O Green World
"So why'd you end up back on Earth?"
Dana was the first to ask the question, but likely the others were pondering it as well.
"Actually, you would be better served think of this place as a 'summer home', though not restricted to summers, of course. It was just that I happened to be here when the SDF-3 returned to Earthspace. In truth I have been dividing my time between Earth and Tirol.
"Naturally, for a Zentraedi there are be mixed feelings about being on Tirol even in peacetime. But I am not the average, and I enjoyed seeing the world as they had lived it. And...there are other reasons that I am favourably inclined towards Tirol."
I put my hand over Lantas', who was sitting on the couch next to me.
It took several seconds for them to comprehend the meaning, and then Max and Miriya's jaws dropped. Dana stood up so fast that her chair fell over. Aurora's expression was still neutral.
Dana pointed at me. "You smooth old reptile, I knew it!"
Lantas said, "It wasn't like that."
Dana sat back down, crossed her arms, and leaned forward. "Okay, than what was it like?"
Max coughed. "Aren't you two a little..."
"I know that he's centuries older than I am," said Lantas evenly. "I'm tired of arguing the point. If it makes you feel any better, I was Cabell's student only because the Robotech Masters kept me ignorant of everything but what they wanted their Triumvirates to study, not because I was a youth. I've always had greater ambitions, and wanted to fulfill them, even if it meant that I had to start out in a place lower than what I was used to."
There was silence around the small room, before Lantas added, "It's not as if being together is the only reason. There are still constant fights about the status of the other Tiresoid clones." She closed her eyes.
I glanced over at Lantas, concerned, though we were both long aware of these facts, and turning back to the Sterlings, I said, "I have tried for these years to help Lantas and the rest of the clones agitate for their acceptance and freedom on Tirol, though unfortunately other duties sometimes call me."
Miriya smirked. "So then here we both are. The assimilated."
I looked at her, startled. I had often thought that, but to see it articulated by her showed that the notion was not yet without power. "Yes. But we do take pleasure in that status, don't we?"
"So you're comfortable with all this?"
"No aspect of my current status has come without...reservations, but there is enough of the opposite to continue. And life is so rarely simple."
Miriya sipped her drink. "Mm. So what did someone like you do when the Zentraedi were miners. Did you ever remember?"
"I was in charge of compiling the data from the operations. Tallies, and other such things."
"So you don't think you'd fit in there anymore, even if you could be de-Micronized."
"No. Between everyone here, I think that I find this new life much more fulfilling than my old one ever was, fulfilling in ways I'd never expected." An image of myself crying came to me, but I banished it.
"I can see that. It's a chance to use your talents to the fullest, I guess...to be with people who are more your speed." Miriya glanced meaningfully over at Lantas. "And maybe now you can be the person you really wanted to be."
Max: "Are you still involved in the government?"
"Not me," Lantas said. "There are other clones with political ambitions, and I support them, but I'm not going to give up my preferences in order to become a role model. I'm more interested in becoming an architect."
"I am not at present involved with any governing body. Everything has been quite chaotic, and either planetary choice would be fraught with controversy for me; I have not yet decided on which one I want to brave, if at all. Remember that I became a diplomat only by a process of elimination."
"You showed a lot of talent for it, though." Miriya then tried to change the topic again. "I was thinking about the trio the other day. They would have loved to see that the Zentraedi were having their own children."
"Yes..." I had also not been looking forward to this part of the conversation. "Kind people," was all I could say as I gathered my strength. "Miriya...I believe that I know who caused their deaths."
Nearly three years after our failed attempt to destroy the Protoculture Matrix, Cabell, Lantas, and I had journeyed to Earth to see what progress the environmental restoration was making.
Lantas and I were not...together at that point, and the Tiresians were still for the most part too dazed and shattered to contemplate turning against their blood kin, so I had had nothing to call me away from Earth.
For the hunger that Humans possessed for information and perspectives had not abated, and I had found myself swept up in that, put in a similar position as I had been years ago: my schedule filled up with various intellectual and interpersonal pursuits, but not minding a bit because inquiry was my leisure time.
Besides the inevitable interviews, I had been contacted about the publication of something called SDF-3 and Me. It was to be a memoir of sorts, though obviously the media was also hoping for some key to the ships' disappearance to yet be found in my accounts. I had grimaced at the redundancy of that wish, and at the juvenile title, but had acceded.
Others asked for more direct input, and I was called on to do more research into cosmic events and to share information on those and the non-humanoid extraterrestrials I had encountered.
They were also interested in having me look backwards, on my opinions regarding the older Earth civilization, after the arrival of Zor's ship and the first contact with the Zentraedi, aspects which I'd never managed to get to before the launch of the SDF-3.
Those investigations also involved looking into the archived works of Lazlo Zand. The stories that Dana had told us about Zand had turned me against him, but I had never liked the man, despite his connection to Dr. Lang. However, the quest for knowledge could know no squeamishness.
Still, I hadn't concealed my own feelings about Zand when Lantas and Cabell had asked about him. Zand had been interested in my memory retention, the contrast between my small nutrition intake and my constant mental alertness, and how my form differed from the "ideal" male Zentraedi body plan. He had seemed balanced enough at the start, but the feeling slowly grew that I was being relentlessly scrutinized, watched with a quivering glee that reduced me to a mere specimen at the table. I had borne it with enough patience, not wanting to be cowardly about the whole affair, but it was a relief when Zand seemed to be done with me.
His notes then confirmed my older suspicions as to how he viewed the Zentraedi, but nothing was strong enough to make me stop reading. I had grown softer in many ways, but had not become weak.
