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Before the Invid Storm, страница 1

 часть  #21 серии  Robotech

 

Before the Invid Storm
 

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Before the Invid Storm


  Before the Invid Storm

  By Jack McKinney 1996

  To supporters and critics met on the Internet: Todd Hill, Captain Harlock, PeterWW, Ethan P2144, Mondo Mage, Mad Mike, Miriya, Skull Leader, Ceej, and Breetai 13, among numerous others.

  AUTHOR'S NOTE

  The definition of Protoculture that appears as the epigraph to Chapter Three paraphrases an anonymous posting that appeared on both alt.tv.robotech and AOL.sf.television.robotech. The choices of an Ikazuchi Command Carrier for Carpenter and a modified Garfish for Wolff were by consensus. The story itself grew from suggestions by Michael Riccardelli and Bill Spangler.

  For historians, this book is meant to follow #9 of the original Robotech adaptations, and, as I see it, bridges the last gap in the series. That is not to say, however, that there aren't stories to tell about Zor, the Zentraedi, the Global Civil War, Macross Island, and the aftermath.

  My work, in any case, is completed. So, a final thanks to "HAL"; Carl Macek; Tatsunoko Production Co., Ltd.; Harmony Gold; Comico, Eternity and Academy Comics; Palladium and Donning Books; Del Rey Books; Risa Kessler; Ellen Key Harris; Steve Saffel; and everyone who read, wrote, reviewed, and retaliated.

  CHAPTER ONE

  As a species enslaved to time, we are wont to package history in tidy bundles. And so we find ourselves at the mercy of commentators who speak of First, Second, and Third Robotech Wars. And we are forced to listen to those same voices obsess about the generation of Henry Gloval, the generation of Rick Hunter, and the generation of Dana Sterling . . . When, in my humble opinion, there was only the War that began with the arrival of the Zentraedi and ended with the departure of the Invid; and only one generation that lived through it: the generation of the lost.

  Jacob Remy, Robotech

  Misa Yoshida sipped green tea while the Robotech Masters' flagship fell to Earth, the whole of its starboard side aglow. A swarm of Logans and aged Veritechs trailed in seemingly slow-motion pursuit, like wrathful wasps spilled from some unseen orbital nest. Missiles of every conceivable type tore from the pylons and launchers of the reconfigurable fighters, fires blossoming against the instrument-studded backbone of the holed and deteriorating battlewagon. Silent explosions, both surface and internal, hurled building-size chunks of slagged alloy into Earth's already debris- littered atmospheric envelope. Some of the pieces struck and obliterated entire squadrons of Southern Cross mecha, but the chase continued unabated.

  Veteran pilots of the First Robotech War could recall the devastation wreaked by the SDF-1 during its gradual dive to the surface, thirty-three years earlier. And the flagship—ravaged by fire and beckoned by gravity— was twice the size of that uninvited end-of-the-century visitor.

  The digital feed from the robot news cameras was superb. Misa could almost believe that she was witnessing the scene through a viewport on one of the orbital weapons platforms, rather than watching it on wallscreen in the comfort of her spacious apartment in underground Tokyo. At twenty-

  two, she had only been alive for the catastrophic conclusion of the war against the Zentraedi, but she had often screened archival video of their attack on Macross Island, various encounters between the SDF-1 and the ships of Breetai's fleet, and, of course, the battle against the alien armada. Granted, scant footage had survived the Rain of Death, but nothing she had seen rivaled what the War Channel had been presenting since the arrival of the Robotech Masters, a year earlier.

