Four months passed without a word from the Sentinels, and the members of the Expeditionary Mission to Tirol were beginning to fear the worst. This, even as they entered into truce negotiations with the being who might have been responsible for the destruction of the Sentinels' starship -- the Invid Regent himself.
Meanwhile, the survivors of the Farrago remained hopelessly stranded on Praxis, a planet in cataclysm, hastened to endtime by the dark designs of the Invid Regis. But deep within that world's transformed core were answers to the Sentinels' prayers; if they could only reach them before Praxis tore itself apart. For Rick and Lisa Hunter, Cabell, and the others, the moment had arrived for desperate actions...
And Time Was Running Out!
Read an Excerpt
It was as if the Expeditionary mission was fated to strike a truce with someone, and the Regent just happened to be the only enemy in residence. In another five years the Robotech Masters would arrive in Earthspace, followed three years later by the Regess and her half of the Invid horde; but in 2026 (Earth-relative) this was still speculation, and for a few brief days there was talk of peace, trust, and other impossibilities.
Ahmed Rashona, That Pass in the Night: The SDF-3 and the Mission to Tirol
Afleet of Invid warships emerged from their transtemporal journey through hyperspace into the cool radiance of Fantoma’s primary, like so many shells left revealed on a black sand beach by a receding tide. The mollusklike carriers positioned themselves a respectful distance from the moon they had captured then lost; only the fleet’s mullet-shaped flagship continued its approach, menacing in its sealed silence.
At the edge of the ringed giant’s shadow, Tirol’s guardian, the SDF-3, swung round to face off with the Regent’s vessel, the crimson lobes of its main gun brilliantly outlined in starlight.
Aboard the Earth fortress, in the ship’s Tactical Information Center, Major General T. R. Edwards watched as a transport shuttle emerged from the tip of one of the flagship’s armored tentacles. Edwards trusted that the Regent was aboard the small craft, accompanied certainly by a retinue of guards and scientists. The presence of the Invid fleet made it clear that any acts of aggression or duplicity would spell mutual annihilation for Invid and Humans alike.
Admiral Forsythe, who commanded the SDF-3’s bridge in the wake of Lisa Hayes’s departure with the Sentinels, was now in constant communication with the Invid flagship. It was the Regent who had taken the initiative in suggesting this extraordinary visit, but Forsythe had insisted that the fortress remain at high alert status at least until the Regent was aboard. Disillusioned by decades of war and betrayal, and hardened by the grim realities of recent reversals, it was the Human race that had grown wary of summits, distrustful of those who would sue for peace.
Scanners and camera remotes monitored the approach of the Regent’s shuttlecraft and relayed relevant data to screens in the fortress’s cavernous Tactical Center, where techs and staff officers were keeping a close watch on the situation. Edwards moved to the railing of the command balcony for an overview of the room’s enormous horizontal situation screen. Studying the positions of the Invid troop carriers in relation to the SDF-3, it occurred to him how easy it would be to fire at them right now, perhaps take half of them out along with the Regent himself before the Invid retaliated. And even then there was a good chance the fortress would survive the return fire, which was bound to be confused. Numerous though they might be, the Invid seemed to lack any real knowledge of strategy. Edwards was convinced that their successful strike against the SDF-3 almost six months ago had been the result of surprise and old-fashioned blind luck. More to the point, he felt that he had an intuitive understanding of this enemy — a second sense birthed during his brief exposure to the brainlike device his own Ghost Squadron had captured on Tirol.
Edwards reminded himself of the several good reasons for exercising restraint. Apart from the fact that the actual size of the Invid fleet remained unknown, there was this Regess being to wonder about; her whereabouts and motivations had yet to be determined. Besides, he sensed that the Regent had something more than peace negotiations in mind. In any case, the data Edwards had furnished the Invid regarding the Sentinels’ ship had already linked the two of them in a separate peace. But Edwards was willing to play out the charade—even if it amounted to nothing more than an opportunity to appraise his potential partner.
He dismissed his musings abruptly and returned to the balcony console, where he received an update on the shuttlecraft’s ETA in the fortress docking bay. Then, giving a final moment of attention to the room’s numerous screens and displays, he hurried out, adjusting his alloy faceplate as one would a hat, and tugging his dress blues into shape.
The docking bay had been transformed into a kind of parade grounds for the occasion, with everyone present as decked out as they had been at the Hunters’ wedding extravaganza. There had been no advance notice of what, if any, protocols were to be observed, but a brass band was on hand nonetheless. The impression the Plenipotentiary Council wished to convey was that of a highly-organized group, strong and decisive, but warlike only as a last resort. The twelve members of the council had a viewstand all to themselves at the edge of a broad magenta circle, concentric to the shuttle’s touchdown zone. A majority of the council had ruled against the show of force Edwards had pushed for, but as a concession, he had been allowed to crowd the bay with rank after rank of spit-shined mecha —Battloids, Logans, Hovertanks, Excalibers, Spartans, and the like.
