"Ageless Souls: Desert Heart"
By COHugh

NOTE 1:

Before I begin, I must thank the people with whom I have discussed some of the various plot elements you will see in this story, amongst them MonkeyMan8, Lunatic Jedi, Ntsc, and others. Without their insight, I might not have ever come up with some of the interesting plot twists you are about to read. To all of those responsible and my fans, thank you. - COHugh/Dave

NOTE 2:

As with my other stories posted on this site, formatting changes had to be made in order to denote scene changes and so that you know a robot is speaking telepathically with its pilot.

"Atropos! Lachesis! Clotho!"

The three pilots of the core robots replied in unison, "Right!" Like vultures, they quickly surrounded the stunned Zinv unit, restraining him as their leader had ordered prior to the mission's beginning.

Dr. Sanada shouted over the comlink, "Dee! You're the closest one to Kazuki; do you think you can get over there and save him?"

Dee winced as the shell exploded near her and Persephone. Quickly studying the situation, she shook her head. "I can get there, but I don't think I'll make it before..."

The dark unit that appeared upon the battlefield shocked the entire assembled forces. From the few exposed parts remaining on its surface, they could tell that it once was Unit One. The horrific creature that stood before them now, however, was not of Earthly origin. Dee stared in horror, realizing what was standing before Kazuki.

"Himc!"

Her core robot roared and sprang to life, charging at full speed towards the scene in a hopeless attempt to save Kazuki. Mitsuki Yotsuga, shaking the dazed look off of her face, followed suit. Scanning the battlefield, she knew that there was no way she'd reach Kazuki before Mitsuki was done with him, but she had to try. She had to save her husband.

Kazuki's voice could be heard over the intercom. "M-M-M-Mitsuki?"

A cold voice that was instantly recognized as Ms. Ra spoke, "Yes, Kazuki- kun. It is I, my dear sweet lover." The atrocity moved towards Zinv, who was struggling against the three units holding him against the asteroid with no success. It gently reached over and brushed his cheek, it's cold dark fingers grating against Zinv's face. "How are you feeling, my dear?"

"Mitsuki, what happened to you," Kazuki stared in horror at the black mass before him. Zinv was shouting a mile a minute in his head, cursing in some unintelligible language, but basically telling him to move and move quickly. Unfortunately, his former comrades were not going to allow this.

Ms. Ra's cold laugh could be heard over the comlink. "My dear Kazuki-kun, I was granted with a gift. Hera and I merely wish to give you this gift as well." Hartzenen, now known as Hera, moved closer to Zinv, the distance becoming uncomfortable.

"W-What are you doing, Mitsuki," Kazuki began to panic; unable to silence the screams Zinv was yelling in his mind and unable to escape. He struggled with all his might, even releasing the light hawk wings that had spared him so many times before, but to no avail. He wasn't going to be moving unless Hera wanted him to.

"My lover, you do not understand... You should rejoice, not fear what I am to give you. Here, let me show you," Hera moved closer to Zinv, the distance between the two mere inches now.

"Stop calling me that! I don't belong to you, Ms. Ra!"

"My, my! So feisty! We shall just have to see what you think after this," Hera closed the small distance between her and Zinv.

Dee screamed in horror as the two core robots locked lips. Unlike the others, she could see the virus being loaded into Zinv's systems. It course through the contact of the lips, spreading quickly throughout his body. The three core robots that had been restraining Zinv released him and moved back a safe distance to watch. Hera, her gift delivered, joined them, the pilot's smile cool and deceitful.

Zinv began clawing at his head and body. Strange pulses could be observed rising and falling along his skin and Kazuki's screams of horror and pain could be heard by anyone on the open channel. Mitsuki Yotsuga stared in disbelief as her lover lay on the asteroid's surface writhing in agony. Her ETA was too long. At this rate, he might be dead before she could reach him.

Dr. Sanada's worried voice came through the com, "Mitsuki! Dee! Zinv's systems are going critical! Get out of there, now!"

"But dad, I can't leave him," Mitsuki's pleas barely broke through her tears.

"You must! If you don't, you might die!"

"I don't care!" Katana roared, echoing the sentiment before springing forward at a surprising speed toward their injured mates.

