Old City, Novo Zemalya

Dark Continent

1200 Hours

The survivors of De Lyon's forces had retreated while they were battling the Gilvader. Nobody wanted to hang around during a battle like that, regardless of the outcome. Nobody had felt like chasing them down; they were all too tired, while their Zoids battered form the conflict and definitely not ready for another battle.

Nobody had wanted to spend the night out on the battlefield. It was cold, barren and desolate, and stank of death. Instead they had formed a makeshift convoy, good Zoids hauling bad, and trudged back to Novo Zemalya. It was the best idea anyone could think of, and better then the alternative.

As they'd gone, Vic had seen something extraordinary. She said she'd seen the Deathsaurer get up on its own and wander off into the distance, as if it wanted to leave everyone else behind. Nobody had said anything; they were still uncertain about Vic, but at the same time there was a certain reluctance to look back at the battlefield, in case they saw the Gilvader coming back to life or similar.

The rest of the trip was long and difficult, their damaged Zoids fighting against the broken terrain along the path from the site back to the city. It was very late when they entered the old city, stepping in through the now destroyed Iron Gates. Lacking a better idea or plan, everyone had just stopped near the derelict Hovercargo and set up camp for the night. It was too late, and everyone was far too tired to do much anything else.

Sandra hadn't gotten much sleep, determined to keep an eye on Vic in case something happened to her, or there were some after effects of her contact with the Deathsaurer. It wasn't until Vic was fast asleep that she'd finally allowed herself to nod off. In the morning, she was embarrassed by the fact that she'd risen later then almost everyone else. Only Reven was still asleep by the time Sandra was up, Z-One assured her that this was perfectly normal.

Someone, possibly Sel, had raised the issue of what they should do next. Rick had suggested that they play baseball. As nobody else had a better idea, they went with that.

A rough diamond field had been marked out in an old park that was now little more then dirt with a few patches of straggly grass. Sel and Sandra had been appointed team captains, and had taken turns at picking their teams from all present. There was an odd number of people, which had resulted in the idea that each innings they swap someone between the two teams. Sel and Sandra both figured that this made little sense, but they'd do it anyway as they couldn't think of anything better.

For reasons best left unknown, Rick had kept a bat and several balls stashed in his Command Wolf's cockpit. Pants had also helped out, apparently having kept several more bats, half a dozen balls, some bases and even a few catchers gloves in his Hovercargo. When asked why, he said that it was because he may need them for some experiment. Or he might just want to play ball every now and then.

It was a good morning for it. By the standards of the Dark Continent, it was warm and bright. Sunlight streamed in through the now-destroyed dome, lighting up the playing field. While neither team was playing to the best they could, everyone was still enjoying themselves. And that's what counted, Rick thought. Or at least, that's what he was going to say when his team got completely trounced.

Pants stood on the plate, bat in hand. On the pitcher's mound (actually just a slightly higher pile of dirt), Vic was waiting, ball in hand. Pants nodded to her, as if to indicate that he was ready for her. She swung around, pitching the ball in a beautiful straight shot that hit Pants right in the forehead, knocking him down.

"Oh gods!" Vic shouted as she ran over to him. "Are you okay there? I didn't hurt you, did i?"

"I've..." Pants groaned. "I've had worse."

Vic nodded nervously. "Thank goodness for that. I was worried there for a minute."

Rick sat back on the battered park bench that was designated for the team's use, Bekka next to him. "Funny, isn't it?" He began. "Vic I mean."

"She seems so... normal." Bekka replied. "What happened?"

"I think Sandra was right." Rick explained. "She confronted her fears and defeated the Gilvader. And it seems to have done her a world of good."

"How so?"

He put his hands behind his head, stretching out. "Vic, no Victoria Hagen was a young, inexperienced soldier. While her unit was on some operation many years ago, she apparently had a run-in with the Gilvader. While she was left physically unharmed, she was traumasised by the encounter. The Vic we knew was the result of that."

"And now?"

"She seems to be happy." Rick said. "Genuinely so. And without maiming anyone in the process."

