NOTE: This story is based in the post-Robotech future timeline of The Third Invid War, a supplement created by Dave Deitrich and Chris Meadows to the Palladium Robotech role-playing games. As such, it is only a "possible" or potential future to the Robotech series and should not be an impediment to the creation of other possible futures after the end of the series as stated in the show.
ROBOTECH is the property of and copyrighted by Harmony Gold, whoeverelse, blah blah blah, and the Palladium RPG games are the property of andcopyrighted by Kevin Siembeida and Palladium as well as Harmony Gold. The Third Invid War is the creation of Dave Deitrich and Chris Meadows, and is strictly a not for profit RPG fan supplement, so the above two organizations don't go after them. Likewise, this fanfiction is also not for profit, so the above two organizations don't go after me. None of the events or persons contained within this fanfiction are meant to have any relation to existing persons, organizations, or events, and any resemblance is completely coincidental. Music quotes and lyrics are likewise copyrighted to their respective creators.
A Story of the
Third Invid War
The Attack Scout plummeted.
One claw lashed out, attempting to gut the figure harrying it in midair. The attacker side-slipped, its jets roaring, and then dropped for the ground, some five hundred feet away. The Scout, employing its simple rationale of attack and pursuit, followed, seemingly pinning the harrier between it and its sibling scout roaring up to deal with the armored, flying gadfly.
The Invid Attack Scout never came in patrols of less than three mecha. However, the third, having been precipitately made into shards of alloy and atomized plasma by a well-placed GR missile, was currently decorating several hundred square feet of landscape and was in no further condition to fight.
The rising Scout's plasma cannons began to glow. At that moment, the object
it intended to blaze into free elements was abruptly no longer there.
The VR-135 battlesuit gunned to full power, squirting out through the converging mecha like a grapeseed. The plasma blasts, instead of obliterating it, were unleashed on its own patrolmate.
The Invid pilot's wailing deathscream was heard by the other Scout's mind for
only a second before the Scout was turned into a hail of raining ceramic
debris. The remaining Scout whipped up through the remnants of the blast,
charring its armor as it flipped through the air, temporarily unmade by the telempathtic sensations of the other Invid's destruction.
Above it, the occupant of the Cyclone armor hovered, one arm tracking it with remorseless precision. It was only a matter of a couple seconds before the
Scout recovered its senses and whipped back toward the mecha-clad human
figure, single-mindedly intent on the obliteration of its companion's killer.
The vulnerable sensor eye of the mecha became open for only the fraction of a second, but it was long enough for the Forager pilot.
The blast spat home, hammering through crystal, flesh, blood and alloy.
For the eighty-fourth time since 2039 Sera, former Princess Royal of the Invid, killed her own kind.
The sun had worked its way significantly further west before a figure appeared on the dirt track leading into a collection of accumulated clapboard, plywood, old mecha plating and occasional sound construction housing three or so dozen human souls.
It was wheeling an olive-drab patterned vehicle that looked to the untrained eye like a motorcycle of the last century, and was walled off from the outer world by armor plating and helmet of the same shade. It was obviously not enjoying the experience; the slender figure's steps dragged and in the summery heat a fine rain of sweat was dripping off its hands and neck, spattering the red Arkansas dust with dark, bloody splotches in its wake. Behind the cycle, several bundles hunched in the capacious carriers attached to the back.
Slowly, as if reluctant to relinquish its momentum, the figure stopped and looked at the vista before it, sighing from underneath the lowered visor of its helmet.
"Water, anyone?" it asked of no one in particular.
It crossed some intangible line into the area, and it abruptly gained attention from numerous eyes within the shacks, eating their sparse dinners and trying to hide from the sun's lowering hammer. There was some movement.
A scrawny dog paced the trudging alloy boots of the newcomer, waiting for a
moment's opening to lift its leg on the pristine wheels of the vehicle, but then lost hope as the armored figure pushing it resumed its metronome trudge further into the hamlet.
Here, there was some more activity, particularly around a rare brick building that in some obscure way immediately identified itself as a bar.
The figure stopped, its posture picking up for a brief second, then wheeled itself over. After proceeding to install the necessary anti-theft precautions, the cycle's owner seemed to brace itself, and reached hands up to remove the helmet.
Drops literally flew as it shook its head like a dog upon slurping the helmet off its soaked hair, and then the head resolved itself.
The hair was brown, brushing the shoulders, and even laden with sweat had a tendency to style itself into an odd upsweep at the end. Inexplicably, something about the hairstyle indicated that it was completely natural and not any concession to vanity. However, the glimpses of suspicious brown stains on forehead and cheeks attested to otherwise for its color.
The person underneath it sighed in relief, then fumbled around until it found a pair of sunglasses. Slipping on the slightly scratched lenses, the figure heaved another sigh of relief, and then lifted its face to the pitiless yellowing gaze of Sol.
Underneath the glasses, the face was oval and indisputably female, as was the slender body that clumsily fumbled out of its torso armor and forearm shields and dripped all over the ground even despite the CVR bodysuit. An H-90 Gallant was produced with the intention of caution. Then, after the upper half of the CVR was secured to the bike, the young woman squared her shoulders again and walked inside.
"You want who?" The bartender used his rag to wipe perspiration off of his forehead and looked at the newcomer dubiously before using the same rag to wipe the bar. She looked down with a lip slightly curled in disgust. She was also being considered to various degrees of lust, curiosity, boredom, and hostility by the three or four other patrons that had decided to brave the airless heat of the interior. She knew it, and didn't like it very much, but the obvious questioning couldn't be helped. In her time on the road, she had discovered the common drinking establishment was the single best means of getting gossip.
Sighing, she began to explain again.
"Thank you so very much," the grateful mother beamed. The little boy sniffled, his tears lessening as the anaesthetic kicked in. He had protested in ear-piercing terms against the lancing of his foot to drain the infection that had come on the heels of cutting his instep with a broken bottle. Only now was he beginning to realize that the week-old hurt felt better.
The medic smiled as she found a clean piece of gauze and began to wrap the
small appendage. "You don't need to thank me. Just make sure he doesn't walk
around on that foot for a couple of days, and use the antiseptic and antibiotic I gave you. You're very lucky it wasn't any worse." The other woman nodded fervently, remembering her son had refused to let her know he had been walking around barefoot in the road until the pain was too great.
After mother and child left, the remaining woman's shoulders sagged, the heat
inside oppressive even with the wheezing help of the twenty-year-old fan
sitting in the small room. Making a face, she began to clean up her ad hoc operation--it had been a messy business--and thought longingly of showers. Nice cool showers, with a lot of water, enough to last a week. She cut off that train of thought when the logistics got too impossible.
When done, she raked wisps of faintly fuschia red hair out of her face and thought about redoing the french braid that seemed to be coming undone as she wandered from the room into the darkening main room of her place in the village's only boarding house. She knew full well she was one of the more fortunate dwellers in the place, but it still felt like a furnace. Maybe she could get away with opening a few windows and the door...
She had to fight one open, grunting against a couple years worth of rust. Exhausted, she moved to the door, carrying a brick with her as she did to prop it open.
She squealed the door open, and the brick dropped onto the wooden floor with a
boom from her nerveless fingers.
"I have this tendency to arrive when you least want it, don't I?" the woman in the entrance asked wearily.
"What?" the medic asked blankly. "Am I hearing right?"
The figure seated opposite her at her tiny table sighed. "If you mean that I said that it's vitally important that you come with me, yes I said that. I know it sounds ridiculous, but yes, I did say that."
"It sounds ridiculous. I'll grant that."
