Part Four: Maybe
"So, what's next on the agenda?" Eadric asked brightly.
"First, you will remove your... digital assistant from our systems," BC said, looking at Tenho's face on the screen. The child-like AI blinked and pointed at herself innocently.
Magno nodded in approval of BC's suggestion. There was no telling what the advanced technology could do against them.
"Alright, you heard her. Get back into the watch," Eadric shrugged. Tenho sighed, yet another very human-like display that startled the Mejale women.
"Phenomenal cosmic power... in itty bitty little spacei," Tenho muttered as she winked out of existence from the screen. A second later the thin cable connecting Eadric's wristwatch to the screen retracted back into position and disappeared.
"Urgh," Arion grumbled, still digesting the fact that he was stuck on-board an all-women pirate ship for the next 270 days. Perhaps it was an enviable position for some other men, but for Arion whose life choices were decided by 'freedom of mobility' and 'comfortable-being-away-from-people', it was depressing.
"Oh come on, it could be worse," Eadric said genially.
"Shut up. I hate that phrase. It –always- gets worse. And why is it so warm here? Someone fix the temperature."
"You know, you've grown a lot bitterer since the last time we met," Eadric remarked.
"Try being in my shoes," Arion growled, glaring at him.
"I hate to stop your lovers' quarrel, but can we get back to the matter at hand?" Magno interrupted.
"Be quiet, you old-"
Eadric hastily clapped a hand over Arion's mouth.
"What can we do for you, madam?" Eadric said, a strained smile on his lips as he struggled to maintain his hold on Arion.
"The technology. Do you know what has happened to our ship?" the elderly woman asked.
"Er, why are you asking us?"
"There is the matter with the blue light and the pexis pragma... the reflex engine you spoke of," BC stated, almost impatiently.
Eadric gave Arion a meaningful look. Glaring back at him with Eadric's hand still on his mouth, Arion shrugged.
Lowering his hand, Eadric shrugged as well, as if the duo had came to a conclusion without speaking.
"The reflex engine is an alien technology that we still don't really understand about. We know it works, but we don't know how or why. Suffice to say, someone left their wheels, we found them and we used it ever since," Eadric explained.
"I suspect you're not telling us everything," Magno said, narrowing her eyes at the Exodusians.
"Of course," Arion replied before Eadric could say anything. Immediately Meia's ring was again pointed at him.
"Oh please. Even if we explained everything to you, what assurance do you have that we're not lying anyway?" Arion said, not batting an eyelid at Meia's glowing ring.
"Captain, I'm not sure if we should suffer their rudeness any longer," Meia said, her eyes glaring at Arion. It was not of hate; rather it was full of distrust, plus a shade of irritation.
"Well then, take your best shot," Arion challenged, spreading his arms nonchalantly.
Meia's eyes narrowed.
"Come on, there's no need for violence..." Eadric started to say.
"There's always a need for violence," Arion and Meia said in stereo. Surprised and annoyed, they glared at each other hostilely.
"Well, enough of this nonsense," Magno interrupted with a hit of her walking stick on the floor. "We still have a lot of things to do than to prattle all day."
"Look, I know you're curious about what happened, but frankly, we're not sure of anything at the moment. Why don't you let us help out? All we want is a ride back to Taraak," Eadric offered.
"What exactly can you do?" BC asked.
"I am a certified systems engineer, among other things," Eadric stated, "while my friend here is... well..."
"I'm complicated," Arion deadpanned.
"-Versatile-," Eadric suggested instead.
"A systems engineer... I suppose that would be useful in our current situation," BC noted.
"There, you see? An understanding already," Eadric gestured hopefully.
"That remains to be seen," Meia said coolly, "your friend might not prove to be as useful."
"Why do you –keep- insisting on getting rid of him?" Eadric asked, almost exasperatedly.
"Because we can't trust him," Meia replied evenly.
"What the heck? Look, I'll tell you right now, he is my friend for many, many years. If you get rid of him and expect me to cooperate with you, you must be nuts. And if I –do- cooperate after you getting rid of him, can you really trust –me- after betraying my friend?" Eadric ranted.
Even Arion was a little taken aback by the sudden outburst.
"Enough," Magno interrupted. Everyone in the room turned to face the captain of the Mejale pirates.
"It is obvious that you two need to work together or not work at all. Fine, I will accept that," she said.
"What about the Taraak men?" Eadric interjected.
"They are of none of your concern. As you said, you have nothing to do with either Taraak or Mejale," BC replied.
"I just want them to get the same deal as we are getting," Eadric said.
"Wait, what –are- you people doing with them at the moment anyway?" Arion asked.
"Disinfection," BC answered. She pressed a button and the screen switched to show the three Taraak men being hosed down by women wearing hazard suits. Two of the men were trying to avoid the blast of chemically-laced water frantically, while the third man just stood there silently.
"Geez, talk about overkill," Arion whispered so that only his friend could hear, "reminds me of those Nazi war camp documentaries."
"There will be no executions on a ship I am boarding," Eadric said sternly. Arion knew the tone in his voice, he meant it. Eadric Lee might come across as an amicable, none-too-serious person, but years of soldiering and adventuring made him stick to his principles when needed.
"You are in no position to negotiate," Meia pointed out.
"Yeah, but can you really work this ship out in this strange part of space by yourselves? Ya need all the help ya can get, and that includes Tenho here too," Eadric countered.
"Later. I will think about it," Magno said.
Eadric remained unconvinced. "That's not enough. We need-"
"What you need is the food you wanted," Magno interrupted. She gestured at Meia. "Take them back to their cells and get them something to eat later."
"Food! Food!" Arion and Eadric chanted, all seriousness suddenly dispelled. To Meia, it was bewildering.
"Captain-!" the wing commander of the pirates started to protest, partly because she didn't want to do it and partly because their behavior simply irritates her.
"Meia," the older woman said simply.
The moment they were alone in briefing room, BC and Magno shared a look. "What he said is true," BC conceded, "we at least need to depend on their knowledge until we gain full control of the ship's systems."
"Well, it is in our mutual interests. We will use them until they are no longer necessary," the elderly captain said without malice. Then her eyes hardened.
"Get that navigator boy. No sense in wasting any more time here. We're leaving after Gascogne returns."
