Chapter 12

The weird thing was, I had been training for over two months with Ricky. And I was getting good, if a little sloppy. Then along came this young woman and she flattened me! This is not something I was prepared to forgive and forget, no matter who the other person was.
Give me five good reasons as to why I should let you live.
Michele Cequor.

The base's psychoanalysts had told her she needed a holiday and had packed her off to the Antarctic Base in way of rest. Her posting there had been termed `...temporary, until you feel better.' This had been over a month ago, in November. It was now late December, a cold day with snow beginning to fall from grey clouds onto the streets of New Macross. Michele's plane started its approach to the air-base, passing over the top of the old SDF-1. Michele gazed at the Dimensional Fortress, wondering when she would finally have a chance to experience the wonders of a deep-space mission.

The transport plane landed and proceeded to unload its passengers at the military air-terminal. Michele grabbed her bags and walked out briskly, feeling an urge to be re-united with her Valkyrie, to loose herself in the technology it represented, to forget about... <Michael>. She fought down a welling of tears and quickly wiped her nose before meeting those she knew awaited her.

Miriya Sterling waved at her, trying to get her attention. Michele moved through the throng in an effort to get to her, gave up, and followed a parabolic course instead. Miriya greeted her warmly. "It is good to see you again, Michele. How was your time at the Antarctic base?"

"Fine, thank you ma'am." responded Michele.

Miriya looked Michele over, feeling something was not right. She could not put her finger on it until she looked into her eyes. A queer feeling overcame her as she did so - Michele's eyes were dead, reflecting none of the life one would expect to see. <It's as though she herself has died>, thought Miriya. "Max is waiting for us." she finally said out loud. "He's keeping the engine warm. It's quite chilly outside."

Michele gazed at her, showing no emotion. "Not as cold as the Antarctic, ma'am." <Not as cold as I feel inside.>

For over a month now Hausthar had been training with Ricky, honing his new-found ability. He was sitting in a secluded corner of a public park in New Macross, concentrating on this new exercise. A shimmering screen appeared in front of him, like the outline of a hemisphere. Ricky watched a moment more, then threw a rock at him. The projectile flew towards Hausthar but bounced off the wall of light and came to rest a few meters away. The car battery in front of Hausthar sputtered and melted, giving off an acrid smell.

Ricky walked over to Hausthar and sat next to him. "You're getting better, your shield was stronger this time. You still seem to have trouble controlling the aspect of the energy though. I felt the wall slipping for a second before the stone hit it."

Hausthar sighed and leant back onto the grass. "So sue me. It's not exactly easy you know - two months ago I couldn't even light an electric torch on purpose. At least now I am able to control when I use the implants."

"You'll never be able to totally control them." warned Ricky. "Sometimes they'll pop on without being solicited. The trick is to learn to take action quickly when this does occur. I wish I'd been able to get a full download of Research's computer before we crashed - I might have been able to find a way to totally bring the implants under your control." She laid beside him, head on his chest.

Time passed as they watched the sky and listened to the birds, savouring each other's company. Ricky was first to break the silence. "Hausthar, why did Doctor Lang bring you to New Macross? And why did he bring that infernal plane with him?"

Hausthar laughed. "I think he's going to make a last ditch effort at having the Vindicator placed back at the top of the UEG's agenda. As for me, I guess he decided it was time to introduce me to the scientists here. Think of it - Lang presenting his son, the clone. If this stunt doesn't give him more clout with the council, I don't know what will. People say Lang doesn't understand normal people. That's where they make a terrible mistake: he is the best I have seen at bending people's will to his decisions. The perfect chairman, the ultimate spokesperson. Too bad he's a scientist, he'd make a good politician."

"We've kept it in perfect condition for your return." Miriya explained. "We were sure you'd want to use it again."

Michele stepped pass her and walked over to the grey Veritech, resting her hand onto it. "Thank you very much. I appreciate it."

Max took a step towards her. "Michele... Ballistic's been studying the wreckage for three months now, and they still can't figure out what happened. They say it was obviously an explosion but aren't able to detect what might have triggered it. What happened out there? It looked like Michael's plane disintegrated, there was almost no pieces of it left to investigate."

Michele pressed her forehead against the plane's cool metal skin, a sharp contrast to her fevered brow. She thought back to Michael's final words, to her reaction. She closed her eyes as the hurt flooded in. "I... I did it. I caused the explosion."

"What?" Max and Miriya both gasped at the same time.