"Bekka? Is that you?" A female voice came from behind the pair of them. Rick and Bekka turned to see a tall, attractive woman in her forties with shoulder-length red-brown hair and deep brown eyes. She wore a Zemalyan uniform and had a pair of scars on her right cheek that reminded Rick of the facepaint pattern he'd seen on Sel on occasion.

Bekka leapt up and embraced the woman. "Mum!" She shouted, leaving Rick sitting there, blinking in surprise.

"You're alive!" The other woman replied, hugging her. "You're okay, aren't you?"

Bekka nodded. "We all are." She explained. "More or less." Se stepped back for a moment from her mother.

"So what happened?" She asked.

"It's difficult" Bekka began. "I take it you know we took the Deathsaurer?"

She nodded. "And then Captain O'Bannon deserted her post. I assumed that she was either going after the rest of you or joining you."

"Joining us." Bekka explained. "We used the Deathsaurer to defeat the GIlvader - that's the huge, black dragon Zoid that De Lyon was piloting, and shoot down the core before he could launch it and-"

The woman nodded. "Tell me later, Bekka." She said. "Can I ask who all these people are?"

"Oh!" Bekka turned around. "Mum, this is Rick Mortis. He was one of the people who came into the city to help track down the A-X attackers. Rick, this is my mother, Colonel Rachel Cade."

Rick stood, holding out his hand. "I'm honored to meet you." he fumbled out as she shook his hand.

Bekka stood aside for a moment, looking down, shuffling her feet in the dirt. "Mum, I know you don't approve of a lot of the things I've done." She began.

Rick eyed her bare, heavily tattooed arms, then thought of the other ones under her clothes. I can imagine some of them, he thought.

"To say the least." Rachel replied.

"But..." She continued a little nervously. "Rick... Rick and I know each other very well. We've, uh, been together since before he came to Novo Zemalya for the first time." She said. "What I mean to say is that I love him, mum. I love him very much."

She nodded. "I understand, Bekka."

"You do?" She seemed surprised.

"I'd expected something like this to happen when Magyari's unit was first sent out to locate Kandrak." She explained. "In a way, I was hoping you would say something like that."

"You were?"

"Yes. We can't remain isolated inside this city forever. Recent events have shown that sooner or later, someone will discover us and try to do something about us. I think that it's better that we introduce ourselves to the world rather then have them come to us." She looked at Rick. "The fact that you and Rick have this relationship shows me that we're not that different, and a lot less then our leaders would like to have us believe. That tells me that we have a chance, at the very least."

"Thank you, Ms Cade." Rick replied. "It means a lot to me, that is, you supporting us like this."

She eyed Rick. "You were the one who faced down the Deathsaurer when Hagen went out of control, weren't you?"

He gulped nervously, not wanting to think about that particular moment. "Yeah, that was me. I just did what I had to do."

"You are a very, very brave man." She replied. "I admire that. I wish you two all the best for the future, whatever it may bring."

"Thanks." Rick stammered out. "I, uh, we, um-"

"He means to say thank you." Bekka added. "And thanks too, mum. I was worried that, well, you know him being an outsider and you begin how you are and all that-"

"Bekka, we must change and adapt if we are to survive." She said. "I think that you have been heading in the right direction."

"So does that mean you're not angry at me any more?"

"I was never angry at you." She replied. "I didn't approve of a lot of your choices you made-" She eyed Bekka's arms. "But I never was angry at you."

"So what do you think?" Anna asked as she slumped onto a bench.

"I think our team sucks and that baseball isn't my game." Felix replied as he sat next to her.

"I meant, what do you think we should do from here?"

"I don't follow you." He replied, turning to her.

Anna looked over the baseball diamond. "Felix, we've just saved the world form one man's hideous plot to seize absolute power." She explained. "And we've discovered a lost city in the depths of the Dark Continent who's peoples are radically different form anyone else. It's enough to make you think, isn't it?"

"Think what?" Felix asked. He wasn't in a philosophical mood right now.

"We're paid to fight, Felix. We run around in the desert beating people up for other people's benefit. It seems a little pointless when you think about it." She explained.