The other sighed again. "Why do you think I covered more than a hundred miles in three days? A--Marlene, I truly think your life is in serious danger."
"It's very nice you finally remembered my name, Sera, but as I recall a few years ago you also thought it was vitally important to save me from myself." Marlene's tone was dry, but she regretted it as soon as she saw the partially armored figure wince.
"It backfired, didn't it?" Sera surveyed her lap. Marlene gave her the grace of not answering the rhetorical question.
"Sera, I haven't seen anyone I've known for three years now until you, and I haven't done anything to attract attention. I've been doing what I can to help people, but I've done nothing to directly fight them. Are you certain?"
The other woman sighed. "Can I remove these filthy glasses? I can't see in here." When Marlene nodded, the other brought up her hands took the tinted lenses off, blinked, and rubbed her eyes.
The uncovered eyes that looked back up were the color of new rubies, a color that suggested an overexposed photograph but was the actual pigment of the iris. Somehow, it did not look demonic on her. It was not a color that had ever been in the Terran gene pool.
She looks terrible, Marlene thought. Although Sera retained the appearance of an athletic human female in her early twenties, the years of war since the second Invid occupation had taken their toll. While she retained her exotic, otherworldly beauty, it was blurred and worn. The eyes were puffed with fatigue and not near enough sleep, and there were fine lines evident around her eyes and mouth that no aging had carved.
She had the hunted look that was the communal expression of every resistance fighter these days; it was impossible to resent her sudden appearance when Marlene knew Sera had embraced the very agenda she had once tried to repress.
And furthermore, she seemed completely sincere.
"I swear, Sera, I've done nothing to get the Invid after me. Are you suggesting that I should just drop everything and follow you on some wild goose chase so I can get shot at by Attack Scouts? What if it's only a false alarm of yours?"
The red eyes flashed.
"Face it, Marlene. How many times in the past couple years has the Invid followed you? Any patterns of attacks or Invid mecha in your path?"
Marlene's eyes went wide. There was a knowing nod from the other.
"I thought it was only me," Marlene said weakly.
Sera shook her head. "Don't think so. I've had my share of encounters. Do
the locals know what you are?"
Marlene shook her head. Sera looked over, and her features softened.
"Ariel, I know how much you want to forget, to ignore that portion of yourself. But you can't. The Invid won't. And you may cause perfectly innocent people to suffer for it.
"I have a great deal of reason to think that the Invid are past just ignoring us even if we leave well alone. In the past year or so--attacks followed me wherever I went. It was months before I realized it was systematic. I've been on the run for more than a year now. And I don't think you ought to risk the lives of these people gambling. But--it's your choice. I just thought you should have known."
The other woman's soft russet eyes glanced down.
"I've--wandered a lot, Sera. And occasionally--there were close calls. I suppose--I was trying to ignore the facts--I'm very good at doing that, you know."
Sera looked at her, then shook her head. "You're not the only one, Ariel."
The fragilely lovely face framed by the flame hair stiffened, eyes wounded.
"Sera," she said with finality, "my name is Marlene."
"I still don't know why I'm doing this."
"Because you know that for once I'm right, that's why. Plus nobody wants to be responsible for a massacre." Sera took out the harshness of the words with a self-deprecating chuckle pitched above the rumble of her Forager Cyclone.
She'd removed her helmet to take advantage of the wind of their passage, and her dyed hair, washed and dried, whipped in the wind. Sera had grown it a lot since the beginning of the war, but somehow, Marlene was tickled to admit, it resolutely kept to the upsweep of Sera's old hair length to what degree it could. Marlene, arms around her waist, could see at least half a centimeter of light green at the roots.
The air in her face below the protective goggles felt like the heat from an oven. Even though it was at least ninety degrees Fahrenheit in the humming Arkansas countryside, she wore the old orange jacket given to her by Rook Bartley years ago in order to protect herself from the bugs and nettles that whipped into them as they roared through the scrubby meadows and flying red dust of high summer.
They were now several hours out from where they had met. Somehow, Sera had convinced her; after Sera had thankfully accepted a cold bath and dinner, and a fitful sleep in the hot, sticky darkness (the single thing Marlene was grateful to her genes for was that mosquitoes somehow knew Invid blood wasn't tasty), Marlene had quietly packed what useful belongings she could take in the predawn and stowed them in the VR-135's carrier. The rest she had written a note for and left on the table, hopefully delegating her belongings among those of the village that needed them the most.
And now, here they were. She tried to lick grit from her teeth and not think about the memories conjured up by Sera's sudden appearance on her doorstep.
They hadn't spoken much, and Marlene suspected Sera was feeling guilty about disrupting her peace. In an effort to start conversation, Marlene ticked over numerous topics, forcing a compromise between what she really wanted to find out and the possibility of hurting Sera's feelings.
"Sera--do you know how Lunk and Annie are doing?" she shouted.
The other woman startled. "What?" Then it sank in, and she began to chuckle. "Oh, them. Well, when I last saw them, they were still very much alive, and that was about a year ago. When did you see them last?"
"Three years. I went off on my own when they wanted to work more closely with the resistance. I figured I might put them--at risk. I'm not very good at fighting."
She could feel Sera's grin. "Well, you ought to know Lunk's done a fine job of regaining his self-respect. Mostly thanks to me reaching up and hanging from his collar while screaming in his face that he hadn't much to go on, considering I was doing precisely the same thing he was and I had some embarrassing personal questions to ask myself on top of it. That, and Annie was doing a share with me, playing little sister and all." Sera's voice turned as thoughtful as it could over the engine noise. "You know, she's really fairly attractive as an adult, as humans go. Plus, she's a good rabble-rouser. I suspect that's part of the reason we had to split up. We were just too tempting a target to the loyalists."
"Well, Annie was always good at running her mouth," Marlene conceded, getting another laugh from the front seat.
"And flinging snowballs. Never have let her live that down ever since. As for anyone else...
"Rook and Rand--rumors only. Ever since that business with Kosmas, may his hide be flayed in his Hell, I haven't seen anything of those two. I understand, though, that that explosion marked Rook up. She--we--were lucky to get out alive, and that's the plain fact.
"That's discounting the--ungh" the Cyclone lumped over a ravine--causing a terrified scream from Marlene-- "fact that the Invid methods..." She trailed off.
"The Invid methods?"
"A sudden taste for randomly attacking towns. Unsettling types of mecha. Actively consorting with humans and using them as mercenaries. I could go
into an entire list, Ariel--"
"That's not the behavior I know, and you know that I ought to know."
"Sera." The other woman's head nodded. "Tell me--you haven't felt her either. Have you?"
There was a lengthy silence, as they jounced on.
"No," the once-Princess of the Invid admitted. "No I haven't. In the whole six years, I haven't felt the Regis."
Marlene didn't elaborate on the staggering pain she felt when she attempted to find the Invid collective mind, which made it near impossible for her to find out that fact.
It wasn't that she still rejected the fact she had come to awareness full-grown and nude in a wrecked house, completely ignorant that she was the very race and blood she was taught to fear--although that was certainly part of it. It was that she simply could not do it without experiencing tortures she would not have visited on anyone, regardless of race.
Sera had once posited that the roughness of the birth of the Invid Simulagent Ariel had had something to do with the telltale seizures she had experienced when Invid came near. It was possible that the ability that allowed an individual Invid to act as a portion of the whole Invid was damaged as she'd come to life. Somehow, the ability to detect others of the race had not only been shoved perpetually open, but was so malformed, the act of hearing Invid thoughts was like an intolerable noise.
Ever since then, the presence of Invid telepathic output literally sent Marlene to her knees in agony.