  Sometimes Misa found herself concerned that she didn't know what to do about the emotional desensitizing wrought by her hours and hours of viewing. A year ago she had been crying herself to sleep every night, but lately it seemed as if the war was taking place on a different world. Change channels and you could still find movies, sitcoms, sumo-bot wrestling, and exercise infomercials. In large part, that was because much of the war had been fought in space, and there was little any Earthbound citizen could do but support the efforts of the Army of the Southern Cross and shed nightly tears for the dead. In fact, most of the world was eager to perpetuate the illusion that what was happening above would have no impact on life below. From the start, it had been assumed that the city targeted by the Masters would reap the whirlwind. While sovereign nation-states like Brasília, Mexico, and Rome had not been ignored by the Masters' weaponry, Monument City—in the Northlands—had taken the brunt of their ire. Headquarters of the United Earth Government, the Army of the Southern Cross, and the Global Military Police, Monument was without doubt the most important city in the world and arguably the most prosperous, though by no means the most populous. It also had the distinction of being the closest city to the war memorial that was thrice-born Macross, whose three Human-made buttes marked the resting places of the SDF-1 and -2, and the cruiser that had carried the Zentraedi warlord, Khyron Kravshera, to his death. And—as with the Zentraedi themselves—the SDF-1 had once been the property of the Masters, dispatched from their grasp by a renegade

  scientist named Zor.

  Still, no one could explain why Tokyo, of all places, had escaped attack.

  Perhaps it was simply that the largely underground city hadn't offered much of a target for the Masters' laser cannons and lesser batteries. Or perhaps the Masters were under the impression that by sparing Tokyo they were sparing the life of Dr. Lazlo Zand, with whom they had been in brief contact three years earlier, and were unaware that Earth's chief Protoculturist had been relocated to Monument.

  Whichever the case, Tokyo's exclusion from the war had only heightened Misa's sense of guilt; and so she kept the wallscreen on-line day and night, in the spirit of remote participation—to remain, if nothing else, informed about the war.

  And just now the war was being brought down to Earth.

  "We take you to the outskirts of Monument City," a news reporter was saying, "for an update on the latest in a series of ruinous developments . . ."

  Misa set her tea aside and leaned toward the wallscreen.

  Thousands of people were fleeing Monument—and with good cause, since a sizable portion of the city was in flames. Bioroids, the saucerlike mainstay of the Masters' fleet, were dropping in waves on Monument and on nearby Fokker Aerospace Base, clearing a path for the flagship, which was descending toward Macross's triad of mounds. Two towns at the outermost perimeter of the city had already vanished in a thermonuclear inferno.

  The War Channel's use of the phrase "live from Monument City" struck Misa as ill-advised.

  "And this just in . . . We have now confirmed earlier reports that Major General Rolf Emerson had been taken prisoner by the Masters. It now appears that the chief of staff of the Ministry of Terrestrial Defense has died inside the Masters' flagship, of wounds sustained aboard the Tristar, during yesterday's counter-offensive . . ."

  She hugged herself and swung away from the screen, tears welling in her eyes as she stared out the window at subterranean Tokyo. She knew Emerson—indirectly, as it happened—through Southern Cross fly-boy Terry Weston. Terry had been Misa's roommate and constant though much older

  lover, until his recent reenlistment in the Tactical Armored Space Corps and his upside transfer.

  More than the War Channel, it was Terry who had kept Misa and her closest friends apprised of the ASC's small victories against the Masters. These were victories that owed much to the efforts of the 15th Alpha Tactical Armored Corps, an elite Hovertank unit, which had engaged the enemy in space and on the ground, and on at least two occasions had infiltrated the enemy flagship itself. In command of the 15th was none other than Dana Parino Sterling, who, as well as being famous as Rolf Emerson's ward and the only offspring ever to result from a Human and Zentraedi mating, had also been a previous—and much younger—lover of Terry's.

  At times,
even Terry hadn't been able to separate the misinformation from the disinformation, but he had relayed to Tokyo whatever scuttlebutt reached his ears. For example, that the Global Military Police had managed to insert an espionage operative among the clone population of the Masters' ships. And that the Masters—until recently—had been tiptoeing around Monument City because of some Protoculture-manufacturing device concealed inside the SDF-1. The latest rumor to come down the well was that the Masters had issued an ultimatum to Supreme Commander Leonard that humankind either abandon Earth, or find itself caught in a war between the Masters and their enemies, the Invid.

  If anyone could have negotiated an accord with the aliens, it would have been Rolf Emerson, Dana Sterling's guardian. And now Emerson was dead.

