.
A moment later, the telltale glow of mobile suit thrusters appear by the dozen in the Martian skies.
The initially amorphous forms resolve themselves into the profile of Zeon mobile suits, Gellonds and Geara Doga IIs, and a single ebony-hued Sazabi…no, Nightingale transformable mobile suit approaching at great speed.
Episode 7 to be continued...
Episode 7 continued....
Athena directs the Centurion Gundam Unit’s remaining functional long range weapons systems towards the incoming Zeon swarm. Jolie hasn’t left her with much: enough juice perhaps for three beam rifle shots, a half dozen missiles, four grenades (that will need to be manually chucked by the Centurion Gundam’s hands as no grenade launcher was requested or issued for this mission), and a near full load of Vulcan cannon rounds.
In short, Athena knows, she is beyond hopelessly outgunned.
Athena steels herself, prepared for her last stand.
It’s not the first time, she thinks wryly to herself, wondering what absurd twist of fate might enable her to survive this time.
The Guncannon-100s and Jegan-IIs of the Special Forces direct all of their mighty firepower skyward, skeeting down a number of Deimos Zeon Gaza-E and Giren mobile suits. The volume of ordnance that the Special Forces hurl into the Martian skies is staggering, the consequent explosions powerful enough to seemingly knock the red planet off its axis. The tide of enemy mobile suits, however, is overwhelming.
Msgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said and Cpl. Nick Van Dyck back their heavily armored Guncannon-100s around the Hellbuster warhead, now burrowing its way via powerful beam drill devices, into the surface of Mars. The warhead has thus far burrowed half its own length into the crust. Msgt. Al-Said knows that the warhead must burrow a minimum of fifty meters below the crust before it can be said to be safe from incidental impact from discharged mobile suit weapons.
“Sarge!” Nick shouts over the din of battle, “there’s more of these guys than we can handle, even with all our firepower!”
Karim knows that to be true, but tells the corporal, “Less complaining and more firing, Corporal…or you’ll be looking at stockade time if we survive this.”
“No disrespect meant, Sarge,” Nick replies, “but right around now, the stockade is looking really good, y’know what I mean?”
Karim opens communications to the other teams, “Tomo! Anna! Geoffe! Where the devil are you guys?!”
“Same situation as you’re in, Karim!” SSgt. Tomo Higashi replies from a location far across the Martian tundra, “We’re pinned down by the enemy at the gate near the point where Major Ibaz wanted us to deploy the Hellbuster!”
“Allah, help us!” the lead NCO of the Centurion Team mutters. Though never one to give in to despair, Msgt. Al-Said is enough of a realist to know that the Special Forces’ mission and indeed, their very survival, are in deep jeopardy.
Karim knows that he and his comrades will likely die on this red planet, but he feels no fear…a tinge of sorrow, to be sure, as he will never see his parents, his siblings, or his fiancée again, but mostly, he feels anger…anger that he will fail his commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, the most courageous and intelligent soldier he has fought alongside, that he will fail his comrades, unable to save their lives, and that he will fail the Earth Federation, unable to bring peace and security to the lives of its citizens.
But Athena had not assembled and trained this team for failure.
1Lt. Jolie Minh, in the borrowed Cour de Leon, and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels in the Centurion Gundam Unit 2 arrive upon the scene like a pair of angry bolts of Olympian lightning, smiting enemy mobile suit after mobile suit out of existence. Karim doubts that anyone else could make the devastation of combat appear as graceful as dance as these two teenagers.
The upper hand shifts back to the Federal Forces upon Jolie and Jonah’s emergence on the scene. Although Athena had given her teammates adequate forewarning that Jolie is now piloting the Cour de Leon, the young Centurions are nevertheless awed by the sight of their executive officer putting the Leon through its paces…with even greater grace than Athena, the Leon’s usual pilot, does. Whereas Athena’s piloting technique emphasizes disciplined, well-trained, and deadly elegant efficiency, Jolie’s piloting skills are divinely lyrical…rendering combat as art.
Jolie and Jonah attack the enemy units in a devastating blitzkrieg. Jolie takes advantage of the Cour de Leon’s speed and maneuverability to dive into the midst of the enemy and eliminate a substantial number of them using the Leon’s missiles. Transforming the Leon to mobile suit configuration, Jolie picks off several more with precise shots from the Leon’s beam rifle.
Coordinating his maneuvers with Jolie’s is Jonah in the Centurion Gundam Unit 2. Complementing her attack, Jonah takes down the enemy units that Jolie has not, leaving no challenge unmet.
Despite the presence of the two ace pilots and their advanced mobile suits, however, the enemy maintains an overwhelming advantage of numbers, and presses it against the Special Forces to recapture the upper hand.
And into the midst of the battle suddenly appears 1Lt. Garrett Lockner’s Letzter Doga, its beam saber drawn – its beam rifle blazing.
“I’ll finish the job on you two that I started on the White Phoenix,” Garrett sneers.
Episode 7 to be continued...