DISCLAIMER: Ranma 1/2 belongs to the brilliant Takahashi
Rumiko. Robotech is owned by Harmony Gold USA, Inc. No copyright infringement is
This story is based on McKinney's books. C&C desperately needed.
Thrusters ignited, and the SDF-1 trembled with the boundless power of its colossal reflex engines. The blue-white novas of its drives lit the lonely Pluto for the final time, and so the starship began the long trip back home. Left behind was the corpse of Macross Island, a new and mysterious satellite of the ancient planet. In the chunk of frozen seawater that still adhered to the fragment of earth, however, the supercarriers Daedalus and Prometheus were missing. After being made airtight and operational once again, both carriers had been linked to the battle fortress in record time, and were now integral parts of it.
The huge vessel lost itself in the distance, its Protoculture power plant unknowingly leaving a clear trail in the vacuum of space that made pinpointing its current position an easy task for the Zentraedi's long range scanners. Much like a limping animal making a hasty retreat while licking its wounds, the dimensional fortress headed for the Earth, gathering its strength and sharpening its claws.
It would need them soon, for predators were coming.
Ranma Saotome was not particularly given to fear. Actually, her only phobia involved cats, and she only suffered it because of one unfortunate episode. For years she had been convinced there was nothing on Earth that could scare her; neither dangerous animals (cats did not count in her mind), nor dragons and other supernatural beings, nor even homicidal demons could faze her in the slightest. That is, until she started living with the Tendos. It was then that Ranma had encountered one of the true horrors of life: an enthusiastic woman.
Be it her fiancées, or later her mother Nodoka, women had always caused her all sorts of problems. The worst came with her curse. Since that fateful day in Jusenkyo, Ranma had been put in countless awkward situations by it, and though she had learned to live with them, that didn't make the curse any less bothersome. She would never forget the times when Nodoka had tried to teach "Ranko" to be more ladylike... So, when Aunt Lena virtually pushed Ranma into the White Dragon after catching her in her female cursed form, she couldn't help but reflect on how similar her current situation was, no matter the years that had passed by.
Besides, there was something about Lena that reminded Ranma of her mother. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Lena and Nodoka were both tall women, or with that air of nobility that surrounded them. Both had the same gentle but firm demeanor, too. Thus, Ranma could hardly refuse to talk to the elder woman, and running away was out of the question, so she decided the only option left was endure it and try not to screw up.
Ranma just was thankful Lena didn't carry a katana around. Those things were simply too dangerous.
"So, Ranko," Lena rambled on, apparently not noticing the young woman's increasing discomfort, "how did you meet Ranma?" They were seated at one of the restaurant's tables, and the older woman was serving Ranma a cup of tea.
'I really should already have answers for this kind of question,' Ranma thought, silently berating herself. "Uh, well," she lamely started, brainstorming for a believable story, "I guess you could say we first met in China..."
"In China?" Lena repeated, surprised. "And what was he doing there, if I may know?"
"Well," Ranma said, more confident now, "he was on a trip with his pop, training. That's how he got as good as he is, y'know."
"Yes, the life of a martial artist isn't an easy one, I know that," Lena said quietly, and then added to herself so softly that Ranma almost missed it, "Oh, Kyle..."
'Who's this Kyle?' silently wondered Ranma, and decided she would find out later. "Anyway, I lived in a small village that he visited in one of his trips, and we became friends." 'Hey, I'm good at this!' she thought, happy with herself.
"Oh, how romantic!" Lena practically swooned, her hands at the sides of her face. "Every good, lasting couple starts being friends, right? And tell me, where're you living now?"
The red-haired girl was ready this time. "I've got some relatives in Macross, and I'm staying with 'em. I spend a lot of time in the dojo, though, so don't be surprised if you find me there." It was better to cover her tracks, she reasoned, as what had happened that day could easily happen again.
"Anything to stay close to your boyfriend, I see. Well, you're always welcome here, so don't hesitate to come by, okay?" Lena's tone was hopeful, and Ranma immediately knew the reason for this. With Minmei lost, and Max busy helping with the rebuilding, all Lena had left was Jason. However, the child had lately spent more and more of his free time with Ranma, studying the Art. The young martial artist felt a bit guilty because of this, and decided she would try to take a bit of that loneliness away.
"Um, sure, but I really oughta get going now. I'm really tired, and I still gotta go get my ration at the Refugees' Center..." It was common those days for the civilian refugees to spend hours on end standing on line, waiting to get the frugal rations of food that the army distributed. The biggest problem was that the ship hadn't been prepared for supporting the entire population of Macross, and while the food supply saved from the shelters was considerable, Gloval had wisely decided that a careful handling of the resources was in order.
"Oh, but you have to stay a little longer." Ranma's surrogate aunt seemed very disappointed. "There's so much I want to ask you. I'm very fond of Ranma, you know, and I want to learn more about him. He's just so... reserved! By the way, Ranko, is he as healthy as he seems?" Lena asked, winking mischievously.
"Healthy?" Ranma repeated, nonplused. Lena just stared at her, and soon realization dawned on Ranma, closely followed by panic. She stood up from her chair and promptly began to make warding gestures, all the time denying having ever done anything like that.
