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Prologue - "24 Hours Ago" for Neqel Amherst

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Neqel Amherst stood alone on the side of the road.

Under a grey, cloudy sky, the Meltrandi warrior-become-TacCorp soldier looked over the hilly, lovely, forest-strewn land that was Anniston, Alabama. The wrecked Greyhound bus stop she stood before was not far from where the old U.S. Army post Fort McClellan used to stand before the First Robotech War had gutted the place. Still, Anniston had survived and its people were friendly enough.

Fort McClellan was as close as the ASC pilot could get Neqel for a bad tornado was very recently cutting through Alabama and into Florida. No sane pilot would fly under those conditions, so the best that could be done to get Neqel to Eglin ASC base in Florida was to drop her off here and go the rest of the way by road.

This detour meant that Neqel was stuck with all the time in the world waiting for a car-ride all the way to Eglin ASC base. She had received notice that a girlfriend of an Eglin ASC A.T.A.C. Private First Class living in Anniston would drive Neqel the rest of the way. The girlfriend's name was Nicole Straight. Neqel was told to await her silver Camaro sometime this morning to drive her there.

That left Neqel alone with only her packed bags as company. And the letter and music player, of course. It was Aunt Myrtle's letter that had started this whole journey.

This letter was different than all of her previous in that it was attached to a micro-USB music player. The short letter (for Miss Myrtle) read, "Neqel, I'm going to give this a try. Please forgive me if I screw it up. If Joy and I did this right, then you'll hear my letter. Joy says just turn this thing ON. Go to TRACK ONE. And touch PLAY. Then TRACK TWO follows that. Makes sense, right? One follows two. Then finally, there's TRACK THREE. Three's the really important one. Oh, I'm going to be so embarrassed if this doesn't work! Tell me if this doesn't work. You will, won't you? Oh, I know you will. We can count on you."

The USB player did indeed function and from its tiny speaker, Neqel clearly heard Miss Myrtle's words all spoken with her New York accent. Her voice were slow and creaky like her rocking chair, but Time, for as long as it had accompanied her, had done little to still the old woman's unquiet mind and gregarious personality.

Neqel's request for leave to Eglin ASC base, Florida from Fort Benning, Georgia had all come from this tiny little device upon which were heard the spoken words of an elderly lady of great faith. Neqel had the time, so she turned the machine on and pressed PLAY again.

Once again, Neqel heard:

"--talk into this thing, right? Thank you, Joy. You are such a little sweetheart you know that? O.K. Go on and play. I'll take it from here.

O.K. Neqel, I'm pretty certain it's Friday. Why? Because everyone is so happy here. Everybody but me. I'm sorry for starting this off on a downer, but I just gotta tell you. It's yours and Dick's wedding anniversary! And you know what? No one seems to remember it! Nobody! That makes me sad.

So... I hope you don't mind, but I remembered it. So I put this song in here. For you and Dick. Just listen to it whenever life gets you down. It'll pick you back up. That's what Dick would want, right? His lovely wife standing tall?

I remember when this song was new. I remember when you and Dick were new. You two looked so darned good together! You still do. I can tell. I keep your pictures here with me and the kids. You're ageless. Just don't think you're forgotten here, O.K.? As long as you have me, you'll always be remembered. And you'll have me forever. I'll make sure the kids remember too. Why? Because God said to love thy neighbor, that's why. I'm not going to argue with God. If you think I got this old without knowing my limits, you're crazy.

Oh. Anyway, here's your song, Neqel. For you and Dick. Happy Anniversary.


"Neqel? Neqel, can you hear me? I hope so. Listen, a thing happened! No one's gonna tell you, so I'm going to tell you. But it's strange, so don't think I've lost it or anything, O.K.?

Joy almost got hit by a car today. Almost, O.K.? She's O.K. She was just playing this music thing here with her headphones on and she was walking across the street outside. I yelled at her but she didn't hear me. So, the car, which was going about 40 in our 25, hit the brakes and slammed on the horn. Joy shrieked and just about jumped out of her Sunday shoes.

So there I am on the porch trying to get to her. I'm cursing out the driver with my cane in my hand. There's Joy on her hands and knees on the street, shaking like a leaf. The darned driver just rolled down his window long enough to give me the finger. So I gave it back. Blessed be the giver, right? Then she screeches off. I can still smell the fumes.

So, Joy sees me and she gets up and runs to me and we just hug and hug and hug. And she's crying and crying. And I'm crying too. You know, I just about lost my grand-niece here right before my eyes!

And then... suddenly she calms, gets real quiet, and looks me in the eye. She says, 'What did you say?'

And I says, 'I didn't say nothing, dear! What did you hear?

Then she says all serious-like...

'High levels of volume can result in hearing loss and accidents.'

And we just stare and stare and stare at each other. Finally, I says to her, 'Honey, I didn't say anything.'

Then, real slow-like, we both look at her USB player like it's something outta Harry Potter...

Now here's the part I'm going to tell you and nobody else. I knew a guy. O.K., I knew lots of guys when I was younger, but there was this one guy, a real card. Mister Arthur Stein was his name. What a treat! Well, machines would talk to him. I mean talk to him! Really!

I know how crazy it sounds, but one time right before the turn of the century, when I was teaching college, I had this student. He figured out what was wrong with my car. You know how? Just by putting his hand on it and closing his eyes! I swear to God! I have my hand on my Bible right now! You hear me thumping it, right?

Then all manly-like in that James Bond accent of his, he turns to me and he says, 'My dear, you know you have to put oil in the car or you kill the car?'

He didn't even pop the hood, Neqel. He didn't even pop the hood! Honey, he was outside the car! Here I was in the driver's seat in my little Porsche 911 coupe. Oh, how I miss that little car. It was so good to me. So I asked him, 'Arthur, how did you figure that out?'

He says, 'Oh, it is just what one gets for being an engineer and a scientist, my dear. With all of the studying I do, I had better be getting something out of it or I am going to be mad as hell! Ha ha!

Oh, we had some good laughs! That's how we met. What a student.

So anyways... Joy would just kill me if she knew I tattled and told you... but really! This talking with machines thing? It's a thing! So... if you ever run somehow into Mister Arthur Stein, oh he's got to be in his 60's by now, I think you'd be doing Joy a big, big favor. I was thinking maybe he could write her a letter saying how he hears them too and she not crazy, you know what I mean? Oh, you always do.

Do it for Joy's sake? I'll be praying for you both.

O.K. Now how do I shut this darned thing off? Joy? Joy, can you help me? I can't seem to--"

*message ends*

*​

Not long after this in Fort Benning, there was a chance meeting between Neqel and a TacCorp grunt who was just going on and on about this old gentleman who had saved her butt on the road. On her way back to Fort Benning, the grunt's car had broken down on side of the highway. She was on leave. She was very much in danger of being counted A.W.O.L. if she was late to base. Her phone had died and she had no way of calling ahead. This was serious.

There she was in a panic when this black BMW sports car pulls up and out comes this heavyset, well-dressed fellow who spoke "kind of British." He asks what the problem is. She said she didn't know. Something electric. All of the juice in the car went out and it died right there.

He explained he was in a bit of a rush himself, so he put his hand on the dashboard and said, "My dear, you have a loose battery connection." She popped the hood. He had the necessary tool apparently up his sleeve. He fixed it quickly and asked directions to Eglin ASC base in Florida's Panhandle. There, they parted ways and she made it back to Benning with time to spare.

Thus, Neqel, learning that the one man in perhaps all of the universe that might help her daughter was not only on this side of the planet, but only a state away, decided to put in for some leave of her own and make for Eglin ASC base in the hopes of contacting this fellow.

*​

Anniston's clouds moved drearily overhead as Neqel waited at the stop. No sooner had it started to sprinkle that a low, wide silvery Camaro pulled along the road. It was a sharp car as most sports cars of its like were and the droplets of rain tapping upon its frame made the car sparkle. The car window rolled down. Neqel was suddenly blasted by loud rock and roll and a tremendous amount of chattering from the two women dressed in racy civilian clothing inside.

The first thing Neqel noticed is that both young human women had brightly-colored hair. "Corporal Amherst?" said the driver from under her closely-cropped-yet-spiky fireball of red and orange. Upon Neqel's confirmation, she replied rapidly. Very rapidly. "Hi! I'm Nicole! My soon-to-be husband's PFC Steven Straight. We're going to Eglin to see him so I've been asked to pick you up and take you with us as a favor. You ready? You are ready, aren't you?"

Before Neqel could reply, the other woman with her long shining green hair put her painted nails to her mouth in shock. She too spoke with the apparent lack of needing to breathe between sentences. "Nicky, look! Look! She's a Melly! Omigaaaawd! We get to take a real Melly to Floridaaa! WaittileverybodyfindsoutwetookaMellytoFloridaaa!"

"Omigod!" shrieked the highly-caffeinated Nicky. "With a name like Neqel, we were expecting somebody head-to-toe in black wearing one of those burka-thingies! Missy, isn't that funny? I think that's funny! She's not Eskimo or whatever they call them after all! C'mon, let's get you inside!"

