Chapter 2

Why are we, as a race, almost always in the middle of the fight? What is it about us that pushes us forward and forces us to participate? Admittedly, there are those who would prefer not to fight - but every probability curve has its extremes. As a race, we are drawn towards violence and destruction. Indeed, we are naturally what the Zentraedi were artificially forced to be. And we have the gall, as a race, to hate them. I am fearful of the consequences of our race ever leaving our solar system.
Jan Morris: Solar Seeds, Galactic Guardians.

Cadet Reneth went back to the mess hall and met with Michael Circle, one of his rare friends. Greeting him with a wave of his hand, Hausthar sat down at an empty table, awaiting for Michael to join him.

Michael was a tall, slim young man with a lifeguard's build and a smile that would let you know everything would turn out for the best. He was also the Academy's top scorer in both the simulator and social events. Michael had walked over to Hausthar one day and casually asked him what he was doing for dinner. When Hausthar replied that he had nothing in mind, Michael had inquired if he would mind going on a blind-date - Michael's date had a sister and had told him that she would only go out with him if he could find a partner for her. Hausthar had agreed. The evening had been a disaster for Hausthar and his date, and Michael had demerits piled upon him for not having returned to the barracks until the next morning.

Michael sat on the chair opposite Hausthar's and had started digging into his lunch, both recounting the events of their simulations, when the final results were posted on the master bulletin-screen. Michael glanced down the list to his name and gave a yelp of delight as he viewed his score. Hausthar had a look at it - rather impressive; Michael had good reason to be pleased. He shifted his gaze downward to his name and froze as he reached it: there, in blinking letters where his score should have been, was a message from the Academy's Sergeant. Slowly he read it out. Report to room 215 at once. What had happened? He had not cheated on any of his tests, so why was he being summoned?

Michael was still grinning madly when he finally caught the look on Hausthar's face. He turned around, saw the notice and the smile vanished from his face as well. No-one, but no-one, was ever called by the Sergeant unless something drastic had happened and so far those who had gone there had never returned to the Academy. Whatever the problem Hausthar had with the brass it was a big one, and Michael intended to make sure his friend got away clean.

Hausthar sat in the waiting room, reading a technical magazine relating the latest advances in Robotechnology, trying hard not to look nervous - and failing at it. The receptionist glanced in his direction over her glasses and smiled, little realising that the Cadet in front of her did not know whom he was to meet. Most people had the jitters whenever they were called to see Dr. Lang; his irisless eyes alone were enough to put you off. But Dr. Lang seemed to have a knack for making people feel that Robotechnology was the Ultimate Science, and theatrics was his best approach at it. Even so, Lang was taking longer than usual with the person he was talking to right now, so the receptionist thought she understood why Hausthar was looking more and more nervous by the minute.

Hausthar was about to ask the receptionist to ring the Sergeant when the door to the inner office opened and a young woman with rust-coloured hair walked out briskly, her face lit up by a joyful smile. Lang followed her out of the office and spotted Hausthar. "Ah, there you are. I am sorry about the delay. Won't you come in?" The receptionist goggled at her employer, hearing him apologising to someone. The outburst of concern from Lang did nothing to calm Hausthar's nerves. He had heard of Lang's legendary aloofness when it came to people; the fact that Hausthar was in front of a living legend and that this self-same legend was now making an effort to be charming was unnerving.

Lang sat down behind his desk, took a file that was lying on top of it and began to read out loud. "Cadet Hausthar C. Reneth. Date of birth: Unknown, presumed to be around 1995. Place of birth: Unknown, from the accent presumed to be North American Continent. Found wondering in the Western Wastelands, amnesiac, in August 2011. Amnesia was accredited to shock. Both parents presumed dead. Entered the academy in October 2011. Almost perfect scores on the simulators during his stay. Nature: Shy. Recommendations: Cadet Reneth is too non-violent in nature to make a proper combat pilot. Suggest position in rear-echelon. Signed: E.J. Maetseas, Academy Supervisor." Lang placed the folder back down and looked at Hausthar with his totally black eyes. A moment of silence passed before Lang spoke again. "I had a look at your last simulation, Cadet." Again a pause, making Hausthar sweat more than he thought humanly possible. "I have a proposition to make to you. How would you..."