Lena giggled upon seeing her reaction. "You needn't get so flustered, my dear. It was just a joke!"
Ranma blushed, but was saved from further embarrassment when the restaurant's front doors swept apart. A woman appeared in the doorway, and Ranma recognized her instantly: Loretta, Mayor Tommy Luan's wife. "Lena," she exclaimed, obviously agitated, "come quickly! Minmei's been found!"
"What?!" yelled Lena, echoing Ranma's thoughts.
"Yes, she was in one of those unexplored holds, right below the city," Loretta hurriedly explained. "Let's go; it's very near!"
Lena turned to Ranma. "Stay here; I'll be back in a moment!" She practically ran out the door, for once forgetting to act demurely.
When the front gate was safely closed, Ranma rushed towards the kitchen, where she knew she could find hot water. She also wanted to meet Minmei, but becoming male first sounded like a good idea. In a matter of seconds she had located a faucet, and once again Ranma marveled at the efficiency of the building crews. In less than a week, the whole city had been provided of running water. It had to be some kind of record.
She kept her head under the hot water, and after a moment she could feel the familiar tingle of the change taking effect. It was about then that he heard the front door being forcefully thrown open one more time. Ranma jerked his head back in surprise, forgetting, unfortunately, about the faucet.
Clutching the back of his head in pain, he hurried out of the kitchen into the main room. There he was able to see Uncle Max and Mayor Tommy Luan entering the restaurant--and dragging the unconscious form of the infamous Rick Hunter with them, he noted with relief. Each of the older men had one of Rick's arms draped over their shoulders, and were managing to carry the youngster, albeit with some trouble. Actually, Max didn't seem tired, but the mayor looked ready to drop dead.
"Hey, Ranma!" Tommy Luan gasped as he wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "You can't imagine how happy I am to see you! Come and help this old man, will you?"
"Of course," replied Ranma, and walked up to them. He briefly considered both men, noticing for the first time how similar they truly were. Both were built like a barrel, with broad shoulders and prominent stomachs; both were good-natured people, always ready to lend you a hand. In fact, he found it hard to believe that Luan was the mayor of the town. In the weeks he had known him, the man had never worn a tie--hardly the common, sweet-talking, black-suited politician he was used to. "Here, let me do it," he told Max, who immediately let go of Rick. Scooping the young pilot up in his arms, Ranma set off towards the stairs.
"Put him in the spare bedroom," Max called out. "He'll be staying here for a while, it seems."
"Sure," Ranma said, not turning around, "no problem." Only when he reached the first floor did he realize the real meaning of this new turn of events: there was only one spare bedroom in the White Dragon, and it was the one he was currently occupying, so that meant... Oh, crap.
This was going to be messy.
Lisa took a sip of her black coffee, relaxing as the hot liquid warmed her fatigued body. She was holding the cup with both hands, shoulders resting on the table, trying to stay awake but not quite succeeding. Large doses of caffeine had permitted her to endure the crisis, but enough was enough. She mutely decided to get some rest before returning to the bridge; there was no point in ruining her health needlessly.
The officers' wardroom was tranquil despite the crowd currently dining in it; another proof of the deep effect the last weeks had taken on the starship's crew. She was grateful for the silence, though; it helped her regain her strength and obtain some focus. She sipped the last drops of coffee, and closed her eyes for an instant.
Lisa started, spitting the fluid in her mouth before recovering some semblance of control over her composure. She turned her head, and saw Sammie, the young blonde tech that formed part of the bridge crew, essaying a high kick before the attentive gazes of her inseparable companions, Vanessa and Kim. They were gathered on the far end of the room, unaware of the numerous hostile glares directed at them.
'Trust Sammie to stay perky at all times,' Lisa thought, not without some resentment, as she made her way toward the trio.
"See?" Sammie was saying when Lisa finally arrived at the table. "You gotta extend your leg more, Kim, like this," she explained, performing the kick one more time. "Otherwise, you'll never keep your balance."
"What're you girls doing?" Lisa asked, sitting into a chair across from her subordinates. "Why did you shout like that, anyway? You almost gave me a heart attack, Sammie," she added accusingly.
"Oh, hi, Lisa," Sammie said, blushing slightly. "Sorry about that. I was just showing the girls here something I learned in my last martial arts lesson."
Lisa appeared genuinely surprised. "I never thought you were into that kind of thing, Sammie."
"I wasn't," Sammie admitted, "until one of hottest hunks on the ship became a sensei." She giggled.
"Huh? What're you talking about?"
It was Sammie's turn to look perplexed. "Don't tell me you didn't know. Haven't you heard Ranma is giving lessons for free?"
"You know how she is, Sammie," Vanessa cut in. "Of course she didn't."
Catching the thinly veiled reference to her devotion for work, Lisa found herself getting angry. She had been many times before criticized for her fixation with duty, but hearing it from the mouth of one of her few friends was far worse. "Why should I care about what that jerk does, anyway?" Lisa said hotly. "And he's not that handsome."
"If you say so, Lisa." Vanessa smirked mischievously, and Lisa silently counted to ten.
Sammie suddenly clasped her hands together, her face brightening. "I know! Why don't you come with us, Lisa?!"
