Chapter 1

I'll let you in on a little secret... Could you pass me the wrench for a second?... The so-called think-cap is a myth. What you actually have inside the helmet is a set of receptors which take bio-physical readings of the pilot every 0.1 milliseconds. That's for medical purposes, so that the Veritech does not damage its pilot through a rough manoeuvre or an over-abundance of Gs. That's all. Hype and propaganda did the rest.
Lieutenant Thallin Braywater, Robotech Research.
There is no conclusive proof of any bio-feedback response from the Valkyries when using the Veritech's helmet. Pilots' testimonies of `unusual responses from the mecha' are to be attributed to battle fatigue.
Dr Emile Lang, Robotech Research

Hausthar gave the novel he was holding but a glance. He was a boy of about 17 years, of normal height for his age, short reddish hair and a body who could have done with a little more exercise. His face was knotted in worry and, every so often, anguish as he waited on his bunk, trying to while away the remaining minutes.

He turned over and wondered when the P.A. system would call his name. Hausthar had been in training at the Robotech Defence Academy in New Macross for longer than he would care to acknowledge and was waiting eagerly for the final exam. A lifetime of hard drills and brain-wrenching theory on space- and atmosphere-flight contour and combat were culminating in a combat simulation where luck somehow seemed to enter the game.

Sitting up on his bed he had just started reading again when the P.A. hummed to life. "Cadet Reneth, Hausthar C. Please report to the briefing room for final combat simulation 5." The voice from the speaker was calculated to send chills along a cadet's spine. It did.

As he walked towards the simulation rooms, Hausthar went into his meditation routine. To properly work with a Veritech Fighter there had to be no outside thoughts, no interference within the pattern of actions and reactions of the pilot. Any deviance would slow your response to a threat and make you a target.

Two steps from the ComSim door Hausthar heard a metallic voice sounding from within, garbled beyond recognition. Hausthar unstrapped his side-arm from its holster and flattened himself against the wall. The pistol was part of the gear he was supposed to be wearing during simulations and was of the smallest calibre possible. Should anybody want to attack him, Hausthar would be hard pressed defending himself. The doors were automatic so he would not have to fiddle with the lock and if he were silent enough he could have surprise on his side. In a flash he faced the entrance to the simulator and charged in, the door opening in front of him - and fell down, his foot caught on a wire stretched inches from the floor.

"You have just been killed, Cadet! One does not charge in when one is expected you know. Or didn't you hear your name being called out over the Academy's P.A.?" Hausthar looked up to see a metallic figure looming over him like a vulture waiting for its prey to die. He forced his eyes into focus and recognised the semi humanoid shape.

"Victor! What are you doing here?" he exclaimed.

"I am to be your examiner my friend. But let me tell you; if you do in there as you just did out here, you haven't got a chance."

Victor was a six feet high android, a marvel of Robotech engineering, created recently. He was vaguely humanoid, a semi rigid faceplate with slightly glowing visual receptors in stead of facial expressions, and endowed with a strange life-like quality. Victor worked for Dr. Lang, the Earth's foremost authority on all matters of Robotechnology. A few months ago, he had decided to escape the confines of Research's Tokyo Centre and had eluded pursuit long enough to make his way to New Macross, apparently with the intent to stow onto the SDF-1 and study its insides. Hausthar had found him hiding in an alley, staring at his feet dejectedly, pursued by the military police. He had managed to sneak Victor into the barracks and made a temporary refuge for him in one of the Academy's disused hangars. A few days later, Dr Lang had shown up and found Victor, taking him away. But the contact between Hausthar and the android had never been broken.

Ever since then Victor had looked after Hausthar, acting like a brother to him, helping him with his studies, pulling practical jokes on him whenever he was allowed out of Tokyo to visit. It had been a rather strange sight to see an android set up a joke and laugh afterwards. Exedore, the Zentraedi scientist, had explained that this came from the fact that Victor was the only sanctioned Artificial Intelligence. Hausthar had not understood the comment until he did some research in the Academy's library and found that all work on Artificial Intelligence had been banned since the Tifaro incident in 1997. Why the United Earth Government had finally relented and allowed Victor's construction was still a mystery to him.

Victor broke him out of his flashback and pointed towards the simulation cockpit. "If you will enter the simulator, we will start as soon as possible. You will be coming from 3 O'Clock high with regard to the enemy target at a velocity of 0.2 kps. Your craft is in an inertial condition. Objective: infiltration and destruction of a Zentraedi Battle Cruiser by any, repeat ANY, means deemed necessary. You will be piloting a VF-1J Valkyrie-class Veritech with full ammo-pack. Battle Pod density will be at maximum. Three squadrons are there to assist you. Points will be deducted for each squadron called in to help as well as for each and every loss sustained by the squadrons thereafter. Understood?" Hausthar nodded. "Good. Now if you will wait a moment, someone else is taking the test too."

Hausthar raised an eyebrow at this last statement, wondering who else here would know Victor. <Must be somebody from Research here for their flight exam>, he mused.