Shouts of protests emerged from outside the office, cutting Lang off. A muffled cry of surprise echoed through the door, which was suddenly flung open by a tall, smug looking, brown-haired Cadet. <Michael>, thought Hausthar. <What are you up to now?>

"I'll apologise later to your secretary for tying her up, Doctor." Michael had a gleam in his eyes, a gleam that Hausthar had learned not to trust; it generally meant that Michael was about to pull the wool over someone's eyes. Michael stepped forward and the office started to fill with scores of students until only the area behind the desk was free of them, the Cadets maintaining a respectful distance from Lang.

"`Will not function, charged with sin/Will not process data till/Repentance does its work within/Clears the store and frees the will.' We've come to expiate our sin, Doctor. We were all in on it, right guys?" he shouted to the mob behind him. A deafening chorus of Yeah and You're on erupted from the group. Michael grinned that smile of his again. "So what's it gonna be, Doc? You can't very well expel the whole Academy." A smug look made its way past the satisfied smirk on his face.

Lang looked at the crowd in his office and smiled inwardly as he spied the looks of concern on all the present faces. He turned to Hausthar and continued. "As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted, how would you like to become a part of Robotech Research? We are currently looking for new test pilots and we believe you have what it takes to be one." A wave of silence swept the crowd as the words sunk in. All eyes were on a baffled Hausthar who was still trying to make some sense of the situation. After several tense seconds, his brain finally gave signs of life.

"I... er... I accept." The shouts and cheers from his fellow students set off half the earthquake alarms in the building.

As the last of the Cadets left the office, a side door opened and Victor joined Dr. Lang in his office, handing him a twenty-dollar note. "It is as you predicted." To Victor this did not make sense. His forecast had been that only Michael would turn up to defend his friend.

"Yes Victor," said Lang, apparently reading Victor's thoughts, "it is surprising. But no less than is to be expected when you try to outwit Human Nature. These kids love a challenge, Victor, and I handed them one on a silver platter - a chance to thumb their nose at authority and get away with it."

Victor turned towards the files on the table. "I see you have transferred the other to Skull Squadron. Is that a wise move considering the importance you seem to attach to her well-being? Surely you must know that the Skull is a commando-type outfit, picked for all the dangerous missions. Do you really want to endanger her so?"

"Victor, I believe that Skull Squadron is the best place for her. Max and Miriya Sterling tend to protect their pilots with a passion. Besides, she requested the transfer. I simply made sure it would be approved." He paused for a while, sitting amidst his thoughts. "I have new orders for you concerning these two. You will watch over them and report their every actions to me and me alone. I want to know where they are at all times. And most importantly, they must never meet or get to know of each other! Is that understood?"

"The order is understood, but not the motives. Surely there can be no harm if two humans meet one another?"

"Ah yes, I forgot you didn't know... Let me show you something about those two particular humans." Lang went over to a wall safe and placed his hand on a touch-sensitive plate. A light emerged from the safe's door and scanned Lang's left eye before a soft voice finally said "Retinal scan positive. Safe opened." A muted click sounded as the safe swung open. Lang reached in and removed a thick dossier which he offered to Victor. "Here, read this."

Victor scanned the first page and let out an electronic whistle of surprise. "So that's why you are so interested in them. But what about the third?"

"The third one?" Lang paused, lost in thoughts. "He died right after his birth." He turned to face the panoramic windows behind his desk. The city laid out in front of him, his irisless eyes wondering towards the towering SDF-1, lingering on the dormant fortress. He still found that memory too vivid, even after all this time. "I consider it a personal failure. The blame was entirely mine." His eyes stayed fixed on the monolith, his thoughts away from Robotechnology to his moment of failure. He never heard Victor leave.

Michele stepped from the arrival office and swore under her breath. She was perspiring heavily and cursing against the air-conditioning which had been present on the plane that had brought her here. Why could they not have turned it off and let her get acclimatised with the South-American climate? She was still engrossed in thoughts involving the disembowelment of Supply Officers world-wide when she careened into what felt like a power-pole. "Why don't you watch were you're..." Stopping short, she quickly snapped to attention as the person she had run into turned around. "My apologies, sir. I should have been more careful." She gave him a salute which he promptly returned.

"At ease, Corporal. I'm Second Lieutenant Austin. I don't think I've seen you here before." he mentioned in an inquisitive voice, lowering his hand from the salute.