Lisa was taken off guard. "What d'you mean?"
"We've got another class next week," Sammie clarified. "You can come with us. Maybe you could even make peace with Ranma!"
"Oh, no." Lisa's eyes narrowed as she recalled her last encounter with the pig-tailed martial artist. "I'm not going waste another minute in the presence of that man!"
"C'mon, Lisa. It will be fun!" Kim threw in, excited herself with the idea.
Lisa crossed her arms, dead serious. "No, never. Not in this life."
"Pleeease?" Sammie whined, her eyes moistening.
"I..." A single tear escaped from Sammie's left eye, and the argument was over. "Oh, okay, okay!" Lisa thundered, throwing her arms to the sky in surrender.
"Great!" Sammie beamed, jumping up and down. "I heard the White Dragon was reopened today-- such a wonderful idea! We could all go and have lunch there after classes, just like when we were at Macross Island! Oh, I just can't wait..."
Sammie's words became slurred as Lisa felt the beginnings of a headache racking her brain. 'I know I'll regret this,' she thought dejectedly. If she was lucky, her friends would forget about it and leave her alone. A moment later, she considered the possibilities of that actually happening, and almost laughed at her own naiveté.
As the darkness closed on them from all directions, Rick stared at Minmei's glistening eyes, at her tear-stained cheeks and her pleading lips. He heard her sweet voice as she asked him to kiss her, and, after a moment of confusion and slightly self-conscious, he slowly leaned forward. His knees shook, suddenly weak, but he managed to control them with effort.
Their mouths met, and Rick shut his eyes, focusing his whole being in the intense sensations. He felt the coarse texture of her lips, the inviting warmth that urged him to be bolder, more daring. Mustering his courage, he pressed his own mouth more forcefully against hers, and sensed the way her fingers parted slightly as...
Rick's eyes snapped open, and he couldn't help wincing at the blinding light that assaulted them. Jerking his head back, he noticed the pressure against his mouth leaving, and caught a glimpse of a hand quickly moving away. Even as he began to discern the vague form of a man standing over him, a familiar voice addressed him.
"Y'know," Ranma told him tauntingly, "I realize that you missed me, of course, but this is too much."
"ARGH!" Rick sat on his bed, rubbing his sleepy eyes furiously. "What the hell are you doing here?!" he hissed between clenched teeth.
"Hey, hey," Ranma said, his hands raised in a conciliatory gesture, "calm down now. You're in my room."
"Yes," Ranma affirmed, nodding. "While you're were in la-la Land, the Lynns decided to take you in as a guest, and seeing that they were doing the same for me..." He opened his arms wide, as if ready to hug Rick. "Greet your new roomie!"
Rick groaned. "You gotta be kidding me. Tell me you're kidding, please!" he begged, a note of desperation in his voice.
"Nope." Ranma shrugged. "Hey, don't blame me; it wasn't my idea, y'know."
Rick cursed inwardly as his sleep-deprived mind grasped the fact that he was stuck with Ranma for the time being-- at least until he found a place of his own. He wondered what exactly he had done to deserve this.
"Besides," Ranma added, grinning widely, "it's not my fault if you keep talking in your sleep about Minmei and then try to kiss--"
Rick's face reddened, part from anger and part from embarrassment. "Shut up! I wasn't dreaming about her!"
"You weren't? Then you really meant to kiss me?" Ranma asked in mock surprise. Seeing Rick fuming, he went on, "Anyway, I just came to tell ya we'll be having lunch in an hour or so, after the morning rush ends."
"Oh, right," Ranma exclaimed, slapping his forehead, "you were sleeping. Well, in short, the White Dragon was reopened yesterday, and half the people in Macross thought it was a neat idea, so..."
"Wow." An instant later, Rick's brow furrowed. "Wait, wait. 'Yesterday'? Exactly how long was I asleep?"
Ranma reached up, scratching his chin absently. "Day and a half, I think. You looked so tired, Lena decided to let you rest."
Rick's eyes shot open.
Ranma made a dismissing gesture. "Anyway, I ran the bath for you, to help you wake up."
Rick regarded the pig-tailed man standing opposite him, distrust plain in his face. "What's this all about?"
The grin resurfaced on Ranma's face. "Think of it as a peace offering of sorts, eh, buddy?"
"Buddy?" Rick repeated, clearly unbelieving. "NOW I'm worried."
Ranma rolled his eyes. "Jeez, somebody ever told you that you're really paranoid?"
"Okay," Rick finally conceded, "I'm going, all right. I need something to wake me up, anyway." He stood up from his bed, grabbed a clean change of clothes and calmly headed for the door. Before leaving, though, he directed one last glance over his shoulder at Ranma. "I bet you enjoyed having me kiss your hand, you sick old pervert," he taunted. "Do me a favor. Try not to take a peek while I'm bathing."
Ranma stood silently on the empty room, waiting. Soon, he heard the distinctive sounds coming from the bathroom of Rick entering and beginning to undress. Time for part two of his plan. He laughed quietly, congratulating himself on his cleverness. Who would have thought living with Genma and Soun for so many years would serve for something?
