Let's not cheat, Ken. There are so many ways to cheat to keep a person's thread on top, it's rather pointless.
Let's not cheat, Ken. There are so many ways to cheat to keep a person's thread on top, it's rather pointless.
Blademaster. Hero. General. He was the best there ever was.
Butcher. Murderer. Traitor. All that he loved, he had destroyed.
That Merciless Blade - Legend of the Arctic Wolf.
EPISODE 2-9: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
The distance between Mars and Jupiter is the greatest that the Earth Federation Special Forces Task Force headed by Major Athena Ibaz must cross yet, but that span is hardly empty. Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is the Asteroid Belt, a rough orbital ring of several thousand catalogued and many hundreds of thousands of uncatalogued natural satellites, some no larger than pebbles; others spanning hundreds of kilometers in diameter.
With the migration of its population into space, it was inevitable that eventually, humankind would look beyond the Cislunar Sphere into the farther reaches of the Solar System. The primary limitations were natural resources which, until the early U.C. 0080s, were thought to be available only from the mother planet, Earth. Historians have mooted that the Archduchy of Zeon’s war against the Earth Federation was doomed to failure from the start, no matter how advanced Zeon military technology was or how gifted its Newtype warriors were, simply because a space-based state could not compete against an Earth-based government in the availability of natural resources. Indeed, although the popular history is that the RX-78 Gundam, its Newtype pilot Amuro Ray, and the crew of the White Base won the One Year War for the Earth Federation Forces, many historians opine that the asymmetrical resources available to the two sides was what ultimately decided the final outcome.
Sensible of this, perhaps, the Spacenoid-controlled research and development corporations knew that to break from the control of the Earth Federation Government, it would be necessary to discover a resource base independent of Earth. Surely, the Spacenoid population could not compete against Earth’s billions of cubic meters of ocean, but the resources they needed to wage a war to unseat the Federation government and establish Spacenoid control over Earth could be found in deeper space.
In the Asteroid Belt.
The problem of water was solved in the early U.C. 0080s when large quantities of frozen water was discovered in the orbital rings of Jupiter and Saturn, and on the bodies of thousands of asteroids in the Asteroid Belt. All told, the collective water provided from these sources amounted to less than a millionth of the supply available in Earth’s oceans, lakes, rivers, and subterranean wells, but it was adequate to support the development of further space states in the Asteroid Belt and the Jupiter and Saturn orbits. Of greater interest to Anaheim, Kuromizu, the Luo Corporation, and other corporate entities was the vast source of hydrogen available at Jupiter and Saturn…hydrogen needed to power space colonies, space ships, and mobile suits…hydrogen that the Earth Federation Government would be willing to pay both money and political concessions for.
In U.C. 0082, the Jupitorius Corporation was founded by the wealthy and powerful Scirocco family. Jupitorius’ support was key to the Neo Zeon revival of U.C. 0087-0088, although the scion of the Scirocco legacy, Paptimus Scirocco, would have very complex conflicts and dealings with Neo Zeon leader Haman Khan and AEUG stalwart Quattro Bagina (the former Char Aznable). Jupitorius is the chief supplier of hydrogen fuel to both the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon. Although Spacenoid in origin, Jupitorius’ political loyalties are flexible; above all, its leaders are interested in continued Federation/Zeon conflict, as this can only result in greater demand for hydrogen fuel and thus, greater profits for Jupitorius.
None of this crosses the minds of the young troops of the Centurion Team as the Amuro Ray docks at Bunch 38 of 4 Vesta Colony. 4 Vesta is the second largest asteroid in the Asteroid Belt, 530 kilometers wide. Around this mining center is Jupitorius’ independent space colony, fifty bunches housing a population of fourteen million (mostly immigrated from Side 3 and other Cislunar colonies following the One Year War). Officially, 4 Vesta is an autonomous space colony, not beholden to either the Earth Federation Government or the various incarnations of the Archduchy of Zeon. Lacking a military force of its own, however, Jupitorius has been dependent upon one or the other at various times for protection…usually from one or the other. Thus, is a fragile balance of power maintained in the Asteroid Belt Zone, and thus does 4 Vesta represent a neutral zone where both Federation and Zeon are welcome, but neither is allowed to engage the other in combat within 4 Vesta space.
A part of the 4 Vesta Space Colony in the Asteroid Belt, utilizing the "ring design" opposed to the O'Neill Cylinders popular in Cislunar Space
“4 Vesta Spaceport Authority to Earth Federation Forces battle carrier Amuro Ray, ship registry Side 7, Code 471979,” intones a communications tech at the Bunch 58 spaceport, “you have been authorized to dock in Bay 27. Reduce engine output to twenty percent and speed to forty knots.”
“This is Captain Beecher Olech, Earth Federation Forces,” the commander of the Amuro Ray replies, “Roger that, 4 Vesta Spaceport Authority. Reducing engine output to twenty percent and speed to forty knots.”
Within twenty minutes, the Amuro Ray has docked at 4 Vesta’s Bunch 58 Spaceport. The ship is in dire need of servicing, as politics prevented the ship from being serviced at Frontier 8 either before or after the Battle of Mars. Still, although the 4 Vesta authorities are more accommodating than their Frontier 8 counterparts, current policy forbids the 4 Vesta from supplying a military ship with armaments. 4 Vesta can replenish food, water, fuel, and medical supplies, and repair damage to non-combat aspects of the ship, but the stores of weaponry aboard the Amuro Ray are all it will have to do battle with (should it come to that) until it reaches the Earth Federation Forces’ Ceres base.
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
Below decks, 1Lt. Jolie Minh knocks on the door of Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ quarters. Athena has granted the Centurion Team shore leave at 4 Vesta for the day, and Jolie isn’t inclined to waste a moment of it. She isn’t going without Jonah, however, but he hasn’t been seen since reveille.
“Jonah!” Jolie all but shouts, pounding on the door, “Jonah, c’mon! You’re supposed to go into the colony with me! Jonah, are you in there?! What the hell?! Open up!”
Apparently unbeknownst to Jolie, Jonah quietly sneaks up behind her in the corridor, readying to pounce on her and grab her by the waist.
Jolie whirls on him, jamming a finger towards his face and grinning at him mischievously, “Aha! You ought to know better than to think you could sneak up on…umph!”
Jonah stuffs a buttered muffin into Jolie’s open mouth. Never one to pass up on an offer of food, Jolie begins to chew on the muffin instead of extracting it from her mouth.
Jonah grins, “Is there no end to your appetite?”
Jolie struggles to reply through a full mouth, “When you grew up hungry like I did, you appreciate every meal you can get.”
“Feeding you must be a logistical nightmare for the Federation,” Jonah jokes, then as he eyes his girlfriend’s petite frame, “especially when you’ve barely got any meat on you to show for it.”
“I’m stronger than I look, though,” Jolie says, swallowing the remains of the muffin, “which is more than can be said for you. Have you got your head screwed on straight again?”
Jonah understands that Jolie must be referring to his breakdown after the battle to escape the Zeon blockade out of Frontier 8 space.
Jolie sighs, “I don’t know when we’re going to get it into your thick head that you’re a soldier now…and that killing people kind of comes with the territory, even if it does make you sick to think about it.”
“I know,” Jonah says, “you’re right. You and Athena have been trying to get me to understand that for months, but I’m still letting you guys down. I’m sorry.”
Jolie shrugs, “Got to face reality.” She begins to sing an ancient refrain made popular by soldiers on Earth centuries ago, “You’re in the army now…you’re as dead as puppy chow.”
Jonah laughs, “I don’t think that’s how that song went.”
“What would you know,” Jolie teases, “You’re no soldier.”
“I guess I’m going to have to prove you wrong,” Jonah says, taking Jolie into his embrace.
“Yeah, but not today,” Jolie replies, “Today, we’re civilians. We can even be tourists if can just get your a*s moving so that we can get into town!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jonah salutes facetiously.
“At ease, soldier,” Jolie replies with a teasing lilt.
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
Elsewhere at 4 Vesta 58 Bunch Spaceport, another ship, this one of Deimos Zeon registry, enters the port: the Iron Fist, under the command of Rear Admiral Dieter Hermann.
Admiral Hermann has 1Lt. Garrett Lockner on the bridge of the ship. The younger man is still seething with the shame of his defeats on Mars and at the Frontier 8 border, and is looking to exact revenge on the source of his shame…the Centurion Team, and particularly its ace pilot, the White Phoenix.
Garrett knows, however, that Hermann is not a commander who tolerates lack of discipline or the seeking of personal vengeance at the expense of military objectives, so he is careful to conceal his true desires and couch them in terms that the senior officer would find acceptable.
“A covert reconnaissance mission?” Admiral Hermann says dubiously, stroking his graying beard.
“Yes, sir,” Garrett replies, “we know that the Amuro Ray is also docked at this spaceport. What we don’t know is what its next move is, or what threat they’ll represent to us then. This might be a good chance for us to find out before it’s too late to be of use to us.”
“Very well,” the admiral assents, “but to avoid trouble with the authorities here at 4 Vesta, I want you to and your personnel to enter the colony in civilian attire…as visiting tourists.”
“Yes, sir,” Garrett replies, understanding and accepting the admiral’s reasoning even if he doesn’t care for it.
“You might want to enjoy the amenities of the city while you have the chance, lieutenant,” the Admiral tells the young officer suggestively, “I’ve been told that the young women at 4 Vesta are particularly delectable.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, sir. Thank you.” Garrett replies with a salute.
Admiral Hermann cannot help but chuckle at the naivety and impetuousness of youth. 1Lt. Garrett Lockner is an excellent young warrior, fearless and valiant, but he has much to learn about war…and life.
“Hurry up, will you, Jonah?” Jolie complains, fighting off the urge to break the pose she has been standing in for the past fifteen minutes, “I think my joints are gonna lock up and I’m gonna be stuck here forever like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.”
“Just another minute or so more,” Jonah says, working his pencil calmly on his sketch pad, “I’ll fill in the details later, but I want to make sure I’ve got an accurate take on the layout.”
“You could have just taken a photo,” Jolie says, “that would’ve taken just a second. Instead, you’ve had me imitating a statue here for an hour.”
“Only a quarter hour,” Jonah says, then with a grin, “but it must feel like an hour to the Human Ping Pong Ball!”
“I’m NOT a Human Ping Pong Ball!” Jolie protests.
“’Thena was right about you,” Jonah says mischievously.
“Right about what about me?” Jolie inquires.
“She says you can’t keep your mind or your body still,” Jonah says, “you’re all over the place.”
“You guys are lucky I am,” Jolie replies, “How else do you think we keep winning these battles with no casualties?”
“I think Athena’s tactics have something to do with it too,” Jonah says innocently.
“Will you just finish the sketch?” Jolie demands, becoming irritated, “Or you’re gonna get your wish and I’m gonna be stuck in this position forever!”
“Done!” Jonah says cheerfully.
Jolie relaxes, then hops over to see Jonah’s work.
“It doesn’t look like me at all yet; it’s just a bunch of shapes,” Jolie says.
“You’ll like it better when the details are put in,” Jonah answers, closing the sketch pad and putting his pencils away.
“Ready to go?” Jolie prompts, impatiently shuffling her feet.
“Sure,” Jonah says, “but where are we going?”
“This town has a few pretty good clubs, I hear,” Jolie says, “Let’s go check ‘em out!”
“Are you sure we should?” Jonah says, “I know we’ve got shore leave for the day, but I don’t know if…”
“Oh, hell!” Jolie explodes, “Just come with me!”
Jolie grabs Jonah by the arm and drags him from Vesta City’s metropolitan park towards the nightlife district, just as the internal environmental simulation system begins to transition from “Afternoon” to “Evening” mode.
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
From the bridge of the Amuro Ray docked at the 4 Vesta 58 Bunch Spaceport, Major Athena Ibaz looks out across the expanse of spaceport complex, spotting the anchored Iron Fist a half kilometer away.
So strange to see our enemies in such close proximity, and we’re not shooting at each other. Athena muses. Of course, that will likely change after the two warships leave port.
Although she has given her team shore leave in the space colony, Athena has elected to remain aboard the Amuro Ray to monitor the Iron Fist. An outright attack by the enemy within the colony is extremely unlikely, but spies or saboteurs could easily be slipped aboard the Amuro Ray while the ship is in dock. Athena knows because she had toyed with the idea of sending Jolie, Jonah, and Anna on just such an operation against the Iron Fist before finally deciding against it.
Athena understands that the winner of the Earth/Zeon war will not necessarily come down to which side can outgun the other, but to which side wins the hearts and minds of humanity. This is the aspect of the war that the Federation has been gradually losing over the years, even as it has won the majority of the physical battles. The Federation defeated the Zeon during the One Year War, only to see the rise of not only a Neo Zeon regime, but also the AEUG and, more recently, the ISRLA. Public sentiment has increasingly turned against the Earth Federation as the years have gone by, particularly after the Titans fiasco of U.C. 0087. Eventually, Athena knows, the space-based population, which now outnumbers the Earth-based population by a ratio of five-to-one, will decide to rid themselves of Earthist rule once and for all.
That by itself is not a negative development…quite the opposite, in fact. The space-born population would inevitably throw off the yoke of the Earth Federation Government, but to replace it with Zeon leadership would be a catastrophe. Athena knows only too well that humanity cannot afford to make that mistake again…
And the ISRLA? Dr. Artasia Daikun’s movement is filled with promise…the same promise that her father, Zeon Zum Daikun, first extended thirty years earlier. It was more starry-eyed idealism than practical solutions for humanity’s future in the cosmos, however, and subject to exploitation by unscrupulous powers…such as Athena’s own Zabi ancestors.
Athena sighs. Therein lies the heart of the matter, but these ruminations speak to things beyond her immediate control. Someday, she resolves, she will be in a position to directly dictate these world-shaping forces. For now, she must focus on maintaining the balance of power…until the time is ripe to push it aside to enable the new order to emerge.
Athena watches, and waits. Unlike her best friend, Jolie Minh, Athena has all the patience the human will is capable of…and perhaps more.
A sleek white limousine pulls up in front of the Nightclub Paramount. Upon its arrival, it is immediately besieged by over a dozen seductively clad young women, clamoring for a glimpse at the exquisite automobile’s primary occupant.
1Lt. Garrett Lockner, handsome in a white tropical suit, exits the limousine. He is accompanied by two of his guardsmen, Sergeant Gerald Storm and Sergeant Rory Marston. The three men are escorted into the nightclub by the alluring young women.
The Nightclub Paramount’s proprietor, Ricky Maris, greets the dashing young Zeon officer with an ostentatious show of obeisance.
“First Lieutenant Lockner,” Maris says, bowing gallantly, “This is indeed a great honor, sir. Your reputation precedes you here at 4 Vesta. It is rare privilege for our humble establishment to host such heroes as…”
Tiring of the sycophant’s prattle, Lockner cuts the man off with a witheringly contemptuous stare, “I reserved a private suite, Mr. Maris. I recommend you guide my entourage there without further delay.”
“Yes, sir! Of course, my lord, sir!” Maris says diffidently, hoping that dreams of vast profit will not be supplanted by nightmares of gunfire and bloodshed.
Maris personally conducts Garrett and his party towards the suitably-named Prince’s Suite.
“We have an excellent selection of wines, my lord, sir,” Maris says to Garrett after the officer and his group have seated themselves, “imported directly from the Burgundy vineyards on Earth. All vintage dating to the days of Zeon Daikun. If you prefer…”
“Bring the best you have, Mr. Maris,” Lockner says, “Then leave us until you’re summoned again. Your presence ruins the atmosphere.”
If Maris is insulted, he does not allow his feelings to show, “Yes, sir. Immediately, sir.”
Maris scurries off even as his staff of waiting men bring the exquisite wine to Garrett’s table.
Garrett snorts with contempt, “To be a Spacenoid and be so spineless and gutless. Are these the people we are destined to rule? Such degeneracy.”
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
Nearby, Jolie and Jonah have just arrived at the same Nightclub Paramount. It’s a Saturday evening, and the club is filled with people. Loud electronic dance music blasts from the amplifiers in front of the DJ booth.
“What a wild place!” Jolie enthuses, “This place is even better than the Andromeda Nightclub back at Side 7!”
“It’s a little loud,” Jonah says, covering his ears as they are assaulted by the voluminous music, “maybe we ought to come back later tonight when things have quieted down a bit.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Jolie teases, taking Jonah by the arm and dragging him to the dance floor, “Where’s your sense of fun?”
Jolie begins moving in rhythm with the music; it never ceases to amaze Jonah how easily Jolie can blend in with anybody, anywhere. His girl is nothing if not a social creature.
Twenty minutes later, Jolie and Jonah have found their way to the bar, the former needing alcoholic fuel for her revelries.
“Two beers,” Jolie tells the bartender.
“You two look a little young for beer,” the bartender says, eyeing the couple suspiciously, “I’m gonna need to check for some ID.”
An exasperated Jolie pulls out her Earth Federation Forces military ID.
“Listen,” the teenager says, waving the ID card in front of the bartender’s nose, “We’re old enough that the Federal Forces don’t see any problem sending us to kill or get killed in those walking, flying coffins called ‘mobile suits.’ You telling me that we’re not old enough to handle this joint’s beer?”
Against his better judgment, the bartender puts two bottles of the brew in front of Jolie and Jonah. With the war having taken so many young adults in their twenties and thirties, teenaged kids have been increasingly called up to fight on the front lines. They grow up quickly, adopting adult vices at increasingly younger ages. The bartender figures that these two’s parents have probably already given up on them.
Jolie hands one of the bottles to Jonah and takes a swig from the other.
Jonah dubiously watches his mercurial girlfriend as she gulps down the beer, “Um. Do you think Athena is going to let us drink even on shore leave?”
“Hell, if she were here, she’d be drinking more than both of us,” Jolie replies, knowing very well her best friend and commanding officer’s bacchanalian tendencies, “now if we don’t bring back a bottle of this stuff…THEN, she’ll be mad at us.”
Jonah smiles, “Athena isn’t much of a beer-drinker. She prefers brandy and whiskey.”
Jolie nods as she takes another swig from the beer bottle, “You’ve gotten to know her well.”
So saying, Jolie begins rummaging through her purse for a cigarette, and then she remembers that, on Jonah’s suggestion, she has quit smoking.
Let’s see how long I can keep that up, Jolie thinks wryly to herself as she takes another swig from the beer bottle, pretty soon, Jonah will probably convince me to quit drinking too. I probably will…just not today.