Victor entered the control room and looked into the adjacent simulation area where another figure was waiting by its machine.

Michele Cequor was not impatient by nature but the waiting was gnawing at her nerves. She was a tall, slender girl, 16 years of age, with long rust coloured hair and light green eyes that would not quit sparkling. Among boys her age she was considered `dangerous' ever since she had put one of their friends in hospital after he had made a rather open - and clumsy - pass at her.

A series of heavy footsteps behind her made her turn around and face her examiner. Victor stepped into the pool of light surrounding the simulator and greeted her with a wave. Michele replied in kind as she jumped into the cockpit. She was not surprised to see Victor, after all he had always been there for her whenever she needed help. Especially since her parents had died. She shook her head, banishing the thought. Victor had been the one who had found her late one night in her barrack. She had been crying, as was usual in those days, and it was probably her sobs which had attracted him to her shaking form. He had been kind and enquired as to the problem. She had simply started to cry again and he had spent the night comforting her. Since then he had come to visit her every once in a while, always telling her that she should be doing better on her space geometry course.

Michele had already been briefed about the simulation and Victor was now checking her straps. She understood the meticulous care with which he did so - Series Five simulations were rough on you. Many a time had she come out of the cockpit with bruises and she had heard of a couple of broken arms from the previous year's graduates. This was as close to reality as you could come without risking your life - but not your limbs.

Victor finished his checks and closed the simulator's canopy. Swiftly, he made his way back to the control room, closed the door behind him and sat down in front of two consoles, the chair straining under his weight. He flicked a couple of switches and monitors came to life around him. He particularly studied two sets of screens which would give him an outside observer's view of the simulations and an interior view of the cockpits.

The lights dimmed within the confines of the simulator rooms as he bent over a mike and signalled the start of the tests. On his screen he saw the faces of the young pilots relax as they prepared themselves for the ordeal ahead. With but a few moments' hesitation both went into action, unleashing destruction in their own, private little war.

Hausthar manoeuvred his Veritech close to the Battle Cruiser and searched for an opening while firing at incoming Battle Pods. The enemy's ships looked not so much like machines as headless, featherless ostriches: oval spheres from which hung pairs of reversely-hinged mechanical legs. He looped to avoid incoming laser fire and released a pair of radar-targeted missiles at the Pod in front of him. He was just about to target-lock another Pod when his plane shook from a direct hit. Turning his head to inspect the damage, Hausthar saw a sizeable hole in the middle of his left wing. In space aerodynamics might not matter but it now ruled him out from any atmospheric combat that might take place. It also had destroyed the tank of reaction mass stored in that wing, cutting his range drastically. He swore and told himself to be more careful. Looking forward again he tried to relax, to become one with the deadly ballet outside.

It was not so much having trouble as not getting a break. Ever since the simulation had begun, Michele had not had a chance to search for an entrance into the Zentraedi Cruiser. She blasted the few Pods that were on her side of the ship and switched her jet to Guardian configuration. Her F14 look-alike plane shuddered a little as the two engines swung down to form legs, the exhaust splitting in two, becoming feet. The ailerons folded inward and the tail assembly flipped and came to rest on top of the main body. From the back, where they had been positioned between the engines, two rectangular pods moved to the side, swung forward and hands slid out from their fronts to form two arms. The Veritech hung there for a moment, a majestic hawk with arms, then detached a high powered GU-11 gun pod from its right forearm and readied itself for battle - already more Pods were coming from over the Cruiser to do battle. The Guardian swung its GU-11 towards them as Michele mentally relaxed and sunk into the technology that surrounded her.

Victor was quietly watching the simulations when an alarm sounded - something was wrong with Hausthar's simulation, its parameters changing even as he watched. He was about to request further information from the computer when a second buzzer joined in, this time coming from Michele's console. What had been deemed impossible was now happening: the simulations were being tampered with. Victor reached for the phone and started dialling.

Hausthar was in trouble - for a while now, he had had a couple of Pods on his tail and could not shake them off. He had finally gotten himself to accept the inevitable when a sudden burst of fire took out both enemies at once. He turned around and saw a Valkyrie in Guardian mode blasting Pods in every conceivable directions. Taking advantage of the fact that the Pods were now more interested in the Guardian than in him, Hausthar changed his mecha into Battloid. The plane mechamorphed to Guardian and continued to change; the `legs' moved forward along the cockpit as the plane split in half just before the wings. The two parts folded as the wings swung back, forming chest and back. A laser turret previously located under the cockpit slid from its protective housing and righted itself on the `shoulders', looking like a visored helmet. The Battloid grabbed the GU-11 gun pod from its fore-arm and headed for the Battle Cruiser.

Michele had been eliminating Pods right and left, trying to make her way towards the Cruiser, when she had encountered a Veritech in need of assistance; whoever was inside was pursued by two Pods and had tried to shake them, to no avail. She back-flipped her Guardian and sent a burst of transuranic ammo at the pursuers. The metallic slugs met their targets, ripping armour off the Pods and reaching into the vehicles to their power plants. Both Pods illuminated the sky with the light of their final doom. The now-freed Veritech changed into Battloid and proceeded to blast a portion of the Battle Cruiser's armour away. It waited outside long enough to look her way, as if making sure she was all-right, then entered the ship. Michele took this as an invitation, fired her last pair of heat-seekers at an approaching Pod and followed the Battloid into the ship.