Sometimes, she wondered if what she had accomplished in the skies above Reflex Point had been the act of a woman driven to the edge of desperation and beyond, or perhaps just an illusion. Never since had she been able to duplicate that act. And nor had she wanted to. Doing something so patently inhuman had robbed her of the man she had come to love, perhaps forever.
Scott... Marlene thought, the word a lament.
"No, I haven't," Sera repeated as though to herself. "Whatever part She has in the current occupation, She is not doing it directly. And I haven't the faintest idea who or what is actually coordinating the Invid." She trailed off. "But whomever has control is...uncommonly good at... locating the rebels."
"Have you felt anything, Sera?"
The dyed head shook. "Not...as such."
"Nothing more than the others."
"The White Rose?" Sera snorted at the name.
"Whichever Solugi coined that term read a little too much Earth history. Probably that Kayagh character over in Illinois. But yes. The renegades."
"Nothing more than..."
"What you probably know. We'd know the Queen-Mother from a parsec off. What's running things....isn't her. There's no single individual. But the glimpses I sometimes get, late at night, in bed..." Sera's voice faltered, and a shiver transmitted itself to the red-headed woman even through Sera's combat armor and the Cyclone's jouncing, "are wrong."
"I know, Sera. Trust me, I know already."
Sera chewed on the biscuit, her eyebrows jumping up.
"These are pretty good. I didn't know you'd learned to cook."
"I did. It helps with getting things if people like what goods you have to make." Marlene tucked up her legs underneath her, her eyes surveying the scene they were in. In the intervening time, they had come north, for no other reason than it had been the direction Sera had been going in when she had picked up Marlene. Besides, the high rolling hills made it difficult for Invid sensors to penetrate.
Sera grunted, licking crumbs off her fingers. "Good for you. Lunk can cook, Rook could cook, even Rand of all people could cook. I never seemed to get the knack. I thought it was a human thing. Did marvels on making edible things metamorphosize into carbon, but other than that..." Sera shrugged, scarlet eyes twinkling. "At least you can. I'd probably starve otherwise."
Marlene smiled, letting her dust-laden hair down in order to brush the worst of the dirt out and to rebraid it more neatly. She then sombered, her serious face still pale underneath a superficial tan. "Sera, where are we going now?"
The ex-princess did not answer for a minute or so. "I...really haven't thought of that just yet. I think I had in the back of my mind a stay with a resistance group up north called the James Gang. They'd be able to house us for a few days or so. But after that..." Sera trailed off, seeing Marlene's glare.
"So do you mean we'll have to wander around scared of the Invid for whatever period it takes until they get tired of it, if ever?" Marlene asked, incredulous. "I'd rather wait for them with a roof over my head. I've had too much running in my life..."
"Maybe we could find a group--one that's so securely ensconced that you and I could stay there for a long time. The area north of here, up by the Mississippi, is hollow with caves..." Sera fumbled. "As I know, humans in areas like that are very difficult to find." Sera poured some of her water supply into a collapsible cup. "Certainly a couple Solugi can hide too. If they'll take us. Perhaps...but what if we draw too much attention from the loyalists?"
"Maybe--maybe that's why, Sera. Maybe..." Marlene looked off into the middle distance, her knuckles rising to her lips. "Sera--do you know what we are?"
"Ariel, I've been asking that question for the better part of the decade. Charles Darwin would have a fit with us."
"Marlene!" the simulagent snapped, waving a hand in frustration. "No, no, Sera! What we are. What we represent to the resistance. To the population as a whole. Us two."
The other Solugi stared at her, her eyes wide. "Spirit of Light...that's right. What we are."
"We're symbols, Sera."
Sera nodded blankly. "We're symbols. We're proof we can transcend prejudices. That Human and Invid can Because of what we did during the last occupation...and this one...we've become a rallying point for the entire resistance movement." Sera's hands were trembling as she folded them around her cup. "What do you want to suppose that we're the single biggest reason so many other Solugi defected?" Her eyes closed. "And what do you do to something that powerful a rallying point if it gets in your way? You eliminate it." Her voice shook. "I had years to think that. Why did I never?"
Marlene looked solemnly at her. "For the same reason I refused to believe I wasn't like my friends, until I saw the evidence on my fingers, Sera. It's that simple."
They sat for a while, Sera trying to absorb the information.
Marlene looked on, knowing that amid the numerous hurts Sera was already suffering, one was still open and bleeding; not just the fact Sera had become fratricide and traitor to her kind, not just the constant grind of fear, not the burden of this new knowledge. She was willing to touch on all that, but the biggest pain hurt too much to get near.
Not once had Sera mentioned Lancer.
Marlene rubbed her temples, trying to eliminate the ugly dull throb there all this was giving her.
It was an exceptionally nasty specimen, thanks to all the moral thought going on, and getting worse too. In fact, it almost felt like...
She groaned, and then wailed as she clutched her head, doubling over.
Sera was already up. "Ariel! What..."
"Get the Cyclone! QUICK!" the simulagent choked out. Had she been capable of going any paler, Sera would have. In two seconds flat, she was helmeted and on the mecha, dragging Marlene after her.
Never before had Sera been so glad that the Forager was capable of running on fusion; the engines came alive and the two women were rocketed away from their stopping point, spurting a cloud of ocher dust behind.
Marlene gritted her teeth against the agony of the Invid hivesong so hard that a small trickle of green appeared on an otherwise perfectly human lip as the Cyclone jarred over stones and slashed through underbrush, the armor on Sera sparing Marlene the worst of the branch-whipping, but raising welts all the same.
Sera for her own part concentrated on nothing but clean, pure intent; the sheer strength of emotional thought sometimes involuntarily gave her position away to patrols. As she was, there was nothing for the Invid to latch on even had it or they been able to telepathically find the Solugi's thoughts without her consent. Lancer had taught her well...
Pain there. She brutally shoved the memory of him aside and twisted the gas handle. Marlene's arms around her tightened as the mecha leapt like a fish down an embankment.
Behind them, a tree erupted into ash and flames, and an Attack Scout plummeted
Sera gritted her teeth. No hope for it now...
"Get off!" she shouted at her passenger, and activated the protoculture engines.
Sera slowed for a fraction of a second, and Marlene leapt.
She landed hard, knocking the wind out, her hand scraped, her body bruised from the rock she'd partially landed on, but otherwise unharmed. She rolled into the underbrush as the other two Scouts of the detachment whipped past with a slap of hot wind, their entire attention on the allure of Sera's protoculture output.
Sera was already several hundred yards away, with enough clearance, and she flipped on the transmode switch.
She lurched into the air: the lightning reflexes of a chosen daughter of the Regis and alteration to the Forager's mechamorph controls enabled the motorcycle to shift and enfold the humanoid Invid's form in only two-and-a-half seconds instead of the usual five. It was barely in time; the Cyclone battloid shot upward as the Scout blasted through the area where she had been, the plasma cannons siding its eye roaring. Its brethren followed and blasted past, folded in attack configuration. They whipped past the Cyclone, than began to turn back toward it, evidently intending to catch Sera between them.
Sera snorted in detached contempt. Did they never learn? Of course, they were only iigaari...
The last Scout most likely did not anticipate Sera's actual blasting for it at the last moment. Fumbling, it reached up a claw to protect its vulnerable eye, but the GR missile had already found its mark. A spurt of foul-smelling emerald blood, a last telepathic cry, and the mecha obliged gravity, erupting in a lurid fireball as it impacted the ground.
The others were marginally cleverer; they broke off their run and spun away, seeming to slow with distance. Then, imperceptibly, their speed picked up as they completed their arc and began to come back at her.