Prowling out of the bedroom and down the stairs, he found Minmei, who was tied up waitressing more than ten tables at the same time-- and somehow managing to look fresh and chirpy throughout it all. It had come as a surprise to Ranma when the White Dragon had been reopened, but he admitted now it was a sound idea. The refugees needed to get back to life as usual, as they would only be able to forget about their dire situation if kept busy. Back in business for only a day, the restaurant already buzzed with activity, and had become the pilots and military personnel's favorite hangout.
On the contrary, the fact that opening the White Dragon had been Minmei's idea hadn't been nearly as shocking. The Chinese girl had a gift for cheering people up, for helping them. Currently, she was wearing a silken white and blue Chinese dress, and had fixed her raven hair into two large buns. Her dark eyes glowed with happiness as she rushed from table to table, distributing menus and taking orders while carrying steaming dishes from the kitchen to the lucky patrons.
Noticing a momentary halt on the vertiginous rhythm, and Minmei resting quietly against the counter, he hastened to get her attention. "Minmei!" he called, waving.
Minmei saw him, and slowly made her way across the crowded restaurant, stopping at the tables a number of times to ask the customers if there was something they needed. The funny thing was, Ranma thought, that Lena had confided him that Minmei usually was a terrible waitress, unable to keep focused on the task for long. "Flighty" was the word she had used. 'She must really want things to work out,' Ranma concluded.
Minmei finally made it to the stairs. "Is there something you need, Ranma?"
"Actually," Ranma began, turning on his most persuasive smile, "I think you're the one that needs something: a break. You've been working non-stop for hours! C'mon, I prepared the bath for you, so go upstairs, have a bath-- I think it'd do wonders to relax you-- and get some rest. It's an order."
"But the restaurant--"
"I'll be the new waiter, don't worry. I already have some practice, so it should be a piece of cake."
"Well, I guess it's okay then." She gazed at him dubiously. "You really think you can handle it? It's packed here today!"
"Hey, I'm Ranma Saotome," he declared solemnly, striking a pose. "I can handle anything!"
"Mm-hmm." Minmei had long before learnt that the best way to deal with Ranma's ego was ignoring him whenever he said one of these things. "Thanks, Ranma."
"You're welcome. Now go!" Ranma watched her go up to her room, and heaved a sigh in anticipation of what was about to happen: the start of a wonderful relationship. The first step of any good relationship was a rendezvous in the bathroom. After all, hadn't it worked for Akane and him?
Seeing new customers entering and sitting on the only free table left, he quickly brought them some glasses of ice water and a menu. The last thing he heard from upstairs was a yell and loud slap.
Yes, everything was going according to the plan.
Gloval lit his faithful briar, feeling its cold, polished wood against his lips. He puffed it several times, tasting the sweet scent as it run through his body. The familiar strong aroma of his favorite tobacco reached his nostrils, and he could literally feel as it calmed his fatigued mind. Laying back on his armchair, he looked out the large viewport that dominated his cabin at the multitude of stars. The previous weeks had undoubtedly been the most taxing ones of his whole life. However accustomed he might have been to the strains of leadership, being responsible for the lives of thousands of civilians while eluding a seemingly all-powerful enemy had been almost too much.
And there was family to think about, too.
Throughout the entire crisis, Ranma had been a constant worry for him. Though he hadn't seen the youth for ages, and had in fact only talked to him a couple of times since Ranma's arrival, he knew his type only too well. His many years in the army had taught him many things, and war itself had often been the harsher teacher. Young men, starved for excitement and adventures, would pass before his eyes, and fight recklessly and bravely-- to their deaths.
All of them energetic, brave men; all of them with the same fire in their eyes. Ranma had that fire.
A fellow captain had once told him that adrenaline could become addictive, and he agreed. Nodoka had related him of Ranma's exciting life, of his enemies and duels. It wouldn't surprise him if Ranma decided to join the Robotech Defense Force, and that was something he couldn't allow to happen.
Not as a soldier, at least.
He exhaled, and rivulets of smoke rose through the air. Gazing at them, he decided to do his best in order to keep Ranma safe. He owed Nodoka that much.
A soft rapping was heard, and Gloval immediately removed the pipe from his mouth and called, "Come in." The hatch slid open swiftly and Ranma stepped into the room.
"Heya, Uncle Henry," Ranma greeted as he approached the desk. "How's it going?"
"I'm well, Ranma. Thanks for asking. Please," Gloval said, motioning for the chair opposite his, "have a seat. How's life in the ship? We haven't been able to have a decent conversation since you came to the SDF-1."
"Great!" Ranma enthused. "The dojo is full of students; I've got my hands full. Did you know the White Dragon was reopened, Uncle Henry? You have to come one of these days; Max is a genius at the kitchen!"
"I'm sure he is, Ranma, but I don't think I'll have the time." He put his briar aside. "Ranma," he began, looking at him in the eye, "I called you here to discuss a matter of great importance. I want you to pay attention."
Ranma nodded, picking up the grave tone on Gloval's voice.
"You mother had told me you were a magnificent martial artist, but, according to some subordinates of mine who form part of your classes, you're even more." He grinned. "You're pretty popular among the officers, did you know?" He added to himself, 'Especially the female ones.'