Dee also continued approaching the ailing core robot, tears rolling down her face. The others had no idea what was happening to Kazuki and Zinv, but somehow deep down she knew. Zinv was becoming one of them, one of the enemies.

A voice entered Dee's mind, "Help... Me... K-Ku..."

Dee screamed in shock. Somehow she knew it was Zinv, but how was he talking to her? He could only talk to Kazuki directly.

Zinv: "Save him. Save Kazuki."

Zinv stopped clawing at his body and looked towards Unit Three, which was still speeding towards them. The moment of shared thought was apparent between the two. Dee depressurized the cockpit of her core robot and opened the doors, accelerating faster than any of the tests had said her robot could go.

Zinv, with his last ounce of strength, plunged his hand into his own chest, removing the screaming pilot from within. Spotting Persephone as she sped past the four enemy units, he aimed and threw the pilot out into the unforgiving void of space, praying that she would reach his brother before the others would.

Ms. Ra stared in disbelief for a moment, but quickly gathered her wits about her. "Seize that pilot!"

The three units replied in unison, "Right," and began speeding towards him and Unit Three. They smiled with eagerness at first, but quickly realized they would not make it before the enemy unit.

Persephone's outstretched hand caught Kazuki and quickly brought him into her open chest plate before resealing the hatch. His screaming had subsided slightly, but he was still thrashing around violently and speaking in a language Dee had not heard in a long time.

Zinv: "Get out of here. Now."

Dee shouted over the intercom, "Mitsuki, I have him, retreat!"

"Roger!"

The engines on Dee's core robot fired, propelling her past her pursuers who spun around to follow. The dark object looming before her was the only obstacle in her path.

"Release Kazuki-kun and I might allow you to live, my precious little Dee," Ms. Ra spoke softly, but the edge was still apparent in her voice.

"Never!"

"Then you shall die painfully." The Himc/Core Robot crossbreed's eyes glowed a bright red, it's black arm rising to attack.

Suddenly, Zinv began glowing, the hue coloring the surrounding area in a strange reddish-orange.

Zinv: "Do it. You know you still can."

"I can't! I don't remember how!"

Zinv: "It is buried deep within your mind. You can do it. Believe in yourself, Kumu."

Dee closed her eyes and began focusing on a place, any place, far away from where they were currently. As she did so, the enemy pilots and the crew of the artifact ship alike were amazed as the first human-made core robot sprouted light hawk wings. The core robot's arms crossed its chest and its head lowered. A green sphere emerged from Persephone and surrounded her entire body. The space around her began distorting, rippling like waves on an ocean shore. The image of the core robot began distorting as well, finally fading from view just before a large blast from Zinv's location was fired.

The four enemy pilots screamed in agony, but were drowned out by the interference from Zinv's blast.

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The soft green haze that surrounded Persephone and her crew soothed Dee. Forgetting momentarily the war going on around her, she began to remember a place she had visited long ago and wished she could see it again.

The green haze began to dissipate, revealing a now familiar black void. Dee began scanning the radar for any signs of where they were, but was unable to get a direct fix on the artifact ship or Mitsuki Yotsuga's core robot. In fact, she didn't detect any asteroids for thousands of kilometers.

As Persephone turned in space, Dee saw the reason why.

They were orbiting a planet, but not just any planet. It was the planet she had envisioned. What was this place and why was it so important?

The image before her began to flicker and faded away. A small alarm informed her that the core robot's power was almost completely drained. Whatever she just did apparently drained the main battery and the reserves. It would be hours before Persephone would recharge enough to be able to fight again.

Unfortunately, gravity had other plans for her. As they drifted closer and closer to the planet, Dee strapped Kazuki down to her seat as best she could, securing herself to it as well. Normally, she would have enjoyed such an experience, but this was no time for such things.

Persephone began shaking as she came into contact with the atmosphere. Dee was not concerned with the atmosphere of the planet, but the thought of an impact from reentry frightened her immensely. She closed her eyes and hung onto Kazuki, praying that some miracle would spare them both.