Having emptied the beer bottle, Jolie tells the bartender, “Bring me another, will you?”
Jonah finally takes a swig from his own beer bottle, “You like taking everything to extremes, don’t you?”
“When you don’t know if you’re going to live to see tomorrow, it’s the only way,” Jolie replies, “squeeze as much out of this lemon called ‘life’ as you possibly can before time squeezes the life out of you.”
Jonah acknowledges that there is some wisdom to be found in Jolie’s observation; he wonders if Jolie herself realizes how profound a point she has just made.
A large, middle-aged man emerges from one of the many private suites in the nightclub. A frighteningly massive fellow, his laughter can be heard even over the loud music in the club. On each of his arms is an attractive young woman. He is evidently a wealthy patron of the nightclub…his pockets likely full of money…his ego likely full of himself.
The man’s gaze falls upon the ravishing image of Jolie, and all is forgotten, including the two companions on his arms. He abandons them and sidles next to Jolie.
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
“An angel has come to 4 Vesta,” the man says, smiling at Jolie, “you aren’t like the other girls here at all.”
“Buzz off,” Jolie says, not looking at the man, taking a swig from the fresh bottle of beer that the bartender has brought her.
The large man chuckles, “Feisty, eh? Honey, when a man of my position takes an interest in you, you’d be smart to…”
“Go f*ck yourself!” Jolie raises her voice, flashing the man a vicious glare, slamming the bottle onto the counter.
“Lots of fire,” the man remarks, nodding,“I like that in a young lady…”
The man reaches out to stroke Jolie’s cheek, but she slaps his hand away.
Jonah, who up to now had been caught off-guard by the sudden turn of events, rises in Jolie’s defense, stepping towards the man, who is nearly twice his size, and confronting him boldly.
“Sir,” Jonah says courteously, but firmly, “she doesn’t want to be bothered. Just leave her alone and go away, please.”
The man grins maliciously at Jonah, “Is this pretty thing your girlfriend, kid? Well, I’m sorry to say you just lost her to a real man!”
So saying, the man shoves Jonah hard on the chest, knocking the teenaged artist against the far wall.
“Jonah!” Jolie cries out in alarm, rising from her seat. She glares angrily at his assailant.
Jolie is about to lash out with one of her trademark chops to the neck when she catches herself.
Hold on a sec, Jo, Jolie thinks to herself, Sure, you can clean this loser’s clock easier than you could drink another beer, but where would Jonah’s pride be if you beat the sh*t out of this pig with all these people watching? If you want him to become the great soldier you know he can be, you have to give him a chance to find that soldier’s spirit inside him.
Jolie puts down her hand, letting the man advance upon her, watching Jonah carefully.
Jonah rises, shaking his head clear. He spots the man accosting Jolie once again and an uncommon rage builds within him.
Jonah charges at the man, shouting, “You get away from her!”
The man has twice Jonah’s mass and towers head and shoulders over the young artist-turned-soldier, but he is unprepared for the fury of Jonah’s attack. Jonah’s flying tackle manages to knock the larger, older man back towards the opposite wall.
The man, having overcome his surprise, grabs Jonah by the scruff of his shirt collar and tosses him aside.
The man removes his sports jacket, throwing it towards one of the two young women who escorted him in. He loosens his tie and adopts a fighting stance.
“Come on, boy,” the man taunts Jonah, “show your pretty little girlfriend here what a real man you are. Come and beat me up if you think you can!”
“You can beat him, Jonah!” Jolie says encouragingly, “Do it for me!”
“Yeah, Jonah,” the man continues to taunt, “Listen to your girl…come and beat me!”
Jonah turns his head back to Jolie for a moment, who exchanges a conspiratorial grin with him.
The large man attacks first, taking advantage of Jonah’s momentary distraction.
Or apparent distraction.
Ready for his opponent this time, Jonah deftly dodges the man’s powerful punch, which comes within centimeters of the handsome young artist’s face. Moving in close to the man’s body, where the man cannot effective aim his punches, Jonah strikes his opponent with devastating hits to the throat, chest, and belly, sending the man to his knees.
The man made the mistake of thinking that his opponent was a weak and helpless collegiate artist. A few months ago, that might have been true. Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, however, is an officer of the Earth Federation Special Forces, and has been trained to fight like one…even if his personal temperament is disinclined towards fighting.
Make no mistake: Jonah most certainly will fight…against any opponent, against any odd, if Jolie’s well-being and honor are at stake.
Jonah, adopting a ready stance, says calmly, “I want you to apologize to Jolie, and then I want you to leave this place!”
“Apologize to THIS!” the man rages, his mighty fist lashing out towards Jonah again. Jonah dodges the blow once again, and then counters with a punch of his own that connects with the man’s jaw, knocking out two teeth.
The man is powerful, and probably quite accustomed to fisticuffs. He is vicious and strong, but his reckless flailing is no match for Jonah’s Special Forces-trained precision.
The man falls on his rear end, blood seeping from his mouth.
Jonah is not a malicious sort. His opponent beaten, Jonah sees no point in prolonging the violence or the ill will. He extends a hand to the man, offering to help his foe to his feet.
Jolie sparks, Jonah, no!
Jonah picks up the warning, but an instant too late. The man, his bloodlust and strength not yet exhausted, grabs Jonah’s arm, pulling Jonah towards him and ramming him brutally on the bottom the jaw with his knee. Had Jonah’s tongue been between his teeth, he would have bitten it off.
Jonah feels the impact and his vision goes dark. A shockwave of pain reverberates in his skull.
The man pulls out a short, ugly black pistol from a holster attached to his ankle and presses the weapon against Jonah’s head.
“Nobody does that to Thomas J. Remillard,” the man growls viciously, “You’ll pay for that one, kid!”
But it is the man named Remillard who pays.
Remillard never saw it coming. A vicious open-handed strike that swings his head around, nearly knocking it off. An impossibly quick and powerful kick to his testicles followed by two more to each of his knees, sending him sprawling on the ground, howling in agony.
1Lt. Jolie Minh presses her booted foot on the fallen man’s throat, snarling at him, “You’d better pray that Jonah isn’t badly hurt, or I’m going to take this gun of yours and fire it up you’re a*s!”
Jolie emphasizes her point by stomping on Remillard’s throat, causing him to cough up some blood.
Jolie turns to Jonah with alarm, kneeling by him, inspecting the wound on his chin, “Jonah! Are you all right?”
“Yeah…I’ll be fine,” Jonah says, rising unsteadily to his feet. Jolie supports him on her tiny shoulders.
“What happened to him?” Jonah asks, indicating the man who had nearly killed him a moment ago.
“Couldn’t handle being beaten up by a girl,” Jolie remarks wryly, “Serves the bastard right. He tried to shoot you.”
Jolie supports Jonah as he walks unsteadily towards the bar.
Behind the couple, Thomas J. Remillard begins to rise. He picks up his Glock handpistol from where it lies on the nightclub’s ornate floor and points it towards Jonah’s back.
A gunshot rings out. Pandemonium breaks out inside the nightclub as patrons rush out the door or dive under tables or behind assorted obstacles for cover.
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
Remillard holds his right hand, grimacing painfully. His pistol lies in a twisted ruin several meters away, smoke rising from the mangled metal.
Emerging from a private suite, 1Lt. Garrett Lockner re-holsters his own weapon as smoke dissipates from its muzzle.
“This is too exquisite a night, and this too exquisite a place, to ruin with such unpleasantry, my friends,” Garrett says.
Jolie, having lost interest in the place and focused on getting medical attention for Jonah, ignores Garrett and prepares to leave with Jonah, whose head has begun to clear.
Garrett elegantly steps into the couple’s path.
“A word of ‘thanks’ would be the modicum of expected courtesy, Miss,” Garrett says with a charming grin.
Jolie looks over her shoulder at the handsome, elegantly-dressed young man. His mane of blonde hair gives him a leonine, princely appearance.
“We came here to unwind and have a good time,” Jolie says edgily to Garrett, “but instead, we got harassed by that ugly bastard crying over his broken hand over there. You’re better looking than he is, I admit, but if you’re gonna be a bastard and harass us too, you’ll be the next one to cry here.”
“It would be reprehensible indeed to offend as captivating a creature like you,” Garrett says, hopelessly enamored with the fresh-complexioned, fiery-eyed, raven-haired girl before him, “Miss…”
“Minh,” Jolie says, never one to hide or avoid confrontation, “1Lt. Jolie Minh, Centurion Team, Earth Federation Special Forces.”
Garrett’s eyes go wide in surprise, It’s her! The White Phoenix!
“This indeed an unexpected pleasure, Lt. Minh,” Garrett says, recovering his composure, “I’m 1Lt. Garrett Lockner, commanding officer of the Talon Squadron, Deimos Zeon Forces.”
Jolie smirks, “A Zeke officer, huh? Figures you’d be a scoundrel.”
“Come now, Lt. Minh…or may I call you ‘Jolie?’” Garrett pursues, “We need not be enemies here: 4 Vesta is neutral ground. I couldn’t threaten you here if I wanted to, and be assured, I do not want to.”
“Good,” Jolie replies, “Now if you’ll just really be the gentleman you’re pretending to be, you’ll let us pass.”
“Why not be my guest?” Garrett says invitingly, “I’m aware that your Federation doesn’t pay its junior officers particularly well, but in the Zeon Forces, things are different. You said that you and your…friend here came for a good time. Allow me to be host; I’m here for the same reason.”
“Sorry,” Jolie says, “regulations specify that we don’t party with the enemy…not even on neutral territory.”
“Jolie…” Garrett begins.
“Look, Lieutenant Lockner,” Jonah says, stepping between the Zeon officer and Jolie, “Jolie has already told you that we’re not interested. If you’re sincere, we’re grateful that you saved our lives, and we appreciate your hospitality, but…”
Garrett brushes Jonah aside physically as well as metaphorically, drinking in Jolie’s beauty, “But I simply cannot allow you to just leave.”
Garrett reaches out for Jolie’s delicate chin. Jolie is prepared to allow Garrett a moment’s pleasure before beating the daylights out of him…
She doesn’t get that chance. Rather unexpectedly, Jonah dives headlong onto Garrett, taking the young Zeon officer to the ground.
As the two young men scuffle, the all-but-forgotten Thomas Remillard rises at last to his feet. Seeing his two opponents brutally struggling against each other, Remillard cannot help but smile.
Maybe I should let those two punks kill each other. It’d save me the trouble. But they made me look like a fool and for that, they’re going to pay…and the girl too, except she’s going to pay with more than just her life.
Deprived of his sidearm, Remillard picks up an empty wine bottle from a nearby table, smashes it, and approaches the struggling Jonah and Garrett menacingly.
As he raises the broken bottle for a vicious strike, Remillard feels a horrible, sharp pain at his throat, an excruciating agony in his abdomen, and finally, a bone-shaking blow to the back of his head. The man collapses once again, blood seeping from his mouth and nose.
“Oh, God…Oh, God…” Remillard slurs.
Jolie pulls the fallen man’s head up by his hair, whispering harshly to him, “This is the second time I’ve spared your miserable life. If you threaten Jonah again, I’m gonna kill you next time.”
To emphasize her point, Jolie takes the broken bottle and smashes it into the ground directly in front of Remillard’s nose. The man lets out a cry of terror.
Jolie looks up to see the ongoing struggle between Jonah and Garrett. The fight is going poorly for Jonah; already weakened and wounded from the earlier fight against Remillard, the young artist is no match for the taller, more belligerent Garrett.
Garrett raises his hand for what appears to be a deathblow, aimed directly at Jonah’s throat.
Jolie casually parries the blow with a gesture that is definitely not as simple as it appears.
The force of Garrett’s blow is dissipated as if drained away.
What…is she doing to me?! Garrett gapes in alarm.
A move too quick to be seen bloodies Garrett’s nose. From nowhere, a small, but powerful leg kicks the back of his knees, bringing Garrett down hard.
Jonah hears the clicks of automatic weapons being leveled and turns his head up just in time to see two of Garrett Lockner’s subordinates bringing their pistols to bear on Jolie.
Moving with blinding quickness, Jolie leaps towards the two armed men, excellent marksmen with quick reflexes, but slower than sleeping tortoises compared to the White Phoenix.
With deft, graceful motions impossible for the eye to follow, Jolie agilely slips inside the two gunmen’s field of fire, making it impossible to train their weapons upon her. Then, with a single motion, Jolie relieves the two men of their weapons. Jolie kicks down one of the men, and points one of the guns directly in its owner’s face.
Jolie points the second gun directly at Garrett Lockner.
“Back off, now…” Jolie demands quietly, a deadly gaze fixed upon Garrett.
Garrett backs off of Jonah. Jolie rushes to her boyfriend’s side.
“Are you all right?” she whispers gently.
Behind Jolie, a third gunman, hidden behind the entrance to the private suite that hosted Garrett’s private party, takes aim at Jolie’s back.
Without turning around, Jolie fires the pistol in her left hand over her shoulder, immolating the concealed gunman’s weapon. She instantly spins and fires another shot to disarm Garrett, who has just extracted his own sidearm.
Jolie glides forward, placing the muzzle of her pistol against Garrett’s forehead.
“There’s probably only one person in the whole world who might be able to outshoot me,” Jolie says to Garrett, “and you aren’t her.”
Jolie lifts the pistol off of Garrett’s forehead, saying, “I’m guessing we’re free to go now?”
Garrett has nothing to say, seething with rage that he has lost to this…girl again.
The local police finally arrive. Jolie looks at the dozen heavily armed and body armored men charging in, looks at the two pistols in her hand, and toys with a foolish idea for a moment, then throws the weapons to the ground and raises her hands into the air.
The police promptly place Jolie, Jonah, and Garrett and his men under arrest; Remillard, however, is greeted by the police squad leader, a sergeant, with a deferential handshake.
“Mr. Remillard, sir,” the police sergeant helps the large man to his feet, “our apologies for arriving so late. Do you need medical attention?”
“Later,” Remillard rumbles angrily, “Officer, see to it that these military punks, Federation or Zeon, are prosecuted to the full extent of our laws! It’s bad enough that their war affects our peaceful lives here at 4 Vesta, but these young savages won’t be satisfied until they’ve gotten all of us killed in their battles!”
“The courts will see to them,” the police sergeant reassures Remillard.
As the police lead them away, Jonah asks Jolie, “Think Athena will be mad at us?”
Jolie replies nervously, “I hope we get a firing squad; it’d be better than going back to the ship to face ‘Thena.”
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
An hour later, Jolie and Jonah emerge from separate jail cells at a 4 Vesta police precinct station. They are greeted by a grim-faced Major Athena Ibaz, who has posted bail for the couple from Federal Forces’ funds that will be taken out of Jolie and Jonah’s pay for as many months as it takes to pay off the bail (2,000 Federation credits for each of them).
“This place wasn’t so tough,” Jolie remarks, rubbing her wrists where handcuffs had been placed, “lots of the places back at Industria were way worse than this.”
“I’ve never been in a jail before,” Jonah adds, rubbing his wrists in a similar fashion, “hope I won’t ever be in one again.”
Athena glares at the couple severely for a moment, saying nothing to them, then breaks into a wry smile.
“Oh, c’mon!” Jolie bursts out, “Just yell at us and be done with it! I hate it when you guilt trip me with your silences!”
“Yell at you?” Athena says coyly, “Why should I do that? You amuse me no end, and it’s not like your bail money is coming out of my pocket. More importantly, your little altercation at the club might have been helpful to us.”
“Helpful?” Jolie asks quizzically, “What do you mean?”
Athena motions Jolie and Jonah aside as she spots the commanding officer of the Iron Fist, Rear Admiral Dieter Hermann, greeting 1Lt. Garrett Lockner as the young Zeon mobile suit ace steps out of a jail cell, bailed out by his commanding officer.
“Those Zeon officers are the ones that we fought on Mars, and who have been chasing us ever since,” Athena whispers to Jolie and Jonah, “I doubt that they’ll wait until we leave 4 Vesta to come gunning after us again.”
“But Major,” Jonah points out, “4 Vesta is a neutral port. They can’t attack us here.”
“They can’t attack us here legally,” Athena corrects, “that won’t necessarily deter them from committing acts of sabotage against us.”
“You’re just being paranoid, as usual,” Jolie remarks, “but that Garrett guy was an a*shole! I wouldn’t mind ripping him a new one.”
“In due time,” Athena admonishes, “you’ll get your chance. But I recommend you to maintain a lower profile while we’re here at 4 Vesta. I’ve put the Centurions on Yellow Alert, and they’re helping the Amuro Ray crew to protect the ship.”
Jolie sighs, “Does that mean that our shore leave is cancelled?”
Athena replies, grin in place, “You’ve had enough recreation for one day.”
With an irritable grunt, Jolie wrings her long, luscious black hair through her delicate hands and heads towards the exit of the police station.
Jonah follows along, shrugging, “Well, the beer wasn’t that good anyway.”
Athena shakes her head and follows her two executive officers back to the spaceport and the Amuro Ray.
Minutes later, a staff limousine bears Rear Admiral Dieter Hermann and 1Lt. Garrett Lockner through the streets of 4 Vesta’s Hometropolis City.
Admiral Hermann says to the younger officer, “That was indiscreet of you, Garrett. Were you any other officer, I’d have had you court-martialed. When I suggested for you to enjoy the amenities of the city, I certainly didn’t mean for you to get into a bar brawl with Federal Forces officers in a neutral port.”
“My apologies, Admiral,” Garrett says with feigned contrition, “that was foolish of me. But that girl at the nightclub – that was Jolie Minh, the White Phoenix.”
“The Federation’s deadliest mobile suit pilot in a generation,” Hermann remarks, “that’s definitely an enemy worth eliminating, but Garrett, you must understand: it must be done within the context of the larger overall goals. This is something that many of you younger officers fail to understand, and must learn. Don’t take war too personally. You’ll get killed more quickly that way, and worse, fail your mission.”
“Yes, sir,” Garrett replies, “I understand.”
Garrett notes that the limousine is not headed towards the spaceport, but deeper into the city, “Sir, may I ask where…?”
Hermann replies, “There’s someone I believe you need to meet, Lieutenant, although you’re likely acquainted with him already.”
Curious now, Garrett falls silent. Just who is this mysterious individual that his commanding officer wants him to meet?
Following behind the limousine convoy is a rented civilian vehicle, inconspicuous except, perhaps, that its driver is Sgt. Anna Horowitz, the Centurion Team’s reconnaissance specialist.
