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Battlehymn, страница 1

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Battlehymn
 

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Battlehymn


  Battlehymn

  By Jack McKinney 1987

  For Gabriela “Gabby” Aranda

  CHAPTER ONE

  As far as I'm concerned [Gloval] has already disobeyed his orders; I'd urge the council to proceed with a courtmartial if I could only come up with someone to replace him. What do you think, [name withheld], perhaps I could talk [Admiral] Hayes into accepting the position and kill two birds with one stone?...This issue of the civilians aboard the SDF-1 has turned into a real mess. Personally, I consider them expendable-along with Gloval, along with the whole ship, if you want to know the truth. Let's face facts: The thing has already outlived its purpose. You and I are where we wanted to be. Why not give the aliens their damn ship and send them back where they belong?

  Senator Russo, personal correspondence (source withheld)

  There was something new in the cool summer night skies of 2012...You remember sitting on the backyard swing, hands tightly gripping the galvanized chains, slender arms extended and head tossed all the way back, gazing up into the immeasurable depths of that black magic, teasing your young mind with half-understood riddles of space and time. All of a sudden, your gaze found movement there where none should have existed, as if an entire constellation had uprooted and launched itself on an impromptu journey across the cosmos. Your heart was beating fast, but your eyes continued to track that mystery's swift passage toward the distant horizon, even though you were watching it upside down now and in danger of toppling backward off the swing. A screen door slammed, its report a signal that your cries had been heard, your father and his friends beside you trying to follow the rapid flow of your words, your shaking forefinger, pointing to unmoving starfields. "Past your bedtime," your father said, and off you went. But you crept down the wide carpeted staircase later on, silently, invisibly, and heard them in the library talking in low tones, using words you couldn't fully comprehend but in a way that proved you weren't imagining things.

  You'd glimpsed the fortress, a heavenly city returned from the past, massive enough to occultate the stars...savior or harbinger of dark prophecies, your father's friends couldn't decide which, but "a sign of the times" in either case. Like blue moons, unexplained disappearances, rumors of giants that were on their way to get you...And on the front page of the following day's newspaper you saw what the night had kept from you: a mile-high roboid figure, propelled by unknown devices twice its own height above a stunned city, erect, legs straight, arms bent at the elbow, held out like those of a holy man or magician in a calming gesture of peace or surrender. It reminded you of something at the edge of memory, an image you wouldn't summon forth until much later, when fire rained from the sky, your night world annihilated by light...

  In direct violation of United Earth Defense Council dictates, Captain Gloval had ordered the SDF-1 airborne. It was not the first time he had challenged the wisdom of the Council, nor would it be the last.

  The dimensional fortress had remained at its landing site in the Pacific for two long months like an infant in a wading pool, the supercarriers Daedalus and Prometheus that were her arms positioned out front like toys in the ocean waves. And indeed, Gloval often felt as though his superiors on the Council had been treating him like a child since the fortress's return to Earth. Two years of being chased through the solar system by a race of alien giants, only to be made to feel like unwanted relatives who had simply dropped in for a visit. Gloval had a full understanding of the Council's decisions from a military point of view, but those men who sat in judgment were overlooking one important element-or, as Gloval had put it to them, 56,000 important elements: the one-time residents of Macross Island who were onboard his ship. Circumstance had forced them to actively participate in this running space battle with the Zentraedi, but there was no reason now for their continued presence; they had become unwilling players in a game of global politics that was likely to have a tragic end.

  There had already been more than 20,000 deaths; how many more

  were required to convince the Council to accede to his demands that the civilians be allowed to disembark?