As they fell, the core robot turned its body slightly. Dee assumed it was going to absorb most of the impact with its back and thanked it quietly for its service to her.

Suddenly, the jets on Persephone's backfired, slowing the mass enough to bring it out of terminal velocity. The robot must have saved enough energy to protect her crew. They would be spared, but Persephone...

The hard slam onto the surface prevented Dee from continuing this line of thought. As her and Kazuki's body flew forward, her head slammed against the hatch, knocking her unconscious.

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"So, do you think it's salvageable?"

"Yeah, it looks like it's just some superficial damage to the backside. I think we could sell some of the parts for scrap down in Edos. Get up here and help me with the hatch. The lock isn't functioning and we're going to have to pry it open."

The young man climbed up obediently and helped his friend pull on one side of the cockpit door. "I've never seen a core robot like this one before. It must be a new Elev model."

His friend shook his head no. "Nah, it's too crude to be from the Elev. Must be an old hunk of junk some Adome thought would win against a Himc, poor sap."

The metal finally giving way, the two pulled away the door and peered inside, hoping that the stench from the dead pilot's body would have aired out by this time. As their eyes adjusted, they noticed the two pilots. The Adome was no surprise despite his clothing. They had seen many of their kind lost in this fashion. The other, however, was another matter.

"It's an Elev! What's an Elev doing with an Adome," the younger of the two asked his elder friend, who had turned quite pale.

"T-T-That's no normal Elev. It's a D-D-D..."

"It's a what?"

The elder had begun backing away from the cockpit, wishing to put as much distance between him and the atrocious being before him as possible.

"What is it, Gan?"

The Adome hopped into their transport vessel and shouted back to his friend, "Get in here, now! We're leaving!"

"But why! This robot is worth five hundred dulkars at least!"

"That other pilot makes the price too high. Let's go!"

The younger, not wishing to hike for days in the desert alone, began climbing down. As he approached the vehicle, he asked his scared companion, "Who is she?"

"What... What is she," Gan corrected him.

Sighing, he continued, "Fine! 'What' is she?"

"She's a Daughter of Kumu."

The younger man paled at the realization, muttering quietly, "Let's get out of here, now!" The two sped away from the craft, putting as much distance as possible between them and the abomination that lay within the core robot.

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Dee slowly opened her eyes. The full moon in the night sky was clearly visible through a strange hole in Persephone's main hatch. Quickly remembering her situation, she checked Kazuki for injuries. He seemed fine, but was clearly hallucinating. He continued calling for Mitsuki and Zinv and would throw his arms up every now and then, but he was physically sound. Dee then turned her attention towards the emergency supplies.

Most of the supplies had been damaged in the crash landing, but some of the water and food was still consumable. The first aid kit had definitely seen better days, but would suffice for the time being until they could be rescued.

A soft orange glow caught her eye. Peeking out of the freshly created hole in the hatch, she saw the gathering of torches around Persephone. Hushed murmurs of some ancient tongue she barely recognized were spreading amongst the crowd that surrounded her.

Dee hesitated, but decided that the only way to help Kazuki was to make contact with them. Climbing fully out of the cockpit, Dee stood on top of the remaining hatch door and removed her helmet, shaking her hair slightly to try and loosen it a little. The crowd became quite loud as she did this; multiple shouts and even the sounds of a few women fainting reached Dee's ears.

Looking out over the assembled crowd, she tried to pick out a leader, but could not find one. She finally just stated to any interested party, "Um... Hello. I'm Dee Sanada. I come from Earth. I'm sorry if I landed on your village or something, but it was not intentional. I will help with any repairs if need-be."

The crowd just stared at her, a look of fear on their faces.

"... Or not. Anyway, I have an injured friend who needs immediate medical attention," Dee moved towards the cockpit to remove Kazuki, only to hear the uproar from the assembled mass.

Instantly, five men sprang onto Persephone and grabbed Dee. A sixth entered the cockpit and removed Kazuki, slinging the pilot over his shoulder. Dee began struggling with her captors, trying to break free of their grip.

"I come in peace! Let me go!"

The entire crowd parted as Dee passed them, some of the younger children spitting on her as she passed. The women, of whom there were few, huddled away from her, the fear most apparent in their eyes.