Arion and Eadric found themselves deposited into a cell just next to the Taraak men. Their arrival interrupted Bart's dramatic retelling of his heroic exploits, trying to coerce Hibiki and Duero into escaping.
Of course, the moment Meia showed up, Bart immediately closed his mouth and smiled a nervous smile.
"Hey, where's the food?" Arion asked as Meia locked the cell and began to walk away.
"The captain said to give you food 'later'. She did not specify when," Meia reminded him and left, leaving Arion and Eadric open-mouthed.
"Boy, do I feel sheepish," Arion mumbled. His stomach growled in sympathy.
"Cheaters," Eadric agreed.
"Is it me or is it getting warmer?" Arion asked as he looked around.
"Hey comrades!" Bart Garsus called out from the opposite cell. Arion and Eadric turned to look at the blond-haired man, recognizing him as the dancing victim during the disinfection scene shown to them earlier.
But instead of paying attention to the heir of Garsus Industries, it was Hibiki who they noticed.
"Hey kid, looks like you did good out there," Arion called out.
"Thanks," Hibiki mumbled.
"Cheer up," Eadric said, sensing that the youngest of them there was feeling quite down.
"You are Commander Eadric from the Robotech Defense Force," Duero suddenly said. It was not accusatory; the tall man was stating a fact. Eadric turned to look at him, noting the outlandish way Duero's hair was combed. Almost the entire side of his face was covered by his jet-black hair.
"Yeah, I am. I'm surprised you know me. I haven't even been introduced yet when all this happened."
"I read the program book for the launching ceremony," Duero replied. Eadric wasn't sure if he was joking or not.
"-Commander- Eadric?" Bart and Hibiki mouthed in unison.
"Commander Eadric, what a pleasure to see an esteemed presence like you here! I'm Bart Garsus, heir of Garsus Industries!" Bart immediately straightened up, rubbed his hands together and put on his most friendly smile, eager to secure any advantage for himself no matter how long the shot is.
"Wow, you even get fans in prison," Arion deadpanned.
The image of inmates in prisons throughout the galaxy thinking about him made Eadric shiver. He shot a scowl at Bart, who immediately clammed up.
"He is just worried. Talking helps him to relieve his stress," Duero said as a way of apology.
"And you are?"
"Duero McFile, cadet graduate of the Taraak Military."
Eadric nodded at his official introduction. "I'm Commander Eadric Lee of the RDF, and this is... uh, Arion Wong."
"A commander?" Hibiki repeated to himself dubiously. "Hey, you're a commander? Get us out of here!" he shouted.
"Ah, it's not so bad. We're captured by a bunch of females after all. You're a guy, so just imagine the possibilities," Eadric suggested.
"Yeah, that's the point! I don't want my liver to be eaten!" Hibiki hollered desperately.
"What?" Arion exclaimed.
"It's just a myth. I can't see the women actually cutting them up for body parts," Eadric replied.
"What is this war all about?" Arion asked Eadric, who shrugged negatively. His indifference made Arion's mood dip even further.
"What do you mean, you don't know!? You set-up the bloody meeting in the first place!" Arion yelled.
"Hey man, it was the only free time I have. My schedule is packed ya know."
"The least you could do is research the damn place!"
"I did," Eadric replied with a frown, "but Taraak and Mejale are so out of the place, we didn't have much info about them in the first place."
"Gee, and I guess you don't know we're gonna get caught up in this little war too," Arion sarcastically said.
"Oh shut up. I'm more interested in what happened out there to him right now," Eadric said, pointing a finger at Hibiki.
"Hm?" the boy asked, pointing at himself.
"Yeah, what the hell did you do? We saw your... er, mecha merging with one of the female fighters," Arion said.
"It's called a Vanguard," Eadric muttered.
"Whatever. I know I saw a Taraak Vanguard and a Mejale Dread in a transformation sequence. I thought you guys were at war," Arion said, directing the last comment to the Taraak men.
"It's a state of hostility," Duero clarified.
"Sounds like staring contest," Eadric said.
"Look, I don't know what happened either! But shouldn't we work together to get outta here now!?" Hibiki yelled.
"Hey, why don't you relax a little?" Bart said in a pacifying tone, "Now that there are five of us, instead of escaping, we can come up with a plan to take over the ship!"
Arion and Eadric took one good look at the Taraak men and then at each other before bursting out in obviously fake, sarcastic laughter.
"Haha, take over the ship!"
"Ohohoho, that's a good one!"
Bart couldn't help but feel extremely small when seeing the two men laughing mockingly. On second thoughts, Bart found his declaration to take over the ship swarmed with heavily armed females was indeed a little ludicrous.
"It's just an idea..." he mumbled, twiddling his fingers.
On the other hand, the heckling from the strangers only served to make Hibiki even angrier.
"Why don't you two shut up! At least he's trying to think of a plan! I know, you two must have defected to the evil women, haven't you?!"
"'Defected'? Defected from where? We're not even from Taraak," Arion chuckled.
"You're women?!" Hibiki gasped in aghast.
"NO!" Eadric and Arion exclaimed.
"No, Commander Eadric is from the United Planets Government," Duero explained.
"Where's that?" Bart asked.
"It is a federation of human civilizations in our part of the galaxy," Duero answered, recalling the facts that he had read from the program book.
"Surely you guys musta heard of it before. Several years ago our envoys came trying to make peace between Taraak and Mejale," Eadric said.
The three Taraak men gave him doubtful looks, causing Eadric to sigh and grumble about government conspiracies and X-Files.
"Well, in any case, your governments took our aid, but never took on our offer the chance to join the UPG. I was on Taraak to offer it again, but you know what happened."
"Just who are you people anyway?" Arion suddenly asked.
"I'm Bart Garsus-" the blond-haired man said, happy to interject himself into the conversation.
"No, I meant what is the history of Taraak?" Arion interrupted.
"Well, our brave forefathers colonized Taraak about a hundred years ago. Soon after that, we were attacked by the Mejale women and we were at war ever since," Bart said.
"A very young colony," Eadric muttered to Arion, who nodded in agreement. Duero noted the exchange with interest.
"But what about before that? Where did your people come from?" Arion continued.
The three Taraak shared a confused look.
"We don't know," Bart finally said.