"Kara Yar!" Sera growled, and gunned her jets. Although she did not notice it, her cheeks were slick with her tears.
Below, Marlene rubbed at the dark green droplets beading where her skin had torn, beads of sweat trickling down her high forehead as she tried to cope with the intolerable shrilling in her head.
Sera twisted around, matador to a pair of surrealistic bulls, as the Attack Scouts slashed by so close the impact of their passing was like a body blow. Grunting from the slap of air, she gunned the rockets and shot up, the ground whirling crazily below like a vast lumpy carousel.
Somehow, the Scouts' simple minds were still convinced their tearing speed could deal with their tormentor; the reality was that their inertia kept them from achieving the same maneuverability as the far slower Cyclone. The balance of abilities kept either side from scoring an actual hit. Sera knew that she was able to deal with the next few passes if their tactics didn't change but once she got tired, one slip, and she would probably be joining her twin in whatever unlovely afterlife there was for their chimerical kind. And considering her late brother and her recent lifestyle choices, meeting Corg was something she definitely could put off.
She had no realistic resort except to use a tactic that she hated above all words. It almost always worked--but the filthiness she felt afterward almost made her wonder whether it was worth it.
The Scouts had circled back for another run at her. Taking in a breath, she concentrated.
One jerked in shock, wavering in flight. It had been happily concentrating on obliterating a human in human mecha; the last thing it had expected was a member of the Royals, out of nowhere, telepathically ordering otherwise. While it tried to cope with the conflicting information and was in its way struggling with the reasons why this might be, its attention momentarily left the hovering Cyclone Battloid. That confusion transmitted some of itself to its mate via the hive-bond, which similarly drew its focus..
They had a very short time to deliberate.
Two explosions roared through the Southern countryside, and the discussion ended. Below, Marlene sighed in overwhelming relief, as peace renewed its hold in her skull.
Sera looked on the raining pieces of her kindred, clammy-skinned and sick.
Eighty-five. Eighty-six. Eighty-seven...
Marlene ran up to the Battloid as it lit on the ground and peeled away, revealing a sagging figure within. Sera bent down and quickly shut off the protoculture radiation to prevent it from attracting other patrols, then folded, gasping from the adrenalin drop after the skirmish.
"Sera! Are you..."
"I'm fine. I'm fine," Sera said blankly, her eyes glazed, the interior of her own mind telling her another story. Her coverall and hair was wringing wet, and she shivered as the last of the battle-fever dribbled away to be replaced by exhaustion. "We've got to move before too long...but...I have to...rest. Just a second." With shaking fingers, she removed her armor. "Probably need to get the things back at the stop site, wherever that is..."
"We have to move."
"Not just yet, Ariel."
"MarLEEEENNEE!" the simualgent screeched, her patience exhausted. Sera winced.
"Ooops. They didn't send anything back to the hive, and patrols are pretty infrequent in areas like this. Please." The armored boots came off next, as Sera ignored Marlene's indignant look. Mother, she was too Human by far--how would she be able to understand what Sera had done to save their lives was like bathing her insides in sewage... Protected only by a dull-green jumpsuit and a light pair of shoes, Sera began to stave off cramps by walking around like a colicky horse. Her steps were slow, mechanical.
Despite herself, Sera was deeply grateful that Marlene's lover had executed their brother above Reflex Point. Corg would have had such a field day gloating over how far Sera had sunk she'd probably have murdered the Motherless bastard herself.
There was a sudden thin sound, as a sharp pain shot up into Sera's calf. Half-dazed, she didn't notice it at first.
Marlene looked down and screamed, a noise of such utter revulsion that Sera was taken aback, even as a numbness began to spread up her leg.
Then the simulagent, her eyes wide, teeth bared in revulsion, picked up one of the CVR boots Sera had been wearing and smashed it down at Sera's calf.
The gigantic timber rattlesnake released its hold and struck, but the boot came down again and again, as it writhed.
Sera watched, the realization coldly sinking in, her leg beginning to cramp, as the arm-thick reptile futilely tried to get out from underneath Sera's foot, rattling all the while.
Then the armor came down one more time, and the viper's head exploded in a splatter of blood, bone and brains.
"Oh sh--" Marlene whimpered, forcing Sera down and making a dry retching noise as she violently kicked away the still squirming headless corpse of the snake. She jerked up Sera's pant leg. "God god god--"
Sera stared down, her heart thumping, as Marlene's attention revealed two puncture holes on her ivory skin, leaking green fluid. The rattler had hit her just above the ankle, and had had several seconds to envenom the bite. "That thing was huge. How much poison did it have?" Marlene produced a small Swiss Army knife she had kept around for such purposes, snapping out the blade.
"What?" Sera gasped. Marlene did not even bother to respond; ripping off the bottom of her shirt with her penknife, she wrapped the tourniquet just below the Solugi's knee. Then she began.
Sera gritted in pain not from Marlene's knife incising her skin. Already, agony was flaring from the wound as the poison began to work its way in. Then the x-shaped slices in the bite marks were completed, and Marlene bent her head.
It was all she could do not to gag; Invid blood at the best of times smelt like rotting vegetation, and the taste was indescribable. Still, she sucked and spat, working with ruthless vigor on the wound. Marlene did not know how rattlesnake toxin would affect a Solugi Invid, but with a human and a snake that size (good god, it looked like a python! Marlene thought. Why didn't we see it?), the bite was very bad news indeed.
It might not kill her, but it was quite possible that without treatment Sera could lose her leg.
Marlene prayed to various deities as she continued to spit the vile stuff of Sera's blood out over and over. At length, she stopped, feeling that she could do no more. Already, Sera was gritting her teeth against the pain as the venom Marlene hadn't been able to remove worked its way out from the entry point.
Marlene sprang up and dashed over to the Cyclone. Both of her prayers were answered; not only had Sera secured its cargo well, but in a couple minutes of frantic searching through her belongings, she found what she needed. However, the amount of antivenin left in the vial was hair-raisingly low.
I just hope it's enough.
Sera whimpered as the simulagent injected the remaining antivenin into her. Other than that, she made no response. She was already gone into the world of agony her careless move had brought her.
Night had fallen like a wet blanket, the only shining the tiny glow that Marlene permitted the lamp to emit. It fell on a bundle of blankets and the shivering form therein.
The antitoxin wasn't enough, Marlene thought. If only that hunter hadn't gotten himself bitten two weeks ago...
Marlene knew that even with the antivenin that there would be still some reaction; that much poison simply wasn't welcomed by the body. But in the current situation, and considering her current patient, she was gravely worried, going on terrified.
Maybe the venom had a different effect on Solugi after all, or the toxin had been more than anticipated, or she hadn't had enough of the rattlesnake antivenin in her supplies to counteract it.
Sera had shown promising signs at first. The swelling hadn't been great, and although the bite had been excruciating, it wasn't unendurable. But in the time since, the ankle had ballooned, and Sera had lapsed into delirium.
Now she lay shaking in blankets, muttering snatches of phrases in English, High Opteran, Zentraedi, and occasionally names; some that Marlene knew, and some she didn't. Currently, Sera seemed to be under the impression that she was lying wounded on a battlefield fought some years ago when she'd been in command of a human group.
Marlene herself was in pain. In terror that in her ravings her companion might attempt to contact loyalist patrols, Marlene had telepathically attempted to monitor Sera's mind to prevent such instances. Now she herself had beads of clammy sweat dewing her forehead.
I can't keep this up much longer. I can't. If only there was a decent shelter, I could check up on Sera regularly, keep her comfortable. But there isn't.