Before Neqel knew it, her bags were stuffed into the trunk of the Camaro and tall Neqel was equally-stuffed into the back of a black leather-clad sports car. Gymnastic ability was required to access the backseat - Neqel's seat.

With her hands on the wheel, Nicky explained, "Yanno, there's no way I can drive all the way to Florida without a partner and Missy's boyfriend is waiting at Eglin so that way I've got someone to drive back with, youknowwhatimean? Hope you don't mind, corporaaal!"

Without waiting for an answer, these two Starbucks-coffee-ingesting chattering hens sped off down the road in more ways than one. The only thing running faster than the car's engine was their mouths.

"So, Missy, like I was saying, do you find that he always wants attention? It's always him, him, him, him... I can't take it..."

For the next four hours, rock music blaring, crammed inside the small backseat of a speeding Camaro, traveling southbound down Interstate 65 through Alabama...

Neqel had to endure... this...

Game Master note: If you have the time, take a moment to sit back and listen to this. It's less than 4 minutes and funny! But, oh, do I feel for Neqel... =)
"Shut Up Shuttin' Up" by Victor (Alex Lifeson of Rush on his single album)

*​

(Mood music)
"M4 Part 2" by Jack Wall and Sam Hulick (performed by Faunts) for the Mass Effect (One) Soundtrack
Partial Lyrics:
Fight your foes you're on your own
Holy war is on the phone
Asking to please stay on hold
The bleeding loss of blood runs cold

And I need you to recover
Because I can't make it on my own

(Here is the 17-minute Part 1 & 2 version if you like... =) )
"M4 - Parts 1 & 2" by Faunts

Four hours of cacophony, of the roaring car engine, the sensation of terrific motion, the non-stop rock music, and the seemingly endless conversation between Nicky and Missy was enough to deaden the senses of any warrior from any time. Lord Dolza himself could have joined Neqel in the back seat Neqel's senses might not have noticed. The passing sky and swiftly-moving scenery were the only things of beauty to be found on the journey.

Certainly, in this post-apocalyptic America, there was wisdom in driving quickly down the highway. Bandits and raiders with their ramshackle vehicles and occasional mecha threatened the roads as did Malcontent Zentraedi carrying 15-foot rifles of particle beam-firing destruction. Worse still, Zentraedi and Meltrandi aircraft still sometimes could be seen in the skies. Tales told that these would shoot anything that moved. Though most of the danger still lay to the west in the Arkansas Protectorate, Alabama and Florida were not without their terror-laden tragedies.

So it was best to move fast, remain undetected, with senses and sensors wide open and alert to danger.

Nicky only had the first part covered...

ZAKOW!!

Even being a civilian mother of well over a decade, Neqel's senses and memory immediately knew the report of a Z-PR Mk. VIII Zentraedi Particle Assault Rifle the moment she heard one.

Neqel also knew the sudden flood of adrenaline as the whole world exploded all around her. Nicky and Missy's screams filled the car as all four wheels of the speeding Camaro left the highway. The car lifted up into the air. It spun dream like in a counter-clockwise spin until Neqel was upside-down and airborne.

Then came the horrible crash as the Camaro came down followed by a terrible, sense-crushing, spinning sensation as the car flipped and rolled over and over and over. The radio ceased to blare. Crunching sounds ripped through the car. There came the sounds of shattering glass, bouncing bodies, and the smell of blood on leather. Smoke. No more chattering.

When it finally came to a stop, somehow, Neqel knew - once again, she was alone.

As her mind and body struggled to make sense of this new and sudden reality, old feelings perhaps thought long dead suddenly awoke inside Neqel as she felt something making contact with her left shoulder. More smoke. The feelings inside her roared for her to rise, fight back, survive. Then she saw it.

The clothing on her left shoulder was on fire. She was upside-down, belted into a burning car that was also upside-down and damaged perhaps beyond repair. But there came a sound she had not heard in a very long while... and it awoke another sensation inside of her...

"Meltrandi!! Destroy them!!"

Male Zentraedi voices. Booming, giant, inferior.

For the briefest of moments, something inside of Neqel forgot her clothing was on fire. She forgot she was only six feet in height instead of six times that. She even forgot, for just a moment, all about the R.D.F. and A.S.C. She was, for a flicker in time, a pure Meltrandi woman again.

"No! No, we're not Mellies!!" It was Nicky. "She's... don't kill us! Don't--"

"Face your death with dignity, females!"

"Please! No--" Missy cried.

ZAKOW!!

With that, the warrior in Neqel knew then that both women had been atomized. She did not have to see it. Being a true warrior, she simply trusted the Death in the air when it spoke.

The car could not withstand her skill and rage. She disconnected her seatbelt and kicked the driver side door open with one leg. The door creaked open as if she were emerging from a metal coffin. There was concrete everywhere and the horrible machine-smells of a car that would drive no more. Armorless and weaponless, the veteran Meltrandi rolled out of the car, extinguished her left shoulder, and used the car as cover lest she be seen.

With her hands on the car, she felt something... Though it was a message, it was not a voice. She felt it in her mind as clearly as if it were one of her own thoughts. It was just as she had when she experienced the thought in the hospital with Richard three years ago.

Move away. I am about to explode.

Without hesitation, the galactic Meltrandi warrior, this slayer of the stars, raced away from the flaming car toward the nearest cover.

KABOOM!!

The Camaro exploded spectacularly sending silvery bits of flaming metal in all directions. The Meltrandi dropped prone and suddenly Neqel was herself again in every way. As plumes of black smoke rose into the air, Neqel rose to her feet.

A large, terrible shadow fell over her, blotting out the late morning sun. Finally, her mind and senses were her own again. She looked about to see the flaming wreckage of the Camaro, the steaming wreckage of the blast-hole were Nicky and Missy used to be, the long blackened Floridian road... and the trio of male Zentraedi that towered over her like scraggly mountains over a burned flower.

Malcontents.

She could see the hunger-lines pulling against the gaunt faces of three Zentraedi foot soldiers, each with a poorly-maintained Mk. VIII rifle. Their battered heavy armor failed to hide their starved and sickly bodies. Denied proper maintenance, this was what remained of Lord Khyron's legacy. Though their faces burned with hatred, they stumbled in their steps as they approached her, rifles aimed down upon her. She could see down those long green barrels.

For most Meltrandi, this was an awful way to die. Weaponless. Armorless. Helpless against the lowest of the lowest male Zentraedi. Better to be killed by anything else than this.

But this was Neqel, known for many years as Neqel Amherst, recently become TacCorp Special Forces. Perhaps the Malcontents saw something different in her unbattered stance, her unfaltering will. For whether one were Zentraedi or Meltrandi, both had but one purpose - to serve the Robotech Masters.

And when that failed...

...to die properly.

Perhaps this is why the three Malcontents hesitated. Yes, in their eyes the death-lust bore, but now there was something more.

"You." Their leader said in a voice that was tremendously loud even given his size, "You are not like the other two. Still, you must follow them. Speak! Speak your final words that we may savor your terror, you disgusting female!"

What does Neqel do?

(Game Master note for Epiphany)
In my prologues, each character is not at all likely to die - that is only possible in actual play. Still, your character does not have to know this. How Neqel faces her "end" is up to you. =)
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Neqel Amherst

The solitude of the old bus stop was refreshing, much to the Maltrendi's surprise. But then, she'd spent most of the last three years constantly in Micronian company. Whether in the barracks, in PT or training or in the field, her time alone had been virtually nonexistent. Not that the Maltrendi were ever alone either. With her fellow clones in the ranks, she'd spent decades in battle against those...Zentraedi.

This place was a far cry from her life. But then, losing her husband to cancer and her children to the law had meant Neqel had felt alone for three years now. And she found the solitude without suited the solitude within.

Well...not entirely solitary. Not with Aunt Myrtle's message. Without thought, she pressed PLAY and once more heard Richard's aunt, her aunt (or the closest thing to it she'd ever experience). Her lips crease into a smile, drawn out despite her grim reserve. The memories Aunt Myrtle stirred up were sweet but sharp-edged, the kind that cut if examined too closely. She represented a shared connection, one torn from both of them. Impossible not to be reminded of the wound.

Grow old with me...

That song, those lyrics. A promise denied her. A sweetness forever out of her grasp. She'd heard it already, more than once, and yet listening to it anew brings fresh agony. Scar tissue was healed tissue, but forever tender, sensitive to temperature and prodding and the memory of what made it. With these scars buried inside, Neqel sometimes made it months between reminders. Yet this reminder wracked her, like the aftershock waves of a tsunami, never as destructive as the original but enough to lift her once more on a surge of long-processed grief.

Perhaps it was the third track that made it so easy to be moved. That Joy's life had been in danger hadn't been much of a concern. True, the fourteen year old girl hadn't been tank-born, bred with the fighting memories of a thousand Maltrendi generations (more's the pity). But she was a strong girl, capable and adaptable. No harm had ultimately come to her and surely the risk would make her more alert to danger in the future.

