Author: Listy listyfox
Era: New Generation
Summary: Rand contemplates life as the Freedom Fighters deal with the consequences of a heist gone somewhat awry.
I don't own Robotech or any of the characters presented within. This story is for entertainment purposes only.
This is dedicated to the memory of Carl Macek, who introduced me to these characters. For that I shall always be grateful.
From our vantage point we can see the road and some of the surrounding landscape, a pale blue sky which is growing heavy with clouds in the southwest. Here and there a sunbeam streams down from between two silver peaks then fades away. The breeze is cool and it would be all stillness and view if it wasn't for the thrumming engine directly behind me.
"You know you'll bring them down on us if you keep that thing running," I decide to say. I was the one who figured it out first. The Invid can home in on active protoculture, even the relatively small amount in our guns.
The cyclone behind me sputters into silence. I raise the binoculars but it is all stillness and view. The convoy was supposed to come this way, but perhaps plans were changed, or the Invid got to them, or bandits, or sinkholes, or... or...
Without the thrumming engine I can hear the impatient sighs behind me. Scott Bernard hates waiting. He can be patient like a hunting cat when he's stalking an Invid or reconning a hive but sitting here waiting for a convoy which may or may not come with clouds growing on the horizon is driving him out of his skull.
We all knew it would. That's why Rook instantly volunteered for the low end and Lancer bowed out with some sort of flip remark and Lunk just shook his head and said something about keeping an eye on Annie and Marlene. You deal with him, Rand. Thanks guys. No, really.
"Recon," Lancer's voice buzzes in my ear. "You copy?"
"Go ahead," I say, still scanning the road. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing.
"Socks to match a convoy ambush. Blue, or green? Please advise."
Oh God. It's all I can do to keep from shouting with laughter. I still can't help the grin. "Be advised. Blue."
I can feel the seething anger behind me. I don't dare look. He hates it when we pull that sort of stuff--which is, of course, exactly why we do it. On long lonely roads and weary nights, watching Scott Bernard's head explode is one of those things that keep us going.
Or, it keeps me going at least. Perhaps I shouldn't assume too much.
A noise breaks the stillness, so far away it could be just a far distant rumble of thunder, but I don't think it is. An angry hand nudges my shoulder then reaches impatiently for the binoculars, which I hand over just a little more slowly than I could. A shadow that could be a dust cloud rises in the distance.
"Recon here," I say. "I think someone's coming."
"Roger, recon," replies Rook, all business for the moment and I can see her in my mind's eye with that serious expression, watching the road ahead. I smile inwardly and watch the dust cloud--and it's definitely a dust cloud--come right for us.
"Nice," says Scott, moving his cyclone alongside mine now. "I was starting to think our intelligence was wrong."
"Better late than never," I reply, flipping down my helmet's visor, painting the world blue. I wonder vaguely if protoculture is all these guys are carrying, if there are food supplies as well, and if so what kind. These rough mountains offer little in the way of food and I've been rationing us a bit too much for everyone's liking.
Sure enough, there is a dark trail on the distant road ahead. "We have visual," Scott reports to our teammates below. The binoculars whir. "Two gunners, front and back, and three trucks between them."
I squint to try and see that far without the binoculars.
"Roger, recon," Lancer replies in the tone a kid would use when being told it was time to get cleaned up for dinner. "We'll report when we have visual."
"Three trucks?" Rook asks.
Scott lowers the binoculars and I frown. The info said there would be two trucks. The answer is obvious. I say it anyway. "One's a decoy."
Scott curses a bit beside me.
"Luck be a lady," sings Lancer.
"I'd put the decoy in the middle," says Lunk, obviously through a cigarette. "Keep the goods closest to the guns."
"I'd put it at the end," says Rook. "Because that's the obvious target."
"Doesn't rule out the front," I say.
"Well, Commander?" Lunk asks heartily. "Whatever you think."
And just like that everyone shuts up and waits for Fearless Leader to give us our orders.
Today, people, we're all going to go jumping off the nearest cliff.
"We hit two," Scott replies simply. "That way we definitely get one."
"But of course." Rook's voice is thick with that sweet sarcasm. "Just as simple as that."
"You can handle it. Here they come."
I can see them without help now. Scott revs his engine. "Starting our run....now." And he is off, launching out into the open air and hitting the downward path in a shower of rocks and dust. I sigh and throw myself after him.