  The Council's reasoning was far from specious, it was crazed, rooted in events that had transpired years before, but worse still, rooted in a mentality Gloval had hoped he had seen the last of. Even now the commander found that he could still embrace some of the arguments put forth in those earlier times-the belief that it was prudent to keep secret from the masses any knowledge of an impending alien attack. Secrecy had surrounded reconstruction of the dimensional fortress and the development of Robotech weaponry, the transfigurable Veritech fighters and the Spartans and Gladiators. This was the "logic of disinformation": There was a guiding purpose behind it. But the Council's current stance betrayed an inhumanity Gloval hadn't believed possible. To explain away the disappearance of the 75,000 people of Macross, the military had announced that shortly after the initial lift-off of the SDF-1, a volcanic eruption on the order of Krakatoa had completely destroyed the island. To further complicate matters, GIN, the Global Intelligence Network, spread rumors to the effect that in reality a guerrilla force had invaded the island and detonated a thermonuclear device. Global Times Magazine was then coerced into publishing equally unreal investigative coverage of a supposed cover-up by GIN, according to which the actual cause of the deaths on Macross was disease.

  Just how any of these stories could have functioned to alleviate worldwide panic was beyond Gloval; the Council might just as easily have released the truth: that an experiment in hyperspace relocation had inadvertently ended with the dematerialization of the island. As it stood, however, the Council was locked into its own lies: 75,000 killed by a volcanic explosion/guerrilla invasion/virus. Therefore, these thousands could not be allowed to "reappear"-return from the dead was an issue the Council was not ready to deal with.

  The 56,000 survivors had to remain virtual prisoners aboard the SDF-1.

  And if the Robotech Defense Force should win this war against the

  Zentraedi? Gloval had asked the Council. What then? How was the Council going to deal with the victorious return of the SDF-1 and the return of the dead? Couldn't they see how misguided they were?

  Of course, it was a rhetorical question.

  Gloval's real concern was that the Council didn't consider victory an acceptable scenario.

  Which is why he had taken it upon himself to launch the SDF-1. He was going to focus attention on the civilians one way or another...

  There was panic on the ground and panic in the voice of the Aeronautics Command controller.

  "NAC. ground control to SDF-1 bridge: Come in immediately...NAC. ground control to SDF-1 bridge: Come in immediately, over!"

  On the bridge of the dimensional fortress there were suppressed grins of satisfaction. Captain Gloval put a match to his pipe, disregarding Sammie's reminders. He let a minute pass, then signaled Claudia from the command chair to respond to the incoming transmission.

  "SDF-1 bridge to NAC. ground control, I have Captain Gloval. Go ahead, over."

  Gloval drew at his pipe and blew a cloud toward the overhead monitors. He could just imagine the scene below: the eyes of Los Angeles riveted on his sky spectacle. He had ordered Lang and astrogation to utilize the newly revamped antigrav generators to secure and maintain a low-level fly-by, and so the enormous triple ports of the foot thrusters were scarcely a mile above the streets. There would be no mistaking this for some Hollywood stunt. And not only were people getting their first look at the airborne SDF-1, but also of the formerly top-secret mecha that flew along with her-fighters, Guardians, and Battloids hovering and circling a milehigh bipedal Robotechnological marvel. Forget the majestic colors of those sunset clouds, Gloval wanted to tell them. Here was something really worth photographing!

&nb
sp; "Captain Gloval, low flights over population centers have been strictly

  prohibited except in extreme emergencies."

  Gloval reached forward and picked up the handset. "This is an emergency. We must maintain a low-altitude holding pattern. Our gravity control system is not perfected, and the lives of our 56,000 civilian detainees are in jeopardy."

  Lisa Hayes turned from her station to throw him a conspiratorial wink. "But sir, you're causing a panic down here. Increase your altitude and

  fly out over the ocean immediately. It's imperative."

  I have them where I want them! Gloval said to himself.

  "I will comply with your order if you can give me permission to disembark these civilians."

  The speakers went silent; when the controller returned, there was incredulity and urgency in his voice.

  "Sir, that's impossible. Orders from UEDC headquarters state that no one is to leave your ship. We have no authority to countermand those orders. You must leave this area at once."

