And bad times,
I'll be on your side forever more
'Cause that's what friends are for.
Late 20th Century song.
R. Sopwith, commander of the Night Music Squadron.
Waking up to an empty apartment was not really a harrowing experience, but remembering why it was empty nearly had Hausthar decide to call in sick and spend the rest of the day in bed, feeling sorry for himself. Ultimately, the decision was made for him as Eve appeared at the foot of his bed in a flash of white light.
"It's been done." groaned Hausthar. "And please loose the Starfleet Admiral's uniform. It really doesn't suit you."
"Good morning, Hausthar" replied Eve. He looked up and saw one of Lang's waiter-drone standing next to his bed. "The doctor regrets that he will not be here to give you your assignment in person" continued Eve, "but he had urgent business in the States. The good doctor should be back later today. Until then, you are required to remain in contact with Research. That is all." The drone opened a small compartment in its cylindrical body and an electronic pager landed on the bedside table. It then bowed slightly and departed, closing the door behind it. "And between you and me," whispered Eve as she bent over his bed to his ear, "if I were you, I'd go take a long, hot bath. You look like hell." Another brilliant flash of light and she, too, was gone.
Hausthar picked up the pager and looked at it. <So>, he thought, <I'm given the day off.> He got up and walked over to the phone, pager in hand, and dialled a number from memory.
"George? Hausthar. Have you completed our little transaction?... Good. Listen, I'll be along in half an hour. Do you think you can get her ready by then?... Yes, with full load. I want to take her up for a test run... Thanks." He returned the handle to its cradle and went back into the bedroom to change.
Hangar D was a structure of metal built at the furthest end of the base. Looking at it, no-one would suspect that it was in use - rust flaked from its walls, abandoned oil-drums littered around it. Inside, however, was the latest in Robotechnology - a newly repaired prototype Vindicator Fighter. Hausthar walked around it, visually checking it out whilst George ran the electronics through their paces.
MEMIC in hand, George was checking the response in the Vindicator's right support thruster, frowning every so often before making adjustments. "Hey, Haust! How're you gonna get this baby off the ground without the controllers getting suspicious? This plane ain't exactly inconspicuous. We're not talking cesna here, we're talking really unusual shape."
Hausthar emerged from the underside, where he had been checking the intakes. "I've got a friend working there. He told me what to say to get clearance. My only trouble will be to get up in the air as fast as possible before someone decides to check me out visually."
"Guess you know what you're doing." George's head disappeared inside the cockpit. The whine of an electric screwdriver came from the cockpit and filled the air in the hangar's closed environment.
Michael and Michele were duking it out, exchanging cannon fire, missiles tearing up the skies as they sought to reach their targets. Michele's grey Veritech went Battloid and tried to get a bead on Michael's light-green Guardian as it went into a spin, trying to evade one of the mavericks she had launched at him. Michael's Guardian suddenly changed direction by ninety degrees upward just as the missile was going to reach it. The maverick did not have time to follow and flashed past the mecha as Michael brought his GU-11 to bear on it, emptying most of his clip into it before it finally ruptured.
Without letting a moment slip by, Michael went ballistic to evade the cannon-fire Michele was directing his way and mechamorphed to Battloid. Letting go two missiles, he followed them in, using their smoke-trail and radar paint to hide. Michele destroyed both missiles but could not react fast enough to dodge out of Michael's way - the two Battloids met in mid-air, metallic collision sounds echoing through the battle-field. Falling from the sky, the two mecha wrestled, Michael getting the upper hand just as they crashed onto the ground. Before Michele could react Michael attacked with devastating results, his Battloid's foot smashing her mecha's right leg to pieces. Warning sirens resounded as the Battloid went down on one knee. Michael moved in for the kill, GU-11 aimed at the pilot's cockpit. The smug look on his face disappeared as he registered a quick movement from the downed Veritech. The last thing he saw were five Sidewinders screaming towards him before the world went black.
