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Thread: Mobile Suit Gundam - The Second Century (Part 3: The Dark Side of the Moon)

  1. #21
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    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.

    Athena nods.

    "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...

  2. #22
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 5 continued...

    Col. Christina McKenzie's attractive visage appears on the communications monitor in the White Phoenix Gundam's cockpit.

    Jolie says, "Colonel…what's buzzing Side 7? I don't see an enemy fleet out there, so I'm guessing it's our favorite stolen piece of Federation military hardware come back to haunt us again?"

    Col. McKenzie grins, "Precisely."

    "I knew it," Jolie says, "All right then. I'm going to put our plan into motion."

    "Be careful, Jolie," Col. McKenzie admonishes.

    "Centurion Leader out," Jolie replies.

    Jolie brings the White Phoenix Gundam to an absolute standstill in space…a graceful ivory bird, drifting on the cosmic winds…

    "Come on," Jolie says to an invisible listener, "I'm tired of waiting."

    A powerful stream of energy lances forth from behind the White Phoenix Gundam, almost immolating it but for a rapid dodge that perhaps only Jolie is quick enough o successfully pull off.

    Almost lost it that time, Jolie reflects, Thruster response was a nanosecond behind.


    Jolie doesn't dwell on it. She doesn't have the time. The Omega Gundam is on her.

    The Omega Gundam has approximately 1.5 times the size and mass of the White Phoenix Gundam, and is about on par with the PSI-Gundam. In terms of armor strength, armaments, maneuverability, and speed, it is superior to the White Phoenix and even the PSI-Gundam. Even the Federation's most heavily armed space warships cannot match the Omega Gundam's sheer firepower, and that's just considering the Omega Gundam's standard weaponry, discounting the hyperbeam and nuclear weaponry it can, thus far thankfully not been fitted with.

    It can't come to that, Jolie realizes.

    An eight-year combat veteran who has fought hundreds of battles and logged thousands of combat hours, Jolie knows that she is at a disadvantage in terms of firepower, so eschews a shootout against the Omega Gundam in favor of closing in for melee combat. Moreover, she needs to stay close to the Omega Gundam to pull off what she has in mind.

    The White Phoenix Gundam becomes like the Omega Gundam's shadow, matching its maneuvers, in too close for the OG to use its guns without being caught in the blast of any consequent explosion.

    The Omega Gundam draws its powerful hyper beam saber; the White Phoenix Gundam responds in kind, and the Centurion Team is witness to a fantastic beam saber duel by two supreme ace pilots. The feints, stabs, parries, and slashes surpass in speed and grace anything they can imagine, let alone duplicate.

    The duel devolves into a stalemate, and the two Gundams are saber-locked.

    "Chief Ray," Jolie commands, "T-minus twenty seconds to auto docking."

    "Roger, ma'am," Christian responds, "Initiating auto docking sequence and synchronizing flight speed and approach azimuth."

    Jolie breaks the saber lock with a slash that just misses decapitating the Omega Gundam, then opens the cockpit hatch of the White Phoenix Gundam, causing instant depressurization of the cockpit cabin. Jolie's slight weight would be immediately dragged out by the sudden vacuum if she were not wearing the safety harness of her cockpit seat.

    Jolie now undoes the safety harness and extends a handheld magnetic clamp gun towards the Omega Gundam, which she has matched in both speed and flight path. She fires the magne-clamp gun, extending a forty-meter alloyed cable whose powerful magnetic head attaches to the armor of the Omega Gundam.

    Jolie allows herself to be pulled into the void of space, activating the vernier thrusters on her normalsuit's rocket pods to provide stability.

    The so-called "Ranba Ral Maneuver" was first known to be used by the eponymous One Year War-era Zeon ace pilot to enable him to continue battling the Earth Federation Forces' RX-78 Gundam after Captain Ral's own mobile suit, the MS-07 Gouf prototype, had already been destroyed by the Gundam. Although Captain Ral ultimately did not survive that battle, the maneuver nevertheless enabled him to board the Federal Forces' mobile carrier White Base and inflict casualties upon its crew before succumbing to an honorable warrior's demise himself.

    Captain Ral, however, had used the maneuver on Earth's Taklamakan Desert. To date, nobody has attempted to duplicate the maneuver in the void of space.

    Jolie begins reeling herself towards the Omega Gundam, being whipped about violently in a manner that would have already snapped the bones of most other people.

    She reaches the armored shell of the Omega Gundam, magnetizing herself to the mobile suit's left hip armor with magnets built into forearms and shin-guards of her normalsuit.

    Jolie removes a small tool from the built of her normalsuit and uses it to gain access to a storage nacelle. Prying the access plate open, Jolie empties the nacelle of its contents (mostly, survival gear) and scrunches into the tiny space, closing the access hatch behind her.

    "Five seconds to docking," an automated voice from the White Phoenix Gundam's combat computer A.I. intones.

    "Dock NOW!" Christian responds.

    The White Phoenix Gundam and Centurion Gundam's systems interface into the PSI-Gundam, and Christian takes command…his first time piloting the PSI-Gundam solo.

    Christian scarcely has the time to marvel at the power at his fingertips. He receives a coded signal from Jolie confirming that she has successfully boarded the Omega Gundam…and orders to keep the PSI-Gundam on the Omega Gundam's tail…at a discreet distance.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Captain Chieming Noah, from her Cour de Leon, issues the retreat order for all Centurion Team mobile suits other than the PSI-Gundam.

    The PSI-Gundam pursues the Omega Gundam, dodging its fire and trading volleys with the black-armored Gundam. Christian is discreet with his shots…taking care to not endanger Jolie even as he puts up the pretense of counterattacking.

    The pursuit continues at speeds surpassing Mach 3 for several long minutes, soon leaving the perimeter of the Side 7 Zone and entering space that falls within the control zone of the Shambala Republic.

    The Omega Gundam fires a powerful volley from the beam cannon mounted in its wrist housing and nearly nails the PSI-Gundam straight through its center. Christian strains against the control yoke to regain control, and when he does, he notes the arrival of a large, unregistered transport craft.

    It is a midsize cargo ship, thousands of which routinely ply the trade routes among the space colonies daily. This one, however, has a modified engine block for greater speed, and does not appear on the registry of spacecraft in the PSI-Gundam's database. A mystery ship.

    The Omega Gundam streaks towards the ship, whose massive cargo bay door slides open to receive the mobile suit.

    Christian sets the PSI-Gundam on autopilot and programs it to depart on a flight path back to Garrison Noah. He opens the cockpit hatch of the PSI-Gundam and, mimicking Jolie's earlier action, extends a magnetic clamp cable against the hull of the Omega Gundam.

    Christian reels himself towards the ebony-armored Gundam. His eyes widen with fear and his heart pounds as he notices the cargo bay door beginning to slide shut…a good fourteen meters still separating him from the Omega Gundam.

    Christian struggles to hoist himself up the cable, scrambling, fighting time, fighting death…

    He has one second and perhaps five centimeters to spare in avoiding being cut in two by the cargo bay door.

    Christian, slick with his own perspiration, pants deeply…so close.

    Artificial gravity comes begins to permeate the large cargo bay, causing Christian, still attached to the Omega Gundam via the magne-clamp cable, to fall to the cold, metal deck with a light thud, knocking the breath out of him.

    Christian rapidly scrambles to his feet, draws his sidearm, disentangles himself from the magne-clamp cable, and takes cover behind one of the Omega Gundam's massive legs.

    The Omega Gundam's cockpit hatch opens, and a helmeted, normalsuited figure appears. The figure is distinctly feminine…petite and shapely…and eminently familiar.

    The normalsuited figure swings herself down to deck level with the use of a magne-clamp cable. No sooner do her feet touch the deck than does Major Jolie Minh-Miguel emerge from her place of concealment, also swinging down lightly to deck level.

    Jolie levels her sidearm to the back of the helmeted figure; Christian notes that Jolie and the mysterious figure are identical in size and figure.

    "Don't move," Jolie commands, "Remove your helmet and turn around slowly…"

    Lights fill the cargo bay, and Jolie finds herself surrounded by a dozen men clad in Shambala Republic Defense Guard normalsuits, their carbines trained on her.

    Another, slightly taller, but equally willowy normalsuited figure approaches, sans helmet. Christian gasps in recognition of the beautiful, honey-blonde young woman whose burning green eyes are as intense as twin suns.

    Deputy Prime Minister Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic points her sidearm, a silver Walther minipistol, at Jolie.

    Jolie swings her own, similar sidearm towards Minerva, her silk-smooth face a portrait of barely restrained anger, "It is you…"

    "Major Minh-Miguel," Minerva says coldly, "Please allow me to introduce you to your replacement…Jo-M."

    The mysterious pilot removes her helmet, shaking free her long, lustrous black hair.

    Jolie's eyes widen as she stares, as if in a mirror, at the pilot of the Omega Gundam.

    Jo-M levels her sidearm at Jolie, her finger tightening around the trigger…

    Christian points his own sidearm towards Jo-M…then swings it indecisively between the Omega Gundam pilot and Jolie…

    To be continued in Episode 6...

  3. #23
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    EPISODE 6: THE BLACK ARMADA

    *Author's Note: The author would like to thank Mr. Eric Gardner for his assistance in writing this episode.


    December, U.C. 0098

    Jolie hands a small, gift-wrapped box to Athena, "Merry Christmas, 'Thena."

    "Thank you," Athena says, accepting the box, "Want me to open it now?"

    "Yeah," Jolie enthuses with a sweet grin.

    Athena opens the box methodically and neatly, laying aside the wrapping paper. Within is a box that contains a gold pocketwatch with a chain.

    "It's beautiful," Athena smiles, "I'll cherish it, Jolie."

    "I got that in Shanghai back when were on Earth," Jolie tells Athena, "Cost me a few hundred credits too."

    "You know," Athena says with a mischievous grin, "gold pocketwatches are traditionally gifts for people who are about to retire from their careers. Are you trying to tell me something, Jo?"

    Jolie, unaware of the tradition, blushes in embarrassment, "Well, um. No, that's not what I meant. I mean…"

    Smiling at her friend's discomfort, Athena produces a somewhat bigger gift-wrapped box, "I have something for you as well."

    "Cool!" Jolie says, accepting the box from Athena and ripping the wrapping to shreds.

    Jolie's eyes widen as she opens the box: it contains a high-caliber Walther hand pistol, similar to the sidearm that Athena always carries, but a newer, more advanced model.

    "Wow," Jolie says, picking up the small, but deadly silver handgun, "You know, only you would give someone a gun for a Christmas gift."

    Athena smiles, "This Walther hand pistol has greater range and accuracy than your standard issue Federal Forces sidearm, and packs a stronger punch too. If it ever comes down to it, it'll give you an edge in a life or death battle."

    "Thanks, 'Thena," Jolie says, twirling the gun on her finger before holstering it at her side.


    ************************************************** *************

    Eight years later…

    The gold pocketwatch hangs on a chain from her vest, having ticked away each second of those eight years, measuring out the things that have changed, and the things that have remained the same.

    The small Walther pistol is steady in her hand, loaded with a full clip, held in the same small, delicate, feminine hand that first held it eight years ago, pointed at the one who gifted it…she who wears the gold watch on its chain.

    Major Jolie Minh-Miguel, SNRI, Earth Federation Forces, lets out a barely audible whisper, "Why?"

    Deputy Prime Minister Minerva Zabi of the Shambala Republic, once Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz of SNRI, stares steadily at the familiar weapon pointed at her, and responds with a wry grin that bears not the slightest trace of fear, "You've already had your chance to know."

    Minerva pulls out her own sidearm, a Walter hand pistol of similar make, and points it at Jolie.

    Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray swings his own automatic sidearm towards Minerva, but before he can complete the arc of motion, he feels the sensation of something cold and metallic against his back, and hears the sound of yet another weapon being cocked for firing.

    "Don't move," comes the voice of Shambala Intelligence Agency Director Hathaway Noah, "Give me your weapon."

    Reluctantly, Christian surrenders his sidearm to Hathaway.

    Jolie, too wrathfully focused on Minerva to acknowledge Christian's presence (or his peril), bites out at her onetime sister-at-arms, "I'm putting an end to this right now."

    Minerva smiles at her former charge, stepping closer, defying the weapon in Jolie's extended arm, "You aren't firing that weapon. I know you, Jolie."

    Damn her, she's right…as always, Jolie acknowledges silently.

    Minerva extends her own weapon, held in her flesh-and-blood right hand, and pulls the trigger!

    Click!

    Jolie does not blink…does not move at all, staring coldly at Minerva.

    Minerva reholsters her weapon. Her beautiful green eyes burn with liquid fire.

    Minerva says gently, "You can still walk away from this if you want to, Jolie. Take your second-in-command and go back to Side 7. Resign your commission with the Earth Federation Forces and sit this one out. Go manage your nightclub…or dedicate your time to Jonah's memory."

    "If I refuse…?" Jolie says, baring her teeth at Minerva.

    Minerva says nothing, turns away, and signals her men to make their move…

    "Down!" Jolie orders Christian.

    The two young Newtypes hit the deck as it begins to vibrate.

    C'mon, Eric, Jolie silently implores, Just like we planned it…

    Major Eric Gardner's Strike Gundam blasts through the hull of the cargo ship with its VSBR (Variable Speed Beam Rifle).

    "Grab on and climb in!" Eric's voice booms from his mobile suit's external amplifiers.

    Jolie and Christian scramble towards the Strike Gundam, securing around their waists a pair of grappler cables that extend down to them from one of the Federation stealth MS's external nacelles.

    A few of Minerva's personnel begin leveling shoulder-mounted anti-MS rocket launchers at the Strike Gundam. At this range, such weapons can inflict serious damage to MS if the shooters know where to aim, and Eric knows that his onetime colleague Minerva Zabi, the former Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz of SNRI, recruits only personnel who know precisely what to do with a good weapon.

    Eric doesn't give them the chance…thumbing the trigger to unleash a torrent of gunfire from the Strike Gundam's head-mounted Vulcan cannon…more to chase away than to kill.

    Hathaway instinctively throws himself in front of his wife, shielding her from harm that fortunately, does not come.

    Jolie and Christian have embedded themselves within a storage nacelle of the Strike Gundam. No sooner do they do so than does Eric turn the Strike Gundam on its heel, throw the thrust throttle forward, and send the mobile suit vectoring away from the cargo cruiser.

    Automatic sealant injection systems come to life to seal the breach in the ship's hull before further atmosphere can escape.

    Minerva turns to her personnel and instructs them calmly, "I want them alive, especially Jolie Minh. You're in command, Jo-M."

    "Yes, ma'am," Jo-M replies with a crisp salute as she sprints to the Omega Gundam.

    Minerva's other personnel also climb into their various MS – not mainline Shambala Republic Defense Force MS, which could implicate the Deputy Prime Minister and the Republic, but assorted Jegans-A, B, D and J types, a Stark Jegan, a few Re-ZELs, Geara Dogas, Geara Zulus, a Delta Plus, and a Jesta…all acquired through means undefined.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Eric spots his pursuers through the aft view monitors of the Strike Gundam's linear seat cockpit.

    Eric grins roguishly, "Motley crew they've got on us. Hang on tight, you two!"

    Eric spins the Strike Gundam around, bringing its multiple weapons systems to bear on the incoming Jegans.

    Eric's modifications to Strike's avionics and weapons systems had undergone tests against Jolie's White Phoenix Gundam at SNRI Base in recent weeks, and is more than capable of holding its own in straight combat against the toughest opponents – a lion garbed as a jackal.

    The beams hit their targets, but the Jegans remain intact as Major Gardner targeted only their weapons, the senior Federation officer unwilling to kill unnecessarily.

    More MS join the pursuit, making way for their lead unit, the Omega Gundam.

    Can't take her head on, Eric realizes, Just have to play around with her for a bit until help gets here!

    Two Re-ZELs streak overhead, attempting to cut off the Strike Gundam's escape route towards the Side 7 perimeter.

    "These jokers aren't making things easy," Major Gardner mutters under his breath as he deploys his beam sabers to clip their weapons and wings.

    The Geara Zulu units converge upon the Strike, their assault beam rifles belching forth hellfire, but Eric's Gundam dodges them deftly - striking back with salvos from the VSBRs.

    Even as the Zulus go down, the Stark Jegan closes in from behind the Strike Gundam, but the Strike reacts quickly enough to dodge the strike, albeit barely.

    Major Gardner directs the right arm of the Strike Gundam to reach out and seize the Jegan by the connector shaft that links its main body to the head/camera unit, and then fires the Gatling beam guns on the Strike Gundam's wrists to blind the opposing MS.

    Eric knows, however, that the deadliest opponent is yet to strike.

    The Omega Gundam rakes the Strike with a hail of cannon fire, causing the Strike's armor to spark, but Major Gardner's MS remains intact.

    She's just toying with me, Eric realizes, She's got enough firepower to blow the Strike away with a single shot, but she's playing games…maybe I can take advantage of that.

    Drenched in perspiration, Eric draws out the Strike's beam saber as the Omega Gundam does likewise.

    The two Gundams lock blades.

    "You may have Jolie's DNA," Eric snarls, "but you don't have her experience."

    Be that as it may, raw ability and power might be sufficient to win the day. The Omega Gundam presses its beam blade dangerously close to the Strike's cockpit.

    Major Gardner is about to concede that perhaps the clone has his number when four Zeta-class MS(the Zeta Prompt, the Zeta Plutonius, the Zeta Plus A4, and the Zeta Plus-S) interrupt the fight just long enough for the Strike to push the OG away and escape.

    The voice of Col. Christina McKenzie, Director of SNRI, issues forth from the Zeta Prompt, "Zeta Prompt to Strike Gundam: Major Gardner…are you, Major Minh-Miguel, and Chief Ray all right?"

    "Roger, ma'am," Eric replies, "And there's our wayward cub right there."

    "Cub's got muscles," Christina observes.

    "I've…whoa…noticed!" Eric answers, narrowly dodging another strike.

    Chieming's voice comes through Eric's receivers, a sound as sweet as nectar to his ears, "Was getting worried about you, flyboy. Knew you couldn't stay out of trouble without me."

    Eric grins, "Then lay down some cover while I get my passengers back to the hotel, Babe!"

    "Roger," Chieming replies.

    The Omega Gundam swats at its enemies with its beam saber, keeping them at bay with its powerful beam cannon.

    Zeta Gundam types, Jo-M notes aloofly, Unremarkable opposition.

    Jo-M targets them for destruction, tracing them with her thoughts…engaging them for instantaneous, fiery obliteration.

    Her finger tenses upon the trigger.

    "Bring it home, Jo," Minerva Zabi's voice comes through Jo-M's helmet receivers, "Let them go. They aren't important. We've got other priorities."

    "Yes, ma'am," Jo-M replies reluctantly, converting the Omega Gundam to mobile armor configuration and darting away.

    to be continued...

  4. #24
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 6 continued...

    Within minutes, Jo-M docks the Omega Gundam at the hangar.

    Jo-M disembarks, floats to the deck, and approaches Minerva with her head hung low. "I'm sorry, ma'am; I failed to capture Jolie Minh."

    Minerva pats Jo-M on the shoulder, "Your predecessor and namesake is the most dangerous woman in the world…and she has formidable allies. Overcoming her will be a team effort. Secure the Omega Gundam and return to your quarters. I'll have another mission for you…soon."

    "Yes, ma'am," Jo-M salutes, and turns immediately to comply with Minerva's orders.

    So much like Jolie, Minerva reflects, and yet, so different.

    Hathaway embraces Minerva from behind, kissing her tenderly on the neck, placing his hands along the sides of her torso.

    Minerva seems momentarily faint, and Hathaway steadies her with a protective, loving embrace.

    "You OK?" Hathaway asks, concern evident in the gentle tone of his voice.

    Minerva recovers her composure, but she appears pale and feels slightly nauseous.

    "I'm all right," Minerva finally says through shallow breaths, "It's nothing, Hathaway. I'm fine."

    "You should leave this to Jo-M and me," Hathaway says, "There's no reason that you need to be out here taking risks. Not when…"

    "The situation is too critical and too tenuous to leave anything to chance," Minerva says, "I trust you…and I trust Jo. But all of our efforts are necessary to ensure our success. Jolie is a dangerous adversary, and she's much savvier than she was when she and I were partners. She had the foresight to see that we would try to trap her, so she'd already arranged to have Eric Gardner bail her out."

    Hathaway nods in agreement, "Gardner's a huge thorn in our side. In spite of our best efforts to throw him off our trail, he's getting closer and closer. He'll connect the dots sooner or later."

    "Jolie's people are not to be underestimated," Minerva observes, habitually placing her flesh hand on her abdomen, "…like Eric Gardner, and that boy we saw with her. He's a Newtype, Hathaway…a very powerful one. He could present significant problems…or be of significant help to us."

    ************************************************** ***************

    Eric breathes a sigh of relief knowing that they've made it out alive as he removes his helmet and disembarks from the Strike Gundam at the hangar deck of Garrison Noah.

    Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray, extracting himself from the Strike Gundam's storage nacelle, exchanges a quick fist-bump with Eric.

    "Thanks for the rescue, E.," the young Newtype says, "Pretty impressed with those moves you used out there. That was some fancy hotdogging you did out there, man."

    "It's called a 'Fokker's Feint,'" Eric says, "Ever saw the movie Macross: Do You Remember Love? Classic film. Inspired my moves…especially that part where that green-haired alien chick goes psycho on those other alien mecha."

    "You mean that movie with the annoying Chinese girl pop singer?" Christian says acidly.

    "The annoying Chinese girl pop singer whom your commanding officer is a dead ringer for," Eric returns mischievously.

    Jolie emerges from the storage nacelle, hearing Eric's lighthearted remark, but not responding to it. Her still youthful, beautiful face is locked in a dark scowl.

    Christian notes the expression and begins following Jolie as she begins stalking away silently.

    "Jo…" Christian begins.

    Eric's strong hand settles on Christian's shoulder, "Christian…not now. I've seen Jolie in these moods before. Believe me, you don't want to bother her."

    Setting aside Eric's sage advice, Christian pursues Jolie, "Jolie! Ma'am! Hey!"

    Jolie silently enters the women pilot's locker, ignoring Christian completely.

    Wonder if she's mad at me…,Christian muses unhappily.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Jolie runs a cold shower over her body, rinsing away the sweat and grime of combat, but unable to rinse away the anger that seethes within her.

    Athena…I knew…I've always known that someday, somehow, you'd stab all of us in the back.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Jolie's mood has not improved much several hours later when she and Christian are attempting to kick back at the White Phoenix Nightclub. Jolie, silent and brooding, works her way through a cigarette and a Vodka Seven highball, unresponsive to Christian's earnest attempts to introduce a little levity.

    "…those moves that Major Gardner pulled off were really slick," Christian chimes enthusiastically, "Even you probably couldn't have done them any bet…"

    "Christian, please…just shut up," Jolie says covering her eyes and shaking her head.

    Christian falls silent.

    Jolie catches the youth's unhappy expression and her own expression softens. She touches his hand gently, "I'm sorry, Christian. I didn't mean that. I'm just shaken up by…"

    "I understand," Christian says, "Athena Ibaz is your best friend. I'd feel the same way in your position."

