Chapter 8

How do you make the difference between a mecha and a human? Both require fuel of some sort; both think and reason; both can be hurt and both can die. And if that wasn't enough, here we were against a machine with goddamn feelings! You can't win against that you know. Turing must be smiling in his grave.
R&D Lab Technician.
And in my dreams I've kissed your lips a thousand times.
Late 20th Century song.

The metallic footsteps resounded heavily throughout the garden. A fifty feet tall shadow fell over the bushes as the mecha walked past them, deep in conversation with the human accompanying it.

"I understand why you would want to keep my body for observation Dr. Lang, but why can't I see it now? Your technicians say I have recovered completely from the incident."

The man next to it harumphed and looked towards the sky, never ceasing to walk down the path. The sky was the dark blue that only could be seen on a cloudless day. Staring at it was almost like staring through infinity itself. And in that blue sky hung a warm yellow sun, witness to so much destruction upon the planet it shone over. It took Dr. Lang a while to get his ideas through the wall the beauty of this place had established in his mind.

"Please understand: although your `body' has recuperated, we are not sure what psychological factors remain from your ordeal. It is not everyday that we can talk to someone who survived what you experienced. It could well be that seeing your body would upset your mental state. We have no way of knowing how you would react. This is entirely new to us... so we would prefer to be cautious about it."

The mecha bowed its head in recognition of the inevitability of Lang's words. Both continued to walk down the path which wound itself around the gardens in the Institute, watching nature unfold itself amongst the bushes that were hiding the surprises the next turn of the path would offer. They came to a field of grass interspersed with wild flowers. This garden was the pride of the Institute in a world where most of nature had been destroyed in the Zentraedi Rain of Fire which had annihilated much of the wildlife, both plants and animals.

Lang sat on a bench situated in the middle of the green and gold field, and beckoned the mecha to lower itself beside him. <It is hard to think of the cruel world which lurks behind the walls of this garden when one is surrounded by such beauty>, thought Lang. <Why must the human race, any race, have such a penchant for war?> "How goes your training Michele?" he suddenly asked, shaking the feeling which was overcoming him, a feeling he had not felt for so long... <Ever since that first trip amongst the remain of the crashed SDF-1>, he reflected.

"Very well Doctor, I am quickly learning to adapt to this new situation. I would like to thank you for restoring my weapon pod and missiles to me."

"It is quite all right. The resident psychologists believe that they may help you in re-establishing a sense of self. So long as you keep the safety on, the weapons themselves are not much to worry about... And I don't believe you are the type to go out on a wild rampage of destruction."

The mecha laughed for a few seconds then paused, listening. "Aren't these birds lovely? I do so love their songs..." Two compartments opened on each side of the mecha's thorax, revealing loudspeakers. Both instruments hummed for a moment, then burst into life with a re-creation of the bird's song, perfect down to the last note. The speakers repeated the call as the nearby birds flew down to find the source of this song, finally perching themselves on the shoulders of the machine and joining it in its joyous exclamation of music.

The mecha lowered its right hand and extended a waldo from its forearm, reaching down with it to pick a flower. Another waldo quickly followed it and soon the mecha was holding a bouquet, offering it to the birds who quickly rummaged through it, searching for bugs within the yellow petals and green leaves of the plants. "Sometimes, if I concentrate enough, I can almost feel the feedback from the things I pick up. I can almost feel the fragility of the plants I just picked. Maybe this isn't so bad... but still, I will feel better when I'll have rejoined my body."

"I thought we weren't going to talk about that any more, Michele." remarked Lang.

"I'm sorry Doctor, it just slipped out. It's just that I feel something has happened to my body, something..." The mecha emitted a sound like a sigh. "Oh well, I suppose you're right. Better off not talking about it. I'm not really in such a hurry to see it. After all, it's not as if it's about to get up and walk out on me, is it?"