Victory sounds emerged from the Battloid Attack! machine as the 3D screen disappeared from between the two players. A stylised Rick Hunter jumped out from the cockpit of a grey Veritech and received a kiss from a very recognisable representation of singing star Lynn Minmei. Michael grunted in disgust as his score showed him ranked as 20th on the best 50 players list. "Care to go it a second round?" smirked Michele, entering her name in the top place on the list.
Michael was saved the embarrassment as a well-known voice sounded near them. "Congratulations on a good game, both of you." Michael looked up to see the Sterlings leaning against a support pylon next to the machine. Both pilots stood up and saluted their commanding officers.
"Thank you, sir." said Michael. "May I ask how long you have been watching?"
"Long enough to see some interesting moves." replied Miriya Sterling. "It's the first time I've seen anyone use their missiles as a smoke and radar screen."
"Thank you, ma'am. But surely you must have done better."
"Don't be so certain. My first game against Max is not one I'm likely to forget. He literally thrashed me."
Maximillian Sterling was starting to blush. "Miriya, I don't think they want to hear about this."
"Oh, yes we do." blurted Michele. "Please tell us more about this, Commander."
"Well," started Miriya, "it's a long story and we are awaited somewhere else..." She paused, thinking. "Why don't you come with us, then I'll be able to tell you about it on the way."
"But we wouldn't want to intrude..." stammered Michael.
"Nonsense!" interrupted Max. "I'm sure you'll be welcomed, so let's not hear another word about it." He hesitated for a moment. "Anybody knows where we might get a taxi around here?"
"This is Bravo X-ray Two Five Zero, requesting clearance."
"Tower to Bravo X-ray Two Five Zero. I'm sorry, but we don't seem to have any flight plans from you."
Hausthar breathed in deeply before answering. "Affirmative Tower. I have override clearance. Clearance code Delta Foxtrot Five."
The voice from the tower paused a few seconds, making Hausthar sweat. Finally, the confirmation was given. "Tower to Bravo X-ray Two Five Zero, Research and Development clearance code confirmed. You are cleared for take-off on runway Three Six."
Hausthar nudged the throttle along its tracks, taxied to the runway, paused for final clearance, then finally pushed the throttle to the maximum. The Vindicator screamed down the length of the runway, attaining take-off speed within a few seconds. Hausthar pulled on the stick and the jet aimed for the sky, leaving the confines of gravity behind. Switching to navigation radar Hausthar plotted a course out of Tokyo, towards the Washingtonian Wastelands.
Changing frequencies on his radio, Hausthar selected a secured band and contacted his ground crew. "George? I've taken off without any worries. How's it going back there?"
The radio crackled a few times before the answer came through. "It's going fine. Nobody realised what plane you were flying. Are you still gonna go through with it?"
"I guess it's the only way to show these idiots that this plane is flyable. I don't think they'll have much against it if it manages to fly around the world without a hitch. I should reach the coast within the next half hour if my speed holds up."
"Where do you plan on going next?"
"After I reach the coast I'll use New Macross' beacon to aim for New Detroit, then on to York, New London, Delhi, and I should be back home before the evening meal."
"Got it. See you then. Out."
"Out." Hausthar turned the radio off and concentrated on his flying. Soon, he reached the limit of the ocean and reached to place a CD in the on-board player. The haunting sounds of Ride of the Valkyries filled the cockpit. In front of him, the sun was reaching for the sky on its never-ending cycle of night and day.
The house was located on the outskirts of New Macross, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. A knock on the door by Max Sterling and the door opened, revealing an attractive young lady of about his age with short blonde hair. "Max, Miriya! Thanks for coming." She noticed the group behind the two. "And who are your friends?"
Max stepped aside, introducing his crew. "These are Corporals Michele Cequor and Michael Circle." He turned towards them. "I'd like to introduce a very good friend of mine, First Lieutenant Jennifer Colquhoun. I went through training with her."
Lieutenant Colquhoun moved to the side, letting them enter. Taking care of their jackets, she led them inside to join the group of people waiting there and introduced them. "This is my brother, Charles..."
