The untold adventures of Jolie Minh and the White Phoenix Gundam...
The untold adventures of Jolie Minh and the White Phoenix Gundam...
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE SECOND CENTURY VIGNETTES 1: PROJECT OMEGA
Chapter 1: PROJECT OMEGA
October, U.C. 0092…Quebec Colony (Side 6), L-4 Orbit
The Dogas descend into Quebec Colony and open fire indiscriminately, lashing out at everything and everyone in sight. Hundreds die within seconds, and many more are seriously wounded. Entire families are wiped out in less time than it takes to tell about it.
Lucie Minh searches frantically in the chaos for her children, "Jean? Jolie?"
"M-mom…" a weak, plaintive voice groans. Jean Minh has been impaled by a large piece of flying shrapnel. The boy's blood drains from a wound the width of his entire abdomen.
Jolie, thrown aside by a nearby explosion, but not seriously harmed, rushes to the side of her mother and her fallen brother.
"Jean," Jolie begins, staring in horrified shock at her gravely wounded brother.
Suddenly, two more MS blast their way into the colony and land on each side of the Minh family. On one side is Alexander Miguel's black Geara Doga, on the other side is the GM-III piloted by 1Lt. Dominic Minh.
Dominic notices the presence of his wife and children, and his eyes widen with horror, "Get into a shelter, now!" he urges them.
Dominic takes a closer look, and immediately wishes that he hadn't. Meeting his eyes is a sight that breaks his heart: his own son, Jean, lies dead in a pool of his own blood.
Tears flood the man's eyes, and a vicious, animalistic growl bursts forth from him as he turns his gaze back on Alexander Miguel's black mobile suit, "You Zeon pig! You murdered my son!"
Lt. Minh's GM-III, its beam saber ignited, rushes Alexander Miguel's Geara Doga. Miguel easily avoids Minh's enraged slash, and turns around to strike the GM-III with the butt of his Doga's beam cannon.
Dominic's GM-III is batted onto the pavement, its sensors and control systems malfunctioning.
Miguel prepares to blow away the skyscraper that towers over the spot where the Minhs are crouching.
In a last, valiant effort, Dominic attempts to use his MS's depleted beam cannon to put a chokehold on Alexander Miguel's Geara Doga. Miguel easily counters the move, flipping the GM-III onto a nearby condominium complex.
Alexander is tired of toying with his enemy. He fires a shot from his mecha's beam cannon, straight through the middle of the Federal Forces MS.
The GM-III explodes, killing 1Lt. Minh immediately. Shrapnel from his destroyed MS is propelled in all directions, and a dozen pieces of this shrapnel strike Lucie Minh.
Jolie, struggling to free herself from the rubble that had shielded her from the shrapnel, watches the scene in horror. Her father's corpse remains somewhere in the burning wreckage of his MS, cremated in the blasted cockpit.
The bloodied corpses of Jolie's mother and brother lie nearby, silent and cold forever.
October, U.C. 0100…Taklamakan Desert, Earth
Jonah is seated behind Jolie on the floor of the tent, holding her gently in his arms. Jolie sits on Jonah's lap, clad in only her uniform jacket, with her exposed legs spread wide and drawn back, knees nearly level with shoulders.
Although the air within the tent is frigid, Jolie perspires profusely as she pants rapidly.
"Just keep panting, Jolie," Jonah says as reassuringly as he can, "It'll be all over soon."
"Jonah…" Jolie moans fitfully, "Help me…I'm gonna push."
Jonah can feel Jolie's pelvic muscles begin to contract on his lap. He holds her more tightly, taking her hand into his as he whispers into her ear, "OK. Push slowly, gently…not too hard. Just a little, like when you're constipated."
"Hnnnnnghhh!" Jolie grimaces as she begins to strain.
Jonah places his hands around Jolie's thighs as she pushes, bearing down into her bottom as if to relieve severe constipation, as Jonah suggested.
"Unnnnngh….nnnnnngh!" Jolie grunts, her hands gripping Jonah's tightly as she continues to strain and push.
A warm gush of blood soon splashes from between Jolie's legs, followed by a small, pitiful mass of dead flesh.
Jonah stares in deep, soul-deadening grief at the tiny, pitiable fetus that Jolie painfully passed from her womb. The developing child lies pale and still in the silence of death.
Their child…the latest casualty of this obscene war.
Jolie takes the lifeless fetus into her arms and holds it gently, breaking into uncontrollable sobs as she buries her face in Jonah's chest
Jonah holds Jolie tightly and begins sobbing with her, stroking the slain child's head lovingly with his gentle artist's hand.
Today is the darkest day the couple has ever known together. Jonah then remembers that, just a year earlier at the Woodhaven Colony near Jupiter, he and Jolie had shared a dream of starting a family together in a peaceful, beautiful place where they would be happy.
