Chapter 13

History recorded the last moments of the SDF-1... or so everybody thought. Because if it was the complete coverage, why did the Macross' main gun misfire so badly? Why did the magnetic bottling of its energies give way in such a stupendous way? I tell you there must have been other factors involved that day than simply a shooting match between two Battle Cruisers.
Exedore, as quoted in Lapstein's Interviews.
I just keep burning love...
Late 20th Century song.

"In a way, she is right." concluded Ricky. "With your inexperience at handling the remote-links, you're as big a threat to civilians as she is - so it may be she has decided that to save the Earth you must be destroyed."

"Thanks for the words of comfort." replied Hausthar. They were both sitting outside a small café in New Macross, watching the grey sky, trying to find a solution to the dilemma they faced. "So what do we do about her?"

"I wish I knew." sighed Ricky. "Normally, we'd just home in on her white noise..." She withdrew a small device from her pocket and waved it at him. "I tried that this morning." she continued quickly as Hausthar opened his mouth to speak. "Nothing. She seems to be able to block me as if I were a child." She replaced the small anti-grav unit back into her pocket and sighed.

Hausthar closed his mouth, looking dejected. "The next move is up to her then." he reflected.

Standing atop a hill just outside town, Michele smiled as she jumped down from her plane. She had had to steal this new Veritech, red tape would have demanded another week before she was assigned a new one. It did not matter any more - after today, her mission would be over, one way or the other. Neo had warned her of his trickiness, but she had doubted Him. And then, as if to prove that He was always right, Hausthar had somehow managed to set off explosions in the centre of New Macross, forcing her to let him live, knowing her the Oath she had taken upon joining the academy would make her run to help the civilians.

She snorted in disgust at Hausthar's choice of tactics. If he so enjoyed involving civilians, she wanted to see how he would react once the tables were turned. <It's time to flush out the rats>, she thought. Behind her, still on the other side of the horizon, a Zentraedi Battle Cruiser made its approach towards the city and the two Fortresses lying in the lake at its centre.

Michele sensed its approach - its commander was taking great pains to ensure he would not be detected. She wondered if he knew that the flight path he was following would not hide him from the city's radar defences. It did not matter - Michele let out her breath in a long, drawn-out sigh and concentrated on the Cruiser, bending the radar signals beamed in its direction, rendering it invisible to the city's defences.

She smiled.

The first wave of missiles struck the industrial complexes, sending shockwaves throughout the city, smashing windows. Hausthar picked himself up off the floor and looked about - all around him was chaos, people fleeing towards shelters. Ricky stood next to him and grabbed his arm with both her hands, seeking not to loose him in the confused throng that was massing.

The message reached Hausthar without interference, as if spoken into his ear by someone standing next to him. <Hausthar!> He looked around but could not see who had uttered the words.

Ricky saw Hausthar's face go white and guessed at the reason. "The remote-links." She shouted over the sounds of panic. "Michele must be trying to get in contact with you."

Hausthar closed his eyes and concentrated on the name. <Michele? Is that you?> Something at the back of his mind tickled as he did so.

<How clever of you to hide in a crowd where I can't shoot you.>

<Where are you, what do you want with me?>

<You are dangerous, Hausthar. You proved it to me yesterday. So I'm challenging you - and to make sure you won't refuse the challenge, I helped someone pass the city's defences. If you want to stop him, you'll have to fight me first.>

Hausthar blinked in surprise. <Who? Who did you let pass?>

The answer came as the voice faded away - <Khyron.>

"Goddamn it!" Hausthar swore. "She let Khyron's cruiser through to New Macross City."

"If Khyron has managed to slip in, then the entire city is doomed." said Ricky. "And there's nothing we can do about it."

"Yes we can..." seethed Hausthar, his hands clenched into fists, "We can take up her challenge."

The guards at the base's hangar were entrenched as waves upon waves of missiles buffeted the area. In the middle of the destruction, one of them spied two figures running towards the bunker, weaving their way past the explosions. He shouted to the soldier nearest the door to open it and both figures burst through a second later. The soldier at the door closed it behind them and smiled. "You're lucky to have made it this far."

Hausthar brushed the dust off his leather jacket and looked him in the eyes. "How are the Veritechs in there?"

The guard looked at Hausthar in surprise for a moment, then reached for his gun, pointing it towards him. "How do you know about the Veritechs? No-one but Lang's supposed to..." His protest was cut short as he heard a commotion behind him. Turning around, he barely had time to see the other guards falling to the ground before being stunned by a blow to the back of the head.

Hausthar opened the door leading to the hangar and rushed in, tripping several alarms along the way. He did not worry about them - by the time anyone was in any shape to respond he would be far away. He raced past several prototypes, his subconscious registering their presence - Logan, Hover Tank - and made a bee-line for the new Vindicator prototype. He jumped into the cockpit, keying in the warm-up sequence, sending control codes to open the hangar's automatic doors. A sharp whistling sound came to him over the Vindicator's low throbbing. Seconds later a Logan in Guardian mode hovered over to him. It looked like an ancient row-boat with arms and legs and was barely taller than two men.