    Christian's hand tightens around Jolie's; this time, she does not release herself from his grip.

    The moment is interrupted by a sudden, startled scream.

    "Get your hands off me!"

    The voice is that of Angeline, one of the club employees whose responsibilities include serving and entertaining guests.

    Jolie and Christian see that Angeline is being accosted by three young Federal Forces officers…all young men perhaps a year or two older than Christian. The ringleader is a tall blonde with an arrogant smirk that seems fixed upon his handsome Nordic features. His two companions, a redhead and a dark-haired youth, are thuggish louts of indistinct ethnicity.

    Jolie and Christian vacate their seats and step confidently into the fray.

    "What's the problem?" Jolie demands.

    "Major Minh," Angeline says to her employer, holding down the hem of her miniskirt, "He put his hand up my skirt."

    Angeline indicates the dark-haired youth…an intimidating, muscular figure who, despite his youth, gives the impression of being a veteran of many a street or alley fight.

    Jolie stares him down, saying softly, "I like for my customers to have a good time, but I also expect them to respect the people on my staff. If you can't abide by that, then I want you out of here."

    "Relax," the dark-haired youth, whose breast pocket uniform tag indicates him as, "2Lt. C. Toru," "If you want me leave your employees alone, I will…besides…you're a hotter piece of a$$ than she'd ever be."

    2Lt. Toru approaches Jolie with a lustful gleam in his eye.

    Christian, growling like an enraged animal, tackles Toru to the ground and beats on him mercilessly, determined to keep striking until something breaks.

    Jolie moves forward to pull Christian off the larger man before the youth kills him, but she spots the redhead…2Lt. G. Durand, according to his pocket tag, extracting a long, wicked-looking knife from the inner pocket of his uniform jacket and lifting his arm to plunge the blade into Christian's back.

    Jolie slaps the knife out of Durand's hand, catching it in her own and rapidly carving an "X" on the front of his neck. She kicks him down and places the heel of her boot upon the side of his head while drawing her sidearm to shoot out a pistol drawn by the hand of the tall, handsome blonde, whose pocket tag indicates him as "1Lt. G. Rush."

    At the same moment, Christian, his rage spent, pulls 2Lt. Toru to his feet; the larger man's face is a mess of blood and broken teeth.

    "Get out," Jolie says darkly, "Don't let me ever see you here again."

    Christian releases Toru, and Jolie allows Durand to rise to his feet. They prepare to charge at Jolie and Christian again, but the unscathed 1Lt. Rush restrains them.

    "That's enough," Rush says authoritatively, with a tone of command that belies his youth, "All right, we go. You SNRI punks think of yourselves as the elite of the Earth Federation Forces, but soon you'll realize that you're nothing."

    The trio leaves.

    "You all right?" Jolie asks Angeline.

    "I'm OK," Angeline replies, "Thanks, Jolie."

    "You can have the rest of the night off if you want," Jolie says, "Those bastards might still be out there, though, so you'd better let Christian and me escort you home."

    Angeline nods and heads for the employees' room.

    Jolie and Christian retake their seats; another club employee brings them fresh drinks.

    Jolie lights a fresh cigarette, inhales deeply from it, and exhales before asking Christian, "Did you catch their unit number?"

    Christian replies, "66th Autonomous Corps…never heard of them."

    "Me neither," Jolie concedes, "We'd better ask Major Gardner to look into this."

    "We also need to figure out what we're gonna do about the Omega Gundam," Christian says, "It came damn close to nailing all of us today."

    "Jo-M is just a puppet," Jolie says, "An extremely dangerous and powerful puppet, but a puppet nonetheless. The real threat is her puppet master...Athe…Minerva Zabi."

    "Then we go after the puppet master," Christian says resolutely, "Do you…think you can?"

    "I don't know," Jolie says, fear in her voice.

    I don't know if I can kill my…sister…

    to be continued...

  5. #25
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 6 continued...

    Two hours later, Christian throws himself onto his spacious bed at Jolie's luxurious penthouse in the most upscale section of Green Oasis City.

    It's been a long day…a day in which Christian has taken part in battles both large and small in scale…another day during which he nearly died. Sleep should come easily, but his mind won't stop spinning.

    As has become increasingly common during the past several weeks, Christian finds his mind filling with images of Jolie…or is it Jo-M? Christian is no longer certain. Since encountering Jo-M earlier during the day, he's has experienced an odd, unsettling muddling between Jolie and Jo-M's identities. Genetically, physically – by all appearances discernible through his eyes, they are identical, but their minds…their souls…

    In Jolie, Christian has sensed a resistance to his desire to engage her…he reaches out to her, but finds his path obstructed by Jolie's memories…by her fears…her slain family…the lost unborn child that Jolie had told Christian about…and most of all, her late, but still beloved husband.

    Christian has begun to reluctantly acknowledge that Jolie will never open certain barriers to him…the barriers of her past…of her fear to feel any closer to Christian than she does, lest she lose him the way she lost so many others she has loved.

    Christian wishes that he could accept that as good enough…as proof that Jolie cares about him…but he knows that he cannot.

    But Jo-M…Christian reached into her mind and had sensed…an endless openness. Not emptiness, but openness…a desire to receive, and a desire to give. Jo-M is Jolie, Christian senses, a Jolie unburdened by a past shaded by ghosts…

    Christian's eyes shut…his mind begins to unwind…Jolie…Jolie…Jo-M.

    ************************************************** ***************

    In a concealed location, Jo-M sits crosslegged, as naked as she was the day she emerged from the cloning capsule. She meditates…clearing her mind…reaching out into the cosmos…its eternal expanse within her reach.

    In that eternity…one mind…one soul, distracts her from all else.

    In her consciousness forms the image of a youthful, handsome face…unseen before today, but somehow, familiar…as if she had always known him…as if she had always expected to know him.

    But who is he, and what are these inexplicable feelings she has experienced as a result of encountering him.

    A name emerges…a name she has never heard, but somehow knows…

    Christian…Christian…Ray…

    ************************************************** ***************

    Christian bolts awake…confused images blurring his thoughts….he glances at the clock…how much time has passed? Hours? Minutes? Millenia?

    Christian rises from his bed, realizing that he is still clad in his uniform. He steps out of his room.

    The den and kitchen area of the apartment suite is dark and silent, as is Jolie's bedroom, but Christian notices that the door to her room is open.

    Christian pokes his head through the door; Jolie's bed is empty, apparently unslept in.

    Where the hell did she go this time of night?

    ************************************************** ***************

    04:09, Side 7 time…

    The White Phoenix Nightclub had closed its doors for the night/early morning at 03:30. Lights are out, and staff members have gone home. Janitorial crews would not arrive for cleaning duties until 09:00.

    Three figures clad in dark clothing, their faces obscured by black balaclavas (ski masks) and their hands protected by black leather gloves, creep stealthily along the alleyway behind the club.

    Upon the club's walls, they affix shaped plastic charges…compact, but capable of powerful incendiary and concussive effect.

    They never get the chance to light the ignition fuses before a hail of automatic weapons fire rains down around them from the roof of the nightclub.

    The men extract automatic weapons of their own and return fire. Lacking the high ground, however, they are at a distinct disadvantage, and back away into the darkness.

    The gunfire falls silent, and Major Jolie Minh-Miguel cautiously leaps down, catlike, into the alley, smoking assault rifle in hand.

    Jolie steps over to one of the plastic charges on the wall and removes it, studying it carefully by the faint light of the White Phoenix Nightclub's neon sign.

    Jolie hears footsteps rushing towards her and raises the assault rifle.

    Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray raises both hands, his youthful face the portrait of terror, "Hey! Don't shoot! It's me!"

    "Th' hell you doing here?" Jolie demands as she examines the plastic explosive in her hand.

    "I could ask you the same thing," Christian replies.

    "I had a weird feeling," Jolie says by way of explanation, "So I came back…someone tried to blow up the club."

    "Who?" Christian asks.

    Jolie hands him the plastic explosive.

    "Federation ordnance," Jolie says, "Not standard issue stuff. This is the stuff we use…only better quality than I've seen in a few years. This one's got a birthdate of less than a month, though."

    "What's it all mean?" Christian wonders, handing the explosive back to Jolie.

    Jolie takes the explosive and fingers it gingerly, "That's what we'll have Christina and Eric help us figure out tomorrow…today, I mean."

    ************************************************** ***************

    Not six hours later, Col. McKenzie, Major Gardner, Major Minh-Miguel, and Chief Warrant Officer Ray meet in a private conference room at Garrison Noah.

    Col. McKenzie studies the shaped plastic charge in her hand gravely, finally remarking, "No doubt about it…it's genuine Federal Forces ordnance issue."

    "But," Major Gardner interjects, handing a similar plastic charge to Col. McKenzie, "the quality of its materials and workmanship are far better than this unit right here…taken from our own SNRI stockpile."

    Christina compares the two explosives carefully…prying them open with a small tool brought for the purpose. Sure enough, although the two explosives are superficially identical, a closer examination confirms Eric's observation: the unit that Jolie recovered from the alleyway behind the White Phoenix Nightclub is notably superior in both materials and workmanship.

    "We've been getting dud materials from the contracted suppliers for more than two years now," Christina says, "but apparently, someone out there is still supplying the good stuff…just not to SNRI."

    "Then to who?" Eric muses aloud.

    "The 66th Autonomous Corps," Jolie interjects, "Who the hell are they, Christina? Why haven't we ever heard of these guys?"

    "66th Autonomous Corps was organized by General Blackhead," Christina explains, "…over General Noah's objections. They're a ready-reaction force that Blackhead pushed for after he returned to active service after recovering from his injuries…something the Federation could use to immediately quickly counter and suppress a surprise attack against us like the one Miguel launched against us back in U.C. 0100. Officially, the 66th doesn't exist…which is why you haven't heard of them. Their mission is…let's say, different from SNRI's."

    "'Different' my a$$," Jolie remarks, "Just thugs in Federal Forces uniforms. Figures Blackhead is in charge of all this."

    "Neither the President nor General Noah supported the formation of the 66th," Christina continues, "but the High Command gave General Blackhead the go-ahead after the Federal Forces nearly got wiped out in the last battle against the Zeon. But we heard very little about it after it got underway. We all thought the project just died on the vote of some budgetary committee in the Deliberative Assembly years ago."

    "It evidently hasn't," Eric says, "And we don't have any idea how far its reach actually is."

    "You're right," Christina agrees, "We don't. For that reason: Eric…Jolie…Christian…I want you to monitor General Blackhead and his command staff very carefully. See what they're up to, but don't intervene. We don't want them to know we're on to them. If we get caught, we're all liable to be implicated for treason."

    On the way to the mobile suit deck, a deeply disturbed Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray remarks to Jolie, "This corrupt mess is the Federation we're giving our loyal to and putting our lives on the line for?"

    "Yeah," is Jolie's only reply, "Some things really never change."

    ************************************************** **************

    For the next ten days, SNRI personnel very discreetly scrutinize the communications and activities of General Manron Blackhead of the Earth Federation Space Armada and his command staff…making note of anything odd or out of place. The first seven days yield very little in the way of actionable data, but on the eighth day, word is received of an off-record rendezvous between General Blackhead and unknown parties at the abandoned Industria Colony of Side 5.

    Major Gardner, Major Minh-Miguel, and Chief Warrant Officer Ray are dispatched to shadow this clandestine rendezvous.

    Mindful of Col. McKenzie's admonitions, the SNRI personnel have taken precautious to minimize the likelihood of their implicating SNRI should they lose their initial cover. In lieu of their Gundam mobile suits, Eric, Jolie, and Christian are piloting Hydrosuits and operating under the cover of an innocuous civilian colony maintenance repair agency – Gardnertech.

    Eric, Jolie, and Christian discreetly park their Hydrosuits in an abandoned area, and then make their way through a series of ventilation shafts and service conduits. Were Industria a modern colony with fully functional facilities, there would surely be a surveillance system that would have detected them. Industria is in such a state of disrepair, however, that even a temporary surveillance system isn't worth the effort or resources necessary to set up and render operational.

    "This place is a dump," Christian remarks, "Even more than Luna 2 was."

    "I know," Jolie replies, "I grew up here. The place is still a $hithole after all these years…"

    "$hithole or not," Eric says, "This is where Blackhead is meeting whoever it is he's meeting. Any guesses on who that might be?"

    "The Easter Bunny? Santa Claus? The Great Pumpkin?" Christian quips.

    "Probably the Devil himself," Jolie finishes.

    The trio reaches the end of the service conduits, where they discreetly peer through the metal grating.

    Their throats go dry, and their mouths gape in disbelief at the sight before them.

    Industria's crumbling old districts of abandoned factories and warehouses have been largely replaced by a fully armed military facility on a scale that at least rivals Garrison Noah. The area where Jolie lived when she was an adolescent remains standing at the northern terminus of the colony, but the central portion of Industria has been converted into a fully functional military hub. Dozens upon dozens of Earth Federation Forces space warships, and hundreds of mobile suits of both familiar and unfamiliar design stand ready for deployment. Weapons are stockpiled in massive warehouses.

    Jolie, Christian, and Eric watch silently, breathlessly as a platoon of Earth Federation Forces troops, dressed in a black variant of the Earth Federation Forces uniform.

    They see an Earth Federation Forces command staff executive shuttle landing at the makeshift spaceport. The space vehicle taxis to a halt. Momentarily, General Blackhead disembarks, heralded by his command staff. They are met by applause from the large platoon of black-garbed Federal Forces troops among them.

    Christian nudges Jolie and directs her attention to three young officers standing in the front row of troops, cheering Blackhead's arrival. She recognizes them…Toru, Durand, and Rush.

    The three SNRI officers scowl as another shuttle arrives, this one bearing the markings of the Buch Concern. The shuttle is escorted by a squadron of Crossbones Vanguard mobile suits.

    The shuttle lands, and momentarily, Defense Minister Meitzer Ronah of the Shambala Republic disembarks, escorted by his aides and by his adjutant, Col. Carrrozzo Matthioli, leader of the Crossbones Vanguard.

    Defense Minister Ronah extends his hand and a cold smile to General Blackhead, "My congratulations, General. The vision you've dedicated your efforts to for the past half-decade has yielded highly impressive results."

    "Thanks to your support, Your Excellency," Blackhead says, returning an equally cold smile as he takes the other man's hand, "Together, we will establish a stronger, more secure world…a world that those weak women, Artasia Daikun, Minerva Zabi, and Mirai Noah, couldn't possibly realize."

    "This Black Armada represents the rebirth of the Earth Federation Forces," Ronah says, inspecting the scores of mobile suits, combat craft, and warships…all of which were constructed by his Buch Concern, "Together with my Crossbones Vanguard, they cannot possibly fail."

    "'The Black Armada,'" Blackhead muses, "Flattering name, but I'm hardly that kind of egotist, Minister Ronah. That was never more than an unofficial nickname. Today, however, it's time to properly christen this glorious body of warriors."

    Blackhead takes to a podium arranged for him to address his troops…his Black Armada, "Gentlemen of the 66th Autonomous Corps. Today, we hide in the shadows no more. I now authorize you to reveal your true heritage.

    Thousands of hands reach out to remove thousands of covering matches on the uniform jacket sleeves that cover thousands of arms. Covers are removed from the hulls of warships by the dozens, and from the fuselages of combat aircraft and the shells of mobile suits…all revealing a familiar black and red legend upon a yellow avian figure.

    Jolie, Eric, and Christian gasp simultaneously as their eyes widen in horrific recognition.

    TITANS.

    to be continued in Episode 7

  6. #26
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    EPISODE 7: BETRAYAL

    Titans…

    Major Jolie Minh-Miguel, Major Eric Gardner, and Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray clench their teeth in silent rage as they observe the marshalling of troops and war machines from their vantage point behind the metal grill of the ventilation shaft port.

    "Titans," Major Gardner snarls with uncharacteristic fury, "God damn it, I thought we saw the last of them at the end of the Eighties! This is insane!"

    Christian opens the safety on his sidearm and mutters, "What the hell are waiting for? Let's go!"

    Christian moves towards the metal grill before being checked by the arm of his commanding officer, Major Jolie Minh-Miguel.

    "Don't be stupid," Jolie rasps, "It's just the three of us against an entire army. I wouldn't like our chances even if we had our mobile suits, which we don't."

    "Jolie's right," Eric says, his usual calmer demeanor returning, "Just judging from the size of the forces they have here, which might not even represent their full power, the Titans have at least three…possibly up to five times the number of troops as the regular Federal Forces and SNRI do."

    "Not to mention state-of-the-art equipment," Jolie adds, "Check out those MS down there…haven't seen those designs before, but I can tell even from here that they can way outperform anything we've got aside from the Gundam units."

    "Guess we now know why we've been getting bargain-basement quality equipment and supplies the past four years," Eric remarks darkly, "Blackhead has been funneling all the good stuff to his thug army here."

    "Mom used to say that the Titans were worse than the Zeon," Christian chimes in, "They gassed an entire space colony back in the Eighties, didn't they?"

    "The 30th Bunch Incident," Eric says, "I remember it all too well…and I remember what these Titans bastards put me through hell during the months they held me POW."

    "We're going to need to get data on this," Jolie says, "Report back to General Noah."

    "On it," Eric says, already working on the metal grill with a set of tools, "We'll go down there discreetly…hijack some Titans normalsuits, and record as much as we can."

    The course of action being set, Eric, Jolie, and Christian discreetly drop down from the ventilation port onto the soil of the space colony turned hidden fortress.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Long minutes pass before the trio manages to scramble stealthily onto the grounds of the base, avoiding detection being paramount to their mission.

    Major Gardner spots a trio of Titans soldiers, clad in normalsuits with helmets in the crooks of their arms, headed towards three mobile suits of unidentified design.

    Gardner bursts into their view, groans painfully, and falls heavily to the ground.

    The Titans troops approach Gardner's fallen form cautiously, their weapons at the ready.

    While the three Titans are stooped over, Jolie and Christian drop down upon them from an overhanging work platform above and behind them. Jolie fells one of the Titans with a precise chop to the back of the neck, and Christian sends another to oblivion with a blow from an iron pipe to the top of the head.

    Simultaneously, Eric rolls over and shoots the remaining Titan in the chest with a silenced tranquilizer dart; the sedative takes effect momentarily, the Titan falling over unconscious while attempting to draw his sidearm.

    Eric begins removing the normalsuit from the Titan he felled, while Christian does the same to his victim.

    Jolie looks dubiously at the Titan that she dropped.

    "What's wrong?" Christian asks.

    "None of these normalsuits fit me," Jolie observes.

    Even as Christian and Eric hastily don their commandeered normalsuits, they realize that Jolie is right: she's much too small to fit convincingly into any of the three normalsuits.

    "Never mind," Jolie says, heading towards the nearest mobile suit…something that bears little resemblance to the Hizacks and Marasais that the Titans favored during the Eighties…and even less the GMs and Jegans of the Earth Federation Forces. Rather, the machine bears some resemblance to the new experimental models the Crossbones Vanguard has been fielding.

    Jolie turns to her companions as a crane lifts her to the MS's cockpit, saying, "I'll cover you from here."

    Christian and Eric waste no time arguing, lowering the tinted visors on their helmets for anonymity.

    Jolie boards the unfamiliar cockpit, seals the hatch, and studies the control systems layout. Buch Concern setup…different from the Anaheim Enterprises / Earth Federation Forces layout she's accustomed to from the Gundam mobile suits, but nothing that she can't figure out. Within a minute, Jolie has the MS's main fusion engine on standby, but eschews to activate any of the sensors/camera units for fear of giving away her presence in the MS.

    Jolie sits tight, letting her PSI abilities do her tracking for her…reaching her mind out to her comrades.

    We haven't much time, Christian and Eric simultaneously hear in their heads in Jolie's voice, Gather as much intel as you can and let's get the hell out of here!

    With practiced nonchalance, Christian and Eric place surveillance devices on inconspicuous parts of their normalsuits, where the small instruments subtly blend into the normalsuits' standard accessories and support gear.

    Christian and Eric stride purposefully around the grounds, appearing to be headed towards duty stations, not apparently observing anything along the way, though behind their darkened visors, their eyes absorb many details that leave them with sick feelings in the pit of their stomachs as they realize that the Titans have stockpiled many times more ordnance and weaponry than necessary to obliterate the remains of the regular Earth Federation Forces and the SNRI.

    Christian and Eric continue on this course of action for several long minutes until finally, a pair of Titans security officers, who had seemingly bypassed them without interest, turns back towards them.

    "Halt," the officer says with cold menace, "Where are you men going?"

    Eric responds calmly, "Pre-launch procedural checklist."

    "You men are supposed to be on standby," the officer says suspiciously, his partner already drawing a sidearm, "Lift your visors."

    Christian slowly begins to comply, even as Eric subtly goes for his own concealed weapon.

    The two Titans officers are cut down by Vulcan cannon fire from the mobile suit that Jolie occupied. She launches an attack against armaments, supplies, and personnel…primarily to distract the enemy from the vulnerable Christian and Eric.

    Jolie creates quite a fireworks show and commotion, but momentarily, even her actions are overshadowed by some greater excitement bursting through the hull of the colony.

    Jolie senses it…senses her…immediately.

    Jo-M…Omega Gundam!

    ************************************************** **************

    The mechanized monster tears through the ranks of Titans MS, warships, and maintenance facilities with the ferocity and fury of an onrushing ocean tide. A half dozen Titans MS pilots manage to scramble to their mobile suits and initiate a counterattack, but the Omega Gundam shrugs off their attacks and immolates them with powerful blasts of its myriad beam weaponry.

    One of the Omega Gundam's beams finds its way to a moored Titans space battleship, causing hundreds of thousands of tons of armor to expand and balloon into as many pieces of superheated and accelerated shrapnel.

    Christian and Eric magnetize their normalsuits to the external armor of Jolie's commandeered Titans MS, by no small miracle protected from the worst of the incoming concussive shockwave and attendant shrapnel, Jolie favoring angles to afford her comrades the maximum possible protection under the circumstances.

    Ascertaining that Christian and Eric are safe, Jolie turns her attention to the Omega Gundam, now singly combating a dozen Titans MS. Jolie targets the "neck" joint that connects the OG's head unit to its torso, hoping that a good blast can disable the OG momentarily.

    Jolie hesitates for a moment, her mind racing, She's attacking the Titans…meaning that she's not in league with them, but it's clearly the Crossbones Vanguard that are allied with the Titans.

    Jolie remembers Athena's warning to her when they met in Shambala City…about the schism going on within the Shambala Republic…perhaps…?

    Jolie does not have another moment to ruminate upon the implications before she must turn her full attention to the Omega Gundam, which has halted its attack on the Titans' forces and has spun around to face Jolie's mobile suit.

    ************************************************** ***************

    In the cockpit of the OG, Jo-M senses her other self…her enemy.

    Jolie Minh…

    The thought of her tissue donor and progenitor causes the biosoldier to experience a sense of inexplicable malice…

    Jo-M turns the weaponry of the Omega Gundam upon Jolie's mobile suit.