"We are actually the third generation of Taraak. Most of pre-Taraak history is not really important to us," Duero continued.
"Hm. 'A fresh start, a brave new world' eh?" Arion mumbled.
"Why are you so afraid of the women?" Eadric asked, directly looking at Hibiki.
"Well, aren't you?" Hibiki said defensively. Arion instantly had a déjà vu feeling, recalling the embarrassment at their first talks with the Zentraedi during the Sentinel Crusadeii.
"No. On our home planet, males and females live together freely," Eadric explained.
The look of disbelief and horror could be seen on the faces of Hibiki and Bart. Duero on the other hand, had a thoughtful and curious pose.
"Together? How!? What do they do!?" Hibiki asked.
Arion's sense of déjà vu increased. The line of questioning was almost exactly the same as the one posed by the Zentraedi emissaries so long ago.
"Well... stuff. Y'know, living together... working... playing... having social-lives and so on..." Eadric replied vaguely, also remembering the Zentraedi incident.
"But what purpose does that serve?" Duero asked.
"Damnit, don't ask anymore. Heck, you'll probably understand the moment you kiss one," Eadric grumbled.
"'Kiss'"? Duero repeated and frowned. "Can you two demonstrate?"
That was what the Zentraedi emissaries had demanded too.
BC's arrival spelled the end of the conversation and thus saving Arion and Eadric from further awkwardness.
"You are all pretty lively for prisoners," she noted, her eyes assessing the both sets of captives. Bart tried not to jump when her eyes rested on him.
"You, come out. Our captain wishes to talk to you."
"M-me? H-ah, I'd be more than willing to assist in any way possible, as long as it doesn't involve torture!" Bart squeaked.
"Hey, what about our food?" Arion called out.
"Later," BC said and quickly marched Bart away.
Back at the wreckage of the alien ship...
"Well, that takes of that," Gascogne said in satisfaction as her data retriever beeped in green to show that it had done its job.
A short distance away, she could see flashes from Dita's camera. The red-haired woman was excitedly snapping photographs of the ruined structure, even though she had no idea what they were.
'She might be even taking pics of their lavatory,' Gascogne smirked.
Gascogne turned slowly, so that her suited body won't spin out of control due to momentum in the gravity-less environment. The airboss of the female pirates slowly took in the cavernous view, trying to imagine how the alien ship looked like when it was intact.
A beep from her communicator interrupted the process.
"Gascogne, how is it going there?"
The heavily muscled woman grinned at Magno's image in the communicator's screen.
"Pretty much done, but with the amount of data I'm not sure if we got anything useful. A lot of it was encrypted in a strange script. It may take a while for us to decode it."
"Hm. Maybe our new-found 'friends' can help after all..." Magno said thoughtfully.
"We also found some of their four-armed fighter craft... they are intact but inactive."
"If there's nothing else, head back here as soon as you can," Magno replied. She resisted the temptation of bringing aboard some of the enemy remains; there was no telling what could happen.
"Roger," Gascogne nodded as the communication ended.
"Dita, let's get back now."
The younger woman was visibly dismayed. "W-what? But there's so much left to see!" Dita whined.
"We're on a job, not a tour!" Gascogne said. She was about to continue her rebuke when she saw something moving from the corner of her eye.
Back on the bridge of the pirate's ship, Bart Garsus tried his best not to look directly at Magno's face.
"Hello, er, heh heh... You wanted to see me, captain?" Bart asked. Surrounded by women on the bridge, Bart tried to disguise his nervousness. To further enforce his fear, BC had seen it fit to shackle his hands with metal chains like a Taraak prisoner on death row.
"That," Magno said simply and pointed at behind him. Glancing about, Bart could see the blue plasma pool that he had fell into earlier.
"How did you operate that thing?" Magno questioned, thumping the floor with her walking stick for effect.
Bart felt his knees wobbling, but he quickly analyzed the situation. 'We haven't moved since I left the pool, and since she's asking me, I bet they've no idea on how to use it. Hmm, this could be an opportunity... I don't really understand it either, but they don't know –that-.'
He nodded and smiled, satisfied at his conclusion.
"Well, I'd like to help but I guess I'm just a little... tied up at the moment," Bart said, rattling the chains.
Magno gave BC a nod, and the sub-commander of the female pirates pressed a button on a remote. The electronic locks on Bart's hands opened and the chains fell onto the floor.
Bart breathed a sigh of relief as he rubbed his wrists and walked towards the pool.
'So far so good... right... I can't just teach them something I don't know... guess all I can do now is to make them depend on me.'
He stopped a few steps away from the pool and turned to face Magno and BC again.
"Now you listen to me. This entire ship is man's technology, so it's obvious you females can't use it to its maximum potential," he began. Wrapped in his own presentation, he did not notice the plasma pool beginning to hum.
"Fortunately for –you-, I am a fully trained pilot. Suffice to say, you will need me to-wuaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!"
Unfortunately for Bart, the pool seemingly had enough of his talking and lashed out. Tendrils of blue energy burst from the pool, grabbed him and simply pulled him into the pool.
"...And there he goes again. Just how does this system work?" Magno complained.
Inside the pool, it was all bluish-green. Surrounded by a force that felt like water, Bart's first instincts was to hold his breath and try to swim upwards.
Outside, the entire ship reacted to his violent movements. The ship hummed with power as energy flowed into the engines and began to move. A second later the engines fired and the ship turned to leave the area.
The sudden movement caught everyone by surprise. In the cell room, Hibiki had a bump and fell unconscious. Duero immediately went over to check on him as Arion and Eadric looked on with concern.
On the living quarters' deck, Barnette and Jura were stopped in their packing to save their belongings from the invading crystals in their room. They knocked heads and fell over unconscious.
At the medical sickbay, Paiway and the small medical staff frantically secured their patients to prevent them from falling over and causing more injuries.
Down at the hangar and flight deck, Parfet did the same, only to the pirates' Dread attack craft. Most of them were still stuck in place by the crystals, but some like Hibiki's Vanguard were securely clamped down. The spectacled Chief Engineer did not spare attention to Pyoro, who lay unattended even as the stricken Navigation droid moaned of being sick.
Back on the bridge, the bridge bunnies reported excitedly as their screens and monitors began to activate without their prompting.
"What's going on?" Magno demanded.
