The Freeman Chronicles: An excursion of imagination into the Robotech Universe
By Stanley S. Bundy
Robotech and associated characters are copyrighted by Harmony Gold Inc., and are used without permission. However, no ill intent is meant by their use in this nonprofit work.
Book One - Agents of Change
Original version: Hand-written November 1988
First Revision typed 1991, on an Atari 130XE
Second version recovered via scanning of dot-matrix printouts 1994-1995, and much correction from scanning errors made.
First Internet version 1997
Minor revisions for PDF conversion 2010
Version 2.0 for , March 2013. Interestingly, I caught a couple of scan-created errors from 1994 that were still present 19 years later, in preparing this version, in addition to making some story tweaks (fixing some dialogue, etc.).
Note for the reader. This fanfic consists of 5 books, detailing different eras. I'll be putting up each book, as completed.
Parts 1-4 make up Book One, and take place in the Malcontent era (2010s).
Parts 5-8 make up Book Two, and take place 2020-2028 (contemporary with the Sentinels as portrayed in the McKinney novels, with a few time tweaks)
Parts 9-12 make up Book Three, and take place 2029-2030 (The war with the Robotech Masters)
Parts 13-15 make up Book Four, and take place 2030-2034 (between wars, and much of the Invid Invasion)
Parts 16-18 make up Book Five, and mostly occurs in 2035 (the conclusion of the war, and the events after)
Originally, handwritten, it was 4 books of 250 pages (exactly) each, and it creeped me out a bit so I went in and expanded the post-Southern-Cross stuff into 6 parts, and rewrote a lot of the earlier books. I've been tweaking the story ever since.
This story started out as a fanfic about an RPG campaign long before the WWW, and has evolved considerably since. Throughout the story I use the terminology of Robotech as it existed in its first 10-15 years.
This story is dedicated to all the people who made it possible -
Tracy and Rick, who got me interested in ElfQuest, which opened my eyes to "third-party" comics, which in turn led me to Robotech;
Kevin Siembieda, whose Robotech RPG session at Marcon 23 turned my blossoming interest in things of the Protoculture into an obsession (Kevin, I hope you don't mind me using two of your pre-generated characters from that session as supporting cast);
The guys I was in reception battalion with at Fort Knox in November 1988, who were my first test readers, as I had the only reading material at hand (novels 1-10, plus I wrote the first half of book one there, and they were my first proofreaders).
Miles Yount, Shannon Jones and Glenn Johnson, who helped me turn this obsessive series of dreams into role-playing "reality";
The late Brian Daley, formerly of the writing team Jack McKinney. Though the "Lost Generation" books made McKinney about as popular with diehard Robotech fans as Carl Macek is with standard anime Otaku, we now realize that you were the real talent behind the earlier books;
and, of course, the late Robert Heinlein, whose book, The Number of the Beast, gave new insights in how to set things right.
Oh, and Tommy Yune can kiss my shiny metal ass. What you have done to Robotech, is comparable to what the Axis powers did to Poland and Korea in the late 1930s (to paraphrase "To Be or Not To Be")
Note: this book, while began during the publication of the Sentinels novels, quickly became a sequel of sorts to the entire publication, film and series line of Robotech. What, you say that they contradict each other? Of course they do. This novel explains why they do.
Just on the border of your waking mind,
There lies another Time;
Where Darkness and Light are one.
And as you tread the halls of sanity,
You feel so glad to be unable to go beyond.
I have a message from another Time...
- ELO, "Prologue"
"NO! I have been used too much! I will not stand by and watch you play God with the lives of humanity!"
"How do you plan to stop me, apprentice? Do you actually think you can do a better job than I can?"
"I don't want ANYONE to do your job. It is too late for me to save the main line from your meddling, but I challenge you - we go head-to-head in the three of the alternates, best two out of three. A match similar to the Earth game, chess, with the three alternate lines as boards, and major figures as pieces, only captured pieces switch sides, unless destroyed."
"Agreed, apprentice, but you will find that saying is easier than doing."
Part One: Through the Looking-Glass
"Our history proves that there can be happy endings - if you're willing to fight for them. Of course, it never hurts to have some outside help."
- Noel Tyler, Kinship.
Lieutenant Scott Freeman was wakened by his beeping vidphone at 0400. "Dear God, please don't let it be another scum patrol," he muttered as he got up from his bed. Most of the last five months, starting with the interrupted New Year 2016 festivities in Manhattan, had been spent battling rogue Zentraedi or human bandits; at first, planet-side, but now from orbit. It had been three weeks since he or his squad had gotten a full night's sleep from Taps to Reveille.
"Freeman here," he mumbled into the phone. "Whaddya want me to kill this time?"
"Lt. Freeman, WAKE UP!" Suddenly Scott realized that it was his squadron commander, Commander Max Sterling, on the other end of the line instead of that bitch Davis down in the ARMD's Sit room.
"Commander Sterling; I'm sorry, sir, for my actions. I haven't been getting any sleep up here."
"So I've heard, Scott. I've got a change of pace for you and your group. Can your squad be ready to transfer back to Little Luna by 1300 hours today?"
"Yes, I think we can manage. What's the mission?"
"I can't tell you right now. As soon as you get here, I want you to meet me on deck seven of Landing Bay Four. Did you get that?"
"Deck seven of Landing Bay Four, Roger. Isn't that kinda in the boonies, so to speak? Even the Zentraedi haven't used that area for decades."
"That's because it's sized for the Tyrolean technicians who used to control the repair procedures on the more sophisticated stuff. But then, it's secrecy that requires such a remote meeting place."
"Can't you at least give me a hint as to what's so important?"
"All I can tell you is that it's possible you could have run-ins with pirates, Zentraedi, or more likely, the E.B.S.I.S. It is of the utmost importance that you succeed in the mission in order to maintain the current balance of power in space. I've gotta go now, Scott; see you later today. Sterling out."
If the NeoSoviets was involved, then the mission probably involved Robotechnology. In the aftermath of Dolza's attack, factions in Eastern Europe seized control of the surviving population centers. While they were a stabilizing force, there was no mistaking what this government's plans were. It was the first group of surviving populace of Earth to secede from the UEG, and was always looking out to acquire more mecha to use in its expansion drives into the wastelands. If his squad did encounter E.B.S.I.S. troops, an international incident could result.
This was due to the differences in position on the issue of salvaging Zentraedi equipment. It was the Soviet's belief that the salvage rights belonged to the discovering party only, contrary to the RDF and UEG ruling that all Zentraedi equipment in orbit belonged to the highest-ranking surviving officer of the Zentraedi High Command - namely Breetai, and it was up to him who could salvage what. So far, there hadn't been any major conflicts between the two governments' forces, but this was only due to the UEG's decision to "humor" the E.B.S.I.S. policy for a while, in the name of peace. For Scott, this policy made about as much sense as the "appeasement" policy of certain nations dealing with the madman Hitler in the 1930s. Eventually, the E.B.S.I.S. was going to use all that salvaged equipment, and there weren't too many opponents left for them to fight.
But what kind of salvage could be this important? All previous salvage ops by the RDF had only required a squad or two to register the claim, and were done completely above board. With the speed of Super Veritechs, it was unlikely that the E.B.S.I.S. could get there first, as the only mecha the "Sissies" had that were comparable to the VTs speed-wise were Zentraedi fighter pods and Quadrono armor, neither of which were easily convertible to human use. And there was no chance that they would let their Zentraedi handle salvage, as they had been burned more than once by all-Zentraedi groups going rogue. If the RDF had to send troops in covertly, then the salvageable goods must be really important, such as an entire bay of mecha on a crashed ship, or possibly Protoculture or even an intact fold generator. But if they haven't been there yet, how would they know what's out there?
Putting his speculations behind him, he started making the rounds, waking his squad mates. The first room he came to was the quarters of his younger brother, Shannon, and Todd Armana. Todd was already up, but Shannon wasn't in the room. In fact, his bed hadn't been slept in. Next was his sister, Janet, and their Earth cousin, Lynn Landers. All it took was a knock on the door to wake them.
Scott still couldn't figure out how he and his two siblings had gotten stationed together; it probably had something to do with the fact that all three of the Freemans has spent their childhood in space, children of two techs stationed on the original Moonbase. They had lived eight years on the moon, until the disappearance of the SDF-1. At that time, the UEDC evacuated all of the civilian dependents of the base personnel. As both parents had remained on the moon, the three kids had to move in with Lynn and her father at their home in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. They were there when the Zentraedi Main Fleet destroyed the Moonbase, almost as an afterthought after destroying most of the Earth's population centers. Ironically, his uncle died during the attack, but not at the hands of the Zentraedi. He was at his job in Knoxville at the time of the fleet's arrival, and was killed in a 70-car pile up on I-40 trying to get back home to get them to safety. Knoxville was somehow missed, although it had taken severe damage from the destruction of Oak Ridge to the west. It was three months later by the time help arrived, in the form of an RDF patrol that was mapping the devastation.
As three of the four kids(all but Lynn) were orphans of space personnel, all four were taken to New Macross to live. When they turned 16, both Scott and Lynn joined the RDF; Lynn went straight into the service, but Scott took and passed the tests to enter officer training. So, by the time of Khyron's assault, Scott, a promising 1st Lieutenant, was squad leader of three other pilots: Lynn, her off-again/on-again boyfriend/wingman Todd, and Janet, who had just finished her training. Scott liked Todd, mostly as Todd was never any competition for dates. When Todd wasn't involved with Lynn, he would steal Scott's dates with his looks, only to lose them because he had no concept of how to act in public. Scott wondered how Lynn was able to stand him.
Finally, he came to the room of his "baby brother's" girlfriend, Kayra. Kayra was a Zentraedi, part of an experiment by the Sterlings. She had been cloned late in the Zentraedi's last campaign, and had been placed in stasis immediately after cloning. After Dolza's defeat, the ship she had been on had to be abandoned, and everyone in stasis was awakened and evacuated. Since she had no real experience in either Zentraedi or human culture, she adapted easily to human society. The only thing setting her apart from normal humans was her unearthly beauty, accentuated by her natural green hair. This tended to cause her trouble, as it took her a while to comprehend human sexuality. After several incidents where persons who tried to take advantage of her naivety ended up hospitalized, she was sent by the authorities to have a talk with Miriya.
