The Girl in the Ruins
Leon’s quarters on the Gefion were smaller than what he was used to on the planet of Sepheela, but he could deal with it. It was kind of bare, seeing as how the only personal items of his that had survived the crash were his locket and his holo-picture.
After showering and going through his morning routine, he made his way up to the bridge of the Gefion where he found Aisha perusing a number of displays on the large tactical hologram station. Most of them seemed to have to do with what Leon guessed were the Protoculture ruins.
“Morning Aisha, what’s up?” he asked.
“Hmm? Oh, good morning Leon,” she said distractedly. Leon had learned even in the short time he’d been with her that Aisha got very involved with her work.
“Hmm, as I thought… these markings translations were right…” she mumbled.
“Are those the ruins I’ve heard so much?” supplied Leon.
“Yes, they are. I have a theory about what happened to our zentran friend in here, but we’re going to have to travel deep into the ruins and hope that what I think is there, is there.”
Aisha turned in her seat to face Leon and grinned.
She bounded up out of the chair and headed to the door, winking at Leon as she went.
“Better saddle up flyboy, we’re going on another flight date.”
Leon just smiled and shook his head slightly at Aisha’s phraseology and followed her to the hangar.
In the hangar Gerrol was in a much more animated mood than before and he happily pulled Leon aside as soon as he came out of the locker room to show him his latest work.
“I know I’m good but that Aisha can simultaneously work on her ruins stuff and help us put together Valkyries. Plus it’s good of her to let us work on, ah, ‘pet projects’ like this,” he said, dragging Leon to a pair of VF-0 fighters that were now parked next to the blue and white VF-0D he’d been flying.
“We finished these last night thanks to parts purchased from the rewards we’ve gotten from working with the Hunter Guild. One’s a VF-0A,” he said, pointing to an all-gray Phoenix that differed from the –D in that it was a single-seater and had swing wings instead of delta wings, “And this VF-0S,” he said, pointing to a white VF-0 with black and yellow stripes.
“Unlike the D, which is a vintage Phoenix complete with over-tuned turbofan jet engines, these two are replicas and we’ve outfitted them with some old VF-1 FF-2001 reaction turbine engines. It’ll be a lot different than the VF-0D, so try not to sneeze and end up in the ocean, eh?”
“Sure thing!” Leon said enthusiastically, “But when are you going to be done with those VF-1s over there?” he said, pointing to some fighter hulls on the other side of the hangar that were covered in scaffolding and conduits.
“Soon enough. Maybe do some more odd jobs for the Guild and get some money, that could possibly speed things up,” Gerrol said, grinning slyly at Leon.
“Gotcha! Now, which one should I take?” said Leon, looking back and forth between the VF-0A and the VF-0S.
A few minutes later, Leon was strapped into the modified VF-0S and he and Aisha were about to take off. The holographic runway indicators flashed STANDBY. Leon carefully pushed the throttle lever forward, hearing the familiar roaring whine of thermonuclear reaction turbines coming to power.
“Siegfried-1. Launching!” he cried and the electromagnetic locks were released and his fighter was catapulted forward along the launch ramp. The acceleration slammed Leon back into his seat but he was long used to it by now.
Man, I could do this every day!
Soon, he and Aisha in her pink and white VF-19E were soaring along the islands towards their destination. Aisha was lazily drifting back and forth, humming a little tune.
“What kind of flying is that Aisha?” asked a bemused Leon.
“What do you mean? I can fly however I want!” she responded back.
“It certainly looks interesting,” replied Leon.
“What, it’s fun! Besides I’m too excited at what we’re going to find out! I gotta blow off some steam!” Aisha promptly sent her fighter into a crazy loop before zooming past Leon’s Phoenix.
“Just you wait ruins! We’re going to be the first to uncover your secrets!” she said.
“And I’ll just be back here, praying that we don’t get into trouble,” sighed Leon.
“Look, I need you to be honest with me. Is there anything dangerous down there that we should be worried about?”
“Well we already know that the ruins have strange effects. There actually reports about them going years back. But I’m sure we’ll be fine!”
“Yeah. Sure.” Replied Leon, dubiously.
At last they arrived at the ruins of a great arch surrounded by pillars and smaller arches. They all had intricate fascia and runes carved into them at regular intervals and the stone itself was dark grey and very rough, clearly showing the signs of the wearing of years. Unfortunately, any hope of Leon’s that this would be a milk run were cut short when, as they landed at the base of the large arch in battroid mode, they saw a green camouflaged VF-171 Nightmare Plus EX Valkyrie guarding a tunnel which seemed to lead underground. The image of the pilot, a large, swarthy man with tanned skin, an afro, quite a few scars, beady green eyes, a thin moustache and pointed goatee and a furry, white… thing around his neck appeared on their monitors.