No, the real fear was in Aunt Myrtle's revelation of Joy's madness, a madness shared by this other man, this 'Mister Arthur Stein'. A madness she shared.

This is the 137th patient I've lost.

Years later, the dispassionate voice still echoed in her head. And there'd been other incidents. Once, touching a door panel and knowing unmistakably that someone had wired it to explode because it told her it would.

It couldn't really be happening.

But she couldn't leave this avenue unexplored. Not when Joy might otherwise suffer whatever genetic defect she'd inherited from her mother.

*​

The arrival of the silvery Camaro brought an end to Neqel's solitude, her isolation and most definitely her mood. It was impossible to retain her introspective gloom in the face of that much relentless energy. The green-haired woman's reaction drew an amused smirk from Neqel's face. She'd had ample experience with reactions to her blood over the past seventeen years on Earth. Enthusiasm...well, it wasn't new but it was rare. And tiring. And impossible not to smile at.

Neither woman appeared to need her to contribute to the conversation so Neqel quite cheerfully let them do all the talking. The backseat wasn't comfortable but neither was a HH-62 Supply Sergeant helicopter. At least they made good time. Though it was a miracle they could continue any sort of conversation with that din of noise. Like many Maltrendi, music stirred alien feelings still but they weren't pleasant feelings, not exactly. If she'd had a taste in music, though, this wouldn't be it.

It was a very long four hours.

*​

The tremendous blast of a Zentraedi Z-PR Mk. VIII was unmistakable. She'd even heard a few in the field, on one mission or another over the last year of her active service in Tac Ops Recon Patrol. But not this close, not in a civilian vehicle, not when she was a direct target.

The spin of the car, the tremendous crash and the endless end-over-end of its roll rattled Neqel to the core. Battered, bruised and apparently on fire, the Maltrendi hung in her harness and didn't notice any of it. Not over the intonation of their attackers, the rage-inducing mockery of Zentraedi!

She broke free of the car, dimly aware of the deaths of her escort, adding those deaths as fuel to the fire of her vengeance. Neqel was unarmed and vastly outsized by her adversaries. And it was still all she could do not to throw herself headlong into an assault.

The message from the car broke through the reflexive hatred, its toneless warning banking the fire's heat. When it did, Neqel's heart squeezed tight in her chest. So the madness remained. She was defective after all. Had to be. Machines had no voices or if they did, no Maltrendi had ever heard it. Far more likely that she'd gone mad as her daughter probably had. If only she knew for certain...

Then the shadow of the Zentraedi fell over her.

Neqel rose to her feet, fists clenched, tall and proud in her ASC fatigues. The sight of her might confuse them, for Maltrendi didn't normally wear Micronian costumes, but she didn't let the confusion last for long.

"YOU!"

She lifted an arm, pointed at the one that addressed her and spoke out. "Look at you, you pathetic males. Starving! Weak! Using your mighty weapons to defeat such glorious opponents as an unarmed transport piloted by Micronian civilians. What glory you will surely earn in the eyes of other Zentraedi! What stories you will share!"

She spat on the ground in disgust.

"You want my final words? I will give them to you but they will not be filled with terror but filled instead with an offer you don't deserve. You," she said, pointing at the one on the left. "Put your rifle down in front of me, kneel and I will give you what you cannot get for yourself; a proper death! You, the lesser legacy of the Robotech Masters, dishonor them by what's become of you! Will you starve, go mad and die with clawed fingers clenching at empty bellies? Or will you die as you should? As warriors, at the hands of your sworn enemy?"

"Choose, males. Choose wisely for experience tells me you will not get a better offer before the sun bleaches your pathetic bones. There's nothing here for you any longer. Will you die in battle as you should? Or die empty, vain deaths as failures? This is your last chance!"
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Neqel's words caused the Zentraedi grunts to grit their teeth in an anger that was now more than something simply grown into their tank-bred lives - Neqel had touched a nerve. The warrior whom Neqel addressed seethed the most. He roared back, "At least we die as we were made! You... You gave up the path of glory when you allowed yourself to be micronized! You are less than a Meltrandi!"

When the other two heard this, their disgust changed to harsh laughter. "'Choose?' There is nothing to choose. You are not worth shooting. Instead, you will be squashed like a bug... under my boot!" That boot was roughly twice as long as Neqel was high and encased in mega-damage armor. The boot alone could have destroyed the car.

He raised his foot to stomp down on her. That is when he saw it.

"What? What is this?" Seeing Neqel as no great threat, they peered down nearby Neqel. Not far from the car, blinking on the concrete, was Neqel's USB music player from Aunt Myrtle. It had evidently been thrown from the car when it rolled.

"Is this... precious to you? Shall we... destroy it? Ha ha ha!"

"What is it?" the third wondered. He pushed his rifle toward it as if it were something dangerous. He cautiously tapped the little device. The small black thing rolled across the concrete road and toward the nearby forest, blinking, until it softly struck a stone nearest the trees.

Then... sounds came forth. Sweet sounds.

"Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
When our time has come
We will be as one
God bless our love
God bless our love"

The woman's voice carried clearly and crisply throughout the Floridian morning, a sound of The Zentraedi listened and in their listening, they staggered back with horrified faces. They stammered in great fear.

"Ahhh!"

"W-w-what is this?! Silence it!"

"M-make i-it stop!"

They aimed their guns at the device yet none of them pulled their triggers. Their hands shook. They listened and stood rooted in fear. That is... until something large and hidden protruded from the forest. It looked like the tall brown trees swaying in the wind had suddenly grown a strange limb. It looked like the top of a club. This thing gently tapped the music player. As suddenly as it began, the music stopped. There was a moment of silence as the Zentraedi aimed their rifles.

"W-what?"

"Who is there?! Show yourself!"

(Mood music)
"Head Like A Hole" by Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor)

Partial lyrics:
Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I'd rather die than give you control.
Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.

I'd rather die than give you control.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You're going to get what you deserve.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You're going to get what you deserve.

In answer, the trees swayed as something hidden inside of them rose to its full height. Out from the forest emerged a single very muscular Zentraedi male some forty feet in height. Broad shouldered and lean of waist, his face could not be seen for his armor was new to Neqel and it covered his features entirely. His space-worthy armor, the rich color of red Zentraedi blood, was in pristine condition. The male inside of it moved with none of the sickly weakness of the grunts. In one hand, he hefted that strange-looking one-handed club. The thing glowed a dim white color like that of a distant star. In his other hand, held low, was a pistol with a huge barrel, what humans might call a hand cannon.

Neqel did not recognize neither the weapon, nor the armor, nor the male Zentraedi. All were alien to her.

Still, there was a bearing of strength in that low, manly voice unlike any other that Neqel had heard. There was something about it that rivalled the confidence and purpose held by any of Neqel's Meltrandi veterans she fought alongside in her former life.

"Heh heh... That is culture..." he purred smoothly. "An invention of the micronians."

"Ahh!" Seeing a fellow male, bold and healthy, the Zentraedi grunts turned their guns back on Neqel. Indeed, they smiled at the sight of this new warrior. "You are wise and strong! How would you like to see the Meltrandi meet her end?"

The newcomer's reply was not something the Zentraedi grunts could have expected. He asked cooly, "Whom... do you serve?"

"Lord Khyron!" They raised their rifles in pride.

"Great leader of the Malcontents!"

"Long live his glory!"

None of the three saw the barrel of his pistol move.

KA-THOOM! KA-THOOM!

Two huge blasts of fiery plasma flew like streaking comets.

"AAARGH!"

Neqel looked up to see one Zentraedi grunt. His head was missing, replaced by a column of smoke. The other had a gaping cauterized hole clean through one eye and out the back of his skull. Together, they began to topple like giant buildings toward the earth. The third whirled his rifle about in shock and awe.

"How dare you?! You are one of us!"

"Wrong."

Neqel was suddenly in the shadow of one of the falling Zentraedi corpses. There was but one thing to do - run like hell. And so she did as quickly as her legs could carry her. As she sprinted, so did the male warrior in red at the last remaining grunt. This time, the grunt's gun was ready. The corpse Neqel dodged crashed into the earth shaking it so greatly, Neqel was knocked off of her feet. Yet still, her feet had done the job and she had not been hopelessly flattened by his thousands of pounds of weight.

ZA-KOW! ZA-KOW!

Bright beams of white sailed from the Mk. VIII particle beam rifle across the highway at the warrior in red, but instead of dodging, the warrior expertly raised his club as if to block them. The beams struck the club but the bolts did not deflect; instead, they vanished. The club in his hand grew a greater flame of white energy as they did.

"AAAHHH!" shrieked the grunt.

The warrior in red brought his club crashing down upon the grunt's head. The grunt raised his rifle to block the incoming blow. The crashing force of the club's strike penetrated the rifle, blasting it in two in a showery explosion of tremendous brilliance. When the glow faded, both giants stood perfectly still. The warrior held the handle of his club. The middle of the grunt's caved-in skull and helmet held the receiving end.