"If you check, you'll find that the two Armours' Protoculture generators were grounded and drained and that Michael's exploded. I made it happen..." Tears flowed from Michele's eyes. "He kept His promise. I swore allegiance to Him and He gave me the power. And I used it to destroy the mecha." The hand that had been resting on the Veritech clenched into a fist. "But I wasn't able to save Michael. With all this power at my control I let him die."

Miriya stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder. "You said `Power'. What power...? Protoculture? Is that why the Armours' generators were drained?" she inquired.

"Yes." sobbed Michele, her body shacking with the sorrow that was sweeping through her.

Miriya pulled away, realising there was nothing she could do, that Michele was best left alone with her grief. She stepped out, followed by Max, and paused outside. "Do you think what I think?" she asked him.

"You mean about what we discussed yesterday?"

"Yes. You heard what Michele said happened. And what about..." She left the question unfinished.

Max reflected on the subject a while before finally answering. "This expedition to the Fantoma system might cause something to happen to her. I think it best if we left Dana on Earth."

Hausthar looked at Victor incredulously. "You mean to tell me you didn't flip out when you learned who you were?"

Victor gave a small electronic laugh. "Unlike you, some of us have got a head on their shoulders. And anyway, I never considered myself human, did I? So it came as no great shock to learn that I wasn't an android either. Thank you." This last remark was directed towards Ricky who had presented him with a glass of orange juice. She sat down next to Hausthar, allowing Victor to continue. "Lang's got it right; what does it matter if you were born or artificially created? It's how you feel inside that counts! Look at the Zentraedi - they're no better off than you are, yet they consider themselves a race in their own rights. And they have the right idea. A difference that makes no difference is no difference. I think you should learn to live by these words. If you cannot differentiate between two things, then their sources, where they are from, does not matter - they are the same when it comes down to it."

Hausthar leant back pensively, his arm around Ricky's shoulders. "I don't know... it's not the fact that I wasn't born, it's that I was duped. They tried to make me think I was something I wasn't. And they experimented on me." Ricky placed her head on his shoulder in support.

Victor stood up. "I can see I'm not going to change your mind easily." He flexed his arms as one would flex tired muscles. "Care for a stroll down the riverside? Maybe I'll be able to make you see some sense with Nature on my side."

Michele was flying patrol over New-Macross, keeping an eye out for Zentraedi Malcontents. <What a way to spend Christmas Eve>, she thought as she slowly nudged her Veritech through a turn. The sky over the city was grey, promising snow without delivering it. Switching channels, Michele picked up the news broadcast on MBC-Radio. It seemed the only thing worth reporting was the disappearance of singing sensation Lynn Minmei. As far as police was concerned it was a fugue. Her manager, on the other hand, had been quick to spread the story of a romantic escapade, using the media for some cheap publicity. Michele smirked, knowing that before long the singer would appear on the doorstep of Hunter's apartment, seeking his help as she always did in time of trouble.

Her thoughts were cut short as alarms sounded through her cockpit: rising from the river were several Battle Pods led by a white and red Officer's Pod. She dove over the river, past the wreck of a Zentraedi troop-ship that had crashed in the middle of it. As she cleared the top of the space-craft, energy beams raced towards her craft, holing it in several places, causing alarms to wail as the Valkyrie shuddered.

"Damn!" she exclaimed, fighting against the bucking craft. She looked at the riverside and saw the Battle Pods climbing onto the bank. As she steadied the craft into a semi-controlled descent, she realised she would crash in the middle of the industrial complex the Pods were now starting to surround.

The three of them had been walking the length of the river bank when the fire-fight had started. Victor immediately radioed SDF-1 Control, asking for backup while Hausthar left Ricky under Victor's care and ran towards the complex that was seemingly the target of this attack.

He was half-way to his destination when he realised he did not have anything to defend himself with should he be involved in the fighting. He had just decided on turning back when he had spied a Veritech making a forced landing in the middle of the warehouses. Knowing he could not leave a fellow pilot to fight his way out alone, Hausthar voted against retreating and plunged headlong into Hell.

Michele landed her plane between two of the gigantic storage sheds, popped open the canopy and jumped out. She got clear just in time; a Female Power Armour swooped down and holed the Veritech through, causing it to explode. Michele stepped from her hiding place and concentrated on the receding mecha.

Hausthar heard an explosion on his left and rounded the Hangar in time to see a red-haired woman stare upwards at the sky. He looked in the same direction and saw a Female Power Armour flying away. Just as he recognised it, Hausthar felt static gathering forces in the immediate vicinity. The static changed to white noise and released its fury, and the Power Armour disappeared in a ball of light, never to be seen again. <She has remote-link implants!> thought Hausthar as he turned to face her. <Then this has got to be...> "Michele." he called out loud.