  Tears coursing down her cheeks, Misa gazed absently at the huge fiber- optic display screen on the wall of the neighboring residential tower. The telepresence known as EVE had once dominated that and other screens, but EVE was long gone, gone with Zand and his Protoculture research facility, from which Zand's conversations with the Masters had taken place. With nothing but advertisements running on the screens ever since, was it any wonder that Misa preferred to stay tuned to the War Channel?

  Moth to a flame, she returned her attention to the news . . .

  Dead, too, by all accounts, were Anatole Leonard and Chairman Wyatt Moran. Word had it that Leonard, the Supreme Commander of the Army of the Southern Cross, had blundered definitively at the end, and, by rejecting Emerson's plea to consolidate all ground-based forces, had allowed the Masters' flagship to slip through Monument's defenses.

  Cameras positioned near the Macross memorial relayed a dazzling close-up of the spade-fortress, as three segmented appendages extruded themselves from the ship's underside. From each appendage came a zigzagging beam of light as bright as a solar prominence, which cleaved the tallest of the mounds, displacing avalanches of trees, boulders, and dirt from its flat top, ultimately exposing the headless corpse of the SDF-1 itself. The beams intensified and merged, and more of the dirt and debris that had been heaped on the Super Dimensional Fortress fell away or was incinerated.

  But just when it was beginning to look as if the Masters were intent on levitating—if not resurrecting—the fortress, the flagship abruptly powered down, tipped to one side, and exploded.

  Then something even more unexpected occurred: the explosion appeared to arrest itself. Misa thought that she had inadvertently activated the wallscreen's replay-and-pause function, but not a moment later a nova flared at the center of the cleaved mound and a shaft of refulgent energy shot upward from the SDF-1, engaging and somehow dampening the blast of the exploding starship.

  Dampening, but not entirely containing the burst.

  There was no way to stabilize the satellite-relayed image now. The ground was shaking with the force of an earthquake, and enormous fragments of housings, armor, and structural members were pelting the two standing mounds and the surrounding plain that had once been Lake Gloval. Atomized, the SDF-1 disappeared in what at first seemed to be a storm of swirling dust particles, but in close-up looked more like seeds or spores. Spores, and more: petals, leaves, flowers, entire plants—sucked upward and sent wafting in every direction, as if being sown by the explosion itself.

  Misa gaped at the wallscreen, not knowing what to make of the sight. She reached a trembling hand for her cup of green tea and raised it to her lips. Had the Earth been saved—rescued one final time by the very ship that had started it all? Or had something more sinister than defeat been visited on the world?

  Dana Sterling marched bravely at the head of the crowd, the side arm she had filched from Angelo Dante tucked into her broad leather belt, Polly the XT pollinator gamboling at her feet. She felt ravaged in every part of herself, burned raw, inside and out. Rolf Emerson, Leonard, and Moran— dead. The afternoon made colder by strange winds, born of the destruction of the Masters' flagship and the SDF-1 mound. The sky shrouded by black smoke from the funeral pyre that had been Monument City . . .

  Behind her marched the rest of the 15th ATAC—Angelo, Bowie, Sean, and Louie—along with Cosmic Unit commanders Marie Crystal and Dennis Brown; Global Military Police lieutenant Nova Satori; Musica, Mistress of the Cosmic Harp; and the two hundred or so alien clones the 15th had rescued from the Masters' flagship.

  In the east hung a great roiling cloud of spores and petals that had been funneled into the upper atmosphere by the destroyed flagship. Dana had come to think of the mushroom cloud as a transfer station for the seedlings of the Flower of Life, a place of penultimate appointment where they hung until the winds dispersed them worldwide. The physical and spiritual foodstuff of the Invid, the Flowers of Life were harbingers of Earth's next cataclysm.

  To many it would appear that Zor Prime had died for nothing, having sacrificed his life to prevent the Masters from retrieving the Protoculture Matrix hidden by his namesake aboard the SDF-1. But Dana had been granted a glimpse of a deeper truth—or at least she thought she had. Mirroring the chaotic dance of the spores overhead, images swirled in her mind, though she couldn't say which were the by-products of real events and which were flashbacks of hallucination.