What if I sleep? Oh god, what if she takes a turn for the worse... The possibility was more than she could bear.
The thought of another Invid patrol she couldn't even contemplate.
If only there was a shelter, and help...
Cicadas screeched in their head-throbbing drone, and there was a hoot from within the woods--anyone's guess what that was. There was the thick, heavy feeling of an incoming front in the air.
Please don't let it storm. Not on top of everything else...
Hopelessly, she scanned the woods and paused, her eyes going wide.
No--it can't be.
Far off in the trees, about a mile or two--a small, yellow light.
It was undeniable. The skies had gone thickly overcast and there was no chance that it might be the moon or stars.
Marlene feverishly debated the pros and cons--she had no idea what the light was or who was making it, but the silence in her head proved that it was not Invid, or at least not loyalist. She couldn't leave Sera, but at least she was showing no immediate change. It could be Invid sympathizers, it could be friendly types, it could be Invid haters. She might get lost en route, she might find important help.
At length, Marlene said a word Scott Bernard and her old companions would have found utterly shocking from her, and stood up. Tucking the blankets around the fevered Sera, she picked up the lantern and began to make her way toward that tentative beacon.
Marlene staggered at last out of the margin of the backwoods and into the edge of the yard, exhausted. It had taken at least forty-five minutes for her to work her way through the thick growth, her eyes perpetually on that light; even despite the care she had taken, she had gained her share of scratches, most of them on her hands and spots on her face smarted as well. There had also been areas that without the lantern Marlene could have easily broken her ankle or leg in.
In addition, she had had to orient herself using Sera's position. The hurt from that combined with the chaos of Sera's hallucinations had made her into an automaton; but without, she would have become hopelessly lost. Still, she was shaking and coated with cold sweat from the experience.
But that was nothing compared to what she had yet to do.
Swallowing, she walked up to the porch of the small, unwhite-washed edifice, and set one booted foot on the boards. They gave a chilling groan.
Immediately, the night erupted with the hysterical baying of a watchdog. Marlene shrieked in terror, reflexively turned to run, and tripped. Lying there in the damp grass, she waited for a set of salivating fangs to descend.
They did not come, although the racket continued from the other side of the house. Blinking incredulously, Marlene looked up into the light. She then realized the animal must have been chained in the back, and began to giggle hysterically. She stopped as she realized that the dog's uproar had made the house's occupant or occupants stir. Remembering herself, she got back to her feet, remembering at the last moment potential scratches, and raked hair over what might be the areas. About that time, there was movement from downstairs, and a door banging open. It was the back one.
"King, quiet!" The voice was female, and melodious despite its firm tone, but the dog shut up. Biting her lip, the simulagent limped back toward the porch as the back door slammed. About the time she'd reached the top, the door there had cracked open, revealing a figure with a flashlight.
"What?--who?" the occupant murmured. Marlene licked her lips and thought of something to say with no success. The door came open wider, and she blinked as the flashlight burned into her retinas. There was a murmured apology, and the light was lowered.
"Hello? I'm sorry about that. I--good God." The woman's voice trailed of
in shock. Marlene swayed, trying to decide if it was my god-she's-bleeding-green shock or not. She realized the light wasn't quite that strong yet.
Marlene tried to see it from the other's perspective: a pallid waif of a young woman in a threadbare orange canvas jacket, clothing dirty, tattered, and torn, wide amber eyes glazed and staring, long red hair all over kingdom come. She must look like she'd been assaulted by a gang of thugs.
Yes, there'd probably be a bit of sympathetic horror there.
"Are you hurt?" the other gasped, the sincerity of her tone removing the remainders of Marlene's apprehension. Marlene, her eyes adjusted by now, could vaguely see a pretty and concerned face and short brown hair mussed with sleep. She reminded her of somebody, somehow.
Marlene swallowed. "No, not me--I don't need help. But I've got a friend out there, who does..."
"He's really a big sweetie," her companion said. "Once King gets to know you, he's very affectionate." The gigantic Newfoundland-Doberman mutt perked up his ears at his name and whined, then resumed his pacing alongside them. "I live alone most of the time, so..." She trailed off, as she followed Marlene's path. "A ferocious dog usually scares off the majority. And for the more unsavory types, such as frags, well, nobody knows I live out here anyway unless I let them."
"That's dangerous," Marlene commented abstractly, hoping this was the right way. "Don't you have anyone nearby?"
She said, "I had a husband, once..." trailing off. "And believe me, King knows when there's a real threat."
"It's been a few years. It's nothing different from what anyone else has experienced."
Scott, Marlene said to herself, but kept private.
"Do you know where your friend is?"
Actually, Marlene did, but she hedged to allay suspicion. "I think...Over there. You're sure this is a better route?"
Her companion nodded, swatting at mosquitoes. King was snuffling vigorously at the air, then whined and set off. "King seems to have smelt her."
"Yes... I hope we don't endanger you."
The wavy brown hair drifted with her headshake. "I heard a bit of a clash earlier this afternoon. I didn't know it was you two--I'd taken the dog down into the shelter with me. It was over quickly however. It's a good thing those types of Invid can't or don't understand human habitation."
Marlene nodded. At least the dog hadn't taken any exception to smelling Invid humanoids or Invid blood, or things would have been uncomfortable indeed. They might still--she had no idea how she was going to explain Sera's bite wounds.
Maybe she's already seen my scratches. But if she has--then why hasn't she...
Could she be a Rose member? Should I--no, I can't risk it...
"There it is!" she exclaimed, suddenly jerked back from her disconnected imaginings. She stepped forward.
The dog sniffed the bundle of blankets, which moaned.
She paced nervously through the hive corridor, trying to figure out what was wrong. Or was it a fallout shelter? She couldn't make up her mind; it seemed to shift whenever she tried to concentrate on it. But she was fairly certain that directional signs in English didn't hang in Invid hives, nor should metal water pipes protrude from dark red, organic walls. She stared around, confused and worried. Her leg seemed to be aching in a glassy way, and she shook her head in an effort to make things fall into place.
Wait--what was with her hair?
She couldn't feel the now familliar weight of the upsweep on her scalp. Somehow, it seemed to be undyed, its native apple green color in a short, spiky affair save for the lengths in front of her ears that came to her chin. And down there--she made a sound of disbelief at the pink, black and purple swathes of not-quite-cloth and chitin that clung to her slender body.
What was going on, that time had been reversed on her? And yet again she kinesthetically felt a nape-length bob and the weight of CVR armor. You couldn't feel both at the same time, could you? And there was that pain distantly throbbing like a white-hot poker in her ankle and naked confusion muddling her thoughts.
A scornful, unknown, but familliar laugh behind her. She whirled and saw nothing, the place going dark around her.
"Who's there?" she asked, her eyes darting around. There was no answer. "I'd like to know the people making fun of me. I can't say I enjoy the situation myself."
"What? No greetings to the family?" She went into a crouch, breathing hard, still finding it strangely hard to concentrate. "I'd have thought better from you, seeing how noble you were at Refles Point for the sake of a few humans."
"My friends now," she shot back. "I suppose you don't know the concept, whoever you are. The Invid never believed in much outside Hive-loyalty. Pity. It might have saved some needless identity conflicts."
Frankly she wouldn't have minded the voice's owner being her Mother, if only for the sake of giving Her a piece of her mind. Her impression, though, was that the mocker seemed to be the wrong gender. Gritting her teeth in frustration, she sat Indian-style on the floor, ignoring the voice with vigor. In order to occupy herself, and perhaps annoy the taunter, she thought of things from the intervening years. Rook and Rand's marriage, Annie's first attempt at a garden (rabbits ate the carrots), the hundred and one facets from leading a group of resistance in Colorado, the night she and Lancer had first...(no not that, what had been joy then was only rending pain now in its place).
