To Dream With the Stars
By Sarah Bloy

Chapter Three: Vermillion Team

    "When I first met Rick [Hunter], I had him figured for some kind of hard-nosed jarhead friend of Lieutenant Commander Fokker; maybe someone he'd met during the Global Wars but who had opted to stay with conventional aircraft. Then, of course, there were all those stories I'd heard about him back on Macross Island. At any rate, all bets were off as soon as I met him."

                - from the collected journals of Ambassador Maximilian Sterling (RDF, REF) (ret.)

    Last time on Robotech: To Dream With the Stars: Against the High School background of flight school, Max Sterling met fellow Robotech Defenders Ben Dixon and Ariana Allan and began to establish himself as a formidable fighter. As his friendship with the impulsive Ariana took shape, he again struggled to sort out his emotions.

    Max debated actually answering the ringing phone or simply throwing it across the room so that it would shatter against the wall into several small and in-operational pieces. Shaking off the last of the haze the sudden awakening had left him with, he glanced at the clock.
    3:07 AM.
    Max picked up the receiver and held it up to his mouth. "If this isn't Publisher's Clearing House, I'm hanging up."
    "Hey Max, it's Ben!" came the over-cheerful voice on the other end. "You'll never guess what!"
    "Ben, did you know it's three in the morning?"
    "Yeah, but guess what! I just picked up my assignment."
    "Just now? You were supposed to go get it at sixteen-hundred yesterday!"
    "So I forgot; sue me. But you'll never guess what!"
    "They were mad at ya'."
    "Well, that too. But I pulled duty in the Vermillion! We're gonna be wingmates! I mean, c'mon, what're the odds of that?"
    Max sighed, exasperated. "G'night, Ben."
    "Hey, I'll see ya' in the-"
    Max hung up the phone. He was about to head off back to bed, but stopped, thinking. After another moment, he reached down and unplugged the phone from the jack.

    Ben was knocking on Max's door bright and early.
    "Don't you ever sleep?" Max asked as Ben entered.
    "Not last night," said Ben, "Yasumahi threw one Hell of a party! You should have been there!"
    "Blech!" Max exclaimed. "With the way he drinks, no thanks." A thought suddenly occurred to him. "You weren't drunk last night, were you?"
    "Heck no! It was much more fun to watch everyone else make fools of themselves! Nope, not me. I was just pumped, is all."
    "Yeah, well, you're still pumped. Stay away from my coffeepot while I go get changed. We gotta go meet this Hunter guy at oh-eight-hundred."
    "Oh I forgot to tell you," said Ben taking a seat to wait, "Ari called me this morning 'cause she couldn't get through ta ya'. She wants to meet us in the hanger bays at oh-seven-hundred."
    "She say why?"
    Max glanced at the clock; it said that it was ten to seven. His mouth fell open and he rushed around the room looking for items of clothing and other such hygiene related things. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
    Ben cracked a sarcastic smile. "It's a conspiracy, Max. We're all out ta make ya' late. Better hurry up or your girlfriend'll be mad at ya'."
    "Feef nah my gurlfrien!" Max exclaimed around a toothbrush.
    "Didn't look that way last night."
    "Fuh uh!"
    "I don't shut up, I grow up. And when-"
    Max spit into the sink and shot Ben a look. "If you finish that, I may have to hurt you."
    After Max gathered his wits about him again, he and Ben went winding through the corridors and passages of the ship, taking a shortcut through Macross City. They finally ended up at the hanger bays, huffing and puffing. They found Ari leaning against a wall. She looked their way as they approached and feigned annoyance.
    "You blokes couldn't even be on time for me? I'm hurt."
    "I was waitin' for him," said Ben, indicating Max.
    "He only told me ten minutes ago," Max retorted.
    She got in between both of them and put a hand on their shoulders. "Sarcasm, boys. Now. Take a look at that!" She motioned to a Veritech that was waiting out in the open. "What do ya' think o' that!"
    Max and Ben looked at the thing for a moment.
    "It's... Green," stated Ben.
    "Aldebaran whiskey, Mr. Scott!"
    Max and Ben gave Ari a puzzled look.
    "Never mind. Boys, meet my Veritech, the Green Lantern!"
    Ben burst into uproarious laughter. "Green Lantern! Did you get it at the bottom of the cereal box! And I thought all you got outa them were decoder rings!"
    Ariana stood in front of Ben, arms akimbo. "At least I did something to make it look different! You did squat with your Valk! So if you don't like it, either walk on by or step out back!"
    "Hey!" Ben exclaimed, putting fists up in front of him. "I was kinda busy having a life last night, you asocial brat!"
    "Brat, am I?" Ariana shot back. "At least I don't have to live with the disease of smeg-infested testosterone!"
    Max looked around at the other pilots in the hanger and noticed that Ben and Ari's little tiff was beginning to be noticed. "Guys, would ya' calm down?" he asked, in a placating tone. "It's really not that big a deal."
    "Yes it is!" Ari and Ben snapped back, still glaring at one another.
    Max took a step back from the pair, as they looked about ready to get into a slug-fest right there in the hanger bay with several Lieutenants looking on. None of them seemed to notice the names being rattled off over the PA.
    "I noticed you named it after a man super hero," Ben nipped.
    "Just what are you insinuating?" Ariana retorted.
    "I think you know."
    She let out a rather large, blaring growl. "Insult my womanhood would you!" A thought occurred to her and her eyes narrowed, slyly. She went over to Max and grabbed on to his arm in mock affection. "I didn't see you with a date last night."
    Max turned pale an nearly fainted, but remained unnoticed by the two combatants.
    "What's yer problem, Ari!" Ben groused.
    "Bad circulation," Max quipped, still pale. He allowed his knees to buckle under him, partly due to shock and partly because he wanted to diffuse the situation before it got worse.
    Ariana was suddenly shaking him by the shoulders. "Max! Stay with me! I was kidding!"
    "And Corporal Rick Hunter," the PA finished.
    Max and Ben looked at each other, puzzled. "Corporal?" the two of them asked in unison.
    "I thought this guy was a Lieutenant," said Ben, "what gives?"
    "Yeah, I don't get it," Max agreed.
    "Suppose he hasn't gotten the news yet?" Ari hypothesized.
    "But that would mean..." Max began.
    "He's new..." Ben mused.
    The two young men moaned, frustrated and fearing the worst.

