A Ranma ½ / Robotech crossover
DISCLAIMER: Ranma ½ belongs to the brilliant Takahashi Rumiko. Robotech is owned by Harmony Gold USA, Inc. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story is based on McKinney's books. C&C desperately needed.
Chapter 5: Dark Beauty
For eons upon eons, Pluto had traveled its unstable orbit around the Sun in a never-ending voyage of solitude. Captured by the yellow star's gravity, forced to wait for eternity a freedom that would never come, the lonely planet navigated the black void, undisturbed by anything or anyone.
That is, until the Super Dimensional Fortress One and the island of Macross suddenly appeared in its proximity, still encapsulated in a force field of swirling white energy. Pluto's only satellite, Charon, was promptly bathed in blinding light, the likes of which had never been seen so far from the young sun.
The sphere of light then disappeared, exposing its contents to the harshness of deep space. But even as the Protoculture-powered force field flickered out of existence, unknown side effects caused by the failed spacefold continued acting over the transplanted environment. In an instant, the absolute zero temperature froze the chunk of seawater the starship had brought along, and the air soon followed the same fate. Translucent flakes of frozen air commenced falling over the ruins of Macross city, soon covering the scars of the recent battle in a thick mantle of inscrutable whiteness.
For a moment, the SDF-1 hung in its position, a silent witness to the chaotic events. Then slowly, reluctantly, it began dropping towards the ruined city, a victim of the pseudo-gravity imposed on the island by those same secondary effects.
Ranma heard Claudia finish the countdown, and then Gloval ordered his tense crew to begin the "hyperspace fold-jump," as the old captain called it.
At that moment, his vision seemed to cloud over. It became impossible to focus, and the world around him acquired a sense of double exposure that disturbed Ranma. In a vain attempt to clear his vision, he squeezed his eyes shut tightly and shook his head. When he opened his eyes again, Ranma discovered to his surprise that the colors of the bridge had apparently changed, and everything was suddenly outlined in different hues of red, orange and yellow.
Before he had the chance to ponder on the possible causes of this new phenomenon, the bridge returned back to normal. There had been something very familiar about the side effects of the spacefold operation, but he couldn't quite put his finger on exactly what.
´This can't be good,´ thought Ranma as the lights went out. In no time, though, the emergency lights began casting an eerie, uniform red light over the people present in the room. For some reason, this didn't help to calm him.
Gloval gave a few orders, and soon the lightning was normal again. ´Something is wrong, I just know it.´ Ranma slowly backed to a corner. Ranma knew he wasn't supposed to be there, and he felt like he was intruding where he wasn't wanted. So he kept his mouth closed, and silently witnessed the events unfolding in the nerve center of the ship.
"There's something on the radar, Captain," said Vanessa, one of the three young female techs that comprised the bridge crew in addition to Lisa and Claudia. "Something very large."
"It must be the moon; that was the target of the fold," calmly reasoned Gloval.
"No, it's too small, sir. I'll put it on the screen." Vanessa keyed in a few orders in her terminal, and the main screen soon showed an astonishing sight.
´Macross Island?´ Ranma wondered, not wanting to believe what he was seeing. There was no doubting the images provided by the external camera, though. All the details and landmarks were there, all of them covered in a thick coat of something that looked like snow: the battle-torn city, the aircraft supercarriers—both of them held in place by the now-frozen sea waters next to the harbor—, the hills where the underground shelters had been built…
´The shelters!´ Ranma suddenly remembered that Jason, Max and Lena were in there with the rest of the Macross population. ´Please, let 'em be all right!´ he mutely prayed.
Vanessa gasped before yelling, "It's Macross Island, Captain! And it's coming straight toward us!"
Gloval hurried to her side and gave the readouts a quick glance. "No, we are going towards it!" Turning to his Bridge Officer, he ordered, "Fire the retro rockets, Claudia!"
Claudia quickly typed on her keyboard, sweat glistening on her brow. "It isn't working, sir! The computer's dead!"
"Emergency! Emergency!" said Lisa over the PA system, trying to keep her voice steady and only partially succeeding. "Collision alert! Prepare for impact!"
The SDF-1 collided with the frozen island with devastating force, punching through the last standing buildings that had miraculously survived the preceding disasters. On the bridge, everyone was thrown from their feet, except for Ranma, who somehow managed to keep his balance. He noticed through the commotion that one of the women had tripped and was falling backwards, about to crash into one of the situation consoles. Almost without thinking, he leapt towards her, catching the woman before she could hit the hard surface with her head.
