Chapter 11

Midnight Blues -
So lonely without you.
Late 20th Century song.
Whoever said `Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all` was a complete jerk.
Remark attributed to Michele Cequor.

"... Disobeying orders as you did is inexcusable! That plane was supposed to be moth-balled, like its partner, but thanks to you it is now a piece of junk." Doctor Lang was pacing the length and breadth of the office as he was bellowing at Hausthar. "It's a miracle you came out of there alive. By all rights you should be dead."

"Yes..." smirked Hausthar, his voice full of sarcasm, "I seem to have a knack for avoiding death lately."

"Your actions were inexcusable, irresponsible and unforgivable. You acted like -"

"Like a fourteen month-old clone?" interrupted Hausthar.

Lang stopped dead in his tracks and looked him in the eyes. "What did you say?" he enquired.

"I said `a fourteen month-old clone'. Isn't that what I am, Doctor?" Hausthar stood up from his seat and moved towards Lang.

"How... when did you learn of this?" asked Lang.

"About two days ago. It now makes perfect sense: lost family, found wandering in from the Wastelands, no memories, no friends that go back more than a year. The perfect set-up!" Hausthar was gritting his teeth in an effort to stop the anger from flowing out. "What I want to know, Doctor, is why? Why did you do this? What reasons can you have for toying with someone's life as if you were God?"

Lang sat down heavily at his desk. "I suppose `how' doesn't really matter any more, now that you do know... It was to be our greatest achievement, the creation of lives exactly like ours, human in every respect. So we created you. You were grown in-vitro for a couple of months, then brought out to the real world. We took great pains to make sure no-one would know who you really were: we implanted false memories into your mind, we made sure your past history was untraceable, your Academy records were forged to make it look as though you had transferred in half-way through the course. It was all worked out perfectly." Lang slumped in his seat.

"But why, Doctor?" insisted Hausthar. "Why?"

Lang looked him in the eye. "Look at me, Hausthar. Take a good, long look. People talk of me as the new Einstein, as somebody who can never be understood. Respected - feared perhaps - but not liked. I, too, consider myself human. Do you know how hard it is to relate to someone when all they can think of is the fact that your eyes do not have irises, that you are not like them? But I am. You asked me why I did what I did... I wanted to know what it was like to be a father. Is that so hard to understand?"

"You did not have the right to make me a freak!" howled Hausthar.

"Is that how you consider yourself?" countered Lang. "Biologically created or genetically engineered, what is the difference if the end products cannot be differentiated? You are as human as I am, as human as the next."

A cynical laugh came from Hausthar. "Not quite, Doctor. I have learned a lot since." His face fell. "Who are the others, Doctor Lang... Father." He spoke the last word with as much disgust as he could muster.

"I am not allowed to..." He stopped short. All over the office, the lights were fading, turning off one by one. Lang's watch emitted a few pitiful bleeps before shattering, its battery having exploded.

"Tell me!" Hausthar insisted, oblivious to the chaos around him.

<My God! When did he ever...> Lang studied the effect surrounding Hausthar as he answered. "The first is named Michele Cequor. She's assigned to the Skull Squadron."

"What about the second?"

"...It's Victor." admitted Lang.

The words hit Hausthar with enough force to render him numb. The luminescent globes above him faded and died then came back on. "Victor?" he repeated.

"Yes. He was the first we tried to decant. Something happened, we're still not sure what, and his body started to deteriorate. We were able to save the brain and transfer it to the shell of a prototype android. We reworked the prototype to allow for life-support and that's how he came into being." He stood up and walked over to Hausthar, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Even though he has a metallic body, he is as human as you and I... son."

"If I am human, then why did you experiment on me? On us?" exploded Hausthar. Lang looked lost, searching for an explanation. "Don't bother, Doctor. And don't bother ever calling me `son' again." Hausthar walked out of the room, punching the door on the way through.

The two Veritechs swooped through the air as their pilots tried to out-fly one another in friendly competition. Michele's grey jet did a complete loop and found itself on the tail of Michael's light-green mecha.