    The biosoldier lines up the commandeered Titans MS in her targeting sites and her finger tenses on the trigger…and then she hesitates as she senses another presence.

    It's him…that boy from the last battle…Christian…Christian Ray!

    ************************************************** ***************

    From his place on the hull of Jolie's appropriated MS, Christian senses Jo-M's thoughts reaching out to him.

    Jo-M?

    "Jolie, wait!" Christian calls out.

    Distracted by Christian's sudden cry, Jolie's firing hand jerks at an awkward angle, causing her shot to go astray…hitting the Omega Gundam, but inflicting no discernible damage as the blast is absorbed by the OG's thick, reflective Gundarium armor.

    The Omega Gundam prepares to retaliate with a barrage of its heavy weaponry when its pilot's attention is regained by the Titans mobile suits blasting away at its backside.

    Jo-M lets out a ferocious growl and spins the Omega Gundam around, immolating her tormentors in a wash of beam fire.

    Jolie decides to not take any more risks in combat against the Omega Gundam. Had she been piloting the White Phoenix Gundam, and were Christian and Eric's lives not also at risk, perhaps she might have chanced it, but under the circumstances…

    Taking advantage of the confusion, Jolie blasts her MS out of Industria Colony, into the open space of the Side 5 Zone.

    to be continued...

  7. #27
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 7 continued...

    A squadron of Crossbones Vanguard Xen'an Sero mobile suits, led by Col. Carrozzo Matthioli, joins their Titans' allies as they surround the Omega Gundam like a pack of hungry wolves around an enraged bear.

    Carrozzo and his men, among the best trained, deadliest mobile suit pilots in the cosmos, have already been humbled twice by the awesome power of the Omega Gundam and the lethal skill of its ace pilot. Carrozzo's warrior pride, and the spilt blood of his brothers-at-arms, demands that the Omega Gundam not best him a third time.

    To that objective, Carrozzo has acquisitioned from the Buch Concern's inventories a newly developed line of corrosive incendiaries, unaffected by I-field defense systems and capable of eating away even Gundarium alloy.

    ************************************************** **************

    The Omega Gundam, behemoth though it is, is a surprisingly nimble and quick mobile suit…especially under the guidance of an ace pilot such as Jo-M. Within the confines of the Titans' makeshift base in Industria Colony, however, maneuvering space is limited.

    Moreover, Jo-M is curious to discover just how much punishment the Omega Gundam can take.

    "Target objective locked on: range 200 meters, speed 0," the combat AI of Carrozzo's MS chimes in.

    "All units commence firing," Carrozzo instructs.

    The Omega Gundam makes only sundry efforts at defending itself, raising its arm shield to take the brunt of the impact, but allowing some of the incoming ordnance to shatter on its armored shell.

    To Jo-M's surprise, there is no flame…and far less concussion than she had anticipated.

    The Omega Gundam's AI, however, rapidly reports distress on the mobile suit's external shell…indicating the presence of a highly corrosive compound delivered by the warheads that was already eating through the surface of the OG's armor.

    Undeterred, Jo-M overloads the magnetic field surrounding the OG…a strategy that Minerva Zabi had taught Jo-M could be useful in repelling chemical corrosive attacks, but at the risk of rupturing the seams of OG's armor and massively draining the MS's energy stores.

    Sure enough, the OG's armor begins to groan and strain under the influence of the powerful magnetic forces emanating from the mecha's power core, but the corrosive eating away at its shell lifts off…and rockets back towards the Crossbones Vanguard mobile suits that launched it with devastating velocity and force.

    The corrosive substance, its destructive properties compounded by the incendiary heat of friction and the concussive force born of sheer velocity, slams into the Xen'an Sero squadron, burning through their armor.

    One stream of superheated corrosive bursts through the torso armor of Col. Carrozzo Matthioli's Xen'an Sero Special, sending burning corrosive through the visor of the Crossbone Vanguard leader's helmet, scorching his face.

    Carrozzo screams in agony as his scalp and cheek are set aflame and washed in corrosive fluid that has eaten through steel…dozens of broken shards from the shattered glass of his helmet visor embedded into what remains of his face.

    With supreme effort and in excruciating pain, Carrozzo wrenches his helmet off his head, even as emergency flame retardant chemicals drop from an overhead vent to put out the flames.

    With cold-blooded efficiency, Jo-M directs the Omega Gundam towards the destruction of the remaining Xen'an Sero units…even as more Titans MS bear down around her mobile suit.

    Jo-M notes the energy level of the OG falling rapidly…currently at 40%...a consequence of the magnetic overload maneuver, and the combat AI indicates that the external shell has been compromised to such a degree that continued combat is unadvisable.

    Jo-M observes that the Titans have begun to mobilize their heavy warships…slow-moving, fat targets, but endowed enough firepower that she does not want to risk a confrontation with them with the Omega Gundam in its weakened condition. She launches a final barrage as a diversion, converts the OG to mobile armor configuration, and vectors out of the Industria Colony.

    ************************************************** **************

    Aboard her commandeered Titans mobile suit, Jolie casually trap shoots the last of her pursuers…bringing her kill total for the day to a (by her standards) paltry seven enemy units downed.

    "You guys hang tight," Jolie advises her two comrades, "The Amuro Ray will rendezvous with us as soon as we clear the Side 5 Zone Perimeter."

    Hanging tight is about all that Christian and Eric can manage, as they pray to whatever deities and supreme powers who might lend a sympathetic ear to not let the magnetic pads on their normalsuits fail.

    The combat AI in the commandeered MS indicates an incoming object, closing fast…too big to be a missile…too small to be a warship.

    Jolie, however doesn't need the combat AI to identify the approaching object accelerating closer at multiple mach speeds.

    Jolie twists her mobile suit just in time to avoid an incoming blast from the Omega Gundam…Jolie tries to put out of her mind that the OG has at least ten times the power of the mobile suit that she is operating.

    Jolie sets the mobile suit's beam rifle and manages a glancing hit on the Omega Gundam as it streaks by…apparently, its clone pilot has no inclination to engage Jolie in further combat at the moment. Jolie notes signs of damage on the OG's armor…a fact confirmed by the combat AI.

    The Omega Gundam streaks away.

    Christian and Eric exhale sighs of relief, but their relief originates from different causes.

    For Major Eric Gardner – his relief lies simply in the knowledge that he will likely live to fight another day.

    For Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray – his relief is that she survived.

    She - Jo-M.

    In the cockpit of the commandeered Titans mobile suit, Major Jolie Minh-Miguel is silent until she receives a hailing signal from the E.F.S.S. Amuro Ray, commanded as always by Commodore Beecher Olech. Within fifteen minutes, Jolie, Christian, and Eric dock with the E.F.S.S. warship, which will convey them back to Garrison Noah, and a meeting with General Bright Noah and President Mirai Yashima-Noah that will doubtless leave the couple dumbfounded.

    ************************************************** **************

    The Omega Gundam, having sustained substantial damage to both its external shell and its power core, docks with the Mapother, a mammoth cargo ship that Deputy Prime Minister Minerva Zabi had converted into a mobile fortress during the war against the Phobos Zeon Forces and has quietly re-commissioned for her present purposes.

    Minerva is disturbed by the condition of the mecha, but appears relieved when she sees its pilot, Jo-M, emerge from the cockpit in good condition.

    "Ma'am," Jo-M salutes crisply.

    "Talk to me, Jo," Minerva replies, returning the salute.

    "My apologies, ma'am. The operation to root out the Titans' advance base was a failure. Although I did destroy and damage a number of their warships, mobile suits, and maintenance facilities, the Omega Gundam sustained heavy damage before I could truly cripple their forces."

    "You were attacked by some sort of corrosive agent?" Minerva surmises, inspecting the armor of the Omega Gundam.

    "Yes, ma'am," Jo-M confirms, not surprised that Minerva has so clearly discerned the situation.

    Minerva nods, "We'll get the repair crews on it right away. You get some rest."

    "Ma'am," Jo-M adds, "Jolie Minh was there…and Christian Ray."

    Minerva smiles a small, enigmatic smile, "You've become quite interested in Christian Ray, haven't you?"

    Jo-M says nothing, staring at Minerva with those wide, expressive eyes that Minerva finds so familiar.

    Minerva pats Jo-M's shoulder with her flesh right hand.

    to be continued...

  8. #28
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 7 continued...


    Attired in their formal dress uniforms, Major Jolie Minh-Miguel, Major Eric Gardner, and Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray confer with President Mirai Yashima-Noah and her husband, General Bright Noah, at a top priority, heavy security meeting at the President's Office in Green Oasis City. Expressions are grave, and a heavy, ominous silence lingers in the air.

    General Noah runs his hands through his graying hair, and after a long, simmering silence, finally rumbles, "We've been fools…blind fools, letting Blackhead and his cronies get away with this right in front of our faces."

    President Mirai Noah says in a gentle, but lamenting voice, "It explains the military budget irregularities that Cameron has been tracking for the past three years. We've long suspected that General Blackhead has been misappropriating the military budget, but until now, we had no concrete idea or evidence on just what he was planning."

    Bright observes, "Based on the data that Major Minh, Major Gardner, and Chief Ray have brought to us, these new Titans Forces might have as much as three times our strength…and they're being supported by the Buch Concern."

    Mirai senses the direction of her husband's thoughts, and quickly interjects, "Hathaway and Minerva aren't a part of this, Bright. You and I both understand the political situation in the Shambala Republic right now: Minerva and Sayla are locked in a political struggle with Meitzer Ronah. Our intelligence people at Side 3 have reported that Ronah might be planning some kind of separatist movement."

    Bright puts a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder, "I didn't say that I believe that Hathaway and Minerva are behind or helping the Titans in any way. It wasn't what I was thinking at all."

    "I think I can corroborate the President's viewpoint, General," Jolie interjects, "The presence of the Omega Gundam…and its attack on the Titans is compelling evidence of that. We still don't know what Athe…Minerva Zabi's game is, but at the very least, she's not an ally of the Titans."

    General Noah nods, but adds, "In any case, the revival of the Titans poses a grave security threat to the Federation. Mirai, I think we need to brace for a likely attempt at a coup d'etat – Blackhead's goal is likely to attack Side 7 and overthrow the current Federation government in favor of an anti-Spacenoid regime."

    Mirai nods, "Put the regular forces and SNRI on standby alert – Priority R1. For the time being, though, let's not announce this to the public – we don't need mass panic on top of everything else right now."

    ************************************************** ***********

    Even as the Earth Federation Forces and SNRI begin to mobilize for a confrontation that could erupt at any time, Jolie and Christian return to the Utopia Towers for some much-needed downtime after their latest harrowing mission. Such undertakings always drain the mind, body, and soul.

    Christian finds Jolie seated in the den, cigarette and a book at hand, as is so often the case. He approaches her tentatively.

    "Jolie," Christian hedges, "I want to have an honest talk with you...about some things that have been on my mind."

    "So do I," Jolie confesses, butting out her half-smoked cigarette on an ashtray situated on a coffee table, "You seemed quite concerned about the Omega Gundam's clone pilot when we were at Industria Colony."

    Christian chooses his words carefully before replying, "I…sometimes confuse her with you. It's almost like you two are the same person."

    Jolie inserts a fresh cigarette between her lips and lights it before replying, "Christian…I've told you before: if you don't focus your thoughts in combat, you're jeopardizing yourself and your comrades."

    "Yes, ma'am," Christian replies impatiently, more to avoid a confrontation than to express actual agreement, "But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about."

    "What's on your mind?" Jolie ventures, setting the cigarette on the ashtray.

    Christian goes down on one knee in front of Jolie, taking her hand in his, "Jolie…I…you've been so good to me. Other than my mom, nobody has ever been as good to me as you've been. Jolie…I…I want you to know…I…I love you."

    Jolie stares at Christian in stunned silence for a long minute. Not that the boy's revelation comes as surprising to Jolie…it absolutely doesn't…but to hear him pouring his heart out to her like this nevertheless catches her off-guard.

    Jolie rises from the sofa, keeping Christian's hand gently in hers. She looks him meaningfully and earnestly in the eye before saying gently, "Christian…I know. I understand how you feel about me, and I'm very flattered and grateful. You need to understand, though…I love you too, but I'm not in love with you…do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"

    The words cut through Christian like the tip of the sharpest sword…his choked reply comes through like a sob, "Then…who are you in love with?"

    Jolie turns silently towards the collection of photographs on the mantle, particularly towards the five-year old photograph of Jolie with her late husband, Jonah Miguel, shortly before the two agreed to be married.

    "You're still in love with Jonah," Christian whispers, almost as if finally admitting it to himself, "You'll always be in love with him."

    Jolie says nothing for a long moment, before finally whispering in reply, "I'm sorry."

    Twin trails of tears seep forth from Christian's blue eyes as he answers, "No…I'm sorry."

    Christian kisses Jolie on her cheek, and then disappears into his quarters, locking the door behind him.

    Jolie resumes her seat on the sofa, turning to the ashtray, noticing for the first time the two half-smoked cigarettes there.

    Jolie picks up the first of the two half-smoked cigarettes, inhaling deeply from it, even as she watches the second burn itself to nothingness.

    ************************************************** *************

    Shambala Intelligence Agency Directory Hathaway Noah rushes into the office of his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Minerva Zabi, in Shambala City at Side 3.

    "Babe," Hathaway says, his eyes wild, "Just got word from Dory: Titans Forces have begun mobilizing towards Side 7."

    "Have you contacted Bright and Mirai?" Minerva asks.

    Hathaway nods, "They know. They're preparing to intercept, but they're outnumbered and outgunned."

    Minerva rises, feeling a moment's vertigo and nearly collapsing back into her seat.

    "Whoa," Hathaway says, rushing forth to steady his wife, his face betraying deep concern, "Are you all right?"

    "I'm fine," Minerva says, "Order Jo-M to mobilize our forces."

    ************************************************** *************

    At the Zeon Daikun Memorial Hospital elsewhere in Shambala City, Defense Minister Meitzer Ronah of the Shambala Republic visits with a patient fighting for his life in the hospital's trauma care unit.

    Col. Carrozzo Matthioli was brought into ZD Memorial with massive head and facial injuries, including the removal of several dozen pieces of embedded shrapnel and tissue damage from a combat corrosive. The colonel is expected to survive, but will be permanently disfigured.

    At Meitzer's side is his nineteen year old daughter, Nadia.

    Meitzer receives an urgent communiqué from one of his aides, and turns to his daughter, "Nadia, my dear…stay here with Carrozzo. I'm urgently needed elsewhere right now."

    Nadia looks imploringly at her father, "Father, I've told you before: I don't love Col. Matthioli."

    "Be that as it may," Meitzer says sternly, "This man is important to my goals, and has served me well. I promised you to him, and I am a man of my word."

    "You're a businessman," Nadia says icily, "and you understand the value of commodities. But I'm your daughter…not a commodity to be traded."

    Meitzer sighs, "Everything…everyone is a potential commodity, my dear. Attaining a goal…fulfilling an idea…requires sacrifices. Please try to understand that, Dora."

    Meitzer departs with his retinue, rushing to his business. Nadia Ronah sighs, placing a gentle hand on the bandaged head of the wounded, moaning man lying on a sickbed before her.

    Carrozzo reaches out and takes Nadia's hand into his own, the comfort of the touch failing to abate the burning agony on his face…or the rage in his heart.

    ************************************************** **************

    Aboard the Mapother, Jo-M performs a diagnostic check on the Omega Gundam. During a continuous seventy-two hour work cycle, Minerva Zabi's technicians have succeeded in repairing the damage to the MS. The Omega Gundam is once again in top operating condition and is armed and primed for combat.

    Confirming that all systems are combat ready, Jo-M then turns her attention to a thought…an image…that has become increasingly difficult to dismiss.

    Christian. Christian Ray.

    Shambala Defense Guard Forces fire the first shot, in the open space between Side 5 and Side 7, attacking the advancing Titans Forces with a heavy salvo from the ships of their armada. Dozens of Shambala Defense Guard MS rush forth in battle formation to meet advancing legions of Titans MS.

    War has returned, once again, to the Earth Sphere.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Word of the battle has already reached Garrison Noah at Side 7. The regular Earth Federation Forces and SNRI deploy for combat.

    Major Jolie Minh-Miguel and Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray dash for their respective mobile suits, the White Phoenix Gundam and the Centurion Gundam. Within a minute, their MS tear forth, headed into battle.

    ************************************************** *************

    The regular Federal Forces and SNRI arrive upon a scene of bedlam as the Titans and Shambala forces maul each other with advanced mobile weapons. Here, a Titans MS balloons into an expanding mass of burning shrapnel while elsewhere, a Shambala MS is cleaved cleanly in half before disappearing in a terrible fireball.

    The most intense destruction, however, surrounds the Omega Gundam unit, slicing through the Titans Forces with a frightening display of massive firepower and unmatchable speed and maneuverability.

    Jo-M senses the approach of the White Phoenix Gundam and the Centurion Gundam…of Jolie Minh and Christian Ray, and turns away from her Titans quarry towards them.

    "You!" Jo-M snarls towards Jolie, "Now that I'm here, this world doesn't need you! Die, Jolie Minh! DIE! DIE!"

    "Make me," Jolie bites out quietly, dodging the incoming fire.

    "Jolie, stop!" Christian cries out.

    "Stay out of this," Jolie orders, "Back up Eric, Chieming, and the others. That's an order: GO!"

    "The hell I will," Christian mutters.

    Christian points the beam rifle of the Centurion Gundam at the Omega Gundam…then shifts its aim towards the White Phoenix Gundam.

    The White Phoenix Gundam and the Omega Gundam exchange a dozen salvoes in the blink of an eye…missiles intercepting beam blasts, beam blasts intercepting missiles. Their combat appears more intricate dance than the brutal, savage struggle as it is. Jolie and Jo-M up the ante with every move of their MS…with every shot they fire. A strike, a dodge, a parry, a counterstrike…with death and destruction averted by margins of nanoseconds and millimeters.

    In terms of raw talent…raw skill and ability, Jolie and Jo-M are equals…and how could they not be? Jo-M is the genetic clone of Jolie Minh…identical to her genetic donor in every way. Their Newtype abilities…their reflexes…are a dead heat.

    But no perfection of genetic reproduction, however, can replicate Jolie's seven years of combat experience. Major Jolie Minh-Miguel is a war veteran who has experienced hundreds of sorties over a period of nearly a decade…her counterpart has experienced fewer than a dozen actual combat scenarios.

    Jolie gets in close to the Omega Gundam, within a range that the ebony-armored Gundam cannot effectively use its ranged weapons. The White Phoenix Gundam then extracts one of the OG's own beam sabers from its external storage nacelle, in part to deprive its foe of another weapon, and in part to facilitate its next attack.

    "You weren't meant to exist, Jo," Jolie says to her double, "You're an abomination. I'm seeing to it that you're destroyed before you can cause any more harm."

    So saying, Jolie raises the beam saber of the Omega Gundam and prepares to drive it into its host MS's cockpit.

    "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Christian Ray screams, diving the Centurion Gundam towards the WPG for a devastating drop kick.

    The kick sends the WPG careening away from the OG.

    Christian follows up with a wild flurry of blasts that strike the WPG's thrusters, disabling it. Christian screams with volcanic fury as he unleashes blast after blast.

    "DIE, JOLIE!" Christian roars, tears leaking from his eyes.

    Christian feels a magnetic force tugging at the Centurion Gundam and notes the Omega Gundam idling behind him.

    "Christian," Jo-M says, "Come with me."

    Without hesitation, Christian reaches the Centurion Gundam's armored hand out, which is taken by the Omega Gundam's own armored hand.

    The two Gundams disappear into the distance.

    ************************************************** ***************

    In the cockpit of the White Phoenix Gundam, Jolie slowly comes to her senses. She checks the WPG's combat systems…thrusters are out, and weapons systems are also inoperable.

    Jolie opens communications, "Centurion Leader to Centurion Two. Chief Ray, do you hear me?"

    No reply.

    Jolie notes that the battle has moved away from her present location; she sends a distress signal to nearby Federal Forces' vessels and vehicles and abandons the WPG's cockpit for the coldness of space.

    A coldness that does not match that felt in her heart.

    Christian…why?

    ************************************************** ***************

    Shortly afterwards, the Omega Gundam and the Centurion Gundam dock with the Mapother, Minerva Zabi's personal mobile combat fortress.

    Jo-M and Christian disembark from their respective mobile suits and run into each other's arms.

    "I've been waiting for you," Jo-M says to Christian.

    "I've been looking for you," Christian replies, stroking her long, black hair, "I thought it was her, but it was you all along."

    The couple embraces for a long minute…and then are approached by another, familiar young couple…Minerva Zabi-Noah and her husband, Hathaway Noah.

    Minerva smiles and offers her flesh right hand to Christian, "Welcome to the Shambala Republic, Christian."

    to be continued in Episode 8...

  9. #29
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    EPISODE 8: DRAGON AND PHOENIX

    Captain Chieming Noah, senior executive officer of the Centurion Team, bursts into her commanding officer and best friend Major Jolie Minh-Miguel's luxurious penthouse suite atop the Utopia Towers residential compound in an upscale section of Green Oasis City.

    Jolie has been out of touch for the past forty-eight hours. She hasn't been AWOL...Jolie has still maintained her daily duty schedule of routine security patrols of the Side 7 Zone and training new SNRI recruits, but beyond that, she's been as rare as a solar eclipse.

    An early morning meeting with SNRI Director Col. Christina McKenzie, however, has confirmed what Chieming had actually heard through the channels: Chief Warrant Officer Christian Ray has deserted the Earth Federation Forces, taking with him the RX-780-1 Centurion Gundam unit.

    Col. McKenzie has not only confirmed as much, but issued the general order that Chief Ray is considered a threat to Federation security, and SNRI personnel are instructed to destroy him and the CG-1 on sight.

    Col. McKenzie, however, had nothing to offer on the "hows" and "whys" of Christian's betrayal, and Chieming wants to get that straight from Jolie herself.

    Except the White Phoenix is nowhere to be found.

    Ms. Cynthia steps out from the kitchen, apparently surprised to see Chieming, "Oh, Miss Noah…"

    "Hi, Cyn," Chieming says, "Is Jolie in?"

    "She left early this morning," Cynthia replies, "she hasn't been in much since young Master Christian…left."

    "Thanks, Cyn," Chieming says, "If Jolie comes in, tell her I've been looking for her."

    ************************************************** **************

    At SNRI's MS deck at Garrison Noah, Chief Warrant Officers Amy Chu and Rayann Zhang sit atop the shoulders of one of the Jet Jegan Strikes newly delivered to SNRI from Anaheim Enterprises…the first delivery of a new frontline model that SNRI has received in two years.

    And, all things considered, such a paltry delivery, considering that SNRI represents (or at least, is supposed to represent) the vanguard of the Earth Federation's defense. Yes, the Jet Jegan Strike is among the most advanced, well-armed, and maneuverable mobile suits available, but the allotment of these units provided to SNRI is but a pittance compared to the massive resources that have been lavished on, apparently, a reorganized and reinstituted Titans Corps.