Miriya, no stranger to culture shock, did her best to help Kayra adjust. During one of their discussions, Max showed up, and the conversation turned to flying. As all female Zentraedi were programmed at cloning with the knowledge of how to pilot fighter pods(whose controls weren't much different from the jet controls of a VT), they put her in the student's seat of a VF-1D trainer. The Sterlings were sufficiently impressed by her skill to pull every string they knew to get her into the Veritech program. Due to her almost-inhuman skill in the pilot's seat, she racked up record scores in the Accelerated Training Course. After witnessing Kayra's first solo flight, Miriya said "I want her in Skull. NOW. She makes Max and me look like amateurs." After Scott's squad, the Highlanders, had been operating a while, Kayra and Shannon were assigned to it, and fell madly in love shortly afterward.
A very tired Kayra answered the door. "What's going on, Lieutenant? I thought we had the day off."
"Kayra, we ve been reassigned by your friends, the Sterlings. Tell Casanova over there(pointing to the hump still snoring on her bed) to get up and start packing. We have to leave for the Factory Satellite in seven hours."
"Yes, sir. May I ask why?"
"Ask Max; he wouldn't even tell me. Now get a move on, and ... and get dressed before answering the door! Jesus!" Scott had only then noticed that Kayra had been standing there totally nude. "Talk about your Zentraedi modesty!" Scott blushed as he closed the door, and went back to his room to start packing his things for later shipment to the Factory Satellite.
Scott sat in the cockpit of his VF-1J, thinking about Shannon and Kayra. Her race was responsible for the death of their parents, but Shannon didn't care. In fact, the two had tossed around the idea of marriage a couple of times, but they never went through with those ideas, out of respect for Scott and the others, who were just getting used to having a Zentraedi in the squad; having one for an in-law might be too much for them to take. Another thing holding them up was whether or not they would be able to have children. Out of a handful of cross-racial marriages and dozens of relationships, few children had resulted, and he personally had only known of two. One, of course, was Max and Miriya's daughter, Dana, who had been practically adopted by the entire Zentraedi RDF contingent. The other he'd never met, though the child's death the last year impacted all of Skull Squadron. Hirano was the son of Miriya's reclusive friend Seloy; both Hirano and Seloy died in the Brasilia massacre last year. The odds just weren't in their favor.
Scott was willing to forgive the Zentraedi and forget the past, as were all the others - except Lynn. Not only did she blame all Zentraedi for her father's death, she had also lost her first boyfriend in New Macross from Khyron's "Season's Greetings," as some perverse historians referred to his preliminary raid on the city for Protoculture on Christmas. It wouldn't be right to accept Kayra into their family if it drove another member out.
His reverie was interrupted by Janet, who told him that everyone was ready and waiting in their VTs. "OK, everyone, let's get moving. We can't keep the CO waiting." The VTs pulled out of the ARMD's hangar and flew into the sunrise over the Pacific.
"There are only two things certain in life - Death and Revenge." - Attributed to Thomas Riley Edwards.
After their arrival at the Factory Satellite, Scott began his long walk to the requested meeting place. Sure, he could have taken a jeep or even a hover cycle there, but it wouldn't have been the same. At the Academy, he had been on the track team, and had turned in some times that would have been world records, had such things mattered anymore. Today, though, he would settle for walking, now that he was in a place big enough to really exercise himself. The ARMDs were just too small for such activities as running or even walking for pleasure.
Suddenly, he heard voices from around the next corner. At first thinking that he had found Commander Sterling, he started to round the corner, only to catch himself as when he saw that neither person was Sterling. He quickly ducked back around the corner and sneaked a peek at the two men in the hall. The nearer one had his back turned toward Scott, but Scott still recognized him. Only two people in the Solar System wore cybernetic face plates, and Breetai wasn't a six-foot blonde. That meant that the blonde was Colonel T. R. Edwards, leader of Ghost Rider Squadron, a former RDF Veritech squadron that had been transferred to the Southern Cross T.A.S.C. when Edwards "defected" to that branch of the Earth forces.
The other man Scott didn't recognize, except that according to his lab coat and insignia, he worked in the research labs for either Emil Lang or Lazlo Zand. Scott's curiosity got the better of him, so he stood out of sight and listened to the conversation.
"Dammit, I want Hunter and Hayes to pay for what they did to me!" he heard Edwards exclaim. "Why must I wait?"
"My Master's plans must come first," the scientist replied. "When he finally takes the power of the Sterling child, he will become the supreme mind on Earth. Then you will be free to do whatever you wish. To paraphrase an old saying, you'll have the Brawn and he'll have the Brains. The two of you will rule Earth with iron fists."
"Yes, but how much longer will it take him? I'm growing impatient."
"There has been a complication. The Master was attempting the first stages of the transfer when he was interrupted by Major Emerson. For some reason, the Master's powers that he already possesses could not affect that man. It is up to you to take care of Emerson, preferably somewhere in space where there will be no witnesses or survivors."The scientist paused, then continued. "I must go now; the Master is calling."
"Get out of here, and hurry. Neither of us are supposed to be down here. The last thing we need is for one or both of us to get caught in a restricted area."
The two men left, passing through a bulkhead, then going different directions down a connecting passage. Scott was in shock. He had just heard two men, one of which was the commander of the infamous Ghost Riders, plotting the overthrow of the UEG, and the murders of three of the most important people in the armed forces. Also, they had talked of doing SOMETHING to little Dana Sterling, something about her "power"? Whatever they were talking about, it didn't sound like anything that Max or Miriya would approve of, or something that Dana would survive. He was still standing there, trying to figure out what to do, when he felt someone grab his shoulder. His heart leapt into his throat; had one of them noticed him, and doubled back around to silence him?
"Oh, thank God it's you, Commander Sterling. We have to talk sir. I just overheard something of overwhelming importance."
"Scott, call me Max. We're not exactly in a conference, ya know. Can't you wait to tell me until after we discuss your mission?"
"No, Max. I just accidentally overheard something disturbing - a plot of some sort against our forces and EarthGov. They also mentioned some kind of experiments on your daughter."
"WHAT? Tell me exactly what you overheard."
Scott told Max everything he had overheard, from Edwards desire for revenge ("Revenge for what?", Max asked, Scott didn't know) to this "Master's" plans for Dana. Max felt a cold shiver run up his spine as Scott described the latter.
"Just because she's unique doesn't mean she's got strange powers," Max stated to Scott. "Do YOU have any idea who this "Master" nut is, Scott?"
"No, but the scientist talking to Edwards was from the group working on Protoculture; at least, that's what insignia he wore."
"You think that the "Master" might be Lang or Zand? This is insane! Dana's a defenseless little girl."
"I don't know Max, but we'd better keep our guard up. We can try to figure more out when we tell the admirals about this mess."
"Unfortunately, Scott, you're still going to have to go on this mission before you can talk to Rick. Our security rides on your mission being successful."
"Why is it so important?"
"We found out about a Zentraedi scout cruiser that crashed on the moon five years ago with its fold systems and Protoculture supplies intact."
"Now that's important, but why do we have to send a whole squad to get it, especially now?"
"You need to know the history of the ship. During our counterattack against Dolza, most of his remaining ships were destroyed not by our weaponry, but by the explosion of Dolza's command asteroid. The ship in question was only damaged by the blast, but the damage was to the sublight main engines, atmospheric controls, and hull repair system. Everyone on the ship that wasn't in a sealed area was killed by explosive decompression. The ship was able to limp to the moon, where most of the ship's power lines were severed in the crash-landing. The survivors managed to make their way to the ship's reentry pods, and they abandoned ship. They surrendered to Breetai two days later."
"Why did it take so long to find out about the ship?"
"Its landing site is on the far side of a mountain range that runs along the edge of the visible part of the moon, so it wasn't visible from Earth or any of our space stations. We only found out about this ship, the Korra'ti, when a junior officer from the ship was assigned to help procure material from the debris belt to use in the construction of the SDF-3. R'ykandar mentioned his old ship in a conversation with his commander, and when the ship's existence was confirmed, we decided to send a repair team out to salvage it. You will in charge of the mission, which is to bring the ship back here on auxiliary power, if possible. Your squad will assist a team of specialists trained in using MBR-07s to make the necessary repairs and pilot it back."
"Max, if the ship has no atmosphere, how are we going to breathe?"
"You will be taking a Zentraedi shuttle out to the ship. It will be big enough to hold all of the materials and equipment we think you'll need to jury-rig the ship's controls, as well as food for all of you and five extra air tanks for Lt. R'ykandar's power armor. The air supply of the shuttle, where you'll be spending your nights, combined with your mecha's supplies, should be more than enough for your needs."
"How long do you think it will take to fix it?"
"A week to ten days, if R'ykandar is right about the amount of damage. The main reason your squad is going isn't to protect the specialists in their Gladiators, but to help them do things that their Destroids just can't do. After all, a Battloid is a lot more flexible and dexterous than its human pilot; the same thing cannot be said about a Destroid. R'ykandar will be piloting the shuttle, since he is the only one of the mission group who has any experience with it. You're leaving at 0800, which is only nine hours away, so we need to hurry back in. My jeep's around the corner."
As they walked to the jeep, Scott asked one last question. "Max, is there anything else I should know?"
"Other than that you should board the ship with an empty stomach, I don't think so. If you do need to find something out, there's a computer on the shuttle, with everything we know about the ship loaded onto its drives," Max started the jeep. "Oh, I forgot; you will be under radio silence except in case of emergency or if you need a critical supply run. You are to use only the Zentraedi frequencies listed on the radio to contact us. Hold on, I feel the need for speed!"
"Jesus Christ!" Scott said as the jeep took off like a bullet down the giant-sized corridor at excessive speed. "What are you trying to do, make Miriya a widow or something? SLOW DOWN!"
"Can't you take a little acceleration, Scott? If you don't live life to the fullest, you waste it."
"Maybe, but at least let me put my seat belt on; I'm not cut out to be a human cannonball!"
"If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong, at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way."
- Murphy's Law(Expanded version).
"Murphy was an optimist." - Anonymous.
The pre-mission briefing had just ended when Max and Scott arrived, and the others were filing out as they approached the door. Scott thought he recognized one of the techs, but wasn't sure. Didn't she die in Old Detroit?
"Scott! I was wondering when you were going to show up!" she exclaimed as she hugged him.
"Well, Scott, are you going to introduce me to your friend?" Max asked.
