Chapter 3

V.C.T.R.; J.N.C.M.; you guys just love to give us weird initials, don't you? Have you ever thought what it would be like to live with initials instead of a name? Hausthar called me Victor, why don't you call her Janice Em?
Remark by android V.C.T.R.-1 "Victor" to the Research and Development Cyborg Team.

The entrance to the building was anything but obvious - trees, bushes and the architecture itself did much to hide the front door. Hausthar searched for a while, gave up and turned towards the soldier patrolling the outside.

"Excuse me. Is this RDF Research's Admin Block?"

The sentry looked up and smiled. "It certainly is. May I help you?"

"Er... yes. Where's the front door? The path leads up to nowhere."

"You're new, aren't you? Well don't worry, everybody asks me the same question when they first arrive. You see, the people in there have a rather... strange... sense of humour. They've hidden the door with an Enhanced Video Emulation so no-one'll see it. Just walk straight down the path and into the wall." The guard gave him a salute and went back to his post.

Hausthar walked to the wall, gave a last pleading look to the guard, closed his eyes and stepped forward. He did not hit concrete, instead something whooshed and a stream of cool air hit his face. Opening his eyes, he found himself in the reception area of an office building. The door he had just stepped through once again made its windy sound as it closed behind him, still hidden from sight.

"May I help you?" The voice asking the question was soothing - if he had not been so nervous, Hausthar might have enjoyed it. He was. He did not.

"Yes. I am looking for Dr. Lang. Where may I find him? My name is Reneth."

The secretary who had been sitting behind the reception desk got up and walked towards him. She was of medium height, slender, with long legs and a slightly Asian look to her. <What did you expect in the middle of Tokyo, numbskull!> Her waist-length blue-white hair waved ever so slightly as she approached him. "Ah yes, you must be the new test pilot. Nice to meet you, Corporal Reneth."

Hausthar looked at her with a start. "I'm sorry, there must be some mistake. I'm only a Cadet."

Once again, the secretary beamed her cheerful smile at him. "Not since 1600 hours yesterday you aren't. Dr. Lang pushed it through. You must be something special for him to go through all that trouble."

"I'm not, I assure you. I'm just a pilot who nearly didn't make it in his last simulation." Hausthar's mind was working overtime. Once again Lang had shown interest in him. He pinched himself hard to make sure he was not a Protoculture-powered android. His pinch drew blood. <At least I'm human.> He turned his mind back to the problem at hand. "Where might I find Dr. Lang please?"

The secretary went back to her desk, typed a short sequence into her computer and waited for the response. "He is in Research Lab 19. If you'll take the elevator to the fifth basement, it's the third corridor on the right, fourth door to the left." Her hand was pointing to an empty wall. Looking up again, she noticed the hopelessly-lost gaze on Hausthar's face and explained. "The whole reception area is full of E.V.E.s but if you look carefully, you will notice small white signs on the floor. They indicate doors and elevators. You want the elevator in the North wall."

Hausthar thanked her and walked up to the wall, placing his hand up from where he had found a mark. It disappeared into the wall and the effect of seeing his arm cut off at the wrist was almost more than he could endure.

"Why the cocky set-up?" he asked.

"Well, the R&D staff have a pretty weird sense of humour. If you think it's strange, how do you think I feel? I have to work in the middle of all of this. Anyway, it doesn't extend into the Lab area, so once you get into the lift there shouldn't be any problems." She sat back at her desk, gave Hausthar a small wave and vanished into thin air, desk and all.

Hausthar drew in a deep breath, walked through the wall into the elevator, hit the button marked `-5` and fell back against the rear of the lift. <This is too much!> He had expected strange things to happen - but inside the experimental labs, not in the reception area!

The lift slowed to a stop and opened its doors. Hausthar sighed with relief as he was confronted with doors. <At least there aren't any of these blasted EVEs down at this level.> Hausthar wandered down the corridors, looking for the room he had been directed to. He came to a halt in front of a door marked `V.C.T.R. Maintenance Lab'. As he tried the handle, the door suddenly opened and a startled Hausthar found himself in front of a tall mound of metal. It spoke to him.

"Hausthar! What are you doing here?" The voice was very familiar - it reminded Hausthar of ...

"Victor? Is that you? What happened?" If what was standing in front of him was indeed Victor, then someone must have shoved a grenade in his insides - minus the pin.

"I'm here for my check-up, as usual. You didn't think I repaired myself, did you? C'mon in, the more the merrier."

Hausthar entered the room and was treated to a sight he would never forget. Victor's `skin' was lying on a set of benches at the far end of the room. All around were batteries of electronic equipment of various sorts, none of which were familiar to him.