The martial artist looked at the floor sheepishly, his hand reaching up to the back of his head. He wasn't used to receiving compliments from other people, especially close ones or relatives. Not that Gloval hadn't spoken the truth, though.
"In fact," Gloval continued, "I've heard that more than half your students are members of the RDF. Is this correct?"
"Yes..." Ranma answered warily.
Gloval took a deep breath. "Then I have a proposal for you: join us, Ranma."
"Yes, I want you to become an instructor," he explained, "a martial arts instructor for our troops. It wouldn't be much different from what you're doing right now. The only changes would be that you'd use military facilities instead of your dojo, and that you'll have many more students. This would be a full time job, Ranma."
"But why?" Ranma asked, flabbergasted. "Why me?"
'Because,' Gloval thought, 'this job will probably keep you busy and occupied. Because you'll feel useful, and thus hopefully won't try to intervene in the war more actively. Because I prefer you to be an instructor than a soldier. Because, if you enter the army, I'll be your superior officer, and you'll have to obey me.' Instead, he answered, "You're the best on the ship, and we need all the help we can find."
"I... I don't know, Uncle Henry. I mean, I'm flattered, but I don't like guns, and..."
"Don't worry," Gloval said, raising one of his hands in a placating gesture, "take your time. Now tell me, how's your mother doing? I haven't seen her in decades!"
And as Ranma talked about Nodoka, Gloval mutely asked him for forgiveness.
Just outside Pluto's orbit, the peace so common in that forgotten corner of the Solar System was disturbed one more time. The entire starfield shimmered as one, signaling the start of a fold operation. Right beyond Charon's orbit, incandescent motes appeared from nowhere, dancing left and right with complete freedom across a large zone of space. Then came larger anomalies: furious comets, hellish fireballs hot as the Sun. Slowly at first, they began circling around an imaginary force field, forming a globe of light brighter than a supernova. Closer and closer to each other they came, until a terrible explosion disrupted their harmony and dissolved the sphere, seemingly shredding the universe itself with its might at the same time. Raw energy poured through the rift, pulling outward and widening the hole. Ship by ship bridged the long gap of space, crossing the unique stargate and completing the transition from the far-off Earth. The irregular-shaped, cylindrical Zentraedi spaceships multiplied by the minute, more numerous than the visible stars.
Finally, it was over. The largest Zentraedi armada ever deployed arranged itself behind the flagship, showing a grade of coordination unthinkable for such numbers. An order was sent and, like titanic green and brown whales swimming through an ocean of blackness, the nightmarish dreadnoughts set off after the departing SDF-1.
"Sensors register defold activity, sir!" Vanessa's voice cut through the clamor on the bridge with crystal clarity.
'So, they're finally here,' Gloval thought, not without some amount of resignation. He had hoped against hope that this moment wouldn't come, but in some way he had known a new confrontation was unavoidable.
Even as he ordered all the Veritechs to stand by, he realized that they might not be enough to fight off the Zentraedi under the circumstances, especially the event of an all-out attack. The enemy armada was simply too powerful, and the SDF-1's capabilities to repel its advance had been greatly damaged now that the main gun was reduced to a last resort option. Lang's diagrams determined that the modular transformation needed to fire it would all but destroy Macross city, and Gloval refused to subject the refugees to such chaos again.
All he could do now was wait-- and pray.
Minmei's umpteenth retelling of her adventure in the bowels of the starship was cut short as a smiling Roy Fokker walked into the restaurant. In truth, it was not an unusual sight those days; Roy had stopped by from time to time in the previous weeks to inform Minmei's relatives of the (lack of) progress the search for Rick and her.
The White Dragon was almost deserted, the few customers remaining after the morning rush hearing Minmei's story attentively. Roy strolled up to the table shared by the Lynn family and Rick and flashed one of his patented grins.
After the greetings were exchanged, the blond pilot turned his attention to Minmei. "Good to see you again, Minmei. I hope my deviant buddy here wasn't too much of a nuisance for you."
Minmei looked disconcerted for a moment. "Oh," she said at length, "you mean Rick. He was the best! I don't know what I'd have done without a friend like him there."
Roy noted the pained expression on Rick's face as she said this, but kept quiet.
"Though," Minmei went on, "he's been acting a little like a deviant, right, Rick?"
Rick blushed, but answered hotly, "It was not my fault! You walked on me, for Christ's sake!"
"I hear you," Minmei said flatly.
Roy raised one of his eyebrows at the exchange. "Anyway," he drawled, saving his friend from further embarrassment, "I wanted to talk to him for a while, if it's okay with you. I promise it'll be just a coupla minutes."
"Sure, he's all yours." Minmei smiled slyly. "Just don't take him near lingerie shops. He'd probably get a thrill out of it, the pervert."
"Hey!" Rick protested.
Roy offered a smirk of his own. "I'll keep that in mind. Let's go outside, Little Brother."
Together they left the White Dragon, Rick trying to hide his curiosity. They stopped at the sidewalk, standing side by side and idly watching the busy street. Finally, Roy turned and faced Rick.
"How's Mockingbird, Rick?
Rick took a long time in answering. "I don't think I'll be able to repair it," he admitted with a downcast expression.
"Do you miss flying?"
