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I’ve brought death and suffering in such magnitude, Zor thought. It’s only right that I spend the balance of my life bringing life.
He looked out from the observation bay of his temporary groundside headquarters upon a planetary surface that had been lifeless a mere four days before. He saw before him a plain teeming with thriving vegetation. Already the Flowers of Life were sprouting, reaching their eager, knob-tipped shoots into the sunshine.
Zor, supreme intellect of his race and Lord of the Protoculture, nodded approvingly. At times the memories of his own past deeds, much less those of his species, seemed enough to drive him mad. But when he looked down on a scene like this, he could forget the past and be proud of his handiwork.
And above him, blocking out the light of the nearby primary, his gargantuan starship and super dimensional fortress was escaping, as he had directed. The satisfaction he felt from that and from seeing the germinated Flowers made it much easier to accept the fact that he was about to die.
He was tall and slender, with a lean, ageless face and a thick shock of bright starlight hair. The clothes he wore were graceful, regal, cut tight to his form, covered by a short cloak that he now threw back over one shoulder.
Zor could hear the alarm signals ring behind him, and the booming voice of a Zentraedi announced, “Warning! Warning! Invid troop carriers are preparing to land! All warriors to their battlepods!”
Zor gazed away from the beauty of the exterior scene, back to the harsh reality of the base, as towering Zentraedi dashed about, preparing for battle. Even though the appearance of the Invid had taken them by surprise, even though they were badly outnumbered and at a disadvantage since the enemy held the high ground, there was a certain eagerness to the Zentraedi; war was their life and their reason for being.
In that, they had met their match and more in the Invid. Zor found bitter irony in how his own poor judgment and the cruelty of the Robotech Masters—his masters—had turned a race of peaceful creatures, once content with their single planet and their introspective existence, into the most ferocious species in the known universe.
While subordinates strapped armor and weapons on his great body, Dolza, supreme commander of the Zentraedi, glared down at Zor. His colossal head, with its shaven, heavy-browed skull, gave him the aspect of a stone icon. “We should have departed before the Flowers germinated! I warned you!”
Dolza raised a metal-plated fist big enough to squash Zor. Unafraid, Zor looked up at him, though his faithful aide, Vard, was holding a hand weapon uneasily. Around them the base shook as armored Zentraedi and their massive fighting pods raced to battle stations.
“What of the super dimensional fortress?” Dolza demanded. “What have you done with it?”
“I sent it away,” Zor answered calmly. “To a place far removed from this evil, senseless war.It is already nearing the edge of space, too fast and too powerful for the Invid to stop.”
That much, Dolza knew, was true. The dimensional fortress, Zor’s crowning technological achievement, was the mightiest machine in existence. Nearly a mile long, it incorporated virtually everything Zor had discovered about the fantastic forces and powers springing from the Flowers of Life.
“Sent it where?” Dolza demanded. “If I weren’t sworn by my warrior oath to protect you”—Dolza’s immense fist hovered close—“I would kill you!”
A few pods from the ready-reaction force were already on the scene: looming metal battle vehicles big enough to hold one or two Zentraedi, their form suggesting that of a headless ostrich, with long, broad breastplates mounting batteries of primary and secondary cannon.
“I don’t expect you to understand,” Zor said in carefully measured tones, as explosions and shock waves shook the base. They could hear the Zentraedi communication net crackling with reports of the Invid landing.
“You were created to fight the Invid; that is what you must do,” Zor told the giant as the headquarters” outer wall heaved and began to crumble. “Go! Fulfill your Zentraedi imperative!”
As Zor spun and ducked for cover, Vard shielded him with his own body. Dolza turned to give battle as the wall shuddered and cracked wide. Through the showering rubble leapt Invid shock troopers, the enemy’s heaviest class of mecha, advanced war machines. Forged from a superstrong alloy, bulky as walking battleships, the mecha resembled a maniac’s version of biped insecr soldiers.
They were every bit as massive as the Zentraedi pods, and even more heavily armored. Concentrated fire from the few pods already on the scene—blue lances of blindingly bright energy—penetrated the armor of the first shock trooper to appear. Even as the Invid returned fire with streams of annihilation discs, the seams and joints of its armor expanded under the overwhelming pressure from the eruptions within. It exploded into bits of wreckage and white-hot shrapnel that bounded noisily off the pods’ armor.
But a trio of shock troopers had crowded in behind the first, and a dozen more massed behind them. Annihilation discs and red plasma volleys quartered the air, destroying the headquarters command center and equipment, setting fires, and blasting pods to glowing scraps or driving them back.