That dream has been corrupted into a nightmare of a reality.
December, U.C. 0100 – Baldur Bay (Side 6) Space, L-5 Orbit
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 the Scylla or Charbydis can 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.
July, U.C. 0103 – aboard an unidentified space shuttle, L-3 Orbit
Captain Jolie Minh of the Earth Federation Forces’ Centurion Special Operations Force bolts awake…shaking off the recurring nightmares that have plagued her sleep for most of her tender twenty-two years.
Her companion, the pilot of the space shuttle – auburn-haired Col. Christina MacKenzie, Director of the Special Forces, responds in her characteristically soothing tone, “You all right, Captain Minh?”
“No,” comes Jolie’s typically acerbic reply, “Remind me why you dragged my a$$ out of bed again.”
Christina smiles, “I never told you; I just dragged your a$$ out of bed and onto this shuttle…or at least, a few of my agents did. A few of them are taking the day off to get fitted for casts or have emergency dental work done.”
“Yeah,” Jolie answers, “Sorry. So wherever you’re taking me and whatever you want me to do, it’s important enough for your boys to invade my home after midnight and shanghai me over to the spaceport, and secret enough that you can’t talk to me about it even though we’re alone in space aboard a space shuttle I’m sure you’ve had scrubbed for bugs.”
“You’ve pretty much got the gist of it,” Christina responds with noncommittal serenity.
Jolie continues, “You’re likely taking me to some classified installation – one that officially doesn’t exist and isn’t known outside of the High Command and select members of the military intelligence community – to test some new superweapon for the Federal Forces. Am I right so far?”
“Is that Newtype intuition talking?” Christina challenges mildly.
“Nah,” Jolie answers back, “Just putting all the pieces together.”
A smile is audible in Christina’s voice when she answers, “Lt. Col. Ibaz taught you well.”
“This is as good a time as any to tell you,” Jolie continues, “I’m thinking of not re-upping when my commission runs out at the end of this year.”
Christina fixes Jolie in a silent, reproachful glare, then says grimly, “This is really not a good time for you to be thinking about leaving the service.”
“F**k that s**t,” Jolie snarls, “I’ve made up my mind.”
Another reproachful glare from the eyes of Director of the Strategic Naval Research Institute.
“Look,” Jolie says, struggling to maintain a more reasonable tone of voice, “You knew this was coming. During the past two and a half years, I’ve helped you train dozens of recruits and reorganize the old Special Forces into the new SNRI protocol. We’re better prepared to meet any enemy attack than we ever have been, even with the huge force reductions since the end of the war. You really don’t need me anymore.”
Christina’s eyes flash as she turns her attention back to the controls of the shuttlecraft, “Don’t be so sure of that; the Earth Federation Forces still needs the services of its best MS pilot.”
Jolie yawns, “Your flattery skills stink, Chris.”
“Come on,” Christina attempts a different tack, “Aren’t you even slightly curious about this new assignment?”
“No,” Jolie replies, meaning it.
Seeing that Jolie is as obstinately unreachable as ever, Christina sighs and says simply, “In any case, you’re still with us until you aren’t. I hope you’ll accept that much.”
Jolie flashes Christina a devilish grin, “As long as my paychecks keep coming.”
Twenty minutes later, the shuttlecraft approaches what appears to be a derelict space colony, adrift from its original orbit in L-4. The colony, damaged during an extensive battle between Earth Federation and Archduchy of Zeon Forces, has been abandoned for nearly a quarter century…or so the public has been led to believe.
Visitors to the area are virtually nonexistent, as the colony’s (known as Agua Dulce during its operational lifetime) present orbit is far-removed from both commercial and government transportation lanes, and the Earth Federation Government has long deemed the area as too deeply bathed in deadly radiation to be safe for entry.
In its heyday prior to the outbreak of the One Year War, Agua Dulce was a popular recreational space colony – its artificial environment of rugged terrain and freshwater streams designed to be reminiscent of that of the wilderness of Southern California on Earth as it existed prior to the Industrial Age. Even then, its inhabitants were few (boasting a population of just over 200,000 in the Federation Census of U.C. 0070), and the colony’s inhabitants considered themselves far-removed from and not at risk for attack during the war…until a battle between a fleeing Zeon war fleet pursued by an Earth Federation Forces armada resulted in massive collateral damage on the colony, including the rupture of its nuclear power core, spilling excess radiation into local space.
All inhabitants of Agua Dulce perished from the battle or the spilling of radiation, and Federation authorities condemned the colony after the war, allowing its orbit to drift away from Side 5.
As far as the general public is concerned, Agua Dulce’s history ends there.