Anna is dressed in civilian clothing, her Earth Federation Special Forces uniform deliberately left behind aboard the Amuro Ray. Although as a Federal Forces officer, Anna has access to military ground vehicles, she has, by design, been provided with a civilian coupe rented from an automobile rental agency in Hometropolis City.
Anna makes a call, not on military band radio, as would be standard, but on civilian cell phone wavelength, “This is Anna. Athena, are you there?”
Major Athena Ibaz’s voice comes through Anna’s earpiece, “I hear you, Anna. What have you got?”
“I’m stuck to them, Athena,” Anna replies, deliberately not addressing her commanding officer by rank or using any military-related terminology, “should I crash their little party?”
“No,” Athena replies, “It’s more fun to just watch. Make sure you drop off the surprise gift, though. Call me again if you think the party’s getting hot.”
“You got it,” Anna replies. Anna cannot help but laugh a little; it’s rare that she’s able to speak to Athena in such casual terms, even if it is done for secrecy purposes.
But the business that Athena has dispatched Anna to perform is serious. The survival of Anna’s teammates might well depend upon it.
The limousine stops at the entrance of the Jupitorius Corporation’s 4 Vesta Regional Headquarters. The headquarters building is a towering skyscraper looming high over the rest of the Hometropolis skyline.
Anna quickly parks her rented vehicle in an alleyway not far from where the limousine has stopped. The vehicle will likely be cited for illegal parking, but the Federal Forces can absorb the cost of a parking ticket in return for the survival of one of its Special Forces units.
Anna swiftly, but inconspicuously makes her way down the sidewalk to the entrance of the Jupitorius Corporate Tower, appearing to stumble as she passes by 1Lt. Garrett Lockner, who is just emerging from the limousine.
“Oh!” Anna exclaims, as she falls into Garrett’s arms.
“Careful,” the young Zeon officer warns, “Are you all right, Miss…?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Anna replies, as her hand slips a tiny object into the left pocket of Garrett’s sports jacket, “Sorry for being so clumsy. This sidewalk is a little uneven. I would have sued 4 Vesta Public Works if I’d fallen down.”
“Be more careful,” Garrett says, as he follows Admiral Hermann into the skyscraper complex.
Making her way to the end of the block, Anna touches her earpiece, speed-dialing Athena’s cell phone frequency.
“I’ve delivered the gift,” Anna says after Athena picks up.
“Good,” Athena replies, “hang out there for a while, Anna. We might need you to see where the party goes next.”
“Right,” Anna replies, “I’ll be eavesdropping; let you know if any juicy gossip comes up.”
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
Admiral Hermann and Garrett take the elevator to the penthouse office suite of the Regional Executive of Jupitorius Corporation’s 4 Vesta Regional headquarters. Garrett is suitably impressed. The office tower is positively Olympian in its disposition, and this regional executive is only one cog (albeit a fairly large one) in one part of the Jupitorius corporate machine.
The elevator doors open into a palatial private office, where the two Zeon officers are greeted by the Regional Executive’s administrative assistant.
Garrett’s eyes fall upon the hulking figure of an exceptionally large man seated at a desk that seems as large as a tennis court. Despite the man’s robust size, he appears to be wounded, sporting a sling on his arm and a bandage around his head.
The young Zeon mobile suit ace’s eyes widen and his mouth gapes as he recognizes the large man.
“You…you’re…!” Garrett gasps.
“Thomas J. Remillard,” the man finishes for Garrett, “Regional Executive, Jupitorius Corporation, 4 Vesta Regional Headquarters.”
Remillard extends his large hand (the relatively less injured, left one) to Garrett. Garrett takes it uncertainly, feeling the beefy man’s powerful grip.
“I’m…we…” Garrett begins uncertainly.
“Admittedly, we got off to a bad start,” Remillard says, “but I’m man enough to put that aside if we can do business. Admiral Hermann has already apologized on your behalf, and he brings in a request from Field Marshal Von Bach himself.”
“From the Field Marshal…?” Garrett says, It must be something vital.
“The Admiral here will explain to you,” Remillard tells the younger man.
Admiral Hermann takes it from there, “Lieutenant, Field Marshal Von Bach wanted us to come to 4 Vesta not just to pursue the Federal Forces, but also to receive a new transformable mobile armor prototype from Jupitorius.”
“Mobile armor?” Garrett muses, “Mr. Remillard, do I understand correctly that I’m to be the guinea pig to test this new mobile armor of yours?”
“That’s right,” Remillard replies, “you have the reputation for being Deimos Zeon’s best young ace pilot. An ace pilot deserves an ace machine, Lieutenant Lockner.”
“Show me this ‘ace machine,’” Garrett responds challengingly, “I’d like to see for myself if this mobile armor is as magnificent as you’re suggesting.”
“It’s at a classified location, not too far away,” Remillard says, “We can go there immediately, if you gentlemen don’t mind.”
“Lead on, Mr. Remillard,” Garrett replies, bowing gallantly.
“Athena,” Anna whispers harshly into her cell phone, having reseated herself in her rented coupe, “You’re going to love this one: the company’s got a new product that it’s going to show to the opposition. It’s one of those changing machines.”
By that, Athena understands Anna means “transformable mobile armor.”
“Stay on it,” Athena tells Anna, “we’ll make ready here on our end.”
“Right,” Anna says, “call you again when I’ve got a party location.”
After Anna signs off, Athena opens communications to the Centurion Team, “This is Major Ibaz. Man your mobile suits: we’ll be deploying as soon as we get word from Sgt. Horowitz.”
In the Amuro Ray’s mecha hangar deck, Jolie and Jonah are already “crafted” aboard their mobile suits, the RX-780-1 and RX-780-2 Centurion Gundams. Jolie’s Unit-1 gleams in its custom white paint job, while Jonah’s Unit-2 sports a new obsidian coat of paint to make it less conspicuous in the eternal blackness of space.
Jolie rubs her delicate, gloved hands together anxiously as her mobile suit’s nuclear fusion engine idles. She shuffles her booted feet rigorously, “C’mon, c’mon! When’s ‘Thena gonna give us the order to launch? This is driving me nuts!”
In the cockpit of his own Centurion Gundam, Jonah can’t help but remark, “I can’t believe you’re licking your chops anticipating the chance to go out there to kill more people.”
“It’s not about killing,” Jolie protests, “it’s the…I don’t know, the thrill maybe? Heh. I guess I’m an excitement junkie!”
“War isn’t an amusement park ride, though,” Jonah says gravely, “Every time we hit one of those mobile suits, we’re potentially wiping out somebody’s…”
“Jonah,” Jolie says with tender weariness, “are you trying to guilt trip me again?”
“Maybe,” Jonah says, Jolie hearing an edge of mischief in his voice.
“First, you get me to quit smoking,” Jolie teases, “then, you got me to the verge of quitting drinking. Now, you’re trying to turn me into a pacifist too?”
Jonah teases right back, “If you’re going to be my ‘other half,’ I’d expect at least a few concessions.”
“Hey,” Jolie throws back, “It’s almost the Second Universal Century. Didn’t you hear? Women don’t have to do what men want them to do anymore.”
Jonah, not about to let Jolie off so easily in their playful tête-à-tête, pushes further, “They ought to make an exception for you.”
“I’ll make an exception out of you,” Jolie threatens, not quite knowing what she means by that.
Jonah begins chuckling, and then Athena’s voice comes through the communications net.
“Centurion Team standby for deployment,” the Centurion Team Leader’s voice comes through the mobile suits’ receivers.
“Finally!” Jolie sighs.
“Well, not quite,” Jonah says, “She said ‘stand by’; probably waiting for Sgt. Horowitz to provide us a precise location.”
Anna has tailed the Zeon limousine convoy to, not the public spaceport where the Amuro Ray and the Iron Fist are docked, but to a private spaceport on the other side of the Hometropolis City Colony. This spaceport is the property of the Jupitorius Corporation, and docks only cargo and personnel ships registered to the Jupitorius Corporation. The public is not welcome.
Anna realizes that she’s trailed the Zeon officers and Remillard as far as she can by automobile. Glancing at the security at the perimeter of the Jupitorius spaceport, Anna knows that she won’t be able to pursue further on foot either.
Anna turns her vehicle around towards the main spaceport, calling Athena again, “Athena. Think you’d better get our birds out there. Party line is closed: private exit on south side.”
Understanding the situation, Athena replies, “Good job, Anna. Hurry back. We’ll go first.”
Athena switches off her cell phone and puts on her helmet, sealing the O-ring at the collar of her normalsuit. She brings the Cour de Leon, already in Waverider configuration, from “idle” to “active” mode.
Athena opens communications to the rest of the Centurion Team, “Centurion Leader to all units. Deploy now. We’re tailing a civilian shuttle leaving from a spaceport on the other side of the space colony. I’m going to go ahead. You guys catch up. Do not make contact with the enemy until you receive my direct order.”
“Roger,” comes the collective reply.
“Yahoooo!” Jolie enthuses, “All right!”
Jonah smiles quietly; he can’t help but admire his girl’s irrepressible spirit, if not her aggressiveness.
“Centurion Leader, deploying!”
“Centurion Two, deploying!”
“Centurion Three, deploying!”
Six mobile suits launch from the Amuro Ray’s launch port. They are permitted to launch, but are prohibited from firing their weapons until they are clear of 4 Vesta Colony Space.
A troublesome limitation, Athena muses, but one that can be overcome. Hurry, Anna!
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 continued...
“Gentlemen,” Thomas Remillard says grandly to his two Zeon military guests, “I present to you: Enma!”
Two JMA-025 Enma units, the latest model of transformable mobile armor to be rolled out by the Jupitorius Corporation. A successor to earlier Jupitorius transformable MA such as Paptimus Scirocco’s infamous PMX-000 Messala, the Enma is a fearsome machine…equal parts high velocity air/space tactical fighter/bomber in mobile armor mode and maneuverable, but heavily armed juggernaut in mobile suit mode. The line of sight problem innate in the Messala’s original design has been corrected, and the Enma also bears the influence of Anaheim Enterprises’ Z Gundam series.
“Enma, eh?” 1Lt. Garrett Lockner stares up at the towering mecha admiringly, “I confess that I’m impressed by your machine, Mr. Remillard.”
Remillard replies, “This mobile armor is designed with aces in mind, Lieutenant. It’s far too refined a machine to be practical for mass-production. Only two units have been produced thus far, this unit with the black and white paint job being yours.”
“What about that dark green unit over there, then?” Garrett indicates with a toss of his head.
“That one’s mine, Lieutenant,” the corpulent corporate man says with a measure of smug pride, “It’s the prototype.”
Garrett smirks, raising a dubious and contemptuous eyebrow, “You pilot mobile suits, Mr. Remillard?”
Remillard, reddening at the implied insult, holds his composure with effort as he replies, “I was a mobile suit pilot with the Zeon Forces during the One Year War, Lieutenant…before you even needed diapers, most likely. I served in the 83rd MS division under the command of high highness, Admiral Dozle Zabi. I started as a Zaku pilot, and by the end of the war had also deployed in a Rick Dom and a Gelgoog. By the end of the war, I was a First Lieutenant…just as you are today.”
“A first war veteran, eh?” Garrett muses, derision still palpable in his tone, “But have you logged any cockpit time recently?”
“I have operations-tested this Enma prototype myself for over 900 hours, Lt. Lockner,” Remillard says, “I wouldn’t trust this machine to an independently contracted test pilot.”
“Admirable,” Garrett responds, “but MS warfare has changed a great deal since the days of the Zaku and even the Gelgoog, Lieutenant Remillard. You’re the veteran; you don’t need me to tell you that no simulation is like real combat.”
Sensing the need to turn the conversation in a different direction, Admiral Hermann steps forth, “Mr. Remillard, we’re grateful for your assistance in providing us with this fantastic new mecha. We’ll bring the Iron Fist around from the public spaceport to receive delivery.”
No sooner does the Deimos Zeon admiral receive a call from his flagship through his communicator.
“Go ahead,” Hermann says.
“Sir,” comes the reply from a tech aboard the Iron Fist, “Federal Forces mobile suits from the Amuro Ray have launched from the colony. We’re presently trying to learn the reason for their sortie.”
“Roger, that,” the admiral replies, “launch the Iron Fist and tail that Federation mobile suit squad. Lieutenant Lockner and I will be meeting you shortly.”
“Yes, sir,” the tech replies.
“Federation MS have launched out of the colony,” Hermann relays to Garrett, “we need to find out what they’re up to. You’ll need to sortie in this new MS right away, Garrett. Consider it a field test with live fire.”
The admiral turns to Remillard, “Mr. Remillard, I’ll need transportation out to rendezvous with my ship.”
Remillard says, “You may be my passenger aboard my Enma, Admiral. It will be my honor and pleasure.”
“Thank you, Remillard,” the admiral says.
“Sir,” Garrett protests, not trusting the veteran turned corporate official, “I suggest…”
“You’ll need to concentrate on the battle, Lieutenant,” Admiral Hermann says, “you’ll do that better without a passenger getting in the way.”
“Yes, sir,” Garrett replies, with a salute.
“There’s a normalsuit and helmet stored in the bin under the cockpit seat, Lockner,” Remillard says, “you’d better suit up first.”
Garrett takes that as another insinuated insult, and replies, “Worry about yourself, old man. If the admiral here suffers any harm, Field Marshal Von Bach will make sure you never hear the end of it.”
“He’s an insolent one, this Lockner kid,” Remillard remarks to Hermann.
“He comes from a heralded bloodline,” Hermann says, “that’s how nobility is.”
“Noble blood won’t save him out there,” Remillard says darkly, “the blood of noblemen spills as easily as the blood of peasants. Lockner better realize that, or his career’s going to be a short one.”
With that, Remillard invites the admiral to board his mobile suit, providing the senior officer a normalsuit before donning his own.
That kid thinks he’s something special, Remillard muses, I’ll show him what it means to be real soldier!
As they don normalsuits over their regular clothing, Admiral Hermann asks Remillard, “By the way, Remillard. Why ‘Enma?’ Is there any specific meaning behind the name?”
Remillard replies “Enma is the name of a deity of death in Japan. He was the ruler of the underworld: to meet him was to meet one’s destruction.”
Hermann nods with understanding, “Fitting.”
The two men board the mobile suit without further comment. Some things are best said through the barrel of a beam rifle, or the blade of a beam saber.
“Centurion Leader to all units,” Athena transmits to her squad on a coded frequency, “looks like the Iron Fist has tailed us out of Hometropolis Spaceport. We’ll probably see some action on two fronts.”
Sure enough, two contrails appear in the distance ahead of the Centurion Team’s current position; they appear to have issued forth from the terminus of the Hometropolis Colony opposite the main spaceport.
“Two bogies ahead,” Athena informs her squad, scrolling through the Cour de Leon’s target database, which comes up empty, “unidentified units…closest match…PMX-000 Messala.”
“Messala?!” Jolie reacts in surprise, “that piece of junk?! That thing’s more than ten years old, and wasn’t the only one ever built destroyed by AEUG?”
Athena replies, “This enemy mecha only resembles the Messala. It’s probably different, and more advanced. Be careful!”
“Contact in five seconds!” Jonah announces in lieu of Anna, who has yet to rejoin the squad.
“Defensive formation,” Athena orders.
“Defense…?” Jolie begins to object, “But…!”
“DEFENSIVE FORMATION!” Athena reiterates more forcefully.
The Centurions break ranks, weapons drawn and readied, but not fired…each mobile suit takes up position to defend the weak spots of its comrades.
Episode 9 to be continued....
I think you should work that bit into the story@!Promiscuity? Jolie dresses sexy and likes to flirt a bit, but her sexual mores are surprisingly conservative. Maybe it's how she was taught at home. Maybe it's because she's a fan of ROCH. For reasons that aren't fully known, however, that's Jolie's outlook on this aspect of life.
TC to Ken: "You need to watch the ending of ROCH 83."
Episode 9 continued...
1Lt. Garrett Lockner’s Enma, in its waverider configuration, bears down upon the Centurion Team at three times the speed of sound as it would travel through the atmosphere on Earth. He unleashes upon the Federal Forces’ Special Operations Team a torrent of missiles that traverse space even more quickly.
Athena’s Cour de Leon and Jolie and Jonah’s Centurion Gundams peel away from the incoming missile fire in a “blooming iris” formation, drawing the bulk of the motion-tracking missiles away from their teammates. Karim, Tomo, and Nick mass the cannon fire of their heavy mobile suits against the remaining incoming missiles, as the rest of the squad contributes with tracer fire.
Athena, having kept the Cour de Leon in its Waverider mode, throws the transformable cosmic fighter into a controlled corkscrew spin, staying barely ahead of the incoming missiles. She deploys countermissiles, then, transforming the Cour de Leon into mobile suit configuration, picks off the rest with fire from the Leon’s beam rifle.
Jonah, in the slower and less maneuverable (though more heavily armed and armored) Centurion Gundam Unit 2, is having trouble evading the incoming fire. The missiles snake toward him faster than he can react. By the time that Jonah realizes that the missiles are upon him, it’s too late for him to maneuver into a defensive position.
Fortunately for him, Jonah has a guardian angel these days.
Jolie’s Centurion Gundam Unit 1 grabs the hand of the Unit 2, dragging it out of the path of three incoming missiles, swinging it out of harms path before leveling its beam rifle to skeet down three more. The laws of physics apply no differently to Jolie’s Unit 1 than they do to Jonah’s Unit 2, but within the scope of human observation, they seem to.
Jolie twists the Unit 1 out of the field of fire, returning fire against the faster aerodynamic Zeon mecha, managing to score a glancing hit as the Enma streaks by.
In the cockpit of the Enma, Garrett grunts with the impact. Jolie’s shot wasn’t direct enough to do any real damage, but it’s enough to rattle Garrett, who is shocked that a mobile suit without the afterburner thrusters of a cosmic fighter could actually hit the Enma in its Waverider configuration. It would be the equivalent of hitting a bullet with a slingshot.
You’re really something else, Jolie Minh… Garrett concedes, images of the Earth Federation Forces young ace pilot’s beautiful visage filling his memories …my honor requires nothing less than bringing you down low.
Before Garrett can go after Jolie again, however, he finds Major Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon at his Enma’s six o’clock position, chopping away at him with beam cannon fire.
“Pest!” Garrett snarls at the Waverider behind him.
The pilot of the Federation’s transformable mobile suit, which the Enma’s combat database identifies as RZX-97 Cour de Leon.