The grunt's lifeless arms fell and the pieces of the sundered rifle with it. All struck the ground with resounding booms as a tremendous amount of blood poured upon the grass.

The warrior in red drew forth a cloth from his hip pouch and cleaned his club in one smooth motion. The club no longer glowed. He put away the cloth and placed the club on his hip. In place of the weapon, he drew forth a red oval-shaped object about four feet long and two feet wide. Neqel did not recognize the thing nor its purpose. Then he aimed his smoking pistol at Neqel. In a tone that could be called casual, he addressed Neqel in the same cool tone she had just witnessed.

"Micronian Meltrandi. Whom... do you serve?"

At one time and for decades upon end, Neqel served Commander Lisara, the beloved and intrepid leader of the Meltrandi forces that had found Earth and joined forces with its people. Now, Commander Lisara and her Meltrandi were somewhere in space in parts unknown while her counterpart, Lord Breetai of the UEEF, sailed across the stars in the Super Dimensional Fortress Three in search of the home of the Robotech Masters, the planet Tirol.

But Neqel was not with them. As before, she was alone.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The insult of Zentraedi males means nothing to Neqel. She bears their insult, their dismissal of her with grinding patience. Had she a weapon, they wouldn't live to continue their slanderous remarks. But there were three, all full-size, all armed while she was alone, Micronized and unarmed. The odds were not in her favor. And an experienced warrior knew to wait for the opportune moment to strike.

It didn't come.

Her USB music player and it's inadvertent playing might have been that opportunity but even as she braced herself to run, that strange Zentraedi came out of the forest. A club? Not a common weapon for the males, and she'd never seen a glowing one. And why didn't she recognize the armor or the pistol? Were they newly manufactured? Where? How? The Zentraedi had no Earth-based manufacturing facilities, much less the technical knowledge needed to use them. The Robotech Masters provided all, after all.

Then the Zentraedi did the unthinkable; he executed his fellows.

Incomprehensible. Unless, perhaps, he was one of Lord Breetai's? But he'd left with all his armies and all means of production. Who was this strange male?

Neqel watches the carnage, shocked by its paradoxical nature more than its content. And when the pistol is leveled at her, she watches him with the same quiet confidence.

"I pledged peace with the Micronians in 2011, with many other Meltrandi. I took my oath of citizenship to the United Earth Government in 2014. And three years ago, I swore an oath of fealty to the Armies of the Southern Cross. Now." She pointed up at him, right at his face, ignoring the pistol. "Whom do you serve?"
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Instrumental mood music)
"Nightstalker" by Kenji Kawai from the Ghost in the Shell Motion Picture Soundtrack

Neqel's reply produced a chuckle behind that helmet that also served as mask to the male's features and identity. "Whom do I serve?" He lowered his pistol. "As if you were in a position to ask, female."

Up came the red oval device in his other hand. With a click of two buttons, it unleashed a torrential white cloud large enough to envelop a full-sized Meltrandi, much less a micronized one.

PSSSSHHHHTT!

The wide concrete highway, burning car, and punished grass offered no cover against this enemy. Immediately, all the world around Neqel became bright and misty. All colors but white fled her vision as the gas encompassed everything about her. Run as she might, there was no place to go and nothing to hear except for the strange giant male's amused laughter.

In quick moments, Neqel's senses dulled to the point of uselessness. Coughing ensued. Then white fell slowly to an all-consuming blackness. Neqel's knees struck the earth as her lungs battled for air. But there was none to breathe. Only the cloaking darkness that wrapped itself about her like night upon a starless sky...

(Mood music)
"Fear Not This Night" composed by Jeremy Soule and performed by Asja Kadric from the Guild Wars 2 Soundtrack

Like a star in some distant galaxy, Neqel's consciousness seemed to hang suspended amidst nothingness. Dreams. Dreams like faded memories came upon her mind like the coming of a faraway dawn. Once again, Neqel Amherst was Neqel again. Long ago, before she ever knew what a human was, or what love could be like, the embrace of a hug, the smile of children. Her and Richard's children.

Yes. Neqel was dreaming. Dreaming of memories in her old life.

Amongst an armored cadre of women warriors, Neqel stood inside of her Queadlunn-Rau inside one of Commander Lisara's many destroyers. Outside, the Invid awaited in their horrendous droves. Once again, in the chilling darkness of starlit space, these two forces found each other. There would be only one victor, one survivor.

Standing by the airlock, Neqel had her arm upon the controls. Many of her fellow Meltrandi were unprepared against this foe and yet none shirked against the threat. There was fear, yes, but there was also an overpowering sense of duty. An undeniable clarion call to see duty performed. There would be no hesitation. No matter who fell. No matter how long the battle lasted. Commander Lisara had made it clear that this was a battle to the death. Either the Invid were destroyed or the 6,000 Meltrandi ships slowly creeping toward a world called Earth by its inhabitants.

There in the deep cosmos, the Invid had appeared in their clamshell carriers. Hungry for protoculture, they opened their claws and came in their relentless clusters. The guns of Lisara's destroyers could only do so much. It was now up to the finest warriors in all the known galaxy - Lisara's Meltrandi.

The order was given. Neqel released the airlock. From her destroyer alone, some 400 Queadlunn-Rau launched off in near-unison toward an incredible number of truly alien creatures. Beams from ships lanced out in mile-long blazes. Missiles by the thousands roared out to meet their targets. Laser and cannon fire ensued. Hand to hand combat followed. Blood and bodies of the fallen littered the brightly-fired battlefield. Explosions split the eternal night creating short-lived dawns of fire and destruction.

All the while Neqel fired and fought, struck and dodged. There was no time for fear. Only action. To think was to die. This the Invid understood. The outer line of Meltrandi ships broke and burned under the tearing onslaught that was the legend of the Invid, the eternal foe of the Robotech Masters and therefore the Meltrandi. Neqel watched some friends and battle-mates die while others attained shining glory. All was as it should be. For this was the life the Meltrandi were meant to lead. The only life.

And yet...

During this single battle, Neqel spotted another force cloaked in the shroud of space. Something watched. It did not intervene, but played as willing audience to the great spectacle of cosmic battle that played out to the death of thousands. Neqel knew not the identity of the watchers. Nor did Neqel have the opportunity to find out. She learned only that this single ship, a cruiser or frigate perhaps, did nothing except bear witness to all that occurred before it. Seeing all. Fighting none. Then, as Neqel's own destroyer exploded into a bright, brilliant nova, she shielded her eyes lest she be blinded from the blast. Then she turned. The Watchers were gone. Only she had seen them. And then, only once.

Lisara's Meltrandi lost 1,000 ships that day, but the Invid force lost all. Victory was theirs! The Meltrandi had finally learned how to adapt against the overwhelming tactics of their worst enemy. No Invid had fled the battle. None had tried. They had fought to the last. To the death. A truly worthy enemy.

Neqel had not feared the night. Instead, she had conquered it.

What was left of Neqel's squadron limped back between the endless wreckages of what were once living creatures. Hers was swiftly reassigned to another destroyer, she flew through the chilling blackness of space, without missiles, without cannon-load, but with many a kill to be proud of. Was there more to life than this? It seemed not. For all the stars in the ever-twirling galaxies, the possibilities seemed endless.

Now, held in the throes of this returned memory, Neqel saw faces in her dreams. Three faces. Children. Nathan. Joy. Eliot. Seeing their beautiful countenances brought her past memories of eternal warring to a quick end. She was Neqel Amherst again. Surrounded by white clouds, she lie curled inside of some small, strange room with a single pink window. Except that there was a great breach in the room.

(Mood music)
"Don't You Worry Child" by Beth (Charming Horses remix)
Partial lyrics (chorus)
Don't you worry, don't you worry, child.
See heaven's got a plan for you.
Don't you worry, don't you worry now.

She realized that she had been held in some prison meant for keeping Micronians. This, the device did well. Yet now, with the hatch opened, she could breathe in something besides the white clouds that dulled her and kept her dreaming. No, now was the time to leave dreams behind and act!

But where was she? How had this... container... been opened? She was coughing again. Why was she breathing free air? Her stumbling steps echoed loudly in her ears as she walked out of her prison and through a black gloom where the sounds of electrical humming reminded her of the countless starships she had flown with in her previous life. The ceilings here were beyond her ability to see, so high did they rise. The corridor she lay in was cavernous and hardly lit at all. She knew she was in some Zentraedi place, for there were no signs of Meltrandi work anywhere, and no other place could be so grand, ageless, hard, and with distinct military purpose.

There was a clicking sound above her. So! She was not alone! She had not escaped her prison so much as she had been freed. And now, this someone or something loomed above her prone form. Her eyes. She wondered for a moment if she could trust them. For her eyes, seemed to be playing tricks upon her. Perhaps the white gas was still so deep in her system that she was seeing things. For was it true that a great, colorful insect some 10 feet in height and width was in here with her? Wherever this was?