    Once again, Max found himself in the White Dragon; this time having been towed there by new superior Rick and Ben. The place had been put back together remarkably well since the previous night's bash. Even the stain on the carpet which had been caused by a collision between the punch bowl and a slightly less-than-sober corporal was no longer in evidence. The lighting was back to normal, the crepe paper was gone, but the party atmosphere was still there.
    As soon as the three of them arrived, Rick sought out Lynn-Minmei, the niece of the restaurant's owners and, to hear Rick tell it, his girlfriend. The birthday girl was presently surrounded by friends and family and waved to Rick and soon as she saw him. After a quick, mocking scolding about being late and a short fiasco about a present, they were all seated at a table. Minmei continued to buzz around, the center of attention.
    "Whew!" Ben exclaimed. "She sure has energy, Lieutenant!"
    "Yeah," Rick responded, somewhat wistfully.
    "You sure she doesn't get around?"
    Max, absolutely shocked by Ben's remark, buried his face in his hands, embarrassed for his friend. "Ben, tact, please."
    "This from the expert," Ben said, "you can't even tell when a girl is flirting with you."
    "Ari is not flirting with me," Max stated, blushing up a storm.
    "Ari?" Rick asked. "As in Ariana Allan, the girl that was in your class?"
    "You heard of her?" Ben asked.
    "Yeah, it's kinda unusual to see women in the Skulls. Roy told me about her. She your blushing girlfriend, Max?"
    "No!" Max exclaimed, waiving hands in front of him as if in fear of his life. "We're just friends! Really!"
    Just then, Minmei returned and leaned on the back of Max's chair. "Someone's modest," she crooned.
    Max, somewhat startled, turned around in his seat and regarded her. "Well, we are," he said, simply.
    Minmei giggled and somehow, all the tension that had just built up in the blue haired pilot melted away. "I don't think we've met," she said, "I'm Lynn-Minmei. Did you come with Rick?"
    "Yeah," Max said, almost in a whisper, "I'm Max Sterling."
    Rick, meanwhile seemed to look a little perturbed about something.
    "He one of your pilot friends, Rick?" Minmei asked, turned to him.
    "Sort of," Rick responded, "he and Ben here were just assigned to my team. I'm a Lieuten-"
    "Wow! That's great! Rick's a hero, you know. He saved my life once. Do you know 'Daisy, Daisy'?"
    "Actually, yeah," Max found himself responding.
    "Wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Do you think you could play the guitar for me? The Mayor wants to hear me sing."
    "Great! I'll go get the guitar!" Minmei bounced off and Max turned back to the table.
    "She's a really nice girl, Lieutenant," he said to Rick.
    Both Rick and Ben were staring at him, Rick with a particularly disconcerted expression.
    "Did I do something?" Max asked, innocently.
    "Of course not," Minmei stated, answering for Rick as she returned. She grabbed Max by the wrist and led him over to another knot of people. "C'mon, let's go over here." Soon, they were singing two part harmony while Max strummed away at the guitar. He noticed Mayor Luan move over toward Rick and whisper something to him which Rick responded to with a bit of a face. Their song ended and the room clapped.
    "Actually," he heard Ben saying, "she's a miracle worker! She's actually managed to get Max out of his shell! He never does things like that unless Ari's around."
    As if on cue, someone's hands reached around and covered Max's glasses. "Guess who," said the English accented voice.
    "Ari, would you get off." Ariana's hands disappeared from his face and Max turned around to regard her. She was dressed in civvies; blue jeans, a v-neck sweatshirt, and sneakers. "What're you doing here?"
    "Watching you have fun without me, apparently."
    "Ariana!" Minmei exclaimed. "It's good to see you! How've you been?"
    "You know each other?" Max asked.
    "Sure!" said Ari. "The Lynns have been friends of the family since we were next-door neighbors for a few years back on the Island."
    "I heard about your father," said Minmei to Ariana, "I'm sorry."
    Ariana seemed to start at the comment and she looked from Minmei to Max and around the room in general. "So, Max. I see you're still on duty," she said, indicating his uniform, "how goes it with Hunter?"
    "I dunno," said Max, "I think I made him mad at me for some reason."
    "Not Rick!" Minmei exclaimed. "I've never seen him get mad at anyone. I wouldn't worry."
    The alarms chose that moment to begin blaring and the party atmosphere immediately dissolved.
    "Attention," Commander Hayes' voice sounded over the intercom, "we are under attack. All pilots, report for duty and man your Veritechs. All civilians to the shelters."
    "Oh no!" Minmei exclaimed, bursting into tears.
    "Oh yes!" Ari responded in kind pumping the air with a fist. "Time ta go ta work! Zentraedi my foot! We'll show 'em, eh Old Blue?"
    "Yeah, haven't you heard? That's what they call themselves." She began to sprint for the door. "I'll see you in space, Max. And don't get yourself scragged, or I'll never talk ta you again." She threw off a casual salute and raced out of the restaurant.
    Max soon found Ben next to him, bouncing to go himself. "That's the spirit! We gotta get moving. Come on Lieutenant," he called to Rick who was presently handing Minmei his handkerchief, "we don't wanna keep the enemy waiting, do we?"
    Rick was soon with them, racing out the door to a nearby taxi. They all three climbed in and were soon joined by several others. The driver groused at the number of passengers, but conceded the need for swiftness and took them all.