  It was time to let some of the anger show. Gloval shouted, "I will not rest until those orders are changed!"

  He slammed the handset back into its cradle and leaned back into the chair. Vanessa had swiveled from her screen to study him; he knew what was on her mind and granted her the liberty to speak freely.

  "Sir, isn't it dangerous to be making threats while we're on the aircom net?"

  Claudia exchanged looks with Gloval and spoke for him.

  "This fortress is a symbol of the Council's strength," she told Vanessa. "If it gets out that the captain is resisting orders, the Council would lose face-"

  "And there's a chance," Lisa added, "that our communication was being monitored." She turned to Gloval. "Isn't that true, Captain?"

  Gloval left the chair and walked forward to the curved bay. The cityscape was spread out beneath the ship; Veritechs flew in formation, and great swirls and billows of lavender and orange sunset clouds filled the sky.

  "I'm prepared to keep the SDF-1 here until we are monitored, Lisa." He turned to face Claudia and the others. "I don't think there's much chance that the Council will reverse its decision. But politicians can sometimes be helpful, and it's possible that someone in the government will get wind of this, see an opportunity, and step in."

  "But the Council isn't going to like your tactics, sir," said Vanessa. Gloval turned back to the bay.

  "Even if I face prosecution, this is something I must do. Civilians have no place onboard this ship. No place in this war."

  But for the time being the SDF-1 was stuck with its civilians. However, it had been outfitted with a reworked shield system. Dr. Lang had dismantled the pin-point barrier and liberated the lambent energy which animated it-the same energy which had materialized with the disappearance of the spacefold generators some time ago. His team of Robotechnicians had then reanalyzed that alien fire, careful to avoid past mistakes, tamed and cajoled it, and fashioned a newly designed harness for it. Where the former system relied on manually operated maneuverable photon discs that were capable of covering only specific portions of the fortress (hence the name "pin-point" system), the reworked design was omnidirectional, allowing for full coverage. It did share some of the weaknesses of its prototype, though, in that activation of the system drained energy from the weapons systems, and full coverage was severely time-limited.

  If only the personnel of the fortress could have been similarly outfitted...but who has yet designed a shield system for the heart, a protective barrier, pin-point or otherwise, for the human soul?

  Roy Fokker was dead.

  The VT pilots of Skull Team had their own way of dealing with combat deaths: The slain pilot simply never was. Men from Vermilion or Indigo might approach them in Barracks C or belowdecks in the Prometheus and say: "Sorry to hear about Roy," or "Heard that Roy tuned out." And they

  would look them square in the eye or turn to one of their Skull teammates and ask flatly, "Roy who?" some might think the skull were kidding with them and press the question, but the response remained the same: "Roy who?" Nobody broke the pact, nobody spoke of Roy, then or now. Roy simply never was.

  Except in the privacy of their quarters or the no-man's-land of their tortured memories and dreams. Then a man could let loose and wail or rage or throw out the wane questions humankind has been asking since that first murder, the first death at the hands of another, the one that set the pattern for all that followed.

  Perhaps that shell game the Skull Team played with death had found its way to the bridge, or maybe it was just that Fokker's death was too painful to discuss-the first one that hit home-but in any case no one brought it up. Claudia and Rick were each separately cocooned in sorrow no one saw fit to disturb. Kim and Sammie talked about how sorry they felt for Claudia, knowing how much she missed Fokker, knowing that underneath that brave front she was torn up. But neither woman ever approached her with those feelings. Even Lisa seemed at a loss. That afternoon she had followed Claudia to the mess hall, hesitant at the door, as if afraid to intrude on her friend's grief...Did it occur to her that Claudia and Rick-the lieutenant at the observation deck rail and Claudia seated not fifteen feet away-might have been able to help each other through it, or was Lisa also one of the speechless walking wounded, wounds in her own heart reopened, wounds that had been on the mend until Fokker's death?