´That was a close one,´ thought Ranma, holding the lean woman in his arms. "You okay, miss?" he asked, gazing at her face for the first time. ´Oh, no.´
Lisa was looking at him through narrowed eyes, a deep frown in her face. "Let go of me," she ordered in the coldest tone he had ever heard. "Now."
He would have never acknowledged it, but the ire visible in those big brown eyes scared him. Thus, he released her a little too quickly, and Lisa, surprised and unable to react, fell to the floor on her bottom.
Lisa's face reddened with anger as she tightly clenched her tiny fists. Slowly, she stood up, letting out a growl and beginning to walk towards Ranma. The pig-tailed martial artist retreated, warily eyeing the fuming Lisa, but stopped when he realized that there was no place to run.
Before things could escalate further, though, Kim, another of the techs that formed the bridge crew, cut in, "The radar shows enemy mecha on the island, sir! They're attacking!"
"Lisa! Order Skull Squadron to engage the enemy!" ordered Gloval. "We need them there immediately!"
"Yes, sir," said Lisa through locked teeth. Shooting Ranma one last hateful glare, she hurried to her duty station. Ranma sighed, relieved. Following her with his eyes, he noticed with detachment that she was gently rubbing the sore spot with one of her hands, only to quickly tear his gaze away when he realized exactly what he was staring at.
A faint blush coloring now his face, Ranma heard Lisa relaying Gloval's command and couldn't help but wonder what Rick and Minmei were doing in that moment. Not much, probably.
At least, he was sure they couldn't be a having a time worse than his.
´What the heck're we gonna do now?´ That was the question that had plagued Rick's mind for the last half an hour.
Mockingbird, the one-seat racer of his design that he had built with his own hands, was hanging upside down from a wide assortment of cables and lines, only a yard or two above the deck. Once, it had been white as the snow, with a red stripe along its side that had only served to make it look all the more beautiful in his eyes. Now, however, most of the paint had peeled off, and a big part of the fuselage had been damaged during their chaotic reentry into the SDF-1.
With hindsight, trying to take Minmei back to Macross hadn't been the wisest idea. But how on earth he was going to know that the SDF-1 was about to execute a fold operation—whatever that was.
Giving the wrecked plane one last look full of regret, Rick decided to go look for Minmei and see what she was doing. That was one of the few good points of that whole ordeal: he got to spend some time alone with the beautiful Chinese girl.
If only he weren't lost in an alien starship…
"PLUTO?" Ranma's shout was echoed by those of everyone else present in the bridge, with the sole exception of Vanessa, the one who had informed them of their serious situation.
The last Battlepods remaining in the island had been dispatched quickly. Most of them had thrown themselves blindly into a kamikaze attack against the SDF-1, where its primary and secondary batteries, Destroids, Spartans, Gladiators and other Civil Defense mecha—early products of Robotechnology, incapable of flying but with lots of firepower to compensate—had made short work of them. The rest of the round-bodied war machines had been shot down one by one by the squadrons of Veritechs in an intense but short-lived dogfight, bringing peace to the ship for the moment.
It was then that Gloval asked the question everybody feared to answer: what was the SDF-1's current position? Only having that piece of information they could know how far the Earth was, and how long the trip home would be. The answer had been worse than anyone's grimmest expectations.
"Impossible!" cried Kim, shocked.
Claudia only shook her head. "I knew this wasn't a good idea."
"Pluto," whispered Sammie, the last—and the youngest—of the members of the bridge gang, with a tremble.
Ranma's eyes were wide as he thought of the implications this unexpected turn of events could have. "Surely, she can't mean Pluto, right?" he asked, turning to Lisa. "As in 'the planet Pluto'?"
"Yes." Lisa's tone was still vexed.
"Pluto?" asked Ranma one more time. "As in the farthest planet from the Sun?"
"YES!" she snapped.
Taken aback by her outburst, Ranma started to back down once again, returning to his secluded corner. "Okay, okay. Jeez, what's with her, anyway?" he grumbled under his breath. "How come I always gotta deal with tomboys?"
Gloval rose from his chair. "Now, now. Calm down, everybody; there's no need to panic. All we have to do is fold back to Earth and we'll be where we began."