    The SNRI was first organized in late U.C. 0093, several months after Col. Char Aznable's final assault against the Earth Federation. In the wake of Char's nearly successful destruction of Earth's ecosystem (a goal finally realized seven years later by his de facto successor, Archduke Alexander Miguel), the Earth Federation began to increasingly see the value of having a specially trained and equipped ready-reaction force that could quickly respond to crises in a manner that the bulky, unwieldy Earth Federation Space Armada and Mobile Suit Corps could not – a function that had been fulfilled with remarkable effectiveness by the Lond Bell Task Force during the Char Crisis.

    After Char's defeat, the Earth Federation Forces, under the directive of then-Col. Bright Noah, began to expand the original Lond Bell concept into a more fully-developed, cohesive Special Forces corps that would recruit and train only the most capable, skilled, and loyal young officers that the Federation could find. Heading the organization of the Special Forces was a new think-tank of military veterans, senior intelligence operatives, engineers, and scientists that came to be designated as the Strategic Naval Research Institute (SNRI).

    For years, SNRI's direct involvement with the Special Forces was, if not exactly a secret, then at least not a fact that was extensively publicized or dwelt upon.

    Following the Phobos Zeon Wars of U.C. 0098-0100, however, SNRI became publicly synonymous with the Special Forces, and, at least in the immediate aftermath of the war against the last of the Zeon warlords, represented the vanguard of the Federation's remaining military power.

    From U.C. 0102 onward, however, the Federation government's support for SNRI began to wane as General Manron Blackhead (then newly returned to active duty after a painful two-year rehabilitation from severe injuries sustained during a treacherous attack by the Phobos Zeon Forces) persuaded a number of high-level Federation policymakers that the fledgling Shambala Republic, which had extended its sovereignty over all of the cislunar space colonies (formerly Earth Federation colonies) except for Side 7 during the two years immediately following the conclusion of the Phobos War, represented a grave threat to the security of the Earth Federation, and would prove to be as terrible a menace to the Federation as the republic's predecessor, the Archduchy of Zeon, had been. Blackhead argued passionately and persuasively that the Earth Federation's only viable response, to preserve its very existence, was to entrust its security not to a small force of Newtypes and Spacenoids, whose sympathies were, as always, suspect, but to a massive space armada and mobile suit corps more powerful and well-equipped than any other that the Earth Federation Forces had ever fielded. In short, Blackhead advocated the expansion of the Federal Forces to an extent unseen since the One Year War.

    General Bright Noah persistently objected to Blackhead's proposals, vainly attempting to remind the Federation legislature and his colleagues in the Federation High Command that Blackhead's errant management of the Phobos War had given Archduke Alexander Miguel the opportunity to launch a critical strike against the Federation from which it has never fully recovered. Blackhead countered by arguing that General Noah and possibly, even his wife, President Mirai Yashima-Noah were Shambala-sympathizers because their son, Hathaway, and his wife Minerva had been traitors to the Federation and among the leaders of the Shambala Republic. This outburst had earned Blackhead the public opprobrium and reprimand of the High Command and the legislature, but in private, many agreed with Blackhead – or merely supported him because they found his aggressive policies more appealing than the Noahs' conciliatory, diplomatic approach.

    None of these thoughts of history and politics are on the minds of Amy and Rayann, however. They are both very young (Amy is sixteen, and Rayann seventeen), and their thoughts pertain more to the personal than the political.

    "I can't believe that Christian turned traitor," Amy says, absently twirling a crescent wrench in her fingers, "I mean, he was such a hottie!"

    Rayann, attractive chin resting in the palms of her hands, rolls her eyes and replies to her friend, "Just because he's cute doesn't mean he can't be a traitor. Sometimes, the cuter they are, the more they've got to hide."

    Amy grins at her friend, "You must be full of secrets then."

    Rayann chucks a rubber component ring at Amy, who doesn't even bother to dodge it.

    Major Eric Gardner, emerging from a personnel corridor, floats towards the two young women. Were it any other superior officer, Amy and Rayann would have stood up and saluted, but Major Gardner (whom they've affectionately dubbed "E Major") has always been known to be easygoing and never a stickler for formality or protocol.

    "Hiya, ladies," Eric announces in his characteristically cheerful manner, "You girls seen Major Minh today?"

    "Yes, sir," Rayann answers, "She was here to lead the training exercises this morning."

    "And since then…?" Eric presses.

    "No, sir," Rayann continues, "We haven't seen or heard from her since then."

    "Thanks, girls," Eric says as he turns to leave.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Eric and Chieming catch up with each other in the officer's cafeteria several minutes later.

    "Where the hell can she be?" Chieming wonders between sips of tea, "She hasn't been home, and she's not on the base, and nobody can reach her through the comlink network."

    "I wouldn't sweat it, babe," Eric replies between bites of his dinner, "It's not unlike Jolie to disappear for a while. She'll turn up."

    "We're on standby alert," Chieming reminds her fiancé, "and besides…"

    "You're worried about her after what happened with Christian, right?" Eric says, polishing off the last of a spicy chicken wing.

    Chieming answers, "Now I know Jolie isn't fragile. We both know that she's been through way tougher things than this, but don't you think…?"

    "Nah," Eric says, chugging down a mouthful of root beer (real beer not being served until the conclusion of duty hours), "But if you're worried about her, I'm pretty sure I know where we'll find her."

    ************************************************** ***************

    The White Phoenix Nightclub is still fairly quiet during Happy Hour, its trendiest patrons not due to arrive for another four or five hours at the earliest. Only a few troubled souls occupy the bar, and the booths and tables are empty.

    The billiards room, however, is abuzz with activity, as some early bird club guests find themselves treated to some unexpected excitement.

    Major Jolie Minh-Miguel looks resplendently stunning clad in an all-white variation of her Earth Federation Forces dress uniform – a custom design she had commissioned by a renowned designer several years ago to wear to her best friend, Athena Ibaz's wedding to Hathaway Noah, some two years earlier and that she has worn only a few times (at formal functions wherein she would be meeting high-level dignitaries) since, and certainly never for a night at the club.

    Until tonight...

    ************************************************** ***************

    A long, thin brown cigarillo extends from the brilliant grin formed by Jolie's clenched, gleaming white teeth, framed by the bright ruby red of her lips.

    Jolie casually chalks her cue, and says blithely to her audience, "Three in one cue: two corners, side pocket."

    So saying, Jolie uses her cue to maneuver the cue ball into position, lines up her targets as if they were enemy mobile suits, and with a single, clean motion that produces a resounding impact, sends three colored balls simultaneously dropping precisely into the pockets she designated.

    The performance earns Jolie a round of applause and toasts, to which she responds with a return toast from a glass of burgundy.

    Eric and Chieming enter the billiards room quietly and take places among the club patrons; if Jolie notices them, she doesn't bother to acknowledge them...yet.

    With casual ease, Jolie lines up three more balls and in a single motion, sends them caroming around the green felt surface of the table to drop softly into the table's pockets.

    Jolie rests her cue flat upon the table and eyes her two colleagues and friends for a long, quiet moment before saying, "Yes?"

    "Jolie…" Chieming begins, before hesitating as she notes the club patrons around them.

    With a single, subtle motion of her head, Jolie directs the patrons to leave, ordering club manager and maitre 'd Philip Stinnis to invite each of the guests to drinks on the house, a gesture well received by the guests.

    Philip closes the door behind him, and the three Earth Federation Forces officers are alone in the billiards room.

    "Jolie," Chieming says, "I know you probably don't want to discuss it, but about Christian…"

    "There's nothing to discuss," Jolie says, lining up another ball and sending it into a corner pocket, "Christian Ray is a traitor."

    "You're right," Chieming admits, "but when you meet him again in combat..."

    "I'll kill him," Jolie finishes icily, sinking the eight ball into a corner pocket with terrible finality.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Several hours later, in the early morning hours, Jolie is at the Centurion Team's MS deck at Garrison Noah. She pulls the lapels of her snow-white overcoat closer around her throat and adjusts her equally white officer's hat as she approaches her White Phoenix Gundam, being painstakingly and lovingly serviced by Captain Molly Duran-Pierce and her crackerjack team of technicians.

    "Hey, Major," Molly says with a smile as she spots the commanding officer of the Centurion Team.

    "Don't you ever go home?" Jolie chides her old friend and trusted chief mechanic warmly, "You do have a husband these days, after all. It isn't right for you to leave him sleeping alone in a cold bed."

    "Well, if you didn't go and get your machine trashed so often, I could be home earlier every night, yeah," Molly replies, with a tone far less caustic than the words themselves.

    "Sorry," Jolie says with genuine contrition.

    "What's been up with you lately anyway?" Molly asks, equal parts curiosity and concern, "For years, you'd never come back with as much as a nick in the paint of your MS, but in just the past two months, you've brought the WPG back wrecked about a half dozen times."

    Jolie shrugs noncommittally, "I'm just getting old, I guess. Reflexes are going away...or maybe the Omega Gundam is just that tough."

    "…or you haven't really been trying," a familiar voice cuts in.

    Jolie turns to the source of the familiar voice, "Camille."

    Dr. Camille Vidan of Anaheim Enterprises appears on the gantry behind Jolie; she had sensed his presence at Side 7 since the afternoon, and is hardly surprised by the presence of her mentor now.

    "You're a long way from AE," Jolie remarks dryly, "What brings you all the way out here, Doc?"

    "The Titans," Camille replies, "I've had some experience dealing with them."

    "So I've heard," Jolie says with a knowing smirk.

    Camille fixes Jolie in his gaze as he says, "My experience also tells me that the only reason that you've been keeping poor Captain Duran-Pierce working overtime in this hangar is because you really haven't been half trying in all of your combat sorties against the Omega Gundam."

    "Don't sell yourself short, Doc," Jolie says noncommittally, "You did one hell of a job on the Omega Gundam; the thing's a beast."

    "Perhaps," Camille allows, "but your combat experience should be more than sufficient to overcome the mecha advantage that Jo-M has. Jolie: I think you need to be honest with yourself. You haven't used the full potential of your abilities during these past five years, and especially not since you started training Christian Ray. Isn't that right?"

    Jolie says nothing.

    Camille waits a poignant moment, and then continues, "I understand. It's because…"

    "Camille, please," Jolie says somewhat desperately, cutting him off.

    Jolie closes her eyes as unwelcome memories invade her consciousness…

    ************************************************** ***************

    Five years earlier...

    With a deft shot from the WPG's beam rifle, Jolie shoots the primary cannon of the Azrael out of the enemy mobile suit's hand.

    Jolie raises the WPG high above the Azrael…her heart, her eyes…her entire body on fire.

    "NOW YOU DIE FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE!" Jolie screams.

    A powerful burst of white energy erupts forward from Jolie's forehead…expanding beyond the cockpit of the WPG…amplified by the MS's biosensor system. The energy glows white hot…no less destructive than the energy that theScyllaorCharbydiscan spew…but more concentrated…focused upon one target: Alexander Miguel.

    The deadly energy assumes form…the shape of a burning, fiery phoenix…a White Phoenix of PSI-energy…and reaches forth vengefully for the Azrael…unleashing a scream of rage and malice.

    Glory forever to Zeon…Miguel has time to think.

    The energy is met by another, energy stream…which also assumes an avian form…the noble form of a proud dove, which halts the momentum of the phoenix…creating an expanding white hot bubble of concentrated PSI-energy.

    "JOLIE!" Jonah's voice comes through the tactical network.

    "Jonah…don't," Jolie grunts, "I…I can't stop this…you'll…"

    "Alex," Jonah says, his voice straining, "Get out of here! Go, NOW!"

    The Archduke hesitates for a moment until his younger brother screams emphatically,"NOW!"

    The Azrael vectors away from the dual Gundams and the lethal bubble of concentrated PSI-energy between them.

    "Jolie…," Jonah grunts out as he feels his energy waning, "I'm…sorry…so sorry."

    Jonah's energy bubble collapses, and the White Phoenix's energy washes across the armor of the Centurion Gundam, sending an electrical current of hundreds of thousands of volts coursing throughout the mecha's superstructure, including straight into the cockpit.

    Jonah feels cold as the electricity runs through his body…burning out tissues, organs, nerves, and frying his blood solid. His muscles lose strength.

    Jolie, her eyes blinded with tears, screams desperately,"JOOOONNNAHHHHHH!"

    The White Phoenix energy reaches out beyond the Centurion Gundam to strike at many critical components of the Scylla, including the focal lenses and the aiming mechanisms. The command center through which firing commands are sent to the cannon's mighty servos is also annihilated by the White Phoenix PSI-energy…which consumes everything in its path.


    ************************************************** ***************

    Jolie opens her eyes. She suddenly feels deathly cold and begins to tremble. Her quaking hands draw together the collar of her white overcoat over her throat.

    Camille speaks again, gently, "Jo-M and Christian's combined power could be as great as the combined power that you and Jonah once exhibited. To overcome them, you'll need to tap into and unleash your full potential. Will you?"

    Jolie is silent for a moment, then replies, "I've let Amuro down. I've let the Federation down. Most of all, I've let Christian down. It was my responsibility to train him to be a good soldier and a responsible Newtype, and I've failed."

    Camille says nothing.

    Jolie swivels her head towards Camille, saying, "I created this mess; I'll clean it up."

    Camille nods, placing a hand on Jolie's shoulder, "I've made some…modifications to the White Phoenix Gundam. I uploaded data about these modifications into the WPG's combat computer. I hope that you'll find them useful."

    With a final pat on Jolie's shoulder, Camille begins walking away.

    "Doc," Jolie says, "Thank you."

    Camille turns and offers Jolie a wan smile, "It's my last gift to you…at least as an MS engineer. I've already tendered my resignation with Anaheim Enterprises."

    "Why?" Jolie asks.

    Camille sighs, "I've had enough…more than enough…of piloting mobile suits and designing mobile suits for war. I've contributed to more deaths than I can count. Enough's enough. Fa and I plan to go down to Earth; we'll continue our research and development of technology to help restore the planet's ecosystem. You can say it's my way of doing penance for the lives I've taken, directly or indirectly."

    Jolie nods, "I…can relate. Good luck, Doc."

    "You too, Jolie," Camille says with a final smile.

    The onetime pilot of the Zeta Gundam leaves the pilot of the White Phoenix Gundam behind.

    ************************************************** *************

    Minutes later, Jolie is sealing the O-ring collar of her normalsuit.

    Jolie boards the cockpit of the White Phoenix Gundam, switching on life support and surveillance systems, but leaving all other systems (including thrust and combat) offline.

    Finally, Jolie dons her helmet and seals its visor, and accesses the combat computer of the WPG…bringing a newly uploaded file online – codename: "Shinta" password: "Qum."

    Data soon appears on Jolie's monitor…data that will delete itself without a trace after it has been displayed once. Jolie absorbs the information that appears on the screen.

    Several minutes later, Jolie sits back and closes her eyes, entering a meditative trance.

    The eyes of the White Phoenix Gundam remain cold and dark as its systems idle on Standby Mode.

    to be continued...

  10. #30
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 8 continued...

    The converted cargo carrier Mapother drifts in Earth orbit, above the nighttime side of the planet…not that day and night on Earth are as easily distinguished as they had once been.

    Aboard the ship's MS deck, the RX-780-1 Centurion Gundam is obscured behind multiple scaffolds as a crew of more than a dozen technicians labor through what appears to be a drastic and extensive overhaul.

    Observing the upgrades and modifications of the mobile suit from deck level is its most recent pilot, Christian Ray – formerly of SNRI, now of the Shambala Republic Defense Guard, a fact manifest in his new uniform.

    Just another uniform…Christian sighs internally…and another flag.

    Christian senses a familiar, soothing presence, and momentarily, he feels the soft warmth of Jo-M's arms around him, leaning her head gently against the small of his back.

    Christian grins as he hears Jo-M sigh with contentment; he takes her hands into his own as he turns to face her.

    God, she's identical to Jolie…but also, so different…

    "The conversions will be finished in another few hours," Jo-M says to the young man in whom she has discovered the experience of love, "Lady Minerva says that the modifications will enable us to use the Omega Gundam and your Gundam in conjunction; our combat effectiveness will be greatly enhanced."

    Christian sighs, "Yeah…that's what Lady Minerva promised, and she'll deliver…of course she will. It's in her interests to do so."

    Jo-M, having grown sensitive to Christian's thoughts and feelings, observes, "You seem unhappy."

    "Jo," Christian says, kissing her softly on the cheek, "Have you ever wondered…have you ever wondered just why you have to serve Minerva Zabi?"

    Jo's answer is straightforward and direct, "That is my purpose. Lady Minerva created me to protect the Shambala Republic."

    "It doesn't bother you," Christian asks, "that your entire existence is defined by being someone else's living weapon?"

    Jo replies after a moment's hesitation, "I…I've never thought about it."

    Christian continues, "Ever since I was born, the Earth Federation Forces have been using me. They wanted to turn me into my father. He was their living weapon for years…their knight in shining armor. Their Gundam ace. When he was gone, they tried to make me another him – so they could use me the way that they used him, and like they're using Jolie Minh. It's the same way that Minerva Zabi is using you, Jo…and trying to use me as well. The Earth Federation…the Archduchy of Zeon…the Shambala Republic…the Buch Concern…SNRI…the Titans…they're all the same, Jo. All they want is to destroy each other so that they can impose their will on the world, and they'll use anything and anybody in any way to reach that goal. Minerva Zabi…Jolie Minh…they're all the same."

    Christian can tell by the expression on Jo's fresh, youthful visage that he has led her to reflect upon this reality for the first time.

    Christian wraps his arms around Jo, holding her close, whispering to her, "Life is so much more than what we've been forced to accept. We're not weapons for someone else to use, Jo. We're people. We have the right to live for ourselves…the way we want to. Wouldn't you rather live in peace with me? We could leave here; they can't stop us. We could find a place where we could live peacefully together forever, and never have to kill or risk being killed again."

    Jo looks deeply into Christian's eyes…a Newtype spark forming between them as the import of the handsome young man's words begin to dawn in Jo's mind.

    "Whatever you wish to do, wherever you wish to go, I'll go with you," Jo declares.

    Christian smiles, but says, "Well, that's the mentality you've got to get out of…even if it is me. I've never followed anyone or any rules unless I wanted to. You could learn to do the same."

    Jo bites her lip in deep thought for a moment, and begins, "I…"

    Before she can say more, the couple hears the familiar approaching footsteps of Deputy Prime Minister Minerva Zabi.

    From photographic images he had seen, Christian had long judged Minerva Zabi to be an extraordinarily beautiful young woman – possessed of a beauty distinct from, but comparable to Jolie/Jo-M's. Seeing Minerva in person, however, proves to Christian that the photographs did not do the real Minerva justice. The onetime Duchess of Zeon evinces an air of refined regality and charismatic command that embodies leadership.

    Christian Ray's problem, of course, is that he hates following leaders.

    Winning smile in place, Minerva asks Christian, "Have you become accustomed to serving among us?"

    "Yes, ma'am," Christian replies, not liking the choice of the word "serving," though Minerva's tone is appealing enough.

    Minerva says to Christian, "The Draco Gundam will be ready for deployment within two hours time; I'll need you to be prepared to take it for a test sortie in conjunction with Jo-M and her Omega Gundam."

    Christian is about to ask about the designation "Draco Gundam," but the need is obviated as he spots a great winged structure being lowered onto the back of the mobile suit that had been previously designated "Centurion Gundam."

    The installation of the wing unit will not only grant the Draco Gundam a degree of independent flight speed and mobility comparable to that of the White Phoenix Gundam (something that the Centurion Gundam had always lacked when it was not combined with the WPG into the PSI-Gundam), but also an array of beam and solid weaponry operated through PSI-guidance, as well as interface possibilities with the Omega Gundam to form a single unit superior to even the PSI-Gundam…which has taken on the designation of Cosmogundam.

    The addition of the wing-unit and other sensory and support system structures have notably altered the appearance of the Centurion Gundam…or Gundam-100, as was its original designation when it was rolled out of Anaheim Skunkworks nearly a decade ago. Although the CG's original superstructure is evident, the Shambala upgrades and additions have given it a decidedly more dragon-like profile and image…hence the new designation "Draco Gundam."

    "Yes, ma'am," Christian says in response to Minerva's orders, "We'll be ready."

    Minerva gives Christian an enigmatic grin and turns to depart; waiting for her at the far end of the MS bay is her husband, SIA Director Hathaway Noah. The couple exchanges a quick, but passionate kiss, and departs the MS bay arm-in-arm.

    Jo-M remarks, "I must confess that I used to feel a sort of…envy for the togetherness that Lady Minerva shares with Hathaway Noah."

    Christian smiles, "How about now?"

    Jo-M returns his smile, "Not so much anymore."

    The young couple takes each other's hands and look up at their two mobile suits, the Draco Gundam and the Omega Gundam…their decision…their future already embraced even as they embrace each other.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Minerva and Hathaway ascend a turbo lift from the MS deck to the bridge of the Mapother.

    In the privacy of the lift, Minerva confides to her husband, "Christian isn't planning on staying here, and when he does leave, he's going to take Jo with him."

    "What makes you say that?" Hathaway ventures, "And if that's the case, why aren't you doing anything about it?"

    Minerva smirks, "It might be a Newtype's intuition, and one thing I've come to understand about Newtypes is that you can't control them: the best you can do is put them in the right place, equip them properly, and then let them do damage that you hope will be beneficial to you."

    Moments later, the Mapother fires its main engines, en rout to the Side 7 Zone.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Buch Concern Tactical Mobile Platform 6136, commonly designated TS-03 Amsträger, is the combat workhorse of the newly reorganized Titans Corps. The Amsträger's function is analogous to that of the RMS-106 Hizack and RMS-108 Marasai mobile suits favored by the previous incarnation of the Titans Corps during the mid- and late-U.C. 0080s – a mass-manufactured mechanism of mayhem deployed for maximum menace.

    Heavily armed with beam and ballistic weaponry, the Amsträger surpasses its older siblings in firepower, and demonstrate none of the weaknesses that had eventually caused the Hizack and Marasai to become liabilities in combat against the AEUG and the Axis Neo Zeon's advanced combat mobile suits during the final months of the Gryps Conflict. Insufficient firepower, comparatively low energy output (translating into slower speed and maneuverability), and relatively weak power had dogged the Hizack and Marasai platforms, and contributed to the Titans' defeat in early U.C. 0088.

    The technological developments of the intervening eighteen years, the result in no small part of the Buch Concern's aggressive research and development into mobile weapons design and engineering, have entirely eliminated such weaknesses. Titans mobile suits once suffered from the lowest comparative power yields; now, they boasted the strongest. Titans mobile suits were once pitiably vulnerable to beam weaponry; now, each Titans MS was equipped with an I-Field defense system capable of 95% kinetic particle dispersal.

    The Amsträger provides the brute muscle for the Titans Mobile Weapons Division, but no effective mobile weapons force relies on a single type of combat platform alone. General Manron Blackhead, commanding officer of the Titans Corps, understands this principle, and hence, he commissioned the Buch Concern to also develop the transformable and aerodynamic TS-06 Dolch, a distant descendant of the original Titans Corps' Gaplant mobile armor from the Gryps War, and for the elite ace pilots and potential Newtypes serving in the ranks of the Titans, the TS-10 Drachenherz…a design that the Buch Concern developed out of an abandoned (and subsequently stolen) plan by Anaheim Enterprises to improve upon the Cour de Leon design.