"Actually, Max, she's family; this my cousin, Danielle White. We thought she had died in Dolza's assault, but evidently she survived." Scott turned to his cousin. "Danielle, this is Commander Max Sterling, leader of Skull Squadron."
"Hello, sir. I'm sorry I didn't salute either of you, sir," she said as she unconsciously glanced down at her corporal's insignia.
"Don't mind it, Corporal. Why let rank get in the way of a family reunion? I'm going in to talk with Exedore."
"Dani, where have you been? We thought you were dead."
"I was outside Cincinnati at King's Island at the time of the attack. It was horrible. At first, we thought it was just part of the fireworks show, but when Dayton was hit to the north, everyone panicked. Hundreds died in a stampede to the parking lot. I was stuck in a refugee camp for two months there, waiting for news about my home. When I heard Detroit was gone, I headed south, hoping to make it to Lynn's house. My car ran out of gas outside the ruins of Lexington, so I had to walk the rest of the way. I got to Sevierville in November, and spent the better part of two months looking for you. But the only thing I could find was Uncle Jim's grave. No one seemed to know where you went. I finally gave up and hitched a ride with a transport in January to Monument City to join the RDF.
"Did Jan tell you where we were during that time?"
"Yeah. In fact, at one time Lynn and I were supposed to have a class together in training, but it got canceled. When we finally did take the course, we were in different sections. By the way, Scott; Jan, Shannon, Lynn and I are going out for a quick snack before we turn in. Are you going to join us?"
"Why not? It'll help get my mind off of what happened earlier."
"Believe me, you don't want to know."
They left that morning, right on schedule. The next couple of days were spent catching up on lost time with Danielle and double-checking their equipment. The Veritechs took turns, two at a time, flying cover for the shuttle. Finally, on 2 May 2016, they arrived at the site. They knew then that they had a long job ahead of them. There was a gaping hole in the rear quarter of the ship where the engine rooms used to be. Farther up on the starboard side was another hole that exposed much of the second and third decks. However, there were still some lights on aboard the ship, on the lowest level. As they approached the airlock on the port side of that level, R'ykandar hit a button on the shuttle's control panel that signaled the door to open. To everyone's surprise, it did. Unfortunately, that meant there wasn't any air on the other side of the airlock, as the entire hangar had to decompress to allow the shuttle to enter, due to its size.
The ship was almost exactly as Lt. R'ykandar described, with a few surprises. About half of the lowest level still had power, including the room with the stasis pods. This proved interesting, as the pods had been left untouched by the crew during evacuation, as there was no way to bring the Zentraedi within out of stasis without killing them in the vacuum of space the instant they stepped out of their pods. So 263 Zentraedi still slept on, oblivious to the fact that they had been abandoned.
Other things weren't so pleasant. Small rooms that had retained air that, when opened, threw the opener back against the far wall, often to be hit by the bodies of Zentraedi that had asphyxiated in their place of temporary refuge. Other rooms contained the exploded remains of normal Zentraedi soldiers, who hadn't been created with the same toughness that allowed officers such as Breetai to survive for a few minutes exposed to a vacuum. More than once, they saw R'ykandar stop over a body and pay his last respects to a friend that had been caught in the hell that had been the decompressing third level. There were other times when they heard him cry over the comlink, surrounded by the bodies of hundreds of his subordinates and friends. The place was hell in every sense of the word, and the first two days consisted of nothing but disposing of the dead Zentraedi.
After the grisly task of laying the dead to rest was finished, the actual repair work began. All it took was a glance at the air purification and pressurization system to know it was a total loss, and the main engines were only slightly better, if you considered it would take at best a month to fix them to run at half-speed, since the starboard of the two was completely gone. The hull repair system could run off of auxiliary power, and had been doing so. However, in its own damaged state, it would take another year at the current rate for the nanites to seal the hole amidships, let alone the hole where the starboard engine used to be.
That wasn't really necessary. All that was really needed was to restore power to the bridge, but in order to do that, the ship's entire electrical system had to be restored to minimal capacity, cutting out grounds and shorts created by the damage. This was easier said than done. The average size of the cables in a Zentraedi vessel is about the thickness of a Veritech arm, and there weren't any schematics for any of the ship's systems this side of Tyrol, since it was soon apparent that the ship differed from what was supposed to be the standard wiring format of other scouts. It took most of the next week, with all hands working, to track down all the breaks in the lines. By the 11th, almost all of the ship had regained power. On the 12th, the bridge was repaired and the controls for the engines were installed. The highlight of the day was when the artificial gravity was restored while Shannon was showing off in his VT, walking on his hands in Battloid mode. Everyone settled in for a good night's sleep, to prepare for the next day's departure from the lunar surface.
"Dar, when will we be able to lift off?"
"About any time you want to, Lt. Freeman. Power reserves are at maximum, and the auxiliaries are operating at 95%. It's too bad we'll be limited to speeds comparable to your old pre-SDF space program. I wish you could have seen this ship in its prime - it was one of the last ships built, and was one of the best."
"Start the countdown at T - 10 minutes, right ... now."
"Countdown started at 12:57, standard time."
"Danielle, call the Factory Satellite and tell them we're on our way. Estimated ETA is 16 May at 1845."
"Doing so now, Scott. Message has been sent, received, and acknowledged."
"Where's Shannon and Kayra?"
"The last time I saw them, they were heading back to the shuttle," Janet said. "You know what that probably means."
"Unfortunately, I do. Scott to shuttle, answer me Shannon - NOW!"
"Are you two through down there? We're lifting off in eight minutes, and we don't want to have you guys fall overboard through a hole."
"Well, what do you want us to do?"
"Shannon, if you weren't my brother, I'd already have you doing life in the brig for insubordination. What do you think I want you to do? You and Kayra get back in uniform and get the hell back up here on the double. It's gonna take all of us to fly this hulk. Scott out." Scott leaned back in the seat of his Battloid, the Battloid itself sitting in the Commander's chair overlooking the bridge area. "Jesus. All those two ever seem to think about is sex. It's almost like they think this mission is a pleasure cruise."
"Scott, you're being too hard on our baby brother," Janet replied. "After all, you used to be quite the ladies man in New Macross and Monument."
"Janet, I may have had a lot of girlfriends, but I didn't try to screw them every time I had a little time to waste."
"Why worry about them? Shannon can fend for himself, and Kayra's a good person."
Five minutes later, the two lovebirds burst onto the bridge in their Battloids, apparently still dressing inside their mecha. "Scott, where do you want us?"
"At the short-range sensor console, between Nita and Alex."
"Liftoff in 30 seconds... 15... 10... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... We have liftoff."
"Maria, what's our altitude?"
"3000 meters, and climbing."
"At 10000 meters, switch to forward propulsion, and set course for the Factory Satellite." Scott was relieved to finally be heading back in.
"In the name of Zor, NO!" R'ykandar screamed, almost as if someone was trying to kill him.
"What is it, Dar?"
"Set your radio to the ship's intercom frequency."
"It's a countdown, but what for?"
"It's a fold countdown; we're going to fold in 20 seconds. We're as good as dead!"
"It's a blind fold, there's no telling where we'll end up. We could fold into a star, or worse."
"Can you stop it?"
"I could from the fold engine room, but it's too late for that. Hold on!"
The fold started, disorienting everyone for the expansion part of the fold. When the fold stabilized, all navigational bearings were lost.
"Is everyone all right?"
"We're a little shaken down here, but we're okay."
"Dar, I thought folds didn't take any subjective time?"
"Some do, some don't. The SDF-1's fold didn't take any subjective time to go from Earth to the fringe of the solar system, but interstellar folds can take hours, even days, depending on the length of the jump. The time grows exponentially depending on the distance jumped; that's why, if we were in a hurry to get somewhere, we would make a dozen or so smaller jumps to cover the same distance. Smaller jumps take more shipboard time but less real time; one long fold takes less subjective time but a lot more real time. There's a way to circumvent this problem, I've been told, but the Masters withheld it from even the high commanders, and just provided us with input for the computers for when we needed it."
"How long do you think this one will last?"
"There's no way of knowing. However, should we run out of power before we defold, we'll disintegrate into pure energy upon returning to normal space in such a sudden manner. It would be over quickly for us, but the energy released would vaporize an entire planet if we materialized on or beneath its surface."
"What do you want?"
"I just noticed something. Did you know that there are thirteen of us on this mission?"
"So what? It'll take more than that to cause me to believe that old superstition."
"How about the fact that the exact time we folded was 1313 hours on Friday, May Thirteenth? We should have realized things were going too well."
"Thanks a lot, Mr. Murphy, wherever you are."
"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
The tale of a fateful trip..." - Theme from Gilligan's Island
The fold lasted almost two weeks, subjective. By this time, the food that they had brought with them was gone, and they had to resort to eating "Dolza's Revenge", the grey paste that the ship made from recycled nutrients that had been stored in airtight tubs in various closets in the ship. "Just like the Earth military," Dar had said. "Extra food was contraband, but many soldiers had a little stashed away somewhere." Unfortunately, the air was starting to go stale as well, in both the shuttle and the mecha. Dar had been eking out four days per bottle of air, instead of the three that each bottle was supposed to last, and wasn't able to do much in the way of work.
By this time that no longer mattered, as there was little to do anyway but sit and hope that the fold would end. Shannon and Kayra decided to get married, and Dar performed a simple, spartan ceremony three days after the fold began, in his position as the ranking survivor of the ship's original crew. After a one night honeymoon, they were told to knock it off to conserve air, and they complied for everyone's sake.
Both hope and oxygen were starting to run thin when the defold klaxons finally sounded. The shuttle's air was unbreathable, and the mecha had very little air left, with the Gladiators having about three days worth of air, and the rest only a few hours. By some miracle, the ship had defolded inside a planetary system, within 2000 miles of an Earth-like planet.
"Danielle, give me a status report," Scott asked in a raspy voice.
"All systems functional, energy reserves 10%."
"Maria, any data on this system in the ship's computer?"
"Checking the ship's records now... It's the Rhestad system. It has one life-bearing planet, Garuda, which apparently is the one we're currently above. The atmosphere is a nitrogen-oxygen mix, like Earth's, except that there is some kind of bacterial life form in the air that produces a psionic effect in the natives, but is usually fatal to non-natives over a long exposure. The climate is similar to pre-war Scandinavia, and the natives are a humanoid race, with some canine and feline features. Garuda is considered part of the Robotech Master's empire, but the natives are somewhat hostile toward the Tyroleans. The planetary language is Zentraedi, which is used throughout the empire as a trade language."