  It was Rick she approached that afternoon, the City of Angels spread out below the observation deck like some Robotech circuit board. Rick looked drawn and pale, recuperating but still weak from his own brush with death from wounds he had suffered indirectly at her own hand. But there was no mention of Roy, although it was plain enough to read in his dark eyes the devastation he felt. And the more she listened to him, the deeper she looked into those eyes, the more fearful she became; it was as though all light had left him, as though his words rose from a hollow center, somber

  and distanced. She wanted to reach out and rescue him from the edge. There was music coming through the PA, a song that had once welcomed both of them back from a shared trip to that edge.

  "That's Minmei, isn't it, Rick? Have you two been seeing each other?" "Sure," he answered flatly. "I watch her on the wall screen, and she sees

  me in her dreams."

  No help in this direction; Lisa apologized.

  Rick turned from her and leaned out over the rail.

  "She's been spending a lot of time with her cousin Kyle. You know, family comes first."

  "Well I'm glad you're all right, Rick. I was worried about you." That at least brought him around, but there was no change in tone. "Yeah, I'm feeling great, Lisa. Just great."

  She wanted to start from scratch: Listen, Rick, I'm sorry about Roy, if I can be any help to you-

  "So I hear we've got a new barrier system," he was saying. "And I guess we need it more than ever, right, I mean, since the Council is refusing to allow the civilians to leave-"

  "Rick-"

  "-and it isn't likely that the Zentraedi are going to call off their attacks." She let him get it all out and let silence act as a buffer.

  "The Council will rescind their order, Rick. The captain says he'll keep the ship right there until they do."

  Rick sneered. "Good. And the sooner it happens, the better. I know we're all anxious to get back into battle."

  Rick's eyes burned into hers until she could no longer stand it and looked away. Was he blaming her somehow for Roy's death? Had she suddenly been reduced to some malevolent symbol in his eyes? First Lynn-Kyle and his remarks about the military, and now this...Below she watched the traffic move along the grid of city streets; she looked long and hard at the Sierra foothills, as if to remind herself that she was indeed back on

  Earth, back among the living. But even if the Council had a change of heart, even if her father came to his senses and allowed the civilian detainees to disembark, what would become of the SDF-1 and her crew?

  Where and when would they find safe haven?

  CHAPTER TWO


  LAPSTEIN: In light of the, well, "psychological" problems which beset the Zentraedi after the SDF-1's successful return to Earth, isn't there some justification for suggesting that Khyron should have taken over command of the Imperial Fleet?

  EXEDORE (Laughs shortly): We would not be having this interview, of this I can assure you.

  LAPSTEIN: Of course...But in terms of strategic impact?

  EXEDORE: (After a moment) It could be said that Khyron was more aware of the dangers of cultural contagion than many of us, but he was no longer thinking as a strategist. The SDF-1 was not his main concern; that the ship contained a Protoculture matrix was of little importance. He had by now come to believe that by destroying it he would put an end to what he regarded as a psychic threat to his race. I will leave it to your "psychologists" to examine his underlying motives. But I will add this: He was responding in pure Zentraedi fashion-he recognized potential danger and moved to eliminate it. My hope is that this will rescue his image from what many of your writers have termed "humanness. "

  Lapstein, Interviews

  Khyron was possessed by the Invid Flower of Life; without being aware of it, he was by now working against the Zentraedi imperative.

  Rawlins, Zentraedi Triumvirate: Dolza,

  Breetai, Khyron

  Well within striking distance of Earth, two Zentraedi cruisers moved through space, silently, side by side, Gargantuas from an unholy realm. A day would come when the commanders of these ships would stand together at the gates of an even blacker void, released from an artificial past and feverish with exhilaration for a present in the making, hands and hearts

  linked, an evil pact made good, laughing into the face of death...But today there were harsh words and recriminations, a taste of what was to come for the rest.

 
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