    The battle began in earnest as several Zentraedi battlepods converged on Vermillion Team's position near the ship. Evasive maneuvers were the order of the moment from Rick and all three broke formation.
    For all his bravado before the battle, Ben had a battlepod on his tail almost immediately and was calling for an assist from Rick. The Lieutenant obliged and dispatched Ben's pursuer.
    Max, meanwhile, was in the middle of a turkey shoot; luckily, he was the hunter. The Zentraedi mecha were all over him, but he somehow managed to see each one and effortlessly take them out. He momentarily looped out of their lines of fire and imaged a conversion to Battloid. Rifle/cannon in its hand, Max's bright blue Veritech went through moves and maneuvers with its pilot barely thinking about it.
    "Look at him go!" Dixon yelled into the tac net, apparently having found a chance to have a small conversation.
    "Wow, Max!" Rick agreed. "You're really somethin'!"
    "I'm happy I was able to help out," Max responded, not wanting to sound arrogant. Despite his humble attitude, he was rather impressed with himself. He half expected to completely panic and freeze up. He just couldn't resist trying out the Fokker's Feint that Kochanski had taught the class. After he had finished the move, he realized that he had actually talked Rick and Ben through it. What is with me?
    A moment later, Commander Hayes was on the tac net berating Rick for slow response time. The Lieutenant mumbled some response about having two inexperienced pilots with him. Oops! Max thought to himself. Way ta' go Sterling. You're really off on the right foot with this guy. He quickly pushed the thoughts aside, though, recalling the mantra Kochanski had drilled into them; "Nothing extraneous in mind or body."
    "Enemy forces have broken through the defenses in the third quadrant," Hayes' voice emanated through the net, "you're our only hope, Vermillion Leader."
    "We're on our way," Rick responded for his team.
    Ben took the lead on the way, firing off rounds into the group of pods in front of them. Very little of it was effective and Ben was presently making frustrated noises in his cockpit.
    "Cool it, Ben, don't waste your ammo," Rick warned.
    Max, meanwhile, haloed a pod in his sights and holed it through with a single shot. "Hey, Lieutenant," he said, half jokingly, "is it okay to fire when it's not a waste?"
    He could almost feel Ben's glare over the tac net.
    Rick ordered Max and Ben to split up to either side and drive a wedge into the attacking pods. It only worked for but a moment, though, and soon Rick was calling for a conversion to Battloid and a landing on the ship's hull. Max reached for the B-lever and pulled it down, suddenly realizing that he had changed back from Battloid before. When'd I do that? Everything was moving so fast around him that he hadn't even noticed making the switch.
    The three Battloids touched down on the hull and spread out in the field of disabled Destroids and Gladiators. Ben took up a position near one of the damaged Phalanx guns and began screaming curses and firing madly at the ostriches. He stepped out from behind it to trap shoot one of the pods, but was suddenly hit, full in the Battloid's back, from behind.
    "Ben, are you alive in there?" Rick asked as he and Max began laying down some cover fire for their downed teammate. Ben responded, somewhat weakly, in the affirmative and Rick began moving in to lend a hand.
    Just then, a score or more of battlepods moved in on them, coming around the horizon of the SDF-1. Max attempted to continue covering Rick and Ben, but soon found his hands full with a group of pods who seemed intent on driving him away from Rick. They were all protecting a single officer's pod that had touched down on the hull and simply kept coming around the ship. Max grew a bit concerned for his wingmates and took a few steps toward them, firing at incoming mecha the entire way. But he was soon pushed back by one particularly clever pilot who landed on the hull in front of him and fired his mecha's foot thrusters into the torso of Max's Battloid. Max was forced back again and almost lost balance, but was otherwise fine. He haloed the mecha and shot a missile at it as is was haplessly rising from the hull. As the others moved in on him, he spotted Rick in a face-off with the Officer's Pod which was, just now, raising it's gun to fire.
    Suddenly, all the action stopped. For just an instant, all the Zentraedi mecha stood motionless on the hull. Then, they simply lifted off and left.
    Puzzled, Max regrouped with his wingmates. "What happened, Lieutenant?" he asked.
    "Dunno," Rick admitted, "but I'll take it, it wrapped things up out here. And not a minute too soon."