Michele looked up and down for a quick second before answering. He was taller than her at a hair over six feet and had the build of a football player - a quarterback, if she knew the positions right - but what caught Michele's attention was the dirty-blond hair and the silver-grey eyes. It was the eyes that engrossed her the most; distant, and compassionate, as if all the world's sorrows rested upon his shoulders. vulnerable... and beautiful. <Yum. I hope I get assigned to his wing.> "Corporal Cequor, sir. I was just assigned as a pilot to Skull and I'm looking for the CO's office."

Austin looked at her for a moment with expressive eyes and scratched his head. "So you're the new hot-shot pilot we've been hearing about. I was the young hot-shot once; all good things end." Michele laughed awkwardly and after a brief but pregnant pause Austin pointed to a pre-fab building. "That's it over there." He turned to leave, then paused and faced her again. "Corporal, how old are you?" he asked, almost as an after-thought.

"Six... sixteen, sir." she answered, caught by surprise.

He smiled and extended his hand, which she shook; the grip was warm and fraternal, and very strong. "I think you'll like it here in Skull. We're a good group. Welcome to the family." she heard him say. The look in Austin's eyes, however, spoke to her in quite different words. "Go home, kid. Go home before you go places from which you cannot return." was what his face's expression silently told her.

Michele stared at him as he walked away. <Now, what did I make of that?>

The building was a shabby-looking erection, and the look was one of intentional decay - windows were broken and boarded, tiles hung loosely from the roof and the entire picture could have used two or three coats of paint. The front steps creaked as Michele walked up to knock on the dilapidated door. She waited for an answer to her knock, then walked into the room.

The office was not especially large and the lack of windows did nothing to help; windows were not particularly sought after near the Zentraedi Control Zone - they had the nasty habit of attracting Battle Pods at night. All along the walls were aerial photographs and military maps of the area around the South-American Grand Cannon, a military base that had been taken over by Zentraedi Malcontents. On the far end of the room was a desk and standing around it were two figures. The first one, obviously female, had green hair, what Michele would have called a perfect body, and gave out an aura of command and power. The second figure was that of a man with blue hair, a person who would look right paper-pushing behind a desk. Michele approached the woman.

"Corporal Michele Cequor, reporting for duty, ma'am." She gave a brisk salute and waited. Not being able to see the woman's rank, she had decided against possible embarrassment and not guessed at it.

The woman with the green hair turned towards her with a startled look on her face and answered her salute. A grin appeared on her lips. "Good morning to you, Corporal. However, I am not the Commanding Officer. The person you want is Commander Maximillian Sterling." The woman's shoulder finally fell into the pool of light generated by the room's incandescent globe and a Lt. Commander insignia shone hard in the semi-darkness of the office.

"Thank you, ma'am. Could you please direct me to him?"

The woman's grin expanded to a smile. "Certainly." She gave the man next to her a push with her elbow. "Max? There's someone here to see you."

The man looked up from the maps and pushed his glasses further on his nose. He obviously had not heard a word of the conversation which had taken place. "I'm sorry Miriya, what did you say?"

"I said, someone's here to see you." She pointed to Michele who had, by that time, turned completely red.

Commander Sterling moved around the table and stared at her, his blue-tinted glasses shining in the darkness. "What can I do for you?" His voice was calm and soothing and his attitude gave off an air of self-humility.

Michele was still red with embarrassment. "Corporal Michele Cequor, reporting for duty, sir." Her blood was beating furiously in her neck. She had not been here for five minutes and she had already committed a blunder.

"Oh yes, we were warned about your coming. It seems you consider yourself quite a good fighter pilot." Sterling's smile seemed on the verge of neatly splitting his face in two. "A friend of mine taught me that thinking is different from doing."

The Lt. Commander's voice came from a seat near the far corner. "Max, would you please stop teasing her?"

Michele's face was once again red, but this time from anger. How could he doubt her abilities? "If you do not believe my files, maybe a test...?"

"Yes, why not." Although Michele would not have thought it possible, Sterling's smile increased again.

The base's simulation room was smaller than the one at the Academy but otherwise looked the same. Michele strapped herself in and gave the Go signal. A tech's voice sounded in her ear. "We'll run a simple simulation: attack of a Zentraedi renegade camp. Intelligence has it that the renegades are armed with a Heavy-Artillery and a Tactical Pod. Good Luck." Lights dimmed, the simulation began.