"I don't know; the entire system just went online!" Belvedere replied.
From her station, Amarone became more animated. "Captain, the ship's navigation controls won't respond! I'm projecting our course now!"
Nobody noticed as Ezra began to sweat and breathe more heavily.
Back in the pool, view panels and screens filled with schematics and reports suddenly appeared before Bart's very eyes. Their sudden appearance shocked him, causing his mouth to gape. After a moment, he realized that he could breathe normally. Then he looked down and noticed that he was naked from head to toe again.
"Oh, that's right... this happened before," he muttered to himself sheepishly. The sensation was a little different, the pool felt warmer, much warmer. The plasma surrounding him was actually beginning to feel a little uncomfortable on his skin.
Before he had a chance to get acquainted with his surroundings, another view screen popped up, this time showing Magno's irate face.
"What in the blazes did you do?!"
"Who? Me? What?" Bart chanted nervously, looking left and right. As if in response, more windows opened, showing the external view. He could see that the ship was moving.
"We don't have control of the ship!" Amarone said in panic.
BC immediately remembered the two women not onboard the ship.
"Drop markers quickly!" she ordered. The silver-haired woman then gave Magno a grim look.
They both knew if things didn't improve quickly, they might have doomed Gascogne and Dita.
And to compound the problem, Ezra suddenly just collapsed onto her control panel. BC immediately rushed over to shoulder the unconscious Ezra.
"I'll take her to the sickbay," she said.
"Get that Taraak doctor to help, looks like we're getting more casualties if this keeps up," Magno said grimly.
Back at the wreckage, Gascogne put on a brave smile. She was trapped by some of the debris, pinning her down onto the hulk of the destroyed ship. The airboss of the Mejale pirates could see Dita's effort of cutting the metal with a handheld laser was futile.
"It's no use!" Dita cried, shutting off the laser. The metal was barely scratched.
"Well, do I feel sheepish," Gascogne remarked, unknowingly mimicking Arion's comment. She had tried to struggle free when the metal suddenly came at her. Though there was no injury or damage to her spacesuit, there was little cheer.
"Miss Gasco, the ship's leaving!" Dita said in distress.
Suppressing a "Huh!?", the square-jawed woman squinted off the general direction of their home ship. It wasn't there, and she could detect faint light trails off the distance.
"It must be an emergency," Gascogne said casually, trying to reassure Dita with her calm voice. Her tone stopped Dita from tearing up, even when she couldn't establish contact with the ship.
"What do we do now, Miss Gasco?" Dita sniffed.
"The name's GascoNGE," she replied, giving Dita a slight thwack upside the head with her free hand. Gascogne then sighed as the red-haired woman "Eek!"-ed, trying to regain her balance.
"I'm beginning to hate away missions," Gascogne muttered.
"I can get some more tools from the Dread!" Dita suddenly said.
"Don't waste anymore time. Take this and return to the ship," Gascogne said and handed the data retriever to the younger woman.
"I... I can't just leave you here to die!" Dita said, her eyes beginning to be all wet again.
Her resolute words only earned her another thwack on the head.
"Who said anything about leaving me here to die?! This isn't some lousy war movie, I want you to get back here with help!" Gascogne said.
Dita very nearly burst into tears then, but whatever discipline Meia had drilled into her kicked in. Fighting to hold her tears back, the red-haired woman nodded.
"O-okay... I'll be back soon. Don't go anywhere, Miss Gasco!" she said. Dita gave a hasty salute, turned around and boosted off towards her Dread using her backpack.
"That's GascoNGE!" Gascogne said and waved a fist at her disappearing form.
As Dita's Dread powered up and left, Gascogne took a deep breath.
'It's not as if I'm going anywhere...'
Her grim thoughts were interrupted as she noticed her surroundings getting brighter. Looking around, she saw a pulse of energy running through the remnants of the ship.
To her concern, some of the four-limbed enemy fighters began to stir. Several quickly peeled off and went after Dita's fighter, while others remained.
"Looks like we have company..." Gascogne muttered. She slowly retrieved her laser sidearm, a puny weapon in the face of such danger. But then again, she could use it on herself...
"Yeaaaaaaaaaarrghhhhhhhh!" Bart screamed as the ship hurtled beyond his control. Before he knew it, the entire ship plunged deep into an ice field. And because he had a first-class view, it was as if the young Taraak man was experiencing it first-hand.
Luckily for him, no one on the bridge could hear him.
"We seem to be heading towards a nebula, and we still don't have navigation control!" Amarone repeated.
"First the edge of the galaxy and now a nebula. Why is this trip so interesting?" Magno complained. The heat was getting unbearable now, so much to the extent that she had an icepack on her head.
Parfet's face appeared on her console. "Captain, the engines are behaving weirdly! I'm not sure we can keep it under control in these conditions," the bespectacled girl warned.
Magno nodded in acknowledgment. "I'll tell BC to get one of the men to help you. Do what you can and keep this ship in one piece!"
"We'll do our best!" Parfet said and signed off.
"Can things get any worse?" Magno sighed.
"There's ice in the nebula!"
"Oh, what joy," Magno rolled her eyes.
Down in the cells, Hibiki had another of his weird dreams. Once again, he was floating within a sea of blue plasma, surrounded by a sensation of being watched and of being tested by unknown forces.
He lashed out angrily, swinging his arms and legs in futile punches and kicks. He was like a trapped beast: angry and yet fearful of the unknown. The bluish energies swirled around him madly, confusing his senses.
"What?! What the hell do you want?!" he yelled at the swirling shapes.
When he saw that their movement was slowing a little, Hibiki felt emboldened. "Is that big robot yours? What do you want from me!? I won't be a part of your plans!!"
Hibiki was right in thinking that he would provoke an answer from the mysterious surroundings, but unfortunately for him, the answer he got was a series of energy bolts into his bodies.
Screaming in pain, Hibiki found blackness.
A deep voice echoed from far away.
As Hibiki opened his eyes, he found the surroundings have changed. Instead of the featureless, circulation of blue, he was now seeing his old home. It was a farm some distance away from the major Taraak cities, where he had lived together with his grandfather.
Hibiki tried to focus his eyes on the details, but the scenery remained just as irritatingly blurry. He did recognize the voice though, and as the owner approached he could see a familiar shadow.