    Max reached his quarters after the impromptu meeting with Rick and Ben in the mess hall and leaned against the wall, sighing. Despite the damage to their two mecha and Ben's head injury, Rick and Ben seemed in fairly good spirits and Max didn't want to be a wet blanket. So he found himself spouting all kinds of cheery, sappy mush. He'd even said something about battle being fun and hoping he could do it again soon before he had realized how perfectly morbid it had sounded.
    Nine kills.
    Despite the fact that his comments had sounded morbid, Max couldn't help but admit that there was a bit of truth to them. Nine was more than the people he had lost recently, and yet it didn't feel as though it was enough. Somehow, he had thought that joining the RDF would make him feel better about all that; as though helping to save the other civilians and officers aboard the SDF-1 would somehow negate that small amount of guilt that was growing inside him.
    Why did that picture of his parents and his sister seem to be looking at him?
    Max worked on pushing those thoughts, in fact thoughts of any kind at all, from his mind and decided he'd feel better after a good night in the sack. The thought had just crossed his mind when there was a knock on the door.
    On the other side of the door was Rick Hunter, looking somewhat apologetic himself.
    "Lieutenant!" Max exclaimed.
    "Max, what'd I say about rank when we're off duty?" Rick said. "It's Rick, remember? You got a minute?"
    "Uh, yeah, I guess," Max responded, "c'mon in."
    "Thanks," said Rick, entering and looking around.
    "Can I get you something to drink?" Max asked, moving to the small kitchenette.
    "Uh, no, I've gotta go pretty soon. But, um, I was wondering if you were all right after the fight, today."
    "Yeah, fine," Max affirmed, sounded somewhat unconvincing, "what makes you think I wasn't?"
    "I dunno, you seemed sort of, well, out of it. I know that was your first firefight, but even Ben sounded more convincing in his enthusiasm."
    Max sighed. "Was I really that bad, Lieuten-, er, Rick?"
    "Well, only about as bad as I was." Rick looked around the room once again and seemed to spot the picture of Max's family. "That your family?"
    "Uh, yeah," confirmed Max, moving over to the picture and tilting it so that it faced down on the shelf, "that's my folks, all right. A- a real crazy bunch, really."
    "A real dead bunch, you mean."
    Max started, eyes going a bit wide.
    "I read your file."
    "All of it?"
    "Um hum. It sure explained a few things. Like why someone like you would join the RDF. And why you're so quiet. Look, if you ever want to, you know, talk-"
    "Right, I gotcha," Max interrupted, "maybe when we both have a bit more time, huh?"
    "Right," Rick agreed after a few moments of silence, "I guess I better go." Rick went to the door and opened it. "Oh, I almost forgot. I ran into Ariana Allan. She says 'plug your phone back in, you bloody smeghead, before I get pissed.' I think I'd do it if I were you."
    "Ari!" Max exclaimed, smacking his forehead. Quickly, he reached down to the phone jack and plugged the lose cord in.
    Rick allowed himself a short laugh. "G'night Max," he said, exiting.
    "Night, Lieuten-... Oh I'm never gonna get used to that!"
    "Relax, Corporal," Rick said, mercifully, "see ya' tomorrow."
    Rick finally left and seconds later, the phone rang. "Hello?" Max inquired.
    He was greeted by Ari's voice, swearing a blue streak at him for leaving his phone disconnected for so long.
    "Hey, I'm sorry."
    The swearing continued, stepped down a notch and in a somewhat apologetic manner.
    "I said I was sorry. I forgot about it."