Michele was fuming. Ever since she had gotten out of the hospital, all she had been faced with was paperwork. Signing release forms at the hospital, signing in at the base, proving to the commanding officer that she was fit for duty <more paperwork>, getting allocated a room, a new mecha... paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. All these pieces of paper were dancing around her mind in such a disorderly fashion that she could not remember the contents of the last form she had signed. If someone had presented her a contract, she would probably have bought five hectares in the Wastelands without realising it. Luckily, Michael was helping her.

Picking up both her bags, Michael winked at Michele, grabbed a pamphlet with the base's map and timetable, prodded her up the stairs to the second floor and guided her to a room near the end of the corridor, in the North wing of the building. He dropped the bags and gave her one of his infuriating grins. "Would you believe that the Petty Officer in charge of room allocation gave you the room next to mine by mistake?" He did not wait for her to answer but fished out a key from his pocket and started to open the door. "Wouldn't it be surprising if it had... Why yes, there it is... A common door. Now isn't that a coincidence!"

Michele grabbed the bags and smiled at him as she closed the door behind her. "If there is one thing I have learned it's that nothing happens around you by coincidence. I suppose it is coincidence that you took sick just long enough to be able to get a room next to mine in the hospital? Or that virtually every flower shops' bouquets found their way into my room by accident? Or that..."

"All right, I'll confess, I'm guilty of all charges." He smiled at her and went to open the window-drapes. The view from the room gave onto a panoramic display of the SDF-1 resting in the middle of Lake Gloval. The sun, already starting to set, was perfectly centred between the gigantic 'tuning forks' which were the fortress' Main Guns. He stared awhile at the sight of the red-orange globe as it descended behind the megalithic figure in the lake. Just as it disappeared beyond the horizon, Michael heard a rustle of clothes behind him and turned around. Michele was finishing taking off her uniform in the middle of the room. "Ah... Er... I think I'd better leave... "

Michele looked at him with a languorous smile. "I was hoping you could spend the night here" she softly said.

"Yes, well, I seem to have left my pyjamas in my room..." blurted Michael.

Michele's lips met his as she grabbed him around the waist with one hand and started to undo his buttons with the other. "I was hoping you would say that." she whispered.

There was a light ruffle as the last of her clothes slowly fell to the ground.

His whole body was still slightly sore from the endless days in the hospital bed, but at last he was free... <Well, as free as one can be in the Armed Forces anyway>. Hausthar's heart jumped with joy as he once again stood in front of the Robotech Research and Development building. He entered the premises, waved at Eve and promptly walked into the wall leading to Lang's office. Sitting in the anteroom was Lieutenant Braywater, actively listening to the conversation taking place behind the office door.

"... But General Leonard..."

"There are no `but's, Lang! This plane of yours is off the project. The council has finally seen it my way and has ordered you to start testing and production of the new Hover Tanks and Logans. You wouldn't go against council directives, would you?"

"Well no, I... "

"I didn't think so! Dr. Zand here will be taking over the production facilities as soon as you have cleared them of the rest of your junk. I trust there will be no problems?" There was a muffled reply from Lang, then the voice of General Leonard continued. "Lazlo will be back to check on progress tomorrow. I hope I won't have to hear from him until the Veritechs are ready, understood? Good day, Lang."

Thallin suddenly became engrossed in a magazine and Hausthar quickly moved away from the door as it opened and two figures walked out of Lang's office: a bald, fat man dressed in a brown Southern Cross Army uniform and a short wizened person whose facial features were hidden by a shock of hair. Both disappeared down the corridor without even glancing at the two people in the waiting room.

Lang stood by the doorway, watching their shadows retreat in the distance. "Politicians!" he snorted before Hausthar's and Thallin's presence suddenly came to his attention. He studied them for a moment before speaking once again. "Glad to see you are out of the hospital, Corporal. I'm sorry if this seems a bit rude, but could you come back some other time?"