Rick spun on him, angry. "What do you mean? Of course I miss it!"
"I have a solution for you then. I'll be blunt, Little Brother, we need pilots. There're more Veritechs than people capable of flying 'em, and--"
"Not interested, thanks," Rick interrupted, frowning.
"C'mon, Rick. You belong to the air, just like me. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and help us fight. I--"
He would have continued, but at that moment, a familiar female voice echoed through the city.
"Attention, all hands to battle stations. Attention, all hands to battle stations," the voice blared though the ship's PA system. "This is not a drill; I repeat: this is not a drill."
"Gotta go; they're playing my song. We'll finish this later, okay?"
"You got my answer, Roy." The young pilot's face was serious, his jaw set.
"We'll see." Roy whirled around and started running towards a jeep parked nearby. "You'll tell me all about you and Miss Minmei later. See ya!" Soon enough, the four-seat vehicle was speeding down the street, losing itself in the city's chaotic traffic, as many of the citizens of Macross hurried towards shelters and safe areas in their brand new cars.
Rick watched him go, before shaking his head and entering into the restaurant. The table was nearly deserted now, as Minmei, Jason and Lena seemed to have left. Its only occupant, Max, was looking at him in curiosity, but didn't say anything until Rick himself was seated.
"So," Max began, "what did Roy want?"
Rick moved in his chair, uncomfortable, but replied, "He wanted me to become a fighter pilot. He said something about them being short-handed, or something."
Max leaned forward. "What're you going to do? Are you going to join the RDF?"
Rick grimaced. "No."
"Because I'm not a soldier," Rick spat, a bit irked at the older man's insistence. "Because war is pointless. Because I hate weapons. Because I'm not a murderer. Take your pick; they all work for me."
"Nonsense!" Max snapped, standing up, his hands resting on the table. "You're starting to sound like my son. War's a horrible, awful thing, but..." he trailed off, his eyes staring off into the distance, looking at something only he could see. "Rick," he started one more time, suddenly sounding incredibly tired, "I'm going to tell you a story. Listen carefully; you may find it useful.
"Once there was this young man, almost a boy, who lived with his parents in a small village. He led a good life, indeed, and he knew it. Every morning, he spent some time playing with his three younger brothers, whom he loved more than life itself. He used to have lunch with his family, and then go to help his father, who was a farmer. For hours he worked the earth, shoulder to shoulder with his father, and didn't return till well after the sun went down. It was a tiring, very taxing task, but he enjoyed it, and was happy with the simple routine that formed his every day.
"Routines, however, exist to be broken, and so, one day, soldiers arrived at the village. They were looking for young, strong, willing men to recruit. A war raged across the country in those times, and their side was losing. With each passing day, the war came nearer to the boy's village, and they lived in constant danger of attack.
"Yet when he was asked whether he wanted to join the army, the boy refused to help. He, much like you, thought that war was pointless and cruel, devoid of any kind of honor. He believed that if he were to become a soldier, his life would be wasted to protect other people's interests. He believed killing was wrong, and that there was always a peaceful solution. Besides, he thought, what difference will I make? One man in the middle of a war won't change anything. He thought many, many things... and he was also a little scared.
"But the war continued, unabashed by his refusal to be part of it. And soon it was at the gates of the village, and he was able to hear the explosions at night. He tried to convince his father of leaving, of moving to another town, but to no avail. His father was a traditional man, and loved his home too much to see it gone. They stayed.
"The young man's worst nightmares came true one evening, when he was returning with his father from the farm. He saw smoke in the air, and in a moment of terror realized his village had been set on fire. When they finally arrived, there was nothing they could do. Their house was a blazing inferno, and they couldn't find their family anywhere. Later, one of their neighbors told them the boy's mother and her children had been trapped in the fire, and hadn't been able to escape. Only one of the boys survived, and simply because he was in the street when it all started.
"They left the village, never to return, and traveled all the way to Japan, where they built a restaurant." Taking a moment to gather his strength, Max looked at Rick intently. "That boy was me, Rick. You can't imagine the number of times I wished to have joined the army that day, instead of cowering away. Maybe it would have made no difference at all, and maybe I'd have died in that stupid war. Maybe. But if I'd died, I'd have died fighting for my family, or my friends, and that would have made it worthwhile in my mind somehow.
"Don't look for meaning in war itself, m'boy. Look for it in the hearts of those who fight, and risk their lives to defend their loved ones." He reached across the table, and put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Please, Rick, don't make the same mistakes I did."
For a few moments, neither of the two men moved, staring silently into each other eyes. Then, Rick lowered his head, and long locks of raven hair hid his features. "I'm going upstairs," Rick somberly exclaimed. "I need to think." He slowly stood up, not meeting Max's gaze.
When Rick was finally out of sight, Max released a shaky breath, slumping in his chair. His mind wandered through his past, suddenly bringing forward the memory of a very similar discussion, this one with his wayward son. Silently, he wished for things to go differently this time around.
Breetai's cold single eye stared at the projecbeam image, as if daring it to show something that didn't please him. The destroyer was slowly approaching Zor's fortress, its amorphous form surrounded by swarms of Battlepods. Soon, the battle would start.