Beginning in U.C. 0083, three years after the conclusion of the One Year War, Agua Dulce came under the control of Anaheim Enterprises, which quietly, clandestinely, over the course of the next decade, completely rebuilt Agua Dulce into an industrial production and testing center for experimental high-tech weapons platforms.
Thus was born Anaheim Skunkworks, sometimes also called the “Engine of Death,” or the “Devil’s Factory.”
None of this history is much on the minds of Colonel Christina MacKenzie and Captain Jolie Minh-Miguel as their shuttle passes through security screen after security screen, verifying and re-verifying their identity as they pass into the colony-turned-industrial center.
After passing through the last of the security checks (the end of an extended process that delayed them for ninety minutes), the shuttle lands at a designated pad, where two normalsuited and helmeted figures await them.
Aboard the space shuttle, Christina and Jolie have also donned their MS pilots’ normalsuits over their duty uniforms, a safety requirement at AE Skunkworks in light of not only the basic dangers of being in an environment just an airlock from the void of space, but so deeply irradiated as a result of war. Their helmets and visors sealed, they disembark from the shuttle.
The taller of the two figures waiting on the landing pad salutes the pair, a gesture crisply returned by the two SNRI officers per protocol.
All four figures then disappear into a secured elevator, which sealed from both the void and radiation.
Helmet visors lift, revealing the faces of Dr. Camille Vidan of Anaheim Enterprises and Captain Eric Gardner of SNRI.
Jolie gives the two men the wryest of grins…almost a knowing smirk, as she remarks, “Figured you two had to be neck deep in this.”
Gardner, tall and blonde, flashes a roguish smile in response, “How could I not be here? Everyone knows that I can and have piloted everything.”
“As you endlessly remind us,” Christina MacKenzie adds, a smile forming on her lips.
“Doc,” Jolie says, turning to Camille Vidan, “it’s been a while. So good to see you again.”
They embrace, like older and younger sibling.
“You’re looking good, kid,” Camille beams, “How’s your counterpart…the White Phoenix?”
“Still the most a$$-kicking war machine ever to see combat,” Jolie enthuses.
Camille’s face is inscrutable as he responds with a gleam in his eye, “That’ll soon change.”
to be continued...
PROJECT OMEGA, continued...
The passage of ten minutes find Dr. Vidan, Captains Minh-Miguel and Gardner, and Col. MacKenzie seated at a circular conference table in a private conference room. Joining them are a man of Chinese heritage in his early fifties, dressed immaculately in a dark, three-piece business suit and looking every centimeter the polished corporate executive, and two other Earth Federation Forces mobile suit pilots unfamiliar to Jolie, Eric, and Christina, but whose unit patches indicate that they are officers of the Space Armada Command.
Dr. Vidan rises…a certifiable hothead and firebrand in his younger years, the now thirty-three year old former AEUG mobile suit ace pilot has become much more reticent, and with some reluctance opens the meeting, “I’d like to welcome you all to Project Omega. You’ve been invited here today because you represent five of the finest mobile suit pilots in the Earth Federation Forces, and Project Omega requires your exceptional skills. Project Omega is the Earth Federation Forces’ five-year plan to develop the next generation mobile weapons platform, which will be vital to the Federation’s security in light of the heavy loss of resources during the war against the Phobos Zeon. To speak with us today about the technical aspects of Project Omega is Mr. Robert Wu, Senior-Vice President of Mobile Armaments Research and Development for Zhandyne Aerospace.”
Zhandyne Aerospace…the name needs no further introduction or elaboration…one of the most vital defense contractors supplying the Earth Federation Forces…and consequently, among the wealthiest and most well-resourced.
Wu, nattily attired and bespectacled in neat gold-rimmed glasses, begins his pitch as Camille takes his seat, “Thank you, Dr. Vidan. Ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see is the cutting edge of high-performance mobile weapons platforms – a new technology that my company, Zhandyne, and the Earth Federation Forces have been developing over the course of the past two years. I present to you: the Omega Frame.”
The lights dim in the conference room as a holographic display appears above the conference table. Shimmering into view is a shape vaguely reminiscent of the mighty leviathans that once plied the oceans of the Earth – the great whales that ruled the seas before humanity hunted them to extinction during the last century before the great migration into space.
But this leviathan is no beast of bone and muscle, but a sleek body of dark, gleaming metal – of nanocircuitry and mighty mechanical servos and gears. Its nose, refined to a swordpoint, is a bed of complex microsensors, and its tail is no fanlike flute of flesh, but a battery of mighty engine nozzles that appear powerful enough to propel the mighty mechanical form at speeds rivaling those of the fastest comets…
“That thing looks badass,” Captain Eric Gardner enthuses.
Wu grins, “Wait until you see what it can do.”