Michele was flying at low altitude over the jungle, her VF-1A responding swiftly to her controls. She spotted a column of smoke coming from below, slowed her fighter and mechamorphed to Guardian, her Veritech hovering just above the tree-top. She zoomed-in her external cameras towards the fire and spent a few seconds spying on the fire's proprietors. She counted two Heavy-Artillery and a Fighter Pod. Once more Intelligence had failed to live up to its name. She kicked in her external speakers and spoke in a firm voice.

"Zentraedi. This will be your only warning. Stand clear of the Pods with your hands up. Do not attempt to resist arrest or face the consequences of your actions." Military Protocol dictated the warning, Zentraedi up-bringing decreed the response; as usual, the renegades paid no attention to the threats and jumped for their Pods. Michele released two missiles which promptly dispatched one of the Heavy-Artillery Pods and its pilot. The rest of the Pods started to retaliate. Warnings echoed through the Valkyrie's cockpit as shots came up from the jungle, originating from two Female Power Armours which had lain hidden there. Too late to do anything about it, Michele realised she had fallen into a trap. The shots impacted on her Guardian, penetrating armour and frying internal circuitry. Backups automatically came on-line, but the damage had already been done; the Veritech plunged to the Earth, its engines flamed-out. It hit the ground with a deafening thud and laid there, unmoving.

Miriya looked at her husband and saw a frown on his face. "Well, she's out cold. It'll be over in a minute." She pointed to the console where Michele could be seen slumped in her seat, her eyes closed. A trickle of blood emerged from under her helmet where she had hit her head on the control panel.

Max had already called the paramedics and was about to call off the simulation when the technician cried out in surprise. "I don't believe it! The Veritech's reconfiguring!"

Maximillian's eyes opened wide. "What about the girl? What's her condition?"

The tech gave the screen a glance. "She's still out."

"Then who is controlling the plane?" enquired Miriya.

Once again, the tech turned to the console, punched out a code and made a sound of consternation. "The computer says she is, ma'am!"

The Battloid had finished its reconfiguration and now stood above the trees' canopy. It dodged the shots fired at it by the Fighter Pod, righted itself and grabbed the GU-11 attached to its forearm. Swiftly taking aim, it depressed the trigger of the auto-cannon. The Fighter Pod disappeared in a bubble of fire.

The Female Power Armours hung back while the Heavy Artillery Pod discharged its four missiles. The Battloid saw it had no chance of avoiding all of them - counter-measures took out two, a shot from the gun pod destroyed a third but the Veritech had to sacrifice its left arm to protect itself from the fourth. The arm disintegrated into a cloud of smoke and debris.

The wings that formed the Battloid's back swung apart, revealing sets of missiles; two metal streaks rose from them on pillars of smoke and annihilated the offending Pod. Alarms screamed for attention inside the Battloid as the internal temperature rose due to a short-circuit in the engines. A wail came from the radar as it registered a high-energy reading from both Power Armours. The Battloid dropped to the ground, but too late; one of the beams of energy emitted from the Power Armours connected with its head, perforating the armour and severing the servo-motors controlling the head's laser gun.

Using its hand to position the laser, the Battloid fired it at one of the Female Armours. The laser hit one of the Armour's missile launchers, melting away the armour and raising the internal temperature so fast the missiles contained within exploded, reducing the machine to so much dust.

The last assailant fired a salvo of missiles and flew away. The quickly aimed missiles exploded around the Battloid, but one made its way to the left torso, ripping the internal structure apart, causing more alarms to wail in the cockpit. The Battloid raised its GU-11 gun pod and fired at the receding Zentraedi mecha. Armour flew apart from the Power Armour while the GU-11 started to melt from over-heating. The heavy shells finally made their way to the engines of the Armour and ruptured its primary power source. The pilot's cry of rage was cut short by the ensuing explosion.

The Battloid fell back against a tree, smoke coming out of the gash in its head, clutching its left side, adopting the slumped position of its pilot.

Michele still had not moved.

Chapter 1
Up 1 Level
Children of the Light, Children of the Shadow
Chapter 3
Mail Me! Site Index Easy-find

Locations of visitors to this page Raven Silverwing's website