"Great. We're above a planet with contaminated air that's controlled by the enemy. The natives would be friendly, if they knew who we represent, but as we'll be coming down in a Zentraedi ship we'll likely be attacked by both sides. Any more good news?"
"Our ETA on the surface is 1.2 hours. The hemisphere below us is opposite the one that holds most of the Tyrolean bases."
"Let's hope we get lucky and get a chance to talk before they shoot us."
The hour prior to entering the atmosphere was tense, as the VT pilots became short of air. There seemed to be no response from the surface to their approach, which might have been due to the activity going on in the other hemisphere. What that activity was couldn't be determined from their angle.
"Maybe the Garudans are revolting," Maria suggested.
"Possibly, but I doubt it." R'ykandar replied. "More than likely, it's some kind of live-fire exercise by the Master's Bioroids, or possibly the last remaining Zentraedi."
"Scott, Dar! We're losing power! Reserves are 5% and dropping fast! The power production of the auxiliaries is falling as well."
"Is there any way to compensate?"
"Negative. However, we should be nearly down before we lose power. We'll be at ground level but will still have forward momentum."
"How long before we make planetfall?"
"Take us in. Everybody brace yourselves! Those of you in Gladiators, don't forget the magnets in the feet of those mecha. Activate them and strap yourself in your cockpit, and for God's sake, make sure your weapons are all off!"
The impact threw the Veritechs out of their seats, even though they had been strapped into the Zentraedi-sized chairs. The Gladiators, however, were unfazed.
"Everybody sound off on my command!" Scott ordered. "Dar?"
"I'm okay, Lieutenant."
"We're fine, Scott," Maria replied. They say any landing you can walk away from..."
"I know. Danielle, Steve?"
"Shaken and stirred, but alive," Dani joked, referring to the CD she'd been listening for the last week.
"We're okay, Scott, but I could use a beer right now."
"Join the club, Kurt. Todd?"
"I'm bruised a little bit, and I'd appreciate it if someone would help get this junk off of me!" he replied from under the equipment that had been the jury-rigged engine controls.
"Can we do that again, Scott? Can we, can we?"
"Cute, Shannon. remind me to laugh when we have air to waste. Janet?"
"Did you get the ID of the SDF that stepped on me? My head feels like someone just drop-kicked it."
"Goddamn Zentraedi equipment! Somebody get be out of this chair!"
"I told you it looked like the supports were broken," Todd chided her, helping her out of her predicament after Kurt had helped him get free of his..
"Look who sat in front of a bunch of loose equipment, meathead!" she snapped back at him.
"Now that we're through yelling at each other, what are we going to do?"
"Scott, I suggest we prepare to fight?"
"I'm picking up intruders coming in through the hole in the third level. I can't identify them. Dar, do you recognize them?"
"Invid Scouts and Troopers, Danielle. We're in big trouble!"
"The Invid were the race that the Masters stole the Flower of Life from, in order to control all of the Protoculture."
"The Flower of What?"
"The Invid Flower of Life is the source of Protoculture. I'm not old enough to have been a part of the event, but Exedore once told me that the Masters used the Zentraedi to virtually sterilize the Invid homeworld of Optera, taking the remaining flowers for themselves. The Invid went from a peaceful, pastoral, race to a cold race with a singlething in mind - the slaughter of those that took it from them. Their single-mindedness makes the old Zentraedi way look like pacifism. If they're here, then the Masters must be in pretty bad shape."
"How are they armed?" Scott asked.
"These only have blades in their arms, although variants of these mecha usually have plasma cannon, so watch out. Their weak spot is their sensor, but it's damn hard to hit!"
"They're outside the door... Maria, take your squad out the other door and hit them from behind!"
This didn't exactly work as planned, as they found themselves surrounded by about 30 of the Invid, but they now had room to use their weapons without doing damage to the bridge. Within five minutes, all the Invid were down, and none of the RDF mecha had taken more than minor damage.
"Uhhh... Yes, Dani?" he replied, gasping for breath.
"Your air's down to zero; Dar, Todd and Lynn are out too. You'll have to risk the air outside."
"How's ... the ... others?"
"Shannon and Kayra are about out as well; Jan has about an hour to go before she runs out. The Gladiators still have a few days worth of air, but we'd be contaminated if we unsealed them to let you in.
"That's all right. I'm unsealing now. It's not affecting me immediately, so everyone that's out might as well join me before they suffocate. Watch us, and make sure we don't hurt ourselves when the atmosphere starts affecting us."
One by one, they fell to the effects of the atmosphere. First there were hallucinations, then catatonia, finally ending in coma. The others had moved them back into the bridge area, and sat around, waiting for the end. Suddenly, the calm was broken by a faint message coming over the ship's radio.
"What is it saying?"
"It's in Zentraedi. Maria, can you translate it? You know more Zentraedi than I do."
"Do Battle Pods bounce? '...Invid force defeated, evacuating wounded... start programming course for Haydon IV... have four casualties from exposure to "hin..."' that's the contaminants in the air; I'm losing it. Nita, boost it, if you can."
"I ve got it pumped as high as I can, right now. You'll have to make do."
" ...Prepare to leave orbit as soon as we arrive. Quick, hand me the mike! I'm going to contact whoever this is on here."
"Are you sure? What if they're the enemy?"
"I'd rather die in a fight than in a coma," Alex muttered. "Do it, Maria.
"Calling unidentified persons on this frequency," Maria said in her stilted Zentraedi. " This is Sergeant Maria Perez of the Earth Robotech Defense Force. My colleagues and I have crash-landed on Garuda after an accidental fold by the Zentraedi scout ship we were trying to salvage. We have four Earth humans, one micronized Zentraedi and one full-sized Zentraedi that have been exposed to the atmosphere for almost an hour. We request immediate medical aid. Over."
"WHO THE HELL IS THIS ON THIS FREQUENCY?" came the reply, IN ENGLISH.
"Who the hell are you to be speaking English on this God-forsaken planet?" Maria snapped back, in English this time.
"Never mind who I am, just repeat your ID. Help is on the way, and they need your signal to home in on."
"I am Staff Sergeant Maria Perez of the Robotech Defense Force, Highlander task group, assigned to Skull Squadron. We were on a mission to recover a derelict Zentraedi scout ship from the moon when the ship's fold system activated by itself and dumped us here about an hour and a half ago. Our Veritech pilots and our large Zentraedi teammate ran out of air for their mecha and had to breathe this atmosphere or suffocate. We have six casualties: 4 humans, a Full-sized male Zentraedi, and a micronized female Zentraedi. All have been breathing this planet's atmosphere for nearly an hour. We also have one other Veritech pilot with about ten minutes of air left, so we'd appreciate it if you would hurry. Over."
"Roger. Tell the Veritech pilot to conserve his or her air, because our ETA is fifteen minutes. Over.
"Wilco. See you when you get here. Over and out."
"Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal detective, once said When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. The logic behind this theory is sound; in fact, it theoretically should work every time enough evidence is found. The only problem is to get other people, who by nature are very illogical, to believe your results." - Maria Perez-Logan, Garuda Blues.
The relative silence outside the Korra'ti was soon broken by the arrival of what looked at first to be a group of Veritechs. This notion was dispelled when each of the "VTs" separated into two separate aircraft, one similar to a midget VT, the other like nothing they had ever seen before. Both mecha created by the separation transformed into a Battloid configuration, then hovered down to the ground. As the dust settled, an amplified voice rang through the Garudan air.
"Come out of the ship with your injured in hand and your weapons locked down!"
"By whose orders?" Maria shouted back over her Gladiator's loudspeakers.
"Colonel Jonathan Wolfe of the Robotech Expeditionary Force on behalf of General Vincent Grant and Commander Maximilian Sterling, acting commanders of REF-Sentinels."
The names confused them. Some of them knew Jonathan Wolfe back on Earth, but he was only a Captain, and a young one at that. And they had all met Max Sterling prior to the departure of their mission, but there were too many unanswered questions.
"Should we trust them?" Alex asked Maria. "He sounds like the Jon Wolfe I know, and those mecha do have RDF markings. But how could they have beaten us here?"
"I noticed something when he was talking. He said he was part of the REF, or Robotech EXPEDITIONARY Force. That's one of the names for the SDF-3 mission that the UEG's been considering."
"Maybe so, Maria, but where did they get those oddball Veritechs? I ve never seen anything like them. And aren't Admiral Hunter and Admiral Hayes supposed to be leading the SDF-3 mission?"
"Maybe something happened to them. He did say that Grant and Sterling were the ACTING commanders."
"Alex, I ve been hearing rumors that Dr. Lang is developing a system of mecha similar to those Veritechs," Robert interrupted. " They're called a Legios fighter. The front VT is the Alpha unit, the rear, the Beta unit. But from what I ve heard, they haven't even settled on a design yet for the mecha, let alone constructing prototypes or combat models! Besides, the SDF-3 is just now being built; there's no way it could have beat us here."
"Would you please stop arguing, I'm running out of air!" Janet panted over the comlink. "We don't have any choice. We have to surrender to them, otherwise we're all going to die one way or the other."
"You made your point Janet. Go on out, since you're out of air, and we'll be right behind you once we figure out who's carrying who."
" Thanks, Maria," Janet said as she left the bridge area.
"Colonel," Maria called over her radio. "We're coming out. Get some air to the girl in the VT that's exiting the ship right now; she just ran out."
"Wilco, sergeant. How much longer will the rest of your group be in leaving the ship?"
"We're about to leave the bridge right now."
By this time, a large shuttle of some sort had arrived. Their fallen comrades were taken from them, and they were escorted on board the shuttle, where they were ordered to get out of the Gladiators. Janet was already out of her Veritech, wearing an oxygen mask to recover from her near-suffocation. They were then escorted to a small cabin aboard the shuttle, and were confined there until the shuttle had landed aboard a ship of some kind in orbit. They were then taken to the brig area of the ship, and placed in isolated cells. Immediately afterward, the ship made a quick fold.