"You chose to be human," the voice pointed out, directly behind her. She flinched but did not move. "What you see with those pathetic ape-descents is beyond my comprehension, but the Hive was there for you. You chose to reject the Invid. It rejects you, if you're that fond of them."
"After seeing what the Invid's done to them these days, I have to think Humanity has a point." She gnawed on a finger, tormented by that naggingly-familliar and unpleasantly-related voice. She could not bring herself to turn around, though, and give her tormentor the satisfaction of reacting.
"How about what you've done to the Invid, eh, sister?"
"This world has taken enough abuse!" she snarled back at last. "Optera may have been turned into a wasteland, but these people have had to endure in all innocence four invasions now and have their planet raped because they were in
the way." She never liked guilt, but it was raising its ugly head again; she knew she was partly culpable for both races' suffering.
She forged ahead nonetheless. "And I can't say I precisely appreciate the Regis' convenient amnesia about leaving the Earth alone when it didn't suit Her. There are some things that need to have justice delivered for, and some people that deserve protection, even if," her voice caught, "the price is that high."
"Eighty-seven Invid worth? Quite high, I have to say."
She stiffened as though electrified. "How do you know?"
"How shouldn't I?" There was a hand placed on her shoulder, the shoulder that alternated between flightsuit and CVR-4 alloy at will, and she could stand it no more. She turned.
And gasped in disbelief.
The green-uniformed, cerulean-haired young man there grinned wolfishly; his narrow, sharp features predatory in aspect, his eyes nowhere near human or humane.
Sera's scream of rage caused the dog, crouched near the door, to leap up and go into a frenzy of barking. His mistress snapped at him and he shut up, whining, his tail wagging in worry. The two women stared at each other over the prone Invid's body, their hearts still galloping with the shock. They then came back and tried to pin down Sera, who had decided to start struggling against whatever had caused that incredible fury. Her voice came loud and clear.
"Bernard killed you, you bastard! I felt you die! Why don't you stay dead, Mother damn you?! I'll bloody well finish the job!"
Marlene gritted her teeth, trying to deal with the writhing Sera's arms and upper body, which bucked in her waking dream. For a woman of her light build, Sera was strong. On the other end, Mrs. Maxwell was gritting her teeth as she dealt with Sera's jacknifing legs.
"Great!" Marlene gasped. "Now she turns violent!"
Marlene shook her head. "Considering who he was, I think she's got reason to turn violent."
Panting, Sera eventually subsided. "You Motherless son of a... You've got the nerve to haunt me?" The crimson eyes were open, causing Maxwell to gasp in shock. However, the irises were tracking nothing in the room. Weakened by the venom and her earlier fight against the Scouts, Sera's fight had run out quickly. "Speaking of making your own bed, Corg, I'd hoped you rotted." Her head fell back as she dropped back into the deeps of hallucination.
Maxwell was still staring down at the body on the bed, the whites visible around her green eyes.
"She is. But she's on our side," Marlene said, pleading. "She's hurt--we're hurt, and they're after us."
Maxwell stared at her, then, before Marlene could react, swept aside a concealing strand of red hair, revealing one of the smarting places on her face. "You're one too."
"I didn't enjoy knowing about it!" the simulagent shot back. In that moment of fear, Marlene hadn't realized until a couple seconds later that there was no loathing on the other woman's pretty but sorrow-worn face. She blinked, confounded, and was answered with a tired smile.
"Do you think I'd kick out you when you needed help, just because of your blood color?" Her savior shook her head. "You're not the first I've met, Marlene, and neither is Sarah down there." Her eyes indicated the softly moaning figure on the bed, whom Marlene had gifted with a quick pseudonym. "She's hurt, you're both exhausted, and I used to work with the resistance back in the last war. Besides, this war seems to have created quite a few conscientous objectors among your race." She bent back down to place on Sera's leg the first of several ice-packs she had brought from the cellar. "Now help me do something about the swelling in her leg before it gets damaged any further. "
Marlene nodded and went into the other room to get the supplies they'd gathered, leaving the patient and her nurse together.
She sucked on her lip and looked down at the puffy, swollen leg, the puncture marks an ugly blackish-green. "Well, let's see if icing it helps keep it down, Sarah..."
The patient whimpered something. Brows puckering, she bent down to comfort the woman, her fingers touching her clammy forehead. There was a trace of tears on Sera's lashes, and she murmured again, one word becoming coherent.
"...Lancer?" she whispered.
The fingers dropped, the face above it gone still and white.
"You done burning it yet?" Annie teased. Sticking a finger in the water, she playfully flicked it in the direction of the big, thickly-sideburned man making pork barbecue in a large kettle. He grinned and continued stirring. Over near him a wide-band radio was hissing out crackly communication.
Lunk? What was Jim doing in a hive, Sera thought, dazed. Wait, it wasn't in a hive, and her dead twin's ghost had quit tormenting her. Too, her clothing seemed to have settled down. She looked down, seeing a knit top and jeans. Something about the colors was ringing alarm bells--she remembered it, knew something dreadful about it, but she seemed to be confused and couldn't remember.
Over at the sink, Rook, Rand and Ariel seemed to be tormenting each other unmercifully on their vegetable-washing skills, or rather it was Rook and Rand torturing each other (humans had such strange courtship rituals sometimes) and Ariel looking on and giggling like an idiot.
(Actually, the High Opteran name was closer pronounced as Ar'yuel, a title denoting stealth and reconnaisance as well as numerous other telepathic connotations attached to it. The humans had misinterpreted it as the name of
a spirit in one of their plays. It was a moot point, though, since the subject had insisted loudly and at length she should be called that human name, Marlene. Sera kept forgetting, though.)
I remember this, don't I? Sera thought. What's going on?
"Hmph, what's taking Tomato God so long out in the garden?" Rand wondered loudly.
"Tomatoes, stupid." Rook elbowed him in the side, while Marlene raised her eyes in plea. "You seen how many those damn plants are putting out? Must be that Montana soil."
"Coming!" a new entrant singsonged, grunting as a bushel filled to the brim was navigated around the door. Sera looked on, smiling. "Oi, my back." The man who had once posed as the Americas' most popular female singer winced and grinned at the gathering, his lavender-tinted hair in his eyes. "I suppose nobody's thrilled by the idea of cooking up some tomato paste?" The blue eyes met the red over the table in unspoken intimacy.
Ignoring the warmth in her face, Sera said, "Not unless we love the idea of doing it for a week, thank you, Lancer." He grinned.
"Taken. Any corn?"
"Past peak, I'm afraid." Sera shrugged. He got a chair and sat. After a moment, she wandered over and leaned on the back of it.
She genuinely felt much better about her state of exile when he was around; she remembered just why she had elected to leave the collective, why she no longer could remain purely Invid. She hadn't been able to from the moment he'd dragged her by the ankles into three feet of water.
Although in the past couple of months their relationship had gone to an entirely new level--she felt her face heat again invisibly under her capillary coloration--it had a gentleness and companionableness to it. Lancer knew full well she still wasn't completely comfortable with the alien flesh and urges she'd been given, and had treated her accordingly. The wonderful--and frightening--realization was that she could no longer conceive of life without him somewhere in it...
But something was wrong. She'd experienced this before, hadn't she? And there was this pain in her ankle... but the play kept on, even as she was an unwilling player.