The young woman swung around and looked at him before answering. "Who are you? How do you know my name?" A wave of hate emanated from her, making itself plain on her face.

"My name is Hausthar." he answered. "I am your brother." He had expected to catch her off guard with this remark, but instead he was surprised as she burst laughing.

"I was told I'd face you one day, Hausthar. I warn you, do not stand in my way. I'll kill you if I must." She raised a hand towards a Power Armour that was flying overhead and scrambled its circuits, prompting it to crash into the river. Whips of wind and dust snaked around her, adding cheap theatrics to the conviction in her words.

Hausthar felt the burning power contained within her and took a step back, unsure of what to do.

The Officer's Pod looked around, obviously searching for something, its pilot impatient. "What are you doing, Grel?!" the pilot called out to another Pod. "You're leading us around in circles!"

A Battle Pod came to attention under the verbal abuse. "The Protoculture has got to be here somewhere, My Lord," explained the Pod's pilot. "My agents..."

"Your agents are idiots!" raged the first pilot. "Now listen to me: your incompetence may end up costing you your life! Now find it!" The Officer's Pod gestured its cannons in a threatening manner. It was not for nothing that its pilot had been nicknamed `The Backstabber'.

"Why do you have to kill me?" asked Hausthar. "Have I done something to hurt you?"

Michele glowered at him. "He told me you'd try to stop me. I doubted Him, but it looks as though He was right once again. You are the danger, Hausthar. You are a menace to Humanity."

Hausthar was sweating bullets, trying to find a way to avoid the conflict that was sure to follow. He tried to reach a near-by Pod to create a diversion but found his way blocked. He gasped in surprise.

"You didn't think it would be this easy, surely." laughed Michele. "What? Were you expecting me to let you grab control of a Pod and then fry me? Think again."

The two of them faced off like gunslingers from the old West.

Frustrated by his second-in-command's inability to locate the Protoculture storage facility, Khyron the Backstabber had left his mecha in search of it himself. Armed with nothing more than an auto-cannon, the forty feet tall Zentraedi walked down the alleys between the hangars. He entered a storage area, following the strong electro-magnetic emanations that were coming from this location, apparently oblivious to the drama outside the structure. Khyron reached down to remove a tarpaulin, revealing the Storage Matrix. The Matrix was cylinder-like, easily half his height and perhaps twice his weight, and contained the Protoculture needed to power his failing Battle Cruiser. He grabbed the Matrix and heaved it onto his shoulder, straining under its weight. He hauled it back to his Officer's Pod and attached it to the Pod's clamps, securing it for transport. Stepping into the cockpit, Khyron powered-up and blasted his way out of the complex.

Hausthar had been wondering what to do to save his life when an Officer's Pod flew in-between Michele and him, raising up a dust-storm. The Pod disappeared over the buildings, its pilot's voice booming over its external speakers. "Attention, Micronians! Khyron the Destroyer wants to wish you a Merry Christmas, and I send you a special greeting from Santa Claus. May all your foolish hollow-days be as bright as this one!..."

Hausthar did not have time to wonder what was meant by that last statement - all over the city, explosions resounded, sending fireballs into the sky. Behind the settling dust, Michele spoke to him. "It seems I am needed elsewhere. This is your lucky day, Hausthar. I have not the time to kill you today." The voice faded as Hausthar heard the footsteps of someone running. By the time the dust had settled, Michele had disappeared.

" ...It appears as though Khyron had one of his micronised warrior disguised as a Santa Claus, placing bombs all over the city by giving booby-trapped gifts to children on the streets." Victor was pacing up and down the room, relaying his information to Hausthar and Ricky. "To make matters even worse, Khyron escaped with enough Protoculture to power up his Battleship and report to the Robotech Masters about the location of the SDF-1. If the Masters ever hear of this, we'll have another intergalactic fight on our hands."

"Excuse me," interrupted Ricky, "but it seems we have another more important problem facing us."

"What do you mean?" asked Hausthar.

"You told us that Michele had scrambled a pod's generator? That means she is walking around filled with elation, like a charged-up battery waiting to explode, and the slightest thing can set her off. And you stopped her from dealing with the Pods. Your problem is not Khyron and his Battle Cruiser, your problem is a woman walking around with vengeance on her mind and willing to kill people to get it!"

Chapter 11
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Chapter 12
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