Garrett remembers the transformable mobile suit well. On Mars, Jolie Minh had commandeered this mecha after Garrett had managed to cripple her Centurion Gundam under a massive rockslide. Though lacking the raw firepower, heavy armor, and tremendous strength of the Centurion Gundam, the Cour de Leon is quick and agile, making up in stealth and maneuverability what it lacks in raw power (although it is by no means weak, boasting an impressive array of armaments).
The pilot at the controls of the Cour de Leon today is evidently not Minh, but its regular pilot – the commanding officer of the Centurion Team…a young woman named Athena Ibaz, according to Deimos Zeon intel sources. Though Ibaz might not the White Phoenix, she is a formidable combatant in her own right. Garrett knows he cannot take her lightly.
Garrett transforms the Enma to mobile suit configuration, and Athena does likewise with the Cour de Leon. The two transformable mobile suits face off, beam rifle to beam rifle.
Garrett and Athena fire simultaneously. The beams of their mobile suit’s primary weapons collide, creating an explosion of energy that throws their two mecha apart.
“’Thena!” Jolie calls in alarm, her attention drawn by the bright flash of light created by the powerful explosion. Turning her attention away from the one dozen Gaza-E mobile suits that issued forth from the Iron Fist to engage the Centurion Team, Jolie prepares to engage Garrett’s mobile suit in battle to relieve Athena.
A powerful beam blast followed by a hail of missiles cuts her off.
Jolie’s Newtype energy sparks forth…she senses a second enemy transformable mobile armor, just like the one that battled Athena, approaching. This one is painted Zaku-green, making its allegiance beyond doubt.
Aboard the green Enma prototype, Thomas Remillard snarls at his quarry, “You’re done, White Phoenix!”
His flurry of ordnance having failed to connect with Jolie’s Centurion Gundam, Remilard instead bears down on the Federation mobile suit with the Enma’s close-in weapon, a beam version of the ancient Chinese weapon Guandao.
Jolie draws the Centurion Gundam’s own beam saber to block Remillard’s slash. Before she counterslash, however, Jonah’s Centurion Gundam Unit-2 appears from nowhere, kicking Remillard’s mobile suit away with both of its armored feet.
As the green Enma tumbles back away, Jonah contacts Jolie, “Jolie, I’ll take this one! Go help Athena!”
“Athena can take care of herself,” Jolie protests, “I’m leaving you alone against this guy! You don’t know what he’s capable of!”
“Jolie,” Jonah begins. He’s cut off as Remillard’s counterattack forces him to dodge.
Remillard prepares to follow up with a second shot, pointed directly at the Unit-2’s center. Jolie draws a bead on Remillard’s Enma, praying that her shot will be faster than his.
But another, unexpected shot comes even faster.
A beam cannon blast from Athena’s diving Cour de Leon catches Remillard off guard, striking his mobile suit sidelong and causing sparks to fly from one of its maneuvering verniers. Remillard transforms the Enma to Waverider mode and streaks away.
“Jolie, switch partners!” Athena calls into the comlink.
Jolie sees that the Cour de Leon is being tailed by another transformable mobile armor like the one that Athena had just blasted, this one white trimmed in black instead of Zaku-green.
Jolie leaps the Centurion Gundam forth, putting her mobile suit in the path of the oncoming Enma after the Cour de Leon soars by.
“Jolie, don’t!” Jonah warns, terror shooting up his spine, manifesting forth as a Newtype spark.
Aboard the Enma’s cockpit, Garrett Lockner gapes in shock, “She’s insane!”
Jolie’s spark reciprocates Jonah’s warning spark. She is fearless, but hardly insane.
Jolie, her mobile suit’s beam saber still drawn, places the saber in a surprising position.
Garrett is terrified as he realizes that the blade of the Centurion Gundam Unit-1’s beam saber is rapidly closing upon his Enma.
Garrett instinctively transforms the Enma from Waverider to mobile suit configuration, the change of mode slowing the mecha down, and causing the Centurion Gundam’s beam saber to pass over the Enma’s head, slicing through its top crest sensor instead of across the fuselage.
Death had been averted by an instant.
But the Centurion Gundam’s beam saber tip is already closing upon him again.
From his right, Garrett sees Jonah’s Centurion Gundam Unit-2 also bearing down upon him, beam rifle blasting away. It’s a desperate gambit, but he saw how protective she was of him back at the bar. Maybe…
Garrett twists the Enma away from Jolie’s rapidly advancing Unit-1, grabbing hold of Jonah’s Unit-2 in an impressively quick motion. Garrett puts the Unit-2 in a half-nelson hold, putting the Centurion Gundam directly in front of his Enma.
Garrett pulls out the Enma’s beam saber, but does not ignite it. Instead, he presses its emitter directly against the cockpit hatch of the Unit-2.
Garrett calls out on the contact, “Stop! If you come any closer, I’ll vaporize him in front of your eyes!”
Jolie brings the Unit-1 to a complete halt. Her teeth clench in frustration, and her heart pounds with fear for Jonah. Losing a loved one…the only concept in the universe that can terrify Jolie Minh.
“Disengage the Centurion Gundam’s weapons systems,” Garrett orders, “Do it, or your sweetheart here will be nothing more than heated particles and memories.”
“Don’t do it, Jolie!” Jonah warns, “he’ll kill you after you’re helpless! You’ve got to stop him!”
Jolie weighs her options. The angle at which Garrett his holding the Unit-2 won’t allow her to make any attack that would drive him back or destroy him before he immolates Jonah. There’s maybe a one-in-a-hundred chance that she could get off a lucky strike, but she can’t take that risk with Jonah’s life.
So she’ll take it with her own.
Jolie disengages the weapon systems of the Centurion Gundam Unit-1…casting aside the beam rifle, removing and throwing into space the beam rifles, then discharging the remaining missiles and Vulcan cannon magazines.
The Unit-1’s weapons are depleted; the war machine is essentially nothing more than an amped up utility mecha now.
“Good,” Garrett says, “Now, White Phoenix…step out of the cockpit of the Gundam.”
“Jolie…” Jonah warns again, “Don’t do it!”
The cockpit hatch of the Unit-1 opens. Jolie’s normalsuited and helmeted form appears from within the cockpit.
Garrett locks all weapons systems of the Enma on the Unit-1. His finger tenses on the trigger.
Episode 9 to be continued...
Episode 9 conclusion
Dozens of kilometers away, Thomas Remillard’s Enma has taken terrible punishment from hits from the Cour de Leon’s arsenal. The prototype Jupitorius transformable mobile armor looks less like an avatar of death than an imminent victim of death.
Its arsenal of ranged weapons depleted to little avail, Remillard’s Enma draws its beam Guandao in one hand, and an extended beam saber in the other.
“Remillard,” Admiral Hermann says, his voice hoarse with fear, “don’t be a fool! We must retreat!”
Remillard hesitates. On the one hand, he is just as afraid for his life as Hermann is for his. On the other hand, his pride will not allow him to forego making a last stand against the enemy.
“We won’t die here, Admiral,” Remillard, as much to reassure himself as his passenger, “we’re going to defeat this Feddie and prove the superiority of Zeon!”
Hermann has heard such bravado before, and it always disturbs him. Such words are often a precursor to foolish and suicidal actions.
“Sieg, Zeon!” Remillard bellows. The beam saber and beam Guandao extended menacingly at the Cour de Leon.
You’ve got to be kidding me, Athena thinks as she sees the Enma coming at her in an apparent kamikaze maneuver.
Athena deftly maneuvers the Cour de Leon away from the killing arc of the Enma’s beam Guandao, then strikes with the Leon’s beam saber, stabbing the Enma straight through its nuclear fusion engine. Armor turns to gelatin, and the heart of the Jupitorius mobile suit begins its ominous acceleration towards death.
As Athena draws the Leon’s beam saber blade out of the Enma’s center, Admiral Hermann’s eyes widen in terror, “Remillard! Hit the Eject mechanism! We can still get out of this!”
Remillard shakes his head, “I didn’t design an escape module into the Enma, Admiral. We’re going to die like warriors. Any man who believes he has to mettle to pilot it should be prepared to die in it.”
“But…!” the admiral protests, then screams as the Enma begins disintegrating around them.
Before he disappears into the harsh light of the nuclear fusion engine’s explosion, Remillard laughs. A warrior’s death – what could be better?
Her enemy defeated, Athena transforms the Cour de Leon to Waverider configuration and vectors away in search of Jolie and Jonah.
Jonah directs his Centurion Gundam Unit-2’s armored hands to grab onto the beam saber-filled hands of Garrett’s Enma, and uses the Gundam’s tremendous strength and surprising speed to jerk the Zeon mobile suit’s weapon upwards, away from the Gundam’s cockpit.
Out of reflex, Garrett activates the beam saber blade, as Jonah had expected he would. The yellow energy blade penetrates through the central core of the Centurion Gundam, extending beyond the corpus of the Federation mobile suit to burn a similar hole through the central cavity of Garrett’s Enma.
“JONAH!!!” Jolie screams in horror, quickly re-boarding her Unit-1.
The yellow beam saber blade passes directly above the cockpit modules of both the Unit-2 and the Enma. The Centurion Gundam’s cockpit is reinforced by an extra shell of armor. Even so, Jonah feels the tremendous heat of the plasma energy stream that passes a mere three meters above his head. He is bathed in a stew of his own perspiration in his normalsuit; the heat is unbearable.
But for Garrett, the experience is much worse.
Garrett curses himself for allowing Remillard’s taunts to goad him into not wearing a normalsuit. It was the ultimate expression of arrogance by mobile suit aces – to trust in their abilities and the durability of their mecha to a degree that they believe that they can go into combat unsheltered from the void.
The Enma was designed by Thomas Remillard to kill, not to protect its occupant. Hence, its internal components cannot endure the incomprehensible heat of a beam saber as well as those of the Centurion Gundam. Above Garrett, metal turns into superheated slag, landing upon him, burning through skin and flesh.
Garrett screams as hot molten metal pours upon him, searing his face, arms, body, and legs.
The Centurion Gundam Unit-2 breaks free of the Enma’s grip; Jonah’s mobile suit is heavily, but not critically damaged. The nuclear fusion engine of the Centurion Gundam is built below, not above the cockpit module. Thus, Jonah’s calculated gamble was one that allowed for survival.
Both Centurion Gundams, Jolie’s and Jonah’s, bring their beam rifles to bear on Garrett’s Enma. JoMi JoMi fire simultaneously, delivering a merciful finish to their gravely wounded enemy.
1Lt. Garrett Lockner’s last thought is directed at the young couple: I’ll see you both in hell…
The Enma disappears in a ball of blinding white light. As it fades from view, Major Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon, in Waverider configuration, appears in the distance.
Athena radios to her two subordinates and friends, “Are you two all right?”
“Yeah, we’re fine,” Jolie answers for herself and Jonah, “but I almost crapped my normalsuit for a minute there. Good thing Jonah is better at using his brains than I am.”
Realizing that Athena expects an explanation or elaboration upon that, Jonah adds, “The enemy held me hostage with its beam saber for a few minutes, ma’am. Then he forced Lieutenant Minh to abandon her mobile suit.”
“You didn’t, did you?” Athena asks Jolie rhetorically.
“Well,” Jolie says sheepishly, “The bastard was going to fry Jonah, and it was too risky to call his bluff, so…”
“Ma’am,” Jonah says, coming to Jolie’s rescue as she came to his, “the lieutenant was just protecting her comrade-at-arms, as is her duty…”
Athena smiles behind her helmet visor, “Relax…I didn’t say you did the wrong thing, Jolie…so just how did you get away, Jonah?”
Jolie answers for her boyfriend, “Oh, man, ‘Thena…you shoulda been here to see it! Jonah pulled off a move so slick even I’m blown away by it!”
“Chief Michaels?” Athena presses.
“Well,” Jonah says, a bit embarrassed, “I basically jerked the enemy’s beam saber emitter up a few meters. When he activated the saber, the beam went straight through the central exhaust vent of the Centurion Gundam, but also burned through what I’m guessing were critical components of the enemy mobile suit. It was enough to disable the enemy MS and stun its pilot long enough for the lieutenant and me to…”
Jonah doesn’t finish, and Athena does not compel him to, having learned as much as she needs.
Sgt. Anna Horowitz’s voice comes through the Cour de Leon’s radio receiver, “Major Ibaz, ma’am. The enemy forces are withdrawing and the Iron Fist is retreating. Should we pursue?”
Athena considers that briefly, then replies, “Negative. Destroying the ship and the personnel aboard it would be pointless slaughter now. We’re moving on to Ceres Base. If the Deimos Zeon are determined to destroy us, let them try in Federation territory.”
So saying, Athena vectors the Cour de Leon in the direction of the Amuro Ray, which has left the 4 Vesta 58 Bunch Spaceport, en rout to the Earth Federation Forces’ Asteroid Belt base Ceres. Upon her orders, Centurion Team follows her to their mothership.
END OF EPISODE 9
Next: EPISODE 10 - MSgt. Karim Abdul-Al Said experiences a homecoming full of revelations as the Centurion Team finds itself in a desperate three-way battle!
EPISODE 10: SOLDIER’S HOMECOMING
“Ceres Command to Amuro Ray,” the voice of a space traffic control technician comes through the Federation space battle carrier’s radio receiver, “follow Course 37 for docking in Bay ZG85.”
“Roger, Ceres Command,” returns Ensign Alice Morin on the bridge of the Amuro Ray, “ship approaching. Will dock in Bay ZG85 as directed.”
In his command chair, Captain Beecher Olech exhales and savors relief from a burden that he has carried for weeks. At last, his ship has reached safe harbor, although Beecher knows that it is just a short interlude before the battles begin again.
Beecher switches on shipwide PA and speaks into the transmitter, “Attention all personnel: this is Captain Beecher on the bridge. We will be docking at Ceres Base shortly. Logistics crews will report to the aft deck to begin loading of supplies. Engineering crews standby to begin repair and maintenance work. Medical personnel…”
In his quarters in the mid-decks section of the ship, MSgt. Karim Abdul Al-Said regards himself in the mirror as he adjusts his dress uniform to ensure that it is absolutely neat and proper. Nothing must be overlooked.
Karim cannot help but smile; perhaps his friends and comrades are correct when they tell him he is too serious and exacting. It is a trait that had carried over from his father, perhaps, and compounded by working under the command of Major Athena Ibaz.
Karim Abdul Al-Said had been that way since he was a boy. He was born at Granada on the moon in U.C. 0077. Karim’s parents were both low-level government officials with the Earth Federation Government. The family fled Granada ahead of the Zeon takeover of the city during the early phases of the One Year War, and lived with relatives at Side 6 during the war before emigrating to the Federation’s new Ceres colonies during the mid-U.C. 0080s. Karim attended high school there, before enlisting in the military in U.C. 0096, but it was then that fourteen-year old Karim met Adanna.
Adanna Paige struck like an arrow through Karim’s core when he first set eyes on her in a World Literature class in ninth grade. Even then, as an adolescent girl, she had been stunningly beautiful, but it was after Karim had resolved to acquaint himself with her that he became enthralled by her intelligence and dignified bearing, uncommon among all people and especially extraordinary in one so young. Perhaps it was Adanna’s influence that had compelled Karim to become sober-minded and dutiful at an early age, but Karim recalls that Adanna had always chided him gently for being “morbid.”
Adanna had always been Karim’s balance, his anchor…and he had served the same role for him. Studying together during high school, they had little trouble attaining high marks even in the most difficult courses, as both had nimble minds and strong work habits. By the time they graduated from high school in U.C. 0095, however, their career pursuits would lead them on separate paths. Karim wanted to join the Earth Federation Forces – to help bring peace and stability to a world that had been besieged by chaos for too long. Adanna shared Karim’s ideals, but not his methods; convinced that peace would not be secured by more war, however benign its intentions, Adanna instead went on to attend Yale University on Earth, majoring in International Diplomacy. Before going their separate ways to pursue their goals, however, Karim had proposed to Adanna, and they agreed to be married after their careers had taken root.
They kept in touch over the years, despite being far apart on Side 7 and on Earth. After completing basic training, Karim enlisted for Special Forces duty and, upon completion of the rigorous training program, was assigned to Captain Rick Tinne’s Centurion Team (which became then-2Lt. Athena Ibaz’s Centurion Team after Captain Tinne lost his life recovering the stolen Gundam-100 prototype, the mobile suit now assigned to 1Lt. Jolie Minh). Adanna, meanwhile, had completed her studies at Yale in three years, earning her Bachelor’s degree in International Diplomacy. She returned home to Ceres Colony six months ago to work with the Earth Federation Government Diplomatic Corps as a junior diplomatic official.
Karim confesses to himself that he feels nervous about meeting his parents and Adanna again after three long years. He has changed in that time, and he is certain they must have changed as well. Will they be at ease with the changes they find in him? Will he be at ease with the changes he finds in them? Karim experiences a sense of foreboding that unsettles him more than the anticipation of combat.
Karim’s mood is still disturbed twenty minutes later when he walks through the launch deck of the Amuro Ray, duffle bag in hand, to board a transport shuttle to Ceres Colony Bunch 21. The Amuro Ray is scheduled to be at Ceres Base for five days, and Athena has given Karim leave to spend two of those days visiting his family at Ceres Colony. Karim is grateful to Athena for having granted him the two-day leave. Although they are unlikely to see combat while at Ceres Base, the Centurion Team is expected to use the time to prepare for the upcoming push into the Jupiter Zone, where the Special Forces would need to grapple with the threat of the Callisto Zeon.
Passing through mobile suit dock area, Karim spots Athena, Jolie, and Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels performing maintenance on their mobile suits. Athena floats down from the Cour de Leon’s cockpit module to see him off.
Karim smiles. In many ways, Athena reminds him of his Adanna, and it goes far beyond the similarity of their given names. Athena has that same piercing intelligence, that same seemingly all-encompassing knowledge, that same strength of conviction, and that same outspoken idealism that Karim had always treasured in his Adanna. To be certain, Athena’s personality is more overtly forceful and militant than Adanna’s (which is only reasonable, Karim surmises, considering that Athena is a career soldier and Adanna, a budding diplomat), but both carry an aura of sober-minded sensibility uncommon to people so young. Karim hopes there will be an opportunity for them to meet.
Athena approaches Karim with a smile, “On your way?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Karim replies with a salute, “I’ll return within forty-eight hours, no later than 06:00 on April 4.”
“At ease, MSgt.,” Athena says, returning the NCO’s salute, “give my best wishes to your parents and your fiancée, and don’t worry about us.”