“Sorry, but there’s no going into the ruins today!” he said in a rough voice.
Aisha looked aghast at her monitor.
“Guh… Ganeth Modler?! What are you doing here?”
“You know him?” asked Leon.
“He used to be a Guild hunter but after the idiot tried to steal from the ruins, they kicked him out,” quickly explained.
Ganeth scowled back at them.
“You’re in for it this time Aisha. I heard what you and your friend there did to my boys the other day and I’m afraid I’ll have to pay you back for that,” he said.
“You’re right Aisha… this man reminds me I’ve something I’ve tried to forget…” said Leon as his grip on the controls of his Phoenix turned white-knuckled. A flood of memories washed over him, of burning buildings, chasing after his sister, an explosion…
Aisha didn’t seem to be listening as she was now yelling at Ganeth.
“Idiot! You can’t keep us out of there and if you try I absolutely will not forgive you!” she snarled. It was the first time Leon had ever seen the pretty young meltran so upset but he was so lost in his own memories that he was only half paying attention to what was going on.
“Hmph, that’s good enough for me. I’m definitely not letting you into the ruins, so what are you going to do about it?” responded Ganeth, smirking.
Leon glared back at Ganeth through his monitor, his own devilish smirk on his lips.
“You sure talk pretty big, don’t you” he said sarcastically.
“Obviously!” responded Ganeth, missing the sarcasm completely, “soon, all of Ouroboros will have to acknowledge me for my greatness!”
Leon was getting more and more pissed off by this guy. A few more words and he may just shoot him.
“Now why don’t you just back down, eh?” Ganeth sneered. “They may call me an idiot but they’ll soon see, I’m going to be the king around here and I’ll take what I want, when I want!”
“What are you talking about, Ganeth?” scoffed Aisha, “As if there’s anyone here would listen to you!”
That was all Leon could take.
“Is that all you have to say?” he said, so coldly that it actually surprised Aisha.
“Leon?” she said uncertainly.
“And what if it is?” sneered Ganeth.
You’re just like those men that killed Mia. I can’t stand that kind of attitude you have!” Leon said coldly
“Mia?” said Aisha softly. Was Mia the girl in the locket that she had found on Leon? And if so, what was she to him?
“Those cowards attacked us by surprise that night and a lot of good people died or were trapped in burning debris. Mia tried to rescue some of the poor fools and paid for it with her life. Because of that… I’m going to take you down!!” roared Leon. Now it was Aisha’s turn to be surprised at the strength of emotion that Leon had.
“What the-? What are-? Argh, never mind, come at me if you want, big shot!” snarled Ganeth.
Leon didn’t waste the invitation; he charged straight at him.
“What’s wrong with you Leon?” cried Aisha, more concerned for his safety than being angry with him. But Leon wasn’t charging blindly. He might have been extremely pissed at the moment, but he was using his anger to focus himself solely on one goal: take down Ganeth! He fired as closed with Ganeth, not just his gunpod, but also his head-mounted laser cannons as well. Ganeth managed to side step and switched into GERWALK mode, taking the fight to the air. Leon also switched modes and flew after him, locking on his anti-air missiles as he did so. Ganeth then switched to fighter mode and dove into the cluster of pillars near the big arch. The missiles couldn’t track him as he weaved through and impacted on the columns, throwing smoke dust and debris everywhere. Ganeth himself came bursting out of the smoke, the large MDE particle beam cannon on his right arm sending lances of blue light towards Leon’s Phoenix.
On the ground near the arch, Aisha was cursing herself for reacting so slowly to the sudden shift in the confrontation. She imagined her conscience telling her, get up there and help him you idiot! Even if he did charge in first!
She transformed to GERWALK and soared up into the sky, locking on her internal micro-missiles and firing a salvo from the launchers mounted in the VF-19E’s legs/engine nacelles. Ganeth’s fighter’s threat detection system shrieked an alarm; missiles incoming and this time no easy cover. He transformed into fighter mode and soared away from Aisha and Leon, firing flares and chaff as he went. Leon was right on his tail though, transforming from fighter, all the way to battroid, using the thrust from his re-oriented engines to push him at an angle perpendicular to Ganeth’s line of flight. Grimly, he lined up his sights on Ganeth and pulled the trigger. A stream of gunpod shells and laser fire peppered Ganeth’s VF-171 causing it to belch out streams of black smoke.