  Her recollection of those final moments aboard the flagship were nothing less than dreamlike. The plummeting ship . . . Zor Prime's assassination of the Master named Shaizan . . . Zor Prime's final words to her. "They brought punishment down on themselves through their misuse of the Protoculture, and I am the instrument of that punishment, ordained by the Shaping."

  The Shaping. Over the years she'd heard the term bandied about by the disciples of Dr. Emil Lang and Lazlo Zand, both of whom had turned Robotechnology into a kind of religion, with Protoculture as its demiurge. But to hear the word from Zor Prime's lips . . . Was he crazy at the end, she wondered, or merely a victim of the Protoculture?

  Only moments earlier, on the flagship, as a consequence of touching a canister of the Protoculture, Dana had had her own fling with madness: a vision of sorts, fashioned of images lifted from events of the past year, commingled with others whose origins she couldn't explain.

  She recalled a green field, lush with the Flowers of Life, surrounded by hills and vales—though only her Southern Cross body armor and the distant, windblasted crags gave any hint that she was on Earth. Dark, cloaked figures had shown her a youthful image of herself and had intimated that she belonged to a triumvirate of clones, like those the Masters had created on Tirol.

  She had rejected the suggestion, even if it wasn't far off the mark. She was, after all, half Zentraedi, and that race of giant warrior clones bad also been created by the Masters. And, yes, there were many times when she had tried to deny her ancestry, in the interest of fitting in. But in the hallucination, rejecting the alien side of herself had landed her in a bleak landscape, among skulls and bones and the ash piles of ten thousand cremations. Only to be rescued from her exile by a black-eyed sprite of a girl, who was wearing a short, flowing garment of gold and white, cinched at the waist by a broad belt. A garland of woven Flowers of Life in her hair, the sprite had introduced herself as the other child of Max and Miriya.

  Dana's sister.

  "Oh, Mother and Father will be so glad to know that I've finally made contact with you," she had said.

  And Dana could recall thinking, Finally?

  Around them were low crystal domes, and arching overhead was a purple sky hung with unrecognizable constellations. Faint music filled the air, reminiscent of the ethereal strains that emanated from Musica's Cosmic Harp. The sprite pressed a bouquet of Flowers into Dana's hands and hurried away to join two shadowy figures that had appeared on the scene.

  Time grows short, one, or perhaps both of them, had sent to Dana without speaking. So much has happened since our last contact with Earth, so many astounding things. Your powers are awakened now, and they are growing. Use them cautiously. We of the Sentinels are only beginning to understand the true nature of Protoculture.

  Okay. She had known abou
t the Sentinels since Major John Carpenter's bumbling return from Tirol, months earlier. But was she supposed to accept that the hallucination's two shadows were her parents, who had apparently thrown in with that ragtag band of alien freedom fighters? Sounded like more of that nonsense about the Shapings. Even so, the sprite had given voice to a warning that was still ringing in Dana's ears. "Beware the spores, Dana. Beware the spores and the Invid!"

  Dana had still been in the throes of the Protoculture-induced vision when Zor Prime had kissed her, scooped her up in his arms, and sealed her inside an ejection capsule, like she was some Lisa Hayes Hunter surrogate. Astounded by his actions, she sat frozen while he had secured the latch of the little, superhard alloy sphere and tasked it for launch. "I will allow no harm to come to your people," he had assured her.

  But Dana had wondered during her slow descent to Earth, had Zor Prime been referring to Humans or Zentraedi?

  The capsule had landed on the crest of a low foothill, atop which sat the Macross Scenic Overlook. It had puzzled her that Zor Prime should send her there, of all places, but then it dawned on her that she was meant to bear witness to his self-sacrifice and to the death of the Robotech Masters. And

  she had: curling herself into a ball when the flagship exploded; then railing at Zor Prime and the falling sky when the Protoculture Matrix had released the Flowers of Life from bio-stasis and seeded the world with their spores.

  But she did so only for a moment. Because Lazlo Zand and Napoleon Russo had suddenly appeared on the scene, completely out of their skulls. Zand, who had had a fixation on Dana since her infancy, was vampirelike, displaying some sort of high-tech Dracula device, babbling about Dana's matchless powers, how they went beyond Protoculture, and how he would have them.

 
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