I never signed up for this. And I am certain that if Scott Bernard had approached me directly with a request to help him wage war against the massive military power that conquered the planet in less time than it took to point towards the sky, I would have told him to shove it. But somehow he got in kinda sideways, making it look like he was the one just tagging along before I realized how caught up I was in this big mess.
And by the time I did realize it, there was Annie, and then there was Rook, and then it was too late.
I can hear laser fire off to my right. The others must be engaging the front gun car already. The road is coming up fast. "Hit the gunner," Scott tells me sharply before banking off to cut off the trucks.
I groan inwardly and throw myself up onto the road right into a barrage of machine-gun fire. Fun! I take a breath and kick the cyclone into a wheelie, letting it transform around me until I'm on my feet and hugged in Robotech armor. One guy freaks out instantly, eyes going huge and scrambling back so he falls out of the back of the modified jeep even as the other pulls hard on the gun's trigger.
Fortunately, they're pretty small caliber bullets and they dance off my armor as I stalk forward, hoping I look more menacing than I feel. I don't like this. I don't like attacking fellow humans, even if they are in cahoots with the enemy, even if it does further our noble cause. It never feels right. Scott reminded us this time as he does every time that no human casualty is acceptable, but sometimes I can't help but wonder about his definition of human.
I seize the searing hot barrel of the gun and use the cyclone's mechanically enhanced strength to bend the thick metal so it points to the sky. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with guns?" I ask.
Hey, if I'm going to do the whole bend-the-gun shtick, I'm gonna add in the snappy quipping, okay?
He lunges for what could be a high-caliber rifle and I don't let him, seizing his shirtfront and tossing him roughly back towards his comrade.
"Daddy!" shrieks a voice.
I whirl around, and the mystery of the third truck is painfully revealed. Crap. Just crap. "Scott! The third truck is moving civilians!"
Okay, sometimes this guy needs a kick in the ass. "Confirmed. I have visual." The cover has been pulled back, I can see more than a dozen people, including a little girl clutching the edge, the one who must have screamed. Cute kid. And I just tossed her father like a rag doll. I take a step forward.
"Don't you go near them!" howls a panicked voice behind me and I turn back even as I hear the familiar click and remember to throw my arm up to shield my face.
Did I say high-caliber? I meant ride-it-home-caliber. The thing is like a torpedo and the next thing I know it's shattering my forearm armor, continuing on its merry way to smash through my shoulder pauldron, score along my shoulder, then explode out the other side only to keep going and punch a hole through the canvas side of the truck.
I howl and fall back, as terrified as I am hurt. I don't want to imagine what that one shot would have done to my skull. "Stop!" I shout. "You're gonna kill someone with that thing!" I don't mean me. Well, yes, I do mean me but I also mean the people in the truck.
Screw Bernard and the cyclone he rode in on! "Fine! I am fine. Found any protoculture?" Now I'm in doubt.
"Then I suggest we grab what we can and fall back now."
"Agreed. We're loading up now."
The guy has that gun trained on me and I move back slowly. "We didn't know there were civilians," I tell him through the externals.
The man is just staring at me and I don't know what to think. "We didn't know we were traveling with anything valuable," he replies.
Valuable enough. "Then we were both screwed," I tell him. It's an obvious ploy. Make the resistance look like the bad guys by leaking bad intelligence. Bastards.
"We're moving out!" Scott is snapping. I back towards the edge of the road, all the time looking down the barrel of that rifle. I reach back slowly and pull my H-90, fully loaded. He pulls back the hammer of the gun.
"Take it," I say, dropping the laser gun in the dust, then turning and leaping back towards the trees. After all, I just wrecked one of their guns and they have a long way to go before they get to any sort of safety. Scott's going to notice a missing gun eventually but right now I don't really care.
I hit the dirt road that takes us further into the wild lands and finally transform; the cyclone creaks and complains with the shattered component but finally complies. I haul the front tire into position then accelerate to catch up with the team, already speeding along ahead of me.
"Nice of you to join us," says Lancer, slowing a bit to let me come alongside him. "Trouble?"
"Did you know there were civilians in that convoy?" I ask.
"No," he admits. "There was nothing in the information I obtained about civilians."
"It doesn't matter," Scott interrupts over the com. "There were no casualties and we achieved our objective."
I roll my eyes. "More to life than objectives," I mutter.
We drive until we reach the designated rendezvous point, or whatever Scott is calling campsites these days, halfway back to the mountainside where we stashed the veretechs. Only then do I get to see our haul, stacked in the back of Lunk's jeep: a mass of alloy crates, almost all filled with precious energy cells, and two filled to the brim with dried and canned food. "You left enough food for them, right?" I ask worriedly.
