Episode 5 continued...
An hour later, the White Phoenix Gundam and the Centurion Gundam PSI-Gundam are in flight, side by side, outside the perimeter of the Side 7 Zone.
"Initiate docking sequence," Major Jolie Minh-Miguel commands.
"Roger, docking sequence is go," Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray reports.
"Synchronize flight speed and approach vector," Jolie continues.
"Major," Christian interjects, "we're clocking in a flight speed of Mach 2; optimal docking speed is under 300 knots."
"You're right," Jolie says, "But under combat conditions, we might not be able to dock at such a low flight speed. We need to know what our limits are."
"Roger that, ma'am," Christian returns, "Flight speed synchronized at Mach 2.5."
"Five seconds to docking," Jolie breathes.
The White Phoenix Gundam and the Centurion Gundam wend around each other at speeds that would likely have torn them apart had the two mobile suits' pilots attempted similar maneuvers in Earth's gravitational field and atmosphere. As it is, both pilots struggle to keep their MS aligned for docking.
Interface nodules connect with corresponding nacelles as components fold and interlock, converting the two mobile suits into a single unit…the PSI-Gundam, with breathtaking speed and impact.
"Yeah!" Christian enthuses, "Now that's how we dance!"
"Just like Saturday nights at the club," Jolie adds, "Give me full power, Chief."
"We've got thruster output at 100%, ma'am," Christian reports from the mecha engineer's station, "PSI-Gundam forward velocity at Mach 3."
The PSI-Gundam begins to accelerate…Mach 3…Mach 3.5…Mach 4…Mach 5…Mach 6.
"Major," Christian says, "We're approaching an automated perimeter defense satellite. KS-11 type from the One Year War era. Still armed and operational. It's tracking us. We'll come into range of its beam cannon in sixteen seconds."
Jolie says nothing, keeping the PSI-Gundam bearing down on the defense satellite.
"Ma'am," Christian says tentatively.
"Initiate undocking sequence," Jolie commands.
"Roger, ma'am," Christian replies.
"Maintain course and speed," Jolie adds.
Christian gulps, "Roger, ma'am."
The cannon of the defense satellite glow red in the distance.
"Undock!" Jolie orders.
Jolie and Christian finger the docking control mechanism.
The interface modules fail to disengage.
The dual charged particle beams rush forth from the defense satellite.
Jolie pulls back the control yoke of the PSI-Gundam, sending the MS on a different vector, but not before the twin beams score a glancing strike on the MS, knocking out its left thruster and sending it on an uncontrolled spin.
"Give me a restart on the left engine!" Jolie orders.
"Trying to, ma'am," Christian answers, "But it's no go!"
Jolie struggles to hold the control yoke steady, but the PSI-Gundam continues spinning out of control.
"Jolie!" Christian says, his voice full of panic, "We're approaching a civilian transport shuttle! We're going to hit it if we don't regain control!"
"Restart that left thruster!" Jolie orders again.
Desperately, Christian attempts to restart Thruster-1, the left thruster, again.
The thruster flickers to life…fitfully, seemingly coming to full power…then seemingly to die again, and finally sustaining a burn.
The PSI-Gundam, however, continues to hurtle towards the civilian transport…Anaheim Aerospacelines Flight # 22, which carries over 500 passengers.
"Impact in sixteen seconds!" Christian shouts, "Jolie…!"
Jolie does not answer, fingering the docking mechanism control again.
The docking interface modules respond, separating the White Phoenix Gundam and the Centurion Gundam and sending them hurtling in different directions, away from the transport shuttle.
Jolie reduces forward thruster output and engages retro thrusters, gradually bringing the White Phoenix Gundam to control. Nearby, Christian similarly regains control over the Centurion Gundam.
Bathed in his own perspiration, Christian gasps, "T-that…w-we…"
Jolie, her voice steady, but angry, says, "Let's get these MS back to Garrison Noah…have Molly and her crew look at them and see what they can do."
At greatly restrained speed, the White Phoenix Gundam and the Centurion Gundam return to Garrison Noah.
Several hours later, Captain Molly Duran-Pearce and her maintenance crew have begun their investigation into the PSI-Gundam's docking system and thruster control malfunctions.
Unable to do anything further (except for filing post-training mission reports), Jolie and Christian return to the condo in Green Oasis City for some downtime.