    When the Titans Corps perpetrated its reign of terror upon the Spacenoid population during the U.C. 0080s, the external armored shells of its mobile suits and mobile armors were painted in a variety of colors – from the military-grade greens of the RMS-106 Hizack to the angry scarlet of the RMS-108 Marasai to the bizarre bluish purple of the RMS-154 Barzam. The original Titans Corps headed by Minister Jamitov Haiman and Col. Bosque Om had unfortunately taken after their Zeon enemy's habit of painting their mobile suits' external armor in a variety of colors. General Blackhead recognizes that the successful conduct of warfare is as much psychological as it is physical, and that mobile suits armored in cold, intimidating shades of black and grey produce greater terror (and consequently, readier capitulation) than do mecha decorated in primary colors.

    And so it is that legions of black-and-grey armored twenty-meter tall mechanized troopers bearing the insignia of the Titans Corps presently march through the space colonies of Sides 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6…all space colonies that voluntarily pledged their allegiance to the Shambala Republic a half decade earlier.

    The Titans' MS legions systematically and brutally sweep out the civil defense MS stationed at the colonies by the Shambala Defense Guard - quickly and savagely overwhelming the colonies' defenders. The Shambala Defense Guard's MS are well-engineered and well-constructed war machines, and their pilots are well-trained and resilient, but both the machines and the men and women who pilot them were oriented towards security, not full-scale warmarking, and despite a dogged and courageous stand, ultimately fall to the numerically and technologically superior Titans mobile suits.

    The heavy metallic footsteps of Titans' MS reverberate terrifyingly across the streets and buildings of the city. Hundreds of heavily armed Titans infantrymen accompany the mobile suits, breaking down doors and smashing windows of homes and businesses where they respect enemies of the Earth Federation might be concealed.

    An Amsträger wraps its massive armored fist around the flag of the Shambala Republic that flies atop the spire tower of the capitol building of Side 6 (the former Riah Republic), crushing the flag and crumpling its pole. Moments later, the pilot of the Amsträger disembarks from his MS, even as two other Amsträgers turn their weaponry upon the crowd of civilians gathered on a nearby boulevard, discouraging any of them from even considering taking kind of hostile action.

    The Titans MS pilot unfurls the flags of the Earth Federation Government and the Titans Corps upon the roof of the capitol building.

    Senator Cameron Bloom of Side 6 (formerly Prime Minister Cameron Bloom of the Riah Republic) steps forward from behind the crowd, whipping off his spectacles and demanding angrily, "Stop this! Stop this immediately, do you hear me?"

    The Titans MS pilot, Captain Blaze Gerard, stares coldly at Senator Bloom as he bites out, "Side 6 is now under the jurisdiction of the Earth Federation Government, Mr. Senator."

    "On whose authority?" Cameron snarls.

    Captain Gerard pulls his sidearm arm from his holster and pistolwhips the senator, drawing blood from the old diplomat's head.

    "On the authority of the Titans Corps, Mr. Senator," Gerard says, as he kicks the fallen Cameron in the chest with the steel toe of his combat boot, kicking Cameron until the senior diplomat spits blood, and then kicks him three more times for the sheer adrenaline-fueled pleasure, "President Yashima-Noah sends her regards."

    Mirai…Cameron thinks, before his consciousness begins to fade.

    What have these bastards done to Mirai…?

    Episode 8 to be continued...

  11. #31
    Senior Member Melanie's Avatar
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    Hi Ken! As promised, I am leaving you a comment here. I know promised you I would read part 3 of your fanfic, and I will, but I truly cannot find any time right now in the next few weeks to enjoy your story. I feel that if I am going to read the story, I should really read it and give it the full attention it deserves rather than quickly skim through it just so I can leave you a nonspecific "good job" comment. Therefore, please be patient and I will eventually read this story in a few weeks' time. See you later!

  12. #32
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanie View Post
    Hi Ken! As promised, I am leaving you a comment here. I know promised you I would read part 3 of your fanfic, and I will, but I truly cannot find any time right now in the next few weeks to enjoy your story. I feel that if I am going to read the story, I should really read it and give it the full attention it deserves rather than quickly skim through it just so I can leave you a nonspecific "good job" comment. Therefore, please be patient and I will eventually read this story in a few weeks' time. See you later!
    Thanks, Mel. Look forward to your review.

  13. #33
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    Episode 8 continued...

    A fleet of Titans warships blockades Side 7, halting all traffic in all directions.

    Titans mobile suits patrol the streets of Green Oasis City, having commandeered Garrison Noah and taken command. Regular Federation units are propositioned to integrate under the Titans' chain of command, and those who refuse are immediately arrested and denounced as enemies and traitors to the Federation.

    No one yet has given utterance to the phrase that is on all their minds – coup d'etat.

    At the Executive Offices, Titans MS and foot soldiers have overrun the compound's security force, arresting and summarily executing those who have dared to oppose them.

    A final layer of defense…armed Federation Military Police and SNRI personnel, throw themselves in courageous vain in front of heavily armed Titans shock troopers who mow them down with automatic weapons fire.

    ************************************************** *************

    General Manron Blackhead, supporting himself on a cane and a crutch (the enduring legacy of having misplaced his trust in Archduke Alexander Miguel of Phobos Zeon), enters the Office of the President, a sinister smile growing upon his face.

    General Bright Noah and his wife, President Mirai Yashima-Noah, stand side-by-side, glaring in defiance at the leader of the Titans Corps.

    "Madame President, General Noah," General Blackhead says floridly, puffing in a stinking cigar in a breach of etiquette that is but the least of the general's numerous offenses, "General Manron Blackhead reporting."

    Blackhead offers the couple a mock salute whose every slight motion bears unambiguous contempt.

    "General," Mirai says to Blackhead in a steady, indignant tone, "This is treason."

    "To say nothing of insubordination," Bright adds, pulling his sidearm, but having it swiftly shot out of his hand by a sharpshooter Titans officer – one of Blackhead's adjutants.

    "With all due respect, Madame President, General Noah," Blackhead retorts, "My men and I are doing our best to enforce the authority of the Earth Federation. The Federation has many enemies, Madame President, most notably the Shambala Republic, which so impudently and ungratefully took control of our space colonies after the Federal Forces were exhausted by the war against the Zeon…"

    "…a war we had to fight in no small part because of your collusion with Alexander Miguel," General Noah spits out, accusatory finger directed towards Blackhead, "You compromised us to the enemy once before, Blackhead! I still can't believe that the High Command Staff was stupid enough to restore your command so you could do that to us again!"

    Blackhead glares at Bright through cold eyes, "You'd be surprised how many members of the High Command view the world as I do, General Noah…like me, they see through your spineless, appeasement-oriented policies towards the Shambala Republic…coddling those Spacenoid freaks and their precious so-called 'nation'…or maybe it's for personal reasons, eh, Bright? Your son Hathaway…who married that Zabi b*tch."

    Bright bares his teeth at Blackhead and snarls savagery, "Bastard! How dare you…?"

    Blackhead levels a pistol at Bright, "I dare, General…you are now relieved of command. My people will take over from here. Madame President, if you will accompany us."

    Armed Titans troops "escort" Bright and Mirai away.

    Blackhead takes a seat at the President's desk, blowing a long column of smoke in satisfaction from his copious cigar. He fingers the flag of the Earth Federation Government beside him.

    "Now," Blackhead says, "the Federation is finally back on the right path."

    ************************************************** **************

    At SNRI Headquarters in Garrison Noah, the Titans have impounded SNRI's mobile suits, spacecraft, facilities, and other equipment.

    A vast Titans flag is draped by Titans troops over the great titanium seal of the Earth Federation Government that is mounted to the far armored wall of the massive hold.

    Major Eric Gardner and his fiancée Captain Chieming Noah look on incredulously as Titans troops and MS take command of their facility, barring access to the White Phoenix Gundam, Centurion Gundam (Unit 2, formerly assigned to Captain Jonah Michaels and decommissioned from active service in the five years since his death), Cour de Leon, and other assorted units.

    "All SNRI personnel are on enforced leave until further notice," announces Col. Mongke Blameernorgh of the Titans Corps, "pending reorganization into Titans' units."

    "We weren't notified this through chain-of-command," Eric says, "With all due respect, Col. Blameernorgh, what gives you the authority to give orders here?"

    Col. Christina McKenzie appears, wan of expression, "I'm afraid that his authority is, presently, valid, Eric. General Blackhead…has President Yashima-Noah and General Noah in...protective custody."

    Chieming gasps, her heart running cold upon learning of her parents' predicament. Eric takes her hand comfortingly into his and glares at the Titans officer, Blameernorgh.

    Christina turns to her two charges and says quietly, "Let's go."

    Dejectedly, the three SNRI officers prepare to leave.

    Eric notices, however, that the White Phoenix Gundam's eyes have begun to glow to a fiery green.

    The WPG's right arm swivels into action, raising the white mobile suit's beam rifle, whose barrel glows red an instant before it unleashes hellfire directly through a Titans MS standing a safe distance (approximately 500 meters) from where Eric, Chieming, Christina, and the Centurions stand.

    As the Titans MS, a Dolch, disintegrates into a shower of flaming shrapnel, throwing the MS deck compound into chaos, Major Jolie Minh-Miguel's voice booms out of the White Phoenix Gundam's external speakers, "Battle stations, now!"

    Reacting to years of training and combat experience, the SNRI personnel scramble towards their mobile suits, taking down Titans' personnel in hand-to-hand combat or in exchanges of gunfire.

    Eric and Chieming reach their mobile suits (a Strike Gundam and a Cour de Leon, respectively) safely, but Jolie notices Amy and Rayann pinned down by the heavy automatic weapons fire of a platoon of Titans troops.

    Jolie manually sets the targeting scope of the WPG, lining up the squad of Titans troops, and then thumbs the trigger for the WPG's Vulcan cannon. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition pump forth from the dual cannon mounted to the side of the WPG's head unit, rapidly reducing the Titans' troops to piles of bloody, skewered flesh.

    Their path cleared, Rayann and Amy take to their mobile suits, as do dozens of other SNRI pilots. Not everyone makes it. Even Jolie cannot be everywhere at once, and she winces as she notes five SNRI troops cut down by enemy fire as they attempted to sprint for their mecha.

    Jolie vents her rage against the Titans' MS, unleashing multiple volleys of beam fire and torrents of missiles against them. The heavy firepower devastates the SNRI's MS compound, but Jolie figures that the compound was lost to SNRI anyway…at the very least, there's no way she'd let the Titans get their blood-smeared hands on it.

    As if to underscore that determination, Jolie takes aim at the Titans' flag draped over the Titanium seal of the Earth Federation. With one final shot from the WPG's beam rifle, Jolie sets the flag on fire…a final show of defiance.

    Jolie notices that the SNRI personnel – about two dozen mobile suits, three Salamis-kai class ships, and several personnel carriers (aboard one of which is Captain Molly Duran-Pierce and her engineering crew) have already blasted their way out of Green Oasis Colony.

    Jolie lays down some heavy cover fire and turns the WPG around to join them.

    Col. Christina McKenzie, from her Cour de Leon mobile suit, contacts Jolie through the tactical net, "Major Minh-Miguel…we're going to rendezvous with the Amuro Ray, which has just left Luna 2."

    "Why don't we just rendezvous with them at Luna 2?" Jolie asks, fearing the answer.

    Christina confirms, "Luna 2 has been overrun by the Titans…same story as ours at Garrison Noah. Commodore Beecher was only able to get the ship out of Luna 2 through heavy combat."

    "Hold on, Colonel," Jolie says, turning her attention to the WPG's scanning system, "I've got two incoming bogies…Omega Gundam and…Centurion Gundam, but there's something odd about the profile of the CG."

    "Christian Ray?" Col. McKenzie ventures.

    "No doubt about it," Jolie replies.

    "Don't attack," Christina orders, "Our priority is to rendezvous with the Amuro Ray. Don't open fire unless they fire on us, is that understood, Major?"

    "Roger, ma'am," Jolie responds.

    ************************************************** **************

    The Omega Gundam and the Centurion Gundam streak by the retreating SNRI mobile suits, confronting a squadron of Titans warships and MS that have launched from Garrison Noah in hot pursuit.

    Jolie's eyes flash as she spots the Draco Gundam, "What the hell have they done with the Centurion Gundam? They've changed it completely!"

    Aboard the Omega Gundam, Jo-M announces, "Cosmogundam docking standby."

    "Roger," Christian replies from the Draco Gundam, "Initiate docking sequence."

    "Energy level rising," Jo confirms, "Eighty-percent, ninety-percent, one-hundred percent. DOCK NOW!"

    Parts swivel, whir, and interlock, and the Omega Gundam all but wraps itself around the Draco Gundam to form the Cosmogundam.

    "Cosmocannon standing by," Christian says, "Energy build-up to ninety-eight percent…ready to fire in four seconds and counting."

    "Target: Titans' mobile suit and warship squadron," Jo-M affirms.

    The Cosmogundam swivels its massive Cosmocannon towards the advancing Titans' MS and warships. With a single, blinding shot, three dozen Titans MS and a half dozen Titans' warships are incinerated.

    "God…" Major Eric Gardner whispers from the cockpit of his Strike Gundam.

    "Yeah…" is all Jolie can say in response.

    continued in Episode 9....

  14. #34
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    EPISODE 9: THE FIERY PHOENIX


    The author would like to thank Mr. Eric Gardner, whose contributions were indispensable to the development of this chapter.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Major Jolie Minh-Miguel trains the White Phoenix Gundam's weapons systems on the Cosmogundam, locking the rogue mecha into the WPG's targeting mechanism, finger tensing on the trigger.

    Likewise, Captain Eric Gardner, Captain Chieming Noah, and the other MS pilots of the SNRI who managed to escape from Side 7's Garrison Noah bring their weapons systems to bear upon powerful enemy mobile suit.

    Space is silent, except for the intake of and exhalation of tense breaths, the beeping of avionics devices, and the whirring of internal servos and gears.

    The WPG's combat computer indicates, "TARGET: LOCK."

    The Cosmogundam extends its massive arm-mounted eight-barreled hyperbeam cannon, pointed at the receding SNRI Forces.

    Then, with a sudden swiftness that belies its massive bulk, the Cosmogundam swings the hyperbeam cannon towards the rapidly advancing force of Titans MS and warships.

    The eternal blackness of the cosmos glows impossibly bright, like the birth of the universe itself some fifteen billion years earlier, for an instant before eight streams of hyperconcentrated and amplified Minovsky particles radiate towards the Titans' two dozen mobile suits and three battlecarriers, tearing apart their external alloy superstructures before vaporizing the flesh of their occupants.

    "Holy f*cking sh*t…" Major Gardner mutters under his breath.

    Jolie still has the aft of the Cosmogundam locked in the White Phoenix Gundam's targeting scope; the charge on the WPG's main beam cannon is at 100%.

    Jolie exhales and relaxes her grip on the joystick; the energy charge in the WPG's beam cannon depressurizes and dissipates…

    ************************************************** ***************

    Aboard her Cour de Leon mobile suit, Col. Christina McKenzie receives a hailing code from an Earth Federation Forces' warship…

    But is it regular forces, or Titans? Col. McKenzie muses worriedly.

    Christina struggles through the Minovsky particle disruption to pick up voice signals from the Federation warship.

    Her efforts are rewarded with the sound of a familiar, friendly voice, "…Commodore Beecher Olech, commanding officer of the Federal Forces battlecarrier Amuro Ray, Jupitorius Fleet…"

    "This is Archangel 1 to Amuro Ray, Col. Christina McKenzie, SNRI, Earth Federation Forces," Christina replies, "Requesting permission for SNRI MS Forces to board Amuro Ray, Commodore Beecher."

    "Good to hear your voice, Chris," Commodore Beecher says, "Bring your people in."

    The SNRI MS dock with the Amuro Ray, even as chaos erupts at Side 7…

    Even as the WPG touches down and magnetizes itself to the arresting gear on the MS deck of the Amuro Ray, a spark flashes from Jolie's helmeted head towards the Cosmogundam.

    She senses Jo-M…and Christian Ray.

    ************************************************** ***************

    A squad of six Titans mobile suits, two Amsträgers and four Dolchs, converge upon the Cosmogundam, their powerful beam cannon unable to inflict damage through the I-Field.

    The same cannot be said of the Titans' mobile suits, whose formidable titanium alloy shells, capable of sustaining the rigors of space combat, are simply overmatched by the Cosmogundam's weaponry.

    Jo-M emanates a powerful spark from her forehead, and her eyes flash, "A gunship…Alexandria-class."

    "Yeah," Christian Ray exhales, "It's got a megaparticle beam cannon charging up to fire at us. Not sure that we want to test out our armor and I-Field against that."

    "Then we won't," Jo-M answers.

    Christian and Jo-M close their eyes, opening their minds to one another. In a moment, they know each other's thoughts and feelings as one…with no distinction or division between their consciousness.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Captain Karl Kortimer, a veteran Federation Space Armada officer whose experience dates back to the One Year War when he served under the command of Fleet Admiral Arthur Tianem in the Battle of Solomon.

    Having served in the U.C. 0080s iteration of the Titans, Kortimer is among the hundreds of Federation officers repatriated by the Federal Forces after the conclusion of the Gryps War and subsequent Neo Zeon conflict. Kortimer continued serving as a line officer in the Federation Space Armada, serving as first officer aboard a Federation destroyer during the war on Alexander Miguel's Phobos Zeon Forces before being recruited by General Manron Blackhead for the reformulated Titans Corps, and given command of the Alexandria-class battleship Leviathan.

    General Blackhead handpicked Kortimer for both his tactical acumen and his political bent. To the former, he is well acquitted with an illustrious combat record in which he has played key roles in victories against the Zeon, AEUG and ISRLA. To the latter, Blackhead has long known Kortimer as a staunch opponent of General Bright Noah's collaborationist policies…Kortimer is a Federation loyalist to the core…loving the Earth and deeply resenting the Spacenoids who ruined it.

    As such, Captain Kortimer glowers severely at the Gundam-type mobile suit that faces down his warship, holding its position at the twelve o'clock position, three kilometers off his ship's bow.

    Radar and analysis tech 2Lt. Forrest Snow of the Titans Corps reports to her commanding officer, "Captain…I've correlated scans of the enemy mobile suit unit with our database. The closest match is the Omega Gundam prototype, but it's not a positive ID."

    "Whatever it is, it took down three squads of our MS with ease," Captain Kortimer replies, "Ready megaparticle cannon – target: enemy Gundam unit."

    "Energy saturation at 85% and climbing," announces gunnery chief 2Lt. Rush Gordon, "ten seconds to firing…"

    ************************************************** ***************

    Streams of pure PSI-energy flow from the font that is the combined essence of Christian Ray and Jo-M…wending its way through the internal circuitry and energy conduits of the Cosmogundam into the war machine's mighty internal nuclear fusion engine…the energy particles accelerate to critical mass, coalescing, taking dual forms…a dragon and a phoenix.

    2Lt. Snow interjects, "Sir…we've got a high energy signature emanating from the Gundam unit. It's…taking shape, Captain."

    Snow's counterpart at the gunnery station, 2Lt. Gordon, continues his countdown, "…five, four, three, two, one…commence firing!"

    A red stream of violent energy rip forth from the main gun of the Leviathan.

    Its energy is met by a wash of incandescent white energy that forks from a common bolt into two forks…creating the impression of a dragon…and a phoenix.

    For an instant, the void becomes white, and the stars become black…the universe itself become its own mirror image.

    The megaparticle energy beam of the Leviathan's main cannon fades from an intense red to a lighter salmon color, and the beam then loses its coherence…fraying and unraveling as if it were a rapidly decaying rope before the wave of white energy.

    The energy continues to rush forth to engulf the Leviathan, stripping off the ship's armor plating as if it consisted of tissue paper.

    The phoenix PSI-energy avatar of Jo-M narrowly misses Green Oasis 1, site of Garrison Noah, but the energy bleeding from the periphery of its trail is enough to cause the external shell of the colony to crack…some of its glass solar panels to shatter, leading to the escape of precious atmosphere.

    The energy wave's dragon-like counterpart streaks directly towards another Side 7 colony beyond Green Oasis…expanding it as if it were a massive metallic balloon and immolating it.

    Christian's mouth falls open in a horrified gape…for a long moment, no sound comes forth, and then only a stupefied, "I…that…I…wh…"

    Jo-M's eyes widen with an unfamiliar sensation of revulsion, "That colony…the people inside."

    "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Christian screams, tears leaking forth from the corners of his eyes.

    The Cosmogundam disengages its interlock system, reverting to the Draco Gundam and Omega Gundam.

    The Draco Gundam rushes towards the exploding wreck of Side 7's Colony 2.

    "Christian!" Jo-M cries out in alarm, transforming the Omega Gundam to mobile armor configuration and engaging its afterburners for pursuit.

    "No….no…" Christian moans as he gazes upon the debris…unable to see any corpses, but certain that some must be there.

    Now I know how Jolie must feel, Christian muses.

    "Christian," Jo-M says soothingly, "You didn't…maybe…this colony was uninhabited?"

    After another long moment, Christian whispers, "Maybe…but even if…"

    Jo-M responds to a flashing indicator on her HUD, "BIOSENSOR: SYSTEM FAILURE"

    "Christian," Jo-M says again, "the Omega Gundam's biosensor has failed. We must have overloaded it. Lady Minerva warned me that this could happen."

    Christian, having composed himself, replies, "Yeah…we can't continue fighting in this condition. We can rout the Titans' MS here easily even without the Biosensor, but we could still have problems if they bring in their space armada and its heavy weapons. Let's find a place to dock…make field repairs."

    With that, the Draco Gundam and Omega Gundam remerge into Cosmogundam configuration, blasting away just as more Titans MS and warships enter the area.

    Episode 9 to be continued...

  15. #35
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 9 continued...

    The region between L3 and L5 orbit has been, since the early U.C. 0080s, been unofficially designated as the Sargasso Zone…as its name suggests, an orbital wasteland.

    A quarter centurion of cosmic war has left the Earth Sphere littered with literally billions of tons of wreckage floating dead in space. Despite efforts by Earth Federation, Zeon, and Shambala authorities to recycle/incinerate this refuse, its vast quantities assured that the process would require many decades.

    Aside from the occasional industrial salvage craft, few venture into the Sargasso Zone. Military and civilian spacecraft alike avoid it, as the copious debris makes for hazardous travel. Traffic lanes between L3 and L5 are typically routed around it.

    As such, it's the perfect place of concealment for the seven warships, two dozen mobile suits, and approximately one-thousand personnel and crew that represent what remains of the non-Titans-affiliated Earth Federation Forces and SNRI.

    The sea of floating refuse and Minovsky particles create the ideal camouflage for the Federation/SNRI Force. The Titans and Crossbones Vanguard Forces will not be able to find them easily amidst the debris. To ensure that they do not give away their position, Col. Christina McKenzie of SNRI has ordered that all external lighting on all ships be kept dark, and that electronics communications of all kinds (including intercom) be kept silent.