    Little woman? Max almost said it aloud but managed to stop himself. Rick really wants a demotion, doesn't he? Lisa Hayes, in the cockpit of a Cat's Eye recon vessel, had just ordered Vermillion Team to give pursuit to a number of Zentraedi battlepods.
    "I see them," Max said into the tac net, "going in."
    He and Ben went in, haloing a mecha in their sights and firing over and over. Rick held back with the Cat's Eye for a moment, then followed them in mumbling something about there being a woman in King Kong, too to himself.
    Max was brought up short by the thought of Commander Lisa Hayes, the "Old Sourpuss" as some were calling her, in the place of Fey Wray in the hand of a giant ape. It nearly cost him his left wing, though, and he concentrated on the battle once again.
    Imaging over to Battloid, he took the VT's rifle/cannon in hand and spun around in a three-sixty, firing the whole time. He checked his tac display and found that the rest of the pods had been taken out by Rick and Ben.
    Rick called the Cat's Eye to find out its status and, to the Vermillions' horror, got no response. The Lieutenant assumed, correctly, that it was in trouble and ordered them back to it. They got back just in time to see twelve battlepods moving in and spotted a large enemy ship also in range. Lisa apparently didn't see the large piece of rock that was drifting close and the Eye smashed into it, ripping off the radio dish and sending the rest spinning. Several pods surrounded it, connected some sort of tether lines to it, and began to drag it off toward the ship.
    "Follow it!" Rick barked.
    The three Veritechs, mechamorphosing to Battloid, made it into the Zentraedi hanger bay with only inches to spare. All three began pouring rounds into the Zentraedi mecha for all they were worth until the last one was downed. Two pilots had jumped out of their pods and were checking over the Cat's Eye when the Vermillions had entered, but they were quickly chased off by the firefight.
    They're giants! Max's mind shouted at him. Of course, he had known about the Zentraedis' giant stature, but this was the first time he had seen one outside its mecha. His mind refused to believe that he had stayed the same size; instead, it was as though he had been shrunken and the Zentraedi were normal sized. It was the strangest feeling.
    Rick, seemingly unfazed by it, had his Battloid down on one knee to inspect the Eye.
    "Lieutenant Hunter, take your men and get out of here," Lisa commanded, weakly, "you've got no time to spare."
    "Time enough to bring you with us," Rick responded.
    Max's tac display showed a number of blips. He looked up from it and noticed some hallways around the bay. "Lieutenant, the Zentraedi are taking up positions at the end of the corridor," he warned, "we better blow this place."
    "Just give me a few minutes of cover fire, Max," Rick ordered, "then we're outta here."
    "That'll just about deplete my cannon charge."
    "Mine too," Ben added.
    "Cut the chatter," Rick snapped, "Open fire!"
    Max and Ben opened up with a deafening barrage of fire while Rick again checked out the Cat's Eye and subsequently picked Lisa up from the cockpit, much to her protests. Shortly, Max and Ben's gatlings sputtered out and Max flashed a signal to Rick that he was out.
    Huge was the word that entered into Max's mind just then and for a moment, he wasn't sure why. A moment later though, a particularly big Zentraedi was sailing down from the catwalk and smashing into Rick's half standing Battloid. He was especially frightening due to the gleaming metal plate that covered half of his face.
    Yes, he was, most definitely, one of the elite.
    Dear God, he's enormous!
    Reacting quickly, Max focused his thoughts toward the battle again and in a moment, had pinned the giant's arms at his sides with his depleted cannon. Max looked about in almost a panic as the cockpit displays went wild, each and every one screaming for his attention. The Zentraedi's chest expanded over and over again, trying to get free and Max focused all the will he could through the thinking-cap to keep him at bay. It became almost a mind-over-might battle right then; something he was never taught about in flight school. Somehow, he managed to call to Ben, asking him to fire a warhead directly above. Once a hole was opened, he kicked in his foot thrusters and carried the giant up. He threw him outside the ship just as some kind of self repair system kicked in and sealed the breach.
    Max landed back on the deck, breathing deeply as if to catch his breath and clearing his mind of all thoughts. He shook off the small headache beginning to form at the temples and heard Rick congratulating him.
    "Guess we won't be seeing that character again."
    "Not unless he can survive deep space without an extravehicular suit," Max responded.
    Things slowed down for a few minutes as Lisa and Rick sniped at each other and Ben and Max took turns trying to burn through the hold's door with their lasers.
    Then, reality was shattered by the return of the Zentraedi Max had just thrown outside the ship. In another moment, he found himself flying through another breach in the ship due to an explosion. He scrambled for purchase as the explosion's shock wave carried him outside. Finally, he found it in the form of one of several antenna-like protrusions on the hull. He grabbed it at the last second and held on as the shock wave continued. The antenna bent back and broke off, though, sending the Battloid reeling into space.
    Max got control of his pitch and yaw with his Veritech's thrusters after the shock wave dispersed. Several systems were calling out for attention, but the system that held Max's was his memory; it replayed the events in the hold. He suddenly recalled Rick trying to eject from his disabled Battloid and being caught by the over-sized Zentraedi.
    Max was certain Rick had been crushed in the giant's hand.
    Not again! Not again! Not again!
    The phrase repeated over and over again like a mantra in Max's mind as he recalled the Lieutenant that he had found himself under the command of just a few weeks prior, before the Miss Macross competition, before the destruction of the RADAR tower. He recalled the evening after their first battle together; how Rick had shown up to make certain he was all right in the head. Max realized that Rick had become a valued friend in just that short amount of time.
    Another phrase broke in on the mantra like a thunderclap.
    No more!