This appeared to bring order back to the bridge—for a moment, at least. It was in that exact instant that the hot line rang. Gloval let out a deep growl before picking the red handset. "Gloval here. WHAT? Wait there; I'll be with you right away." He put the handset down before turning to Claudia. "Show Ranma to the visitor's quarters, Claudia." And with that, he headed for the hatch.
Ranma was the first one to react. "Uncle Henry," he said, not noticing how Gloval flinched upon hearing this. "What happened? Anything wrong?"
"Doctor Lang informs me that the fold system has disappeared." The hatch closed behind the old Russian captain.
Everyone stood rooted, stunned by the obvious implications the loss of the fold drives possessed. Ranma was the only one oblivious to all this, but he was able to recognize that something serious had happened, if only by looking at the scared, tear-streaked faces of some of the women present.
He turned to Claudia, who was standing at his right. She was staring into space, seemingly lost in thought. Fighting down the growing dread he was feeling, he asked, "What's a 'fold system'?"
"It's the device that allows as to do position jumps through space—just like the one we just did," Claudia answered in a dead voice, as if she weren't really answering him but instead talking to herself.
"That means…" he trailed off, unwilling to voice his own, terrible conclusions.
She looked at him for the first time, and Ranma could see the worry etched in her big brown eyes. "Yes, it means that we're stranded here."
Ranma gasped as the gravity of the situation finally sank in. How were they going to return? Was returning even possible? Would he ever see his friends, his family again? He couldn't brood on this matter for long, though, as Claudia's melodious voice distracted him from his musings.
"C'mon, I'll take you to your quarters."
"Huh? Oh, yes. Nice to meet you, girls," he said to the trio of techs, who had returned to their stations looking for something to do that could take their minds away from the harsh reality.
"See you, hunk!" Sammie called out just as he was exiting the bridge, and all three of the techs erupted in much-needed giggles that seemed to sweep away the tense atmosphere in a moment. Lisa, however, just whirled around, ignoring him, arms folded across her chest. Seeing her reaction, Claudia let a knowing smirk reach her lips. ´This should prove interesting.´
The hatch snapped shut, and they were left alone in the deserted hall.
"This way. Follow me."
They walked quietly for a few minutes, both deep in thought. Claudia was a couple of steps ahead of Ranma, leading the pig-tailed man through the complicated maze of gigantic holds and compartments that formed the ship's interior. They made a quite peculiar couple: he, with broad shoulders that denoted a lifetime of martial arts, and blue eyes partially covered by a thick mop of black hair; she, with delicate features and dark skin, and close, coffee-colored curls that gave her a rather exotic beauty.
Unexpectedly, Claudia broke the silence. "She's not that bad, y'know."
"Huh?" asked Ranma intelligently, caught off guard by the cryptic remark.
"Lisa," she clarified. "She's not that bad—once you get to know her."
Ranma didn't seem convinced. "Maybe…"
"So," continued Claudia, obviously looking for topic of conversation, "what do you do?"
"Me? I'm a martial artist," he said matter-of-factly.
"Really?" Claudia looked sincerely interested. She was an accomplished hand-to-hand fighter, but she usually had a hard time finding sparring partners. Not many soldiers liked to fight their superior officers, and even when she ordered them to spar with her, they stood like punching dummies, not willing to strike her once. And her boyfriend, Roy, who was supposed to be a good martial artist, acted in the same, idiotic fashion. His excuse was different, though. "I could never hurt such a beautiful face," the jerk would say every time she asked him to spar. "What art do you practice?"
"Um, never heard of it," admitted Claudia. "Are you good at it?"
A cocky grin crept to Ranma's face upon hearing the question. "I'm the best."
"Do tell. Well, I know a couple of moves myself. Perhaps we could spar someday?"
The grin quickly disappeared, only to be replaced by a doubtful expression. "Er, I dunno…"
Claudia's brows came together. "Why? What's the matter?"
"It's just that I don't like hittin' girls," Ranma nervously explained. "Besides, I'm not sure you'd be much of a challenge, y'know?"
"Oh, is that so?" drawled Claudia, dangerously narrowing her eyes. "Well, don't worry. We don't have to spar if you're afraid or something."
Ranma drew back, almost as if she had thrown ice water in his face. "Me? Afraid? Ha! I could beat you blind-folded!" he boasted, covering his eyes with one of his hands to illustrate his point.
"Great, then," said Claudia, trying to keep the smirk out of her face—and failing. "I'll call you when things calm down a little bit and we'll set the day."