“Hey, Karim!” Jolie shouts as she floats down from her Centurion Gundam, Jonah alighting beside her, “Wait a minute! I wanna give you something before you leave!”
So saying, Jolie floats out of the mobile suit dock and towards an elevator to a higher deck of the ship, where the Centurion Team’s quarters are.
“I wonder what the Lieutenant has in mind,” Karim remarks.
“That girl is full of surprises,” Jonah says, shrugging, “Who knows what’s going on in that head under all that long black hair?”
“Not enough, most of the time,” Athena comments wryly, “I know she’s still a teenager, but I can’t help wishing that she would sometimes behave less like…a teenager.”
That comment causes both Jonah and Karim to grin in spite of themselves. Athena is only two years older than Jonah, and actually two years younger than Karim, but has the mind of someone twice her age.
“But ma’am,” Jonah observers fairly, “with all due respect, you were technically a teenager yourself until just a few months ago…”
Athena smiles sheepishly, admitting that Jonah has her there, “Don’t remind me. I’m glad I’ve gotten it over with; I might never fully recover from the experience.”
The three Centurion Team members laugh, as Jolie returns to the launch deck. In her hands is a small potted plant with small purple flowers.
Jolie hands the plant to Karim, “I’ve been growing these since before we left Side 7. General Noah’s daughter Chieming sent me some seeds and told me to plant them, saying the plant could keep me company out in space. But I’ve got Jonah now so I don’t really need this plant, so maybe you can give it to your folks and your girlfriend. You know…as a gift from us?”
Karim accepts the plant with a smile, “That’s very thoughtful of you, Lieutenant. Thank you.”
Jolie says, “It’s a roto…rota….ro…”
“Rhododendron,” Athena completes for her, then adds, “They really are beautiful; you did a good job taking care of them, Jolie. My compliments.”
“Well, Jonah here helped,” Jolie admits, “He put it in the pot, he put in the soil, he watered it, he made sure it got enough hours every day under a solar lamp, he…uh, well, basically he took care of it.”
“And yet,” Jonah teases, “you say you don’t need it anymore because you’ve ‘got me’ now. Is that all that I am to you…a potted plant?”
Jolie grins mischievously, “Well, you’re cuter and you move around a little more, but otherwise, yeah…you’re pretty much the same.”
As Jonah wraps Jolie in an embrace, Karim turns to Athena, “Ma’am. I’ll be going now. If anything happens…”
“We’ll contact you on your comlink if it comes to that, MSgt.,” Athena says, “Now stop worrying and have a good time with your family. It’s not a privilege soldiers enjoy every day, and you’ve got to cherish every moment that you get.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Karim salutes once more, “thank you, ma’am.”
His duffle bag and the potted plant in hand, Karim leaves to board a shuttle to transport him to his home space colony.
Athena turns to Jolie and Jonah, “As for you two: you’re on recon patrol this evening, and I expect you to complete maintenance work on your mobile suits by 09:00.”
“Wh…?!” Jolie says, eyes going wide in protest, “that gives us only three hours!”
“More than three times more time than you actually need,” Athena admonishes, “if you focus and don’t fool around.”
“I’ll keep an eye on her, Major,” Jonah says.
“Hey!” Jolie says, “Don’t forget: I outrank you, Chief Michaels!”
Athena floats back towards the Cour de Leon, “Let’s get to work.”
Jolie and Jonah, hand in hand, float towards their mobile suits. Much work is to be accomplished this morning.
Epsiode 10 to be continued...
Episode 10 continued...
A fleet of Zeon warships, launched from the Martian satellite of Deimos, sails through the space outside the Ceres Zone like a cosmic school of hungry sharks stalking prey.
The lead flagship is the Kaiserkraft, the imperial flagship of Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach of the Zeon Imperium of Deimos. Having lost a number of his best officers and war machines in battle against the Earth Federation Special Forces on Mars and at 4 Vesta, the Field Marshal has elected to personally take command of the expedition to punish the Federation for presuming to meddle in Deimos Zeon’s affairs.
Field Marshal Von Bach enters the bridge of the Kaiserkraft, where he is saluted by the bridge crew, including the ship’s commanding officer, Commodore Malcolm Enfire.
“My lord,” Commodore Enfire says, “we are on the fringe of the Federation’s Ceres Zone. Is it your will that we should penetrate its border and take the fight to those Earthist scum?”
“Negative, Commodore,” replies Von Bach, a frighteningly large Teutonic man with one eye covered by a dark eyepatch that covers a scar sustained in battle during the One Year War of his youth, “the Federation is too strongly fortified here. The advantage belongs to them. Our interest lies mainly in tracking that Special Forces unit that destroyed our mining facilities on Mars and killed Admiral Hermann and 1Lt. Lockner at 4 Vesta.”
“My lord,” Commodore Enfire proceeds carefully, “may I have the indulgence of asking a question?”
“Go ahead, Commodore,” Von Bach replies with a rumble in his voice.
Enfire responds with a bow, “Thank you, my lord. Could you please enlighten me on the logic behind focusing our military might on a single Special Forces unit? Alexander Miguel…”
“It is precisely because of Alex Miguel that I’ve taken such direct and immediate interest in this matter,” Von Bach says, “Recall how on Mars, we were within reach of eliminating the enemy when the Phobos Forces intervened, saving the Federal Forces from our counterattack.”
“We are the Miguel’s most significant enemy in the Mars Zone,” Enfire observes, “striking at us would come naturally to him.”
“He might be our mortal enemy,” Von Bach says, “but Alex Miguel is also a Zeon. That he would side with the Earth Federation, even to attack us, is a worrisome thought. He hates those Earthists as passionately as we do. Only something extraordinary would compel him to assist the Federal Forces…”
“My lord, then is our objective to probe the Federal Forces to learn what Miguel is up to?” Enfire offers.
“Specifically, that Special Forces unit that attacked us on Mars and killed our troops at 4 Vesta,” Von Bach replies, “Attacking the Federation’s largest, most well fortified base in the Asteroid Belt is a fool’s tactic, so we will wait.”
“Ambush, my lord?” Enfire queries.
“Ambush, Commodore,” Field Marshal Von Bach confirms.
From the side of the Asteroid Belt more proximate to Jupiter, a second Zeon fleet approaches the Ceres Zone. Five warships, including a space battleship, two battlecarriers, and two destroyers, approach the outer edge of the Ceres Zone.
The fleet is headed by Vice Admiral Vernon Lindquist, one of the finest space naval officers serving Governess Lara Constantinas, the self-declared sovereign of the Callisto Zeon Protectorate, which has, during the past five years, come to dominate the settlements of Jupiter Space. Callisto Zeon has taken over the hydrogen mining operations of space pioneers that first established themselves on Jupiter in the early U.C. 0080s, and now have access to the largest supply of valuable hydrogen gas (needed for the nuclear fusion engines that power space colonies, spacecraft, and mobile suits), but for solid ores, Callisto Zeon is dependent on the resources of the Asteroid Belt and Mars.
Word was received at Callisto Colony that the Federal Forces had destroyed Deimos Zeon and Phobos Zeon’s ore mining facilities on Mars, and were headed in the direction of Jupiter Space via the Federation’s Ceres Base in the Asteroid Belt. Although that blow to two of Callisto Zeon’s rivals is well-received by Governess Constantinas, she is not as sanguine about the loss of those facilities, which she had long coveted for Callisto Zeon’s own use. More troubling to the governess, however, is the intervention of the Earth Federation Forces into the internecine strife within the Archduchy of Zeon. For five years now, the Callisto Zeon has struggled against its rival factions of Deimos, Phobos, Jupitorius, and Titan. Konrad Von Bach, Alexander Miguel, Hadrian Reglas, Napoleon Spector, and Lara Constantinas each views himself or herself as the true heir of the Zabi Family, and each is determined to sit upon the Zeon throne or perish in the endeavor.
Until recently, however, this had always been a Zeon conflict – a struggle for the very soul of Zeon itself. The intervention of the Federation was unanticipated, and in Governess Constantinas’ view, repugnant. She had planned to deal with those Earthist swine soon enough, after she had consolidated the power of Zeon in her grasp, but at present, the Earth Federation’s meddling into Zeon affairs is an affront that must not go unchallenged.
Thus, Governess Constantinas has dispatched Vice Admiral Lindquist, one of her finest space naval officers, and his fleet to the Asteroid Belt to probe further into the Federation’s sudden intervention in the Neo Zeon Civil War, and perhaps take steps towards discouraging the Federation from further meddling in Zeon’s affairs. It is a daunting challenge for the Callisto Zeon Forces, possibly provoking a firefight with the Earth Federation Forces while simultaneously fending off Callisto’s own Zeon rivals, but Governess Constantinas trusts in the abilities of Vice Admiral Lindquist and his fleet, especially as they are bolstered by the Callisto Newtype Mobile Suit Corps – an elite unit of twelve Newtypes piloting advanced mobile suits that would easily smash through any enemy.
On the bridge of his flagship, the Lord Jinba Ral, Vice-Admiral Lindquist observes impassively as the Earth Federation Forces’ Ceres Base comes into view on his ship’s long-range monitors.
Lindquist relays a message to the battle carrier Vesper, “This is Vice-Admiral Lindquist to the Callisto Newtype Mobile Suit Corps: ladies and gentlemen, stand by your mobile suits.”
The twelve Newtypes comprising the Callisto Newtype Mobile Suit Corps, young soldiers ranging from ages sixteen to twenty-six, board their mobile suits…each uniquely designed and engineer to meet its pilot’s temperaments and talents. Although none of the Callisto Newtype Corps members is related to the others by blood, they have, during the two years they have trained and gone into combat together, grown into a tightly knit family.
For family, and for Zeon, the twelve youths, blessed with awesome PSI-energies, cursed to use them in combat, are as one…one against the enemies of Callisto Zeon.
MSgt. Karim Abdul-Al Said debarks from the shuttle that has brought him home to Ceres Colony Bunch 21, where he had grown to manhood. Greeting Karim are his father, Shareef, his mother, Safa, and Adanna, Karim’s accomplished and comely bride-to-be.
Karim smiles broadly as his eyes fall upon their equally ebullient grins, and he approaches his parents and future wife with a peace of mind that is pleasant beyond description.
“Father…Mother…Adanna…” Karim says tentatively.
The large Centurion Team gunnery sergeant’s family embraces their soldier lovingly, welcoming him home at last.
“Karim, my son,” Shareef Abdul-Al Said says in a quavering voice, “your mother and I…and Adanna, we’ve missed you deeply.”
“Mother,” Karim says, taking his other parent into his arms.
“My boy,” Safa says, “every night, I have prayed to Allah to keep you safe in battle.”
Karim looks towards his fiancée, her beautiful visage filling his eyes, “Adanna, my dear…it is so good to see you again.”
“Yes, Karim,” Adanna replies with a radiant smile, “I pride myself on my eloquence, but now…I am at a loss for what to say.”
“There will be time during the next two days to find the right words,” Karim says, “and perhaps, some things need not be communicated through words.”
So saying, MSgt. Al-Said and his family head towards their home in the suburbs of Bunch 21’s New Tripoli City.
Episode 10 to be continued...
Episode 10 continued...
Admiral David Szeto is the highest-ranking officer of the Earth Federation Forces’ Ceres Commmand. As such, Admiral Szeto has authority over essentially the entire Earth Federation military apparatus in the Asteroid Belt. Although nominally, he takes his orders either directly from the Federation Security Council and the Federation President on Earth, or via General Bright Noah or General Manron Blackhead, the distance between Ceres and Cislunar Space is such that much of the time, Szeto and Ceres Command effectively operate autonomously.
Fortunately for the Earth Federation, David Szeto is among the most loyal, competent, and courageous military leaders in its ranks (meaning that he is an exception), handpicked by General Noah to serve as the head of Ceres Command. Under his guidance, Ceres Command has become the Federation’s lone bulwark in the Asteroid Belt. Equipped with 200 capital vessels and 1,200 mobile suits, Ceres Command represents the Federation’s largest military presence outside of Cislunar Space.
“Admiral Szeto,” a tactical information tech says, “Sir, our early warning security systems detect two unidentified fleets, possibly Zeon, just outside our perimeter.”
“Size, disposition, and precise location, Lieutenant?” the admiral requests.
“Working on that sir,” the tech replies, “two groups coming from two different directions. At least twelve warships between them, including four battle carriers. One is two-zero-niner our location, and the other is three-eight.”
“Send out a patrol squadron,” Admiral Szeto tells the tech, “order them to survey, not engage unless they’re attacked first.”
“Right away, sir,” the tech replies, sending the message.
Aboard the Amuro Ray, currently docked inside Ceres Fortress, Jolie, Jonah, and Athena hear the klaxons sounding “yellow alert” for the base.
“..th’ hell?” Jolie says, pulling off the protective goggles she wore to protect her eyes as she performed some welding work on her Centurion Gundam, “No way we’re under attack here!”
“It’s a precautionary signal,” Athena says, floating down next to Jolie, “we might be in for some unfriendly visitors shortly.”
So saying, Athena opens her comlink to all the troops of her Centurion Team and the other Special Forces personnel aboard their respective motherships, “This is Major Ibaz. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the yellow alert signal from Ceres Command. Go to standby status.”
“Major Ibaz,” Jonah asks, “do you really think the enemy would attack us here…at Ceres Base?”
Athena looks soberly at Jonah, her gaze boring through him, “That’s the mentality of the Zeon soldier, Chief Michaels. In their military culture, fighting against hopeless odds is considered the highest honor. It’d be admirable if it weren’t so destructive.”
“Attacking Ceres would be stupid, though,” Jolie comments, “it’s the Federation’s best defended base in the Asteroid Belt!”
“’Best defended’ doesn’t mean impenetrable,” Athena amends, “I want you two to get your Centurion Gundam units battle-prepped immediately. We might be ordered to support the regular forces.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jolie and Jonah salute Athena in unison before rushing off to their assigned tasks.
As she heads towards the Cour de Leon to do the same, Athena cannot help but smile to herself, Those two are finally starting to get it together as officers.
Athena then spares a thought for her team’s ranking NCO, MSgt. Karim Abdul-Al Said, now with his family and fiancée at Ceres Colony’s New Tripoli City, Hope you’ll get to sit this one out, sergeant.
At that moment, unaware of the events coming into play at Ceres Command, Karim sits in the living room of his father’s house, regaling his parents and Adanna with stories of his adventures with the Centurion Team – for their sensibilities downplaying the danger he faces during each battle.
“It was really sweet of your executive officer to give us this plant,” Karim’s mother, Safa, tells her son, studying the rhododendron that Jolie had insisted on Karim bringing to his family, “but did she tell you how to care for it?”
“Mother, I doubt 1Lt. Minh knows any better than the rest of us do about how to care for that plant,” Karim says.
To that, Karim receives knowing smiles from his parents and Adanna; he has described at length each of his Centurion Team comrades-at-arms to his family, and none of them can picture the mercurial 1Lt. Jolie Minh as a gardener.
Adanna is most curious, however, about Karim’s commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, “Your commanding officer sounds like an extraordinary woman. You say she joined the Officer’s Academy at age fifteen?”
“And graduated at age eighteen,” Karim adds, “which is the age that most officers begin their academy training. She leapfrogged most of her graduating class by four years, and had by far the highest scores in nearly every area of the training regimen. Many of her scores stand as the record for the highest ever achieved, some of them unmatched even by the academy instructors!”
“But is she pretty?” Adanna smiles slyly.
“Very much so,” Karim nods honestly, then hastens to add, “but I would not compare her to you, my dear.”
Adanna laughs, “You’re a wise man, Karim Abdul Al-Said.”
“I must be,” Karim grins, “I picked you to be my bride.”
Karim’s parents smile, then Shareef, Karim’s father, remarks, “Karim, when you return to your unit, you must pass on our gratitude to your commanding officer, Major Ibaz, for keeping you safe.”
“I will, Father,” Karim says, “but for now, let’s not dwell on the military. For the next two days, at least, I’d like to live as civilian again.”
With that, Karim’s family turns their collective attention towards the preparation of the evening meal.
Three Magellan III class Federation space frigates, accompanied by twelve RGM-99 GM-V mobile suits, cross the Ceres Zone perimeter into space disputed by the various factions of Zeon.
Commodore Santiago Borgnine of the Earth Federation Asteroid Belt Fleet’s Magellan-III class frigate Black Dreadnought hails the approaching Zeon fleet.
“Attention unallied fleet,” Commodore Borgnine announces, “You are about to enter Earth Federation space. Please verify your authorization to cross the perimeter, or turn your fleet around.”
The unallied ships respond only by continuing their advance.
Commodore Borgnine makes a second attempt at contact, “Attention: you must respond, or you will be fired upon by the Earth Federation Forces.”
No response; the ships continue to bear down on the perimeter.
“Go to combat status,” Commodore Borgnine commands.
1Lt. Sinjin Halsey, commanding officer of the 85th Mobile Suit Squadron (nicknamed “Blue Knights”) of the Asteroid Belt Fleet, orders his GM-IV squadron to assume battle formation.
Aboard the Kaiserkraft, Commodore Enfire reports to Field Marshal Von Bach, “My lord: the Federation is responding with force.”
Von Bach, in his command chair, nods, “The Earthists are more emboldened here, near one of their military hardpoints. The truth, however, is that they are weak here so far from Earth’s gravity. We’ll show them the power of Spacenoids. Deploy the Von Bach Corps!”
The Von Bach Corps: eighteen of the deadliest mobile suit pilots to fight under a Zeon banner, each a veteran of either the One Year War or the Neo Zeon Wars.
Commander Ricardo Peron, the leader of the Von Bach Corps, a tall, powerful, ruggedly handsome man of thirty-six, boards his VBS-70S Officer’s Raker mobile suit (a descendent of the One Year War era Zeon mobile suit MS-07 Gouf adapted for space combat). He issues orders to his men, crafted in production model Rakers, “Attention VB Corps: this is Commander Peron. Let’s move out! Your target is the approaching Federal Forces’ fleet and their mobile suits. You know the drill, men: no prisoners!”
The Von Bach Corps gives a bloodthirsty cry of affirmation, and launch their mobile suits.
The Blue Knights approach the oncoming Deimos Zeon fleet.
“Target the flagship,” 1Lt. Halsey orders his troops.
The GM-Vs lock their targeting systems on the Kaiserkraft.
“Commence firing!” Halsey bellows.
Dozens of missiles tear forward from the launch tubes of the GM-Vs’ shoulder and leg-mounted missile nacelles. The missiles corkscrew towards the flagship of the Deimos Zeon fleet.