"So this is where you come for your lube job?"

"Yes - apart from the fact that each of my lube jobs, as you put it, costs over thirty thousand credits. All of this..." he made a sweeping movement with what Hausthar could only describe as his right arm "...and all these people are here just to make sure everything ticks at the right moment. All are here to make sure I am in the best of health. I get the best mechanics for my joints, the best electronics experts for my micro-chips... but I still can't figure out why they've got medics on the team." His voice lowered so only Hausthar could hear. "To tell you the truth, they turn me off before the medics start on me, so I don't know what they do. I've tried asking but I keep hitting a blank wall." His voice went back to normal. "Haust, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. He's a passable pilot and a very good bio-tech engineer. Half of the chips inside me were designed by him. Haust, meet Lieutenant Thallin Braywater."

A man in a green lab coat walked up to Hausthar, looked at him in surprise and, after a moment's hesitation, presented his hand in greeting. Hausthar shook it, wincing as Braywater squeezed a little too hard. "Sorry." Braywater mumbled as he realised what he was doing.

"No problem." Hausthar flexed his fingers a couple of time. "Still in working order. You're a pilot?"

"Only on my off-time." was the reply. "I worked on an idea for a remote-controlled Valkyrie a while back, so I thought it might be a good idea to at least be able to take off and land without crashing the thing every time. The project got canned a few months ago, so I haven't had time to fly since." There was a smile on his face. Thallin somehow got the impression he was missing an inside joke.

"So," interrupted Victor, "what are you doing here?" He sat back on a tilt table and settled himself as Braywater and the other technicians went back to work on him.

Hausthar looked for a while before answering. "I'm looking for Dr. Lang. I was told he might be somewhere around here."

"Well, you got close. Actually, he's in the next room down the hall. Listen, if he's waiting for you, you'd better hurry."

Hausthar opened the door to exit, then turned around. "When will you be finished?"

"None of your business, boy. I'll meet you in your room at 2100 hours - and try to be there, OK?"

Hausthar gave him a puzzled look. "How do you know where my room is? I've only just arrived."

"Simple, organic brain! I reserved it for you. Nice room in the west wing, overlooking the cliffs and the sea. Had your things transferred there from the Academy already. You'll love it. Now run along, mustn't keep the Doctor waiting."

Victor ushered Hausthar out and closed the door behind him. Hausthar turned down the corridor and made his way to the next door.

"Cadet... er, Corporal Reneth reporting, sir!"

Lang looked up in surprise. He obviously had not heard Hausthar come in. "Ah, Corporal. Welcome! Come in, come in." Lang looked at Hausthar and noticed he was still saluting. Lang returned the salute. "I think I should warn you that protocol is not what it should be around here. You must understand that we can't just drop everything and return a salute every time someone walks in. We're pretty informal on that subject."

"I'll try to remember, sir."

Just then, Lang noticed the circuit board still in his hand. He gestured to one of the female staff. "Helen, could you please take care of this while I look after Corporal Reneth?"

The tall, slender tech made her way towards the group, long amber hair trailing in her wake. Lang made the presentations. "Hausthar Reneth, I'd like you to meet Helen Randalph."

Hausthar started to salute, but remembered Lang's instructions and offered his hand instead. Helen shook it warmly. "Glad to have you on the team." she said sincerely. She took Lang's circuit board, gazed at it for a second, and walked away to a bench on the other side of the room.

"Helen shows great potential as a scientist." mused Lang. "I just hope this planet will be around long enough for her to live out her life." Turning towards Hausthar, he beamed a smile. "Well, any questions?"

"Well..." started Hausthar. "Now that you mention it... What am I to do here?"

Lang gave him a startled look. "You mean they haven't told you? Hah, bureaucratic baboons." He took Hausthar by the shoulder and led him along the lab. "If you mean 'here in Tokyo', you are here to start tests on new series of Veritechs and Ground Support mecha. If you mean `here in Research', then that is because we want the pilot's input while we create and modify the new prototypes. Also, it is the best means of familiarisation before testing."

"And the promotion? Not that I mind..."

"That is easy to explain. It is an idea of Gloval's, actually. To reward volunteers for their services."

Hausthar had stopped listening after the second sentence. "Gloval? As in `Admiral Henry Jonah Gloval'?"

"One and the same. You see, Henry... I mean Admiral Gloval, thought that our present weapons might pale in front of the Robotech Masters' arsenal if it ever came doing to fighting. So we have been commissioned to furnish the Defence Forces with new series of Destroids and Veritechs. Let me show you."

