Originally published in Emissaries Vol. 1 #5, Winter 2002
"I hate this song."
Jacob Derrick looked up at the video monitor on the side of the building and frowned. The well-built lad shoved his hands in his pockets in a most contrary way, causing his friend to laugh.
"Well, Eve's pop isn't everyone's cup of tea," John Scott said with a snicker, "especially the recent 3.0 stuff." Where Jacob was burly, with windswept jet black hair and an oh-so-serious expression, John was much leaner, with long brown hair and most contrary, unruly bangs. He wore red tinted prescription glasses, being still rather nervous in this day and age about laser surgery. "What would you rather have running up there," he asked, glaring over those glasses back at his pal, "something from Musica's new album?"
"That's not quite my style either," Jacob said with a sour look.
"Ah, don't mind him," a girl slightly older than the other two said, slapping John on the back, "I'm sure if Jacob had his way it would be military marches all day every day, hup-two-three-four and all that jazz." John coughed, looking back at her with a cockeyed smile. The girl was Elisabeth Saotome, a petite Japanese girl with black hair tied back in a ponytail. She laughed. He just shook his head, then nodded.
"I kinda think you're right, Elisabeth. This boy here was born forty years old," he quipped back at Jacob.
Jacob rolled his eyes. "C'mon, I've got better musical tastes than forty year olds. After all, they all listened to Minmei, and they liked it!" He then looked back up at the monitor. "Say, what's that?" he asked. The two others looked up, too. The music had stopped, and now a virtuoid newsanchor was on the screen with an inset showing the REF insignia.
"--pleased to announce that the Invid menace has left planet Earth. This footage, shot only hours ago over the planet's surface, clearly shows a strange bird of light, believed to be the Invid Regess, taking off from the planet's surface. Casualties have been high, estimated in the hundreds of thousands, but at long last, the war with the Invid is at an end."
Passersby stood still with mouths agape at those words. The full brunt of the realization hit the citizens of Tiresia like a ton of bricks. Some wept with joy, others with fear and anger. The Robotech wars had finally concluded; the homeworld of mankind was free at last.
"Eh," Jacob said, folding his arms, "I say the war's not done 'til all the Invid are wiped out."
John sat down cross-legged on the pavement, shaking his head with a smile. "Well, there's just no pleasing you."
"Yeah, well, what says the Invid Regess won't just change her mind and set up camp on Earth again, huh?"
"He does have a point, John," Elisabeth said, rubbing her thumb across her chin. "Or better yet, what about Tirol? There's no love lost between her and the people here. After all, we did spend an awfully long time fighting her husband in this quadrant."
"My dad said there was no love lost between her and her husband, either," Jacob said. "Nahh, she probably won't be coming here. But Earth again, I'd say that's--"
Jacob's train of thought was interrupted by a sudden explosion not far from where the three teens were standing. "What in the hell?!" he asked, turning towards the sound. A thirty-story skyscraper suddenly began to collapse in the distance, toppling into another nearby tower. "Holy shit!" he screamed. "Maybe you're right, Elisabeth!"
People began to stream away, running and screaming, when suddenly before them another tower exploded before them. The force of the blast knocked thousands of people back. A chunk of broken glass caught Jacob in the cheek, tearing a gash a centimeter thick and three inches long into his flesh. Other debris tore through his clothes, leaving similar marks on the rest of his body. John's head struck the ground hard, and blood trickled down his forehead as he staggered up. He looked around and saw bodies and debris strewn all about, and heard further explosions all around. White light flashed throughout the city, followed shortly by crashes like thunder and collapsing structures.
"You guys all right?" John asked. He watched Elisabeth turn to face the direction of the second blast, give a horrified look, and run into the growing cloud of dust immediately before them. "Hey, wait!" John called out to her.
"Dammit, that stings like hell," Jacob said, brushing his hand quickly against the gash on his cheek and looking at the blood on his hand. He frowned at it, then looked up at the sky. "Aww, hell."
Up in the sky the two teens saw a horde of long, green, almost organic-looking twin-boomed starships, all of them taking potshots at the land around them.
"Zentraedi. Shoulda known."
"Elisabeth ran towards that last explosion. Why would she do that?" John asked.
"Her folks' apartment is in that direction. She's probably going to see if they're OK," Jacob said, pressing his hand against the wound and checking to see if it was still bleeding.