The missiles converge on the flagship, but all of them detonate hundreds of meters short of their intended, caught in a seamless web of beam fire.
The explosions vanish, leaving the eerie silence and stillness of space.
Then from the blackness, equally ebony forms lance forth, erupting with beam fire and slashes.
A GM-V pilot screams in shock, then in instant death has his mobile suit is immolated by a quick beam rifle strike. A second GM-V is downed by a beam katana slash. A third is felled by missile fire.
“Defensive formation! Return fire!” 1Lt. Halsey orders.
Halsey’s spirited commands, however, are of little help to his mobile suit squadron. One by one, in startlingly swift succession, his Blue Knights are eliminated. Well trained, but having not seen actual combat, the Federal Forces mobile suit pilots are woefully overmatched by the veterans of the Von Bach Corps, and are dispatched with terrifying ease.
“This is 1Lt Halsey to Commodore Borgnine!” the leader of the Blue Knights calls out in terror, “Sir, please send us support! We’re overwhe…AGGGHH!!!”
Halsey’s death scream fills the bridge of the Black Dreadnought, chilling the spines of the ship’s bridge crew.
“Send in the second flight of Blue Knights!” Commodore Borgnine orders, then contacts Ceres Command.
“This is Commodore Borgnine to Ceres Command!” Borgnine snarls out harshly, “Tell Admiral Szeto that we’re under heavy fire! We need reinforcements!”
“Reinforcements” is the last word that Borgnine gets out before his body is rent to molecules by a tremendous explosion. The silent remains of his ship drift aimlessly in the blackness of space.
At Ceres Command, Admiral Szeto comes to a decision.
“Deploy the Special Forces!” Szeto orders, “Contact Major Ibaz: I want the Centurion, Mercury, and Tycho Teams out there NOW!”
Episode 10 to be continued...
Not a big fan of war stories Ken but good writing here! I do like the Jolie Minh character you created because I keep picturing her as Joey Meng! I guess that was the idea huh?
Episode 10 continued...
Athena sends out the emergency sortie signal to all Special Forces’ MS pilots, even as she leaps, normalsuited, into the cockpit of her Cour de Leon.
Nearby, Jolie and Jonah also board their Centurion Gundams. The remaining Special Forces pilots take to their mobile suits as well.
Athena opens communications to her subordinates, “This is Centurion Leader to all Special Forces units: we’re deploying out to the Ceres perimeter to support the regular forces against enemy Zeon units. Our objectives are to rescue our allies and destroy the enemy. Let’s move out.”
Athena is conscious, however, that her team is one man and one mobile suit short: MSgt. Karim Abdul-Al Said and his RGC-770 Guncannon 100. The gunnery sergeant’s granite reliability is missed more than the firepower of his mobile suit. Other than Athena herself, MSgt. Al-Said is the most levelheaded and dependable member of the Centurion Team, and although Jolie and Jonah outrank him as officers, Karim is the solid rock through which Athena ensures that her commands are executed down the rank and file.
At least he’ll be spared this rat race, Athena thinks to herself, trying to take some consolation from her master sergeant’s absence, one less member of the family I need to worry about getting killed out there today.
The Centurion, Mercury, and Tycho Teams – twenty-four mobile suits among them – sortie into the blackness of space, ready to combat the Zeon…to wrestle with fate.
Not far away, yet a world removed from the violence unfolding outside the Ceres perimeter, Karim and Adanna share an after-dinner stroll through the neighborhood – a simple pleasure that they have not shared together in over three years.
“So how is your work with the Diplomatic Corps?” Karim asks his fiancée, “Is it everything that you hoped it would be?”
“Actually, it’s quite frustrating most of the time,” Adanna admits, “the bureaucrats that govern the Federation are, for the most part, short-sighted. Most of them can’t see beyond getting reelected, and few demonstrate a long-term commitment to peace.”
“Peace…,” Karim whispers, almost to himself. More fragile than the web of a spider, but maintained only through power great enough to incinerate entire worlds.
“What about you?” Adanna asks, “Your commission expires after next year. Do you plan on continuing to serve in the Special Forces? I remember you saying before you left for basic training that you were planning to serve out your four-year commission, then go on to college for a civil engineering degree.”
“I…” Karim begins, uncertain how to begin…or perhaps uncertain how to finish. That had indeed been his original plan three years ago, but much had changed since then. Serving in the Centurion Team under Major Ibaz’s command had opened his eyes to a great many perspectives he had never previously considered. The vastness of the cosmos is host to much great evil…evil that will consume all in its path unless met by courage and strength. Karim cannot turn his back to that challenge, not even for…
“I know what we promised each other when we parted ways three years ago,” Karim finally says, “but during these three years, I have…experienced a number of changes. It’s very difficult to explain.”
Adanna takes Karim’s hand in her own, looking at him with earnest eyes of understanding and honesty, “I know. I’ve gone through a number of changes myself during the past three years. Clearly, our plans will require some adjustment, but they will not be abandoned.”
“They will not be abandoned,” Karim agrees, “we will still have that family we promised each other.”
The couple embraces, knowing that their objective is a shared one, even if their methods differ.
Outside the Ceres perimeter, the massacre continues.
The Earth Federation Forces have already lost two dozen mobile suits and three capital ships. The Von Bach Corps eats through the ranks of the Federal Forces like a flock of falcons through a herd of rabbits.
Sergeant Bluthner Kelsing of the Von Bach Corps, known as “Deadeye” among his comrades, is the best marksman in the Corps. So accurate is his shot that legend has it that he once skeeted a bypassing comet from space with the beam rifle of his mobile suit. Whether or not Kelsing ever actually accomplished such an incredible feat is immaterial; people are willing to believe that he did.
Kelsing takes aim at the smoking wreckage of a heavily damaged GM-V mobile suit, its pilot wounded, but still living, struggling to free himself from his disintegrated mobile suit.
Always one to complete his duty, but never one to prolong enemy suffering, Deadeye Kelsing takes aim at the GM-V.
Kelsing’s Raker disappears in a sudden flash of light…his focus on his aim the last thought he takes with him into eternity.
The White Phoenix has claimed her latest victim.
“Deadeye!” Commander Peron hollers, caught off-guard by the sudden loss of his comrade and subordinate.
All around, the aggressor Von Bach Corps suddenly finds itself on the defensive, as they are assailed on all sides by newly arrived Earth Federation Forces mobile suits.
The Special Forces have arrived – Centurion, Mercury, and Tycho Teams, under the collective command of Major Athena Ibaz.
“Pincer formation,” Athena orders the squads, “grab hold and push ‘em back from the perimeter!”
A second Raker moves in to avenge its fallen comrade, bearing down on 1Lt. Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam Unit-1 with its beam katana raised high.
Jolie reacts with microsecond reflexes, almost casually dodging the vicious strike, and countering with an artful slash that cleaves the Raker in two.
No sooner does the second Raker disappear in an explosive flash of energy than does a third Raker appear, firing a flood of missiles at the Centurion Gundam.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels is ready for it, maneuvering in front of Jolie’s Unit-1 with his Centurion Gundam Unit-2, blasting at the incoming missile fire with his beam rifle, setting off a chain reaction of explosions at eliminate the projectiles before they can reach their target.
Returning the favor, Jolie leapfrogs the Unit-1 back in front of the Unit-2 and uses her beam rifle to immolate the attacking Von Bach Corps mobile suit with a single shot of her beam rifle.
Commander Peron gapes in alarm at how quickly his Von Bach Corps is being taken down. This newly arrived wave of Federal Forces mobile suits is an entirely different specie from the slow, fat targets that he and his men had feasted on mere moments earlier.
They strike so quickly, and with such precision…moreover, they fight fiercely, fearlessly…so unlike Feddie soldiers. Could this be the Centurion Special Operations Team that defeated Hermann and Lockner on Mars and at 4 Vesta? Could that be the Federal Forces’ celebrated ace, the White Phoenix?
But Peron and his men have not become the most fearsome mobile suit squadron in the Deimos Zeon Imperium Forces by being unwilling or incapable of confronting adversity.
“Come on, damn you!” Peron exhorts his remaining troops, “We are the VON BACH CORPS! We do not recoil from fear, we only inspire it!”
Their leader’s bold assertion rallies the Von Bach Corps, which regroups and launches a vicious counterattack against the Special Forces, pushing the Federation mobile suit squads back on their heels.
Major Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon, in Waverider configuration, barely twists out of the path of an incoming barrage of missiles before converting to mobile suit configuration and blasting away the Raker that issued the barrage with the Leon’s beam rifle.
“Use extreme caution,” Athena commands tersely, “this enemy is extremely dangerous!”
As if to confirm that point, Athena barely dodges a heavy salvo of beam rifle shots from Commander Peron’s Officer’s Raker. Athena draws the Leon back mere meters and milliseconds from shots that would have been lethal.
Athena counterfires with the Cour de Leon’s own beam rifle; the Federal Forces’ top markswoman does not miss, but her shot is deflected by the lead Raker’s swiftly raised antibeam arm-mounted shield.
The Officer’s Raker charges at the Cour de Leon with its beam katana fully extended, bearing down swiftly, brutally on the Leon’s cockpit.
Athena vectors the Leon backwards from the advancing tip of Minovsky-particle charged energy, the blinding light of the beam sword fills her forward monitor screen; she can almost feel the blade’s heat in the cockpit of her mobile suit.
The Cour de Leon draws its beam saber from its backpack weapons nacelle. A crimson red stream of beam energy lances forth to meet the Raker’s yellow blade.
With an explosive electrical crackle, the duel is on.
Strike. Parry. Feint. Slash. Dodge. The commanding officers of the Von Bach Corps and the Centurion Team struggle for their lives, for the governments they serve, for their principles…perhaps all in vain, but they have no choice but to surrender to the battle. It has become much greater than either of them, engulfing them entirely, body and mind.
Aboard the Kaiserkraft, Commodore Enfire informs Field Marshal Von Bach, “My lord, the VB Corps has taken casualties and is encountering fierce resistance from the second wave of Federal Forces defenders. Four units have already been lost.”
Von Bach grumbles angrily. Never has his eponymous elite mobile suit corps been so embattled. The Federation clearly has formidable resources that it has only now tapped.
But Field Marshal Von Bach devises a strategy through which he knows he can attain victory.
The Field Marshal points in the direction of the Ceres Colony – civilian residential and industrial habitats that service the military hub.
“There,” Von Bach indicates, “instruct the VB Corps to bring the fight into that colony. Let’s see how rough the Feddies are willing to play when civilians are brought into the fray.”
Episode 10 to be continued...
Episode 10 continued...
Commander Peron is in a stalemate of a duel against Major Athena Ibaz when he receives the order from Commodore Enfire.
Peron smiles darkly as he recognizes the cruel cunning of the Field Marshal’s orders.
“All Von Bach Units, attention!” Peron broadcasts to his troops, “Break off combat! We’ll be attacking the Federation’s space colonies!”
With a bloodthirsty, lupine howl, the remaining Von Bach troops acknowledge their commander’s orders, disengaging from their struggle against the Special Forces and bearing down upon the Ceres Colony!
Jolie contacts Athena on the tactical net, “’Thena! Hey! These bastards are headed towards Ceres Colony! Millions of people live there! And Karim’s there too!”
“Don’t worry,” Athena says evenly, with eerie serenity, “I anticipated that the enemy would make a move like this, and I’ve taken precautions.”
“What do you mean, ma’am?” Jonah asks.
“The Titanium Line will stop them,” Athena says cryptically.
“The Titanium Line?” Jolie and Jonah echo.
Athena says nothing more, changing the Cour de Leon back to Waverider mode and jetting in the direction of the Ceres Colony.
The Centurion Gundams and Jegan-S mobile suits of the Special Forces follow, curiously minus their Guncannon-100 support units.
The VB Corps mobile suits descend towards the Ceres Colony with vicious anticipation. They have lost three of their brothers to Feddie troops, and they want the blood of Earthist civilians in retribution.
The Earth Federation Space Battlecarrier Amuro Ray rises into view, flanked by a dozen RX-770 Guncannon 100 mobile suits. The ship and the mobile suits’ heavy cannon are aimed at the incoming VB Corps.
“Open fire!” Captain Beecher Olech orders from the bridge of the Amuro Ray, “Don’t let them penetrate into Ceres Colony!”
The VB Corps’ relentless advance is met with a storm of beam and shell fire.
Major Athena Ibaz’s “Titanium Line,” devised for just such a situation.
The Amuro Ray and the Guncannons hurl thunder into the cosmos, immolating one VB Corps mobile suit after another. The fire is thick and heavy.
But not impregnable.
2Lt. Rudy Garafendi’s Raker succeeds in striking FSgt. Tomo Higashi’s Guncannon-100, tearing off the Federation artillery mobile suit’s arm and shoulder mounted cannon.
FSgt. Higashi cries out in pain as shrapnel from the explosion digs into his side, burning his skin.
“Tomo!” his partner, Cpl. Nick Van Dyck calls out in alarm as Garafendi’s Raker slams shoulder-first into Tomo’s damaged Guncannon-100, determined to take the Federal Forces MS into Ceres Colony with it.
In his moment of distraction borne of concern for his comrade, Nick allows a second Raker to penetrate through his defensive zone.
Nick takes aim at the Raker with his beam rifle, but the Raker pilot is faster, shooting the weapon out of the hand of the Guncannon-100.
Aboard the disappearing Raker, 2Lt. Val Reinsdorf grins, “I’m through!”
Nick contacts Athena immediately, “Major Ibaz, ma’am! Two enemy units have broken through the Titanium Line! FSgt. Higashi’s unit has been damaged and seized by the enemy! They’re going to penetrate Ceres Colony!”
“Damn!” Athena curses, hitting the Cour de Leon’s after burners, “Jolie! Jonah! Come with me!”
“Yes, ma’am!” Jolie and Jonah respond as one, following determinedly after their commanding officer.
Inside Ceres Colony Bunch 21, the citizens of New Tripoli City hurriedly make their way towards the colony’s reinforced shelters.
MSgt. Karim Abdul-Al Said assists his parents into Adanna Paige’s waiting automobile, Adanna at the wheel.
Karim says to his fiancée, “Adanna, go with my parents to the shelters and wait there. Do not be afraid. My comrades and I will protect you!”
“Karim,” Adanna says, “You must come with us. You can’t reach your comrades now. You’ll only become a target out there!”
“Do not argue with me, Adanna,” Karim says, more harshly than he intended. Regretting his tone, Karim says more gently, “I’m sorry. Adanna, please. I am a soldier. I must stand by my comrades, no matter how dangerous it is. I must protect all of you, as is my duty.”
Adanna nods, “Allah protect you, my love.”
Karim smiles, “And you, my sweetest.”
Adanna drives her coupe down the abandoned avenue towards the shelter.
Then, it happens.
2Lt. Rudy Garafendi’s Raker crashes through the external shell of Colony New Tripoli, carrying the damaged, spark- and smoke-spewing Guncannon-100 of FSgt. Tomo Higashi in its grasp. Garafendi smashes the heavy, sixty-ton Federal Forces mobile suit onto pavement of Colony New Tripoli’s city streets.
Heavy glass and metal debris rains down around Adanna’s car. Only Adanna’s skillful driving enables her and Shareef and Safa to avoid doom.
The vibration of the crashing mobile suits causes the car to spin towards a mound of debris; Adanna steers desperately away from it, avoiding collision by centimeters.
“Adanna! Mother! Father!” Karim screams from a quarter kilometer away, running towards the car bearing the three people he loves most.
Adanna turns around, “Are you all right, Shareef? Safa?”
Karim’s parents, frightened, but intact, reply, “We’re fine,”
Heedless of his own safety, Karim runs towards where Adanna’s coupe has stalled on the street. Then, turning his attention to the mobile suits for the first time, he notices that the Federation Guncannon-100 lying damaged on the street is none other than the unit assigned to his good friend, FSgt. Tomo Higashi.
A second Raker crashes into the space colony, landing on the street fewer than one hundred meters away.
Karim draws his sidearm, useless as it is, and points it at the two enemy mobile suits. He would not permit these invaders to kill him or his family, or any member of this community, without a struggle, no matter how vain.
The roar of engines alerts Karim to the arrival of more mobile suits. Spotting them, Karim smiles.
1Lt. Jolie Minh’s Centurion Gundam Unit-1 tears into Space Colony New Tripoli like an angry knight, its chivalric sensibilities immitigably offended by the prospect of innocents being threatened or harmed. The Centurion Gundam’s might armored hands grab hold of Garafendi’s Raker, lifting it off the street away from Tomo’s Guncannon-100, dragging the Zeon mobile suit along unoccupied parkland, finally dunking its head into a manmade lake.
As this is occurring, Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels’ Centurion Gundam Unit-2 dropkicks the second Raker operated by 2Lt. Val Reinsdorf. Unwilling to risk using any weaponry and harming civilians, Jonah eschews his mobile suit’s beam and projectile weapons, choosing instead to wrestle Reinsdorf’s Raker to the ground.
Major Athena Ibaz’s Cour de Leon appears in the skies of Space Colony New Tripoli, quickly sealing the cavities caused by the Rakers’ forced entry with the Leon’s adhesive sealant, dispensed from the nacelles behind the mobile suit’s fingers. Precious oxygen stops leaking out of the colony, and air pressure begins to stabilize.
Like Jonah, Jolie is aware that she cannot use her Centurion Gundam’s weapons safely within the space colony, but nevertheless, Jolie is able to neutralize the enemy quickly.
Long an expert martial artist, Jolie knows exactly what points on the human body are most vulnerable to quick, hard strikes that will snap tendons, cartilage, and bone in a manner that will paralyze the victim. A mobile suit is built along the lines of human anatomy, substituting gears and superstructure for cartilage and bone.
The Centurion Gundam viciously chops at the Raker’s neck, shoulders, elbows, and knees, breaking each of these components with powerful strikes from its armored hands, driven by the most powerful nuclear fusion engine ever mounted on a mobile suit to date. Garafendi’s Raker is immobilized.
Jolie looks up at her forward monitor to see Jonah’s Centurion Gundam a half kilometer away, struggling in a wrestling match against the second Raker. Jonah’s mobile suit gives him the advantage of raw power, but the enemy has the edge in grappling skill and sheer ferocity. Jolie senses the tide turning against her boyfriend.
Jolie’s fears are confirmed as she sees Reinsdorf’s Raker draw out its beam katana, undoubtedly to stab it through the Unit-2’s cockpit module…
With the almost superhuman speed that she has become known for, Jolie draws the Unit-1’s beam saber, extends it to its shortest length (approximately twenty percent of its full possible length) so that it takes the form of a beam dagger.