"Well, that's the one," she said, pointing with one of her slender fingers to a hatch at the end of the corridor. "I gotta get going."
"Bye!" yelled Claudia over her back as she ran away.
"Wait!" called out Ranma, but it was too late; she was already disappearing in one of the wide halls, slim legs moving with incredible grace.
´What just happened?´ wondered Ranma, still staring in the direction she had gone. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought that she had tricked him—but that wasn't possible. Nobody ever tricked Ranma Saotome. Well, nobody but Nabiki. And Cologne. And…
Not giving it any more thought, he headed for the hatch. It opened with a soft whir of machinery, revealing a vast room behind. It didn't have much in the way of furniture: there was a bunk at one of the corners, a wooden closet, and a small refrigerator. The walls were mostly bare, too; only a man-sized world map adorned them. As was to be expected, the map had been recently updated: no borders were shown on it, only one omnipresent country extended over the whole world and ruled by the United Earth Government. Looking at the floor, Ranma noticed what he supposed was the Robotech Defense Force logo painted on it: a kite-like emblem centered in a silver shield. What attracted his attention, though, was the large rectangular viewport hidden by a pair of white curtains. ´What would they need curtains for in space?´
The room, Ranma decided, had the distinctive mark of the military on it: not luxurious, but practical. Of course, he wasn't about to complain. Living in the road for more than a decade had taught him that anything was better than sleeping on the ground.
Setting his backpack on the bunk, Ranma threw back the curtains—and immediately caught his breath.
Pluto—dark, solitary, mysterious Pluto—greeted him, showing itself before him in all its eternal glory. Forever immersed in shadows as the old planet was, Ranma could only guess its cold, rocky surface, or the tenuous atmosphere that poorly concealed it. Next to Pluto, patiently waited Charon, its faithful satellite, completely covered in an ocean of water ice. And crowning it all, thousands of millions of stars alighted the space beneath them, and above them, and all around and beyond, like shining diamonds on a black velvet backdrop.
One word found his way up to the gaping Ranma's brain: ´Amazing.´
Breetai Tul, commander of the Zentraedi fleet sent to retrieve the missing Dimensional Fortress, was angry. More than angry, he was furious, enraged.
How it was that Zor's ship had escaped, he didn't—couldn't—understand. How had he permitted that offense? That the Zentraedi, the mightiest race of warriors in the universe, had been fooled so; it was almost unbearable. He, who had defeated the vicious Invid in mortal combat so many times, who was second only to the supreme commander, Dolza, had been bested by mere primitives. Right when he thought the Dimensional Fortress would finally be his, when there seemed to be no way out for the weaklings, they had somehow executed a spacefold operation right over the surface of their puny planet—which was supposed to be impossible!
The mountainous alien rose from his chair and began to impatiently walk in circles, occasionally peering at the projecbeam astrogational charts floating in midair in the middle of the large room, as if he could find his foe's current location in them.
Tall even by Zentraedi standards, Breetai had been wounded terribly during a battle against the Invid, the most dangerous enemy of his race. Because of those injuries, the right half of his scalp and almost half his face had been covered by an alloy skull plate, and the eye had been replaced by a gleaming crystal; all permanent reminders of the price of failure. He clenched his fists so tight that the huge knuckles creaked audibly, trembling with his anger.
The primitives had escaped, yes. But Exedore, his most trusted advisor, together with a team of techs, was looking for them, searching the universe for any evidence, any sign of the ship that held the secrets of Protoculture.
They had found it once, and they would find it again. And this time, there would be no mistakes.
"Amazing," breathed Ranma as his gaze roamed around the new Macross City. The broad streets, the newly-painted buildings; everything was perfect, as if he had been somehow transported through time and space, and were back in Macross Island, walking slowly towards the SDF-1. Ranma looked up and admired for a moment the powerful lighting system set up to imitate solar illumination. It wasn't perfect, but it was a beginning. In fact, Ranma had heard that EVE (Enhanced Video Emulation) engineers were about to start experimenting with more realistic sky effects.
"Rome wasn't built in a day; Macross City was!" had proclaimed Mayor Tommy Luan, and he hadn't been far from the truth. Salvaged wreckage had been reprocessed in Robotech fabrication machines, and transformed into usable materials needed for the titanic construction. Blueprints and plans had been drawn using the powerful computers aboard the SDF-1, and holds had been emptied to make room for the city. Generally speaking, almost all of the ship's vast resources had been put at the refugees' disposal. "Robotechnology at the service of humanity," as many had called it.