Another blast came down nearby, shearing the top off the REF office tower in front of them. The two started to run away, when suddenly they found themselves being forcefully pushed from behind as a crash left them momentarily hard of hearing.
"Careless youths," a monotone yet somehow irritated voice from behind snapped, just loud enough to be within their current limited register. John looked back to find Veidt's familiar expressionless visage behind him. The hovering, cloaked Haydonite seemed to glance away for a moment as Jacob and John collected themselves.
"More scrapes and bruises. Thanks a lot," Jacob snapped back.
"Would you rather the fifty-first through seventy-second floors be on top of your head at present?" Veidt asked. Despite lacking limbs, his body language spoke volumes about his mood. "I suggest making a hasty retreat to the shelters."
"That's probably a good idea," John said, scanning the skyline of Tiresia and watching as skyscraper after skyscraper toppled to the ground. The teenagers took off as Veidt watched the vessels causing all the damage and wondered to himself what the point of all this was.
"After all, if Kaizath wanted to destroy Tirol, we'd be destroyed."* * *
"God dammit!" Admiral Bryce Davidson shouted, staring up at a three-dimensional diagram of the moon Tirol, complete with the swarm of Zentraedi-looking warships surrounding it at that very moment. "Where in the hell is the SDF-3 when you need it?"
"Sir, reports say that it never rematerialized in Earthspace, and we have no record of it coming back this way, either!"
"Damn!" Davidson shouted, slamming his hand into his armrest. Roughly ten years younger than the true, now-vanished heads of the REF, he was unprepared to deal with such a threat. As interim commander of the military forces, Davidson had figured Hunter and Hayes would be back by the weekend and he would be back to sitting in the corner and smiling and nodding and acting like he actually did something around here. However, despite his inexperience and unwillingness, he rightly figured that if he didn't act now, there wouldn't be a Tirol for his superiors to come back to, and then they'd have his head, if it wasn't already vaporized. Standing and straightening his uniform, he looked about at the crew around him, took a deep breath, and fell back into his seat as the room shook violently and the lights flickered.
"What ships do we have ready in the area?" Davidson demanded.
"The Hellhawk commanded by Captain Raul Derrick is in street-level landing bay twelve. It can be crewed in five minutes."
"Give 'em three. What else do we have?"* * *
As Karen Penn raced for the fighter bay of the light warship Hellhawk, she slapped herself in the head. She had momentarily thought about what sort of trouble her former comrade-in-arms and object of disgust Jack Baker was likely getting himself into aboard the SDF-3, wherever in the cosmos that ship had wandered off to. She hated to admit that she missed his typically ill-timed sense of humor at this particular moment. Even worse, she hated to admit that her mind was wandering from the task at hand--most of the time she was one of the most focused pilots in the entirety of the REF. She feared that perhaps the chaotic personalities of her subordinates were starting to rub off on her.
"So, what are we up against, boss?" one of her younger wingmen, Daniel Belmonte, asked as they boarded the ship. Belmonte was barely seventeen but already a hell of a pilot, at least in the sims. His short brown hair was mussed but for the most part slicked back, save a few dangling bangs out front, and his expression was awfully incongruous with the dire situation at hand.
"Not sure yet, Corporal," Karen said, making her way down the familiar corridors of the Hellhawk towards the bank of fighter bays that was home to the fighters of her 42nd Armored Tactical Assault Corps. "The ships look Zentraedi, but then again, so did the SDF-3."
"Point," Belmonte said as he split off towards the bay for his own craft.
The floor began to shudder beneath the steady yet rushed crew of the Hellhawk, signaling the ship's liftoff. Karen pushed the entry pad on the door to her fighter's bay and held herself in the door frame as the ship rocked slightly. "No announcements or anything," she mused to herself, looking up and around her. "This is rushed even by emergency launch standards."
The bay was a darkened chamber housing one Veritech Shadow Fighter and its attached Beta Fighter booster unit, as well as facilities to maintain the combined unit. The maintenance technician, turning from a diagnostic screen, gave Karen a thumbs-up, signaling that the sleek jet-black transformable fighting machine checked out okay. Nodding, Karen pulled on her flight helmet and leapt into the Shadow Fighter's cockpit, closing it behind her, and stood by for her orders.
They were not long in coming. One of her fighter's monitor screens lit up with the image of the ship's captain, a severe looking Latino man with a military crew cut who answered to the name of Raul Hernandez Derrick. He looked tired and angry, but not necessarily at the poor folks he happened to be sending orders to. "Veritech fighter squadron, prepare for launch on my mark. Converge on the nearest Zentraedi vessel and begin missile bombardment."