"Ricky?! What are you doing? You crazy or something?" he shouted over the Net.

Ricky's face appeared on his commo screen, donned with the Veritech's helmet. "You didn't really think I was going to let you go out alone, did you? And anyway, you'll need a back-up out there to watch your tail." The automatic door opened in front of them. "Well?" she asked.

Hausthar sighed. "All right." He brought the throttle to full and sped out of the hangar, closely followed by Ricky.

The battle outside had reached new heights - Battle Pods, weapon depleted, were making suicidal runs at Veritechs trying to keep the Zentraedi Cruiser from reaching the fortress. Hausthar and Ricky plunged into the chaos, avoiding stray missiles and staying out of the line of fire of the combatants. Hausthar checked his weapon display and grumbled. "They didn't load any missiles on this thing - I've only got the GU-23. What about you?"

Ricky looked down and read the displays. "No missiles either," she told him, "but my energy gun is fully loaded." She banked right to move out of the way of a falling Pod. "I still can't locate her."

Looking out the cockpit, Hausthar searched the skies. "Then we look until we do find her."

The battle raged around them and prevented them from finding Michele. Hausthar and Ricky were about to give up when the grey Veritech swooped out of the sky and shot at Ricky's Logan. The Logan took several hits in the wing as it darted forward to place itself out of the Valkyrie's line of fire. Hausthar turned his Vindicator skyward and rocketed towards the jet, GU-23 gun pod blazing, sending HESH-I rounds to the target.

Michele brought her mecha around and was about to retaliate when a spear of light flashed between the opposing parties. Taking its roots from Khyron's Battle Cruiser, the beam extended until it reached the mid-section of the SDF-1, released its hold on Khyron's ship and seemingly retracted into its target. An eternity passed where nothing happened - the SDF-1 stood as rigid as ever within the lake, its `face' turned towards its aggressor. Finally it could hold no more and let the energy have its way. Fire and explosions gushed from its side as secondary blasts made their way up and down the Fortress. The force of the destruction shook and moved the battleship - it started to list, collided with the side-walls of the lake and laid there, mortally wounded.

Shouts of despair filled the Tactical Net. Hausthar listened half-heartedly to the damage report, not wanting to face the possibility that this might be the day the Zentraedi Malcontents would finally win. The SDF-1 had suffered a major hit and was now considered so much scrap metal, the control room was virtually destroyed, as for the guns... a voice cut in, full of disdain. "Well, brother? Are you ready to face me? Or do I help Khyron once more?"

Hausthar fought down a shout of anger and turned on the communications screen. Michele's face coalesced into existence. He looked into her eyes and saw no pity in them, only determination to finish what she had begun. Nevertheless, he still tried to reason with her. "You are wrong about me, Michele. I am not evil, and I don't believe you are, either. Why do you want to kill me? What purpose could it serve?"

"You are dangerous - too dangerous to be allowed to live... Neo told me you were responsible for Michael's death..." She failed to hear Hausthar's gasp of dismay. "I didn't believe Him at first, but your actions yesterday proved that I was wrong, that I should have trusted Him."

Hausthar realised that Michele was slowly breaking under the strain the implants placed upon her. He tried to make use of that fact as he banked his plane to face hers. "You are still wrong. The only difference between us two is that Neo offers and delivers quickly, but His price is often too high to pay. It is the way of deceit, of treachery, of lies. Is Michael alive? Is he to be resurrected by my death? What were you asked for in return for the power you wield? Look at yourself - you only think of destruction. You are loosing what is left of yourself to the Shadow."

"You do not know what you are talking about, Hausthar." The voice was full of sarcasm. "I was good all my life, and I still am. But if I have to stray slightly from the path to help the world and kill you, I will do it gladly. You know I'm the better of the both of us, and it was given me to know about you, and your plans - and that you and I were clones."

Ricky's face appeared next to Michele's on Hausthar's screen. "I can't believe this! She must be able to use the remote-links to tap into your recent memories. Hausthar, we have to study this. We can't kill her."

"In case you have yet to notice" responded Hausthar "she doesn't seem to share the same sentiments about me." He switched back to Michele. "I still do not believe you made the right choice. The Shadow is blocking your mind to the Light." <I'm starting to sound like a B-grade sci-fi movie>, he reflected.

"Enough! It is high time we finished our business. I challenge you to a duel - your will versus mine, no holds barred. Then we will know who was right and who was wrong."

Ricky spoke again, her face distorted with worry. "Haust? Are you sure you want to...?"

"Yes Ricky... Very well, Michele, I accept your challenge." The three Veritechs lowered themselves to a patch of ground on the banks of Lake Gloval, by the shadow of the Fortresses.

Inside the wreck of the SDF-1, power readings were making their appearance. On the bridge of the broken-down Fortress, the newly re-assembled crew prepared for their defender's final battle. A race against time was being fought as Khyron's ship slowly swung around for a better angle.

They formed a triangle with Ricky's apex closest to the lake, facing each other like duellists from an old western-style movie. None dare make a move to break the mood and thus precipitate disaster. The silence was broken by a Veritech fly-by; three Valkyries - black and white, red, and blue - flew off to intercept Khyron's Battle Cruiser.