It had not started with a sudden revelation, a single confession found in some niche in the archival chamber. Rather, I had found several isolated things that had touched off certain suspicions, and had copied and put them aside for later use. Eventually it had built up to the denouement, a statement made baldly in a published book, Event Horizon: Perspectives on Dana Sterling and the Second Robotech War, the manuscript which must have passed through many hands without any fuss being raised.
It read, "There was never any other child born on Earth from a union of Zentraedi and Human. I made sure of that, with the powers at my command. Because, of course, I immediately knew that Dana was the One; Dana was all that was needed. And the plan went forward."
I had slammed the book down to the table's surface, the impact causing both Cabell and Lantas to look up from their chairs. Lantas was the first over to me, asking what it was.
I turned sharply to her, feeling something so unfamiliar it took me several moments to understand what it was. But, everything in my form having gone rigid, I stood up, looking back to the item on the table.
As I did, Lantas' hand clamped round my arm. "Will you please tell me what's going on?"
She'd changed from obedient student to stern taskmaster, a transformation I'd witnessed before. Normally I would have answered her, but at the moment it had been too hard to think.
Sheer wrath, a heat not unlike grief, was there; such as I had not felt since the Malcontent period, and before that time almost never.
And just as then, it was mixed with a knowledge of powerlessness. Suddenly I had imagined myself at my birth-size, methodically plucking off Zand's limbs.
"What is it?" Lantas had asked again, giving my arm a rough shake.
Cabell had moved to the foot of the table at some point when I'd not noticed.
Rejecting the chance to enter the final bit of data, I started for the exit instead, not having any particular path in mind, hearing Lantas shout my name in a tone that was as confused as it was demanding. But perhaps it was a reasonable demand.
Cabell did not follow me through all the corridors, but Lantas did, and tried again to grab my arm and turn me around.
"You're not going until you tell me what's going on. I've never seen you act this way, and I want answers."
I clenched my fists, making the material of my gloves creak. "Very few have."
"It's something important, isn't it? Tell me what it is."
"It is not of cosmic importance." I replied, feeling those unfamiliar emotions coming again. "Therefore it should not concern you!"
"You are my friend; that's reason enough. Now tell me!"
Her own emotions were getting through to me, aiding in the struggle to bring me back to myself, as the word "friend" reminded me that those who had needed to hear this news the most were absent.
"It is something that the Sterlings should have heard first. But they are not present."
"The Ster--." Her mouth had opened and closed once. Then her grip on my arm relaxed and Lantas withdrew her hand, looking uncommonly chastened. "You will do what you will. And come back to us when you are ready."
An unbearable tension was demanding that I move from the spot as quickly as possible. But where could I go?
So I had told Lantas what I had now told the Sterlings, years after the fact.
After the departure of the SDF-3, Zand had recorded his modification of the Malcontent "bugs" to carry an undetectable degenerative contagion. He had made oblique references to "making sure there was only one" and "finding suitable targets" that would not "arouse suspicion." And he'd congratulated himself after some fact, attributed it to his power, his connection to the Shapings.
I had taken too long to reach the obvious conclusion; I should have done so long before I encountered that book. If Zand were so fixated upon making a cosmic key out of Dana (how I felt a different sort of anger at the notion) and wanted interference out of the way, who else to target but her guardians? Emerson's death would have invited scrutiny, but who cared for three "overgrown kids even when Micronized"?
Who cared for the Zentraedi who seemed assimilated and harmless? The Zentraedi that eventually left the factory satellite entirely, sure they did not fit in? That might one day start new relationships with new Human women, producing more children to interfere with Zand's "projects"? Who?
Dana's eyes filled with tears, her understanding it before my tale had entirely unfolded. She whispered a soft curse, but had followed that with,
"Thank you. It...it's good to put things to rest."
Once Dana and the ATAC had gotten settled on Haydon IV I had asked after them. She had said, "They're dead, Exedore. They died shortly after you guys left. I don't know why. Nobody could ever tell me exactly why. They said it might've been health problems related to Micronization, or broken hearts. Can you believe that? Broken hearts?"
I could only remember a coldness, an utter dead feeling deep within myself. I had kept thinking of them through all the days after, somehow being unable to fully grasp the simple truth of their deaths.
So very different it had been, then, from the discovery of Breetai's death. That...that I had accepted with a fast certainty. The terrible hot feeling in my chest, the sudden stinging in my eyes, the failed attempt to take in a breath. An image had then come to me then, one of Konda sobbing at the funeral, and only then had I understood.
But still I wasn't quite able to accept it. I was crying? I?
I had sunk into it, wanting to be anywhere but there, fingers of one hand clenching on the console, the other raised to wipe at my eyes. But then it came to myself and the Sterling family on all sides, holding each other, sharing without speaking. I cannot even remember who pulled me into that embrace, nor whose shoulders I touched.
I had found myself thinking of these things when I had thought my own death was very near.
In the present I said, "We shall have to do that ourselves. But you are right, and I thank you for understanding." I had known it was not easy for them to dig up the past.
Max patted Dana's back.
It seemed that there was nothing more any of us could say. No one proposed we report it to the world at large, and there was no reason to. Rico, Bron, and Konda's deaths had likely warranted but a footnote, now forgotten.
Dana had already shared the stories of the last years of the trio's life. But now I felt the urge to talk about the three ex-spies again. It felt as if I were honouring them, adding my peace to the decades-gone funeral which I had been unable to attend.
There is no Zentraedi equivalent to requiescat in pace, but I hope that one day there shall be.
"I'm very sorry for you all," Lantas said. "They sounded like wonderful people."
"Yeah, they were." Dana put her cheeks in her hands. "A little goofy, but, yeah." Her eyes took on a half-lidded look. "So...got any other stories to tell us, Exedore?"