At 01:44, Christian awakens for the seventh time since bunking down at 22:00. The near fatal training exercise has left him too wired to sleep; though it was merely training, the sortie was much more nerve-racking than actual combat. He doesn't remember feeling so rattled even after the battles against the Omega Gundam.
Giving up on attempts to get back to sleep, Christian rises and walks over to the window of his room. He looks out onto late night traffic of Green Oasis City on the streets below.
Christian senses that Jolie is also awake, and steps out into the den area of the condo.
He finds her standing, clad in a white cotton bathrobe, near the mantel of the cold, darkened fireplace, inhaling deeply from a cigarette as she studies one of the framed photographs mounted on the mantel…the one of her together with Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz, now Deputy Prime Minister Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic. Standing on the mantel near the framed photo of Jolie and Athena is a half-empty glass of burgundy wine.
"You can't sleep either, hmmm?" Jolie says without turning around.
"Something's bothering you," Christian says, by way of reply.
Jolie fingers the photograph of herself and Athena, an image seemingly taken from another lifetime, "I haven't been able to sleep well for years. It's the curse of being a Newtype: you're so attuned to everything that sometimes, it's impossible to tune the world out so that you can sleep."
Christian smiles, "That might very well be true, but that's not what's keeping you up tonight. It's something about Minerva Zabi, isn't it?"
Jolie takes another puff from her cigarette before answering, "She's behind the clone."
"How do you know that?" Christian asks.
"She has both the motive and resources to pull something like this off," Jolie says, anger in her voice, "Moreover…it's the kind of thing she would do. I know her all too well."
Jolie closes her eyes, and memories flood back into her consciousness…
December, U.C. 0098
2Lt. Jolie Minh bursts into Captain Athena Ibaz's temporary office in the former Zum Palace at Side 3.
"Hey, 'Thena!" Jolie says excitedly, "We've got near riot conditions on the streets! Somehow, we lost ANOTHER food and medicine shipment from Side 6! The folks at Riah are sending the stuff, but it's just not getting through! You think it might be Zeon or ISRLA operatives trying to sabotage us?"
"No," Athena replies, wiping her fine, feminine fingers with a handkerchief, "The ISRLA and Zeon are enemies of the Federation, but they wouldn't starve their own people like that. It's Major Cromwell's thugs."
"Major Cromwell?" Jolie says, "The officer the Federation put in charge of the Side 3 garrison? Why the hell would he do that?"
"To solidify his control over Side 3," Athena says, "By controlling access to basic supplies, he can keep the population of Side 3 under his control so much more effectively. The people here depend on him for food, medicine, clothing, and other basic needs. The Major sees himself as a medieval lord and the people of Side 3, his serfs. He's treated Side 3 as his personal fiefdom since he was given administrative command here three years ago."
"We've got to tell the High Command about this, then!" Jolie says.
"Jolie," Athena says, patting her charge on the shoulder, "That won't accomplish anything. Cromwell wouldn't have gotten away with this unless he had the tacit approval of certain elements of the High Command staff."
"General Blackhead?" Jolie ventures, her expression growing angry.
"Those rats!" Jolie rages, "Then what are we gonna do about it?"
"General Noah ordered us to undermine the ISRLA insurgency at Side 3 by establishing better relations with the people of Side 3," Athena replies, "Major Cromwell and his forces are standing in the way of our carrying out our orders. If he isn't going to help us, then he needs to step aside…or be moved aside."
Jolie's eyes widen, "Then you mean…?"
Athena finishes coldly, "You understand our protocol on the treatment of traitors, Lieutenant: flatten them."
Sixteen hours later, a supply ship from Side 6 bearing food and medical supplies enters the Side 3 Zone. The ship is soon accosted by a squad of GM-IVs from Major Cromwell's forces.
"This is perimeter patrol commander to supply shuttle," Major Cromwell says through the communications net, "We'll escort you to Side 3 from here."
"Negative, perimeter patrol," comes the reply from the supply craft, "We're here to deliver supplies to the citizens of Side 3, not to you Federal Forces pigs."
"You don't seem to understand, my friend," Major Cromwell says, his voice full of menace, "Those supplies you're carrying are now the property of the Earth Federation, and we'll do with them as we see fit. Resisting the orders of a Federal Forces officer has its consequences…"
The GM-IVs level their beam rifles at the shuttlecraft.