    Max was puzzling over what to do with the unconscious Zentraedi he had dragged with his Battloid into an oversized latrine when his cockpit went nuts once again. He looked around at everything, finding it all in relatively good shape, considering, and finally glanced at the astrogation display. The thing was going haywire and temporal sensors were spinning wildly.
    A fold! The damn ship was executing a freaking fold!
    "Aw Hell," Max muttered to himself as he slumped back into his seat and watched days accrue on his gauges.
    He suddenly recalled the last time he had been caught in a fold. It seemed something was conspiring against him when he was in conjunction with those things; something that insisted on adding guilt to his conscience. Max closed his eyes to the flood of memories once again and prayed that he was wrong about having lost Rick and possibly even Ben.
    He was beginning to feel lonely when the externals picked up a sound coming from the Zentraedi piled at his Battloid's feet. He gave him a swift kick to the head, knocking him out again.
    "Just keep dreamin' sunshine," he carped.
    That, of course, triggered another train of thought; what to do with the Zentraedi. An old Bugs Bunny cartoon pushed its way into Max's head at that moment with irrelevant clarity.
    No. That was simply too crazy. It would never work, not in a million years. It was too cliche, for crying out loud!
    Max gazed at the Zentraedi below him.
    Then again, these guys have never seen Bugs Bunny.