"Never really thought about it." He replied.

"I'm just saying that there has to be something more to life then just that." She explained. "At least, I'd like to think so."

"Maybe." Felix said. "But it's a pretty good living as it is. There's no real shortage of work at the moment."

"I suppose." She said. "Maybe I'm just getting tired of fighting all the time." She shrugged. "It makes you wonder, though. We were able to pull ourselves together to face a common threat in the form of that UZN Incursion. So why can't we do it in our normal, day to day lives?"

"Who knows?" Felix replied. "Maybe we just don't like each other."

"What are you two going on about?" Reven asked, standing over the pair of them. "In case you hadn't noticed, their team is..." She trailed off, then clapped her hands over her mouth. "Excuse me..." She muttered then ran off.

"She's been doing that all morning." Anna asked. "Wonder what's up with her?"

"No idea." Z-One said as he walked over, a noticeable swagger in his walk. They both glared at him. "What? What?" there was a long silence. "Hey, who's that?" He added in a desperate effort to distract them.

They both turned to see Rick and Bekka talking to a woman wearing a black uniform. "It looks like one of the locals. I thought they were all hiding underground." Anna said.

"Well, my team completely blows goats." Sandra said as she walked over to the stand. "But I think you have a chance."

"I wouldn't be so-" Sel replied, then suddenly stopped. "Colonel Cade!" She saluted, trying to look as military-like as possible while wearing a sleeveless shirt and being covered in dirt. It didn't quite work.

Rachel casually shook her head. "No need for that now, Captain. You can give me the full report later."

"If I may ask, colonel, what's going on below?" Sel began.

"A few people, like myself, are investigating the situation up here. If it's safe, which you people seem to have proved, we're going to open up the city and let the people out to up here." She explained. "It's pretty obvious that we can't stay locked up down below with no heat, light or power."

"We, uh, lost the core." Sel began. "We had to destroy it in order to stop it form being used."

Cade nodded. "I expected as much." She looked around. "We will have to make a lot of changes in the years to come." She turned to Sandra. "You're Sandra Blackmore, right?"

Sandra nodded. "Yep." she casually replied.

"Rachel Cade. Sel's commanding officer." She began. "I've heard a lot about you and your men."

"Its all lies, really." Sandra replied. "We're nowhere near that good."

"I wanted to thank you for all you've done for us." Rachel continued. "And I have a favor to ask of you."

"Go on." Sandra began

"We'll need to know a lot more about the outside world." Rachel began. "I'll admit that a lot of our information is rather second hand at the best of times. Your people, on the other hand, have lived there all your lives. We'd like to know more. If you could help us..."

Sandra looked around, taking in the ruined city, the pile of wrecked Zoids and the various people on field. She particularly noted Vic who, seemed to be having a good time without anyone getting hurt in the process. "Sure." She said. "We never got paid for any of this anyway. I'd like to think I can get something out of saving the world."

We stayed with the Zemalyans for another month, helping fill them in on the outside world and all that they'd been missing for the last century. In turn, they filled us in on their history, on how they had come to Zi centuries after everyone else and had concealed their origins to the point where not even they were sure where they had come from anymore.

After that, we returned to our homes in the Wastelands. We said our good-byes to each other, each going back to their normal, day-to-day lives. But deep within us, I think we realised that things would never quite be the same. We'd all changed and grown in a way. Running around in the desert shooting each other seemed to loose a bit of its appeal to many of us.

Bekka was given special permission to leave the Zemalyan military and their city. She literally turned up on our doorstep one day, a new Heldigunner with her. She and I married a year later, and chose to remain in the house in Bed Springs while everyone else moved on. Our first child, Sean, was born six months ago. I gave up the mercenary work for a while, and turned back to writing. Bekka's been helping me out as I go, serving as an editor of sorts and helping me keep the facts straight.

I'd like to say that Sandra and Tsuneo reconciled their differences and got back together, but that's not what happened. Instead, to everyone's surprise, she met and fell in love with a computer programmer, who she helped out while he was lost in the desert and being chased by Red Mutants at the time. They moved back to the UZN, Sandra having decided that they'd both had enough of the desert for a while. She refuses to admit it, but Spud has become thoroughly domesticated and, more to the point, likes it.