There again was the politeness Lang was such a miser with. <Why is he so polite with me?> wondered Hausthar. He nonetheless stuttered an affirmative answer and watched as Lang retreated with Thallin into his office, the door closing noiselessly behind them.

Hausthar had turned around and was about to make his way down the corridor when a sudden feeling of warmth spread like a wave from his lower abdomen across his chest. With this feeling of warmth came a shortness of breath which hit him by surprise. He was not feeling pain... in fact the feeling was rather pleasant, as if he had just had an... He shook his head and tried to clear his mind from this line of thought. His breath slowly returned to him.

Michele laid on her back in the rather large bed in her room, her breathing slowly going back to normal. She turned to look at Michael who was lying beside her, watching her, caressing her hips. She slid on top of him and embraced him with all the passion she could muster from her soul.

The mecha bay was a noisy place to be: work was always in progress around the clock. Servo-motors whined as damaged Veritechs struggled to mechamorph under the watchful eyes of the technicians. Hausthar stopped and glanced around until he had spotted the person he was looking for. Getting closer, he tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, George! You got a minute?"

The overalls straightened out and revealed George's features. His face lit up as he recognised the person who had called him. "Hausthar! Man, am I glad you're out of hospital..." He stopped and eyed his friend suspiciously. "You were discharged, right?"

"Yep, all nice and official." replied Hausthar. He glanced at the mecha George had been working on.

"She's all repaired and ready to go." George answered his querying look. "Even painted her with your colours: Light blue with light brown trimmings. You know, you've got a lousy taste in colours."

Hausthar walked around the Vindicator, his hand gliding along its metal skin, his mind replaying the moment of the crash, trying to file it away, trying to forget it.

"When is she going up again?" George enquired.

"There's been a slight change of plans." admitted Hausthar.

"Oh. What happened?"

"She's going to be moth-balled. They think she's too dangerous." Hausthar said. He continued to eye the jet as he walked around it, inspecting it.

"WHAT? That's outrageous! She's about as safe as they come." shouted George.

"Well... You know that, and I know that... But they don't. Which is why you are going to find a nice, secluded hangar for this baby and moth-ball an empty shell in its place. I want to be able to finish testing her without their knowing it. Can it be done?"

George's face was grinning happily at him. "Does the sun rise every morning? Is a bear Catholic? It'd be a crime to put this plane on the shelf. Hangar D is empty, and I'll fiddle the paperwork so it remains that way. Even smuggle a few spare parts and equipment in there for the check-up."

"What about ammunition for the live-ammo testing?"

"Are you kidding? I sometimes tell myself that the only reason Zentraedi aren't able to walk out with all the ammo they want is because they're not allowed in in the first place. Apart from that, they'd never be caught. The guys there are a little lax since the Zentraedi relocated to Osaka. You worry about making sure nobody realises you're flying a plane that's supposed to be moth-balled, I'll take care of the rest."

"Thanks for the help." A clock on the wall gave out a short buzz, causing Hausthar to automatically look at his watch. "7 O'Clock!" he exclaimed. "Jeezus! Ricky! I forgot about dinner! Listen, George, I gotta go, fast. I'll see you tomorrow." He scrambled for the door without waiting for an answer, leaving a surprised George behind him, scratching his head.

"Well, well, well." George muttered to himself. "She must be one hell of a girl for him to be in such a state over dinner."

In a hangar especially designed for it, a Battloid was having a hard time falling asleep. It shifted restlessly on its specially designed bed. It did not really need a bed to sleep, it could have slept on the floor, but the psychoanalysts had decided it would be better for its mental health to have as many `normal' objects around it as possible. And it had worked; the simple act of lying on a forty-foot bed usually sent the mecha into something akin to human sleep. But this time it was not working properly.