Suddenly, the dimness of the conference room becomes the light of an Earth day – days that the Earth’s surface has hardly seen during the course of the past three years…blue skies and white clouds that are now nothing more than nostalgic memories…
“The Omega Frame,” Wu continues, “is a unique lifting body…constructed from a lightweight alloy derived from materials mined from the asteroid belt…materials as resistant to damage as Gundarium, but lightweight enough that the frame’s battery of reaction thrusters can accelerate the frame through Earth gravity at 5.2 km/second and 15.6 km/second in zero-gravity.”
On that cue, CG Asshimar-S mobile armors – the fastest ever deployed in Earth’s atmosphere – materialize behind the Omega Frame, whose mass dwarfs theirs.
The Omega Frame goes into a sheer dive – plummeting towards a computer-simulated terrestrial surface. The Asshimars dive in pursuit.
In the conference room, breaths accelerate and perspiration seeps forth from pores despite the room being comfortably air-conditioned as the CG Omega Frame dives towards a long, narrow canyon.
With bone-shattering abruptness, the Omega Frame pulls out of its dive with a grace and ease that belies its mass; in its wake, the two Asshimars struggle to duplicate the maneuver, each coming perilously close to slamming into the canyon walls.
The eyes of the mobile suit pilots gathered in the conference room note the airspeed indicator, “700 knots.”
“Suicide,” one of the SAC pilots mutters under his breath.
“Not necessarily,” Wu beams proudly.
The Omega Frame continues to wind its way through the narrow canyon, actually accelerating to 750 knots as it takes the multiple sharp, winding turns of the canyon.
The Asshimars are unable to match…decelerating to 200 knots – the maximum airspeed at which they can safely maneuver the canyon.
Wu continues, “The Omega Frame’s fusion reactor is rated at 36,760 kW. Its three main reaction thrusters are each capable of 86,800 kg thrust output and a battery of seventy-five vernier thrusters located strategically around its fuselage for superior maneuverability. Maximum thrust acceleration for the Omega Frame is, based on initial field tests, 5.75 G.”
Captain Gardner whistles appreciatively, “Baby’s got muscle.”
“Too much muscle for you SNRI p*ssies,” an abrasive, sarcastic voice cuts in.
The offending voice is that of a relatively short, wiry man, about thirty years old, of wild blue eyes and wilder blond hair that rises above his head like the plume of a flame. His thin lips turn upward in a crooked grin that resembles a sneer.
Plume-hair offers no apology or mitigating gesture, but instead turns to his partner…another SAC MS pilot of around the same age – a taller, beefier man with a mop of curly hair and matching facial hair, who remains reticent, but exchanges a knowing smirk with his plume-haired colleague.
Perhaps to defuse the tension of the moment as much as to move on, Wu continues with his presentation, “In terms of weaponry, the Omega Frame is mounted with a secondary weapons system of twelve coordinated external hardpoints from which the pilot and/or armaments engineer can select ninety-six different types of short-, medium, and long-range ballistic armaments. Its single built-in primary weapons system is a beam cannon that with a maximum power output of 23.8 MW, rivaling that of the cannon mounted on the largest warships.”
As if to prove that point, the CG Omega Frame lets rip with a thunderous burst of crimson energy that disintegrates the fleeing Asshimars instantly.
The holographic display and the room go dark momentarily before the house lights slowly illuminate.
Robert Wu steps aside and Dr. Vidan rises to speak again, “You’ve all now seen a display of the Omega Frame’s capabilities. As impressive as it is on its own, the Omega Frame is just the first stage of the overall project.”
“Are we to assume that we’ve been invited here to be test pilots?” chimes in the other SAC officer, he of the curly hair and beard.
Camille nods, “Yes. Each of the four of you was summoned because of your experience and records of exceptional combat performance in mobile suit operation. Col. McKenzie, of course, was an esteemed member of the Federation’s test pilot many years ago, but has logged very limited time in a mobile suit cockpit over the past decade and will serve mainly in an oversight position. I…have logged very few cockpit minutes myself since the late U.C. 0080s, so ultimately, it’ll come down to one of you four.”
“One?” Captain Jolie Minh-Miguel repeats, speaking for the first time since the conference began.
“Yes,” Camille replies, “As you might expect, only one prototype has been built. Although we summoned the four of you here, only one of you will ultimately be asked to pilot the Omega Frame.”
Captain Gardner grins, “You’re not telling us everything, Doc.”
Camille returns the grin, “Tomorrow, we’re going to have you all in simulators. Each of you will get your chance to ‘pilot’ a computer-simulated Omega Gundam in for cockpit mockups identical to the real thing. It’ll be an elimination derby: the survivor will earn the privilege of risking his or her neck in the real Omega Frame.”