"Bang! You've just been shot down, Corporal." said Michele over the TacNet. "You should watch your rear more often."

"Sorry." apologised Michael. "Guess I've been watching yours too much."

"I don't mind," laughed Michele "but I think the Commander won't be too happy if we bring these planes back full of holes."

"Nah! Commander Hayes's never happy anyway." replied Michael. "How about lunch in New Detroit?"

"Isn't it outside of our area? You know who patrols the New Detroit sector."

"So what? I can't help it if Hunter's gonna be where we want to eat. So, what do you say?"

Michele didn't even take time to think. "You got yourself a date, mister." The Veritechs rose and banked as they made for New Detroit.

Victor watched through the window as Hausthar left the building. It was not until the figure had disappeared that he finally spoke. "Did you tell him?"

Lang sighed as he looked up from the papers he was reading. "He knew already." he admitted. "I did nothing more than confirm his suspicions. Although I must say that you took the news much better when it was told to you."

"May I remind you, Doctor, that the only reason I know what I am is because you were careless enough to let a certain dossier of yours fall into my hands. I am certain you would have been quite happy to let me go through life not knowing." accused Victor.

"I guess it's true." answered Lang.

Victor turned back towards the window, pensive. "Theirs not to make reply; Theirs not to reason why; Theirs but to do and die."

"What was that?" queried Lang.

"A poem. It talks about an absurd military order. And even though those that were to carry it out knew it was suicide, the order was still obeyed."

Lang leaned back in his seat, staring at the sky through the window, thinking back to the war against the Zentraedi, thinking of Hausthar and Michele. "How appropriate."

Hausthar was sitting at his booth in the Black Pegasus, gazing at the glass of vodka in front of him, debating whether or not to drink it. A shadow fell over the glass. "Hausthar?"

He glanced up and saw Ricky standing next to him. "So. What now? Am I supposed to roll over and beg? Or do I go out and crawl up to whoever's in charge?" A hurt look came across Ricky's face. "Sorry." he apologised. "I guess it was uncalled for."

"It's all right," replied Ricky in a small voice, sitting down next to him "I understand what it is like to be used. I am in the same boat you are..." She breathed in deeply before continuing. "My real name is Muriel Qed'tano. I was sent as an observer with a troop of para-military scouts. We were suppose to come in, mingle with the crowds and report anything out of the ordinary. Only, our enemy had also sent his own troop here and they found us first. Our pilot managed to destroy the other craft but not before our engines had been damaged. The ship exploded while we were bailing out. I was the only one who made it out.

"Ever since, I've been trying to fit in. This is not my culture, Hausthar. I have no friends here. The only people I knew died when our craft blew up. I feel like every eye is upon me no matter where I go, as though I were a freak." Her voice broke and she stopped speaking, her head hanging, hair hiding her face.

<A freak>, thought Hausthar. <I know exactly how you feel.> He reached over and pulled her close to him in an effort to comfort her. She buried her head in his arms and wept.

Michael and Michele had been eating in a restaurant just outside the New Detroit airfield when the attack began: several Male Power-Armours swooped on the city, opening fire indiscriminately on civilian and military targets alike. As things were, they were the only RDF personnel in New Detroit at the time, so the newcomers had pretty much the run of the city.

A short dash across the road brought the pilots to their mecha and soon the air was filled with laser fire being exchanged. Michele looked to her left, towards the city's council building, and saw several Zentraedi workers enter it, destroying surveillance cameras on the way. "Michael, take a look at four O'Clock and tell me what these bozos are doing."

Michael glanced quickly over his shoulder and swore. "Damn, they're going for the Protoculture sizing chamber. We can't let them get their hands on that thing." The chamber was a Robotech device allowing the Zentraedi to artificially alter their height from forty feet tall giants to human-size and back. Not something which could be allowed to fall in the wrong hands. "Problem is, if we stop chasing these Armours, they'll start firing at the city again."

"Way ahead of you on that one." responded Michele. "Skull Thirteen to SDF-1, do you read?"

The screen in front of her rezzed to life as SDF-1 Control responded. "SDF-1 to Skull Thirteen, Commander Hayes speaking. What is your problem?"