"So they are Zentraedi?" she asked. Captain Derrick frowned momentarily, then let out a breath.
"That's what I'm told, Captain Penn." He looked up for a second, then his eyes grew wide. "All Veritechs, launch immediately!" His attention turned upwards again as the bay doors opened and she fired her jets.
As the combined Shadow Fighter and Beta sped from the launch bay into the upper atmosphere of Tirol, she noticed the reflection of approaching fiery light from behind. Karen looked back to find, to her horror, that the ship she had just been on was exploding, engulfed in a column of blazing white light from above. Most of the Shadows in her squadron were right behind her, but some had been forced to desperately ditch their Beta units lest they get caught in the explosion and take the Shadow Fighters and their pilots with them.
"SMEGGING HELL!" she heard Corporal Belmont scream in a mix of awe and horror.
"Is everyone all right?" Karen radioed to her charges.
"I'm all right, but I'm rethinking that brawl with those Valkyrie pilots last month," Belmont said, flipping up the visor on his helmet while keeping one eye on his radar. "Duty with the Jupiter Wing is starting to look really good right now." Other members of the group voiced less verbose but similar acknowledgments.
Karen silently agreed with her wingman as she looked below and watched as Tiresian roads parted and swung away, revealing sleek, light REF warships, all painted in a dull matte black finish, so as to better camouflage themselves in the inky darkness of space. They rose up to meet the twin-boomed, almost organic looking enemy vessels, but almost all would never reach their foes. Blazing through the outer atmosphere and locking onto the nearest green behemoth with her Shadow Fighter's plentiful missiles, Karen tried not to watch as warship after warship was engulfed in the same white fire that had been decimating the city below.
"Lock on target and fire missiles on my mark ..."* * *
"Get up, Jacob!" John yelled, pulling on his friend's arm. "We have to get into the shelter!"
Jacob Derrick had fallen to his knees. He knew the starship Hellhawk on sight, and had watched it lift off from its usual underground launch facility. Childishly, he had waved at it and smiled as he saw his father's command begin to angle to escape the atmosphere and take on Tirol's newest attackers.
Then he noticed the Shadow Fighters break away early. That was odd; it would make more sense for them to launch when the ship was out of Tirol's atmosphere. Then the column of searing light fell from the sky, and somewhere in Jacob Gerard Derrick's mind, something snapped. Like a marionette whose strings had broken, he collapsed to the ground. John heard the explosion and looked back a moment too late to see the event, but when he saw his friend he knew what had happened.
"Ohhhhhh, no. That couldn't have been--" John had always been one to tear up easily, and he had started to feel the waterworks welling up around his eyes. He made a determined face and charged back towards Jacob, grabbing his arm and pulling. But Jacob was going nowhere. As far as he was concerned, his life was over.
No--not his life. His life was not over; on the contrary, THEIR lives were over.
"Damn aliens ... you damned aliens!" Jacob screamed at the top of his lungs.
John let go and took a step back.
"You're going to die! You're going to BURN!"
John made for the shelters and left Jacob to scream until his voice gave out. When he found he couldn't scream anymore, Jacob just curled up on the ground and cried.* * *
"Have you tried calling in reinforcements from Eden or Artificial Colony Liberty II?" Admiral Davidson asked, watching as the Robotech Expeditionary Force's last line of defenses fell to the might of whoever the hell it was that was bombarding the moon Tirol.
"They're jamming all our signals! Nothing's leaving the--oh god, sir, look!"
Davidson looked up at the main tactical display and watched as, just as suddenly as they'd appeared, all the enemy vessels began to blink away until only one remained. That last one appeared to be heavily damaged. Unfortunately, it was on a collision course with the Tiresian Royal Hall.
And they were IN the Tiresian Royal Hall.
"EVACUATE THE PREMISES! LET'S GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! EVERYONE!" Davidson screamed, bolting out of his chair and making for the nearest exit. He was barely through the door when fire and debris began to fall from the ceiling.* * *
And so the moon of Tirol was again brought low by foes from a distant star, another flourishing regime told of their own inadequacy by a familiar enemy through force of arms. But unlike the ancient regime that preceded them, this one would learn from its mistakes and rise anew.
Ten years of hardship and pain would pass ...