That sets off some murmuring among the pilots, which Camille silences with an ominous final remark, “Don’t be too eager to prove yourselves; you might be winning a one-way ticket to hell.”
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___
Later that evening, Christina, Jolie, and Eric are gathered in the commons lounge of the residential suite they are sharing at the Anaheim Skunkworks facility. Captain Gardner studies the data displayed on the screen of his work pad with grave intent.
“Captain Harlan Koch,” Eric reads aloud for the benefit of his two colleagues, “Thirty-two years old, serial number 94136692. Assigned to 14th Mobile Armor Corps, Space Armada Command, U.C. 0088. Veteran of Gryps Conflict, First Neo Zeon War, and Phobos Zeon War. Decorated numerous times for valor in combat, accumulating a kill total of 62 enemy units to date. Also first-rate azzhole.”
In response to Christina and Jolie’s half amused, half bemused looks, Eric amends, “I added that last part.”
“…and like you, he can and has piloted everything,” Jolie interjects, her fifth cigarette of the hour wagging between her lips as she speaks, “Practically your mirror image, Gardner. What about the other one?”
“Captain Martin S. Savage, age thirty-four, also of the 14th Mobile Armor Corps, SAC. Also a veteran of the last three conflicts. Credited with 79 enemy kills. Appears that he and our plume-haired boy have been wingmates since way back. Hold on…”
Gardner’s face darkens, “Files indicate that both Koch and Savage were in the Titans together during U.C. 0087, but were reintegrated into SAC during the Axis Zeon occupation of U.C. 0088.”
“Titans?” Jolie scowls, orally exhaling a curl of white smoke, turning to Christina for guidance.
Christina offers, “After the Gryps Conflict, many of former Titans troops against whom there was no clear evidence implicating them as directly complicit with the atrocities ordered by Jamitov Hymem and Bosque Om were eventually cleared and repatriated into the regular Federation Forces…the best of them to Space Armada Command, where they were needed to combat the Neo Zeon.”
“I know,” Jolie sighs bitterly, “That was my dad’s story.”
“In other words,” Christina continues, turning to Eric, “just having been involved with the Titans at one point, in of itself, doesn’t mean anything. These men have otherwise sterling records.”
“I don’t trust them,” Eric maintains, “There’s just something about those two guys that doesn’t sit right with me.”
“I’m with you,” Jolie agrees, butting out her cigarette in the nearest ashtray, “We’re gonna have trouble with them.”
“I’ll look further into it,” Christina concedes, “but in the meantime, don’t forget: they are, officially, our comrades-at-arms and tomorrow, you’ll be testing your skills against theirs. Get some good rest tonight: you’re both going to need all your energy tomorrow.”
to be continued...
Military combat pilots work long and unrelenting, not to say odd hours, and dragging oneself out of bed at 02:00 in advance of a 04:00 sortie is just one of the impositions of life in the armed forces…
Captain Jolie Minh-Miguel and Captain Eric Gardner of SNRI are accustomed to these demands, and neither betrays as much as half a yawn as they await the call to report in the pilots’ ready room. Both officers are serious and quiet, mentally preparing themselves for the vital tasks ahead.
Their meditations are disturbed by the raucous entrance of Captain Harlan Koch and Captain Martin Savage, laughing like college frat boys on spring break.
“Mornin’!” Koch barks out, raising his hand for high-fives with Jolie and Eric, “What’s with all the tight faces? SNRI doesn’t feed you p*ssies enough fiber?”
Declining the other man’s greeting hand, a tight-lipped Captain Gardner steps firmly into Koch’s nose and says in a tone of latent menace, “Look, Koch. I know SAC and SNRI are rivals, and you don’t have to like us. Personally, you can call me anything you like…I don’t give a damn, but I’m not going to let you get away with demeaning Captain Minh-Miguel with language like that. You refer to her as ‘p*ssy’ one more time, and I swear I’m going to break your nose, Koch.”
Koch grins leeringly at Gardner as he walks around the tall, blonde SNRI officer, slowly approaching Jolie.
“You threatening me, ‘p*ssy?’” Koch pronounces through his grin, as his hand reaches underneath the crotch of Jolie’s normalsuit.
Jolie’s thin, but surprisingly strong hand reaches out, locking Koch’s wrist in a viselike grip before his fingers can offend her. She twists that wrist in a painful torque, forcing Koch to his knees, screaming in agony, tears streaming from the corner of his eyes.
“You…!” Captain Savage snarls through bared teeth as he lunges towards Jolie.
Gardner stops Savage, a bigger, heavier man than himself, and drives Savage back against the wall, pinning him there.
“THAT’S ENOUGH, ALL OF YOU!” comes the voice of Col. Christina McKenzie, who has entered the ready room.