It was monstrous, yet beautiful. Its chitinous hide was a dazzling array of reds and pinks, so fascinating was this display of colors that it was easy to get lost in them. Its eyes were white, unblinking, and completely non-threatening. It stared down upon her, apparently waiting. For what, there was no clue.

Pips, picture exactly this except add a bulbous mass on its lower back that seems to be part of its body.
ark_mantis_final_by_davesrightmind-dagkair.jpg
(Image credit: Davesrightmind - DeviantArt)

SIlent and yet still quite predatory, the humongous alien creature clicked its hand-pincers again. It tilted its head as if in curiosity. Nowhere in the great and grand universe had Neqel ever seen or heard of a creature like this. At a glance, Neqel knew this creature's hide to be like super-structure. Mega-damage. No Robotech Master-inlaid lesson, no Meltrandi-given wisdom, no human-born wisdom gave her any idea what this thing was. It was completely new to her, completely alien, and yet... it clearly bore her no ill will.

It waited with apparently infinite patience.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
There was nothing to be done about the gas. Meltrandi weren't trained for biological warfare; none of their enemies had ever used such methods given battles were done mostly in space and exclusively in mecha or powered armor. The sheer volume of the spray meant there was little to be gained in trying to resist.

Needless to say, Neqel sprinted through the gas as fast as her feet could carry her. Even when her vision faded to white and the coughing set in, she struggled on until collapsing. Resistance might be useless. But she was still Meltrandi; only death would ever stop her.

*​

The dreams. Such dreams. And such a strange thing to remember. In the midst of glorious battle, remembering the sight of a stray ship. Watchers. Neutrals? Was there any such thing? Well, they weren't Invid and so merited no notice. So unimportant, she'd forgotten the encounter entirely until all these years later. If what this was could be called remembering, anyway.

*​


What?

Neqel rose in her solitary cell, still numb from being drugged, confused about where she was...and why she was awake. There was no obvious explanation for the breach in her cell but neither would she question it. Zentraedi had no patience (or aptitude) for games so any break in the cell could only help her.

Yes, this was a Zentraedi place if the scale of it was anything to judge by. Craning her neck, Neqel took in the sights of the immense walls, shrouded in shadow, full of familiar if foreign construction. A fortress? One worth blowing up if she had the opportunity.

All thought of destruction fled when she saw the insect.

Much like the preying mantis Nathan had brought home once as a boy. None were so large, though. Full-sized, it would barely come up to her knees but Micronized it still towered over her. Utterly alien. And utterly unknown. If this was a race the Robotech Masters had ever encountered, they hadn't seen fit to program that knowledge into her clone-memory or into the standing operating orders of the Meltrandi battle fleet.

Intelligent? Had to be. Earth didn't natively have anything like this. The Zentraedi certainly couldn't have made it. It had to have come here, probably in its own ship of some kind. For what purpose? Could it speak? What would it do? Its hide seemed invulnerable to any weapons she could lay her hands on right now.

Oddly enough, Neqel's first response wasn't to wage battle with it. Of course the Meltrandi were bred for battle but only with the enemies of the Masters. This was...something else. Besides, her fleet was long gone. She was a soldier of the Armies of the Southern Cross now. Other orders took priority. Although if the ASC had any orders concerning first contact situations, they escaped her entirely at the moment.

Shrugging once, Neqel kept her hands down by her sides and spoke.

"I'm Corporal Neqel Amherst, Tactical Corp, Armies of the Southern Cross representing the peoples of Earth. If you're responsible for freeing me...thank you. Those who built this place are no friend of either of us." Glancing behind her briefly, Neqel returned her attention back to the insect. "Shall we escape together? Do you understand me?"
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Mood music)
"What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy Mix)" by Information Society
Partial lyrics:
I wanna know
What you're thinking
There are some things you can't hide
I wanna know
What you're feeling
Tell me what's on your mind

The insect, the alien, stared down at Neqel with its bright, triangular eyes. Then it ceased to move, still as a statue without so much as a feeler twitching. Neqel felt a strange buzzing sound, not from her ears, but inside her mind. There were a series of clicks and rubbing sounds like feelers moving together in stereo through her brain, unobtrusive, yet definitely present. Words began to form in her mind. Readable words. At first, they were garbled and unreadable:

qyR temm eeshsgets geferB

The seconds ticked by. Lines and curves reformed again and again:

eqrrumicannn qnestggggggg

Finally, these shapes began to form into readable forms. In complete silence, this creature put words into Neqel's mind. Now, she understood them all:

Communication established. Zentraedi language; Meltrandi dialect.

This One understands Mistress designation as

Suddenly, Neqel heard her own voice in her mind just as she had spoken it moments before.

"Corporal Neqel Amherst, Tactical Corp, Armies of the Southern Cross representing the peoples of Earth."

Mistress designation unknown. Unusual use of language and tone. Unfamiliar noun-like words. Conclusion: Improper Meltrandi designation.

Query: Is Mistress damaged? Has Mistress suffered head trauma?

(GM note for Epiphany)
Have fun with the scene, Pips! Woo! =)
 
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Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Madness.

Voices in her head? Must be madness. A genetic defect perhaps, as Meltrandi didn't suffer from fragile psychological conditions like the Micronians did. But then, Meltrandi didn't suffer from genetic defects either. Failure had been bred out of her clone-seed line millennia ago. But what else could it be but madness?

The initial gibberish was actually a bit soothing because of its nonsensical nature. She could ignore nonsense. Much harder to ignore once she started seeing words she could understand. Especially wrong words.

"If we've established communication, let's make one thing clear right now; Meltrandi is not a dialect of Zentraedi. If Micronian reproduction has any bearing on our own racial history, Zentraedi is a dialect of Meltrandi." She managed to avoid a hissing bite but only just.

"You're right, though. My designation was Neqel 419, Queadluun-Rau pilot. As the Meltrandi have left this world behind, I have been redesignated Neqel Amherest. My rank in the Armies of the Southern Cross is Corporal."

Arching an eyebrow, Neqel asked "And what is your designation?"
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Mood music)
"New Worlds" by Jack Wall for the Mass Effect 2 original soundtrack

"If we've established communication, let's make one thing clear right now; Meltrandi is not a dialect of Zentraedi. If Micronian reproduction has any bearing on our own racial history, Zentraedi is a dialect of Meltrandi."
Dialect correction ordered per Mistress. Correction complete. This communication continues in the language of Meltrandi.

New designation recorded as

Once again, Neqel heard her own voice in her mind. She said, "Neqel Amherst. My rank in the Armies of the Southern Cross is Corporal."

Search complete. Prior designation unknown. "Neqel 419." No such Ura-Meltrandi existed. Mistress is the first. Mistress's new designation is: 'Corporal Neqel Amherst. Armies of the Southern Cross.' Changes complete. Query: Did Mistress inhale too much gas?

Despite the thing's great size and clear advantage in melee combat, it made no threatening move whatsoever toward Neqel. Here, partially embraced by the darkness in this towering structure, it seemed to wish to remain as perfectly still as it could. Only during the creature's query did it move at all - a tilt of the head as if expressing deep curiosity or perhaps concern.

Arching an eyebrow, Neqel asked "And what is your designation?"

This one's designation is Unit One.


Query: What does Mistress require? Status report? Retrieval of Mistress's culture-object? Return to friendly forces? Other?

The Maelstrom continues. Unit One awaits Mistress's command.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
"Ordered per...Mistress?"

Neqel parses that bit of detail and then listens thoughtfully to the rest of the alien's message. Twenty years ago, she'd have ignored the creature and left. Possibly killed it just in case the Robotech Masters wanted it dead. Richard had left one lasting legacy in his Meltrandi wife, however; a new capacity for thinking things through. Time and again, she'd made a snap decision in a moment as she'd been bred to, only to see her Micronian husband take his time with deliberation and come to what were frequently stronger conclusions.

Patience and thinking things through didn't come naturally to Meltrandi. But sixteen years of being a Mom helped enormously.

"Your designation recording of me is too lengthy. Record my designation as simply...Neqel. As for too much gas inhalation, I'm still recovering from the effects of the Zentraedi weapon. I'll be fine shortly."

Squaring her shoulders, Neqel made a show of looking around while buying herself more time to think. Then she settled her gaze back on the insectoid alien.

"Now, Unit One, this is what I require. I'd like a status report. I'd like my...culture-object retrieved. Then I'd like a return to friendly forces. But before that, I'd like a brief summary of what you know of Ura-Meltrandi and the Maelstrom."

There. The alien seemed to have confused her with someone in a position of authority over it. Obviously, it couldn't be the Meltrandi themselves, they didn't use lifeforms like this for anything. Not that she'd ever heard of anyway. A divergent Meltrandi fleet perhaps? Possible. In the meantime, there was no sense in letting the alien know of her ignorance and its mistake. Her requests were simply echoes of its own suggestions. And nothing in how she'd phrased her request for those topics beyond her knowledge betrayed that ignorance.