"Gr-grandpa?" Hibiki asked uncertainly.
"Hibiki... it is time for you to leave this place for the city," the figure said.
"B-but, why...?" Hibiki found himself asking. A small part of him was telling him that this was a memory, not something he was experiencing at the moment, but he paid no heed to the tiny voice.
"You have to find yourself. And to know yourself."
"What? Of course I know who I am..."
"No," the figure said. He tossed something, and Hibiki found himself catching a badge of some sort.
"No, you don't," the shadowy figure continued. "A man's worth is judged by the friends he have. Friends are reflections of yourself. So go out there, and find friends. So you will find yourself."
And as quickly the vision appeared, it dissipated.
Suddenly Hibiki was aware of a warm presence near to his face. Opening his eyes, he found himself staring at the peaceful, concentrating face of Duero in extreme close-up.
With a start, the younger man shoved Duero away. "W-what are you doing?!" Hibiki demanded.
Duero leaned back, not offended by the violent manner he was treated. "I was just checking your temperature. I thought you might have a fever," he explained in a logical tone.
"Well it's either that or he likes you," Arion smirked.
"I didn't think you're the type who talk in his sleep," Eadric said, smiling broadly.
"You were mumbling. Who is Granpa?" Duero asked.
Hibiki sat up in a huff and leaned back against the wall. "He's just Granpa, he took care of me since I was little," he said, trying to be offhanded about it.
"Interesting. A member of the first generation was personally taking care of you..." Duero mused aloud.
"First generation?" Arion repeated.
"They are the first colonists of Taraak. The oldest and wisest of our world. As I have said, we are the third generation," Duero answered.
Once again, BC entered and interrupted the conversation.
"Duero... and you, the system engineer, come with me. That is, if you don't mind," BC said, a tint of sarcasm on her tongue.
"My name is Eadric," the Chinese man frowned as he exited the cage and joined the Taraak man on the outside.
"What about me?" Arion gestured.
"It's not your turn yet," BC said.
"What about food?"
"Later," BC replied curtly as she took the two prisoners away.
"Why do they keep saying that?" Arion muttered.
Eadric found himself being led apart from Duero, escorted by a Mejale female wielding a laser rifle who had rendezvoused with the group.
"Take him to Engineering," was BC's simple order.
On the way there, Eadric tried to make small talk but the lone security officer pointedly ignored him, instead urging him to move quickly with a jerk of her weapon.
"Eek! A man!!" was the first greeting Eadric got when the doors to Engineering slid open.
"Why yes, I am," Eadric replied brightly and struck a pose. The girl who had exclaimed in terror blanched at his statement and only retreated further.
Parfet heard the noise and fearlessly (or heedlessly) went up to him.
"You're an engineer?" she asked.
"Among other things," Eadric grinned, trying to see past her spectacles. It was futile, it was as if her glasses were made like one-way mirrors. He only got more concerned when the rest of the people in the Engineering section wore the same sort rounded glasses.
"Ah, whatever. Come over here and help me with this," Parfet said, showing him to a console. There were wires running out from the controls and displays. His eyes followed them and noticed that they were directly connected to a white, egg-shaped droid which groaned in an electronic voice.
"...Sick...." the droid moaned.
"What are you doing to him?" Eadric asked and frowned at the jumble of wires and exposed circuitry.
"Him? It's just a droid," Parfet said.
"From what I see, -he- is sentient. You could be killing him," Eadric said. He had several good friends who were droids back at the Alliance of Free Stars, including members of the wise and infinitely patient, crystalline-mechanical Chmmrriii race.
"Well, you could be right, but I'm not the reason of his condition. He was already like this before we even hooked him up. Anyway, I did a spectral analysis and found that the pexis pragma and this droid are on the same wavelengths," Parfet explained.
"And, you're trying to...?"
"I thought the droid could make a sensor or some sort of a reporting module or extension to the pexis. We got a lot of data, but we can't decipher it," Parfet continued, gesturing to the screen.
A wall of brute data scrolled down the screen in a quick pace. To the Mejale women's eyes, it was in an arcane, alien script, but Eadric recognized bits and pieces of it.
"I think I can help with that," Eadric said. Without being invited, he sat down on the console and his fingers began flying over the keyboard.
In another section of the ship BC and Duero entered the medical sickbay.
"You are not taking me to the captain?" Duero asked with no real surprise in his tone.
"We have a patient for you to examine," BC replied.
Duero's head cocked to one side. "Strange. I had assumed that you have sufficient medical technology."
BC grinned without humor. "So you seek information at every possibility. Very well. The ship is currently unstable, and we have lost control of some systems, including the medical systems."
Duero didn't blink. "What are the symptoms of the patient?" he asked, changing the subject.
"A high fever that wouldn't subside. That is all we know for now."
The long-haired Taraak man nodded. "I will treat the patient."
"Done," Eadric said, sensing the impatient presence of Parfet behind him.
"Really?" Parfet blinked. She took a glance at the screen. "What do you mean 'done'? I can't understand a thing!" she demanded.
"Sorry, all I could do was organize the data into readable Taraak. Since I don't know Mejale's written language... I can't help you with that," Eadric shrugged.
Parfet stared at him for a moment. "Fine, I guess that will have to do. Can the data tell me what's happening to the ship then?" she asked.
"Yeah, it seems that the, er, pexis pragma is spreading. The entire core is getting larger and hotter."
"We know that! The question is -why-!?" Parfet said.
"I'm not sure, but it says here that there are impurities on the ship's systems," Eadric replied, tapping the screen with a finger.
"So you're telling me that the pexis pragma is going to explode because there are unwanted stuff in the ship? Because of the fusion process?"
"Could be, maybe," Eadric said vaguely. The Exodusian pressed several keys and pulled up a schematic display of the ship. Several interlocking lines ran through the entire length of the ship, from the fore to the aft, with the pexis pragma core as the source. Some were colored red, others black.
"As you can see here, there are some sections where the energy dispersal process are clogged up," he said, gesturing at the red lines.
"I see. The energy from the blocked nodes are being fed back directly to the core, causing an energy feedback," Parfet said, cupping her chin in a thoughtful pose.
"Yeah, so if you want to stop the core from exploding..."