Before they can open fire, however, the GM-IVs are immolated by multiple beam rifle strikes coming from the direction of Side 3. The horrible carnage lasts fewer than ten seconds, but when it is over, nothing is left of Major Cromwell's GM-IV squadron other than the Major's own GM-IVS officer's custom.
2Lt. Jolie Minh points the beam rifle of her Centurion Gundam directly behind the nuclear fusion engine of Major Cromwell's GM-IVS.
Captain Athena Ibaz's Cour de Leon drifts forward to come face to face with Cromwell's mobile suit, disarming it casually and pressing the Leon's beam rifle point blank against the cockpit hatch of the GM-IVS.
"Captain Ibaz," Cromwell bites out, "What is the meaning of this?"
"Treason," Athena says softly, thumbing the trigger of the Cour de Leon, shooting a beam of superheated particles through the cockpit of the GM-IVS, reducing Cromwell to atoms.
The supply convoy continues unmolested to Side 3. For the first time in a long, long while, the people of Side 3 are able to eat like human beings, and have access to medicines for their aching wounds and debilitating illnesses.
"'Thena and I 'flattened' quite a few corrupt Federal Forces officers back in the day," Jolie tells Christian, as she continues to fondly finger the old framed photograph of herself and Athena, "We probably killed at least half as many Federal Forces' troops as we did ISRLA or Zeon."
"But…" Christian begins.
"'Thena could be absolutely ruthless," Jolie continues, "and I was her hammer. She used me to eliminate her enemies, and to bend those who resisted her to her will. I willingly did it, though, because I believed we were serving a greater ideal…and because I adored 'Thena. No matter how ruthless a b*tch she could be, she was always kind to me. She was my sister…she cared about me, and I would do anything for her. Now that I don't serve 'Thena anymore, she's used the resources at her disposal as Deputy Prime Minister of the Shambala Republic to make another 'me'…another hammer she could use to flatten whoever stood in her way."
Christian doesn't know what to say. Like many young Federal Forces officers, he is well-versed in military lore. He has long known about Athena and Jolie's exploits with the Centurion Team nearly a decade earlier, but Jolie's remarks have given him an entirely new perspective of the relationship between Jolie and her former commanding officer.
Christian changes the subject to something of more direct concern to him, "Jolie…the Omega Gundam's pilot…you think she's exactly like you?"
Jolie smirks bitterly, "I'm no authority on clones. 'Thena gave me some files to read back in the day…about some of the cloned biosoldiers that the Titans and the Neo Zeon used during the Eighties…Four Murusame, Rosamia Baudam, and the Ple Twins. Physically, she's probably identical to me, but she hasn't had my experiences. That's the one advantage I have over her."
Christian mulls that point over.
Jolie catches Christian's pensive look and offers him a grin, and something else…
Jolie removes one of a pair of crucifixes from around her neck, and places it around Christian's.
"This used to belong to Jonah," Jolie tells Christian, "He doesn't need it anymore; you do."
"Thank you, ma'am," Christian says, blushing.
"The way I think of you is probably the way 'Thena used to think of me," Jolie says, "A pain in the *** sometimes, but mostly like a sibling."
Christian says nothing; that's not exactly what he wanted to hear from Jolie.
"I just hope…," Jolie says, "You and I don't end up turning on each other too someday."
A citywide raid siren blares, and emergency lights begin flashing within the Green Oasis Colony.
"Space raid warning!" a voice announces over colony-wide PA, "All civilians to shelters! All military personnel report for combat duty immediately!"
Jolie and Christian arrive at the MS deck of Garrison Noah, clad in their normalsuits, helmets in the crooks of their arms.
Captain Molly Duran-Pearce, chief maintenance officer, greets them and informs them, "We've replaced the defective components on the WPG and the CG! But…"
"I understand," Jolie says as she settles into the cockpit seat of the White Phoenix Gundam and dons her helmet, bringing the MS's combat systems online, "You did the best you could with what you had. We'll be careful out there, Molly. Don't worry."
"Good luck, Major," Molly salutes.
The Centurion Team's mobile suits tear forth from Garrison Noah.
Episode 5 to be continued...