    Before the fleet shut down its communications systems, however, it had received disturbing information over the Titans' communications band: Side 7's Colony 2 has been completely destroyed…no survivors.

    Colony 2, housing the Green Glen community…over 750,000 lives…

    The Federation/SNRI Forces are, truth be told, nothing much more than a skeleton force…even with Major Jolie Minh-Miguel and her powerful White Phoenix Gundam. The odds of mounting a successful counterstrike against the amassed Titans Forces in the L3 Zone comprising Side 7 and Luna 2 are nil.

    Nevertheless, it is the only hope that the Earth Federation as they have known it can survive and reclaim its sovereignty.

    And then, there is the question of priorities…

    ************************************************** ***************

    01:44, Ship's Time, a conference room aboard the darkened Amuro Ray

    "We're going to launch a commando assault on Luna-2," Col. Christina McKenzie announces.

    Seated with the commanding officer of SNRI at the conference table on Deck 6 of the non-Titans-aligned Federation's last operating mobile battle carrier are Commodore Beecher Olech, commanding officer of the vessel, and Major Jolie Minh-Miguel, Major Eric Gardner, and Captain Chieming Noah of the Centurion Special Operations Team.

    "Ma'am, I take the liberty of pointing out that there are three million people, mostly civilians, at Green Oasis…plus thousands of our troops at Garrison Noah," Chieming interjects tersely, "As officers of the Earth Federation Forces, our first duty is to their safety and freedom."

    "In principle, I agree, Captain," Col. Christina McKenzie replies earnestly, "but under the circumstances, we need to look at the situation through a lens of military priorities and the reality of our limitations. We're a small force…calling us a skeleton force would be, frankly, generous, and we're up against a Titans force whose full strength that at the very least, is a hundred times greater than ours and that has backing from the Shambala Republic. If we mount an assault on Side 7, we'll likely be massacred…not only by the relatively smaller force they have at Garrison Noah, but the troops they have amassed at Luna 2. Our best bet is a sabotage assault on Luna 2 – destroy it to deny them a stronghold in this sector and maybe take out a significant part of their power base."

    Commodore Beecher Olech turns Chieming, "Chieming, we understand how you feel. Your parents are also my friends, but if Bright were here with us right now, he'd tell us to forget about Side 7 and go after Luna-2. If we don't take the Titans' base down at Luna-2, then, the Federation as we've known it is finished."

    "The Feder…" Chieming begins, but Major Eric Gardner quiets her by taking her hand in his, putting a finger over his faintly smiling lips, and shaking his head gently.

    Col. McKenzie rises, giving all of her subordinates a severe, withering look of unwavering authority, "The discussion is over. We'll reconvene at 08:00 to coordinate an assault plan against Luna-2."

    Chieming is about to say something more, but Eric gently tugs her away. Chieming glares daggers at Eric.

    Listening and observing quietly, but having offered no remarks at all, is Major Jolie Minh-Miguel. She sits at her place at the desk, regarding her colleagues through narrowed, weary eyes…unlit cigarette rolling about loosely between her lips.

    As he leaves the conference room, Major Gardner turns back briefly to give Jolie a quick, surreptitious wink, unnoticed by either Col. McKenzie or Commodore Beecher, who have already begun to discuss plans for the commando strike against Luna-2.

    Jolie extracts the unlit cigarette from her lips, places it back in its package in her uniform jacket pocket, and rises to leave the room without a word.

    ************************************************** ***************

    Space docks have been a booming industry since the dawn of the Universal Century era, over a century earlier. Clearly a necessity if humankind were to live in the cosmos, the docks grew larger and elaborate up through the beginning of the One Year War – capable of servicing space vehicles and mecha of every conceivable shape, size, and disposition. Anaheim Enterprises, the Buch Concern, the Luo Corporation, and a half dozen other tech sector conglomerates each fielded thousands of these space docks throughout the Earth Sphere and Mars and Jupiter orbit prior up to the late U.C. 0070s.

    Many of these space docks were destroyed during the nearly quarter century of warfare that ensued after U.C. 0079. Some were rebuilt or replaced in the years that followed, but many more were abandoned…some completely useless, others partly functional. The functional ones were, by and large salvaged and returned to service, but large numbers of such docks continued to be left to drift neglected in obscure orbital paths…lost, anonymous articles of space debris.

    It is to one of these half-functional, abandoned space docks just outside the orbit of Side 6 that Christian Ray and Jo-M have retreated with the Cosmogundam, now separated into separate Omega Gundam and Draco Gundam units, to repair the Omega Gundam's damaged Biosensor unit.

    Jo-M extracts the unit from its nacelle deep within the head unit of the Omega Gundam as Christian pries apart the clamp mechanism that holds the Biosensor component in place. The two youths examine the unit gravely, but Jo-M brightens as its condition becomes evident to her.

    "Some of these components are burned out," Jo tells Christian, "but the materials to repair or replace them are available here at this space dock."

    "Yeah," Christian sighs morosely, "but I'm sort of wondering whether or not we should."

    Jo-M replies evenly, "We won't last long against our enemies without it."

    "You're right," Christian says glumly, examining the piece more closely to gain a more precise evaluation of the repairs needed, "With the power that we have, we have to expect that everybody is going to want to control us…to use us. We have to be ready for that, but…"

    "You're unhappy because of what happened to that colony," Jo-M observes.

    "We killed thousands of people, Jo," Christian says, his voice choked, "They didn't deserve that."

    "They didn't," Jo agrees, "but it was an accident."

    "We can't let it happen again," Christian resolves, "We don't want to hurt anybody unnecessarily."

    "And that's even more a reason that we must repair this Biosensor unit," Jo-M says reassuringly, "If it functions properly, it'll help us gain better control of our abilities…so that we won't cause any more unnecessary deaths."

    "'Unnecessary deaths,'" Christian smirks bitterly, "If you ask me, Jo, every death that's resulted from these wars has been unnecessary."

    "I never questioned any of it before," Jo-M confesses, "Lady Minerva only told me to believe in her…to carry out her directives. I didn't question anything she told me…I didn't see a reason to…or know how. But since I met you…"

    Christian smiles, taking Jo into his embrace, gently stroking her long, fine black hair "I've ruined you, haven't I?"

    "You've opened me to the world," Jo replies warmly.

    Their lips lock in a long, deep and passionate kiss. Christian runs his fingers along the smooth warmth of the back of Jo's thighs, drinking in the delightful sensation.

    Episode 9 to be continued...

  16. #36
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 9 continued...

    In Major Eric Gardner's private quarters on Deck 7 of the Amuro Ray, Chieming shoves Eric…hard…with both hands.

    "How could you?" Chieming screams, tears running down her youthful, silk-smooth cheeks, "You're just as heartless as the rest of them! What if that were your mother and father at Side 7, Eric?"

    Eric nods sympathetically, his demeanor as unflappable as ever, "I'd be worried sick."

    "I thought that of all people, I could count on you!" Chieming continues, "We're gonna be married in a few months, Eric! If I can't count on you to help me protect my family, then how the hell can I count on you for anything else?"

    Eric nods again, "You're right. You wouldn't be able to."

    "I hate you!" Chieming snarls, pounding on Eric's chest again, "You're a coward! You're a liar! You…!"

    Eric takes Chieming's pounding fists gently, but firmly into his own strong, dexterous hands…and he silences her angry rants with a quiet, but effective, "May I say something?"

    Chieming's silence is her sign of approval.

    Eric says gently, "I want to tell you a story. A true story about a kid who, before he was old enough to shave, was hauled off by the Titans as a POW. It happened near the old Federation capital at Dakar back during the final weeks of the Gryps Conflict…"

    ************************************************** ************

    Eighteen years earlier…

    A massive explosion destroys the front entrance of a building, knocking the terrified, fleeing mass of humanity off their feet. A boy of seven searches desperately, but fruitlessly for his parents.

    ************************************************** ************

    "…I couldn't find my parents anywhere. I feared the worst…that those Titans pigs had murdered them…"

    Cheiming gasps softly and touches his hand as he sighs heavily.

    "What happened then?" she asks softly.

    Eric continues with a lump in his throat, "I picked up the nearest handgun I could find…and aimed it right at an officer who took delight in slaughtering the prisoners his troops brought to him. I'd never killed anyone before, Chieming, but before I could shoot him…I was knocked out…"

    ************************************************** **************

    The boy is thrown into a dark, vermin-infested jail cell, blind with rage.

    "You'll be here until you're an old man, boy," a cold voice says from behind the heavy alloyed door, "assuming you make it to old age."

    Young Eric Gardner has little reason to make that assumption. Days that feel like months pass with agonizing monotony. Then, on the…one-hundred and sixth? (he had lost count)…day of his captivity, the sensitive-eared boy hears unfamiliar footsteps coming towards his cell.

    Eric hears a voice – a man's voice - unknown, but reassuringly warm and human to his ears, "What the hell has this Federation come to? A kid your age shouldn't be in a place like this. You got a family, kid?"

    "I did," the boy spits out savagely, "You Titans butchers killed them…remember?"

    The officer on the other side of the metal door replies regretfully, "I wasn't there when it happened. How did you end up like this?"

    It's a trick, Eric tells himself, just like in those cop or spy movies. Good cop, bad cop…wear you down and then get you to talk…but I'm not giving in to these bastards…then again, this might be the only chance I get…to let the world know that I was here…that all this happened…

    "Hey, Mister," Eric says at last, "Can I tell you something…?"

    ************************************************** ***************

    "I told the new officer everything I know about the incident. He wasn't like the other Titans. He didn't treat me like a prisoner. He didn't treat me like an animal. He treated me like a human being. He treated me like a man. He seemed to be a kind and caring man, totally out of place with those pigs. He told me that he had a daughter a few years younger than me, and that she looked up to him. He wore their colors, Chieming, but he wasn't one of them."

    ************************************************** **************

    The days and nights drag on interminably; nearly a year has passed since Eric became a prisoner of war. Such isolation and terror would result in dementia in men thrice Eric's age, but Eric struggles against such encroachments upon his sanity with vivid, detailed imaginings of glorious adventures among heroes of true valor….

    The youth's ruminations are disturbed by a faint, almost ghostly popping noise the distance.

    Sounds like… gunshots, Eric concludes, those pigs must be getting ready for an execution!

    The noise grows slowly, ominously louder. His curiosity having become irresistible, Eric creeps stealthily towards the barred window to a sight that causes him to momentarily wonder if he isn't still lost in one of his fantasies: a full-fledged mobile suit battle taking place on the streets of Dakar!

    The Federation's capital is under attack!

    Are they AEUG, or Zeon? Eric wonders. He risks another glance out the window.

    To the youth's horror, a free-falling piece of debris bears down on him menacingly, threatening to crush him under its weight!

    Eric dives towards the opposing wall of his tiny cell as the prison compound begins to cave in. For the first time in a long, long time, sunlight touches his hair and face.

    Checking himself and noting that all limbs are intact, Eric glances skyward, spotting two Asshimar mobile armor units holding their positions over the city.

    Turning his head to the left in response to the telltale sound of whirring gears and hydraulic gyros, Eric finds himself awed by the sight of two AEUG mobile suits… one of them mounting a stylized golden v-fin on its head.

    My God, Eric gapes, "that's the Zeta Gundam!'

    ************************************************** ***************

    "That was the beginning of the end for the Titans," Chieming remarks, "the Battle of Dakar. Uncle Amuro fought in that battle along with Camille Vidan."

    "Yeah," Eric affirms, "Char's speech was the turning point of that conflict…and it proved to be a turning point for me too."

    ************************************************** **************

    "MOM! DAD! YOU'RE ALIVE!" Eric exults, running into the embrace of his parents.

    The Titans officer who befriended Eric, now revealed to be a slightly-built, pleasant-looking Asian man of about thirty years of age, informs Eric, "The Earth Federation Forces found them unwounded, but a bit shaken up. They've been in protective custody under Karaba supervision ever since. When I learned that their name was 'Gardner,' I made some inquiries and arranged to have them brought here."

    "I can't thank you enough," Eric says, shaking the officer's hand tightly, "You know…you're too good a man to be one of them. You should abandon the Titans."

    "You're probably right, kid," the officer says, removing his Titans beret and doffing his uniform jacket, folding the latter neatly as he continues, "When I was first recruited for this outfit, I had dreams of helping to establish a safer, more orderly world, but that's not what the Titans are about at all. I'm heading back to space…back to my wife and kids. You take care of yourself…and your folks. Nothing's more important than family, especially in crazy times like these."

    The officer gives Eric a smile and a pat on the shoulder, and turns away.

    "Hey, man," Eric says after a moment, "You never did tell me your name."

    The officer turns and with a chuckle, replies with a salute "Captain Dominic Minh, Earth Federation Forces, at your service, friend."

    ************************************************** **************

    Chieming smiles, "So it was Jolie's daddy?"

    Eric returns the grin "Before he left…he gave me a picture of his lovely little daughter…Jolie. I actually first set eyes on her years before any of you did. Dominic showed me how each of us answers to something much more important than a flag or nation. We ultimately must all answer to our consciences. There's no higher authority than the conscience in each of us, and my conscience is telling me now that we can't leave your parents or the millions of others at Side 7 to an uncertain fate under the authority of the Titans."

    Chieming's smile fades, and she sits back on Eric's bed, "I'm scared, Eric. Jolie's daddy saved your parents that time, but…"

    Eric puts his hands comfortingly on Chieming's shoulders, "We're going to save them. All of them."

    Chieming is momentarily confused, "But Col. McKenzie…"

    "Christina has her hands tied," Eric says, "but we don't. Even if she can't support us…even if it means we have to act against the Federation, we're going to save Bright, Mirai, and the others, Chieming. If there's one thing I learned from Dominic Minh, it's that sometimes, being a good, loyal soldier means going against orders. Court-marital, dishonorable discharge, hell…execution. I'm willing to risk all that and more for you, Chieming…for your family…and for what's right in this universe."

    Chieming's eyes brim with tears. She tries to say something, but no words come forth from her lips.

    Eric extends his hand and gently caresses Chieming's silk-smooth cheeks; he lets her rest her head against his chest.

    Passion overcomes the couple, and Eric's hand slips amorously behind the hem of Chieming's skirt to caress the smooth warmth of her firm, shapely thighs.

    Momentarily, their bodies are as bare to one another as their souls as Eric tucks Chieming back upon his bed.

    ************************************************** ***************
    Hours later...

    His fingers feast upon the soft warmth of her skin, greedily devouring its fine porcelain texture.

    His eyes drink in the graceful curves of her feminine form, mesmerized to a point of sublime tranquility.

    His ears imbibe of her soft, gentle moans…sweet sound in his ears.

    Major Eric Gardner is in a sensual heaven…one that is fast approaching cosmic…when a sudden electronic trilling noise brings him crashing down to earthly reality.

    "Coitus interruptus," Eric mutters, quickly rolling out of bed, throwing on his robe, and wiping an angry grimace off his face.

    Major Jolie Minh's very pleasant visage appears on the communications monitor in Eric's private quarters; Jolie is dressed in her normalsuit and calling from a communications monitor station on the MS deck.

    "Ready to move out in thirty minutes, Eric," Jolie says.

    "Right, Major…" Eric says through clenched teeth.

    Jolie peers over Eric's shoulder to a familiar feminine form concealed behind the bedsheets.

    Jolie's eyes widen and the hint of a grin appears on her lips, "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

    "What would make you think that?" Eric snarls.

    "Sorry," Jolie says sheepishly, killing the link.

    Eric turns to Chieming, who is attempting to control her giggles behind the back of her hand; she looks adorable.

    "Jolie is a wonderful friend and an excellent soldier," Eric sighs, "but her sense of timing sucks to high heaven."

    Chieming tumbles gracefully out of bed and dons her undergarments, and then begins slipping into her uniform as she replies, "I should have known she'd been in on the mutiny too."

    "She'd never have forgiven us if we'd left her out of it," Eric replies, pulling on his boots.

    Chieming places a hand on one hip and adopts a look of mock-jealousy, "You two had planned this out all beforehand, didn't you?"

    Eric kisses Chieming tenderly on the forehead, "Wasn't trying to leave you out, babe…but you were too emotionally involved in it. No way you'd have been able to hold a poker face to Christina."

    "You're right," Chieming confesses, "I didn't and wouldn't."

    "Let's go," Eric says, taking Chieming's hand.

    Episode 9 to be continued...

  17. #37
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 9 continued...

    Eric and Chieming arrive on the darkened MS deck of the Amuro Ray five minutes later, clad in their normalsuits. The service lights are illuminated around a half dozen MS being combat-prepped for imminent deployment, one of which is Major Jolie Minh-Miguel's White Phoenix Gundam.

    Eric notes that his Strike Gundam is not among the MS being combat-prepped; his familiar mobile suit sits silently on its maintenance gantry, dark and unattended.

    "Hey, what's up?" Eric inquires, "Why isn't the Strike Gundam being readied for deployment?"

    "Because you aren't going to be deploying in it," Jolie answers, drifting towards Eric and Chieming, "You're going to be deploying in that instead."

    Jolie points to the RX-780-2, the Centurion Gundam Unit 2, once the MS assignment of Captain Jonah Michaels (Miguel), previous commanding officer of the Centurion Team…and Jolie's late husband.

    "You're serious?" Eric says, surprised, "You want me to deploy in the CG-2?"

    "We're likely to see heavy commando combat," Jolie says plainly, donning her helmet, "The Strike Gundam isn't ideally suited for that function."

    Eric becomes solemn, "I appreciate that, Jolie. I know it can't be easy for you to allow anyone to pilot that mobile suit…you haven't let anybody so much as breathe hard on it these past five years."

    Jolie replies acidly as she ascends towards the cockpit of her own White Phoenix Gundam, "Just make sure you don't become the second man in its cockpit to leave behind a widow, Major Gardner."

    Major Gardner boards the Centurion Gundam Unit 2's cockpit and straps himself in, running the idling combat systems through the standard pre-deployment checklist.

    Gardner is familiar with the CG's combat systems and cockpit layout configuration, having occasionally piloted the Unit-1 before it was assigned to Christian Ray (and before Christian hijacked it for the Shambala Republic). Eric has never occupied the cockpit seat of the Unit-2, however. Jolie had never allowed anyone to board that cockpit. Eric figures that she must regard it as sacred. Understandable.

    She's serious when she says she doesn't want me to make a widow out of Chieming, Eric reflects.

    Major Eric Gardner is not a superstitious man. Never has he been one to believe in ghosts or the supernatural, and yet…Eric is acutely conscious that another man…a comrade-at-arms and friend…had died piloting this MS five years earlier. Even now, Eric senses…something…a familiar, unseen, unheard presence in the cockpit with him.

    "Man, I've done some weird sh*t in my time," Eric mutters to himself as he continues bringing combat systems online, "but this is the first time I've ever piloted a haunted mobile suit."

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *******************

    The MS of the Centurion Special Operations Team line up on the launch catapult behind their unit leader, Major Jolie Minh-Miguel aboard her White Phoenix Gundam. Service crews begin to vacate the MS deck as launch crew personnel take over.

    "This is Centurion Leader," Jolie calls from the cockpit, "Centurion Team units all prepare to move out: our objective is Garrison Noah."

    The Centurion Team's MS swing out from the launch deck of the Amuro Ray, on an unauthorized mission to liberate space colony Side 7, the last bastion of the Earth Federation, from the cruel titanium grip of its own murderous spawn.

    Col. Christina McKenzie receives word of the Centurion Team's unauthorized deployment scarcely a minute later.

    The Director of SNRI/Special Forces rushes to the bridge of the Amuro Ray, where Commodore Beecher Olech is already monitoring the situation.

    The attractive, auburn-haired Christina commandeers the communications station and opens a line to the White Phoenix Gundam, "Major Minh-Miguel: Col. McKenzie here. You and your personnel are not authorized to deploy. I order you and the Centurion Team to return to the Amuro Ray immediately."

    Christina's orders are met with silence, and the diminishing lights of the Centurion Team's MS in the distance.

    "Major Minh-Miguel…" Christina repeats, more tersely this time.

    Silence.

    "Ready all guns, Commodore," Christina says to Commodore Beecher reluctantly.

    Beecher swallows, "All gun batteries. Prepare to fire on Centur…"

    "Wait," Christina interjects.

    Commodore Beecher begins again, "Gunnery crew: cancel that order."

    Col. McKenzie leans forward and presses both hands down upon the forward navigational console, "Patch me through to the launch deck."

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    "We've got incoming at our six," Major Eric Gardner reports from the cockpit of the CG-2, "It's big, and it's coming fast. Closing at Mach 4."

    "We can outrun it. Give us an ID scan," Jolie replies calmly, "All units: engage ECM and be ready to take evasive action."

    "Incoming object at 90 kilometers and still closing. Speed constant," Eric announces as he runs the ID scan.

    The incoming object does not register as any kind of known missile, but after a maddening few seconds of indecision, the computer positively identifies the object as…

    "A Hyper Particle Beam Cannon!" Eric declares triumphantly.

    "I knew Christina was one of us!" Chieming exults from the cockpit of her MS.

    Jolie's voice issues through the communications network, "Major Gardner: initiate CG-2 supplemental weapons systems docking and integration protocol."

    "Roger, Centurion Leader," Eric responds, "CG-2 supplemental weapons systems DI protocol commencing now."

    The Hyper Particle Beam Cannon's automated retro thrusters kick in, slowing the massive weapon down as it approaches Major Gardner's Centurion Gundam.

    Eric activates the CG-2's docking mechanisms to receive the weapon. With the assistance of a dozen gears, gyros, and stabilizers, the Hyper Particle Beam Cannon docks with the Centurion Gundam.

    Col. McKenzie's pleasant, but stern visage appears on the monitor of Jolie's White Phoenix Gundam, "This is Col. McKenzie to Centurion Team: Godspeed, ladies and gentlemen."

    "Col. McKenzie," Jolie replies with the flat, steady tone indicative of her complete focus on the mission at hand, "Ma'am: requesting that the Amuro Ray and the rest of the armada provide my team with cover fire during the entry operation."

    "Granted," Christina answers.

    "Roger that," Jolie replies, "Wait for our signal."

    ************************************************** ************************************************** **********************

    At the abandoned space dock, Christian and Jo-M quickly don their normalsuits after several sublimely lustful hours. Never had either of them ever experienced such intense carnal sensations- or such a complete openness of spirit in which no aspect of each other, be it physical or emotional, was left unrevealed to other.

    Nevertheless, Jo-M feels it incumbent upon herself to verbalize her thoughts to her soulmate, "Christian…I owe my life to Lady Minerva. Even though we've vowed to set out on our own path and our own life…I feel that we should at least help her fulfill this one final mission."

    Christian smiles as he seals the pressurization rings on his normalsuit, "You don't need to say it. I feel the same way. I feel it because you feel it. I do owe Minerva one…because without her, I could never have been with you."