But machines hadn't done it all. Almost every single one of the seventy thousand civilian survivors had worked long and hard laying the foundations of this new Macross, sometimes even twenty-four hours a day. Ranma had helped, of course, and his exceptional strength had come handy on many an occasion.
The real surprise had come, however, when Uncle Max had told Mayor Tommy Luan that Ranma was a martial artist. Max had later told him that it had just been an idle comment, but Ranma had his suspicions. The mayor had immediately gotten excited for some reason, and had rambled for what had seemed like hours on how his city lacked a martial arts sensei of quality and skill, and on how pleased he would be if Ranma decided to teach now that he lived in Macross. Then, he had remembered that—oh, happy coincidence—there was a vacant lot next to the spot reserved for Max and Lena's restaurant. Although he couldn't prove it, Ranma was pretty sure the couple was also behind all this.
So they had built a dojo.
At first, he hadn't wanted to accept it. How was he supposed to pay for it? And he hadn't wanted it to be a gift, either. The mayor had explained to him that everything was free during the rebuilding: the military provided the materials, and the people put the work. What was he going to pay for? But Ranma had insisted. If he had just taken it, it would have felt too much like he was taking advantage of their hospitality, too much like something his father would do…
Finally, one phone call to Uncle Henry later, he had accepted. It was decided that he would pay by working for free instructing members of the Military Police and officers of the RDF. Considering the sheer number of military personnel in the ship, Ranma concluded he was going to be really busy in the future.
"My own dojo," he muttered quietly, almost trying to convince himself that this wasn't a dream—nor a vision. He turned around and gazed at the polished floors, at the wooden walls, and decided that, after all, he was lucky.
He had never admitted it, but he had been looking forward to teaching in the Tendo dojo. When Akane had died, though, that dream—and many others—had simply lost their importance, becoming utterly meaningless. He had been forced to lock them away in some remote place of his mind, hoping that, some day, he would be brave enough to open that little Pandora's Box. Brave enough to see its contents and once again be able to confront all the painful memories without crying for hours on end.
Well, maybe, just maybe, he was ready now.
The Tendo dojo… After that terrible day on Phoenix Mountain, Ranma had returned to Nerima only once. Gathering enough courage to face Soun, Kasumi and Nabiki was one of the most difficult tasks he ever did. But, somehow, his voice had been steady and his eyes free of tears while he had looked at them in the eye and told them Akane had died.
Afterwards, he had tried to forget and go on with his life, as so many of his friends had advised him. But every single place in Nerima brought Akane back. If he hadn't done something, anything, he would have gone crazy. So he had made a decision. One night, while everyone was sleeping, he had left the house, carrying nothing but his old leather backpack and without so much as a backward glance.
He had lost a home—his first and only home—that night.
But now, working shoulder to shoulder with the people of Macross, building the city anew as a team, he felt… good, happy, useful. He had made more friends in the last two weeks than during the two years he had spent in Nerima. Everyone treated him kindly and respectfully, and seemed to appreciate his help. Besides, he felt like he had found a surrogate family in Max, Lena and Jason.
Yep, life was looking good for the youngest Saotome.
He even had his first student.
"Hey, Ranma!" Jason came running out of the newly reconstructed White Dragon's front gate, a little energetic whirlwind. "I'm ready!"
Soon, they were both facing each other in the middle of the shining dojo.
"Okay," started Ranma, hands clasped behind his back, "today I'll be teachin' ya one of the most important moves of the Anything Goes style. It was originally invented by my father, Genma Saotome, but I've used it on many occasions, too. Listen carefully, because this is really important. Especially if you're fighting against someone who is much better than you. It's the feared," he said, pausing for effect, "Saotome Secret Technique!"
Gloval stared at the empty space where the spacefold engines used to be—before they vanished into thin air. Actually, "empty" wouldn't be the most appropriate term to use, as in the place of the enormous drives, lights could be seen. Like thousands of restless fireflies, glowing specks darted at bewildering velocities through the air, forming intricate patterns in a surreal ballet of light and fire. "Residual energy of some kind," Lang had called them. To Gloval, they were another sign of how wrong his decision of performing the fold had been.
He had thought thing couldn't get any worse… He should have known better: bad news always comes in threes. And the second piece of bad news had already presented itself.
"So, you see, Captain," Doctor Emil Lang was saying, "firing the main gun is, at the moment, impossible."