“GYAH! Dammit, you actually hit me!” he snarled, “you won this time, but I’ll remember this, damn you!!” With that, his Nightmare Plus peeled off towards the horizon, trailing a ribbon of smoke after it.
Leon’s and Aisha’s battroids came to a rest on the grass in front of the big arch’s base. Aisha’s battroid reached over and laid its mechanical hand on the shoulder of Leon’s Phoenix.
“Looks like you saved us from Ganeth… but are you alright? Things got pretty heated back there with that fool.” Said Aisha, worry laced in her tone. Leon didn’t reply for several seconds, then he sighed heavily.
“…Sorry. I’m alright now.”
“Alright then. This time I’ll let what you did go. But please don’t do something like that again,” she said, gently but firmly.
“I won’t,” he replied, the adrenaline of the fight giving way to a more laconic feeling.
“OK, then let’s not waste another moment and get into those ruins! Follow me!” said Aisha, her good cheer returning abruptly. Her battroid dashed off towards the tunnel entrance but Leon paused a moment.
“Mia… I still can’t forget what happened to you that night…” he said softly. Shaking himself out of his reverie, he guided his battroid after Aisha.
At first Leon was surprised that their battroids were able to move around in the underground tunnels but then he remembered that the Protoculture had designed the Zentradi, so why shouldn’t the tunnels be large? The initial tunnel eventually stopped slanting downwards and opened up into a huge antechamber.
“You showed me some holos of the ruins but now that we’re here, I see the Protoculture really knew their stuff!” exclaimed Leon.
“Ouroboros’s ruins are unique in the galaxy for how much of the aesthetics of the Protoculture they’ve preserved. There’s no place else like them,” explained Aisha, “However they’ve only recently been discovered; they were all sealed up prior to now.”
“Amazing that something like this still exists in the galaxy,” said Leon as he gazed around.
“Part of the problem is that I think the seals on the ruins have only now deactivated due to the ‘fold dance’ caused by the Aura.”
“My little nickname for the way the fold waves are distorted by the Ouroboros Aura,” replied Aisha.
“OK, whatever you say,” replied a thoroughly bemused Leon.
“There might even be rare artifacts down here.”
“Artifacts huh?” replied Leon, already knowing he’d likely take on the role of pack mule.
“Yep! C’mon, it’ll be fun!” said Aisha as her battroid went bounding off. Leon followed after her, still marveling at the chambers and grand corridors. The tiled floors, intricate alien columns and vaulted ceilings with crystal domes all held a mysterious air. They were made in such a way as to be familiar geometrically but Leon couldn’t shake this feeling that it all meant that he was in a place not made by human schools of thought.
The chambers were connected by tunnels much wider and grander than the one they had come through, all heading further down into the planet’s crust. They had just barely arrived in the next chamber when they saw a pair of strange creatures standing in the center of the chamber. They looked like some nightmarish fusion of a crab and a giant ant. They were mostly white with blue crystalline highlights and two huge glowing yellow circles on their fronts that looked for all the world like eyes.
“What the-? What are those things?” asked Leon in astonishment.
“careful, I don’t like the look of those flaming eyes of theirs,” cautioned Aisha as she brought her battroid to a halt.
“Why do you think they’re here?” asked Leon, keeping one eye on his weapon gauges.
“They’re likely here to protect this place.”
“Do you think they’ll attack us then? They don’t look all that dangerous.”
“Even if they’re not, I don’t think they’ll be a problem for us,” grinned Aisha.
“Alright! Let’s go!” cried Leon.
Any assumptions that the creatures might have let them pass were proved wrong as they tried to casually pass by them. The two creatures immediately oriented on Leon and Aisha and charged towards them, slashing with their clawed forelegs. However it didn’t take much more than a few bursts from Aisha and Leon’s gunpods before the creatures went down.
“They didn’t seem to have any weapons,” said Leon, “Other than those claws.”
Aisha was busy scanning the creatures, trying to see if they matched anything in her files.
“They’re definitely here to protect the ruins. The name we have in my files is ‘Dyaus,’” said Aisha. “They seem to resemble the Vajra somewhat, which shouldn’t be surprising since we know that the Protoculture revered the Vajra anciently. I would suspect that that they do have weapons and we just reacted with enough force to stop them before they used them. There’s likely more of them, or they might even be able to recover and reactivate-“ she said before Leon cut her off.
“I understand, we'll have to hit them hard and fast if we want to stay alive down here.”