A young man extended his hand towards them. "Call me Chas." he said, smiling broadly.
"... and this is Sergeant Verndt." The other person stood up, a tall figure looking ill at ease in the company of the new-comers, his light hair clashing with the bright brown of his eyes. "Verndt is a Zentraedi who defected at the same time as the others. He was assigned to the Night Music as a Veritech Pilot."
"I'm glad to meet you." said Verndt, extending his hand, uncertain. <I know how you feel>, thought Michele. <A stranger amongst strangers.> She took his hand and shook it warmly.
"I'm glad to meet you too, Verndt." she said sincerely with a smile on her face.
Jennifer Colquhoun reappeared from the next room with two extra seats and offered them to Michael and Michele. They took the extended chairs and sat next to the Sterlings. Michele leant towards Maximillian and asked softly "What are we doing here?"
Max turned towards her and answered just as softly. "We are here to remember lost friends and honour those of us who didn't make it through the war. It's a tradition in the Night Music."
A warm fire sparkled and snapped in the fireplace.
The XVA/F-2 Mk I Vindicator was making its way towards New Macross, preparing to slingshot towards New Detroit when the fight erupted below it. Fireballs reached for the sky, forcing Hausthar to dodge hard to starboard. Looking downward he saw a small human settlement under attack from two Zentraedi Pods and a Zentraedi foot-soldier. Checking his armaments, he mechamorphed to Guardian and dove into the firestorm. The first salvo of missiles erupted all around the Zentraedi foot-soldier, ripping the flesh from his bones, instantly killing him. The second salvo totally missed its mark, exploding harmlessly as the Battle Pod jumped clear. The second Pod, an Officer's, fired its particle cannon at the Vindicator, puncturing the armour, frying internals and severing circuits. Power readings in the cockpit dropped by half as Hausthar drew a bead on the Tactical Pod, obliterating it under a shower of bullets from the Veritech's GU-23.
The Officer Pod wasted no time retaliating with a couple of Armour-Piercing missiles, damaging the Veritech's power core, reducing power even further. Hausthar started to panic, sensing Death moving in from the sidelines. In his mind, Hausthar was screaming in anger and fear... and something snapped.
He felt as if he was drinking alcohol, but not with a glass or a bottle - it was as though the liquid was being pumped down his throat at high pressure, burning his throat, his stomach, his entire body. He screamed in pain but the flow of agony would not stop.
Max Sterling stood up, facing the group and the fireplace, holding his glass in his upraised hand. "To those of us facing the horrors of war daily."
Hausthar screamed as energy crackled around the holed circuitry of his Guardian. The Veritech reconfigured into Battloid, holding its `stomach' in pain. On the verge of blacking out, Hausthar shouted in pain, wishing the hurt to go away.
The Officer's Pod's pilot swore as the power readings of his mecha mysteriously started to dance. Without pausing to think, he popped the seals of his canopy, jumped out and downed the enemy Battloid with a punch, surprised by the lack of response from its pilot. The Zentraedi took no notice of the slowly-opening wings as he pommeled the mecha and ripped one of its hands off.
Charles Colquhoun stood up next and raised his glass. "To those of us who did not make it. To Richard Stoner, Ben Dixon... and all the others who died so we might be here to remember them."
He felt himself slip into unconsciousness. All around him, the only sights and sounds were those of a Zentraedi Malcontent destroying the Vindicator with his bare fists. In pain, slowly, Hausthar tried to reach the HOTAS, hoping he was not too late.
Jennifer was the last to toast. "To Ralph Sopwith." The empty glasses were thrown into the fireplace, all but hers. They flew a parabolic course, smashing against the brick wall, the shards falling towards the fire that would erase all traces of their existence.
A low rumble warned the Zentraedi that something was wrong. He had about half a second to ponder the subject before the missiles hit him at point-blank range, penetrating his body armour, exploding inside his torso, sending shrapnel over the countryside. The Veritech disappeared within the eruption of flames that followed the thunder of the explosion.