Jolie reluctantly releases her iron grip on Koch’s wrist, tempted to break it before letting go, but relenting as better judgment takes hold of her.
Gardner similarly backs off, allowing Savage to step away from the wall, but never taking his eyes off the SAC pilot.
Col. McKenzie eyes daggers at all four pilots, reaming them with her keen eyes before biting out, “You’re supposed to be the Earth Federation Forces’ finest mobile suit pilots…start ACTING like it!”
Christina lets a moment’s silence pass for her message to sink in before sighing and saying more quietly, but no less resolutely, “T-minus ten minutes and counting before you enter the simulators. Go over your pre-sortie checklists again, Captains.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the four pilots salute in unison.
The pilots hold their salutes until Col. McKenzie has left the room. A smirk returns to the face of Captain Koch, who is about to make another wisea$$ remark before Gardner’s fist wipes it off his countenance with a rock-solid blow to the nose that knocks Koch flat on his back.
“Oh, God…oh, God…” Koch moans as Savage rushes to his side, propping his fallen comrade up.
“I’m a man of my word,” Captain Gardner says as he towers over the fallen Koch, “I told you I’d break your nose if you used the word ‘p*ssy’ in front of Captain Minh-Miguel again. Don’t let there be a next time, Koch, or you’ll be taking your meals in liquid form for the rest of your life.”
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ______
Precisely ten minutes later, the four mobile suit pilots (and one bloodied nose) are gathered in the TSC (Testing and Simulation Center), where they are met by Dr. Camille Vidan, Mr. Robert Wu, and Col. Christina McKenzie.
It is Dr. Vidan who delivers the introductory briefing, “What you see behind me are four simulated cockpits for the Omega Frame. Functionally, the simulation cockpits are identical to the real thing…including the G-forces you’ll feel in different gravity environment scenarios. We’ll run all four of you through a host of scenarios and then, it’ll be an elimination derby. Whoever ‘survives’ will be the test pilot of the actual Omega Frame prototype.”
Eric whispers to Jolie, “No way in hell you’ll be flying her.”
Jolie retorts in sotto voce, “No way in hell I won’t.”
Camille, hearing them through senses other than his ears, says, perhaps in response, “I know that all of you are very proud of your skills as pilots, and based on your records, you have reason to be. Make no mistake, however: piloting the Omega Frame will test your abilities as never before. Are there any questions?”
No words…just the reticent determination of Captain Martin S. Savage (Codename: Mace), the smirking confidence of Captain Harlan Koch (Codename: Shrike), the steadfast professionalism of Captain Eric Gardner (Codename: Knightsbridge), and the insouciant indifference of Captain Jolie Minh-Miguel (Codename: White Phoenix).
Col. Christina McKenzie joins the group to inform them, “Per High Command directive: Captain Koch, you will take point aboard Omega Frame-1. Captain Savage, your assignment is OF-2. Captain Gardner – you take OF-3. Captain Minh-Miguel, you’ve got rear guard duty aboard OF-4.”
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _
Jolie settles herself into the simulated cockpit seat of the Omega Frame – more ergonomically furnished than the cockpit of her familiar White Phoenix Gundam, and that’s saying something!
Already, the control panel of the Omega Frame is illuminated – over three dozen distinct control mechanisms for flight control, avionics, weaponry, communications, and life support distributed neatly and compactly around the small space.
Jolie secures her helmet and seals its visor, activating the flow of oxygen from her normalsuit’s independent air supply as she brings the Omega Frame’s systems online, in accordance with the operation manual.
Col. Christina McKenzie’s voice soon broadcasts clearly through the military tactical communications channel, “White Star Command to all units: report in.”
“Mace ready, White Star Command.”
“Shrike is A-OK!”
“Knightsbridge ready, White Star Command.”
“White Phoenix standing by.”
A holographic projection fills the cockpit windshield, and instantly, the four MS pilots are virtually transported from their simulation chambers to the skies above Earth, right down to the G-forces.
Jolie begins to breathe more rapidly as she feels the weight of the (simulated) Earth’s gravity bearing down upon her head, shoulders, arms, and chest, working its way down to the soles of her feet. Born and raised in space, she had only been on Earth twice – though both times for fairly extended periods. She never did care for the suffocating grip of its gravity…
“Man,” Gardner remarks, the strain evident in his voice, “the G’s feel real!”
“Test Mission Scenario 1A,” Col. McKenzie’s voice comes through the tactical communications network, “Low atmospheric flight test – Great Canyon, Earth.”
“It’s not likely we’d be assigned any Earthside missions for the next few years at least,” Jolie remarks drily, “Not sure I see the practicality of this particular test scenario, Col. McKenzie.”