Ricky was the first to break the stand-off. Reaching into her vest, she pulled out a small energy hand gun and pointed it at Michele, squeezing the trigger. Michele made no move to get out of the way, but simply gazed at the laser pistol intently.

Hausthar's heart sank as he saw that Ricky had not realised what was about to happen. His voice screamed into the chaos that was surrounding them. "Ricky! No!" His warning came too late - the laser pistol exploded backwards in Ricky's hand, shrapnel burying itself in Ricky's left shoulder and disappearing from view. Her knees buckled as she ever-so-slowly fell to the ground.

Orders had come from the bridge, the old Fortress was re-activated. Unaware of the tragedy unfolding near it, Macross fired its engines and slowly climbed to the sky as a small figure next to it fell down. Commander Hayes asked for a status report and searched the skies for a black-and-white Veritech.

"RICKY!" Hausthar's rage and feeling of emptiness could not stop her from reaching the ground in a small heap, her face turning deathly pale.

Hausthar turned his attention back towards Michele. Try as he might, he simply could not generate a strong enough signal to reach through her interference. Michele, however, did not seem to have such problems. Reaching outward to a shot-down Valkyrie, she re-activated the jet's laser turret and pointed it at him. Hausthar dove for cover behind a pile of rubble as the laser beam hit the ground where he had stood just a few moments before.

On the bridge, conversations were running wild. Claudia Grant looked up from her console and called out "Main Gun is in ready position. Energy reading at present... niner-five-zero." Her face turned anxiously towards the figure standing at the console on her left.

"The admiral was right -" answered Commander Hayes "that's only enough energy for one shot, so make it a good one."

Preparations continued as Khyron's ship closed in, spewing forth death in the shape of laser beams.

Hausthar had already had to dodge a second laser blast before making it to relative safety. None of the Veritechs that were left had enough power, or were in a good-enough shape to help him. He relaxed and let his implant wander. Quickly, methodically, he searched his surroundings with his mind, looking for something to use for his defence. He immediately connected with an electronic signature and began the take-over transfer. Concentrating his thoughts in front of himself, he stepped out into the open. As soon as she saw him, Michele sent another laser blast his way - the beam roared as it flew towards him, finally crashing on the ground as its target stepped out of the way. Hausthar felt his link weaken as the blast shook his concentration.

The radar operator on the bridge turned towards the Captain's chair. Vanessa's voice was cool with confidence. "Admiral Gloval, Khyron's ship is centred in the computer reticle, sir."

Gloval did not even bother to raise his head as he yelled "Now, fire!"

Knowing the link he currently had would probably be his only chance, Hausthar concentrated his will and strengthened his signal.

On the bridge of the Macross, controls started to beep for attention, sending warnings out to the crew. Claudia checked her instruments and gasped, a tremor in her voice. "Instruments show power dropping."

A small voice came from the back of the room as one of the techs answered. "Reflex engines control are going wild. The computer is having trouble compensating."

Vanessa Leeds looked at Gloval, a plea in her eyes. "Sammie's right - the Gun's magnetic bottling is giving way."

Gloval listened and shook his head in understanding. They all knew what would happen when the bottling finally ruptured.

Michele was cycling the Valkyrie's laser through their power-up procedures, having drained them with that last blast. Hausthar panicked, reached out into the contact he had made and used one of the SDF-1's anti-aircraft turrets to destroyed the fallen mecha.

Kim's voice wandered through the bridge as the tech slumped in her seat, resigned. "Computer's gone." They waited for the inevitable to happen.

The energies that had been building around the SDF's Main Gun coalesced into a spear of blinding light. The power-web surrounding it solidified for an instant - then the twin booms of the gun blowtorched.

A nearly hemispherical flash of power encompassed the gun, destroying its electronics, stripping the plating off its surface, melting the infrastructure. A bolt of energy leapt from the hemisphere and wavered towards Khyron's ship. Without the guidance of the magnetic bottling, the shot went astray and only grazed the Cruiser's left side instead of holing it from end to end. The wounded Cruiser belched fire and smoke from its side but kept on coming, sights centred on Macross.

As the SDF-1 fell back into the lake, its twin booms falling apart like ashes from two spent cigars, Hausthar was knocked off his feet by the quake. Anger filled his mind - anger for the hundreds of millions of people killed by the Zentraedi during the Rain of Fire, anger at being a pawn in a game he did not understand, and most of all anger at the thought of having lost Ricky. He gathered his will into a ball of hatred in his mind and concentrated on it. Just as Khyron's ship was closing in on the SDF-1's bridge, so was Hausthar projecting towards Michele. Just as the Macross did not have time to react, neither did Michele understand the tactic until too late - the blast from Hausthar's remote-link enveloped her as the two great ships collided with one another.

The last thing Hausthar remembered were explosions as the ships crashed into the ground, and a searing pain as the heat from the blast reached him. When the darkness came for him he welcomed it, his last thoughts being for Ricky.

Chapter 12
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