Unfortunately for Leon, “fast” wasn’t in Aisha’s vocabulary for this trip. She wanted to stop and study everything, from wall friezes, to pictographs to the guts of the dead Dyaus guardians. She got really excited when she found Fold Quartz in some of them, indicating a solid link between the Protoculture and the Vajra. She would Leon his opinion, even if he were no amateur archeologist like her. At the very least he was all for SMS getting to study them, rather than bandits or some megacorporation plundering them. Eventually the reached a room with some kind of circular machine embedded into the floor from which a cone of violet light burst forth. After scanning it and finding out it was configured somewhat like a fold drive, Leon decided the best way to test out what it really was, was to step into the light, so to speak. He found his Valkyrie had been transported into an entirely different room. The strange machine was some kind of teleporter! Aisha arrived a moment later and began yelling at but was cut short when an ominous rumble resounded through the chamber they were in.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” murmured Leon, once again checking the status of his weapons.
With a loud rumble that shook dust from the ceiling, a section of wall slid open and a much, much bigger Dyaus scuttled out. The ones previous to this had been smaller than their battroids but this one had to be twice the size of their Valkyrie fighters!
“That’s... one heck of enemy,” said Leon flatly.
“No way! Look at the size of that thing!” cried Aisha, her eyes as wide as saucers.
Never mind its size! Let’s get it, Aisha!” said Leon grimly. Suiting action to words, he locked on with the last of his missiles and fired. The large Dyaus swatted two of them out of the air and the ones that did hit didn’t seem to phase it much. All of a sudden Leon wished he had a FAST pack on… and… why wasn’t Aisha helping him?
“Oi! Aisha! A little help!”
“Hehehe, this is the greatest ruins find ever!” she cried, eyes practically sparkling in happiness. “Nobody’s ever found something like this ever!”
Leon almost face-palmed.
“Director Aisha, don’t you think we should, maybe, stop it before it, uh, pounds us flat?”
Aisha seemed to snap out of her reverie.
“…of course. We’ll engage it but please try not to damage it too much.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll just blow it up a little bit.”
“I would really like it if you did,” said Aisha in the closest thing Leon had ever heard her come to pleading, “or I might have to hurt you later on!”
“She says this right when we’re in the middle of a pinch,” Leon grumbled. Then, noticing that the big Dyaus was charging them, he grabbed hold of Aisha’s battroid and tugged it out of the way.
“Siegfried-1, engaging the enemy!” he cried. And the fight was on!
It actually didn’t last as long as Leon thought it would. By now they were familiar with the weaknesses of the Dyaus and even the big one was not immune to strikes at its “eyes” and its less-armored abdomen. With a final burst from his gunpod, Leon sent the behemoth crashing to the floor.
“Alright! That wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be,” he said, despite the fact that he used up the last of his Phoenix’s missiles, all of his gunpod ammo and the charge on his laser cannons.
“Wait a moment!” said Aisha sharply. Her instruments were registering strange energy fluctuations in the Dyaus.
“The Guardian has a runaway reaction… but that means it’s going to… Look out, Leon! It’s going to explode!!” she screamed. Leon reacted instantly, his battroid leaping away from the fallen Dyaus, which detonated with the force of a small reaction warhead.
Leon was awakened by a persistent, annoying beeping. Then a voice crackled in his ear.
“Leon? Leon? Are you there? Please, can you hear me?!”
“Ohhhh… Siegfried-1, still here,” he responded though every word seemed to increase the pounding in his head. He heard Aisha let out a long sigh that might have been part sob over the radio.
“I’m so glad you’re alright. Do you know where you are?”
“No I don’t,” he replied, scanning his surroundings even though moving his head felt like trying to move lead brick. Despite the glow of his instruments, he could see nothing beyond his monitors, except a bright light in the distance.
“Can you see any way to get yourself out of there? I’m cut off from you,” said Aisha.
“Not right now. There’s something strange outside though. Give me a moment,” he said, the pain in his head causing him to speak in short staccato bursts. Stiffly, he managed to get the cockpit of the battroid open and crawled out. Pulling a flashlight out of his pilot suit, he shone the beam around where his Phoenix had landed. He seemed to be in a network of interconnecting tunnels, smaller than the ones he and Aisha had been exploring earlier. These could be the tunnels that the Dyaus used to get around, he figured. The hole in the sidewall where his Valkyrie had punched through didn’t seem in any immediate danger of collapsing so Leon decided to check out the light in the distance. As he walked towards it, he saw that there were patches of glittering luminescence scattered all over the almost organically shaped tubular tunnel. Suddenly it flared out into a roughly circular chamber and at the center… was a strange ovoid pod that looked like it was grown out of the floor and ceiling, like a stalagmite and stalactite that had merged together. The walls of the chamber were shaped with swirling ridges that seemed to pulse with muted color and strange runes glimmered on the floor. The pod was itself mounted on a stepped pedestal and chunks of strangely glowing crystal jutted up all around it. Stepping closer to this strange artifact, Leon’s flashlight revealed it was full of some liquid and… someone was in there! Leon gasped sharply as his flashlight traced the curves of the body, hair billowing up in the gently bubbling liquid from a very human-looking face…
With a jolt Leon realized that it was a girl in there!