In the mountainous commander's mind, images of the astounding display of power he had witnessed in the trans-vid record were replayed over and over again. That such a tiny being could wield that much energy unaided was unexpected--but not entirely unpleasant. To find a worthy enemy was a stroke of fortune every true Zentraedi hoped to receive, and Breetai wasn't the exception.
The Zentraedi vessel closed on the SDF-1, weapons at the ready. Responding to the threat with swiftness, the battle fortress regurgitated its own mecha, which quickly swooped around to face the incoming pods. A furious dogfight ensued, dozens of pods and Veritechs erupting in flames at the same time. The rapid fire of the SDF-1's batteries and gun turrets and the VFs' Gattling rounds met Zentraedi energy blasts and laser bolts, and short-lived spherical explosions lit the eternal night of deep space.
The Micronians hadn't fired the ship's main gun, Breetai noted to his utter puzzlement. What reason could they possess to forsake their most powerful weapon? Such incomprehensible behavior...
What would the Micronians come up with this time? Did they have another ace to play? Breetai knew he would get answers for these questions before the combat ended. He would see to it that it was so.
Young as he was, Jason knew immediately that something was very wrong. He was also pretty sure it had nothing to do with the fact that emergency alarms had gone off, or with that voice which was continuously urging people to go to the nearest shelter. Nor, Jason was certain, was that feeling of wrongness he was sensing in any way related to Rick, whose face had been grimly set since he had come down a few moments ago, either. No, it wasn't any of those, it was something else. He looked speculatively at Minmei, but wasn't able to find any sort of clue in her pretty face. The atmosphere in the restaurant was so dense it could be cut with a knife, and Jason idly gazed at his parents, who were quietly arguing next to him.
"But Max," Lena was saying, "we can't go without Ranma!"
'Ranma!' Jason thought excitedly. 'That's it, Ranma's missing!'
Max shook his head. "There's no way to find him right now; he could be anywhere!"
"Yes," Lena admitted, "but we must try, anyway. Besides," she continued with renewed enthusiasm, "didn't he tell you he was going to meet Captain Gloval? We could phone--"
"There's no time," Max explained, and then added in a more appeasing tone, "Don't worry, honey. You know Ranma can take care of himself."
Jason caught his breath, not believing his ears. What? They were going to leave Ranma alone during an alert? No, he could not permit it. As Ranma always said, it was the duty of a martial artist to protect those he cares about. If they weren't going to do anything, then he would have to look for his sensei.
But where could he be? If it were a normal day, Jason would have gone to the dojo, sure in the knowledge that Ranma would be training there. His sensei seemed to think the Art was much more important that anything else, and thus always tried to improve his skills. In fact, Ranma spent almost all of his time in it, and only left to come to the White Dragon, to tend to his garden, or to take a walk through...
The park! He knew it very well; he had gone there many times, most of them accompanied of Ranma himself. His sensei seemed to enjoy visiting the park, despite the fact it was still rather barren, with only a few trees and some isolated patches of grass. It was built over a tower of equipment, though, and so enjoyed of a beautiful panoramic vista of the entire city below.
Jason hadn't managed to understand why his sensei had such a strong liking for both his tiny garden and the communal park yet. After all, what was so special about them? He himself preferred the Arcade; now that was fun.
Stealthily moving towards the door, Jason gingerly opened it wide enough for his supple body to fit through. He slid past the narrow space and, not bothering to close the door, simply sprinted up the street, knowing he would reach the park in no time.
Ranma would be so proud.
Gloval picked himself up from the floor with an agility unexpected for a person his age. "What was that?" he barked at Lisa while tilting his hat back.
The SDF-1's First Officer hastily returned to her station, also having been knocked off her feet by the direct hit suffered by the spaceship. "One of the reactor subcontrols has been damaged, Captain, but it seems to be holding up," she said in a strained voice, studying the engineering reports constantly appearing on her console.
Gloval was aware that the ship couldn't withstand the attack for much longer. A new cannon bolt hit a nearby battery, and Gloval could see through the forward viewport as the lifeless bodies of the gunners floated away in the vacuum. Something snapped within him.
"That's enough! We're firing the main gun!" he yelled, enraged.
He ignored the collective gasp of his crew, his head inclined, hands clasped behind his back.
The park was all but deserted, and Ranma was thankful for this. A break to sort himself out, that's what he needed. There was something unreal about the whole situation, about the park itself. Perhaps it was the continuous, unnatural breeze that constantly ran through the closed environment of the ship's vast insides, or the eerie metallic ceiling that hung over the city. Perhaps it was the importance of the decision he had to make.
How had he gotten involved in a war? He wasn't a fool. Joining the army meant obeying almost blindly, and accepting orders without caring about his own opinion. He had to consciously agree to become something he had always hated: a pawn. There would be no excuses to ease his pain with if he discovered the path he had followed was the wrong one.
Ranma absently recognized Lisa's voice reverberating through Macross, but promptly ignored it. He had too many things in his head at the moment to care about what that graceless old maid had to say. As many times before, he let his gaze wander freely along the modern city that lay at his feet, letting the familiar action to soothe his troubled mind. His curiosity was aroused, however, when he noticed that the traffic had stopped. Hundreds of people were venturing aimlessly through the city, some of them yelling and screaming in fear. Finally, he was able to focus in time to hear Lisa's last announcement: "Ten seconds to modular transformation and counting."