Christina replies indulgently, “The Valles Marineris and the Martian atmosphere would hardly have provided a challenge worthy of the Omega Frame’s capabilities. Earth’s atmosphere represents the most difficult environment into which the Omega Frame would likely be deployed, so we’ll start with that. We’ve got quite an obstacle course laid out for you folks.”
“Great,” Jolie replies with transparent sarcasm.
“A-yup, people,” Captain Koch, “Shrike,” cuts in, “Cut the chatter. Time to put away the dance cards and hit the floor: s**t luck to one and all.”
The last remark, famous among Earth Federation MS pilots (particularly test pilots) as an auspicious wish for a safe return, draws chuckles from Savage and Gardner. Even Jolie can’t help a slight grin.
The four holographic Omega Frames peel away from a holding formation of 11,000 meters altitude and dive towards the chasm of the Great Canyon below…Shrike, Mace, Knightsbridge, and White Phoenix…in that order.
“Omega Frames descending towards Great Canyon at 550 knots,” a tech in the White Star Command Center reports to Col. McKenzie, Dr. Vidan, and Zhandyne Enterprises Vice-President Robert Wu, “ETA: fifteen seconds.”
Christina speaks into the tactical network again, “White Star Command to Omega Frame test team: all units increase airspeed to Mach 1.2.”
Four clipped “Roger, ma’ams,” follow.
At a point at which any other aircraft would be drastically reducing airspeed to avoid imminent and fatal impact, the four Omega Frames penetrate the sound barrier as they enter the winding curves of the Great Canyon.
“Just look at how this baby handles!” Gardner enthuses.
“Just shut up and fly, Gardner,” Koch snarls, “I got my hands full here without you yapping on the tac net.”
Just to irritate Koch more, Eric continues, “You know, this reminds me of one of my favorite old-time movies: Star Wars. I mean, isn’t this just like when the Rebels flew their X-Wings down the Death Star trench…”
“Heads up,” Jolie cuts him off, “We got multiple bogies up ahead.”
Eric reasons that must be Jolie’s Newtype intuition talking, because the Omega Frames’ sensors don’t pick up on the bogies until a full five seconds after Jolie’s warning. Sure enough…a dozen targets up ahead.
The combat computer of the Omega Frames identifies the incoming bogies: three Asshimars, three Gaplants, three Gabthleys, a Messala, a Byarlant, and a Zeta Gundam.
“S**t,” fumes Koch, “Just what we needed.”
“Passive resistance too,” Jolie observes, “Watch your twelve-high, Mace!”
Jolie’s warning comes just in time for Captain Martin S. Savage to narrowly avoid getting his Omega Frame (Unit-2) snared in the magnetic grip of a polarized mesh wire net that appears seemingly from nowhere, suspended between the narrow canyon walls.
Savage veers the OF-2 out of path of the net with hardly a second to spare, leaning heavily on the control stick. His evasive maneuver sends the OF-2 careening towards Jolie’s unit (OF-4), which in turn narrowly avoids crashing into Gardner’s (OF-3) in a domino effect.
“Knightsbridge to all units: enemy has just fired upon us,” Captain Gardner reports to his comrades-at-arms, “ID scanning – sixteen incoming warheads. Eight heat-seekers…eight magnetic trackers.”
“Copy, Knightsbridge,” Koch notes, “Deploy countermeasures.”
The Omega Frames dislodge a spread of multiple Minovsky Heat Flares (MHFs) and transmit Minvosky-particle based magnetic disruptor waves. Most of the incoming missiles are taken off course.
“Got one on my six,” Koch grumbles as an incoming missile closes upon the back of his Omega-Frame, “I can outrun it.”
So saying, Koch throws the OF-1 into a steep vertical climb, hitting full afterburners.
The missile follows.
Col. McKenzie’s exasperated voice comes through Koch’s helmet receivers, “White Star Command to Shrike: that maneuver is not authorized for this segment of training simulation. Return your craft to an altitude of 500 meters.”
“With all due respect, ma’am,” Koch voice drawls casually, “We’re up here to test the survivability of the aerospace craft against all conditions. Can’t do that if we hold back.”
The OF-1 begins outpacing the missile on its back. Koch knows that within minutes, the missile would exhaust its fuel supply and he’d be in the clear.
His plan, however, neglected the hail of air-to-air missiles descending upon him from an Asshimar that suddenly appears at his twelve o’clock relative position.
“F**K!” Koch curses as he yanks on the control stick.
The OF-1 corkscrews just in time to avoid being stricken both in front and in back by the air-to-air missiles, but those missiles’ detonation upon collision with each other creates a concussive shockwaves that rocks the experimental aerospace craft, overwhelming even its advanced avionics systems.