"We have to reroute the energy supply lines!" Parfet concluded excitedly. Without waiting for Eadric's confirmation, the chief engineer of the pirates turned and quickly directed orders to her crew.
"Shut down all auxiliary systems and reroute the jammed energy lines through them! Evacuate and seal off sections 14 through 29, it will get real hot down there!" she yelled, sending her subordinates scurrying into action.
Just as Eadric thought he was forgotten, Parfet whirled around and gave him a thumbs up.
"Hey, thanks for the help!"
Eadric smiled. "Just doing what I can."
Back at the sickbay, Duero slowly waved a handheld scanner over Ezra's body. The Mejale woman was breathing heavily, sweat lining her brows.
"Hmm," was Duero's only comment. Despite the equipment in his hand was a piece of Mejale technology, he was able to understand the functions. It was the results of the scans that puzzled him.
BC had left the room, so that the other person there was Paiway.
He was about to link the handheld scanner to the main console of the sickbay when the power went out.
Paiway, who was overseeing him; immediately pulled out a communicator.
"Engineering-" the petite woman started to say when Duero suddenly snatched it from her grasp.
"Engineering, I have a patient in sickbay. I require power immediately," he said, not noticing the disconcerted face of the head nurse behind him. She stared daggers into his back and rubbed her hands.
"Duero, is it?" an unexpected voice answered him.
"Yeah, I'm helping at Engineering. Sorry about the blackout, but we're trying to save the entire ship," came the apologetic tone.
"The patient's life may be in danger. I may need to perform surgery."
There was a pause before Eadric replied, presumably to confer with the chief engineer.
"Alright, you got it."
"Thank you, commander."
"It's not me you should thank," Eadric said modestly. "And again, sorry. I should have thought of that."
The Exodusian cut off the comm before Duero could say anything. Duero found his behaviour a refreshing change from the boorish Taraak officers that he had encountered previously.
'A very interesting person,' he thought to himself as he went back to work on Ezra.
Back on the bridge, Magno looked like a kid whose ice cream cone had melted off. There was a small electric fan blowing directly to her face, but it was still warm air. The elderly woman was looking at her melted ice pack in woe when BC reported in, her face appearing on the console.
"Captain, Meia has told me that the flight deck is jammed and not operational."
"Wonderful news," Magno said with heavy sarcasm. "Where are you?"
"I'm at the men's section of the ship. It seems that it is relatively free from the crystals," BC answered.
""What are you doing there?"
"Captain, I propose that we allow the Taraak man to use his Vanguard to rescue Dita and Gascogne."
"Not a bad idea," Magno nodded.
"The risk is there, but then the Vanguard could merge with Dita's Dread if the need arises," BC admitted.
"There is no harm of the boy escaping, he doesn't look the sort. Proceed."
"Understood," BC nodded and signed off.
"So kid, tell me, what's living in Taraak like?" Arion asked conversationally.
"Will you stop calling me 'kid'? My name is Hibiki!" the Taraak boy in question said.
"Sorry 'kid', but I'm allowed to call everyone else 'kid'," Arion smirked.
"Argh, you're really getting pissing me off!" Hibiki flared. The flush of anger only made him even more uncomfortable, as the entire area was getting warmer. Frustrated with the situation, the Taraak boy took off his shirt. It only further annoyed him when he saw that Arion was sitting cross-legged on the floor, seemingly unaffected.
"How can you be so calm like that!?" Hibiki demanded.
"Don't be stupid, of course it's hot. I'm just trying my best to ignore it. No sense in complaining about something you can't do anything about."
Despite his irritation at the Exodusian, Hibiki was impressed. Sadly though, it only lasted for a few seconds before Arion's stomach growled loudly. The Chinese man groaned before toppling over.
"Huh," Hibiki said in disdain as Arion folded his arms around his midriff.
Once again, BC entered the room.
"Ah, hey-" Arion began.
"Later," BC said, cutting him off and approached Hibiki's cell.
"Goddamnit," the Exodusian snarled to himself.
"What, is it my turn now?" Hibiki said defiantly.
BC placed a hand on her hip and gave Hibiki a slight smile. "Actually, we need something from you," she said.
Hibiki shrank back in fear. "M-my liver!?"
The silver-haired woman's eyes widened in surprised amusement, but kept her tone serious.
"Nothing of that sort. We need your help to get two of our crew back."
"Hah! You want me to help you? You got to be joking, why should I even want to help you?" the boy said impudently.
From his cell, Arion frowned, his hunger momentarily forgotten. He kept quiet, wanting to hear more.
"We don't need to be fighting each other. There is something out there who wants to destroy both men and women. You saw the enemy with your own eyes," BC said.
"Heh," Hibiki sneered.
The ship trembled as something struck its hull, as if to punctuate BC's point. Hibiki's veneer disappeared as he looked up at the bulkhead.
"Since you have defeated them once, I thought you would help us to fight them again. But perhaps I was wrong," BC said, beginning to turn away.
"Wait, let me do it," Arion called out suddenly.
"Can you pilot the Vanguard?" BC asked.
"I didn't know about the Dread either, but I didn't do too bad out there, did I?" Arion countered.
"Hey!" Hibiki started to object.
"Are you sure? This time you're going to rescue two other lives, not just fighting off the enemy."
"Hey, the strong gotta protect the weak," Arion smirked mischievously.
"I'll do it!" Hibiki hollered suddenly, pushed into action by Arion's words. The woman and the Exodusian turned to look at him.
"What?" BC demanded.
"I said I'll do it! It's -my- Vanguard, I can't let anyone else touch it!" Hibiki said righteously.
BC gave Arion a glance, who shrugged and sat back in a surrendering gesture.
"Fine. Come with me," BC said to Hibiki.
"Hey kid!" Arion said.
"What!? And stop calling me 'kid'!" Hibiki said irritably.
"Good luck," Arion grinned and gave him a thumbs up. Hibiki's lips twisted into a grumble, but Arion knew he was suppressing a grin of his own.
The moment BC and Hibiki left, Arion let out his breath. His stomach growled again.
"Ooooh... I don't feel so good..."
"Brace for impact," Amarone warned. A few seconds later the entire ship rumbled as a chunk of ice grazed the hull.