"Yes, we only took the two crates," Rook assures me as she comes to examine my wound. She brushes golden hair behind her shoulder and plucks at my sleeve with delicate fingers. "We should have stopped sooner. This looks terrible."
I crane my neck to try and look, but can't see well. "It feels terrible too," I admit. No harm in letting her feel a little sorry for me.
"I'll get the med-kit," she says as I turn my attention to the site. I'm the one who decides where the campfire will be. I decide what wood we put on the fire. I usually do the cooking. Why? Because I'm pretty much the only one who knows how. A quick scan, and I pull the shovel from the jeep and walk to a nice central area where I shove the blade into the dirt. I don't have to say what it's for. I'm not doing it tonight. I just go find a tree and sit down with a groan.
It's why I can't leave now. They actually need me. Or, that's how I figure it. They never say so. They never thank me, unless it's backhanded or an afterthought. Not that I really care. If I did it for the praise, I'd have left months ago. But Scott has all the wilderness savvy of a retarded goldfish and Rook is such a girl when it comes to things like bugs and foraging. Lunk and Lancer are just lazy about it, though unlike Scott I think they could survive for more than a few hours alone in the woods. Marlene and Annie are at least willing to learn and help me out, and now gamely dig out the fire pit while Rook comes over to patch up my arm.
Lunk puts aside cataloging the containers to take a look at my cyclone and ride armor, shaking his head. "What the hell did this? I can fix it but I'll need the better part of a day."
"It'll run until we get back to the jets," I protest, wincing. "It'll be fine."
"Not if the Invid attack," Scott tells me.
"Not if I don't engage them," I reply. I'm still not real happy with him. He just gives me a hard look as Annie brings over some excellent firewood. Well done, Grasshopper.
As night falls we gather around the fire with our spoils, and feast for the first time in weeks. Lancer sings and jokes, managing to cajole the others into some banter, since I'm not feeling much like playing class clown tonight. We could have been responsible for a lot of innocent deaths if something had gone wrong or the Invid had been called down on us. I doubt we'll be so lucky tomorrow.
I fall back and stare at the sky, my ears ringing, probably from the rifle blast, wondering vaguely how many of those stars have inhabitants who wouldn't mind blowing humans to kingdom come. One by one they wink away as the clouds creep slowly overhead. I rub my ear, almost at the same time Annie moves her well-loved cap to do the same. I glance at her. "What's up?"
"My ears are ringing, like there's something beeping in them," she says.
I sit up. "Mine too."
We fall silent then. Lancer twitches and looks towards the crates. We all follow his gaze.
Lunk glances at me as he stands up, walking slowly towards the crates, then crouching in front of them. We hear his low curse in the darkness.
"What is it?" Scott gets up and comes alongside him.
"Tracking device if we're lucky."
"And if we're not?" Annie asks timorously.
I already know. We all do. But no one wants to say it.
"Let's get the girls back," Lancer says, scrambling to his feet. "You too, Rand."
Scott goes for his armor. It's usually within arm's reach anyway. "Everyone get back. I'll find it."
"Not even ride armor is going to save you from a bomb rigged with protoculture," Lunk warns him.
Lancer goes for his own armor. "We'll find it together."
The guy is a lazy bum but he's nothing if not noble. I suppose Scott is too, in his own sort of way. We get back along the tree line as the two of them carefully lift the boxes down and examine their contents, listening carefully.
The fifth one in is the one. I can hear the beeping clearly now as they move it to the middle of the clearing. It's a slightly smaller size than the others, and the protoculture is stacked differently within it. "There could be others," Lancer warns, and they return to the jeep to make sure this crate is the only one beeping.
It is. It stands there in the clearing, beeping away. We move the vehicles away from it.
"How did they know we'd take this one?" I murmur. Maybe it was set to activate if it was moved. Maybe it was a plant and supposed to take out the convoy. There could be any number of explanations, but all we are left with is a beeping box of protoculture.
They lower their visors and peer into the crate, checking with lights for wires. I can barely breathe as they work. Annie is squeaking beside me and I throw my good arm around her shoulders. "It's fine," I say. "No problem for us highly trained professionals."
"Well, I feel much better," grates Rook.
They're having trouble lifting out the protoculture to get to--whatever it is. "What's wrong?" Scott asks a bit impatiently.
"I think it's...it's all wired together."
Lunk scrambles up to get a better look. "That's not good," he diagnoses.
I'm glad he's here to tell us these things.
