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Robotech Sentinels: Dark Powers - старонка 21


Lron and Crysta led the way, up to an open pavilion carved from the living rock of the mountaintop. There, in the middle of an acres-wide floor, stood a statue that reared up and up-a colossus a thousand feet high.

It was of Haydon. It had been carved by Karbarrans, and time and weather had eroded it, but the figure appeared to be a humanoid male, wearing flowing robes and poised with an air of nobility and wisdom.

"It was Haydon who taught our ancestors the secrets of Sekiton," Crysta said. "Just as he breathed life into the crystals of Spheris and created Baldan's people, and decreed that the Praxians' should be an all-female planet."

"And Haydon taught the Gerudans how to think," Dardo said, reciting his school lessons. "And some people even say he gave the Flower of Life to the Invid!"

Cabell already knew all that, of course, but he tried to look impressed by Dardo's erudition-Crysta and Lron were so proud of the cub, after all.

Rem stood staring up at the stone face now worn to anonymity. Haydon, certainly one of the galaxies' great enigmas, fascinated him just as Haydon fascinated so many others. Where had the bringer-of-miracles come from? What had prompted him to spend a Golden Age in this sector of space, traveling among local worlds and working his magic?

Rem had always vowed that if he got to travel among the stars, he would do his best to find out. And now that time had come. Rem stared up at the smooth visage, wishing it could speak to him. He swore to himself at that moment that before his travels were done, he would know what face belonged on the monument.

"Red alert," whispered one Ghost Squadron yeoman to another. "Stay out of the Old Man's way!"

The second yeoman nodded and did his best to look busy as Edwards marched from his office with a murderous look on his face.

The Sentinels had won a smashing victory on Karbarra! Edwards tried to suppress his fury, but wasn't having much luck. To make matters worse, when he had called Minmei, she wasn't at the club. Nobody seemed to know where she was.

This, after he had been there at a ringside table every night to hear her sing, had wined and dined her, had made sure the council listened to her and that her service club was a success. Yet each time he was sure he was making her forget Wolff, she was sure to bring the halfwit's name up.

Edwards stopped in midstride. He suddenly knew just where she would be.

Sure enough, he found her there, looking at the posted casualty reports along with many others, searching the alphabetized lists of KIAs and WIAs. The names would go on the REF broadcast screens momentarily, but there were a lot of people who couldn't bear to wait. There was quite a press, and those at the back were calling out names for those in the front to check.

Just as the general came up behind her, Minmei turned with a thousand-watt smile on her face. "Oh, General! He's not on it! Jonathan's not on the lists, so he's all right!"

Edwards forced a smile. Yes, Wolff had survived Karbarra, but the Sentinels would be headed for Praxis soon, and the Regent was aware of it.

"Yes; he's a lucky man." He showed her what he had brought for her.

"Oh, they're beautiful!" Minmei took the bouquet and held it to her face, inhaling the sweet, exotic alien scents. She was delighted, and pleased with the good news about Jonathan; even though he could be cold, almost cruel at times, Edwards had been such a help, had been there whenever she needed someone to listen to her or reassure her...

Without pausing to reconsider, Minmei put her free arm around his neck and kissed him once, quickly, on the lips. Then she was racing off for a rehearsal.

Edwards watched her go, thinking of the day when he would comfort her in her grief over the death of Jonathan Wolff.

When Edwards got back to his HQ he was in visibly better spirits, but not for long. Adams entered, looking grim, and cued up a recording. "The internal-security people monitored this with the bug we put on Lang's private commo rig," Edwards's aide told him. "It went out earlier today, before Tirol Base lost contact with Karbarra."

Lang was saying, "General Hunter, I'm not opposed to the building of more starships per se; SDF-3 will not be ready for a return voyage to Earth for a prolonged period, and we might very well need this armada that General Edwards keeps pushing for."

"But I must tell you in confidence that I have my doubts about Edwards's motives."

Rick's face, on the other half of the split screen, looked drawn and tired. "Just what are you saying, Doctor?"

"That Edwards may very well be furthering his own ends. I think a coup attempt is a quite plausible danger at such time as this armada is ready."

Rick considered that. "If the other Sentinels' worlds can be liberated as quickly as Karbarra, we'll be back long before the armada is finished, Doctor. And we'll have plenty of Sentinel allies to help us make sure Edwards is checkmated. But after what we've seen-I'm more convinced than ever that the Invid have to be rooted out of these planets they're occupying."