She hoped. If it suspected she wasn't who it thought she was, it might very well rip her limb from limb.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
"Ordered per...Mistress?"
To this, Unit One replied.

Query: Mistress fails to recognize herself?


"Your designation recording of me is too lengthy. Record my designation as simply...Neqel. As for too much gas inhalation, I'm still recovering from the effects of the Zentraedi weapon. I'll be fine shortly."
Designation correction ordered per Mistress. Correction complete. Mistress's designation is

Once again, she heard her own voice. "Neqel."


"Now, Unit One, this is what I require. I'd like a status report. I'd like my...culture-object retrieved. Then I'd like a return to friendly forces. But before that, I'd like a brief summary of what you know of Ura-Meltrandi and the Maelstrom."
Unit One's head jerked back. Then for long moments, Unit One did not move. It only watched and studied. Silence reigned. Only the sounds of electrical and mechanical devices humming and working all around them filled the quiet. As Neqel's eyes continued to adjust to the dimness of the grand hallway, Neqel somehow gathered that Unit One seemed to be considering deeply and carefully what to do next.

As this took place, Neqel made another unexpected discovery. Neqel put her hand upon her thigh normally to the soft tell-tale jingle of her keys in her pocket. Nothing jingled. After a quick search, Neqel realized she had nothing upon her person save for her clothing. No keys, no money, no military identification, no USB music player with Aunt Myrtle's voice and music to listen to. Nothing.

Without warning, readable words entered Neqel's mind again.

Mistress Neqel fails to recognize herself? Mistress Neqel is missing data concerning Ura-Meltrandi? Mistress Neqel is missing data concerning the Maelstrom? Alarm! Mistress Neqel must be suffering from psychological damage inflicted upon her by her capture and possible torture by Zeki-Zentraedi! Conclusion: This One must return Mistress Neqel to friendly forces for her welfare before further damage occurs!

With pincers that seemed to grow larger by the moment, Unit One slowly, carefully reached for Neqel. And that is when Neqel realized - Unit One had been sitting in the shadows all this time with her in a hunched-down position. Now, as Unit One moved, it began to show its true size - some fifteen feet in height and width.

Unit One continued to reach toward Neqel. Worry not, Mistress Neqel! You are in righteous pincers.

What does Neqel do?
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
"I recognize myself just fine," Neqel states, with no small amount of irritation.

When the alien studied her in silence, she studied the alien in silence. The base wasn't that interesting after all, likely conforming to one of two dozen or so typical floor-plans based on mission parameters and the local geography. Given a little time moving through the corridors, she might discern which base model it was and thereby find the exit.

Not that it looked like Neqel would get the opportunity.

"I didn't say I was missing data. I want your data on the Ura-Meltrandi and the Malestrom. I'm not bred to experience psychological damage. But yes, I'd like a return to friendly f-"

But the alien was already moving upon her. And it was big. Waist-high on her old size and towering over her now. Bizarrely, she had the fleeting impression that it might make a nice pet, like the dog Ginger that Richard had once owned. Not that Meltrandi kept pets...but if they did, why not something like this?

Neqel was unarmed, lacking in any equipment whatsoever, still groggy from the effects of the gas. With its height, fleeing from it would be difficult...and probably counterproductive. After all, it clearly thought she was something it recognized. The more she behaved in a way it didn't expect, the more likely it might harm her before she had a chance to arm herself.

A small voice in the back of her head told her she was a coward for not vainly fighting and dying in battle against the encroaching insect. But the smarter, wiser warrior Neqel had become had learned not to tip her hand needlessly. Her only remark to the creature's last remark was "Of course I am." And she tolerated being picked up or carried or whatever it planned to do with a stoic indifference.

Or at least an approximation of stoic indifference. Better that then admitting to the fear she felt.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
"I didn't say I was missing data. I want your data on the Ura-Meltrandi and the Malestrom. I'm not bred to experience psychological damage. But yes, I'd like a return to friendly f-"
Unit One's reply was to the point. This One comprehended Mistress's request. Conclusion: If Mistress Neqel requires This One's data on Ura-Meltrandi and the Maelstrom, then Mistress Neqel is damaged; all undamaged Mistresses are deeply familiar with this information.

With a gentleness that could be described as motherly, Unit One's pincers took Neqel by her shoulders and turned the Meltrandi warrior around so that she no longer faced the insectoid. Then one pincer came around her waist and picked her up as easily and carefully as Neqel might lift any of her own children. Neqel's feet left the floor as she was lifted up, over, and behind Unit One's head, all in one smooth motion. There, high on the back of Unit One's neck, the insectoid placed Neqel until Neqel's head pressed against Unit One's.

There was one long moment of hesitation as Unit One paused with apparent uncertainty (insectoid body language being a hard thing to decipher for many humanoids).

Query: Is Mistress Neqel's data on how to mount and fly also missing?

The effects of the white gas had now worn off of Neqel; she was her own woman again. But before Neqel could answer, someone new entered the scene. There came the clomping sounds of gigantic boots marching together, at least two pair, coming down a nearby hall directly toward them.

Without further hesitation, Unit One acted. Using its inhuman dexterity and twisting limbs, the giant insectoid pulled Neqel's feet forward so that her feet linked around the insectoid's neck. Then those deadly-looking pincers moved delicately until Neqel's arms were wrapped securely around Unit One's neck. Finally, Neqel's body was pressed firmly so that they may as well have been one creature.

Then Neqel noticed something moving behind her. Something very close. Instinctively, Neqel turned her head for signs of danger. What she saw was instead stunning and beautiful, for the darkness could not hide those four large, wide, oval wings that silently unfolded forth from the strange bulbous pod on Unit One's back, just below where Neqel was perched. Neqel's position would not impede these rainbow-colored marvels that even in shadow were a marvel to look upon.

The time to act fast was now and Unit One apparently had no small amount of experience making the most of its time. With a speedy flick of its pincer, it tapped twice the pinkish glass upon the container that had served as Neqel's prison. That double-tap caused the prison to seal itself back up, white gasses and all. The device closed and sealed itself with a hiss, but Unit One did not wait around to see it.

With a buzzing sound that was as quiet as it was unobtrusive, Unit One lifted off the floor with Neqel with the agility of a helicopter and the quickness of a Battle Pod. Before Neqel knew it, they were high in the air and heading toward the ceiling just as two Zentraedi marched into the room in step with one another, pistols and clubs upon their hips. Like the warrior who had slain Neqel's traveling companions along with the trio of Malcontents before capturing her, they wore strange red armor with matching space-worthy helmets. Dark domes on those helmets completely masked their faces.

Up, up, and up Unit One swiftly carried Neqel until they reached a high shelf in a series of seemingly empty wall-mounted shelves. Once there, Unit One collapsed and folded those delightfully-colored wings back inside of itself. Then it became as still as still could be.

As the pair of warriors came upon the container, they paused. One knelt and looked down upon it with curiosity. He reached for the container. The other remarked in a voice that filled the room.

"Do not touch it! She is a war prize." Unlike the lone Zentraedi who had captured Neqel, this pair of warriors sounded younger. They spoke haltingly like grunts.

"A war prize?" the other stared into the pink glass that served as the container's only view. Inside, white mists swirled and danced like clouds minging before a tornado.

"Yes. A Meltrandi who works with humans!"

His fellow flinched at the repulsive thought. "Whaaat?! A Meltrandi? Who works with humans? We should destroy her!"

"Not until she teaches us more about the humans. Her knowledge will make us stronger! This is our lord's will."

The male raised his fist high. "I hope I have the honor of destroying her! She is stupid and weak! That is why she works with humans!"

"Pah! She is ugly and useless! Not worth fighting!"

Together, they pointed at Neqel's prison. "All Meltrandi must die!"

"Let us leave before I get angry and destroy her."

"Our lord would destroy you."

"That is why I will let her live. Wretched thing."

They stormed out of the room together, glaring menacingly at the container as they exited.

It was not until the sounds of their marching boots was gone from Neqel's ears that Unit One acted again. It bowed its head to Neqel.

Apologies, Mistress. This One had no time to warn you.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Arguing with the insect seemed beside the point. It clearly had its mind made up and, now that she'd committed to the deception, the most probable path to victory lay in keeping with the plan. The less she did to make it suspicious, the more likely she'd live through this. Or at least get close enough to a gun to make her death worthy of her heritage.

Neqel smiled ever so slightly to herself as the creature lifted her, confirming her suspicion that the charade was her safest play. When it asked her about mounting and flying, it only confirmed a growing suspicion; this was a bioengineered Meltrandi creation. Which made no sense on the face of it. The Zentraedi were the ones who used biotechnology. Meltrans favored the clean, economical lines of pure artifice.

Had an offshoot of the Meltrandi tampered with Zentraedi engineering?