    Jo-M returns Christian's grin and kisses him sweetly on the cheek, a gesture Christian returns before saying, "It's in our interests to help Minerva and the Shambala Republic anyway. Those Titans are evil scum. We have to destroy them for the good of the world. Jolie Minh is a threat to us; as long as she lives, she'll be bent on destroying us, so we have to destroy her first."

    "She was your friend," Jo-M observes, "She cared for you. Can you really…?"

    "Jolie rejected me," Christian answers sullenly, "Just like my father did…just like the entire damned Earth Federation did. They don't need me…I don't need them…especially now that you're here. Jo…with you in this world, there doesn't need to be a Jolie Minh. You're better than her. You've surpassed her. You should be the true White Phoenix."

    Jo-M blushes slightly, then dons her helmet, "Then it's decided: we destroy the Titans and Jolie Minh…"

    "…and then, it's just you and me," Christian finishes, donning his own helmet, "Just us…in our own world."

    Momentarily, the Omega Gundam and the Draco Gundam, Biosensor restored to operating condition, launch from the maintenance dock.

    "Initiating Cosmogundam docking sequence," Jo-M announces.

    "Roger. Systems aligning – docking in t-minus tens seconds," Christian affirms.

    Gears and servos swivel and shift as the two Gundams combine into a single, supremely powerful unit…the Cosmogundam.

    "Cosmogundam docking established," Jo-M affirms, "Course vector heading 8-11B9…intercept Titans Armada."

    The Cosmogundam's mighty thrusters flare to life, propelling the ultimate war mecha to the field of combat.

    Episode 9 to be continued...

  18. #38
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Episode 9 continued...

    The Shambala Republic Defense Fleet is marshalling just beyond the perimeter of the Side 3 Zone, taking up defensive formation around the heartland of the Shambala Republic.

    At the head of the fleet is the converted warship Mapother, originally a large cargo ship, modified for combat functions.

    In her private office aboard the Mapother, Deputy Prime Minister Minerva Zabi-Noah contemplates the gold pocketwatch and chain in her cybernetic left hand…a watch her best friend Jolie had gifted to her some eight years ago…eight years that feel like eight lifetimes ago.

    Minerva's flesh-and-blood right hand rests upon her abdomen protectively; momentarily, her husband and partner, SIA Director Hathaway Noah, offers her a loving kiss on the cheek and a much-needed rub on the back of her neck.

    Hathaway whispers into Minerva's ear, "Jo and Christian have sent word; they're on their way."

    "Good," Minerva replies, stroking her abdomen thoughtfully, "I expect this will be their last mission."

    "You really think they'll leave?" Hathaway inquires, fondly stroking Minerva's soft, feathery blonde hair.

    "That's their plan," Minerva replies somewhat wearily, "I won't try to stop them. I don't think I could…nor do I need to."

    "You mean that in a literal sense," Hathaway observes, perceptive as ever.

    Minerva sighs, "They and Jolie have become too dangerous. They're the most powerful beings in the world…living weapons of apocalypse, and as long as they live, they can be exploited by evil men…or succumb to their own ignorance and recklessness. Some weapons are too powerful for humankind to possess, Hathaway: the nuclear detonator, the Minovsky Particle, the mobile suit…the Newtype. My own family has exploited each of these and cost humanity billions of lives. Enough. It stops here."

    "We created Jo-M," Hathaway points out, "and Jolie is your best friend. Are you really willing…?"

    Minerva sighs, "Yes. It's regrettable, but there are more important considerations. We…created her as well, and I want her to be born into a world without war."

    So saying, Minerva strokes her abdomen lovingly…as only a mother would.

    Hathaway puts his hand on Minerva's, and their fingers intertwine warmly, "You're right…as always."

    Their lips touch warmly, lovingly, as the future beckons.

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___________________________

    The mobile suits of the Centurion Special Operations Team have penetrated the Side 7 perimeter and streak towards Green Oasis, site of Garrison Noah.

    Major Jolie Minh-Miguel understands that stealth will avail them little…that subtlety is a luxury that they cannot afford, and thus, she orders Major Eric Gardner, "Centurion Two: ready Hyper Particle Beam Cannon to fire. Target: Titans' fuel tanker."

    Moored about ten kilometers out from Green Oasis is a massive nuclear-powered fuel tanker that the Titans had brought with them to supply combat units with sufficient fuel for an extended operation. A massive vessel about a tenth the mass of a space colony itself, it is veritably a potential weapon of mass destruction if detonated.

    According to Major Gardner's calculations, using the Hyper Particle Beam Cannon to detonate the fuel tanks of the vessel at this proximity to Green Oasis poses a considerable, but acceptable risk to the space colony. Depending on the trajectory of the explosion, Green Oasis could be knocked out of its orbit…or worse, but there's an equal chance that the colony would be minimally affected or even completely unaffected.

    After a quick consultation with Col. Christina McKenzie, the decision was rendered: attack with Hyper Particle Beam Cannon.

    "Energy charge on Hyper Particle Beam Cannon at 85% and rising," Major Gardner affirms, "Safety locks disengaged. Energy at saturation point…Hyper Particle Beam Cannon firing."

    Pure hellfire erupts forth from the barrel of the mighty weapon, lancing forth in a cohesive beam towards the Titans' fuel ship.

    The hyperaccelerated energy particles have an immediate and volatile effect upon the fuel ship, causing it to balloon forth in a hellaciously violent explosion.

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ________________________________

    The streets of Green Oasis City, until approximately two weeks ago a bustling and thriving metropolis, are devoid of pedestrians. Only the ominous presence of Titans MS and armed Titans troopers are visible on the avenues and boulevards of the city, the mecha towering over all but the tallest buildings, sinisterly vigilant for any sign of unauthorized activity.

    The millions of people who reside in Green Oasis City have been holed up in their homes for the past ten days, under a state of perpetual curfew and martial law, enforceable at the end of a gun, "for their own protection," according to the Titans authorities. Under absolutely no circumstances are the residents of the city allowed to leave their shelters, being told by the authorities that they would be released when they are to be released.

    Green Oasis City has been a place where few words other than barked commands have been heard in recent days. Questions are typically answered by automatic rifle butts and, in more than a few cases, rifle barrels…understandable questions such as, "What's inside those canisters you've placed on the streets?"

    The deafening booms of mobile suits' footfalls upon pavement are accompanied by vibrations that threaten to shake the city's buildings off their foundations. The streets and the structures that stand upon them were not built for the stress of mobile suits constantly ambulating near them.

    The Titans' mobile suits are heavy, sturdy machines…veritable anthropomorphic battleships easily capable of standing their ground against impacts that would level skyscrapers.

    The concussive power that suddenly slams into Green Oasis colony, however, topples dozens of them, sending them tumbling to the pavement as if they were mammoth bowling pins.

    A general alarm sounds across the space colony as Titans personnel, ships, and mecha scramble to combat status.

    A glance outside the massive solar panel windows of the colony would be sufficient to confirm what is already being transmitted through the Titans' military communications band: a fuel ship has exploded, causing massive damage to Titans warships and logistical vessels moored near Side 7…

    The shockwave of the explosion soon reaches Green Oasis colony itself, rocking the colony with a force unrivaled by any terrestrial quake…

    "The shockwave just hit Green Oasis, Jolie," Major Gardner reports, his entire body bathed in sweat, "Ma'am, it's moving!"

    Sure enough, Green Oasis begins to move…just slightly.

    "Jolie!" Chieming cries out, her heart pumping like a motor piston.

    Jolie's eyes flash, and a spark rips forth from her helmeted head.

    Green Oasis lurches, then stops…settling back into its assigned orbit.

    Jolie contacts the bridge of the Amuro Ray, "Col. McKenzie…Commodore Beecher…now! While they're still reeling from the destruction of the fuel tanker!"

    "Roger that, Major Minh-Miguel," comes the response from the Amuro Ray's bridge.

    The remainder of the SNRI fleet, a half dozen warships, swivel the turrets of their primary and secondary gun batteries towards the Titans Armada, a few of which are deployed, but many of which have been damaged by the explosion of the fuel tanker. Beam cannon, missile barrages…all erupt at once towards the already disoriented Titans' fleet.

    Jolie shouts to her teammates, "Go! Go! Go! We've only got a few minutes before they recover and strike back!"

    The Centurion Team needs no other prompting. Responding to hundreds of hours of training and, in the case of the veterans, an even greater amount of time in actual combat, the SNRI troops and their mobile suits penetrate and invade Green Oasis Colony like early 20th Century American G-Men busting a hideout in gangland. The Centurions' MS burst into the space colony that until recently, served as their headquarters. The SNRI MS vengefully blitzkrieg every Titan MS and troop carrier in sight, exacting justice for lost comrades-at-arms.

    Even so, the SNRI Forces are outnumbered fourteen-to-one, and they have one significant limitation that the Titans do not…

    "Careful!" Jolie admonishes her subordinates, "There are civilians up and down these streets…in the buildings!"

    The SNRI MS take to the streets, valiantly fighting to overcome their enemies while at the same time, not endanger the scores of civilians confined in their homes and businesses. In the chaos and confusion of the moment, large numbers of these civilians begin rushing forth from their shelters into the streets, compounding the danger.

    The opposing Titans MS are predominantly of two varieties, the shock trooper TS-03 Amsträger and the swift, airmobile TS-06 Dolch. Jolie glimpses a more uncommon third model…clearly superior to the two more common types and perhaps equal to a Gundam in overall power output, maneuverability, resilience, and firepower...something reminiscent of the Federation's own Cour de Leon series MS, once favored by Lt. Col. Athena Ibaz and now piloted by Captain Chieming Noah.

    From seemingly nowhere, a designation code and nomenclature materialize in Jolie's mind: TS-10 Drachenherz.

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _________________________________

    Col. Mongke Blameernorgh (nicknamed "Col. Blam" by his troops, though never thus addressed directly), the Titans' field operations commander at Side 7, strides towards a TS-10S Drachenherz Strike unit being combat-prepped at the same MS deck in Garrison Noah previously assigned to SNRI's Centurion Team.

    The pilot of the Drachenherz Strike is Major Klaus "Crusher" Crenshaw, age forty-five and veteran of three wars. A young Earth Federation Forces ace pilot during the One Year War who had first proved his prowess during the Odessa Campaign on Earth and the assaults on Solomon and A Bao a Qu Fortresses, Crenshaw continued to serve as an MS pilot for the first incarnation of the Titans under Col. Bosque Om's command during the Gryps Conflict.

    Crenshaw's commanding officers have long recognized him as an excellent warrior and gifted MS pilot (a Newtype, as later confirmed by the Augusta Research Center), but military psychologists also pegged Crenshaw as a headcase…particularly, as sadist who delighted in the amount of pain he could inflict upon an enemy. He gained the nickname "Crusher" for this defect of his personality…and for his preferred method of finishing off an enemy.

    The perfect warrior for the ranks of the Titans.

    Spotting his commanding officer, Crenshaw salutes, "Col. Blameernorgh, sir!"

    Col. Blam returns the salute and says coldly, "Major Crenshaw: I want you to know that you have General Blackhead's and my authorization to use any and all necessary methods to put down this act of gross insubordination and insurrection by SNRI. They're traitors, Major, and they are to be punished as traitors."

    Crenshaw grins with wolfish anticipation as he salutes, "Understood, sir."

    Momentarily, Crenshaw is lifted to the cockpit of his modified TS-10S Drachenherz Strike…a machine designed with murder in mind.

    Crenshaw brings the nuclear fusion engine of his MS to life, then brings combat systems online. The dual camera unit "eyes" of the Drachenherz Strike begin to glow a baleful green.

    Crenshaw opens the communications network to his squad…handpicked ace pilots aboard Dolch-S units, nicknamed "Black Dragons."

    "This is Crenshaw," the Major says in his characteristic growl, "Street party. Party favors on us."

    The Black Dragons pilots grin knowingly at an apparently innocuous phrase whose coded true meaning is known only to them.

    The Centurion Team and other SNRI units continue their intense firefight against the Titans Corps on the streets of Side 7. Despite SNRI's best efforts, casualties have begun to amount among the civilian population. Casualties already number in the hundreds, and Jolie fears that number could grow exponentially before she and her comrades can sweep the Titans out of the colony.

    Aboard the Centurion Gundam Unit-2 and a Cour de Leon, Eric and Chieming battle their way inexorably towards an objective on a synthetic turf hill in the distance, still three kilometers away – the Presidential Residence…

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___________________________________

    Inside the Presidential Residence, President Mirai Yashima-Noah (who surprisingly still holds that title, although she imagines not for much longer) of the Earth Federation Government and her husband, General Bright Noah of the Earth Federation Forces can only watch…and wait.

    Since the beginning of their captivity more than a week ago, the couple has been treated surprisingly mildly by their Titans captors. They have generally been free to move about the confines of their home, albeit always under the supervision of watchful, heavily armed guards. Despite overt and implied threats of violence should they attempt to resist, so far, the Noahs have been spared any actual harm by their captors.

    "They're afraid of us," Bright reassured his wife on the second day of their captivity, "They know that they have nothing to offer but brutality."

    The Presidential Residence is soundproofed, but Bright and Mirai can feel the impact and vibrations of the battle coming closer…and that horrible concussion that had knocked both of them off their feet a few minutes before the vibrations began. Something is happening out there…

    Their thoughts turn to the younger of their two children…Chieming…

    Mom…Dad…

    Mirai "hears" it first, and then, so does Bright.

    Chieming…Mirai thinks back to her daughter…Chieming, we're in the Presidential Residence!

    Her daughter responds, We're coming for you, Mom…for you and Daddy. Just hang in there a few more minutes!

    Chieming's thoughts turn to her fiancé Eric, Eric…Mom and Dad…they're…

    Inside the Presidential Residence, Eric thinks back, I know. I just "heard."

    The realization dawns on Chieming that she had heard Eric in her mind…not through her ears. The idea warms her heart…

    It must be Jolie, Eric concludes, she's boosting all of our latent Newtype sensitivities.


    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _______________________

    The vibrations grow more intense within the Presidential Residence, finally distracting the guards sent to confine President and General Noah.

    "Now, Mirai!" Bright bellows.

    More than twenty years ago, Bright and Mirai had fought side-by-side as part of the crew of the White Base. More than once, their ship was invaded by enemy Zeon troops, forcing them to fight against their enemies hand-to-hand. Recent years have been quieter…with fewer occasions to bodily struggle against foemen, but neither Bright nor Mirai's combat instincts have deserted them after these many long years…

    Bright dives towards legs of the nearest Titans' guardsman, a youth likely younger than his own youngest child, Chieming, and brings him crashing to the ground. As the youth falls, Mirai wrenches his weapon out of his hand, firing in an arc to take down the two other guardsmen assigned to secure them.

    Bright knocks out the youth that he has wrestled to the ground with a solid punch directly to the face, then draws a concussion grenade from the young man's utility belt.

    "Mirai! Take cover!" Bright shouts.

    Mirai reflexively obeys, diving behind the shelter of the kitchen's concrete central counter as Bright chucks the grenade.

    The concussion takes down the remaining guardsmen, as well as one of the exterior walls of the Presidential Residence.

    Behind a veil of smoke, Mirai and Bright hear the telltale heavy sounds of two mobiles suits' armored footfalls.

    Mirai points her commandeered weapon skyward, as futile as she knows it would be against a mobile suit.

    The veil of smoke clears to reveal the comforting, familiar forms of the Centurion Gundam Unit-2 and Cour de Leon, which leave the smoldering wreckage of a half dozen Titans' MS behind them as they approach the President and the General.

    Episode 9 to be continued...

  19. #39
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    At the same moment, Jolie and the rest of the Centurion Team are making headway against the Titans' MS army. Despite their far smaller numbers, SNRI is riding the superiority of the White Phoenix Gundam and Jolie's piloting skill to put the Titans on their heels.

    To watch the White Phoenix Gundam in action is to witness warfare rendered into poetry; the ultimate war machine moves with a lightness, grace, and lightning-swiftness that belies its heavily armored mass. Its deployment of weaponry is precise and efficient, striking down enemy after enemy without endangering the civilians that still teem about the combat zone, with a flare and grace that seem to indicate that its pilot is putting on a show for an audience, although such thoughts are far from Jolie's mind.

    But an ominous pressure bears down on Jolie…suffocating, oppressive. She glances skyward and sees an arriving flight of fresh Titans' mobile suits…not the Amsträgers or standard Dolchs that she has been dispatching with ease, but a dozen upgraded Dolch-S units and a Drachenherz-type, descending in battle formation across the city.

    "SNRI, evasive maneuvers!" Jolie orders.

    Aboard his Drachenherz-S, Major Klaus Crenshaw sneers, "White Phoenix, eh? I want these people to witness me crushing you along with their hopes!"

    So saying, Crenshaw opens up with a heavy barrage of beam fire that Jolie deftly blocks with the White Phoenix Gundam's arm-mounted shield. Jolie's eyes flash with alarm as Crenshaw's Drachenherz streaks in from behind the cloud of resultant smoke and sparks to bear down upon the WPG with its beam saber tip extended before itself.

    Jolie turns the blow aside with a swipe from the WPG's own beam saber, then directs her mobile suit in a wheeling kick that catches the Drachenherz across the head/camera unit and send the Titans' MS crashing on its back.

    Crenshaw curses as his MS goes down. Never in his three-decade combat piloting career has he been so humiliated…

    Crenshaw rapidly brings the Drachenherz back to its feet for a second strike against the WPG, but then, a more devilishly appealing idea enters his imagination.

    Smiling his wolfish smile, Crenshaw issues the order to his men, "Black Dragons…time for party favors…"

    Responding to that order, the Black Dragons begin opening fire...on every civilian structure, vehicle, and individual in sight!

    The carnage is devastating and quick…within seconds, hundreds have been slain in a scene of complete pandemonium. The streets of Side 7 run red in blood, stained by fire, smoke, and tears…the sound of explosions and crumbling rubble punctuated by screams of terror and pain.

    Crenshaw laughs.

    2Lt. Rayann Zhang, aboard her Jet Jegan Strike, spots a family of four on the run from a Dolch-S that is toying with them by spraying gatling cannon fire at their heels.

    In that family, Rayann sees her own…her father, mother, and older sister Rainie, all (hopefully) still safe and sound in her home colony of Emerald Rod at Side 5. All of her life, Rayann's goal in life was to be a part of something greater than herself…to stand up for justice and protect the innocent. It is for that reason that she left home at age sixteen to join the Earth Federation Forces and worked hard to qualify as a Special Forces cadet, finally serving under the command of her childhood heroine, Major Jolie Minh-Miguel. It was to such ideals as justice and compassion that Rayann had dedicated her life…

    Rayann launches forward in her Jet Jegan Strike, diving at the Dolch-S with her mobile suit's weapons blazing.

    "Rayann…wait!" her longtime friend and wingman, 2Lt. Amy Chu cries out from her own Jet Jegan.

    "2Lt. Zhang, don't!" Jolie cautions, her hands full with a dozen Dolch-S units that stand between the WPG and Rayann's Jet Jegan Strike.

    Rayann succeeds in downing the Dolch-S terrorizing the fleeing family, but the maneuver exposes her to a sudden attack by Major Crenshaw's Dragonherz.

    The Titans' ace drives his mobile suit's beam saber deep into the center of Rayann's mobile suit…just below the cockpit. The maneuver is coordinated not to detonate the Federation MS's nuclear fusion engine…or to disintegrate Rayann, but to roast her alive.

    Rayann feels her skin burning inside the cockpit of her MS…her blood boiling from more than anger. She screams in horrible, horrible pain.

    Heat is replaced by impact as the Dragonherz smashes her Jet Jegan into the pavement, then slams on the Centurion Team MS's cockpit hatch with the bottom of its armored foot, bringing its full weight to bear.

    Rayann feels every bone in her body breaking, her internal organs being squeezed to implosion by the ever-increasing pressure.

    Mom…Dad…Sis…..Kevin…I…love…all…of…you, Rayann has time to think before death mercifully overcomes her.

    "RAYANN!" Amy screams, her eyes blinded with tears, her heart breaking.

    Over the external speakers of his Dragonherz, Major Klaus "Crusher" Crenshaw sneers once again, "This is the fate that awaits those foolish enough to challenge the authority of the Titans and the Earth Federation. We are the giants of this world, and you…you are all insects!"

    Jolie's teeth clench and a horrible, horrible rage builds inside her…her eyes glow dangerously red, and her grip nearly snaps the control sticks of the WPG!

    ************************************************** ************************************************** ******************

    Two years ago, Major Jolie Minh-Miguel had recruited Cadet Rayann Zhang from the Earth Federation Forces Officer's Academy. Rayann was a friend of Amy Chu's, who'd Jolie had first encountered on Earth during the war against Alexander Miguel, but that would not be enough to secure Rayann consideration for Special Forces duty. The Special Forces were the best of the best, and if Rayann were to join their ranks, she would need to prove her mettle.

    …and prove it she did. Rayann's talents were certainly above average – she had been among the top officers in her graduating class at the academy, but her success was as much a product of her sheer determination and courage as it was her substantial gifts. Rayann Zhang wanted to fight alongside heroes…she wanted to be a hero herself, and finally won Jolie's trust and a coveted place among the Federation's finest after passing a rigorous series of tests that included combat campaigns in space and on the ruined Earth against the remnants of Zeon.

    Jolie remembers greeting Rayann's parents and older sister when they came to visit during the previous year's holidays, and seeing in them reflections of her own family, so long lost to her. Jolie both envied and admired Rayann for being able to maintain a family through the chaos of war.

    Jolie remembers late night conversations with Rayann on subjects as wide-ranging as mobile suit combat experiences…and experiences with lovers. Rayann had left behind a tumultuous relationship with a boyfriend, Kevin was his name, to join the Federal Forces…and Rayann's anecdotes about their experiences often recalled to Jolie's mind her own relationship with her late husband, Jonah.

    Rayann was always dutiful and compliant, but she also demonstrated initiative and drive. Jolie saw in Rayann a younger sister…a sort of kindred spirit.

    Now she's gone…gone just like her parents…like Jonah…like so many others Jolie has loved…literally had the life crushed out of her by a monster who wears the skin and flesh of a man…

    "You haven't been half-trying…" Dr. Camille Vidan's words haunt Jolie, "You've been holding back because you're afraid to use your full power. You're scared of what might happen if you allowed yourself to really cut loose and unleash your full potential."

    Jolie sees an image of her husband Jonah on his deathbed, five years earlier, the promise he asked of her…"Use your great gifts…protect them."

    The sound of Crenshaw's taunts and mad laughter fill Jolie's ears.

    Jolie's eyes burn with horrible, vengeful retribution as a growl welling up from deep within her finally explodes into a terrible, inhuman scream…a battle cry… "YARRRGGHHHHHH!"

    The White Phoenix Gundam surges forth, its entire arsenal deployed!

    The first Dolch-S falls as the WPG's beam saber dices it into a dozen fragments with a swift series of slashes. Before it drops, the WPG has crushed a second Dolch-S by barreling into it with a bent knee. A massive barrage of beam fire downs six more in one sweep, while a simultaneous volley of missiles drop five more approaching Amsträger mobile suits.