"We have a Malcontent attack on New Detroit - three Male Power Armours and several Zentraedi on foot, full sized and micronised. We can take care of the Armours but it seems that the others are trying to take possession of the sizing chamber that's stored here."

"Roger Skull Thirteen. Concentrate on the Armours, we are sending help. SDF-1 out." The screen de-rezzed, once again showing tactical information on the fighting. Michael's face appeared on one of the side screens, eyebrow cocked questioningly.

"So, what are we to do?"

"The usual." replied Michele. "We go down there and wrestle with the Armours and try not to get our asses kicked. Which one do you want?"

Michael looked at his screen before answering, studying the information on it. "You're better at stunt flying than I am, so I guess I'll leave the slippery one to you and take on the other two. Just make sure you don't take too long and leave me stuck with all the work."

Both Veritechs peeled off, running after their own quarries, lasers unleashing megajoules of energy. Michele flew after her target, dog-tailing it as it twisted and turned in an effort to evade her.

Hausthar was feeling a little silly, standing in the middle of the park, head facing the sky, eyes closed in meditation. Ricky was standing next to him, in the same position, talking him through the exercise. "Imagine the world around you, as you remember it. Let your mind flow through that creation of your thoughts. Let it wander, don't try to force it to go anywhere. Just let it flow with the wind. Now think of energy, of a thin web. Relax."

Hausthar did as he was told and gasped in surprise as a foggy picture of the surrounding area appeared in his mind. All over the picture, waves of force flowed through, like a rolling sea. The physical structures themselves were ghost-like shadows, while the electrical wiring within the building were bright beams of light. He let his mind wander and found a concentrated spot of light in the sky and `rose' to meet it. In front of him was a brilliant light, brighter than anything he had ever seen, but still allowing him to look straight into it. He concentrated on it and felt the light weakening. It suddenly flickered and would surely have died if Ricky had not hit him, jarring him out of his concentration. "What happened?" he gasped.

"I had to stop you." explained Ricky, pointing up in the sky. "I was wondering what had gotten your attention until I looked up."

Hausthar followed her finger and saw a civilian transport plane pull out of a dive and slowly climb back into the skies. "Oops. Gotta be more careful." He sat down next to Ricky on the grass, leaning on one hand. "So what can I do with this ability?"

Ricky looked at him with a frown. "I don't know. In theory, you have a limited amount of control over any powered device. Probably not to a fine extent, more like disrupting it or causing it to run amok and explode under an overload. In practice, however..." She shrugged. "Personally, I have trouble coming to terms with it. Mind you, you'd come in handy for disrupting power-grids."

"Is it possible to kill with this?"

"I don't know. What you do is disrupt the power flow in your target... you short-circuit it in other words. I suppose that if you were capable of disrupting bio-electrical processes as well, you could kill someone."

"And what about this Light and Shadow business?" he enquired.

Ricky sighed. "I thought I'd already explained that one. Forget such entities, just reflect on how you use your implants. You know the saying `total power corrupts totally'? Well you have control over every power-driven device on this planet that's within your range. How you use this fact is up to you, but it is intoxicating. Once you have used it, you'll long to use it again and again. Those that give in to that sort of craving do not care how or why they use the power they have, be it political, military or what. That's when they start to slide. A shadow falls over their hearts and minds. They care about nothing else - they become children to the Shadow. And pretty soon, their power starts to eat them up from the inside. They begin to use more and more of it, as often as possible, trying to prove to themselves that they still have `what it takes' and they just can't cope."

Ricky pointed towards the fountain next to them. "Your body is like that fountain: with the right amount of water at the right pressure, it all goes well, and it looks pretty. But if you put too much water in it, or if you increase the pressure to much, it becomes destructive to the fountain and deadly to those around it. That's what ultimately happens to all of us, we burn up. But if we use power as little as possible, we can die of old age before that happens."

"You mean like a surgeon might operate on a tumour rather than amputate a leg?"