Then Unit One was off and moving. She clung to the creature and for a brief moment revealed in the grandeur of flight. Her hovertank lacked the flawless grace of her Queadlunn-Rau. The insect's speed was a thing of wonder. Maybe Meltrandi had made it after all...

When the pair of Zentraedi warriors entered, she kept as still and quiet as Unit One. The same unusual armor configuration. An offshoot of Zentraedi? Perhaps her clone-sisters and the enemy were only part of a grander war waged across a wider space than she'd known. And now both sides mistook her for someone from their conflict, not her own.

At least the Zentraedi's casual racism was familiar. As was to be expected from worthless, inferior creatures.

"You acted according to your directives," Neqel answered Unit One once the enemy had left. Of course, she didn't know what those directives were but it wasn't hard to guess. She just had to think like a Meltrandi, something she was eminently qualified to do. "No apology needed. It seems my escape went without detection. ...That was quick repair work," she added, as memory caught up and overcame her instinctive revulsion of the Zentraedi. Had Unit One just tapped superstructural glass and repaired it instantaneously? Even her fleet had never mastered repair technology like that!

The Armies of the Southern Cross had to be told.

"I'd like to retrieve my culture-object but I am unarmed and unarmored, and don't know where it is. If you think it can be retrieved with minimal risk, then let's do so. Otherwise, let's find the others before the Zeki-Zentraedi find us." She frowns slightly and doesn't have to put on an act to continue to play the part of a 'convincing' Ura-Meltrandi. "While I wouldn't flinch from risk, the potential intelligence we've gathered here outweighs my personal convenience. We need to inform the others."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
It seems my escape went without detection. ...That was quick repair work,"
Unit One stared at Neqel in what appeared to be great wonder.

Necessity dictated Self's response. This One must protect Mistress Neqel, at least until she is is able to fight on her own. This One must also return her to friendly forces to repair Mistress Neqel's damaged mind and restore her missing data.


The giant insectoid rotated its head all the way around like an owl's to look at her. Its unblinking gaze seemed deeply curious.

And, of course, her body must also be restored.. Queries: How did Zeki-Zentraedi reduce Mistress Neqel to size of a human? Is it a new weapon they possess? Belief: Mistress Neqel must feel as vulnerable as a micronian. Poor Mistress Neqel.

Unit One's head twisted again until it faced forward. Worry not. Unit One has heard Mistress Neqel's song. Unit One has never heard Ura-Meltrandi sing before. Perhaps Unit One is the first scraath ever to do so. How historic! Unit One was not aware Ura-Meltrandi could sing. Still, Unit One believes Mistress to be very special. She must not be harmed, lest her song die with her. Query: How did Mistress Neqel learn to sing?

Then another thought seemed to race through the creature's mind and this one required action. Come.

Effortlessly and with great skill, Unit One lifted off again. They raced together through the air until they came upon another shelf. This shelf, Neqel noticed, was closest to the container she was held in. Unlike the rest of the shelves, there sat a wide container about the size of Neqel. She recognized it as a Zentraedi holding device meant for keeping very small things safe and secure - usually Micronian belongings. Its color was very hard to tell in the dark.

Like Neqel's former prison, there was a small pink glass-like emblem on its front. Unit One double-tapped the emblem. The container shifted and a lid rose revealing a pair of doors. These opened smoothly and silently revealing a dim green glow illuminating its contents.

Inside, Neqel found her military ID, her keys, and other personal belongings including her USB music player.

There, Unit One indicated the music player. After the Zeki-Zentraedi took Mistress's things, he operated this device. Music came. Unit One heard the device sing. Unit One believes it is Mistress Neqel's voice for the Zeki-Zentraedi hated it and shut it away. Conclusion: Mistress Neqel sings beautifully.

Unit One hopes she will sing again.

(Edited for brevity. Original was wordy. =) )
 
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Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Clinging to the back of a giant insect was not how Neqel expected to spend her leave today.

When Unit One rotated its head like a mecha with 360 degree rotation, the Meltrandi had to remind herself that she was supposed to be used to creatures like this doing things like that. Her first instinct was to gawk and that was simply not appropriate for a warrior used to riding these...pets into battle.

"I'm not damaged, just a little disoriented," Neqel insisted. Slowly, one eyebrow went up at the insect's next question. "The Zeki-Zentraedi didn't Micronize me. I'm..." she paused, realizing she still didn't know the strategic parameters the Ura-Meltrandi operated under. "I'm the size of a Micronian for infiltration purposes. The advantages outweigh the vulnerability. Worry not about my circumstances, Unit One. My size doesn't make me any less a warrior."

Waiting for the males to completely depart was torture. In part because Neqel wanted to be moving. In part because she'd get no closer to unraveling the mystery of just what the hell was going on by clinging to this alien. And in part because the more Unit One talked, and asked questions, the more opportunity Neqel had to make a mistake. A potentially fatal one, given her lack of a sidearm or armor.

"Micronians," she answered. "A Micronian male taught me, as singing was part of his...part of the way his battle unit debriefed and received orders from the one they report to." How did one explain the concept of church to an alien? When she barely understood it herself?

At last, movement.

The flight was almost enjoyable. The pink glass-like emblem on the doors of the Zentraedi holding device was strange to Neqel's eyes and she made note of it, filing the pattern and shape of it away for later. The ASC would be interested, once she had a chance to debrief. Assuming they believed her. Retrieving her personal possessions, Neqel pocketed her ID, keys and the USB music player before taking her smartphone and snapping of a quick picture of the glass container with its emblem. And then, for good measure, she took a snapshot of her prison cell as well, gas and all.

Discreetly, she also thumbed the picture icon on her phone when it was in the general direction of Unit One, capturing its likeness on the device. Neqel wasn't the most technically savvy warrior in the Tactical Corp, very much in keeping with the general expertise of Meltrandi warriors. With luck, the alien wouldn't recognize her device or understand what she did or how, anymore than she had once upon a time.

In their early days together, Richard had taken a number of pictures without her awareness. There was only the smallest of pains, recalling his smile and the situation as she recreated her husband's sneakiness here.

"We'll see," Neqel said to Unit One as it almost asked her outright to sing for it. What was the creature? Given its behavior, it was hard to imagine it as anything but a servitor creation of some Meltrandi offshoot. But then, if it was an engineered weapon and transport, why the affinity for music?

"We need to find a more secure location," Neqel said at last, mounting back up on the giant insect, likely with its assistance. "Take me to those friendly forces you mentioned. It's time we left this place behind and I'm debriefed. The longer we remain, the greater the risk that we're intercepted and my intelligence dies with me."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Fun-sounding instrumental mood music. =) ).
"Dreams of Flight" by Trazer. This song may very well be Unit One's theme. =)

"Micronians," she answered. "A Micronian male taught me, as singing was part of his...part of the way his battle unit debriefed and received orders from the one they report to."
Unit One seemed to be going right along with everything Neqel was saying until this. Hearing this, Unit One froze. Then it turned to Neqel in is eerily insect-like way. Neqel sensed fascination in the insectoid's manner. She also noticed now that the thing blinked. It indeed possessed eyelids unlike the praying mantis her child had brought home.

Searching history. No useful records found. Conclusion: Amazing! Queries: Mistress Neqel learned from a male? Is this first time in Ura-Meltrandi history such learning has taken place?

At this point, Unit One appeared so pleasantly flabbergasted with Neqel that it seemed to ask these questions "out loud." It did not seem to expect answers, but as Neqel answered these most recent queries, they seemed to bring bouncy, happy movements from the giant bug. Unit One acted as if Mistress Neqel was by far the most interesting and delightful Ura-Meltrandi in its recent history.

Retrieving her personal possessions, Neqel pocketed her ID, keys and the USB music player before taking her smartphone and snapping of a quick picture of the glass container with its emblem.
Unit One watched this and did nothing to prevent it.

And then, for good measure, she took a snapshot of her prison cell as well, gas and all.
Again, Unit One witnessed unmoving, but otherwise appeared to do nothing.

Discreetly, she also thumbed the picture icon on her phone when it was in the general direction of Unit One, capturing its likeness on the device.

Now,
Unit One saw cause for action. Nor was it the kind of action any two-legged creature might expect out of an insectoid. Neqel realized that since the thing lacked eyeballs (or anything like them), it was difficult to see just where it was looking. But in this moment, there came a discovery. For upon Neqel's first attempt to discreetly move the camera-phone in Unit One's direction, something very unusual occurred.

Suddenly, Unit One posed for the shot.

And it was a girlish pose at that. If Unit One were a micronian, it might have looked like either of these:

GirlishPose.jpg
(Image credit: Our Life is Beautiful)

In that moment, something inside the female in Neqel realized something both dead-certain and remarkable. Unit One was not an "it," and had never been an "it" - Unit One was most definitely a "she."

After Neqel took the shot, Unit One ceased to pose as if nothing unnatural had taken place. She seemed completely unaware of Neqel's attempt at subterfuge. Instead, she relayed information.