    Even after it had worked for getting past countless soldiers, Max still couldn't believe he was actually pulling it off.
    A clothed Battloid. They were going to commit him.
    He suddenly spotted two Zentraedi pushing some sort of hover table through the corridor. He zeroed in on it with his external camera and spotted Rick, Ben, and Lisa on its surface, all looking very much alive and well.
    Max gave a sigh of relief in elation, seeing all three of his friends and fellow officers looking none the worse for wear.
    He began following the hover table at a discreet distance, unwilling to let his companions out of his sight again. They were taken to some sort of hold area and dumped inside a Zentraedi proportioned cell. A single sentry was positioned outside and he was, rather quickly, displaying signs of weariness. Max, a bit of a glint in his eye, moved his Battloid closer to the alien and smacked a metal-shod fist on the back of his neck. The Zentraedi hit the deck with a tremendous thud and Max stepped over him to reach the door's handle.
    "What the fraggin' h-!" he exclaimed upon seeing Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes, of all things, locked in a passionate embrace and practically frenching one another!
    He snapped out of his shock and called out to the three retreating forms on the deck and soon, all three were neatly stowed in the pockets of the Zentraedi uniform. Some small jokes and jabs were exchanged, but all that was brought to a halt when Max said "Get yourselves down in there. We're moving out."
    Rick and Lisa stopped their collective griping and Max couldn't help but get a power trip off the whole thing. The two of them hadn't done anything but contradict each other for the entire mission and, quite frankly, Max was sick of it.
    Now all he had to do was find a concealed area he could get the others into his cockpit. It would be a tight squeeze, but...
That was suddenly rendered a moot point as a Zentraedi officer was calling to his Battloid, ordering him to stop. At least, that's what Max assumed; he couldn't understand the alien's words. He broke into a run only to plow into two more aliens around the corner. He slammed one into the other, but forgot about the first who was now leveling a rather large gun at him. The Veritech took blast after blast in the back and circuits began to fuse and break. He reconfigured to Guardian, but was suddenly faced with the prospect of running into a wall. Directly ahead, there was some sort of access way that looked at though it would give easily, so Max poured on full thrusters and burst through.
    He nearly smashed right into two Zentraedi; the large one from before and a substantially smaller one. The Guardian continued on to crash through a large glass bubble and sail out into a room the size of a football field, finally coming to a stop in an elevator of some sort.
    An alarm started to sound just then and Max glanced at it.
    It was the fire hazard indicator.
    A heat suddenly began to build to his left near his feet and he looked to it. A light was flickering from the general area of his oxygen supply tank.
    "Oh crap!" he swore, beginning to free himself of the harness that held him in his seat and popping the canopy. He clambered out on to the outstretched arm of the Guardian. "The circuits are fried!" he informed the others. "This thing's gonna blow!"
    Rick, meanwhile, had pulled the elevator's door closure lever, temporarily shielding the Veritech from enemy fire. All four RDFers climbed down to the floor and began praying for the doors to open before the Guardian blew to Kingdom Come.
    It finally opened after six levels had been passed and, of course, a Zentraedi was standing in their path. He made an airborne grab for the four of them which they miraculously managed to avoid.
    Shortly, Max was being carried forward by the blast from the time-bomb Veritech. He slammed into the deck violently with a tremendous ringing in his ears. He soon felt hands on his shoulder, pulling him upright. He looked up, slightly dazed, and found Ben hauling him along and saying something he couldn't hear.
    "What?" he asked, but got no response from his wingmate. He figured Ben had the same hearing problem he did.
    Max gathered himself and looked behind he and Ben. Three shock troopers were fast on their tail and neither he nor Ben had time to drag the other along in a dazed state. Never breaking stride, he shrugged off of Ben's shoulder and they both picked up the pace. The hall they were running down ended in another elevator which they both raced into. Barely stopping, Max turned around and trained the laser pistol he had rescued from his Veritech at the controls and fired. The doors slid shut right in front of the shock troopers.
    Feeling a little light headed, Max leaned against the wall and triggered his helmet's faceplate open.
    "Did you see me?" Ben was exclaiming as Max's hearing returned. "I hurtled that giant's hand like it was nothing!"
    "You did nothing of the sort," Max assured him, "it was just a lucky miss, that's all."
    "Wet blanket."
    "Hey! I saved your butt!"
    "Some save. Now we're being chased all over an enemy ship with no means of getting off it."
    "I guess you prefer it back there in the cell with the two stooges?"
    Ben took on a considering look. "You've got a point."