Over the next week, each of them was interrogated about their pasts and the mission that had led to their arrival on Garuda. Each time, the person doing the "interview" remained on the far side of a one-way mirror. The line of questioning quickly changed from military to personal, and it was beginning to wear on them. Eventually, the questions turned to things that only a few knew, and the fact that the inquisitors knew these things was troubling. On the seventh day, they were taken planet-side.
Finally, they were reunited with each other, as well as with most of those who had been ill. Only Kayra and Dar were not present, as Kayra was still ill and Dar was too big to fit in the room. A voice came over the room's intercom, telling them to take their seats on one side of a conference table in the center of the room. After they did so, the lights in the room dimmed, and they saw twelve people enter the room through the door, but weren't able to see their faces, as all they could see were the silhouettes in the light coming through the open door. A small spotlight came on, shining on the person at the head of the table.
He looked familiar to them, but they couldn't quite identify him. He looked to be in his early thirties, with faded blue hair showing some blonde roots, and a lean build. However, he looked as if he had been carrying a heavy burden on his mind lately. He took a deep breath, and began to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am Commander Max Sterling, of the Robotech Expeditionary Force. I know you may find this hard to believe, but this is the year 2022. In 2020, the REF, led by Admirals Rick and Lisa Hunter, left Earth for the Robotech Masters homeworld of Tyrol. Unfortunately, we and the Masters passed each other in transit. When we arrived at Tyrol, it was being invaded by a race known as the Invid. In response to distress calls from the surface, we attacked and drove off the Invid, only to suffer major damage to the SDF-3's fold systems. It was estimated that it would take five years to repair the damage. Luckily for the Earth, the Masters didn't have the Protoculture resources needed to fold to Earth, so their ships won't arrive there for at least another eight years, and we should be back there waiting for them when they show up.
"After the Invid were defeated, we were approached by a group of XTs calling themselves the Sentinels . Essentially, they were the resistance leaders from the former holdings of the Masters. While they hadn't been thrilled with the Masters domination, their subsequent enslavement by the Invid was unbearable. They had stood up against the Invid separately, only to be defeated and stuck into a zoo belonging to the Invid Regent. After we defeated the Regent's forces at Tyrol, they broke out of their captivity and came to us for assistance. We came to the realization that they were essentially fighting for the same purposes that we were, and together, we could join together and make sure that neither the Masters nor the Invid could ever threaten us again. A large part of our forces, led by the Admirals, joined the Sentinels, to attempt to liberate our allies worlds. The rest of the REF stayed behind with Dr. Lang and T. R. Edwards in order to repair the SDF-3 and defend Tyrol from future attacks.
"We had an early success on Karbarra, a planet of ursines. From there, we traveled to Praxis, only to find that it had been cleared of its population of Amazons. While most of us were investigating the surface, the Regent sprang a trap on us, destroying most of the Sentinels ship. Worse, the planet was unstable, and we barely managed to escape prior to its self-destruction. We then traveled to Garuda, where we found you. Besides the six of you that had been exposed, the Admirals and two others of our group had been captured and deliberately exposed. Then, in the mission to rescue them, my wife was exposed as well." He paused for a moment, then continued.
"It was after the Invid defeat that we picked up your distress call. We were wary at first, but it soon came clear that your predicament was impossible to fake. After picking you up, we left part of our forces with your ship in order to make it spaceworthy again, then folded here, to Haydon IV, so everyone that was exposed to the hin could be treated. Here, we managed to defeat the Invid with the help of the Praxians, who had been brought here as slaves by the Invid Regis, the Regent's estranged mate. Four days ago, your ship arrived here from Garuda. The Haydonites, Karbarrans, and our own techs have been working on it ever since, and it should be fully functional within a week.
"You may be wondering why your colleague, Kayra, is still in the hospital. Miriya is still there as well. Both had two complications to their exposure. The first is that they are both Zentraedi, and races that have ties to Protoculture, such as Zentraedi, Tyroleans, and Invid, have more adverse reactions to hin exposure. The other, more pressing complication is that both are pregnant; Miriya is about six weeks along, Kayra about two weeks. As pregnant humans have never been exposed to the hin before, nobody knows exactly how the exposure will affect them or the ... the children." Max was starting to crack under the strain. Now everyone knew why he was under so much strain, and Shannon was quickly joining him in that position. Max stepped out of the light for about a minute, where some of the people to his side helped him regain his composure.
"You may have a hard time believing what I have just told you, but, nevertheless, it is true. There is another thing I must tell you as well. Cabell, one of our allies from Tyrol, and the Haydonites believe that, not only have you jumped forward in time, but you have also jumped from one reality to another. Aside from the difference in the result of your mission as compared to the result on record, there is the old theory that an object cannot be at two places at the same time. Here is the evidence. Lights, please."
When the lights came on, the Highlanders were shocked to find older versions of themselves sitting on the opposite side of the table. To Max's left were the five VT pilots, and to the right were the six techs. The younger Danielle took one look at the older version of herself and fainted.
"Corpsman," Max spoke into the comm unit on the table, "Bring in those smelling salts I requested ."
"I see you planned ahead," Scott said to Max, taking the news in stride.
"Now do you understand our situation?" Max asked. "It took the last week just to confirm that you were you. From the comparison of your interviews to what our group remembers, the history of your universe is the same as ours up until the time of your mission. Our Highlander group's mission was flawless; yours ended with a short in the fold computer that sent you here, in a way fold generators were never expected to function. That you even ended up in a semi-habitable system is a miracle; arriving as you did, during a rare time when there was someone here both willing and able to help you, could not have been anything short of divine intervention." He paused for a second, then added, " There are also a few other differences between time lines as well. In this time line, Shannon Freeman never married Kayra Marinoni, nor did she become pregnant. In fact, they had a fight on the return flight from the moon, and didn't speak to each other for the last six years, until she arrived here with Breetai's forces earlier this week. Only now are they attempting reconciliation, although she has already had to go back to Tyrol on the Valivarre. Do any of you have any questions that I might be able to answer?"
"What are we going to do now," Janet blurted out, visibly upset. "We just can't stay here!"
"Calm down, Sergeant Freeman. We have people working on the Korra'ti's computers right now, seeing if they might be able to plot a reverse course for you. It is partially for that purpose that we are sending you to Tyrol."
"Why Tyrol?" Scott asked.
"We want to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. First, Dr. Lang may be able to help in a way the others can't. We also want to send you with some troops to aid him; Edwards' plots are coming to a head, and, while Breetai, Wolfe, and Vince Grant are on their way there, their ships only have superluminal drives, whereas the Korra'ti has a fold generator. Even if you leave three days from now, as scheduled, you should still beat the others back by a full day. The mission is to be a covert one, with your counterparts from this universe acting as your teammates and guides. As the Korra'ti doesn't exist, so to speak, Edwards won't be expecting you."
"How will we be able to get close enough to the planet without being detected?" Scott was uptight about the whole thing, and he had been debriefed upon recovery three days before. "Surely the planetary defenses will pick up our defold and approach."
"Good question. The answer is two-part. You will fold to a spot on the far side of Fantoma, away from Tyrol. The Korra'ti is so small in comparison to the planet that the gravity fluctuation would be within the accepted norm of the planet's field, and won't be picked up. As for getting close enough to launch, The Korra'ti was one of six experimental ships made by the Robotech Masters. They were equipped with experimental energy dampers on the hull that kept all energy use inside the ship from being picked up outside the hull. They also absorb radar scans as well, meaning that the ships could only be spotted by either Protoculture sensors, such as the Invid have, or by sight. The former was an oversight by the Scientists who created the system, as the system was made to help track down the SDF-1. Unfortunately for the Zentraedi aboard the first two ships, the SDF-1 had Protoculture sensors as well, in the mechanism that fired the main gun. It was those sensors that fired the main gun on Macross Island, and the two ships it destroyed were the first two of the cloaked type. Two more were destroyed by the Grand Cannon, and the fifth of these ships was the Ghost Ship destroyed in March of 2016. The last ship, the Korra'ti, was scrapped in this universe that same year, two years before the existence of the system was discovered by researchers translating the entire contents of the computers aboard the Factory Satellite and Breetai's flagship.
"However, your Korra'ti still exists, and its system is still functional. You should be able to come within 2000 miles of Tyrol with no chance of being spotted. We have also fabricated some improved versions of the dampers which have been fitted on both halves of four Legios. You will be able to fly down in them and be undetected until you have to land. Look at this map;" Max hit a switch in front of him that caused a 3-D map of Tiresia to appear on the table. " The most recent intelligence indicates that this building is REF Base Tyrol's HQ. Once there, you are to go to the brig area in the basement. In Cell number 14-A, there is a secret passage leading to the building where Dr. Lang has his planet-side labs. You will be given a packet before you leave that identifies you and your problem, and also contains a synopsis of the Sentinels mission so far." Someone knocked at the door, and gave a slip of paper to Max when he opened the door
"I have some good news for the younger group here; Kayra came out of her coma a few minutes ago, and is asking for her husband. Jean says that if she recovers enough by tomorrow night, she can go with you to Tyrol, but she has to stay on the Korra'ti while she's there, because of her condition. I don't see any need to drag this out any longer, so if you have any more questions, see me over the next two days." Max left the room, probably to check on his own wife.
"This is going to take a little getting used to."
"I know. We'll have to figure out a way for the others to make it clear which one they want to talk to. We both can't keep answering in stereo every time someone calls to one of us."
"I'm worried about something, Scott, old chap." the younger said, with a fake British accident.
"Ouch! No old jokes, please!"
"Sorry. But if Kayra's two weeks pregnant, then that means she conceived during the fold between dimensions. Do you think that it could affect the baby in any way, even if you ignore the hin exposure?"
"I don't know; ask Jean if you get the chance. Come down here to my room; I want to show you something I came across on board the SDF-3. Do you remember those old Speed Racer comics that Dad used to have?"
"Yeah. We must have read them so many time the covers fell off."
"While we were orbiting Tyrol, I was playing a trivia game with some other pilots, and I found out that Speed Racer used to be a TV show 50 years ago. It was a Japanese cartoon translated into English, and it was shown for years back in the 1970 s. I checked in the SDF-3's library to see if there was any information on it, but all I could find were some other Japanese TV shows, none of them translated. I copied them and watched them, just for the heck of it. One short-lived series gave me the creeps, though. I was going to show it to Max or Admiral Hunter when the Sentinels showed up. I absent-mindedly took the disc into the Alpha with me when we scrambled, and I forgot about it until I found it under my seat the other day. Take a look at this." He put the laserdisc into the player.