"I heard that, Rand," Lancer drawled. "You want to be appointed Dead Mammal God, I suppose, o great rabbit hunter?" Rand bronx-cheered back at him, and Rook punched him on the arm.
"Dead Rotted Mouse God, Lancer," she snorted. "He found that nice putrid one up in the flue, didn't he? The one that was stinking up the place?"
"Ewwwwww!" Annie interjected. "Totally gross. I mean, I wouldn't have wanted to touch that with a..."
There was a crash from the stove. Lunk was standing stock still, the ladle dribbling onto the heating coil and stinking. He didn't notice.
When Marlene moved to him, he hissed, "Shut up!" A deathly quiet fell over the gathering, broken only by the staticky hiss of the ham radio.
"...it was found on the margins of a farm in the area. We observed it for an hour or so, before it was done with whatever it was doing and took off. When we inspected the area where it'd been, we found Flowers of Life had somehow sprouted there. They were about a couple weeks old."
"You mean you saw an Invid Shock Trooper in the area?"
"Affirmative. God help us..."
A fork clashed onto the ground, as Rand forgot his grip. No one seemed able to speak, save for Marlene's whimper of fear.
Sera and Lancer stared at each other in horror, as the implications sank in, and as Sera-the-observer finally realized at last, the implications.
No! Not that again! She ran from the memory, through disconnected images and memories, some of them containing the ancient racial memory of the Invid, some from her time on Earth. Then the scene settled at last as something else she'd rather forget.
"No," she said. "You're just a memory. Maybe not a dead memory, but a memory all the same."
The tall, lavender-haired man looked like her lover, but with one important difference. The fire, the spark of life that had buoyed him though years of devastation, and that had made Lancer Lancer was gone. They stood alone on blankness, wearing CVR, and she watched the slump-shouldered automaton look down at the ground, avoiding her gaze.
"No, damn you! Fight!" she cried. "You convinced me, didn't you? There has to be another way out of this too!"
He heaved a sigh, his hollowed eyes glazed. "Sorry, Sera...I can't...I'm so tired, and nothing seems to make a difference anymore..."
"It used to!" she hissed. "Curse you, if you roll over and die, Lancer, you'll be obliging the Invid anyway. At least you can make them choke, can't you?!"
"It didn't make a difference with Kosmas, did it?" He shuddered. "The Invid have got human help anyway... We're too self-interested a race, Sera, can't you see? People'll just look out for their own best interest, and if it means cooperating with the Invid, so be it. They never realize that it could be different, and they don't care, anyway. Are we even worth saving?"
"I thought so," Sera insisted. "Dammit, Lancer, I love you. That's the plain truth of it. If you leave, are you going to leave me to fight alone after you changed me like this? Because that's just what I'm going to do. I love you, you idiot, but I can't join you if you choose lying down and dying. Make up your mind."
"...make up your mind..." she whispered.
Her face sunken with affliction, Sera had nonetheless calmed down. Mrs. Maxwell checked her leg and noticed the puffiness from the venom going down at last. Whatever was in Sera's hybrid biology had begun to retaliate against the substance damaging it. From the look of things, Sera was now on the edge of a peaceful rest and out of danger.
Marlene had sat down on a blanket to rest and had ended up curled up on it, in the comatose sleep of the exhausted. Their host had not awakened her, deeming it the kindest course.
Maxwell stood up, stretching, and sighed. The packs ought to keep at least until morning, and she herself was blank with fatigue.
She walked over to a window and looked out into the lightning-flickered darkness, seeing King pace on his chain and the fitful whooshes of the wind as the storm advanced.
As the lightning flashed again, it illuminated her face as she bit on her finger, her eyes silvered with tears.
The storm roared through that night and dawn with an elemental savagery not rivaled by anything else of Earth, shuddering the suddenly-fragile walls, making the dog cringe in his dry kennel. Even the Invid in the hives on the storm front hid; the gusts were so ferocious that they could smash Scout and Trooper carapaces like eggshells into the ground. The Invid controlled the world, but there were powers in nature even they knew well enough to bow to.
Neither the two Invid nor the one human, insensible in sleep, noticed it.
The storm's brutality was also hand-in-hand with its abruptness. In the space of three and a half-hours, it had blasted through, leaving at the end only tattered, patchy clouds and the suggestions of the far-distant stars blinking though the open areas.
When the skies lightened with dawn, the apricot light of the new sun was able to squeeze through the clouds, and off the droplets on the wet grass.
The eyelids fluttered and opened, the gentle copper of the early day lying across them and striking fire from the carmine irises they had hid.
"Ugh," she grunted as she felt the unfamiliar cushion. "Where'm I?"
She tried to lift her head and found that while she could do it, it took a great effort. She felt like she had been put though a shredder. Her eyes flicked down and noticed her numbed foot.
"Goddess of th' friggn' Hive," she murmured, as the memory hit her. Her head plopped back down.
She attempted to fork through a muddle of images and lost. Where had she been? Some of the things she remembered were murky, didn't fit...
While thinking, the doorhandle turned and opened.
"There you are! Morning."
"Ugh?" Sera inquired intelligently, dragging an arm up to wipe away sleep.
The attractive young human woman smiled at her, eyes warm. Sera remembered her from a couple of disconnected lucid moments last night. "I didn't think you'd awaken that early, considering what you'd been through, but just as well. I've been cooking breakfast."
"Mnnh." The smell suddenly hit Sera's olfactory nerves in one concerted blast and it was all she could do not to disgrace herself by drooling.
"Your foot's obviously been better, but it looks like it's recuperating nicely despite that venom. You'll definitely keep it in fine condition. Whatever else your race has, a sound constitution seems to be one of them."
The implications hit the other woman and she darted a horrified glance down at the iced appendage and then at her hostess, who shook her head, smiling. Sera looked flustered.
"Well, frankly, Sarah--if that's your actual name--it doesn't take a look at that bite to see what you really are. Those eyes aren't common even among Zentraedi. And your friend admitted both of you were Invid."
"Well, you can't believe everything the conventional wisdom says," Sera said a bit sharply. "That and I'm amazed Marlene even admitted to it. She's got a hangup in that area." She shook her head. "Ow." Half remembered pictures picked at the corners of her mind, causing severe upset. How much had she been ranting last night?... Please don't let her know everything, for mother's sake...if she knows about my relationship to the others, my own role in the last war, then it's another lead for the Invid to wipe us out with.
Her concentration, already spotty with hunger, finally switched to the problem of appeasing it. Unthinkingly, Sera rolled off the bed and tried to stand up, her leg almost buckling under her before she was supported by her arm slung around the other woman's shoulder. She blinked, clad in little else save a shirt and underwear and a bit confused.
"Watch it! What are you thinking to get up this quickly?"
"Hungry." Sera said shortly. "Sorry about that, my gut got in the way."
"Well, it should be about ready. Before it burns, let's take care of it."
Sera hopped awkwardly over with Mrs. Maxwell's support to the door. "Marlene?"
"Still asleep. She was just as exhausted as you. Do you realize what she risked to save you?"
The Solugi winced. "No. I do now." A flush of embarassment hit her; it was her own stupidity, after all, that had led them to this pass. "Let her have some rest. She deserves some after all the dragging around I've been giving her." She quit hopping and put the foot down; considering what had happened to it, it was taking her weight suprisingly well.
"Don't do that!" Maxwell said. "Tissue damage."
"It'll live." Sera grinned, liking this woman, who'd been more concerned with injury to her patient than the race of the patient herself. Pity to have to leave here so soon, but the loyalists wouldn't be that understanding...