Dr. Lang entered the control room running and proceeded to sit down without asking a question; apparently he had been briefed on the problems the simulations had developed. His eyes gleamed with excitement as he tapped query after query onto the consoles' keyboards. Victor was not sure what to make of this; Dr. Lang was not known for his emotional outbursts. In fact, nothing phased or excited him apart from Robotechnology. For him to be this restless, the results of the queries must have been very interesting indeed.

Lang pulled a device from inside his coat and waved it around slowly, the device emitting beeps whenever it was point anywhere near the two pilots. "I do not believe it! Victor, have you seen this? They have broken into each other's simulations!" Lang's German accent was strong during moments of stress and this was one of them. "I never dreamed this would be the outcome of the project! This... this is incredible! Not at all what we expected." Lang reached for the intercom and requested for the transcript of the simulations to be brought up to him as soon as possible. He leant back in his seat with a smug look on his face. For the first time in his existence, Victor saw Lang smile at something that was not powered by Protoculture and he came as close to shivering as an android could.

Hausthar and the other Veritech - which had, by now, changed into Battloid to better navigate the tangled mess of the corridors - were making their way towards the engines at a painfully slow pace. They were currently stuck outside a cargo bay with Zentraedi troops shooting at them from inside and Battle Pods coming in from the rear. Hausthar looked towards the bay's ceiling, changed to Guardian and unleashed a series of missiles at the power conduits overhead. A chain of explosions raked the cargo bay and shook the corridor in which they stood, forcing the Battloid to hold on to an overhead pipe. Hausthar peeked inside the bay and saw no movement. He motioned for the other mecha to follow him and crossed the now-devastated area to the door on the far side.

Michele watched as the Guardian beside her released a contingent of missiles at the bay in front of which they had stopped. She grabbed an overhead conduit as the floor moved from underneath her feet and steadied the Battloid. The Guardian urged her on and crossed the open expanse of the cargo bay. Michele followed it, allowing herself a look at the dead Zentraedi. The aliens were thirty to thirty-five feet tall and humanoid in build. In fact, if it were not for the height, they could have passed off as her next-door neighbours. The Valkyrie's Battloid mode had actually been created to handle hand-to-hand fighting with those giants. Michele was not certain which of the two would come out on top if such a fight were to eventuate.

A nearby explosion shook Michele out of her daydream and brought her back to the `reality' of the simulation. The shot had been fired by a group of Battle Pods which had caught up with them while they had been pinned down. Michele ordered her Battloid to turn around and fired a shot at the electronic pad of the airlock door which stood between them and the Pods. The door hissed shut, breaking one of the Pods' laser cannon in two. Michele's Battloid broke into a run and followed the Guardian to the nearby engine room.

Hausthar watched in admiration as the Battloid accompanying him got rid of a group of following Pods. <Not bad!>, he thought. <They're making these simulations more realistic all the time. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that Battloid is controlled by a real pilot.>

His train of thought stopped short as he found the door to the drive room. The door was shut tight so a couple of bullets embedded themselves into its lock, breaking it. Hausthar left the Battloid as a guard and went inside to try to overload the engines. No sooner had he stepped into the room that three Zentraedi stepped from behind maintenance material crates and showered the area he was occupying with laser fire.

Hausthar dodged his Guardian to the side and emptied his gun unit into the power coupling of the engines behind the Zentraedi. The GU-11 made the accustomed buzzsaw sound as its gatling cannons punctured the coupling until it ran out of ammunition. The coupling began to glow with the light of uncontrolled energy. Hausthar did not wait to see the result of his shots and retreated out of the room as explosions began to resound within.

Michele had somehow known that the Guardian wanted her to remain on guard outside the room. She heard shots being exchanged within and suddenly saw the Valkyrie come through the door as if its laser-punctured tail ailerons were on fire. She followed it down the corridor and both arrived at a dead end. With an unspoken agreement she let loose her remaining tracers while the Guardian opened fire with its laser turret; the wall could not take the combined beating and gave way. Air rushed out to meet the vacuum of space, blowing out the two Valkyries at the same time. Both reverted to Fighter configuration and kicked in their afterburners to gain speed. <To Hell with fuel consumption!> thought Michele, <I've got to get out of here!>

From behind her a bright light materialised as the Battle Cruiser's engines finally gave way to the on-rushing flow of power and exploded with a flurry of unleashed energy.

Hausthar's jet shook as it caught shrapnel in its belly, warning lights telling him he had lost his left engine and the laser turret underneath the cockpit. The Veritech next to his waved its wings at him in victory and swung back towards the SDF-2, afterburners glowing. Hausthar nudged his plane into a low-consumption trajectory towards the Fortress until such time as he could be picked up by the rescue operators.

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