"This series was the third of a group that had similar concepts, but unrelated stories. The first was Superdimensional City Megaroad; the second, Superdimensional Century Orguss. The last was called Superdimensional Calvary SOUTHERN CROSS." Scott emphasized the last title.
"Do these mecha look familiar to you?"
"Those are Logans and Hovertanks! Are you sure this isn't a practical joke?"
"Positive. Check out these two top brass, especially the Second in command."
"It can't be! That's Bullethead Leonard and Rolf Emerson!"
"Still not convinced? Then look at these three - The blonde, her companion, and the alien warrior. Now look what the alien's driving."
"I don't recognize any of them."
"Look at this, then," the elder Scott said as punched up a split screen. " The blonde on the left, Dana Sterling on the right. Now, her best friend on the left, Vince and Jean Grant's son, Bowie, on the right. By the way, the Grants and Sterlings left their kids with Emerson when they came on this mission, and from what I've been told about this series, the kid that looks like Bowie IS named Bowie, and is the son of the Emerson duplicate. In real life, Emerson is Bowie's godfather."
" This can't be real, or it has to be a coincidence."
"No chance. None of us in Highlander had been planet-side on Tyrol before I found this. Lastly, the alien and his mecha to the left, Cabell's assistant, a Zor clone at top right, and below it, a picture of a Tyrolean Leader Bioroid. And get this; the name of the alien race is the ZOR."
"OH MY GOD!"
"Now, other than Emerson and the Grant boy, most of the names and the setting are unconnected to anything we know, but everything looks too much like something or someone that actually exists. Even the command center for the show's military looks like the new ASC global headquarters in Monument!"
"I still find this too much to put any faith into its reality! Maybe Lang's mecha designers watched this show as kids and made the mecha look like those they saw on TV. There's been a lot of strange coincidences before. Remember reading about the Normandy Crossword in history class?"
"I hope you're right pal, cause I ve got a bad feeling about Earth's future."
"The Legios Fighter System is the ultimate fighting machine. Whole, it has tremendous firepower and speed. Separated, it is two independent mecha where only one had appeared before, adding to the element of surprise. The Legios has three fighting configurations as a whole, and each component has three separate modes as well. It can function as a fighter, bomber, troop carrier or surveillance craft, and is equally good in all of these functions. The only way we could improve it would be to make it invisible."
- Dr. R. Burke, in a briefing on the Legios, 04/12/20
"Dar, How have you been? I haven't seen you since they treated us.
"A lot better, Scott, especially now that I ve been promoted and given command of the Korra'ti."
"Of course you know, Dar, that if we ever do make it back home, you'll go back to being a plain old Lieutenant again."
"I don't mind; at least I'll have some command experience by then. By the way, have you met any of my crew yet?"
"No. Where did they come from?"
"The stasis pods aboard the ship. As soon as she was sealed and pressurized, Cabell and I started waking them and indoctrinating them into the joys of free will. We borrowed some of Breetai's forces extra Pods, both the old kind as well as some that had been built for Micronized troops. The Haydonites were even able to modify the Korra'ti's Protoculture Chamber for sizing as well as cloning, so we could use the smaller pods."
"How about the living quarters? I don't want to get stepped on in my sleep by a sleepwalking Zentraedi."
"One of the old crew areas has been cleaned up, and some REF pre-fab buildings, as well as some Haydonite ones, were put up inside. The area is for you short people only, so you don't have to worry about sleepwalkers. Each person will have private quarters, and we ve stocked up on REF ration packs, so you won't have to eat anymore of that wallpaper paste anymore."
"By the way, Dar, who's gonna help out on the bridge? If I remember correctly, mostly warriors were kept in stasis, not bridge crew or officers."
"You're right about that, Scott. Only two of the sleepers had bridge experience, both of them old friends of mine. Fortunately, the Haydonites installed human-sized stations in the command bubble as well as repairing the full-sized ones down below. Maria's bunch and Kayra are going to stay up here and help out, while Maria's counterpart and yours will be flying the rest of you down to the Tyrolean surface for the mission. There's only room enough for five armored persons in the back of the Legios anyway.
"You don't think we would send you into a possible combat area without any protection, do you?"
"I guess not. What weapons will we have, if we're going in armed?"
"The latest in Protoculture weaponry, from what I hear. It was developed on Mars, but it wasn't until recently that Lang and Burke figured out how to make the compact energy source needed for it to function at maximum performance. It has three power settings; a low-power pistol mode, in case you just want to wound your target, a high power mode that will cut through old RDF body armor like water, and an energy rifle mode that is almost as deadly as a GU, but is smaller than a standard human assault rifle. Most Zentraedi, myself included, used to laugh at human sidearms; we don't anymore."
"I can tell that you ve been studying this dimension fairly thoroughly, Dar. Any reason for that?"
"I figure if we ever do get back home, the knowledge I bring back might help me keep the rank I ve been given here."
"I don't blame you. I'll be back in about four hours with the rest of Highlander to move in, so leave the light on for us, OK?
"The what... Oh, I get it. See you then, Scott."
"Sir, defold is commencing."
"Thank you, Sergeant White. Highlander Task Group, report to the lower Mecha Bay."
"We're already here, Dar."
"Fine, Scott. Is Lt. Commander Freeman ready for takeoff?"
"In a minute, Commander. I'm going over the use of the new rifles with the others. I don't want them to blow up things when a simple flesh wound is needed."
"Understood, but you are to board the Legios and move into the airlock in ten minutes. The mecha have to be sitting on the exterior hull before we get out of Fantoma's shadow, so opening the airlock won't give us away."
"Wilco, Commander. We're boarding now. See you after this mess is over."
Back in the cargo bay of the Beta component, Scott and Shannon were talking about the mission and related things.
"Scott, I'm worried about leaving Kayra up here. What if the Invid show up and attack the ship?"
"Kayra's a big girl, Shannon. She can handle herself just fine. In fact, she's only been out of the hospital for a couple of days, and Dar's already made her his weapons officer."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
They were interrupted by Scott the Elder calling back from the Alpha cockpit. "Scott, this is it. Are you guys ready back there?"
"Yeah. Any time you're ready Scott."
"Then hang on back there folks; we're on our way!"
The next ten minutes were warm, to say the least, and more than a little uncomfortable, despite the padding added to the bay. The landing was uneventful, though, mainly due to the fact that any potential resistance was preoccupied by the commotion going on in the center of Tiresia.
"Guys, turn on your receivers back there!" Scott yelled over the tacnet. We got here a bit later than we thought we would. Edwards made his move against Lang, but he's been thwarted. However, he seems to have some sort of control over the Invid Inorganics left behind by the Regent, and he's using them to cover his escape."
"Inorganics; inanimate terror machines. Some look like skeletal Invid mecha, others like giant sabertooth tigers, but they're all bad news." He mechamorphed the Legios into Guardian, and set down. "OK, everybody out! We're behind schedule. Our target building is 800 meters to the south."
They picked their way through the rubble, having to fight a couple of Cougars along the way. After a fifteen minute hike, they reached their objective, which was under guard.
"Hey, those two aren't RMP!" Janet said, "Who are they?"
"I recognize them;" the older Scott replied, " They're from Ghost, and probably part of Edward's coup attempt."
"Should we take them?" the younger Scott asked.
'Why the hell not?" Scott said, as he walked around the corner and up to the guards. As he approached them, he started smiling.
Scott stopped, and, still with the stupid grin on his face, asked "Can T.R. come out and play, or is he still grounded?"
The two Ghosts raised their weapons in order to shut up the wiseass before them, only to get clobbered from behind by the other Scott and his sister.
"Two down, the rest of the squadron to go."
"I hope not, Jan. Let's move! Maria?" The elder Scott yelled to his copilot and lover.
"Stay here and guard these two, and take their place in case someone else comes along. The last thing we need is to let anyone know we're here. When we've secured the cell area, we'll call for you."
That short conversation spoke volumes to the younger Scott. So this is what the relationship he and Maria had started during the repair of the Korra'ti on the Moon had led to. But there were still some questions in his mind. Why hadn't the two ever gotten married? There seemed to be something ... lacking, for lack of a better word, about their relationship that he couldn't identify.
"Well, Scott? Are you coming along, or are you going to keep stargazing?"
"Sorry, Scott. I had something on my mind."
They entered the building slowly, watching every step for more Ghosts, but none were to be found until they approached the cell block. They dispatched the outside guard with a stun pistol, then listened to see if anyone was inside.
"Scott, do you here what I hear?" The younger asked the older.
"Yeah; it sounds like Edwards himself. Are you ready? On the count of three we go in... one, two, NOW!" They kicked open the door, and rushed in.
In the hallway before them, an interesting scene was unfolding. A man with flowing black hair had just killed a Ghost with his bare hands, and was moving toward Edwards. Edwards was pulling something out of his jacket; a laser derringer.
"Edwards!" The younger Scott yelled, instinctively firing his Gallant. But since he wasn't accustomed to the gun yet, only one shot hit, and then it only hit Edwards' gun by accident. Edwards howled as the gun was torn out of his hands, but still had enough sense to run around the corner and out the fire door before he could be shot at again. Unfortunately, one of the wild shots had winged Edward's other attacker, upsetting his attack and sending him to the floor. They ran to help him.
"Are you OK? I didn't mean to hit you, man."
"Don't worry about it. You saved my life, and I didn't deserve it. Is Minmei all right?"
"Minmei? Oh." Only then did Scott notice that this man had been protecting someone from Edwards, and she was pretty shaken up by her ordeal. "She's OK. You're Lynn-Kyle!" he said, just then recognizing Minmei's distant cousin and former co-star.
"Once I was, But no more. I found out there is no black and white like I used to think."
"I can tell, if your uniform is any indication." The other Scott added in as he bandaged Lynn-Kyle's shoulder. " There, that does it. Can you to take care of yourselves if we leave you here?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Where are you going?"
"Do you know which of these cells is 14-A?"
" The tunnel? Forget about it. I was going to use it to get us out of here, but Edwards had discovered it and had put two Cougars in it to prevent unwelcome guests."
"Great..." Scott hit the transmit key to his link with Maria. "Maria, meet us at the back door. We're going to have to get to Lang on foot."
"Hear ya, love. I'm on my way."