As she quickly saw their eyes, Dee recognized the purple hue in some of them as similar to her own. The man carrying Kazuki carefully set him down next to the group of women. They swarmed around him and began removing his uniform, checking him for any injuries.

A blow to the stomach brought Dee back to the fact that she was being captured. As they drug her through the desert, Dee screamed, "Where are you taking me? I demand to speak to someone in charge! Why are you doing this?"

Her cries were met with silence. Eventually, she stopped screaming and struggling, thankful that they were at least apparently going to help Kazuki. The dunes seemed unrelenting, but the kidnappers finally reached a small village approximately two hours after Dee was forced to leave Persephone. She could hear the various shouts from her captors, but still had trouble understanding their words. The main word that for some reason struck a cord with her was 'abomenun'. Dee had a gut feeling it meant something bad and referred to her directly.

They brought her to a small hut in the center of town. Inside, a large indigenous rock sat in the center of the otherwise empty room. A pair of shackle-like devices were attached to the rock and were currently being opened by two of her assailants. It was obvious to Dee that she was in some sort of prison, but why were they doing this? She had done nothing to them to warrant such treatment.

She began dragging her feet, begging to be let go or to at least see Kazuki. Her requests fell on deaf ears. The men shackled Dee to the rock and left the room. Dee, battered and exhausted by the ordeal, was now left alone in the strange cell.

Her nose began to itch.

As she reached over to scratch it, the arm restraint held her hand a good distance away. She tried leaning her head against the rock, but only received a scratch on her face as a reward. Dee tried to ignore it, but the itch continued. Unable to do anything else and feeling more than a little hopeless, Dee began to sob until she finally drifted to sleep...

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Gan peeked through the flap, squinting and trying to make out the form beyond. "Hey Ablo, I think it's asleep," he whispered to his friend, who nervously shuffled behind him. It had taken Gan two days, but finally his morbid curiosity had overcome his initial fear of the thing they had found out in the desert.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah! Let's go," Gan pushed the flap back and began walking into the makeshift prison.

Ablo grabbed his arm, "I don't think this is such a good idea. What if it carries the Liquidator?"

Gan rolled his eyes at his younger companion. "If she did we'd be dead by now, genius."

"Ah, this is true, Ablo considered this for a moment, letting go of his friend's arm. This allowed Gan to proceed into the poorly lit tent unabated. "Wait for me!"

Gan quickly silenced his companion's loud whisper. When they were children, the elders told them of the strange powers that Daughters of Kumu possessed. While Gan didn't necessarily believe any of these stories, it was always better to err on the side of safety. The quieter they could be, the better. The last thing they needed was a conscious Elev that could wreak havoc in their minds or some other such horror.

It stirred slightly, sniffling before drifting back to sleep.

Gan removed his hand from his chest, which he had placed there to prevent his heart from leaping from it. Continuing to close the gap very slowly, they both eyed it suspiciously. Sure, it seemed attractive enough, but they knew what it was capable of.

"Do you think it knows we're here," Ablo, his voice shaking, queried.

"It will if you keep talking."

"Oh, sorry."

"Shut up!"

"Right!"

Gan growled softly. Sometimes he wished that he wasn't the youngest adult of the tribe. All the others his age had gone off to Edos to join the Corp and had not returned home since. He would have gone with them, but he was sick and couldn't handle the ride to town. Now he was stuck here, playing big brother to Ablo and the remaining children of the tribe.

He tiptoed over to the imprisoned subject, watching it breath the dry desert air deeply. At this distance, it seemed like the Adome women. If it weren't for the green hair and the deep purple hue of her eyes, he would have found it very attractive. He finally understood why the Adome from the original Edenora had allowed some of them into their homes. Of course, if they had known what the green-haired vixens had planned for them, they would have killed them all on the spot and burned the bodies in a great pyre.

Its eyes opened and locked onto his. The fear in its eyes seemed to match the fear that it could see in his. As it spoke, Gan tilted his head. The words made no sense to him at all. He turned to ask his friend, but one look at Ablo, who had paled greatly and was obviously having trouble remaining upright, told Gan that he had no clue.