"That makes the third hit. Don't we have any navigation controls yet?" Magno demanded. A brand new ice pack was on her head, though her small electric fan had died off.
"No, and we're going dead ahead at high speeds. The system locked us out," Belvedere said.
Magno grunted and pressed a button. "Boy, can you stop the ship?"
Bart's terrified face immediately told her he couldn't.
"It HURTS!!!" the blond man screamed. He rubbed his arm, as if he was bruised.
Magno rubbed her temples in pain.
"Captain, there's a large-sized ice asteroid in our path!" Amarone said in alarm. She punched up the radar onto the large screen. There was a shower of objects heading towards the ship, but to Magno's consternation the large ice asteroid Amarone had warned about was displayed as nearly three times larger than the ship.
Magno turned her attention back to Bart. "Are you getting this? Do something and get us out of here!"
"Get -me- out of -here-!!" Bart yelled in panic.
At the debris field, Dita was feeling a similar wave of panic. Gascogne had entrusted her to complete the mission and then to return to rescue her, but Dita couldn't even get herself out of her own predicament.
Her Dread fighter was surrounded by three of the enemy fighters. Normally the girl would have engaged them, but mindful of Gascogne's situation and the limited supply of oxygen in her spacesuit, Dita was loathed to do so.
"Ahhhh bad aliens! Evil aliens!! I hate you! Go away!! Eeek!" Dita complained as her Dread rattled with every blast it took from the three pursuers.
Then her radar rang out shrilly, warning her of another bogey directly in front of her.
"Another bad alien!?" Dita moaned. Just then, another violent blast knocked her forward in her seat. In her panicky response to sit back up, she accidentally triggered the firing mechanism.
A laser bolt flew towards the frontal bogey, narrowly missing the oncoming shape.
"What do you think you're doing?!" a male voice hollered angrily.
In the cockpit of his Vanguard, Hibiki took several quick breaths to regain his composure before switching on the visual link.
"I come out all this way to help and you repay me with a laser!?" he said.
"Mr. Alien!!" Dita called out happily, relief flooding her face.
Somehow, the look on her face only served to embarrass Hibiki, who tried to put on a macho face. Then he noticed his sensor readouts.
'Why is she increasing her speed?' Hibiki wondered.
"Mr. Alien! You've come to rescue me, didn't you? I knew you're a good alien!"
"No... no, get away! Aaarghhhh!"
The moment Dita's Dread and Hibiki's Vanguard came into contact with each other, there was a burst of blinding light. The Dread slid and twisted open, allowing the yellow Vanguard to slip inside. As the Dread enclosed itself around the mecha, the entire combination shifted and morphed, resulting in a much larger, bipedal mecha.
The enemy pursuers were seemingly blinded by the transformation sequence. It was as if their circuits were overloaded by the energies that fueled the metamorphosis, and the three enemy fighters simply exploded.
Inside the Vandread, Dita squealed with delight as she took in her surroundings. Her previous experience in the mecha was while she was unconscious. Now she reveled in the alien, exotic technology that surrounded her.
"Oh wow, look! Look at that!" Dita pointed at something excitedly, bouncing up and down on Hibiki's lap.
It was causing a not-wholly-uncomfortable sensation, but the last thing Hibiki needed was a distraction caused by a Mejale woman on his lap.
"Hey, quit moving around!"
Dita stopped, twisted around and looked directly at Hibiki's face.
"I want to thank you, Mr. Alien. I believed in you, and deep inside me, I knew you would come," the red-haired woman said, almost formally. Her deep blue eyes and sweet smile only made Hibiki feel warmer.
"Hmph," Hibiki said, trying not to look into her eyes, "you're just lucky I found you. It's not as if I'm out here specially for you."
"Mmmhmm," Dita nodded knowingly and turned away. "But I thank you anyway," she added, still smiling.
Hibiki coughed and didn't jerk his hands away from the two orb-like controls when Dita placed her hands on his.
"Well, er, let's go find your friend," Hibiki said.
But back at the wreckage, a single enemy fighter was still alive. It had discovered Gascogne's pinned position and instead of blasting her into atoms, it extended a saw-like device and began to cut towards her.
"I could use someone like you on my crew. Hardworking, no complaints and comes with power tools too. Lovely," Gascogne remarked to the enemy fighter.
As the saw edged ever closer, Gascogne began to sweat. One of the tentacles swiveled to look at her, a red eye-like camera device focusing on her distress.
"Looks like it's my turn eh?" the muscled woman said bravely.
Just as the sparks from the cutting friction began to land on her facebowl, a huge metallic hand burst into the scene and wrapped itself on the enemy. Pulling back a distance from Gascogne, the fist then proceeded to squeeze.
The resulting explosion was much smaller than Gascogne had envisioned.
As the massive Vandread drifted into her field of vision, Gascogne breathed in a sigh of relief.
"A late, late show, but at least it's a good ending," she smirked.
"Well, we've done all we can do," Parfet announced. She turned to look at the screen. Eadric said nothing, there really wasn't anything else to do. The pexis-pragma was still overheating despite their last-ditch efforts to reroute the excess energies.
Pyoro the droid was still lying on its side, still moaning in pain.
Still, Eadric wasn't pessimistic.
"I guess all there's left now is to believe," he smiled.
Parfet blinked at his recklessly optimistic statement, but nodded in acknowledgment.
At the bridge, Magno tried to control her own rising fears as the radar showed the asteroid getting closer and closer.
"Distance is 12,000 and closing," Amarone reported, every fiber of her being tensing up.
Magno gritted her teeth, eyes hard on the radar screen.
It was only when a blast of air swept her face that she noticed her electric fan was starting back up.
That coincided with the revival of the ship's systems across the board.
"The system just rebooted!" Belvedere exclaimed. Outside, the ship began to eject various materials, as if dumping excess weight. Crystals and bits of rusty armor and whatnot stripped away from the ship, revealing a brand new, sleek form.
However, the asteroid was still bearing ominously down on it.
Down at engineering, Parfet high-fived Eadric as her crew whooped as the diagnostics showed stability increasing throughout the ship, not really knowing of the icy danger the ship was facing.
Not even Pyoro, who jumped up and down in hyperactive fashion, feeling fully revived.
"Get us out of here! Hard to starboard, 30 degrees!" Magno ordered directly at Bart.