"Hey, wait a second;" Lynn-Kyle said, just then noticing the resemblance between the two Scotts. "Are you two brothers or something?"
"Or something." The younger replied. "I'm a quantum cat a long way from my normal scratching post."
"Dimensional analog; it comes from a book I found while researching my predicament. I'm from a parallel universe, as are the rest of the people here besides you, Minmei, and the other me. It wasn't our idea to go dimension-hopping, but we had a fold generator go weird on us and here we are."
"Whatever you say. You'll need help to find your way to Dr. Lang. Tiresia's changed a lot since the Sentinels left, Commander Freeman, and you'll need a guide."
'What about Minmei? You two can't go traipsing through the middle of a war zone without weapons or armor, and even if she did she would be a liability."
"No I wouldn't," Minmei said. "I may have sneaked my way onto this mission, but once we got here I joined the REF just like the rest of you. Give me a gun and I can use it."
"She's got a point, Commander. There's a small armory though the door that Edwards used. We should be able to get rifles and body armor there."
"All right, but remember; I'm not responsible for you two. You get killed, it's your own fault."
Ten minutes later, they joined Maria at the back door. Unfortunately, so did a couple dozen Cougar Inorganics.
"Maria, look out!" The older Scott yelled, but too late. Maria never knew what hit her as two Cougars pounced on her from behind, ripping her to shreds despite her body armor. "MARIA!" he screamed again, tears running down his face. He charged into the thickest grouping of Inorganics, shooting anything that moved. The others, led by his younger counterpart, tried to cover him with their weapons, but he was downed by a claw swipe by one of the last remaining Cougars.
"Quick, get him back into the building!" Scott yelled. The others quickly complied, and they took off the wounded Scott's body armor once they got him inside. "How is he?"
"He'll live, if we can get him to an aid station within the next hour or so, but there's not enough left of Maria to identify." Todd said, proving once again that he was the master of tactlessness. Scott was borderline as it was, after seeing the counterpart of his lover killed, then his own doppleganger wounded, and making light of the situation didn't help. Lynn made this clear to Todd by kicking him in the shin immediately after he said that. "Sorry, Scott. We will need something to carry him in, though. He won't be able to stand, let alone walk, for a few days. As it is, I ve drugged him so silly that he won't feel anything for quite some time.
"Do you think you can fly the Legios?"
"I think so. From the way the others talked, as long as you don't mess with the separation and reconnection stuff, it's easier to fly than a VF-1. Do you want me to go get it?"
"Yeah, and take Shannon and Lynn with you. God knows what you might run into out there. Hurry back as quick as you can."
Janet motioned to her cousin and younger brother, who followed her out the door. "We're gone."
Todd and Scott cared for the wounded Scott, making the most of their paramedic training to stop the bleeding. While they were busy with that, Kyle and Minmei were getting reacquainted as well. Soon, they heard noises outside the building, but it was too early for it to be the others returning.
"Kyle, What's going on out there?"
"Inorganics, hundreds of them. They're climbing the building!"
"Do you think the others made it out of the area before they arrived?"
"I don't know, but..."
"Scott, this is Janet;" a call came over the net. "Get everybody clear of the lobby."
"What are you going to do?"
"Just be ready to run to the Beta when we land, and you and Kyle get into the cockpit. Todd and Minmei will have to carry Scott into the back."
"OK, we're clear."
Janet fired a full volley of missiles from the Alpha into the building face, taking out a large number of Inorganics and making a hole big enough to bring the hovering Legios through. "All aboard!"
"We're on our way. Kyle, don't get into the cockpit until the others get into the back, so we can cover them."
They got into the cockpit just as the first Inorganics came through the hole. "Jan, get us out of here!"
"Hold on, bro!" Janet hit all thrusters full blast, setting the lower part of the building on fire as she flew out of the building, a Cougar hanging on to the Beta's left wingtip for about a half-mile before falling off. "Scott, we're lucky we came out of this with only two casualties."
"What makes you say that?"
"That building was Edwards' base of operations, and the only reason we met as little resistance as we did was because Ghost was busy fighting the other squadrons in space. When I hit the building, Edwards was pulling out. Ghost hijacked a just-completed SDF-7 class ship, and they're going to make a run toward Optera."
"Where did you hear all of this?"
"I was talking to the Wolfe Pack on my way in. In fact, they attacked the building right after we left. Kyle, where should we head?"
"Check the center of the city. Since the Inorganics came from the Royal Hall, like I did, I'd assume that the fighting there is over."
"Sounds good to me."
As it turned out, there was a field hospital set up at the Royal Hall, so they put down there.
"Unidentified craft, identify yourself! You did not appear on our sensors as you approached."
"Let me handle this;" Kyle said. " This is Lieutenant Lincoln Isle of Dr. Lang's group, along with personnel from Highlander Group, Skull Squadron. We have a wounded person on board to drop off and vital information for Dr. Lang."
"Skull Squadron? How the hell did you get back here?"
"That's what the information for Dr. Lang's about."
"Get out of the VT, slowly." They all climbed out.
'Which of you is in charge?"
"I am, Lt. Scott Freeman."
"You can't be Scott Freeman. You look like him, but one, he's older, and two, he's a Lieutenant Commander."
"Pat, is that you?"
"Yes, my name's Pat, but you aren't Scott!"
"Trust me, I'm Scott Freeman, but not the one you know. Your friend Scott is our wounded person. Maria just got julianned by a bunch of those Goddamn Invid Cats, and he went berserk when it happened. As for me being Scott Freeman as well, that's what my information is concerning."
"Bring your wounded person over here and I'll see for myself whether or not to believe you." When he saw his friend on the stretcher, then looked at the other Scott, he took a deep breath. "Well, I'll be damned."
"Or at least diked." Scott added, followed by moans from the rest of the group.
"You ARE Scott Freeman!" Pat replied. "Only he could make a joke that bad!"
"Thanks for giving me the chance to explain myself. How can we talk to Dr. Lang?"
"He's too busy right now, with the coup attempt and everything, but Dr. Burke is free. Do you want to talk with him?"
"He'll have to do. Where is he?"
"Down the hall and to the left at the first intersection. Ask any of the Rumps down there, and they'll lead you to him. Only God knows what all Edwards was doing down there, but Burke wants to find out."
"I guess the incident on that other Tyrol was the turning point of my relationship with Maria Perez. Even though the Maria that died wasn't the one I was involved with, she was still Maria Perez in every way, and seeing the person you love get diced can have adverse effects on your love life. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what I would have to go through with my future wife..."
- Gen. Scott Freeman(REF, Ret.) - Memories of the Madness: An Unabashed Autobiography
"Amazing!" Dr. Burke said, studying the records that Cabell had sent from Haydon IV on the Korra'ti and its crew. "So you five are from a parallel universe. Theoretically, fold engines shouldn't be capable of such things, but that's Earth theory, not Zor 's. Some of the records Lang found aboard the SDF-1 and the ships that chased it hint that the folds they made were through both time and space, and possibly other dimensions, but we always thought that was thrown in to keep the Zentraedi from trying to take their destinies into their own hands. After all, if you were told that fooling around with something could result in your death, would you do it anyway? However, your presence indicates the records were right and we were fools not to believe them. Emil and I will have to take an in-depth look at the Korra'ti's database before we can make any guesses on how we can get you back home. However, you can do us a favor."
"Grant and Wolfe brought back a group of Praxians and Garudans who volunteered for REF training. They have had some experience with the Sentinels, as well as some formal training in the last few days. They, along with a handful of Bioroid pilots and other Tyroleans trained to use REF mecha, wish to be taken to Optera to go after Edwards and the Regent, but Breetai doesn't have room for them on the Valivarre. We were wondering if you could take them there for us. Not only would it bolster Breetai's forces, but the sight of a ZENTRAEDI ship would send both the Regent and Edwards into full-scale panic! You will have to wait a while before you fold, so you'll get there the same time as Breetai, so you'll have some time to prepare.
"Fine with us. It'll give us time to rest and practice with the new VTs."
"I hate to be the one to tell you, but you'll be stuck on the Korra'ti for the duration of the mission. You're more valuable to us as live ship's crew than dead pilots."
"No buts. Do you want to go or not?"
"Are you kidding? After what that dirtbag's done to my counterpart here? I want his head. Call me when the departure time is set."
"Scott, how do you feel?"
"Like shit. Did you get Maria? She deserves a lot better than to be left in the middle of a road."
"I sent Shannon and Todd after her body. I figure it will remind them just how mortal we all are. They don't take war seriously enough."
"Scott, did Edwards get away?"
"Yeah, but we're going after him. I was wondering about something, Scott. Why wasn't Edwards arrested in 2016 because of what you overheard on the Factory Satellite?"
"I don't really know. For some reason, while I was in transit back to there from the Moon, both Max and I forgot everything - EVERYTHING - that we discussed. In fact, we completely forgot the incident until you guys showed up on Garuda. It wasn't until we interviewed you on Haydon IV that we started to remember what had happened back then. We still don't remember it all."
"Rest bro. That's all I needed to know."
The next week was spent getting used to the new setup on the Korra'ti. The entire ship had undergone further modifications, to the point that one of Dolza's Zentraedi wouldn't have recognized the ship as Zentraedi from the inside. The Haydonites that had been working on the ship landed on Tyrol on the sixth day, to be replaced by the Bioroid pilots and Sentinel VT pilots. These, added to the Zentraedi already on board, made the ship look like a microcosm of the Sentinels, with only the yet-unliberated worlds of Spheris and Peryton not represented on board. A spirit of camaraderie filled the ship's crew, the likes of which had never been seen aboard a Zentraedi vessel before. One enterprising pilot, a member of Skull that had been injured in the initial battle with the Invid and had been left on Tyrol, had a brisk business selling T-shirts emblazoned with the words(in Zentraedi) of the most time-honored T-shirt logo - with a twist. The shirts read "My squadron went with the Sentinels, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt", available in Medium, Large, X-Large, Karbarran, and Zentraedi. Finally, the time came for the Korra'ti to fold, as to arrive in the Tzuptum system at the same time as Breetai.
''Fold in 10 seconds, Commander R'ykandar."
"Thank you, Gamaliel."
"Commander, a Legios just entered the ship's foldsphere!"