The Battloid tossed and turned on its bunk, trying to catch that elusive sleep. Brief bursts of memories flashed through its mind in its half-asleep state. Missiles pursued it through a landscape even Picasso would have had a hard time understanding. Energy crackled through its imaginary body as the missiles surrounded it, blocking off all escape routes. It had prepared itself for the worst when a face appeared in front of it, fending off the missiles, offering a shield to their blasts. And with the face came a name from deep within its memory. <Michael>, it thought. <I must find Michael.>

It struggled against consciousness a while longer before finally surrendering to the black abyss of a restless sleep.

Ricky had been waiting at the Italian-style restaurant for a little over half-an-hour when Hausthar finally arrived. It was a small, friendly establishment located on the fourth floor of an old-style building near the centre of Tokyo.

Hausthar grabbed the seat opposite hers and slumped into it. "I'm sorry I'm late," he apologised, "but I had some business to take care of at the base."

"It's all right." replied Ricky, placing her hand gently on top of his. Hausthar's heart skipped a beat. "I'm just glad you're here." Her eyelids lowered slightly, accentuating her schoolgirl look.

"So am I." He stared at her for a while, time forgotten, until someone cleared their throat next to him. He looked up to see what looked like a waiter waiting to take their orders. The newcomer confirmed his suspicions.

"May I take your orders?" the man uttered in perfect waiter fashion, flipping open a small book.

"What do you recommend?" asked Ricky.

"The lasagna is particularly delicious tonight, miss." answered the waiter, removing the top from his pen with a flourish that, to Hausthar's taste, had not been required.

"We'll have two lasagna with a bottle of red wine." said Hausthar.

"Very well sir." replied the waiter and walked off towards the kitchen, taking two more orders on the way. He had barely made it to the swinging doors when the explosion sent him to the floor.

Ricky and Hausthar looked up just in time to see a ball of fire engulf the tables closest to the kitchen door, instantly incinerating the waiter and the patrons seated around them. A secondary explosion resounded outside the restaurant's front door, remnants of another fireball burning through it. Through the ruins of both doors stepped figures in dark grey jumpsuits, wearing face masks and wielding large-calibre weaponry. They looked around the restaurant's dining room for a second, then let loose with a barrage of micro-missiles from their guns. People all over the room vanished in the ensuing explosions' balloons of fire.

Hausthar searched for Ricky and found her sprawled on the floor. He stood up to help her to her feet, trying to avoid being seen by the attackers. A flaming support-beam fell from the ceiling an speared the chair he had been seated in a fraction of a second earlier. More pieces of the ceiling rained about him as he heard the frightened screams of patrons running for the fire exits, only to be cut short by bursts after bursts of micro-missiles.

Picking up Ricky's dazed body, Hausthar realised that the fallen beam had blocked his only escape route; he was surrounded by fire. Frantically he searched for an opening in the wall of flames. He caught sight of a window behind the waving curtains of fire. He struggled to get a better glimpse of it; something snapped in his mind. He felt a gust of power originate from it and watched as the two large fish tanks near the window burst, extinguishing the flames nearest the windowsill.

Ricky's voice came to him through his stupor. "RUN!" He reacted automatically, racing for the window. Out of the corner of his eye, he realised that the gun-wielding terrorists were aiming their weapons in his direction. Another explosion resounded behind him, sending Hausthar and Ricky flying through the window, falling to the ground. In his state of panic it took Hausthar several seconds to realise he had yet to hit the pavement, and that in fact the speed of his fall had dramatically reduced. He reached the sidewalk with a heavy thud and immediately tried to get back on his feet. "What the... ?"

A hand grabbed his wrist and pulled him up from the sidewalk, urging him along the street towards a cab waiting at the corner. "Those were not Malcontents up there. What's going on? What's happening?" repeated Hausthar, staring at Ricky's face.

"I can't tell you." she sobbed, tears streaming down her face as she pocketed the small device she had been holding. "I can't tell you. Let's just go home." She hailed the cab and waited for it to arrive.

Chapter 7
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Children of the Light, Children of the Shadow
Chapter 9
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