"Starboard? Left!? Right!? It's too late, we can't make it, aaaaaaaaaahhh!" Bart shrieked in terror from the navigation pool.
"Energy surge from the asteroid!" Amarone reported.
And then the huge mass of ice split open right in the middle. The momentum caused them to spin away harmlessly from the ship, their edges barely a few yards off the hull.
"W-what? What was that?" Bart said, leaning forward. His forward screen zoomed in obligingly.
He saw the Vandread of Dita and Hibiki, its huge shoulder cannons just sliding back into position after being fired. It didn't take much thinking for Bart to realized that the Vandread had been responsible for the ice-breaking.
"So he saves the day again. Hmph, I bet he will get all the credit again," Bart muttered, his earlier distress completely forgotten.
And so the day is saved. Eager to get away from the cramped confines of the Vandread's cockpit, Gascogne hurried away and reported her findings to BC and Magno.
Just as mysteriously the Vandread combined, it separated back into its two component parts. A visibly tired and gaunt Hibiki was barely aware of his situation as Dita cheerily grabbed him and babbled his exploits to anyone that was present.
Eadric was talking to Parfet about his thoughts regarding the similarities between the pexis-pragma and the reflex engine when the ship's general intercom rang.
"The captain and I have concluded our meeting and we have decided to inform all of you of our findings," BC's voice said clearly.
In sickbay, Duero and Paiway looked up from their care of the wounded and weary.
"After analyzing the data we recovered from the enemy ship, we finally have some information regarding our new enemy. Take a look at this picture of their homeworld," BC continued.
Throughout the ship on all available screens, a blurry freeze-frame picture was displayed. It was a planet encased by a glassy material and filled with huge gears, interlocking and rotating like a massive clockwork device.
"Strange planet," Parfet commented. Beside her, Pyoro gestured in agreement, even saying "Uh-huh".
They didn't notice the sharp intake of breath from Eadric, who stared at the picture.
"We are currently within their territory, and because of their attacks we believe we are being thought of as a threat to them. All we can do is fight back, and we believe we will have to do it often. There is a reason why we are not going to negotiate with them," BC paused, allowing time for her listeners to digest.
Down at the hangar, Dita stopped her tale, and she and her listeners turned towards the nearest speaker.
"From our data, we learned that this enemy is planning an all out destruction of our homeworld Mejale, as well as the men's world of Taraak. It is for this reason of complete destruction that we must fight," BC said.
Down in the crew quarters, Jura and Barnette stirred groggily and caught the tail end of the announcement.
"Did something happen today?" Jura moaned and held her head.
Magno's voice then took over the announcement. "We are pirates, and as pirates we have no obligations whatsoever towards Mejale or Taraak. However, we have to protect our interests, and having the homeworlds of our 'customers' blown up would be bad for business," Magno said, grim humor in her tone.
"And so, I have decided that we have to return and warn both Mejale and Taraak regarding this problem. And because we need to return before our new enemy arrives at our home system, we must allow the men to work together with us in this matter," the captain continued, ignoring the surprised looks on Amarone and Belvedere on the bridge.
"See? I knew you have to depend on us," Bart grinned tiredly as he was ejected out from the navigation pool.
In her room, Meia wasn't very happy. She frowned but continued to listen.
"Still, there are a lot of things that we don't understand yet. This very ship for one, and the enemy's strange homeworld too. But as we progress in our journey, we will learn more. We will succeed, and I expect each and everyone of you to cooperate. That is all!" Magno said and nodded satisfactorily to herself, ending the communication.
Just as she did so, the doors to the bridge slid open. A much healthier-looking Ezra entered, accompanied by Duero.
Ezra bowed apologetically to her captain. "I'm sorry for my absence earlier. I'll be returning to duty now."
"So, have you found out the cause of your sudden fever?" BC asked. Ezra smiled embarrassedly and blushed.
Noting her hesitation, Duero answered for her. "It seems that is a parasitic organism growing within her. It is deriving its nutrients from her body."
"Ah!?" Magno demanded in concern, nearly standing up from her captain's seat.
"No! That's not it!" Ezra said, her face reddening even more.
"I am in error?" Duero asked.
"I... well, I'm having a baby," Ezra said bashfully.
"What?!" Belvedere and Amarone chimed. They quickly left their stations to interrogate Ezra.
"When did this happen? When did you become a fahma?"
"And who's the ohma?"
"A baby? But I thought babies are made in factories," Bart said.
Belvedere and Amarone gave him looks of distaste.
"I see, so the rumors are true. Women are capable of reproducing internally," Duero said in a scientific manner.
"Captain... I'm really sorry. I wanted to tell you right after the raid..." Ezra said.
"Silly girl, there's nothing to apologize about," Magno said and favored her with a warm smile.
"So who is the ohma, tell us!" Belvedere insisted.
"What is this... 'ohma'?" Duero asked.
Impatient to hear Ezra's answer, Belvedere quickly explained. "The ohma donates an egg and the fahma takes care of it in her womb..."
During the commotion, BC subtly retrieves a disk from one of the consoles unseen.
"...and that is how babies are born. Don't you men know -anything-?" Belvedere concluded.
"I have never heard of such a thing."
"This is too much excitement in one day, don't you think so, BC?" Magno asked. BC straightened up and quickly hid the disk at the back of her clothes.
"Yes captain, you're right," she said.
Unaware of her second-in-command's subterfuge, Magno leaned back on her seat and linked her fingers. "Looks like we just got another reason to do this," the captain said, her eyes taking a distant look.
As the ship's engines flared and sped away from the nebula, embarking on its first leg towards home, there was a lone figure down in the cells.
Sad, lonely and hungry, Arion Wong clutched his cramping stomach in pain.
Finally done with this chapter. Sorry for the delay, barely survived a move, pc breakdown and a sudden influx of ideas for -other- fics.
i "Phenomenal cosmic power... in itty bitty little space" – guess which movie this Disney quote is from
ii Zentraedi – reference to Robotech's race of 60-70 foot tall warrior giants. The Sentinel Crusade is a reference to an UPA story involving the various facets of Robotech (will never be published, 'coz it's written in circa 1995-1996 by a bunch of overeager and naïve writers ; ).
iiiAlliance of Free Stars & Chmmr – Reference to Star Control