“What is this place?” he said in a breathy whisper.
Without warning the circle of runes Leon was standing in began to glow as well as the pod itself. A faint but insistent hum began to emanate from the pod and Leon found that he couldn’t move; whatever he had activated had trapped him there. The pod began to bubble more rapidly and Leon could have sworn he saw the girl’s eyes open. There was a sudden flash of golden light and Leon threw up his free hand to shield his eyes. The whole chamber seemed to be vibrating now and as Leon lowered his hand he saw to his astonishment the girl, now outside the chamber and bathed in a golden glow. She was slowly falling towards him and without thinking he reached out and took her into his arms.
“Hello, can you hear me?” asked Leon. The girl merely groaned in response, not fully awake yet. Leon was about to ask more when there was loud, ominous rumble and dust and rocks began to fall from the ceiling. Leon had no choice but to hoist the girl up into the bridal carry, turned and ran from the chamber back to his battroid as quickly as possible.
The rest of the escape from the ruins and the flight back to the Gefion passed in a blur to Leon. Before he knew it, he was back in the sickbay, sitting at the mysterious girl’s side as she lay on the medical bed. He barely even heard Aisha approach.
“So, mind explaining how all this happened, Lt. Leon?’ asked Aisha. She wasn’t mad at him per say, just confused how he’d randomly appeared with a strange girl.
“Well, after the large Dyaus exploded, I found myself in some part of the ruins and found this girl encased in some kind of strange pod. I must have done something to activate it because, well, here she is,” he said, “That’s all.”
“So you decided to climb out of your battroid in unstable conditions and nearly get yourself killed?” cried Aisha.
“The collapse didn’t start until after I got her out, it was fine!” he retorted.
“I was just worried about you! After getting separated and the ruins starting to collapse, I thought you might not make it out!” she said, tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“ he tried to say but Aisha wasn’t finished yet.
“Didn’t I tell you not to blow up the Guardian? It was such a great find too! And I had to collect all the parts by myself!”
“I understand, I’ll try not to get blown up next time,” he said a little flatly.
Aisha wiped at the corner of her eyes and then said, softly, “I really was worried about you, you idiot.”
“What was that, Aisha?” Leon asked playfully.
“Nothing!” she snapped back, “Anyway, you said you found this girl in the part of the ruins you fell into?”
“Yeah, it was this really strange capsule, like I said-“ he was about to continue when the girl groaned and her eyelids began to flutter open.
“Oh, looks like our princess is about to awake,” quipped Leon.
Suddenly, Aisha was back in investigator mode.
“Hey, can you understand us? Are you a member of the Protoculture?” she asked rapidly.
“Oi, Aisha, don’t scare the poor girl to death right after waking up,” said Leon reproachfully.
The girl blinked up at the two of them a few times and then said something in an unfamiliar language. After a moment, English words were displayed on the monitor above her bed. Obviously whatever she was speaking had enough similar phonemes to earth, Zentradi and what little they knew of the Protoculture language to translate.
“What…? Where am I…? Who… are you?”
“My name is Aisha Blanchette, I’m sorry if I startled you,” replied Aisha, thoroughly contrite.
“And I’m Leon Sakaki. Do you have a name?’ said Leon cheerfully, smiling at the girl.
“Mina… Mina Forte. That’s my name,” she said haltingly.
“Mina. That’s a nice name,” replied Leon, warmly.
“…Thank you,” Mina said shyly, “um… excuse me but… where am I? What is this place?”
“You’re onboard a ship. We found you in some ancient ruins and brought you here,” supplied Leon.
“I see. I’m sorry but I can’t seem to remember any of that…”
“Don’t worry about that right now,” said Aisha kindly, “for now, do you feel OK?”
“Yes, I do. By the way, can you tell me why you’re speaking a different language than I am? And… do you know what happened to me? I can remember a few things but everything else is so fuzzy.
“Oh boy… Aisha, help me out here?” asked Leon.
“Sure thing,” replied Aisha, knowing that they were probably going to have to take quite a while to explain to this girl just what had happened and where she now was.