'The transformation? They're actually going to do it? Uncle Henry must've gone crazy!' The ground started to vibrate beneath him, and Ranma tensed, wary.
"Ranma!" yelled someone behind him. He whirled around, and saw Jason running towards where he stood.
The ground between them split apart, and Jason screamed.
When the countdown finished, the modular transformation began. In a sort of synchronized turmoil, the entire ship reconfigured, changing both its internal and external structure. All throughout the stupendous spaceship, pylons and towers moved in response to their instructions. The whirring of the powerful servomotors became deafening, as entire parts of the ship rose or descended. Sections of the hull slid swiftly in a process so unbelievably complex that most people thought it impossible and nearly suicidal-- the work of a delusional mind.
In that instant, the SDF-1 was alive.
Meanwhile, Macross City suffered its second disaster in less than a month. The gigantic hold used by the refugees to rebuild their town was severely affected by the transformation, and death stalked the streets. Buildings filled with people were destroyed as the pylon they had been constructed over rose and met the far-off ceiling; cars and pedestrians alike were swallowed as the ground parted. Others died crushed by the raining debris, while even more met their end as a momentary hole in the hull's structure was opened and the air was sucked into the vacuum outside, taking with it car, concrete blocks and dozens of people. In moments, the city was destroyed anew.
The gap widened, and before he had time to fully realize what was going on, Ranma felt himself descending. The part of the tower where he was standing rapidly fell, following its programmed orders. Reacting quickly, Ranma bolted toward the edge of the platform, and deftly jumped up to the opposite pylon, where Jason's yells for help could still be heard.
As Ranma hung in the air, the abyss beneath his feet, the pylon rose unexpectedly. He twisted in mid-jump, then stretched his body, his right hand reaching up in a desperate attempt to correct his trajectory. Too fast, everything was happening too fast. In a moment of sheer terror, he realized that, for all his effort, he wouldn't be able to reach the edge of the ascending tower.
That didn't keep him from trying, though, and unwilling to recognize his failure, Ranma extended his arm a little higher into the air. Time slowed down, and Ranma was able to witness in that eternal instant all his victories and fights, and knew he would do it. Somehow, he would reach that tower, for Ranma Saotome never lost, not when it really counted.
He was taken out of his trance when he felt his outstretched hand touch something metallic. He immediately closed it, gripping the protuberance with all of his considerable strength. Glancing up, he saw he was grabbing what looked like some kind of broken sprinkler system pipe, and that it was just a few inches below the surface of the mechanic mountain. Ranma extended his left hand and, now with both hands with a firm hold on the cylinder, tried to get purchase with his legs in the plain artificial wall. Finally, one of his feet found a small ledge, which gave him more than enough leverage to pull himself up. He brought one of his legs up and, pushing his body upwards with his arms, placed it on the pipe. A jump took him to the soil-covered platform, and Ranma didn't spare time to recover his breath before he rushed towards the sobbing form of Jason, who sat on the ground with his knees against his chest.
Ranma lifted him up, and, noting the rapidly approaching ceiling, scooped him in his arms. He allowed himself a second of frivolity, and pondered on how he always ended up carrying people in his arms, but then quickly dismissed the thought and ran to the edge of the cliff. Jason gave a tiny squeal of fright when Ranma leapt down to the twin pylon far below, but kept still, paralyzed by fear and surprise alike. Having long ago learnt to cushion his falls, Ranma's feet touched the earth with awe-inspiring softness, and the martial artist hurried to put Jason down.
He watched the devastated Macross that slowly rose to meet them, saddened by the terrible spectacle. All that hard work, for nothing. Ambulances and Civil Defense teams sped across the town, busily attending at the thousands of injured. Ranma gazed down at Jason, who was clutching at his shirt with both hands, still shaken by the near-death experience. 'He could've been one of them,' Ranma thought. 'He could've died.'
Ranma felt anger rushing through his body, his face flushed and fists clenched tightly. Gazing irately at the Civil Defense mecha, which were wandering through Macross, helping as they could, he silently cursed the army. Without the fateful decision to go through the transformation, none of these people would have died.
A moment later, his anger quickly deflated, as Ranma thought of Uncle Henry and his bridge crew. He knew the old captain would never do something like this willingly; his hand must have been forced by the events. It wasn't his fault; the Zentraedi had begun a war, and seemed determined to win it at any cost.
His ire finding a new target, Ranma considered the race of gigantic warriors. The Zentraedi were ruthless, and very powerful. What stopped them from attacking again and again, until the ship was destroyed and Macross beyond rebuilding? What could hold them back?
And the answer was simple: the army, the RDF.
Neither Jason nor any other person he cared about would be safe until the Zentraedi were defeated. If he had to join the army in order to help win this war, then it was a small price to pay. He could never become a soldier; he might not be able to kill, not again. But he would be damned if he was going to stay still while people died around him. Uncle Henry was right. A choice was made.
For a moment, the torn city seemed to quiet down, as if showing its agreement. Ranma took Jason's small hand in his, and began the long walk home.