Lang nodded. "I agree, Admiral, but I wanted you to be aware of the gravity of the situation here."

Adams stopped the recording. "What are we going to do, sir?"

Edwards leaned back. "For the time being, nothing. We need Lang to build that fleet and get SDF-3 fully operational. And once the Sentinels show up at Praxis..."

He allowed himself a thin smile. "Once they're out of the way, the REF belongs to me completely."

When he returned to Tracialle, Rem was surprised to find Janice Em waiting for him.

They hadn't spent much time together in the rush of the Karbarran campaign. Now, she took his hand and said, "I thought we were friends, Rem. Have I done something to offend you?"

His brows knit. It was sometimes hard to understand what Humans were getting at. "Of course not! What makes you say that?"

She showed a slight pout. "I was beginning to think a gal's got to be a butch weightlifter to get any attention from you."

He realized that she was talking about Gnea. "Hmm? Gnea and I are friends, of course-we went through a lot on that scouting mission." He had been spending considerable time talking to the young amazon, learning about her life and her world.

Jan had both his hands in hers now. "If you want me to step aside, just come out and say so!"

He shook his head in confusion. "What? No, no I-"

Janice was suddenly in his arms with a happy laugh. "Oh, I'm so glad! You-you've become kind of important to me, you know."

It felt very good to have her embracing him, brushing her lips against his cheek, his neck, his lips. Very unsettling, but simply wonderful. "Let's go somewhere and be alone," she said.

He yielded as she drew him away. "And you can tell me all about this expedition you took to the Haydon monument," Janice added. "What did Lron and Crysta have to say about this Haydon, anyway? And Cabell; what was his reaction?"

Why was she nattering away about Haydon, of all things, when she was back with Rem at last? But Janice felt something puzzling, something that made her curious about the subject, and about Cabell and the Sentinels' plans too. And there was something about Rem that excited her and made her want to be with him and know everything about him.

Maybe that's what love is, she shrugged to herself.

On Praxis, the Regis flung her hands high, throwing her head back crying, "Hear me, O my Children!"

Wherever they were, whatever they were doing, her half of her species paused to listen to her.

Just as no subject of her husband's could eavesdrop on her mental link, so none of the Regis's children bore any further allegiance to him.

She looked more Human than a Haydonite, though she was fully as tall as her mate-some twenty feet. And yet there was something ethereal about her, an alienness that showed in her cobalt eyes. Slender and hairless, she wore a full-length robe and curious, tasseled five-fingered gloves. Four emerald-green sensor scarabs, like beautiful brooches or oriental masks, decorated her robe's collar and neck closure.

"Hear me!" she cried again. 'My investigations here tell me that the answer I seek is to be found on Haydon IV! There at last I will learn where the Robotech Masters have gone, and what has happened to the last Protoculture matrix, the treasure that we must have in order to carry out my Great Work!"

And an age of deprivation and conflict would be brought to a close. Still shielded in her thoughts, like a hot cinder, was that night so long ago in the Flower gardens of the paradise that had been Optera.

There she had surrendered at last to the emotional enticements and seductive intellect and form of Zor-had surrendered herself to him and surrendered the secrets of the Flower as well.

And was discovered in the act by the Regent, who flung himself off on the descending spiral of devolution. But soon, all those torturous memories and misdeeds would be behind her, and her Children.

"Therefore, prepare yourselves, my Children! Gather and make ready, for we abandon this planet at once, for Haydon IV!"

In the Genesis Pits abandoned on Optera by his wife, the Regent peered into a cloning vat. Work on his project had not been without its problems; his biogenetic workers were less adept than the Regis's, and had been forced to start from scratch after the first abortive attempt.

But now things were going well. The workers had used the most perfect egg available, an unquickened one from the clutch that had spawned the Regent, feeling it was the ultimate perfection of Invid plasm.

The Regent gazed into the vat as into an aquarium. What floated there was no ordinary Invid clone, though. It had a cobra hood like his own, a row of eyelike turbercle sensors that mimicked his.

It was a new Regent, a false one.

"I am pleased," he said. "Make certain that it's ready by the time I've crushed the Sentinels."

Karen found Jack in one of the training areas the Sentinels had set up near their temporary groundside billeting area. She had been looking forward to teasing him about being compulsive in his training, but the look on her face changed when she saw he wasn't alone.

Bela was with him on the firing range, showing him how to use the Praxian crossbow. He was getting the hang of it, and put a quarrel within a foot or so of a bull's-eye at twenty paces.