Slight of build and of average height, Lang's most distinctive feature was his eyes: pupilless, irisless, all black eyes that seemed to look in every direction at the same time—and then beyond.
Lang, one of the most brilliant minds in the history of humankind, had been with the RDF since the very beginning. He had been one of the few survivors of the first mission into the SDF-1, and the person responsible for its rebuilding—the wizard of Robotechnology par excellence. And it had been during that mission, only hours after its crash, that Lang's eyes had changed, after he had attempted to link with that mysterious force that animated the ship.
"The disappearance of the fold system," continued Lang, "separated the primary reflex furnace, the ship's power plant, from the gun itself, rendering it useless."
"Is there any way we can shoot it, Doctor Lang?" asked Gloval hopefully.
"I see only one solution. The SDF-1's construction isn't very different from the Veritech fighter's construction: they are both modular." Lang gestured to a series of illustrations and diagrams he had prepared to help explain the process. "This way, to make something overly complicated simple, there shouldn't be a problem to reconfigure the battle fortress, altering both its internal and external structure and uniting once again the main gun with its power source." He made a pause, letting the words sink in. "Besides, I'm sure you remember that the ship has transformed in the past…"
"During the first mission to the ship!"
Gloval weighed his options, staring at the diagrams. The transformation would cause Macross City considerable damages, possibly destroying the whole city. Who knew how many lives could be lost if he ever attempted it? He shuddered at the thought of another catastrophe like the one caused by the fold. But… what would happen if they were attacked again?
Damn! Why was everything always so difficult? And he didn't even know what bad news number three was going to be…
"Go take a bath, Jason," said Ranma blithely. "You stink!"
"Okay!" Jason happily ran towards the restaurant at full speed, forcefully throwing the door open before entering.
´Great kid,´ thought Ranma as he heard the door slamming shut, ´but he could use some Valium.´ Ranma had learned throughout the last weeks that Jason was practically always cheerful—that appeared to be his natural state. Not even Minmei's disappearance had dampened his good mood for long…
Slowly walking out of the dojo, Ranma headed for the crowded street. Hundreds of workers could still be seen in Macross at all hours, giving the city the final touches, placing signs, lamp posts everywhere.
Of course, Jason's parents hadn't told him the whole truth—all they had said was that Minmei was lost somewhere, and that it would take a while for her to return. Ranma sighed, wishing he could be reassured just as easily. Too many days had passed, and he knew that the chances that Minmei and Rick were alive were slim. Ranma stood in the sidewalk in silence, thinking about the last time he had seen the beautiful teenaged girl, sitting in that troop vehicle with Rick by her side. She had seemed so happy, as if she hadn't a care in the world.
´War's such a horrible thing.´ Turning around, Ranma started walking back to the dojo. Between the sidewalk and the dojo there was a small garden—very small, indeed, as soil was hard to come by in Macross—that Ranma had insisted on having. He even planned on building a pond, just like the Tendos'. Of course, there weren't any plants yet, not even grass, but he knew that would change in time. The seeds were planted—all they needed was water, and that's what the sprinkler system Ranma had installed was there for. In fact, now that he thought about it, if he had set the timer right, it should be about to turn on. He had better get out of the garden before—
Ranma stood in the wet earth, drenched from head to toes. "Aw, just great!" she grumbled, before running the rest of the way up to the dojo. Just the thing she needed, and after she had stayed male for so long—almost a personal record.
"Excuse me, young lady," came suddenly a voice from the restaurant's direction. "Do I know you?"
Ranma whirled around, and she found Lena standing next to her home's front gate, looking at her with a curious expression. "Eh, I'm…" stuttered a panicked Ranma, only to say the first thing that came to her mind, "Ranko! Yeah, that's me: good ol' Ranko." Nervous laughter escaped Ranma's lips as she unsuccessfully tried to look innocent.
Lena smiled knowingly. "You wouldn't happen to know Ranma, by any chance?"
"Uh? Ah, yes, I'm a friend of his," assured Ranma, nodding vigorously. "Definitely."
"A friend? Then, why're you using his clothes?" asked Lena, his voice carrying a condescending tone now. "Did he lend them to you?"
"I… Uh, er…" babbled Ranma, all the time rubbing the back of her head with one of her hands.