    The remainder of the Centurion Team attempts to join the battle…to avenge their fallen comrade and assist their commanding officer, but they find themselves unable to enter the fray. The White Phoenix Gundam has become much more than a superior combat mobile suit operated by a gifted ace pilot…it is an elemental force of retributive violence animated by an enraged demigoddess.

    Like a tidal wave, they come, dozens upon dozens of Titans' mobile suits, and as quickly as they arrive, they fall…engulfed by the unrelenting rage of the maddened White Phoenix…

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *********************

    Nearby, Captain Chieming Noah has debarked from her mobile suit and embraces her mother. Her fiancé, Major Eric Gardner, salutes and shakes the hand of Chieming's father, General Bright Noah.

    "Sir," Eric says as he salutes, "Major Eric Gardner reporting, General. We're here to liberate you, sir."

    "Well done, Major," Bright says with a smile, shaking the younger man's hand, "Now that we're free, our next priority is…"

    Bright's words are interrupted by a terrible noise and concussion coming from the central district of Green Oasis City, some five kilometers away from their present location. The city has become a blazing inferno, with mass explosions, fire, and smoke erupting seemingly everywhere.

    "Let's go!" Bright orders, "We have to find out what's happening there!"

    Bright boards the Centurion Gundam-2 with Eric, and Mirai likewise boards her daughter's Cour de Leon. Momentarily, they streak towards the center of the city.

    ************************************************** ************************************************** ********************

    The history of warfare is replete with oddities of singular acts by extraordinary individuals who appear to be an army unto themselves. The ancient Greeks had their legends of Achilles during the Trojan War. During the 20th Century, "super-soldiers" such as the famed Sergeant York, Audie Murphy, Simo Haya, and "Mad Jack" Churchill became the stuff of legend by personally fighting off dozens upon dozens of enemy soldiers and walking away completely unharmed.

    More recent in history was Amuro Ray's singlehanded takedown of twelve mobile suits in one six-minute melee during the One Year War…a battle that even two decades later remains the stuff of modern folklore.

    His legendary performance has been surpassed…sevenfold.

    The White Phoenix Gundam, with hardly a mark on it, stands poised for battle…its weapons systems all exhausted and empty, except for a beam saber that still has seven minutes' charge remaining.

    Behind it lie the broken remains of eighty-two Titans mobile suits…Amsträgers, Dolch-S and Dolch standards, Hizacks, Marasais, and Barzams.

    All eighty-two dispatched by the White Phoenix Gundam…

    Those who witnessed the carnage can scarcely believe their senses: one mobile suit had singly destroyed eighty-two others…destroyed them with utter ease, and with a vengefulness that was truly frightening.

    That fear now grips the heart of Major Klaus "Crusher" Crenshaw, whose face is pale and bathed in cold sweat as he backs his mobile suit away in terror, "N-no! Don't come near me!"

    In the cockpit of the White Phoenix Gundam, the furious red glow has not left Major Jolie Minh-Miguel's eyes. Her teeth are locked in a rictus of animalistic fury, and a bestial growl emanates from her throat.

    That growl once more explodes into a terrifying battle cry as the White Phoenix Gundam surges forth again.

    The WPG embeds its beam saber in a nearby fallen Amsträger as it charges towards Crenshaw's Drachenherz, felling the Titans' mobile suit. The WPG then begins pummeling the other mobile suit with its mighty armored fists, and with a series of cruel flips, twists, chops, and assorted blows, systematically disables its limbs.

    Inside the cockpit of the Drachenherz, Crenshaw is battered, bloodied, and exhausted. His heart is filled with hatred and a desire to strike back, but his body is too terribly wounded to comply.

    S-she's not human, Crenshaw has time to think, She's…she's some kind of war demon…some kind of vengeful spirit…

    Such are Crenshaw's final thoughts as the WPG's fist comes surging through the reinforced armored cockpit of the Drachenherz.

    The WPG has the limbless, headless Drachenherz helpless on its back amidst of the rubble of Green Oasis City. Crenshaw is little more than a bloody pulp unrecognizable as a man…and still, the WPG rams its armored fist into the hollow cavity where the cockpit module of the Drachenherz rested mere moments earlier, striking harder and harder…a dozen times…two dozen times…more furiously…with greater force in each strike. The WPG's metalshod fist breaks away, and still the mobile suit continues striking.

    "RRRRRRR! YAHHHHHH!" Jolie screams…unable to stop herself.

    "Ohmigod! She's gone crazy!" Captain Chieming Noah cries out in horror as her Cour de Leon and Major Eric Gardner's Centurion Gundam-2 alight.

    "Eric! Chieming! Stop her!" General Noah orders, "At this rate, she'll destroy what's left of the city!"

    The CG-2 and Cour de Leon each attempt to grab hold of the WPG's shoulders, but the more powerful MS simply shrugs them off. Taking a moment to engage their thrusters and gather themselves and make a second attempt, Eric and Chieming find themselves joined by the dozen or so remaining SNRI MS, all attempting valiantly to dogpile the WPG and keep it suppressed…all in vain as the WPG throws them off as if they were rag dolls.

    "We can't stop her!" Chieming laments.

    The WPG turns towards its SNRI allies, who back away cautiously as the WPG stalks ominously towards them.

    "One chance," Eric says through clenched teeth as he initiates the PSI-Gundam interlock system.

    A sensor aboard the WPG responds the signal, momentarily taking manual control out of Jolie's hands as the WPG readies itself for docking…

    The WPG and CG-2 merge into the PSI-Gundam…the first time they have done so since the penultimate battle of the Phobos War.

    "PSI-Gundam systems online," an electronic voice chimes.

    All wait in nervous anticipation.

    The PSI-Gundam does not move.

    In the combined cockpit of the PSI-Gundam, Major Eric Gardner unstraps himself from the safety restraints to lower himself into Jolie's command cockpit station, where she continues to finger the controls of the WPG.

    Eric opens the cockpit hatch and unstraps Jolie from the cockpit seat, calling out for "Medic!" as he does so.

    Eric removes Jolie from the WPG's cockpit and sets the diminutive MS ace on her feet.

    A moment later, Jolie lashes out and catches Eric with a chop that would have decapitated him had he not been wearing his helmet; as it is, the helmet is cracked as if it had been cleaved by an axe.

    The other Centurions begin backing away as Jolie swings at them wildly. Eric, Bright, Chieming, Amy, and several others finally succeed in tackling her to the ground.

    A medical team approaches and promptly injects Jolie with a powerful sedative. The Centurion Team leader soon loses consciousness.

    "Take her to the triage," General Noah orders, "She needs medical attention."

    Even as a stretcher arrives to transport Jolie to the triage, Chieming receives a message from Col. Christina McKenzie on the Amuro Ray.

    "Chieming," Christina's voice comes through the helmet receiver, "What's happening? Have you secured Side 7 yet?"

    "Yes, ma'am," Chieming reports, glancing at the destruction around her, "The Titans are in retreat. The President and General Noah have been liberated."

    "That's excellent news," Christina replies, "But we can't celebrate yet: our reconnaissance units show that the main Titans' Armada has departed Luna 2."

    "Are they headed our way?" Chieming asks worriedly.

    "No," Christina answers grimly, "They're on a course for Side 3."

    "Side 3?" Chieming repeats, "They're going to attack the Shambala Republic!"

    "We need to get there, now," Christina says.

    "We need some time for repairs," Chieming answers, choking up, "We-we lost 2Lt. Zhang...and Jolie…she..."

    Christina feels a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, "Repeat that, Captain Noah. What is the status of Major Minh-Miguel?"

    "She's fine," Chieming amends, "But…oh, God…"

    Eric gently removes the helmet from Chieming's head and places it on his own and begins, "Col. McKenzie, this is Major Gardner. Here's what happened…"

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *******************

    Some twelve hours later, Jolie awakens in the triage area set up in the familiar confines of Garrison Noah, now once again under Earth Federation Forces control.

    Jolie rises…her muscles ache, and she feels inexplicably weak. Nevertheless, she rises, picks up her helmet from where it lies on a nearby examination table, and staggers out of the triage area.

    The Garrison is abuzz with activity. SNRI MS assist technicians and engineers in repairing the damage as best they can. Jolie turns her head and sees her White Phoenix Gundam being rearmed and repaired on a service gantry, a process that seems near completion.

    In the distance, Major Eric Gardner's borrowed Centurion Gundam Unit-2 uses its beam saber to melt away the hated emblem of the Titans from the armored wall of the MS deck, to the applause of the mechanics, technicians, and troops who pause momentarily in their work to express their approval.

    Jolie, her battle rage spent, opens her mind…and hears the discussion currently taking place between General Bright Noah and his wife, President Mirai Yashima…

    "The Titans are going after Side 3," Mirai says lamentfully, "Hathaway and Minerva are going to need help, but our resources are exhausted. There's not much we can do to support them."

    "Christina and her fleet will deploy within an hour to attempt an interception of the Titans…maybe as a diversionary tactic," Bright says, "Hopefully, Jolie will be able to join them."

    "They were operating right under our noses all along," Mirai says, frustration evident in her voice, "We had five years to uncover and put an end to what Blackhead and his cronies were doing, and we utterly failed."

    "Not yet," Bright says determinedly, "We won't let those bastards get Shambala too."

    Jolie has heard enough. She dons her helmet and strides towards her White Phoenix Gundam.

    To Jolie's pleasant surprise, Captain Molly Duran-Pierce is waiting there for her, clipboard in hand and devilish smile in place.

    "Good to see you survived," Jolie says with a roguish grin of her own.

    "Partly because you went psycho on those Titans pigs," Molly replies, "Swear to God: I'll never, ever piss you off again, Major. Don't want to end up like those eighty-three MS you trashed."

    "Eighty-three?" Jolie says incredulously.

    "Eighty-three," Molly affirms, "What…you lost count?"

    "Something like that," Jolie answers, losing interest, "Is the WPG ready to deploy?"

    "All dressed for action and ready to party," Molly affirms, "Except they haven't handed out your invitation yet."

    "I'm crashing the party," Jolie says wearily, boarding the WPG, and bringing systems on line, "Hook me up with an M-Booster."

    "Going long-distance, eh?" Molly teases, already ordering the M-Booster.

    "Don't want to be late," Jolie rejoins.

    Thirty minutes later, the WPG launches from Garrison Noah…en rout to the Side 3 Zone.

    ************************************************** ************************************************** ***************

    The flight across the Earth Sphere utilizing the M-Booster takes six hours…enough time for Jolie to formulate some semblance of a battle plan.

    Jolie outflanks the Titans Armada, speeding past them to reach the perimeter of the Side 3 Zone just thirty minutes ahead of them.

    Approaching the Side 3 Zone, Jolie spots the Titans Armada before her…ominously closing upon the space colonies of Side 3 like a large school of sharks bearing down upon a school of tuna.

    Jolie lines the flagship of the Titans Armada, commanded by General Manron Blackhead himself, in the targeting bracket of the WPG's combat computer and prepares to open fire with all weapons systems.

    Then she senses them…two familiar and powerful PSI-energy wave patterns.

    The WPG finds itself suddenly confronted by the Cosmogundam, standing between it and the approaching Titans Armada.

    NEXT: EPISODE 10 (FINAL EPISODE)!

  20. #40
    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    EPISODE 10: THE WHITE PHOENIX OF THE ETERNAL COSMOS

    A combined armada of Titans and Crossbones Vanguard warships, numbering over one-hundred warships and perhaps close to one-thousand mobile suits, bears down on Side 3 from two flanks originating from L1 (Crossbones Vanguard) and L5 (Titans).

    From garrisons and combat stations on the surface of the moon, the Shambala Defense Guard's defense armada warships, aerospace fighters, mobile suits, and gun batteries deploy en masse to meet the incoming attack. Given the generally defensive orientation of the Shambala Forces, however, the SDG's power does not match its valor, a fact that becomes brutally apparent as the United Forces Armada, a name that the Titans/Crossbones Vanguard alliance has obscenely stolen from the Earth Federation/Shambala Republic alliance that defeated Archduke Alexander Miguel's Phobos Zeon Empire, shrugs off the Shambala Defense Guard's preemptive strike with minimal losses.

    The United Armada's counterattack, however, is devastating…its counterstrike felling fifteen percent of the SDG.

    Hundreds of vessels…warships, commercial cargo ships, passenger ships, have been recruited for a mass evacuation of Side 3…perhaps the largest, most rapidly organized exodus in human history, but the number of souls to evacuate is legion, and the time, desperately short…

    The United Armada requires only about thirty minutes' time to penetrate the first line of the Shambala Republic's defense in lunar orbit. Shambala has additional forces within the orbit of Side 3 proper, but Shambala's top military officers know that they will not fare much better than their comrades-at-arms garrisoned on the moon…

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ____________________________________

    The White Phoenix Gundam finds its path to the United Armada obstructed by the Omega Gundam and the Draco Gundam.

    The Omega Gundam and the Draco Gundam bring their weapons systems to bear upon the White Phoenix Gundam; the WPG counters with a corresponding maneuver.

    The standoff lasts scarcely five seconds before Major Jolie Minh-Miguel snarls, "Out of my way!"

    From the Draco Gundam, Christian Ray answers, "You're not going anywhere, Jolie, except straight to hell!"

    So saying, Christian lays down a vicious volley that would certainly have downed any other pilot and mobile suit.

    Jolie succeeds in maneuvering the White Phoenix Gundam away from Christian's volley, but realizes too late that Christian's strikes were not intended to hit her, but to prod her towards the Omega Gundam, which promptly blasts the WPG with its beam cannon.

    While Jolie is still reeling from the hit, the Draco Gundam hits her with another blast.

    "Structural integrity of mecha compromised," the WPG's AI reports coldly.

    The equally cold voice of Jo-M says, "You're the one who won't let us live in peace…so we must destroy you."

    So saying, Jo-M blasts the WPG again.

    The displays of the WPG light up fiercely, indicating great stress upon the mobile suit's superstructure. Jolie knows that if she doesn't regain control and begin fighting back, she's finished.

    I can take either of them one-on-one, Jolie reasons, but I really don't know if I can handle the two of them together…especially if they combine into the Cosmogundam.

    That thought is hardly complete before Jolie glances at her forward monitor in horror as the OG and the Draco Gundam begin positioning themselves for docking.

    Jolie's eyes flash…she can't let them dock.

    Jolie aims the White Phoenix Gundam's beam rifle between the OG and the Draco Gundam, unleashing a single blast of red Minovsky particle energy that tears between the two enemy Gundams, preventing them from aligning with each other for docking.

    Jolie knows she has only seconds before Christian and Jo-M regroup and attempt to dock again.

    The WPG dives straight into the gap between the Omega Gundam and the Draco Gundam, turning its back to the OG while swiveling to face the Draco Gundam.

    The White Phoenix Gundam and the Draco Gundam…the phoenix and the dragon…open fire simultaneously, their blasts colliding and creating a reflective concussion that blasts the Draco Gundam back towards open space and the WPG back into the OG, causing the two mobile suits to collide with bone-crushing force.

    Christian regains control of the Draco Gundam, repositions himself, and sees that Jolie has positioned the WPG in front of the OG.

    No doubt as she intended…to cause Christian that moment's hesitation that gives Jolie the opportunity shoot at him again.

    But Christian notices that the Omega Gundam is already preparing to strike the White Phoenix Gundam in the back…from point blank range.

    We have her in a crossfire, Christian reasons, but we need to move as soon as we shoot, because we know she'll try to dodge.


    You're right, Jo-M responds.

    The Omega Gundam and the Draco Gundam prepare to fire, and the WPG prepares to move clear of the crossfire.

    Jolie moves, and the Draco Gundam is blasted…from behind!

    The Centurion Team and other SNRI units arrive en masse, led by Major Eric Gardner's Centurion Gundam Unit-2 and Captain Chieming Noah's Cour-de-Leon.

    "Jolie!" Major Gardner calls out, "Concentrate on the Omega Gundam! We'll take the Draco Gundam off your back!"

    "Thanks, guys!" Jolie calls back, turning to face the Omega Gundam.

    The SNRI Forces swarm around Christian Ray's Draco Gundam.

    "Everybody be careful," Eric cautions his comrades, "He's fast and dangerous."

    The Draco Gundam charges towards the CG2 at multiple-mach speed, unleashing a torrent of beam fire at its former twin.

    Eric jukes the CG2 in a spinning evasive maneuver, nearly getting pasted by the Draco's heavy fire, but is bailed out by a strafing run by Chieming and the other SNRI units. A few of those units take hits and go down.

    Eric directs the CG2 to squeeze off two shots in quick succession; the veteran SNRI MS pilot's eyes narrow as they see the Draco Gundam lift its rifle out of the way and raise its shield to defend its own head.

    Through the battle, Eric senses…something…a familiar presence seemingly bolstering his efforts.

    C'mon, Eric, Major Gardner chides himself, There's no such thing as ghosts.

    The image of the late Captain Jonah Michaels flashes for an instant through Eric's consciousness as his CG2…formerly Jonah's mobile suit…scores a direct hit on the Draco Gundam…not destroying or even severely damaging it, but definitely giving it pause.

    Major Gardner cannot afford to celebrate, however, because the Draco Gundam recovers quickly, and comes at him again, missing the CG2, but taking out a few more SNRI Javelin mobile suits.

    He's swatting us down like flies, Eric laments, we're not going to be able to hold out against him for long. Have to keep him occupied until Jolie can finish off that clone! Maybe there's a better way to do that besides shooting at him.

    Eric opens communications channels to the Draco Gundam's receiving wavelength, "Christian, I can understand what you're going through, but you don't know what Jolie went through…what she's going through! Nothing good will come from killing off Jolie, can't you see that? She's fighting to save all of us…you have to help her, not fight her!"

    Christian shakes his helmeted head in denial, crying back, "Can't you see that the Federation, even the SNRI, is just using Jolie? She's just a puppet…a killing machine, and she and her puppet masters must be destroyed!"

    Eric dodges Christian's next volley (was that Jonah he saw briefly again?) and then charges the Draco with the CG2's beam saber.

    Eric tries again, "Christian! Don't do this! Remember that talk we had a few weeks ago at the hangar? Remember what I told you then? Think, kiddo, think!"

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ __________________________________

    Garrison Noah, four weeks earlier…

    Major Eric Gardner and 2Lt. Christian Ray of SNRI's Centurion Team, dressed in greasy maintenance coveralls, work side-by-side in the maintenance of Christian's mobile suit, the Centurion Gundam (Unit-1).

    Eric supervises as Christian operates a crane bearing a new vulcan cannon mechanism – to replace the unit damaged during a recent combat training run.

    "All right," Eric says, "Nice work. Bring it down a little more and I'll get it aligned."

    "You got it, Major," Christian replies, deftly manipulating the crane's controls.

    A half hour later, the two young men take a break, seating themselves on the service gantry of the Centurion Gundam's maintenance dock. Between sips from their airtight drink containers, the two officers talk.

    Eric produces a photograph from his pocket and shows it to Christian.

    Christian's eyes light up with surprise, "Hey…that's my mom…and my dad! I didn't know you knew them!"

    Eric grins, "I served with them in the Karaba during the war against the Titans and the Axis Neo Zeons."

    Christian looks longingly at the image of his mother, Velotrika Irma, and his eyes begin watering.

    Eric says soothingly, "You miss her, don't you? Your mom."

    "Yeah," Christian replies with a sigh that sounds almost like a sob, "I was very little when it happened….when she was lost, I mean. I don't remember that much, but I remember that she…she was very good to me."

    Eric pats Christian on the shoulder, "I'm sure she was. She was a wonderful lady…beautiful, brave…outspoken and opinionated, just like you, but at heart, very passionate and loyal. I liked her a lot…and I liked Amuro, your dad."

    Christian's mood turns sullen.

    "Look, kiddo," Eric says in his characteristically easygoing, but firm manner, "I know you feel resentment towards your dad…because he couldn't be there for you. If I were you, I'd probably feel the same…but I tell you, I knew your dad, Chris: he was a good man and he wouldn't have abandoned you if he'd known about you."

    "Jolie told me the same thing," Christian confesses, "Everybody seems bent on having me worship at the feet of this 'great hero,' Amuro Ray. He doesn't mean a thing to me, Major."

    "I'm not sure I believe that," Eric says, "but you're wrong: nobody expects you to worship anybody. I think, though, that you should give Amuro a fair chance."

    "Amuro's dead," Christian replies darkly, "He doesn't mean a thing to anybody anymore. I guess the story will be the same for me…the Federation is just going to use me the same way it used Amuro, and then Jolie after him. We're just pawns to them, Major."

    "Kid," Eric says, "Your parents were never the pawns of anybody. They fought the Zeons and the Titans because they believed that nobody, not the Federation or anybody else, had the right to take the lives and freedom of others away. I fought alongside both of them long enough to know."

    Christian spits out a wad of gum he has been chewing before he says sarcastically, "Next thing you're going to tell me you were there when I was born."

    Eric smiles.

    Christian looks at the senior officer incredulously, "You're kidding, right?"

    "You were born on a battlefield," Eric says, "It was in what used to be Turkey near the ruins of the ancient city of Troy where our Karaba unit was mopping up some Titans revenants. Your mom, stubborn as she was, refused to take a leave of absence during her pregnancy. I was, however, able to persuade her to take up duty with the Supply Corps rather than Air Combat Wing. She went into labor just as we came under attack by that Titans unit. We drove 'em off just as you cried for the first time."

    "Wow," Christian says, too astonished to say anything else.

    "I was one of the few people who even knew about you," Eric continues, "Amuro didn't even know. Velotrica didn't tell him. They split in early 0088 not long before the Axis Zeon invaded Earth and Amuro returned to space combat with the main AEUG force. I think…she was a bit angry that he went off into space combat and didn't take her with him. I understand Amuro, though…he didn't want to endanger your mother in combat, and he knew that as long as she stayed with him, she'd see nothing but combat. He left her because he loved her, Christian…he didn't want to get her killed."

    "That's how you see it," Christian answers, "All I see is another deadbeat dad. C'mon, let's finish our work."

    "One more thing," Eric pursues, "As soldiers, we make sacrifices and perform our duties, but not because we're machines or puppets. We do it because we're human, and we have a right to live the way we want to live. Sometimes, however, having and keeping that right means fighting and sacrificing for it. Amuro understood that. Jolie understands that. I hope you do too."

    Eric gives the youth one last pat on the shoulder, then rises to resume his work. Christian sullenly follows him a moment later…


    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___________________________________

    Christian draws the Draco Gundam's beam saber and parries Eric's strike. All around, the mobile suits of SNRI continue to pour their collective firepower towards the Draco Gundam.

    "Lies!" Christian screams, "All of it, just goddamned lies! I've seen the truth, Gardner! All of you are just puppets…just machines! Kill each other if you want! If war is all you know…all you want, then take it! Leave Jo-M and me out of it, though! We don't want any part of your damned Federation, your damned Shambala Republic, your damned Archduchy of Zeon, or your damned wars!"

    So saying, Christian opens up with a volley that Major Gardner barely manages to dodge.

    Sweating profusely, feeling the pressure, Eric sends forth a desperate psychic appeal.

    C'mon, Jolie…

    To be continued...

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