Lang leaned towards a vid-screen and turned it on. He punched a sequence of buttons while explaining. "The last Zentraedi attack taught us that our Destroids aren't up to scratch, especially the Phalanx - we lost another one three days ago. They're just too easy a target at short range. Ah!" The vid-screen finally came to life, showing a picture vaguely resembling a Phalanx Destroid. The picture rapidly changed and a whole stream of mecha were displayed whilst Lang continued to talk.

"You see, although we may have the advantage of surprise, it is a very thin one. So we have reconfigured the Destroids to give them better defences in close-quarter combat. The engineers for the Southern Cross Army have also designed new series of Veritechs. Here's the Logan, and a new ground-based Veritech, the Hover Tank - none of which have been tested yet. That will be your job and that of the other pilots. It's up to you people to test all these new mecha and find their faults - and odds are there will be a lot of them."

Hausthar was still staring at the screen where it showed a plane barely taller than a man changing to Guardian. This was followed by a Hovercraft Tank changing to a two-legged gun turret and finally into a Battloid. The shape of that last Battloid gave Hausthar the eerie impression that it was wearing tails.

"When do I start?" he enquired.

"First you'll have to settle in," answered Lang "then learn the theory behind these new mecha and have a couple of sessions in the simulator so you know what they are supposed to be like. You'll then try it on actual machines and tell us where and when they differ from the simulations. You'll first try out Research new pet Veritech - it's a replacement for the VF-series Veritech... faster and more compact." He suddenly seemed to remember something. "Have you got a room yet?"

"Yes, Victor booked on for me. Even transferred my things to it already."

A dark cloud briefly crossed Lang's face. He quickly dismissed it with a smile. "Good, you'll settle in fast then. Eve will give you directions to your room. Please come by my office tomorrow at 0900 hours. We'll finalise your transfer then."

Lang turned around without further goodbyes and started arguing with a technician as Hausthar left. The arguments echoed through the hall as he headed for the lift, Lang's voice filling his mind.

"...And I'm telling you we don't need a personality system-check. Why put more hardware into it than is necessary? There is no way J.N.C.M. will develop a relationship with her other than the one we'll program it with!..."

The first thing she was aware of as she came to was pain - pain in her head, pain in her ribs, pain every time she drew a breath. Ever so slowly, her mind started to register other things beside the pain... a regular beeping sound coming from her left, a slight cool breeze and warmth on the right side of her face, the hunger in her stomach. She opened her eyes and closed them just as fast - waves of pain crashed around in her skull. She waited until they had receded and tried to open her eyes again, this time slowly. Her eyes slowly focused on a blank area in front of them. <Wall>, she thought. She slowly turned her head towards the warmth and noticed a window through which a ray of sunshine was streaming.

Her mind swung into action as she tried to correlate the different sights and sounds around her into a cohesive whole. Awareness finally came to the top; she was lying in a hospital room. Assuming she had not been moved, she was still in a Robotech Defence Force base somewhere in South America. She had been sent here to join part of the Skull Squadron that had temporarily been placed under the command of Max Sterling. Her name was... Her name was... Her eyes opened wide in alarm as she realised she could not remember. Her name was flitting in and out of her awareness, taunting her with its information, but never giving it up. She laid back once again with a sigh of despair.

The door opened and a nurse walked in, checked the instrument panel next to her bed and beamed one of those smiles that only nurses had been trained to give. "Good morning Corporal Cequor. Nice to have you back amongst the living." She proceeded to tidy-up the bed.

Her name! And with the name came a flood of memories. Michele Cequor, Corporal fresh out of the Academy, had challenged perhaps the greatest ace the RDF had ever known and had wound up in hospital in the process! The only problem was, she could not remember how. Fleeting images of Female Armours and explosions wavered in her mind. "How did I get here?" she asked nervously.

The nurse finished her chores and looked at her before answering. "I really don't know what happened to you. They brought you back from the simulation room with a couple of broken ribs and a concussion. It was touch and go there for a while but you looked like you wanted to pull through - and you did!" She started for the door. "You'll be released in a couple of days so enjoy the holiday. From what I hear, the Skulls are being moved back to Macross in a week. See you later." She closed the door behind her as she left the room.

Michele looked at the ceiling and tried to get her memories and feelings straight. The squadron was being recalled. That meant she would be under the orders of this hard-head she had heard about - what was his name again? Hunter, Richard Hunter. He was having this on-again off-again relationship with both the singing star Lynn Minmei and his superior officer, Lisa Hayes. <What a jackass!>

She laid back and waited to be discharged. This was going to be a long week!

Chapter 2
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Chapter 4
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