Deciding she had made the girl suffer long enough, Lena walked up to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "No need to explain, Ranko. I was young once, y'know," said the tall woman, winking conspiratorially. "Besides, any friend of Ranma's is a friend of mine. I'm Lena, Ranma lives with us. C'mon, let's go inside. I want to know _everything_ about you!"
As Ranma was dragged by a very enthusiastic Lena towards the White Dragon, she couldn't help but ask, one more time, ´Why me?´
"Micronians!" yelled Breetai, surprise and disgust clear in his thunderous voice.
Studying a trans-vid record of the battle along with Exedore, he had seen for the first time the aliens, his enemies, close enough to discern their height. There was no doubt: he was facing micronized humanoids—or "Micronians," as the Zentraedi called them.
The trans-vid record, recovered from a scout pod lucky enough to escape destruction at the hands of the powerful alien mecha, continued unabated by the giant warrior's outburst. The projecbeam images showed Macross City from the Battlepod's unique viewpoint, traveling at high speeds over the wrecked streets.
"Exactly, sir," Exedore said. "But I believe there's something else you should see, Your Excellence." Then suddenly the scout pod seemed to finally stop, and Breetai watched, to his uttermost amazement, how one of the Micronians shot a beam of white energy at a pod, shattering its knee-joint in a second.
Breetai leapt to his feet. "What was THAT?" he bellowed in his rumbling, echoing bass, his single eye wide.
His loyal counselor was quick to answer. "It seems to be some sort of energy, sir. We have amplified the image a thousand times, and I can all but affirm that he isn't holding any recognizable weapon. In fact, I believe the energy comes from within him."
"But how is this even possible? Is it an android?" In their long history, the Zentraedi had encountered numerous sentient races dispersed throughout the galaxy. Many of them had possessed advanced robots that resembled members of their species; they had all only been stupid machines, though, incapable of free thinking. Nothing the warrior race's powerful armada hadn't been able to defeat in mere seconds.
"If you look closely enough," began Exedore, assuming the monotone he used when he was trying to explain something to the one of the arrogant giants, "you will notice the Micronian's chest is regularly rising and falling, as if he were breathing. In my opinion, such function would be completely superfluous for a lifeless automaton, and thus be left out of the design. This is but a presumption on my part, I admit, but it's based on past observation.
"Either way, there's other information you should consider, sir. I have recently conducted a research on the origins of the Micronians in our most ancient records, Commander, and I'm afraid I have found a warning, in them.
"It forbids us to have any unnecessary contact with Micronian species, and threatens disaster if we do not heed it. Some passages even imply the existence of a secret Micronian weapon, capable of destroying our entire race," finished Exedore, looking Breetai in the eye with his own big, protruding orbs.
Breetai pursed his lips in thought. "And you believe that this power the Micronian wields may be that 'secret weapon', am I right?"
Exedore respectfully inclined his misshapen head. "That would be a logical conclusion, sir."
"But why didn't they use those powers during our first encounter?" asked Breetai, rubbing his jaw with one of his massive hands. "Our victory was almost absurdly easy. And again, many Micronians died in the battle held in the proximity of the ship. Why didn't they fire those blasts against the Battlepods?" The gigantic commander shook his head. "There are too many things about these Micronians that puzzle me."
Once again, Exedore came to the aid of his superior. "This is only an hypothesis, sir, but perhaps not every Micronian on Earth can perform those attacks, or maybe we simply surprised them, and this rendered them unable of responding to our attacks appropriately. Other possibility is that they haven't yet learned to use their power when piloting their crafts, but they need these for fighting in space.
"In view of the evidence, it's my counsel that we must under no circumstances attack the Earth. We have located the battle fortress; I believe it's only wise to make its recovery our priority, this way avoiding this way any possible retaliation from the planet's inhabitants."
Breetai considered Exedore for a moment. Frail-looking and small, his advisor was almost a dwarf when compared to himself—or to any other Zentraedi, for that matter. His great, deformed skull and bulging, lidless eyes made Exedore an eerie sight indeed.
But that was only his physical aspect, the outer shell, nothing else. Behind those pinpoint pupils, lived the greatest Zentraedi mind, reservoir of all the lore and tradition of his people. He was the oldest member of his race, and by far the wisest; and Breetai knew this. To go against Exedore's advice was a risk, one he wasn't willing to take.
"Very well. Perform the fold immediately."
Exedore bowed one more time. "Yes, m'lord."
´No matter how many secret weapons they posses,´ Breetai thought wrathfully, ´Zor's ship WILL be mine!´
To be continued…
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