Vic, or more to the point, Victoria was different. Whatever had happened to her had changed her dramatically. Gone was the somewhat crazed, unbalanced personality that seemed to get her laughs out of causing mental distress in others. Instead we found a young, naive, somewhat confused girl who was surprisingly polite and friendly. She left us at the same time as Sandra, having apparently decided to travel to find out more about herself and what she'd been missing or the last few years. We see each other on occasion, probably not as much as we should. I'm happy that she seems to have found herself, but I also miss her in a way.

As Cade predicted, Novo Zemalya opened itself up to the outside world. Her first act on becoming their new supreme commander was to send out diplomatic feelers to the UZN and Drakken Empire. This lead to her revealing their presence and establishing formal diplomatic relationships with both states.

Sel and Rose were appointed as the first Zemalyan ambassadors to the UZN and Empire respectively. They were chose not so much for their diplomatic skills, but more for the fact that they had more experience with the outside world then most anyone else in the city. Matt was added onto Sel's staff at her own request, the two being not so much married as now a couple. (Bekka has tried to explain it to me. The best I can say is that I probably should study their customs, especially with regard to the family). Their first child, a boy, was born only a month ago.

Rose surprised us all by apparently falling in love with an Imperial army officer she met while on ambassadorial duty. She's also further surprised us by writing a novel in her spare time. (Most everyone was unaware hat she had any literary ambitions or talents). Titled Steelgrave, its a 'historical fantasy' book about the life of a Starrior Warlord in ancient times. She and I are cooperating on a graphic novel adaptation.

Bob and Alex were both heavily promoted as a result of tier actions. Bob has gotten command of Sel's old unit, while Alex has taken over Rose's. Both of them seem to have a contest going to see who's unit can out do the other's. In heir spare time, they've formed an inpro stand-up comedy act on the Zemalyan underground alternative circuit. No, I don't get it either, but they're supposed to be hilarious. Alex's master plan is to sell the movie rights to his life story and have someone 'a lot better looking' play himself in the lead role. I'm going to assume he was joking.

Anna, Felix and Stuart stayed together as a team, later joined by Reven and Z-One. (Who had taken a year off to do Tomy-alone knows what. What do a potential Darth and a masked minion do with their time anyway?) Of late, however, Anna's been speaking out a lot about unity amongst the Wastelands populace and trying to form something resembling a unified state. While people around here are somewhat resistant to change, Anna has a way of making people listen to her.

Even though he's given up on getting vengeance, Pants hasn't given up on being a Darth. Every now and then he wheels out his latest 'ultimate creation' to show off to the world. Then he and I have a friendly battle, and he goes off to build a new ultimate creation. Now that he's over the vengeance thing, Pants has mellowed to a pretty nice guy.

John Shepherd and Taro Watanabe vanished after the battle, and haven't been seen since. Rumour has it that they have formed a new secret organization of their own, but nobody knows for sure. Certainly there's been no sign of A-X since then, which isn't surprising given that their leader was captured by De Lyon and hasn't been seen since, and their forces were destroyed in the battle.

Things have definitely begun to change. Bed Springs is a lot busier these days, but at the same time it's become a nicer place. With prosperity has come a feeling of identity. People are no longer content to live in a junk heap and have begun to clean up the town after a fashion. There's a lot less decrepit buildings, a lot less junk in the street and a lot more green around town. Sandra says we're becoming 'yuppified'.

A lot has changed in the past few years. Looking back on it, those first few times I spent squatting behind sand dunes while Vic took pot-shots at passing bandits and Sandra swore at them, it makes me wonder how we got here. It's been a very strange and enjoyable journey. I'm just glad I could share it with you.

Rick R. Mortis

(Authour's end notes to Wandering Desert Loonies trade paperback, second printing)

Closing: "Rise on Shooting Star" - The Pillows (Covered by Ebonflak and the Original Godkaisers)