Scott and Lancer consult quietly, then Lancer goes for his cyclone, transforming into battle armor and then sliding out those ceramic blades he hates to use in combat. He kneels before the crate and begins slicing through the side.
"You know," I say. "We could just not touch it and leave it behind when we go."
"Maybe we should," Marlene agrees. "Be careful," she murmurs, but I can't tell if she's talking to Lancer or to Scott, who is holding his light steadily on the crate.
"What?" asks Scott.
"I cut something," says Lancer. "My blade is the only thing keeping it connected."
"Is that good or bad?" Annie asks.
"It could be bad," I admit.
"Don't move," says Scott, leaning in to try and peer into the cut Lancer had made. Annie and Marlene are both quaking now. Even Rook has gone still. Lunk's eyes are huge. I assume mine are too.
Scott curses and does the stupidest thing I have ever seen him do: he seizes his helmet and throws it aside so he can get his face up against the crack and really peer in. I actually wince and try to look away.
"Scott..." Lancer begins, then changes his mind. "See anything?"
"You cut something."
"Oh good," sighs Lancer. "I was beginning to think I had imagined it."
Scott gets up and goes to retrieve his helmet, looking troubled. "There's some sort of device in there, and it's flashing."
"It's also not beeping anymore," Lancer points out. "I get the feeling I'm holding a grenade."
I stare at the situation, then stand up. "I have an idea."
They all look at me. I'm not the idea guy. I'm the last resort, good-God-we're-so-dead, we-need-a-miracle, last-ditch idea guy. No one listens to me before we're already clinging to the precipice. "Let's all get armored up and get out of the blast zone."
"Thanks, Rand!" Lancer calls cheerfully.
"Shut up! I'm not done. I think that once we're all out of the way, you hit your blasters full throttle and just blast yourself out of there top speed. At least you'll be going the direction of the blast and can probably get a few seconds on it. Probably keep control better too."
Why do they always look at me like that? Like I'm speaking some foreign language? Commonsenseese. I just picked it up here and there.
"Well," Lancer says. "It's better than just sitting here."
"Everyone move out!" Scott orders, as if it was his idea now. My armor is sticky and the cyclone doesn't want to start right off, but it finally complies. We move nearly a mile down the road ahead of Scott, who offers Lancer some last minute words--probably asking where to send the medals--before we all get down in the ditch on the side of the road, us armored ones covering the girls.
"Wish me luck!" calls Lancer over the com.
"Good luck, Buddy," I say. I mean it. I hope he's okay.
There is a long silence.
A moment later there is a roar of thrusters and Lancer lands on the road. "Would you believe that?"
"How anti-climatic," complains Rook.
And then everything goes white. Lancer just has the chance to drop like a stone before the blast of the explosion hits us like a cement wall and tornado combined; I cling to Annie and flatten myself farther and glance up in time to see the jeep go tumbling past end over end.
I can barely see, and talk about ringing ears. We all just sort of lay there for several long minutes. Scott is up first, limping painfully towards Lancer, who is much further down the road than he was when I last saw him. "Are you all right?"
"We're going to have Invid down on us in minutes."
"We can't fight them in this shape," Lunk says, shoving the jeep back onto its wheels. "We need to get down."
I am nodding in perfect agreement. Even Scott has to agree. He hauls Lancer up and I sit up with Annie. "You okay Annie? Rook? Marlene?"
"Yeah..." Annie sniffles. Marlene nods dumbly.
"Fine," says Rook.
"I hope that wasn't too anti-climatic," I say with a weak smile, heading for my cyclone, which had landed upside down several yards away.
We make our way off the road and into the damaged forest, finding some brush to cover the vehicles and a dense thicket to hide within. Lancer looks like he's a bit shocky; I feel shocky too, come to think of it. We hunker down and listen to Invid patrols roar overhead.
"No need to look for bodies," I mutter. "Anything in the blast zone would be vaporized. They shouldn't hang around too long."
There is no answer. Rain begins to patter lightly on the leaves above us. I have a feeling we're going to be here for a while. It's going to be a long night, and a long journey to the veretechs tomorrow. "We are not ambushing a convoy again," I announce. "I mean it," I say as Scott starts to argue. "We'll find another way to get fuel. It was a bad job, beginning to end."
"Sorry," sighs Lancer. Annie snuggles against me; Rook gives me an arm to lean against. Scott can't seem to find a good argument at the moment, so for a short while at least, we have a little peace.
I know it won't last long. We start all over tomorrow.