"Great." The ship folded at that instant, arriving in the target system ten seconds later. When the ship had settled down, R'ykandar hailed the Legios. "Korra'ti to unidentified aircraft; identify yourself, then report on board immediately!"
"Dar, why did you guys leave without me?"
"Freeman, you lunatic! You're supposed to still be in the hospital!"
"Dar, I told you he'd want to come."
"I know, Scott; I just didn't think he''d actually do something this stupid to come along. Gamaliel, clear him for Airlock One, Hangar One."
"Does his brother know about this yet?" Dar asked the younger Shannon, who was sitting at one of the new consoles in the bubble with his wife and both Janets.
"No, sir." Shannon answered. "My counterpart and his Kayra are getting 'reacquainted', now that she's been micronized again. Some things never change."
"Just for once, Shannon," Scott ordered, "I'll let you interrupt 'yourself' this time. General Quarters."
"Done, brother of mine."
"Dar, I still can't believe that Scott is going in with the attack wave with his injuries."
"It's his right, although his decision is based on getting his revenge on Edwards and the Regent. If we had a choice, we could stop him, but he outranks both of us on this mission because technically, neither of us are members of the REF. Just be glad he isn't pulling rank and taking command of the ship or we would all be in trouble."
"I ... understand why he's doing it, though."
"Scott, I hope you aren't letting what happened in Tiresia affect your relationship with Maria."
"It's hard not to. She may have been a dimensional analog, but she was still Maria."
"I guess coping with loss is the down side of having emotions. We Zentraedi never had that problem with death, but then, we never had the good things either. Sometimes I wish I could find a mate the way Lord Breetai did here."
"Look on the bright side, Dar. You may not ever find a mate, but a lot of captains have been married to their command. The command of a ship is a lot like marriage. In a way, the ship is your wife, and your crew, your children."
"I guess so, but that means I'll be risking my family every time I go into combat."
"That's the misfortunes of war. You'll have casualties, but that's to be expected as much as it's dreaded. It will be hard to deal with, but life has to go on for the survivors. It's when you stop caring about casualties that you should give up command."
"Commander, Lord Breetai has launched his attack. Shall I release our fighters?"
"All fighters and pods, launch at will!"
"Janet 'Senior', it's time for you to join the rest of your squad for your mission."
"On my way, Captain." Janet stood and practically ran to the elevator, hoping to have some time to browbeat her Scott for his coming along.
"Scott, get to your station. We may need to use the ship's weapons if they send fighters after us."
"Yeah. I have a feeling it's going to be a long day."
"They always said that the living would envy the dead..."
-Tina Turner, "One of the Living"
Lt. Commander Scott Freeman had only one thought on his mind - revenge. Revenge for the way Edwards and Zand had messed with his mind in 2016; revenge for his friends that had died aboard the Farrago, destroyed by the Invid after Edwards told the Regent where the Sentinels were heading. But most important; revenge for Maria's death under the claws of Edward's Inorganics.
He wasn't sure at first whether or not he had wanted revenge that badly; after all, the first rule of war is that there will always be deaths. That was before he found out that Maria was three weeks pregnant when she was killed. It was then that he swore that Edwards and the Regent would die, or else he would die trying to send them to hell.
Now, as he began his attack run, he realized that it was unlikely he would get a chance to kill either one. Hundreds of Invid were around him, and suddenly he started picking up what sounded like Minmei's voice over the Tacnet. It was a perverse form of "We Can Win" that Edwards evidently had either forced Minmei to sing during her captivity, or manipulated digitally. It was driving the Zentraedi crazy; Scott didn't dare think how bad it could have been had it been done live instead of on tape. Instead of instilling fear and hopelessness in him, as it did to the Zentraedi, his hate and anger towards the enemy filled him. He flew into the thickest part of the Invid, GU's blazing.
Two minutes later, his missiles and guns had dropped a score of the Invid. He was out of the pack of scouts and troopers now, heading in the direction he had seen Breetai's forces moving earlier. Unbelievably, he saw one of his targets ahead - the Regent. However, he was out of GU rounds and had only a dozen missiles left. He would have only one chance.
As he prepared to fire his missiles, a shock trooper darted into his path, less than 20 feet away, and moving at a far lower speed. The missiles went awry as the two mecha collided. The hapless trooper fell like a stone, its pilot killed by the concussion, and the vessel shattering on impact with the ground. Scott hadn't fared much better. The impact had jarred loose the empty Beta component, and only Scott's expert piloting got the Alpha's engines restarted and the VT level, after they shut down from the sudden loss of compression after the Beta thruster ducts were torn away. Unfortunately, the extent of the damage was making itself known. Half of the left wing, damaged in the collision, ripped off with a loud CRACKK. Furthermore, the Alpha couldn't transform. He struggled with the controls, to little avail. The plane was going down, with him or without him.
He quickly made up his mind. Ahead was the Regent, who was beginning to square off against a Zentraedi in Power Armor; probably Breetai, from the size of the latter. Nearly out of control, it took the fly-by-wire system, the normally space-only steering thrusters, and all he had in him to keep the Alpha on a level heading toward the Regent. He set the self-destruct for impact, nearly losing control as he had to take one hand off of the control stick. He readied himself for the end.
"I'm coming, Maria!" he cried, just as the Alpha impacted into the Regent's side. Both disappeared in a small inferno, the blast throwing Breetai backwards over one hundred meters. When he regained his footing, Breetai went back to the area, and recovered his Power Armor helmet, which had been torn off in his fight with the Regent. He eased it back on his head, over the fresh burns on his neck and head. He said a short Zentraedi lament for the fallen warrior, then went looking for the remainder of his forces.
"R'ykandar, this is Breetai. I am ordering a retreat due to our enemy's psychological warfare. Commander Freeman is dead. He killed the Regent in what the Micronians used to call a kamikaze attack. However, someone is still controlling the Invid forces. I believe we should fall back off-planet, and wait for REF reinforcements. Do you concur?"
The crew of the Korra'ti was stunned, but Scott and Dar passed knowing looks at each other; they had expected something like this. Five seconds passed before Dar answered. "We will withdraw."
"Affirmative. I will relay the recall order to your men as well." Breetai looked around. Already, his mate's forces were pulling out. The well-meaning but inexperienced Sentinel VT pilots had been nearly wiped out, and those who had survived, regardless of race, were evacuating to the Valivarre instead of the Korra'ti, as the latter had no VT repair facilities. As for R'ykandar's Zentraedi, most had already gotten the word, and were on their way back to the Korra'ti. The late Commander Freeman's squad had set down in the hills to the north in VTs retrofitted with cloaking systems based on the Korra'ti's tech. They were to act as scouts for Vince Grant and, hopefully, the Sentinels when they arrived. He blasted his armor into the air, and caught up to and boarded the last departing landing craft.
"Commander, all of our surviving forces have been recovered."
"And the Veritech squadrons?"
"Highlander Task Force is in place at point Delta. All the other squadrons took massive casualties and were evacuated to the Valivarre with Lord Breetai's forces."
"That's just as well. We don't have VT repair facilities. It's too bad we weren't able to test Dr. Lang's new mecha he sent with us." The test pilots had died flying Veritechs, as it was primarily an air battle. "Maybe when Admiral Hunter shows up, he'll let your group test them, Scott."
"I don't think we'll be around then, Dar." Scott sounded extremely worried. "The techs in the fold engine room are reporting a flux in the engines, and they can't shut them down!"
"Attention... Fold in fifteen seconds," a mechanical voice droned over the ship's intercom. "All hands prepare for fold in 5... 4... 3..."
"NOT AGAIN!" Dar and the Highlanders screamed in unison.
"Fold engines activated. Hail Dolza!" A now-familiar sensation came over them, as the space outside the ship went white.
"What comes around, goes around." - Old Earth saying
"This can't be happening! Is this ship some kind of cosmic Flying Dutchman?" Scott was visibly upset with this latest turn of events.
"I guess all we can do is wait it out, again." R'ykandar moaned as he slumped back in his command chair, looking and sounding for all the world like a gigantic Henry Gloval.
This fold only lasted three days, most of which was spent analyzing the records left aboard by the REF, which was no longer represented on board. Those records included the history of Earth up to 2020, which would, even if different from their own world's history, be a valuable aid for the RDF if they ever made it back home. Other matters were discussed at this time, but of a more personal & delicate nature.
"I'm worried about Kayra. She's only about 6 months along, but she's already as big as someone who's full term with quadruplets. I'm scared, Scott; scared for my wife and my child. What's going on?" He looked like he was about to have a nervous breakdown.
"Don't worry, little bro, everything will be all right;" Scott hugged his brother. "Just you wait and see. We'll take Kayra to the best obstetrician we can find."
"But where will that be? What's to stop us from continually bouncing further along in time and space?"
"It seems too much of a coincidence that we ended up where we did before. We'll be all right, someone out there is looking out for us."
"I wish I could believe that, Scott."
"Commander, we're defolding!" Gamaliel seemed to speak for everyone as he shouted in relief.
"Everyone to your posts;" Dar shouted. "Danielle, give me a position check. Does this system match any in the computers?"
"Star class G, the major planets all match up. It's the Solar System, folks! We're home, I hope." She didn't seem too thrilled with the possibilities.
"What is our position?"
"Between the orbits of Earth and Mars. With our new engines, we can make Earth orbit in 20 minutes."
"Provided we want to. Steve, punch up the astrogational program on the computer, and calculate the date by planetary positions."
"I'm a step ahead of you, Commander. According to the positions, the computer comes up with a date of 12 December 2016, plus or minus 36 hours. I think we're really home!"
"Everyone, quiet down!" R'ykandar yelled to the ecstatic bridge crew. "I'm going to attempt to contact the RDF, just to be sure." He cleared his throat, then hit the transmit key on his command chair.
"This is the Korra'ti calling the RDF Space Patrol. Repeat; This is the RDF Zentraedi ship Korra'ti calling the RDF Space Patrol. Do you read me?"
There was a short pause, then...
"Korra'ti, this is Armor Ten. Where the hell have you guys been? You ve been missing since May!"
"You'd never believe me if I told you. All I can say is that we're glad to be home. By the way, inform Admiral Hunter that he's lost raw material for the SDF-3, but he's gained a fully functional Zentraedi cruiser, complete with crew. We'll explain the whole mess when we get to the Factory Satellite. Our ETA at Little Luna is 25 minutes."
"Roger. Welcome Home."