"Ah, Karen Penn," Bela smiled. "You once asked me about our weapons; now you see they're so easy that even a male can use them. Jack here is making fine progress; would you care to try?" Bela clapped Jack on the shoulder in comradely fashion and gave him a sisterly hug. She towered over him, a full head taller.

Karen made no effort to keep the frosty tone out of her voice. "No, thank you. Lieutenant Baker, I'm just here to let you know that your request has been approved; you've been reassigned to Hovertank duty in the Wolff Pack."

"Hey, that's great!" He had studied Jonathan Wolff's style, and decided he wanted to serve under the man. "Did you get what you wanted?"

She looked at his grin and felt like belting him. He didn't even understand that she was sore at him. "Yes. I'm going over to Commander Grant's GMU staff as of tomorrow morning."

"Congratulations! Let's go celebrate. Bela, want to join us?"

But Karen was shaking her head. "No. I'm sure you two have lots of-exercising to do. And I wouldn't want to intrude."

As he watched her walk off, Jack said, bewildered, "Did I say something wrong, Bela? I don't think I understand what just happened."

Bela shrugged and recocked the crossbow with one swift, powerful pull on its forestock grip. "Personally, I often find it difficult to comprehend your species at all."

At last, after weeks of frantic preparation, training, re-equipping and rearming and reorganizing, the Farrago was ready to lift off.

The original plan for a Karbarran starship and fighting force to accompany the Sentinels had had to be abandoned; the Invid had disabled all Karbarran ships, and the new ones on the drawing boards wouldn't be ready for months yet.

"The new production lines for VTs and other mecha will be fully operational in another six weeks," the senior Karbarran administrators had assured the Sentinels. "When you've freed the women of Praxis, we will be ready to help them become an army."

The word was that the Invid garrison on Praxis was much smaller than that on Karbarra, and the Sentinels were hoping for a brief campaign. The Karbarrans cheered as the Sentinels lifted off and passed through the open wedge of the dome. Lisa looked down on the planet and thought that in spite of the pain and losses the war had cost so far, the sight of a liberated planet and a free people made it worthwhile.

Still, she breathed a prayer that the worst was behind them.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

In a way, the very things I've counseled the others against are what the Sentinels' mission is all about: hurling one's self into the midst of the Shapings and taking the risk that their design will not turn to one of utter tragedy.

And yet, in the Sentinels there is that added dimension that most of the species on Farrago are from Haydon's Worlds. I pray, for them, that it brings out the most benign manifestations of the Workings of the Protoculture.

Dr. Emil Lang, The New Testament

This time, Farrago went in ready for trouble, finger on trigger. The ship emerged from superluminal drive even further from Praxis than it had from Karbarra, since Lisa wanted to get a handle on the situation before any shooting started.

Encountering no immediate opposition-in fact, no sign that the Invid had detected the ship's arrival at all-Lisa moved fast to consolidate what she hoped was the advantage of total surprise. VTs launched to fly cover and screen any enemy attack; the strike forces readied for then-go signal. The flagship bore in toward the planet and still mere was no sign of a response.

"Nothing in the air, zero activity on the ground, no commo, no power sources-nothing," a tech officer reported from the GMU. "Captain Hunter, if they're playing dead, they're doing an amazing job. It looks to me like there might be nobody home."

"Oldest trick in the book," Lisa heard Jonathan Wolff murmur over the command net. But what if Wolff was wrong? She had learned to expect the unexpected from this war, and surely an uncontested landing would be the most unexpected thing of all.

She warily brought the flagship in close, but not too close, staying beyond the orbit of the outermost of Praxis's two small moons. The next move wasn't hard to figure out, but it brought her a personal pang of regret.

"Skull Leader, we're going to need recon; pick your elements and tell 'em to watch their tailerons down there."

"Roger," Max Sterling answered.

It had come as a bit of a surprise to Lisa that Rick, in returning to combat duty with his old unit, hadn't attempted to step into the command slot. But the Skulls, like the oldtime Israelis and Swiss before them, didn't let mere rank or seniority determine who flew lead.

That was decided by who had the most experience with the particular mecha, knew the current situation and tactics best, had the superior performance record, and so forth. And right now, Rick Hunter, admiral or not, was far from the top of the roster. So, he had swallowed his pride and taken his place as wingman to a young lieutenant commander who had been in high school when Rick Hunter was Skull Leader.
2014-07-19 18:44
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