Red emergency lights flash inside the cockpit of Shrike’s OF-1, “I’ve got a compression stall! Gonna try a restart on both engines!”
The controls do not respond.
“No good!” Koch mutters, “I’m going down!”
And not helping matters are the two Asshimars and Zeta Gundam bearing down upon the OF-1.
From the cockpit of her OF-4, Captain Jolie Minh-Miguel has seen enough and throws her unit into a vertical climb, off to her teammate’s rescue.
Captain Gardner, not content to allow Jolie to go alone, radios to Captain Savage, “Let’s go, Mace…we’re gonna back White Phoenix and Shrike.”
“Roger that, Knightsbridge,” comes the reply.
“White Star Command to all units,” Col. McKenzie’s terse voice comes through the tac net again, “Return to flight path…this is an ord…ah, the hell with it!”
Christina turns an exasperated glance at Camille, who offers a shrug and a sympathetic grin, “Ace pilots…you know how it is.”
Christina can’t help grinning in response; she knows all too well…
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ______
Jolie sizes up the situation and radios to her two compatriots, “White Phoenix to Knightsbridge and Mace: you guys take some of the heat off while I see if I can lasso our loose stallion.”
“Roger, White Phoenix,” come Knightsbridge and Mace’s replies.
Captain Eric Gardner uses the targeting scope built into the visor of his helmet to bracket an Asshimar into his gun-sight: a burst of hyperaccelerated Minovsky energy particles from the beam cannon lodged underneath the OF-3’s fuselage chases the Asshimar off its course, and a second burst reduces the disc-shaped mobile armor to burning shrapnel.
Mace, true to his blunt, brutal call sign, disgorges a quartet of missile towards the second Asshimar, blowing it out of the sky.
That leaves the Zeta Gundam, which bears down upon Jolie’s OF-4 even as she closes on Shrike’s plummeting, corkscrewing OF-1.
Mindful of the Zeta’s threat, Jolie nevertheless focuses on reaching Shrike’s OF-1, trying to match speed and trajectory.
The Zeta opens fire with its beam cannon, hitting the primary starboard thruster of the OF-4, which promptly gives out.
To equalize and prevent a tailspin, Jolie cuts off the primary port thruster, allowing the OF-4 to freefall.
The Zeta, which could not be more nimble had Camille Vidan in his prime personally piloted it, continues to bear down on Jolie’s OF-4.
“White Phoenix to Knightsbridge, and Mace,” Jolie says, “This doggy is sniffing my a$$ a little too close. Get him off my tail!”
“Roger, White Phoenix,” come the dual replies.
A salvo of blasts from the OF-2 and OF-3 throw the Zeta off balance, giving Jolie some breathing room.
Jolie restarts thruster 1 (port) and thruster 2 (starboard), stabilizing the OF-4, and continues her pursuit of the plummeting OF-1.
The OF-4 extends magnetic clamp cables towards its damaged counterpart…closing towards its ebony armored surface, but still maddeningly out of reach.
The ground draws closer by the second, the altimeter reading 20,000 meters….15,000…10,000…
Jolie reverses direction, throwing the OF-4 into a climb, hitting maximum thrust, the OF-1 in tow.
Altimeter reading…20,000 meters…25,000…
At 35,127 meters, both of the OF-4’s engines stall.
“Damn!” Jolie curses.
OF-4 and OF-1 begin plummeting. The engine restart mechanism does not respond to Jolie’s manipulation.
The Zeta Gundam, having escaped Knightsbridge’s and Mace’s guns, returns, backed by Gabthleys, a Messala, and a Byarlant, their weapons trained on the two Omega Frames.
Nonplussed, Jolie targets the enemy MA in her target scope, arming multiple missiles.
She thumbs the trigger.
The world fills with light as the holographic projection fades and the interior of the simulated cockpit becomes opaque. The G’s return to normal space colony standard, and the cockpit door slide opens.
“Simulation aborted,” Col. McKenzie’s weary voice comes through the tac net.
Jolie wrenches off her helmet, feeling oddly annoyed. Interrupting combat, even simulated combat, feels like interrupting sex…in a manner of speaking.
__________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _______
Col. McKenzie, Dr. Vidan, and Mr. Wu from Zhandyne Aerospace meet the four test pilots as they disembark from their simulated cockpits.
Christina McKenzie lays into them furiously, “The four of you went COMPLETELY off-script! I know each of you is an ace pilot, but you’re also supposed to be trained and experienced professionals!”
Captain Harlan Koch answers for them, “Sorry, ma’am…you know how it is, the heat of battle and the fog of war, one of those colorful metaphors they use.”
Christina sighs, “The four of you are to file an assessment report on things you noted during your simulation experience today; we’ll convene again tomorrow at 06:00 for the second round of simulation. Dismissed.”