"Exactly. But Children of the Shadow, however, care not about what happens, they only see what is in front of them, what their power can give them. They burn twice as bright... but for only half as long. Their thirst for power eventually catches up with them and... poof..."

Two lovers walked by, intertwined. Hausthar heard Ricky sigh as she stared at them. "Do you know how much I crave for a normal life? To be able to love someone without wondering if tomorrow will be the day I am found out? To be able to hold someone tightly without fearing that they'll discover who I am and hate me for it?" She sighed again. "But that's my lot, and now that I've drawn it I must make the best of it." She laid back on the grass, staring at the sky before speaking again. "Just promise me that you will fight the urge, that you won't give in to it? Please, it'd mean so much to me."

Hausthar looked at her longingly as he answered "I promise."

Michele dodged in and out of the Armour's laser fire. She released a couple of missiles, but the pilot of the Armour evaded them with ease. Her commanding officer chose this particular time to remind her he existed. "Skull One to Skull Thirteen. How are things going over where you are?"

<The usual perfect timing, Commander.> Michele avoided an incoming particle-beam before answering. "Just the usual, sir; Malcontents trying to make off with a piece of Robotechnology. We've got the mecha pretty well handled, but we can't go after those on foot."

Hunter rogered her report before continuing. "We'll be there in five minutes. Can you hold out that long?"

<Who does he think we are>, thought Michele. <A bunch of amateur?> But it was Michael who answered first. "I think we can manage, sir. But we'll still be happier when you do show up."

"I roger that." said Hunter. "ETA four minutes, see you then." His face disappeared from their screens.

Michele's thoughts turned back to the fighting at hand just in time to see the Power Armour engage her in hand-to-hand combat. She mechamorphed to Battloid, GU-11 still strapped to her right fore-arm. The Armour's pilot tried to get her in a half-nelson, but she slipped from his grasp and power-punched the mecha's sensors. The Battloid's right hand and fore-arm disappeared into the enemy mecha. The pilot had barely enough time to realise that the thing tearing through his console was the enemy's GU-11 before the gatling emptied several rounds into his face. The Armour falling towards the ground lifelessly, Michele disengaged her Battloid's arm from the useless mecha and searched for her wingman. A shout for help brought her mecha around.

Michael was in trouble - his Veritech shot in several places, it had been grabbed by the remaining Armours and was being carried away at great speed. "Michael!" cried Michele. "What's going on?"

Michael's voice sounded resigned as he spoke. "They shot my engines. And the self-destruct mechanism is down as well. Wonder who the little sod is who didn't devise a fail-safe on this thing. Michele, I've got worse news - my mechamorphosys circuits are intact... and I can't get to them."

Michele gasped at the news. It was a long-standing order of the RDF not to let the circuits permitting the Veritechs to change mode fall into enemy hands, no matter what the cost. "I'm going to shoot. Eject!"

Michael laughed, a laugh that ended in a wet cough. On the screen, Michele saw him spit blood. "I've got more bad news. I got shot through the seat - can't eject. Probably wouldn't survive if I did... " He paused as he wiped the blood from his chin. "Michele, I want you to destroy my Veritech."

"But Mic..."

"No buts!" interrupted Michael. "You know the orders. No intact circuit must fall into enemy hands. Now shoot!"

Michele shook her head, trying to dismiss this reality as a bad dream, tears rolling down her cheeks. <I'll always be around if you need me>, a voice echoed through her mind. She screamed. "MICHAEL!!"

The pilots of the Armours panicked as their power readings faded into nothingness. The three mecha hung in the air, holding one another in a sick parody of a hug. A flash of light appeared from the helpless Veritech - it grew outward into a ball, encompassing all three mecha. The ball of light suddenly disappeared, revealing the war machines untouched... then a gigantic explosion ruptured all three at the same time, shrapnel raining to the ground.

Michele landed her Battloid, jumped out and searched the debris, hoping against hope that Michael had survived. She wept openly as she rummaged about, sobbing his name into the wind. "Michael..."

Up above, four Veritechs screamed through the sky... the reinforcements had finally arrived.

Chapter 10
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Children of the Light, Children of the Shadow
Chapter 12
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