"Well, that's surprising good news," the sweet voice countered with some asperity, "considering there were a few points last night when I had my doubts about the rest of you."
Sera was chuckling ruefully as she closed the door behind.
"No, really, Marlene, what was I saying last night?" Sera leaned foward, her foot propped up, a cup of hot green tea between her hands. It had been Lancer's favorite kind; Sera was gratified to find a stock of it. Over the steam, she gave a pleading glance over at the other.
The simulagent sniffed in mock-disgust. "You actually got my name right."
She shook her head, her fine, waist-length auburn hair flowing unbound in the breeze.
"Please. I'm concerned. I don't want her to pay the price for our loose lips."
The two were seated on the large back porch of the house. The ex-princess royal had coopted the porch swing and a stool for her foot; the simulagent was percariously perched on the walls encircling the area. Beyond, in the yard, the bent-over figure of their helper could be seen puttering in the garden.
Marlene looked at her and shugged. "All right. You might not like it."
"I remember enough to know what I'll probably not like. Out with it."
"You were screaming your head off about Corg. We had to pin you until you calmed down."
Sera looked grim. "Figures. I remember something about an intense desire to rearrange his face. Odd that I didn't have that urge back when he was available."
Sera looked grimmer. "How symnetrical. My demon on my left, my angel on the right, as the humans say, even though he gave up the position." Her voice could no longer hide the bitterness and hurt.
"Sera, he went through more than many people do in his life. Even he couldn't keep doing it forever." Unspoken, Marlene's own constant hurt, the pain of Contact, her identity unknown and her love missing...
Sera blinked rapidly. "I know. I know. But I don't feel it, that's my problem."
Marlene placed a hand on hers. "Sera. You do feel. Or else you wouldn't be as angry at him." Sera started, her eyes on Marlene's sincere amber ones. Marlene nodded. "Maybe that's why I keep...denying...myself. Because deep down..."
Sera shook her head, the fake brown fluffing out. "Yes and no. You taught me that, years ago...we can choose. We're what we want ourselves to be." Marlene nodded, reluctantly. "Do you remember anyone else?"
"Not that I knew. Well, pieces of your leading that resistance group, but nothing of the others besides Lancer."
"Thank Spirit of Light for small favors."
"So what do you think we need to do? We can't stay here very long, of course, but your ankle..."
"Actually, I was planning to leave here later today, tomorrow at the most."
"Sera, you got bitten by the largest snake I'd ever seen in my life yesterday! Are you insane?"
"No, just being me. Bad enough. But just because I was a fool doens't mean the loyalists have stopped looking for us. If we've got to get killed, let's not take her with us. At least the James Gang further up in the Ozarks has signed on for the slaughter. We have to move. That's all there is to it."
Marlene's pale, delicate face froze in shock, and she slowly nodded.
"Besides..." Sera trailed off, but Marlene could follow her thoughts even without telepathy. Perhaps we could find the others. Perhaps...there had been that mess out in the West Coast a couple years ago, with rumors of it coordinated by a lavender-haired man, grayer and sadder than before, but with spine-tingling familliarity to his description. Could Lancer have regained that fire?... Only looking and running would help confirm the guesses and the rumors--and perhaps together with their comrades, they could find the key to end this dirty sibling to the last Invid occupation...
"Do you think her knowing what she does about us'll make her vulnerable?"
Sera spoke again after a few minutes.
Marlene looked over at the woman in the garden.
"I don't think so. I certainly hope not."
"Thank so much. But I don't think it'll give me too much trouble. I'm not walking on it, understand."
"Well, for goodness sake, at least take some supplies." King paced snuffling around Mrs. Maxwell's feet as she imposed a large bundle of goods on Sera, who'd obviously seen better days. Sera looked befuddled, but accepted and stowed it in the carrier when the human woman started to look obstinate. "This will keep you two from haivng to go into any unfriendly towns for at least several days."
Sera stared at her, ruby eyes blinking rapidly. "Just one question--why?"
The human's eyes flicked downward, then back up. "Why? Just because. Some things you can't rationalize."
Marlene left the house then, and moved over to them. As she passed their hostess, her fine brows puckered and she began to stare intently. The other woman blinked back, then began herself to stare very hard at Marlene.
Sera looked on, completely confused.
Is there something I'm missing on here? she thought.
"Um..." Marlene thought after a second. "Do I know you? You look..."
Mrs. Maxwell answered quickly, flushing. "What? No, I don't think so. You could be confusing me with somebody else."
Marlene blinked, then shook her head. "Probably. Heaven knows my memories aren't that good."
"Well..." Sera said at last, "I suppose you should take care. Perhaps we'll meet after all this is over without this ridiculousness. Our relatives might make a house call--" lopsided grin, Marlene making a face, "which is bad for all involved. And don't worry, I won't walk on it."
"I'll make sure of that," Marlene challenged. The two Solugi glared at each other.
There was a final round of farewells. Sera gunned the engines on the Forager as Marlene seated herself and put on her goggles, and the two pulled down the overgrown track; lost to sight at the first turn, and to hearing within minutes.
King shoved at the limp hand with his nose and whined; automatically, it began to scratch behind his ears.
In the lightened breeze of the cooler post-storm weather, the brown waves of her hair stirred, held back by a simple headband. Still, for several minutes, the woman's slender figure stood motionless, staring in a direction, the afternoon sunlight shining off finally-shed tears that weren't entirely regret.
She knew why she'd seen that deceptively fragile-looking redhaired young woman before. And that gallant, conflict-stricken Invid shared a kinship with her that fates willing she would never discover.
I know why, Lancer, Carla Maxwell thought. I know why.
Turning, she went back inside the house.
by Dave Deitrich
An ex-officer of the E.B.S.I.S. (Eastern Bloc Soviet Independent State) who became the first human to ally himself with the returning Invid during the Third Invid War. As part of his agreement with the Invid, he betrayed Rook, Lancer, and their friends and led them into an ambush. The heroes survived the attack, but agreed to break up and go their separate ways afterwards for a variety of reasons. Kosmas was later killed by resistance fighters after he fell into disfavor with the Invid.
A new mecha used by the Invid that replaced the older Scout and Armored Scout designs used during the Third Robotech War. The new mecha design puts an emphasis on speed and heavier armor while sacrificing agility. Attack Scouts are piloted by iigaari, the least evolutionary advanced drone in the Invid hive race.
A slang term for humans who are working for the Invid, for personal profit, power, protection, or any number of other reasons. Frags are notorious for rooting out members of the terran resistance and their allies and handing them over to the Invid for extermination (or worse).
The Invid name for members of their race that have been evolved into a humanoid form. Many Solugi are unhappy with the second Invid invasion of Earth, and some have even defected to join the humans in their struggle.
A second generation cyclone design, developed on Tirol after the Third Robotech War and shipped to Earth in large numbers after the Invid returned. The most impressive aspect of the new cyclone designs is the replacement of the backup internal combustion engine with a fusion generator, which provides dramatic increases in the power available when the protoculture cells are shut off. Designed specifically for Veritech pilots shot down during combat, the Forager is highly sought after by the resistance for its durability and ease of repair.
THE WHITE ROSE
A secret network of Solugi (humanoid Invid) that have defected from the Invid forces, and the humans that protect them. The White Rose works to help the terran resistance by keeping human fighters informed on new developments and troop movements among the Invid occupation forces. However, members of the Rose are in constant danger, as the Invid forces have begun a vicious campaign to root out and exterminate the renegades at any cost. The name of the resistance group has historical significance; the original White Rose was a group of German students who circulated anti-Nazi propoganda, and who eventually paid for it with their lives.