From the time that mobile suits were first introduced as war machines in the mid U.C. 0070s, engineers have endeavored to enable these anthropomorphic engines of destruction to move with as close an approximation of the fluidity and flexibility of the human anatomy as possible. In each new generation of mobile suit design, the engineers have come increasingly closer to realizing this objective: the current generation of MS is the most dexterous and refined yet, but few would believe that a mobile suit would ever be capable of such subtle and exacting movements such as the flick of a tennis player’s wrist, the suppleness of a gymnast’s waist, or the hand-eye coordination of a dagger thrower. Nor could any human pilot coax such precision out of a machine.
1Lt. Jolie Minh and the Centurion Gundam, however, explode such assumptions as readily as they explode enemy mobile suits.
In less time than it takes to imagine the act, Jolie directs her Centurion Gundam to lift, aim, and hurl its beam dagger directly at the back of 2Lt. Val Reinsdorf’s Raker.
The dagger soars straight and true, penetrates through the back of the Raker’s armor, and lodges within its chest cavity. The Zeon mobile suit releases its grip on Jonah’s Unit-2 and begins to collapse from within, multiple internal components self-destructing, rendering the Raker immobile and harmless.
Athena, having sealed the breaches in the colony’s shell, lands the Cour de Leon on the streets of New Tripoli City. Like Jonah, and scores of civilians who witnessed the feat, she gapes at Jolie and the Centurion Gundam Unit-1, scarcely able to believe her eyes.
The White Phoenix has performed another miracle.
“If I hadn’t found you at Industria,” Athena remarks with a grin, “What would you have ended up becoming?”
Jolie stretches in the cockpit of the Unit-1, yawning before answering, “I’d probably have joined the circus. You OK, Jonah?”
Jonah responds by directing his Unit-2 in a “thumbs up” gesture, “Fine, thanks to you, as always.”
Athena opens the comlink channel to FSgt. Tomo Higashi’s fallen Guncannon-100, “Tomo? Are you all right over there?”
Tomo’s voice is strained, but comes through, “I’m…all right. I took some shrapnel, but I should be OK. Karim’s running my way now…”
“Roger,” Athena replies, “Stay where you are. I’ve contacted a rescue recovery unit with medics. Let them take care of you.”
“Roger that, ma’am…ow!” comes Tomo’s reply.
Karim opens the cockpit hatch of Tomo’s Guncannon-100 just as Tomo finishes his message to Athena.
“Tomo!” Karim says, seeing his gunnery partner wounded, “Are your injuries serious?”
Tomo replies, “They hurt like hell, but I think I’m going to live. Major Ibaz...has sent out a rescue-recovery team for me…ow!”
“Say no more,” Karim says, pulling out the mobile suit’s emergency first-aid bin from under the pilot seat, “I will tend to your injuries until the medics arrive.”
“Thanks, Karim,” Tomo winces as Karim cuts away the burned portions of his normalsuit that cover his wounds.
“I should thank you,” Karim says, “and the rest of the team. Had you not come, Allah knows what might have become of my family.”
“This was supposed to have been your day off, buddy,” Tomo says as Karim washes his wounds with antiseptic fluid, “sorry we ruined it for you by not holding the line.”
“I should apologize,” Karim returns, shaking his head, “for not holding the line with the rest of you. Perhaps I could have prevented your injury.”
“What kind of talk is that, Master Sergeant?” Tomo says as Karim begins to apply bandage gauze, “brothers-at-arm are ready to bleed for each other, remember?”
Karim sighs, “I am grateful to have such brothers…but perhaps Adanna is right. We must work for the day when no one need bleed anymore.”
And on Adanna, Karim needs not worry about her and his parents for the moment. During the confusion of the combat between the Centurion Team and the Von Bach Corps, she had managed to restart her car and drive to the nearest shelter. She and the senior Al-Saids would be as safe as possible, under the circumstances, until the combat is done.
What day will that be, Karim wonders, when the combat is truly done?
Episode 10 to be continued!
Episode 10 conclusion
Combat continues outside the Ceres Colony, as the remaining forces of the Von Bach Corps struggle fiercely against the Earth Federation Special Forces.
Aboard the Kaiserkraft, Field Marshal Konrad Von Bach sees the battle going poorly for his vaunted Von Bach Corps, and issues a new order to Commodore Enfire, “Commodore, send out reinforcements to support the Von Bach Corps!”
“Yes, my lor…AWWP!”
The Kaiserkraft is rocked by a barrage of incoming fire that just barely misses the ship.
“Federation reinforcements?!” Von Bach demands.
“No, my lord: look!” Enfire indicates the forward screen.
Von Bach’s eyes widen with outrage.
The Callisto Zeon Forces have arrived, and the balance of the battle, always unstable, shifts once again…
The vanguard of the Callisto Zeon Forces is the Callisto Newtype MS Corps, sometimes called the “Family of Twelve.” Led by “Big Brother” Captain Renaldo Desmond, the other eleven “brothers” and “sisters” of the Family represent the pinnacle of Callisto Zeon’s Newtype Development and Training Program.
Using not his mobile suit’s electronic communications devices, which are susceptible to Minovsky Particle interference, but the power of his own mind, Big Brother Renaldo, a handsome twenty-six year old, sends a message to his brothers and sisters:
Smite the enemy.
By “the enemy,” Renaldo’s brothers and sisters understand their leader to mean both the Federal Forces and Deimos Zeon’s remaining troops.
The twelve mobile suits of the Callisto Newtype MS Corps are each custom-designed and built according the specifications of the individual pilots’ temperaments. In this Family, each member has a role, a function, and his or her individual mobile suit is designed to reflect this. They are also a unit, and their mobile suits are also constructed to take advantage of their unity as well.
Captain Renaldo’s mobile suit is the Overlord, an all-around high performance mobile suit that shows the influence of the Gelgoog family of mobile suits, but with a streamlined sleekness that rivals that of any Gundam. Renaldo leads three of his younger brothers, 2Lts. Mitchell Carvell, Francois Geraint, and Shihma Daiyan, aboard their Jack, Bulwark, and Baron mobile suits, into the first strike.
The Callisto Newtype MS Corps – the Family of Twelve – strikes. Federation and Deimos Zeon mobile suits alike feel their wrath…
The incoming fire from the newly arrived force scatters the Federation and Deimos Zeon forces, which had been locked in bitter combat. The already intense firefight now becomes a three-way struggle.
On the bridge of the Amuro Ray, Captain Beecher Olech makes an emergency transmission to Major Athena Ibaz, “This is Captain Olech! Centurion Leader, do you copy?!”
“Right here, sir,” Athena replies immediately.
“Athena!” Captain Beecher sputters into the transmitter as his ship is rocked by enemy fire, “We need you and the JoMis back here right away! Another Zeon force has arrived and is attacking us!”
“We’re on our way,” Athena replies.
The Cour de Leon lifts off abruptly and shifts to Waverider mode. Athena contacts Jolie and Jonah, “Jolie, Jonah: another Zeon force has shown up and is attacking the fleet. We’ve got to get back out there right now!”
“Roger!” comes the joint reply.
The Centurion Team’s “Terrific Trio” of Athena, Jolie, and Jonah soar forth into space to enter the fray once again.
“Captain Beecher!” a panicked bridge technician cries out as another fusillade rocks the outer hull of the Amuro Ray.
“Hold our position!” Beecher orders, “We can’t let the enemy penetrate into the Ceres Zone!”
Where are our reinforcements? Beecher wonders, And what happened to Athena, Jolie, and Jonah?
Seemingly in response to his thoughts, the Centurion Team’s trio of officers appears on the scene, the weapons of their mobile suits blazing.
As Athena and Jonah rendezvous with the rest of the Special Forces to fend off the bulk of the approaching Callisto Zeon Forces and the scattered remains of the Deimos Zeon attack force, Jolie finds herself assailed by three of the Callisto Zeon Newtype MS Corps. Three of the “Family’s” mobile suits surround Jolie’s Centurion Gundam in a deadly web of Psychom-directed beam fire.
Jolie feels a mounting pressure surrounding her…squeezing her brain, her lungs, her heart, her stomach like three great constrictor snakes. The sensation is suffocating, making it difficult for her to think…to move…to react.
The beams close in on the Centurion Gundam, at the hypersonic speeds of accelerated charged Minovsky particles, but seemingly frozen in time-space
You can’t…defeat me… Jolie’s mind resists the assault, YOU WON’T DEFEAT ME!!!
Jolie’s eyes flash with white electric flame, her entire body is sheathed in blinding white light.
An aura of white energy emanates from the Centurion Gundam Unit-1, causing the auras of the three Callisto Newtypes to fade like wraiths in its wake.
“Dear Lord in Heaven!” one of the brothers exclaims, “W-what…what IS she?!”
The energy takes the form of a fiery white phoenix, searing into the souls of the Callisto Newtype MS pilots. They scream in pain, then vector their mobile suits away in sheer terror.
Captain Renaldo, having witnessed the awesome phenomenon, is alarmed. His brothers and sisters suddenly withdraw from the battlefield, shrieking in horror.
“A monster!” one cries.
“Horrible!” another concurs.
“Get her away from us!” a third adds.
Renaldo admits he felt it too…a terrible, all-consuming fire…like the heart of a star, or the bowels of a volcano. Light and flame of overwhelming magnitude and power.
“Admiral Lindquist!” Renaldo calls to the commanding officer of the Callisto Zeon fleet, “Sir, we must withdraw!”
The commanding officer of the Callisto fleet agrees, “Our orders were to probe the enemy forces, and we’ve accomplished that. No point in risking our forces or exposing our resources against an enemy so powerful. Very well, we’ll withdraw…for now.”
The Callisto Zeon Forces withdraw their ships and MS troops as quickly as they entered the fray, just as reinforcement squads of Federal Forces MS from Ceres Base arrive to mop up the remains of the Deimos Zeon Forces.
“Withdraw!” Field Marshal Von Bach angrily orders the remains of his battered assault division. Among the Von Bach Corps, only Commander Peron and three others have survived. Heavy reinforcements from Deimos would need to be called in before their assault could continue.
“Hey!” Jolie calls out from her Centurion Gundam, “The enemy is getting away! Let’s go after ‘em, ‘Thena!”
“Negative, Centurion Two,” Athena says sternly, “the enemy has withdrawn from Federation space. That’s the extent of our operating mandate. Moreover, we don’t know what the full extent of the enemy’s resources, and we have wounded among us and among the civilians at Ceres Colony. They have priority.”
Jolie reluctantly agrees. The Special Forces are here in the Asteroid Belt to protect space colonists from the violence of the Neo Zeon Civil War, not to pursue a war against the Zeon themselves. Jolie’s blood burns with desire for combat, but that desire will need to be satisfied another day.
Leaving behind the newly arrived Federal Forces reinforcements from Ceres Base as a safeguard in case the Zeon forces (Deimos or Callisto) return, the Special Forces withdraw to Ceres Base. The Centurion Team, however, once again enters the Ceres Colony to retrieve two of their own.
Recovery crews load the wreckage of FSgt. Tomo Higashi’s heavily damaged Guncannon 100 mobile suit onto an MS transport carrier, which will carry the mecha back to Ceres Base to be repaired by 1Lt. Molly Duran and her crew of engineers and technicians.
A Medical Corps crew carries a stretcher bearing the wounded FSgt. Higashi, en rout to Ceres Base’ medical facilities.
Athena stops and takes Tomo’s hand into her own as the stretcher crew pauses.
“How are you feeling?” the commanding officer of the Centurion Team asks her wounded subordinate.
“Like hell, ma’am,” Tomo replies from the stretcher, “I’m sorry I couldn’t hold the line, ma’am. I let you down…”
“Don’t say that, Sergeant,” Athena says with a warm smile, “I let you[ down by not being there to guide all of you, which led to your injury. You fought very bravely and very hard, and protected your teammates and the people of this colony. I’m very proud of you, and the people on whose behalf you sustained these injuries are grateful. Rest well and recover soon, because the team needs you.”
Athena kisses her subordinate’s bandaged hand gently, and orders the medical crew to ensure that FSgt. Higashi receives the medical treatment he needs, making it very clear that they will face her wrath if she finds that her wounded comrades are not treated promptly and with the greatest care possible. The orders of the Deputy Director of the Special Forces are not to be taken lightly; careers would be on the line at her displeasure.
Athena gazes about a hundred meters into the distance, where MSgt. Karim Abdul-Al Said has reunited with his parents and his fiancée Adanna, all thankfully alive and well despite the chaos and violence that had visited their home.
“By the grace and compassion of Allah,” Karim observes grimly, “all of you survived this terrible day, but so many others did not.”
“Yes,” Adanna agrees solemnly, looking out at the smoking ruins of collapsed buildings and destroyed vehicles, “this community will need time to recover. This war must end.”
“Agreed,” Karim says, “and I believe the best way to accomplish that goal is to win the war.”
Adanna smiles ruefully, “You are a soldier, and you will fulfill your duty and pursue your way to achieve peace, Karim. I will continue to pursue peace in an alternative way.”
“But our goals remain the same?” Karim asks.
“Yes,” Adanna says, “Our approaches differ, but our objective is the same.”
“If only the Federation and the leaders of Zeon would understand that,” Karim sighs, then, taking Adanna’s hand, “In any case, whichever of our approaches reaches the goal first, you will still be prepared to share your life with me?”
Adanna smiles, “Need you ask? When peace is at hand, however it may come, we will share its fruits, my love.”
Major Athena Ibaz approaches. Karim salutes, “Ma’am!”
Athena returns the salute with a smile, “At ease, Sergeant.”
“Ma’am,” Karim says, indicating his family, “Allow me to introduce my parents, Shareef and Safa, and my fiancée Adanna. This is my commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz, leader of the Centurion Team and Deputy Director of the Special Forces.”
Karim’s father is the first to greet Athena, with a grateful two-handed handshake and a warm smile, “Major Ibaz. Thank you so much for protecting our Karim.”
Safa adds, “Major, Allah bless you for keeping our Karim alive. We’ve been so worried for him since he joined the military…”
Athena smiles reassuringly at the elder Al-Saids, taking their hands into her own, looking at the parents of her gunnery sergeant earnestly, “You’re both very kind. Karim is one of the finest soldiers in the Earth Federation Forces, and I feel privileged and fortunate to have him under my command. On many occasions, it’s been him protecting the rest of us on the Centurion Team. You should be very proud of him; I certainly am.”
Athena and Adanna catch each other’s eye; they recognize something of a kindred spirit in each other…that same penetrating intelligence.
“Major Ibaz,” Adanna smiles somewhat uncomfortably, intimidated somewhat by the aura of the charismatic Special Forces leader.
Athena’s own smile puts Adanna at ease, and Athena offers a friendly hand, “Miss Paige…Karim often speaks glowingly of you to us.”
“He exaggerates,” Adanna returns amusedly, “and please, call me ‘Adanna.’”
“Athena,” responds the Special Forces commander of that name, “Adanna…I promise you, when the war is over, I’ll return Karim to you safe and sound. You two will have long, happy lives together. You have my word.”
“Thank you, Athena,” Adanna says, “Best wishes for your success in ending the war.”
“And best wishes to you,” Athena says, “for your success in ending the war.”
Athena turns to Karim, “MSGt., your furlough to visit with your family still stands if you want to take it. Scratch that: I’m ordering you to stay here with your family until I recall you to duty…in say, three days.”
With that, Athena bids farewell to Karim’s parents and to Adanna, and leaves to rendezvous with Jolie and Jonah.
“She’s an extraordinary young woman,” Adanna remarks, watching Athena leave.
“Yes,” Karim agrees, “but not better than the one I am to marry.”
Karim takes Adanna and his parents into his arms. He will stay with them for the next several days to help them begin the process of rebuilding. Then, he will take up arms again so that what they build will stand for generations, no longer haunted by the specter of war.
And then, the soldier will come home forever.
Episode 10 End
NEXT - EPISODE 11: ROUNDABOUT
Forty-five minutes before reveille, 1Lt. Jolie Minh rolls out of bed in her quarters aboard the Amuro Ray and crawls to her private bathroom.
Military life offers few creature comforts or amenities, but one perk of being an officer in the Special Forces is a private bathroom in one’s quarters. Jolie is grateful for that, as she spent most of the evening and early morning throwing up her guts into the sink and toilet of hers.
I will never, never, never get suckered into a drinking competition with ‘Thena again… Jolie resolves.
The Special Forces, fully re-supplied and their flagship, the Amuro Ray refurbished, departed the Federation Asteroid Belt base Ceres Fortress the previous day, with orders to enter Jupiter orbit and survey the war raging among Neo Zeon factions in that part of the Solar System. After several hard days of work, the Centurion Team finally had an evening off, and Jolie had the temerity (or simply foolishness) to spend the evening drinking highballs with her best friend and commanding officer, Major Athena Ibaz. As the hours went by, the two must have consumed at least twenty cocktails between them. Athena walked back to her quarters and spent the rest of the evening filing terse reports about the day’s activities in her official log; Jolie had to be carried back to her quarters by Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels, her boyfriend, and remained unconscious except for the hourly foray to the toilet to vomit.
Now, as Jolie spews forth more part-digested matter into the toilet, she hears Athena’s voice ringing steady and clear through the shipwide intercom, “Attention all Special Forces personnel: reveille has been moved up twenty minutes. Report to duty stations at 03:40.”
That b*tch WOULD be sober! Jolie thinks to herself irritably.
Jolie finally finds the strength to haul herself up to face the mirror. She screams when she sees herself…long, black hair hanging limply and lifelessly down, eyes puffy and red, skin pale.
Never, never, never drink with ‘Thena like that again, Jolie vows, No, no, no…
With a bit of a struggle, Jolie locates her toothbrush and toothpaste, barely able to steady herself enough to get the paste onto the brush. She begins to brush her teeth as vigorously as she can, trying to get some energy going.
She then hears a rolling noise, like a bowling ball trundling down the lane, coming from outside the bathroom.
Now the booze is making me hear things… Jolie thinks to herself.
The rolling noise grows louder.
Jolie quickly rinses out her mouth and steps out of the bathroom to see if she is really losing her mind, or if…
Jolie can scarcely believe her eyes. Rolling out from under her bed is…a metallic ball, light green in color, somewhat larger than a common volleyball. Two flashing red LED lights create the impression of eyes.
A Haro! Jolie realizes, eyes going wide.