The shuttle docked while Edwards was making his way to a preassigned place near the council’s raised platform; since he had been the council’s spokesperson in arranging the talks, it had been decided that he represent them now in the introductory proceedings. Edwards had of course both seen and fought against the enemy’s troops, and he had met face-to-face with the scientists Obsim and Tesla; but neither of these examples had prepared him for his first sight of the Invid Regent, nor had the Royal Hall’s communicator sphere given him any sense of the XT’s size. Like the lesser beings of the Invid race, the Regent was something of an evolutionary pastiche—a greenish slug-headed bipedal creature whose ontogeny and native habitat was impossible to imagine—but he stood a good twenty feet high and was crowned by an organic cowl or hood, adorned, so it seemed, with a median ridge of eyeball-like tubercles. Dr. Lang had talked about self-generated transformations and reshapings that had little to do with evolution as it had come to be accepted (and expected!) on Earth. But all the Protoculture pataphysics in the galaxy couldn’t keep Edwards from gaping.
A dozen armed and armored troopers preceded the Regent down the shuttle ramp (a ribbed saucer similar in design to the troop carriers), and split into two ranks, genuflecting on either side of what would be the Regent’s carpeted path toward the council platform. Recovered, Edwards stepped forward to greet the alien in Tiresian, then repeated the words in English. The Invid threw back the folds of his cerulean robes, revealing four-fingered hands, and glared down at him.
“I learned your language—yesterday,” the Regent announced in a voice that carried its own echo. “I find your concepts most … amusing.”
Edwards looked up into the Regent’s black eyes and offered a grin. “And rest assured we’ll do our best to keep you amused, Your Highness.” He was pleased to see the alien’s bulbous snout sensors begin to pulsate.
Edwards’s one-eyed gaze held the Regent’s own for an instant, and that was all he needed to realize that something was wrong—that this being was not the one he had spoken to via the communications sphere. But he kept this to himself, falling aside theatrically to usher the Regent forward to the council platform.
The Plenipotentiary members introduced themselves one by one, and after further formalities the Regent and his retinue were directed to the amphitheater that had been designated for the talks. The Regent’s size had necessitated a specific route, along which Edwards had made certain to place as many varieties of mecha as he could muster. Each hold the summit principals passed through found combat-ready Veritechs and Alphas; each corridor turn, another squad of RDF troops or a contingent of towering Destroids. While aboard, the Regent’s every word and step would be monitored by the extensive security system Edwards had made operational as part of his Code Pyramid project—a system that had also managed to find its way into the council’s public and private chambers, and into many of the fortress’s Robotechnological labs and inner sanctums.
There was a smorgasbord of food and drink awaiting everyone in the amphitheater’s antechambers; the Regent nourished himself on applelike fruits his servants brought forth. Edwards noticed that Lang was doing his best to attach himself to the Invid leader, but the Regent seemed unimpressed, refusing to discuss any of the topics the Earth scientist broached. In fact, only Minmei succeeded in getting a rise out of the Regent. Edwards noted that the Invid could barely take his eyes off the singer after she had completed her songs, and he retained a slightly spellbound look long after the introductory addresses had commenced.
Terms for a truce were slated for follow-up discussions, so civilians and members of the press were permitted to enter the amphitheater itself. Edwards saw to it that Minmei was seated beside him in the front row, where the Regent could get a good look at the two of them.
The alien’s initial remarks put to rest any doubts that may have lingered in Edwards’s mind concerning the ongoing impersonation. The Regent spoke of misunderstandings on both sides, of a desire to bring peace and order to a section of the galaxy that had known nonstop warfare for centuries. He claimed to understand now just what had prompted the Human forces to undertake their desperate journey, and he sympathized with their present plight, hinting that it might be possible to accelerate the timetable for the Human’s return trip to their homeworld—providing, of course, that certain terms could be agreed upon.
“It’s a pity there has been so much loss of life,” the Invid continued in the same imperious tone, “both in Tirolspace and during the so-called ‘liberation’ of Karbarra. But while we may have no cause for further quarrel with your forces here, it must be understood that no leniency could be expected for those of your number who chose to join the Sentinels. And despite what you may have been told by the Tiresians, those worlds—Praxis, Garuda, and the rest—belong to me. The reasons for this are complex and at present irrelevant to the nature of these negotiations, but again we wish to stress that the Sentinels’ cause was a misguided one from the start. It was inevitable that they fail sooner or later.”