This One has recorded in Self's banks the items Mistress Neqel has taken interest in. With an outstretched pincer, Unit One pointed at both Zeki-Zentraedi containers. She did not point at herself. Then she made an offer.

Conclusion: Mistress Neqel is friendliest Ura-Meltrandi Self has yet discovered! Query: Does Mistress Neqel wish to pose for This One's memory banks, too?

Regardless of how Neqel answered, Unit One remained still, staring, until Neqel spoke again.

"We need to find a more secure location," Neqel said at last, mounting back up on the giant insect, likely with its assistance. "Take me to those friendly forces you mentioned. It's time we left this place behind and I'm debriefed. The longer we remain, the greater the risk that we're intercepted and my intelligence dies with me."
Conclusion: Agreement! In addition, the sooner Self reunites Mistress Neqel with friendly forces, the sooner Mistress Neqel can be restored to full functionality! Query: Yay?

Neqel remounted and Unit One took great care in her adjustments until Neqel was a good fit again. And not a moment too soon.

Alarm! Incoming Zeki-Zentraedi!

Instantly, Unit One's four rainbow wings artfully blossomed forth, ready for flight. A moment later, Neqel heard the movements herself; the echoing sounds of approaching boots returned to Neqel's ears. Two sets in perfect unison. They were returning down the corridor Neqel last saw the pair of armed male foot soldiers.

Unit One's insectoid features were raised in alarm. She sprang high into the air. At the apex of her leap, those four wide wings shimmered as each moved faster than the eye could see. Then they were off the shelf and gone, up and away again, flying through the air effortlessly and nearly soundlessly. It was as if the air were where creatures like Unit One were meant to be. Her direction took them high and toward the darkest corners in the room. But then...

...there came the most unseemly of sounds from the direction of the corridor in which the booted feet marched.

WHSHHHK!!

THUD! Thud! THUD!


To Neqel's warrior senses, something about the size of an armored Zentraedi male had just struck the floor followed by something lesser in size.

"Karlak?" The voice of a male Zentraedi called out into the darkness from the direction of the corridor Unit One was flying away from. "Karlak?! Report!"

These sounds got a reaction out of Unit One who, once again, wasted no time. She made certain Neqel was safely mounted for the ride, and once so, she spun completely around and flew toward the commotion instead of away from it. To Neqel's eyes, the opening to the green and gold-lit corridor and the action therein was getting larger by the moment.

Moving to attack. Ura-Meltrandi must be protected! For the Queen!
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
After these moments, the last thing Cpl. Neqel Amherst remembered was Unit One speedily and aggressively flying into a great hallway using as much of the upper-left corner as it could for cover.

Praise the Queen! Your wish to be reunited with friendly forces will be answered soon, Mistress Neqel!


There, Neqel saw the body of one Zeki-Zentraedi warrior lying upon the ground - right next to his freshly decapitated head. What looked like steam rose from the neat, cauterized wound. The second warrior spun toward Unit One. And then things happened very, very quickly...

Suddenly, Unit One's thorax grew to almost twice its size as she internally pulled something from her belly, up through her central cavity, and suddenly ejected it out of of her mouth. The entire process took less than two seconds, but the result was the spurting of a thick, stringy mass of white gunk roughly in the shape of a line, flying at terrific speed at the face of the Zeki-Zentraedi warrior. His helmet protected his face, but Unit One's self-made projectile did not appear to be made for damage.

SPLUUUUCK!!

Instead, with a sticky sound, his faceplate became immediately covered in rainbow-colored lines completely covering his eyes.

At the same time, the warrior grabbed a belt of large grenades on his waist, three green and one gray, and with a deft and practiced swing, flung the quartet straight at Uit One and Neqel.

Mistress Neqel! Hold tight!

Immediately, Unit One reversed her pincers and grabbed hold of Neqel. They banked sharply down and to the right, straight toward the gray grenade. Neqel's ears suffered the sounds of close range and tremendous mega-damage explosions followed by the Zeki-Zentraedi screaming in awful pain. The three green grenades had been the loudest, but the fourth exploded into an all-encompassing gas that, if Neqel's eyes did not recognize at first glance, the rest of her body most certainly did! Unit One had chosen to fly into a cloud of the nasty stuff instead of the high explosive grenades in the other detonations, but this was not without its consequences.

By the Creche! Query: Is Mistress Neqel's braincase so damaged she does not remember to hold her breath and close off her senses against the Zeki-Zentraedi Gray Cloud?

Neqel's senses dulled, she began coughing uncontrollably, and for the second time in one day, she felt a grim blackness swallowing her up as if she were falling into the darkest abyss in all the cosmos. Her limbs began to falter, their strength fleeing like water from a spout. Her ability to speak was instantly gone, but she could think, if only for a moment, and in the thinking, she received these fading excited thoughts in her mind like words writ upon ghostlike parchment...

Worry not, Mistress Neqel! You are in righteous pincers! Conclusion: This One will--

And there was no more... The blackness overcame Neqel until she slept in the deepest of synthetically-created sleeps. Did she dream? Perhaps, perhaps not. But she was going to survive this. Somehow, something in that warrior-soul of hers knew...

...this was not the end. Far from it!

(Game Master note: This concludes the prologue for Neqel Amherst. Pips, while you are welcome to reply to this in-character, providing Neqel's closing thoughts and feelings, she will wake up into a completely different situation with total strangers in Chapter Two: Into the Maelstrom. =) )
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
"Praise the Queen indeed," Neqel muttered as the alien...pet...female...whatever Unit One was flew them into peril. At least Unit One was highly mobile.

The discovery of a slain Zeki-Zentraedi only made this Meltrandi smile grimly. Perhaps the usual Southern Cross soldier would ask questions like "What happened?" and "Was that mecha weapons fire?" and "Where did the killer go?" For Neqel's part, her only thought was "A good start."

Her alien mount's ability to disgorge a blinding agent was both impressive and mildly disgusting. Perhaps the Meltrandi who'd designed Unit One were used to such spectacles but Neqel couldn't shake a lingering discomfort with bioengineering; a legacy of the Zentraedi foe and not proper Meltrandi technology.

Neqel clung to Unit One tightly as the grenades came their way. She wholeheartedly approved of its evasive maneuvers, despite the deafening sound of the grenades. Flying through the gas was at first a brief annoyance, than a sinking concern as unconsciousness descended on her. Neqel fought to hold onto consciousness with some ferocity but she'd already been through a great deal today. Perhaps her body wasn't fully recovered from being drugged earlier. Either way, much to her surprise, she found herself losing the fight to remain alert.

Worry not, Mistress Neqel! You are in righteous pincers! Conclusion: This One will--

Unit One's last words dropped off, vanishing into a gulf of oblivion.


"Kelly."

Neqel turned from her oven, brushed her palms off on her apron and put her hands on her hips as she turned to face the smiling man seated on one of the barstools at the counter. Brushing a lock of blue hair out of her face, the smile came easily at the sight of his handsome face.

"Richard."

"Listen."

She crooked an eyebrow up, followed by tilting her head to the side as she tried to detect what he meant. Neqel could hear the ticking of the kitchen clock, the faint popping and shifting of the oven as it continued to heat, the hum of the refrigerator nearby.

"What?"

"You'll hear it." He smiled again, and it was suddenly, achingly familiar and absent. In a dream where nothing made sense, Neqel was pierced with that awful realization that this wasn't real. Awful. Because it meant the man she'd loved so fiercely had faded from existence until only in a place like this could she see him again.

Crossing the distance between them, she cupped his cheek in one hand and shuddered.

"I remember when the sight of someone like you made me long for nothing more than destruction," she confessed quietly. "And now the sight of you is what I want most. Your victory over me is complete, Richard. You won my heart long ago. I don't know what to do with it now, now that you've given it back."

"You have to listen," he said, not unkindly but with a sudden, somber seriousness.

"I listened to everything you ever said to me," Neqel whispered urgently. "I still do. Your voice is my conscience. Your wishes guide how I've raised our children and how I continue to watch over them."

"No, I mean you have to listen."

"Tell me what you want me to hear."

"You've heard it before." Richard's hand cupped her cheek now and she felt that fragile strength once more, the memory of how cancer had robbed him of health but never of conviction. "But you didn't listen."

"I miss you," she said, resting her forehead against his. The kitchen had drifted away and even this conversation wore thin, an echo of waking or a slipping away into a deeper dreamless oblivion. "I still miss you."

"Kelly..." His voice was ghostly thin and beneath it she could almost hear a tone beneath it. The sound of the universe or a note caught up inside her, resonating and magnifying with nowhere to go but out. "You have to listen..."

And as she fell away from dream into darker depths or daylight, Neqel was left with an unsettling feeling. Almost a memory, like the one she'd had earlier today when gassed, remembering an alien observer to a battle from so long ago. She'd missed something. Something important. Something she needed to know. Something Richard perhaps had known, or maybe it was only her trying to tell herself with the only face she could never ignore.

Something...

Listen.

This is the 137th patient I've lost.
 

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