The original Haro was a pet robot invented by Gundam pilot Amuro Ray for his girlfriend, Frau Bow at Side 7 prior to their involvement in the One Year War. Haro accompanied Amuro, Frau, and the rest of the White Base crew during their three harrowing months battling the Zeon in space and on Earth. Haro survived the One Year War, but its fate after the war has never been ascertained. After the One Year War, however, Amuro patented the Haro design and licensed it to toy manufacturers. The mass produced Haro toy/personal computer became an instant hit…easily the best selling toy/vanity personal electronics product of the U.C. 0080s. The profits from sales of the production model Haro, combined with revenues from sales of his memoirs and an uncharacteristically generous pension from the Earth Federation Forces, made Amuro a wealthy young man in his early twenties.
Haros seemed to be ubiquitous during the U.C. 0080s and 0090s, and one even managed to find its way aboard the Ahrgama (and subsequently, the Nahl Ahrgama) during the Gryps Conflict and Axis War that followed during U.C. 0087 and 0088. Yet another Haro was aboard the La Kailum during the Second Axis War of U.C. 0093, in the possession of Hathaway Noah.
Haro, the pet robot.
None of this is known to Jolie, however, and none of this would explain to her why a Haro is now rolling about on the floor of her quarters aboard the Amuro Ray.
Gregarious though she might be, Jolie does not well tolerate having her private space invaded, be the invader human or machine. This Haro, whatever its origins, is now an invader and must be expelled.
Jolie pounces, grabbing hold of the mechanical sphere, “Aha! Gotcha!”
“Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha!” the spherical robot chants in its electronically-synthesized, vaguely childlike voice.
Jolie Minh is perhaps the most formidable hand-to-hand combatant alive, and no opponent could hope to match her peerless reflexes and fighting instincts. Jolie’s opponents, however, have predominantly been human beings…whose structure Jolie understands and knows how to take advantage of in battle. This cold, smooth-surfaced, mechanical…ball, however, is something she can’t quite easily get a grip on, both literally and figuratively.
“I’m gonna scrap you and use you for spare parts on the Centurion Gundam!” Jolie threatens.
“No! No! No!” the mechanical ball protests, “Help me, Amuro! Help me, Amuro!”
Amuro? Jolie wonders. The Haro is obviously referring to Amuro Ray, the creator of its mechanical lineage. Jolie knows that all Haros are programmed to call out the name of their creator, but she wonders if this Haro could have been Amuro’s original.
Since Captain Amuro Ray saved her life when she was ten years old, Jolie has worshipped the pilot of the original Gundam as if he were an angel or demigod. He had certainly been her guardian angel on that terrible day long ago when Alexander Miguel’s Zeon MS squadron attacked her home colony of Quebec at Side 5, killing Jolie’s parents and older brother, leaving her homeless and alone. Amuro had been known as the “White Devil” and the “White Pegasus” during his career as a MS pilot, and in his time, he was the Federation’s most feared ace. Jolie has patterned her own MS piloting career after his, going so far as to dig up combat records (via Athena) from Amuro’s hundreds of sorties between U.C. 0079 and 0093 to study, mimic, and surpass her idol’s maneuvers. She has even taken the nickname “White Phoenix” in tribute to Amuro, hoping to continue his legacy.
At the moment, however, Jolie is having one hell of a time wrestling down Amuro’s old mascot.
A beep comes at Jolie’s door, which slides open to admit Chief Warrant Officer Jonah Michaels. No matter how many times Jonah sees Jolie, he is left breathless by her ravishing beauty. Simply nothing exists in the universe that can send that fire up his spine than the sight of her.
The scene unfolding before him, however, is more comical than anything else.
“Um…” Jonah begins, “What…?”
Jolie is straddling a green metallic sphere between her long, luscious thighs, her hands pressing down on the ball-shaped object. To Jonah, it almost appears if Jolie is a bird sitting on an enormous egg, waiting for it to hatch.
“Hey!” Jolie says, looking irritated, “Are you just gonna stand there and gawk or are you gonna help me get this thing under control?!”
“What do you want me to do?” Jonah asks reasonably.
“Help me grab hold of this!” Jolie retorts, pointing to the object between her legs.
“Sure,” Jonah says, happier than usual to oblige.
Jonah reaches down attempting to get his hands around the curves of the spherical robot.
Haro rolls forward, causing Jolie to tumble forth. Jonah’s hands make contact…elsewhere.
“Hey!” Jolie cries out, slapping away Jonah’s hands, “Be careful where you lay those hands!”
“Sorry,” Jonah says, blushing, “I…um,”
Jolie has already turned her attention back on Haro, laying her meager weight on top of the ball-shaped robot. Haro rolls her over, bouncing up and down on Jolie’s stomach.
“Jonah!” Jolie calls out for help.
Jonah makes another attempt to grab the Haro, but the slick robot maneuvers away from his grasp, leaving Jonah grasping Jolie’s slender waist.
“Just stay like that for a minute,” Jolie says, then kicks her leg out with lightning abruptness.
The impact from Jolie’s bare foot strikes the Haro hard enough to disengage some crucial circuits. The robot’s eyes turn black, and its electronically synthesized force trills, “Haro says ‘sayonara!’” before its operating system shuts down.
Jonah rolls off of Jolie, who in turns rolls over to the now unmoving Haro. Lying atop the robot, Jolie wraps her arms around its round form and embraces it, giggling.
“It’s actually pretty cute,” Jolie says with delight, “I’m gonna fix it up and keep it!”
Jonah lies beside Jolie, wrapping her in an embrace even as she embraces Haro.
Putting his hand on top of hers on the tiny robot, Jonah observes, “It must have rolled aboard when we were docked at Ceres Base. I wonder who it belonged to?”
“It’s ours now,” Jolie says.
Jonah smiles, “I wonder if it'll be happy living with us.”
Jolie laughs, “It's just a freaking machine, Jonah!"
Jonah replies, "Machines these days can think and feel. ‘Thena tells me that people are doing amazing stuff with AI these days. They’re more alive than you think.”
“Maybe,” Jolie says glancing at the clock, “Anyway....Oh, shit!”
Jolie releases Haro and squirms free of Jonah’s embrace to rush to her dresser for a uniform, “I'm gonna be late for the morning inspection!”
Jolie removes her nightshirt, and is down to her bra and string bikini, much to Jonah’s delight. Jolie certainly doesn’t mind.
“I am sooooo hung over right now, Jonah,” Jolie commiserates, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull through duty today. I shoulda known better than to get into a drinking contest with ‘Thena. What the hell was I thinking?”
“I think that’s the problem right there,” Jonah says, smiling, “You forgot whom you were dealing with.”
“That damn b*tch,” Jolie mutters as she pulls on her uniform top, “she drank as much as I did last night and she’s out there charging as usual. How does she do it?!”
“Athena asks the same thing after she watches you in battle,” Jonah remarks, “You two are really competitive against each other, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Jolie says, pulling up her uniform skirt, “It’s been that way since we first got together.”
“Why do you think that is?” Jonah inquires.
“You playing therapist?” Jolie grins, now pulling on her uniform boots, “Hell, I don’t know. I guess ‘Thena and I both have big egos. We’re always competing over stuff. It’s what sisters do, y’know? And ‘Thena is more than a sister to me. Maybe neither of us can stand to lose.”
“Thinking a little bigger,” Jonah says, “maybe that’s the same reason that these wars never end. The leaders of the Earth Federation and the Archduchy of Zeon are probably also like siblings that can’t stand to lose.”
“You like to lecture me in the mornings, don’t you?” Jolie says, shaking out her long, luscious black hair, “You’re just like ‘Thena that way.”
“Would you believe me if I told you it was only for your own good?” Jonah asks with a winning smile.
“Yeah, I s’pose,” Jolie replies, running a brush through her hair, “I haven’t had any parental care or real education since I was ten, and I was kind of a problem child even back then.”
“No!” Jonah says sarcastically, hands flying mockingly to his chest.
“Don’t get smartass with me, Jonah!” Jolie warns, waving the hairbrush at him, “I tend to whoop smartasses when I’m pissed off! Just ask ‘Thena!”
“There you go with Athena again!” Jonah teases, “I think you do have sister-envy issues!”
“I DON’T have sister-envy issues!” Jolie insists, pounding Jonah lightly with her fist, “Well, maybe I do…yeah.”
The two laugh.
“How’d you two become such good friends?” Jonah asks, “You’re completely different personalities.”
“Hey, we’re different personalities too,” Jolie says, pointing at herself and Jonah, “It didn’t stop us from becoming soulmates.”
“True, that,” Jonah agrees, “But you and Athena…I mean, if people didn’t know the two of you, they wouldn’t ever guess that you two would be best friends.”
“It is weird, isn’t it?” Jolie agrees, as she picks up the deactivated Haro and carries it with her as she and Jonah leave her quarters en route to reveille, “She and I have really different backgrounds. I grew up on the street. She grew up posh in the care of some really rich and powerful family of Federation officials or something like that. General Noah always says that ‘Thena could have gone to any university in the world and gotten several doctor’s degrees by now, but she chose to join the Special Forces instead. Go figure.”
Jolie actually knows much more about Athena’s background than that, but as much as Jolie loves and trusts Jonah, she knows that Athena’s true origins and identity – as Duchess Minerva Zabi of the Archduchy of Zeon – is knowledge too momentous to share and in any case, it is not Jolie’s secret to reveal…not even to Jonah. Indeed, Jolie’s discovery of Athena’s true identity to Jolie some months earlier had nearly dealt their friendship a fatal blow.
“Say,” Jolie says, smiling mischievously, “Why do you always come to me with questions about ‘Thena? What’s wrong with asking her directly?”
Jonah returns the smile, “Well, first, I’m afraid you’d get the wrong idea and become jealous. Second, I don’t know…Athena is very sweet and nice, but she just…intimidates me somehow.”
“So you’re afraid of a girl?” Jolie teases.
“Hey,” Jonah retorts, “Athena’s not just any girl. I mean: don’t you find her intimidating, being so ultra-efficient and super-intelligent despite being so young?”
“Nup,” Jolie says, shaking her head, “Yeah, ‘Thena’s a smart cookie when it comes to book learning and strategy and being a leader and all that. But she can be awfully dense about other stuff.”
“Such as…?” Jonah prompts suggestively.
“I’m not telling,” Jolie says, and then adds, “Besides, you haven’t answered my question, mister: are you afraid of ‘Thena?”
“I don’t know if I’d call it ‘afraid,’” Jonah says, “but I can’t help but feel that she can read minds.”
“Hey, well, it’s no secret that the three of us are Newtypes,” Jolie says, “but none of us have actually, you know, read someone else’s mind like those crystal ball psychics supposedly do.”
“I don’t think Newtypes can actually do that,” Jonah says, “but nobody really knows. People have only just begun to understand what Newtypes can do.”
The couple finally arrives at the mobile suit deck of the Amuro Ray, where Major Athena Ibaz has convened her team every morning at precisely 04:30 each morning since the Special Forces left their base at Garrison Noah back at Side 7.
Athena has just begun inspecting her team for duty-readiness, as she does every morning, starting from the lowest rank and working her way up to the highest.
All goes well until Athena reaches Jolie, who as a first lieutenant, is the team’s second highest ranking member and executive officer.
“1Lt. Minh,” Athena says calmly and evenly, “explain the Haro.”
The remaining members of the Centurion Team don’t dare so much as glance at Jolie, although they can see her carrying the Haro through their peripheral vision. Half of them struggle to stifle their laughter.
“What’s there to explain?” Jolie says irritably, hating, as always, when Athena plays the military discipline card with her, “It’s a Haro. I found it in my room. I captured it.”
Athena nods, putting a hand on the inert spherical robot, “You damaged it, I presume?”
“Yeah,” Jolie replies, “It was being really annoying, so I kicked the shit out of it. I mean…”
Athena says, “We can fix it. But do me and yourself a favor and don’t bring it to morning inspection again.”
Jolie bites her tongue before replying, “Yes, ma’am.”
Athena turns her attention to the squad as a whole, “We’re going to be entering Jupiter orbit within the next seventy-two hours. That’s the domain of the Callisto Zeon faction, against whom we briefly engaged in combat back in the Ceres Zone. It’s probable that they’ll attack us once we enter their territory, so we’ll need to be prepared. I trust that all of you have read the reports I provided you on Callisto Zeon’s troop disposition and tactics?”
“Yes, ma’am!” comes the collective reply.
“A number of Federation and independent space colonies in the Jupiter Zone have been harassed by the Zeon for years,” Athena continues, “Our job is to put an end to it, decisively. We are undermanned and outgunned for the undertaking. Can we succeed?”
“Ma’am,” the Centurions reply as one, “we WILL succeed!”
“How will we succeed?” Athena queries.
“Ma’am,” her team responds as one, “We will execute our plan without failure!”
Athena regards her team soberly, “You will also be flexible and open to finding unique and extraordinary solutions when necessary. Remember: you’re the Special Forces. Extraordinary expectations are placed upon you, and extraordinary methods will come into play.”
“Yes, ma’am!” the Centurions answer their superior officer.
“You are now dismissed to duty,” Athena says, “first up this morning is A.I. reprogramming. You’ve all received some training in this skill as part of basic and when you went through the Special Forces program, but those skills are inadequate to meet the challenges we will likely face in the future. You might ask why an expertise in this area is necessary: after all, you’re mobile suit pilots, not computer specialists. We live in a world that runs on computer technology, ladies and gentlemen: to maintain the edge, you need to capable of more than just operating this technology. You’ll need to be able to manipulate it in depth.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the young Special Forces soldiers respond dutifully, while groaning internally. Athena’s “brain work” exercises don’t hold the same appeal as the combat-oriented training that they prefer.
“Lieutenant Minh, you come with me,” Athena says, “and bring the Haro with you. Jonah, you work with MSgt. Al-Said. FSgt. Higashi is still in sick bay, so the sergeant will be your training partner today.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jonah replies, barely suppressing a sigh as he and Jolie are separated for the morning.
Jolie follows her friend and commanding officer to a corner worktable in the ship’s electronics workshop, removed from their teammates. Athena instructs Jolie to set Haro on the worktable while Athena takes a toolkit from the table’s drawer.
“I didn’t ding it up that badly,” Jolie says, inspecting the damage, “We can fix it in a flash, ‘Thena!”
“Soldering the components back together is the easy part,” Athena tells Jolie as she slips on protective goggles for soldering work, “We’ll have to readjust its A.I. How are your programming skills, Jolie?”
“Um…” Jolie begins.
Athena grins, “That’s what I thought.”
“Computer programming is BORING!” Jolie protests.
“That’s beside the point,” Athena says, soldering a fresh conductor piece onto the Haro to link up some decayed circuits.
“God, you’re such a nerd sometimes, ‘Thena.” Jolie spouts in frustration, “Very pretty and cool nerd, but still a nerd.”
“Love you just the same,” Athena responds, hand steady as she does the soldering work, “you ought to feel lucky that you’ve got a ‘big sister’ to fix your broken toys for you.”
Jolie smiles, “Hey,”
“‘Hey,’ what?” Athna queries, sensing a challenge.
“This Haro is mine,” Jolie says to her “big sister,” “I saw it first, so after you’re done fixing it, keep your mitts off of it!”
Athena removes her goggles to stare at Jolie for a moment, then bursts out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Jolie demands.
“That was almost exactly what you said to me about Jonah after you met him,” Athena says, deeply amused, “Damn, you’re a possessive little b*tch.”
Jolie widens her eyes and reaches out with clawed hands, “Mine, mine, mine!”
“Is it because you lost so much that you hold on so tightly to everything you have?” Athena asks sympathetically.
“Maybe,” Jolie says, embracing Haro, “I think losing those I love is the only thing that really scares me.”
Athena nods, “I know. I feel the same. Growing up is hard. Growing up alone might be the hardest thing of all.”
Jolie whispers confidentially, “Was it lonely being a princess? I mean, I imagine you had servants and generals and all the people you ruled. I can’t imagine you were ever left alone when you were a little girl.”
“I saw dozens of dignitaries every day,” Athena says, “and I was attended by dozens of staffers. I was adulated by the people of Zeon, but I was lonely just the same. Dory was my only real friend, and Colonel Char…”
“No offense, ‘Thena,” Jolie says, “but Char was batshit insane. That bastard tried to drop an asteroid on Earth! I know you were close to him, but…”
“But nothing,” Athena says, “you’re right. I loved Char very much. He was like an older brother to me, but by the end of his life he had grown cynical. He had become the very thing he had struggled against. He had become driven by hate.”
“Hate?” Jolie asks quizzically.
“Char had many unresolved conflicts with Amuro Ray,” Athena says, “They had loved the same woman, Lalah Sun, during the One Year War, and their opposition to one another killed her. They blamed each other for her death the rest of their lives, and Char wouldn’t rest until Amuro was dead.”
“It’s like something out of a movie,” Jolie says, “You know, it’s funny: you were saved by Char when you were a girl, just like I was saved by Amuro. Now, they’re both gone, but we’re here…together as ‘sisters.’”
“…still fighting their war in their absence,” Athena amends, “albeit thankfully, on the same side. We can’t repeat their mistakes, Jolie. Things must end differently this time.”
“Athena,” Jolie says, “Tell me something: do you hate your family, the Zabis? I mean, the rest of the world hates them for what they did. They killed billions of people. You’re all that’s left of them. That can’t be easy to live with. That…must be why you do everything you do, right? You want to make up for all the evil things they did.”
Athena smiles, “We understand each other too well. I used to hate my family, but that wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I stopped. I don’t know if it’s possible to make amends for the horror they unleashed upon the world. That’s not something as easy to fix as a damaged Haro, Jolie. Whatever I do, those billions who died because of my family will still be dead. The world of broken families, frightened and hungry orphans, burned out forests on Earth and abandoned space colonies in orbit will haunt us all forever. But…I’ll do what I can so that future generations won’t need to endure such nightmares.”
Jolie picks up a set of tweezers and puts a component in place on the Haro’s internal circuit board for Athena to more easily solder on, “Let me help.”
Immediately catching on to Jolie’s double meaning, Athena nods in appreciation, “Counting on it.”
The two best friends, a child of Zeon and a child of Earth, heirs to the legacies of Char Aznable and Amuro Ray, work together to restore the spherical robot known as Haro. Their collaboration pays off, as within a quarter hour, Haro is happily floating middecks aboard the Amuro Ray, chirpily repeating, “Jolie! Jolie! Jolie!”
Episode 11 to be continued...