Armored Zentraedi warriors, lacking the time to reach their pods, rushed in to fight a desperate holding action, spraying the Invids with hand-held weapons, dodging and ducking, advancing fearlessly and suffering heavy casualties.
A swift warrior ran in under an Invid shock trooper, holding his weapon against a vulnerable joint in its armor and then triggering the entire charge all at once, point-blank. The explosion blew the Invid’s leg off, toppling it, but the Zentraedi was obliterated by the detonation.
Elsewhere, an Invid mecha seized a damaged pod that could no longer fire, ripped the pod apart with its superhard metal claws, then dismembered the wounded Zentraedi within.
Scouts, smaller Invid machines, rushed in behind the shock troopers to scour the base.
It took only minutes for one to find Zor; the Invid had been searching for him for a long time and were eager for revenge.
As the scout lumbered toward them, Vard tried to save his lord by absorbing the first blast himself, firing his little hand weapon uselessly at the Invid monster. He partially succeeded, but only at the cost of his own life—immolated in an instant by a disc. The force of the blast drove Zor back and scorched him.
The rest of the discs in the salvo were ignited by the explosion, but, having been flung aside, Zor was spared most of their fury. Still, he’d suffered terrible injuries—skin burned from his body until bone was exposed, lungs seared by fire, bones broken from the concussion and the fall, tremendous internal hemorrhaging. He knew he would die.
Before the Invid scout could finish the job, Dolza was there, firing at it with his disruptor rifle, ordering the remaining pods to concentrate their fire on it. “Zor is down! Save Zor!” he thundered. Switching to his helmet communicator, he tried to raise his most trusted subordinate.
“Breetai! Breetai! Where are you?”
The scout was blown to bits in the withering fusillade, but its call had gone out; the other scouts and shock troopers were homing in on their archenemy.
Dolza, with the remaining warriors and pods, formed a desperate defensive ring, unflinchingly ready to die according to their code.
Suddenly there was a massive volley from the right. Then an even more intense one from the left. To Dolza’s astonishment, they were directed at the Invid.
Breetai had arrived at the head of reinforcements. Some of them were wearing only body armor like himself, but most were in tactical or heavily armed officers’s Battlepods. The Invid line began to collapse before a storm of massed fire. More pods were arriving all the time. Dolza couldn’t understand how—an invasion force was descending by the thousands from a moon-size Invid hive ship, its troopers as uncountable as insects. Surely the base must be covered by a living, swarming layer of the enemy.
But the enemy was being driven back, and Breetai was leading a countercharge on foot, just as a small wedge of shock troopers threatened to make good on a suicide rush at Dolza and Zor. A disc struck a pod near Breetai even as he was firing left and right with his rifle; blast and shrapnel hit his head and the right side of his face.
Breetai dropped, skull aflame, but the Zentraedi countercharge went on—somehow—to drive the Invid back to the breach in the wall.
Finally Dolza wearily lowered his glowing rifle muzzle. Pursuit of the retreating Invid could be left to the field commanders. He began to take reports from the newcomers, thus learning the details of the unexpected Zentraedi victory.
Most of the Invid had been diverted in an attempt to stop or board the dimensional fortress and had been wiped out. Even now, word of the attack was going back to the Robotech Masters; a punitive raid would have to be mounted. Breetai was being attended to by the healersa and would live, though he would be scarred for life.
But all of that was of little moment to Dolza. He looked down on the smoking, broken body of Zor. Healers crowded around the fallen genius with their apparatus and machines, but Dolza had seen enough combat casualties to know that Zor was beyond help.
Zor knew it as well as Dolza. Drifting in a near delirium, feeling surprisingly little pain, he heard exchanges about the dimensional fortress. He smiled to himself, though it hurt his scorched face, thankful that the starship had escaped.
Once more, he had the Vision that had made him decide to dispatch the ship; as the master of the limitless power of the Protoculture, with his matchless intellect, he had access to hidden worlds of perception and invisible paths of knowledge.
He saw again an infinitely beautiful, blue-white world floating in space, one blessed with the treasure that was life. He sensed that it was or would be the crux of transcendent events, the crossroads and deciding place of a conflict that raged across galaxies.
A column of pure mind-energy rose from the planet, a pillar of dazzling force a hundred miles in diameter, crackling and swaying, swirling like a whirlwind, throwing out shimmering sheets of brilliance, climbing higher and higher into space all in a matter of moments.
From the Paperback edition.