    By yet another lucky twist of fate, the four RDFers ran into each other again and traded quick summaries of what they had gone through. After a bit more poking around and evading Zentraedi, they found that the ship they were on was connected to another. There was a short discussion on whether to stay put or go on the other cruiser. Citing the fact that the Zentraedi on this ship were looking for them, they opted for the other cruiser, a vaguely purple affair of a ship which was similar to the one they were presently aboard, but smaller in size. They concealed themselves aboard it and waited.

    The four of them spread out inside the Zentraedi battlepod and took up the positions they had agreed upon.
    Max climbed up to the cockpit's controls for the laser cannons that were affixed to the front of the mecha's bulbous torso. He looked them over and formed a guess as to how they worked.
    "Max," Lisa called from below. He turned to regard her. "Put your faceplate back down. If something should go wrong, at least one of us should make it back to tell them what happened."
    Max was reaching up to comply when his hand suddenly stopped. He looked at it for several moments, a mixture of emotions washing through him. Slowly, almost unwillingly, he put his hand back down at his side and straightened to attention. "No, ma'am," he said.
    Lisa turned from what she was doing to regard him in surprise. "What was that, Corporal?"
    "I said, no ma'am."
    Rick and Ben were now looking at him, aghast.
    "Are you disobeying a direct order?" Lisa inquired harshly.
    "Yes, ma'am, I am," Max responded, evenly.
    "Max!" Rick exclaimed.
    "With all due respect, Commander, Lieutenant, I'm in this all the way; at least as far as the rest of you. Please, ma'am, I have to do this. Don't make me disobey an order, I'm begging you."
    "Lisa," Rick called to the commander. The two locked eyes for a moment and Rick seemed to be pleading with her with his gaze.
    Lisa sighed. "All right. Forget I said anything about it. But this is the only time. Is that understood Corporal?"
    "Yes ma'am. Thank you, Commander."
    "We're coming out of the defold right on schedule," Lisa informed them after several seconds of silent work, "it's got to be Earthspace or an incredible coincidence." They all looked at one another, knowing what was coming next.
    "Let's see if we can start this thing up," said Rick as they all turned to their tasks.

    Their flight was a bumpy and uneven one, and there was a rather large battle happening all around them. But they found time to elate at the sight of the SDF-1 just before Lisa attempted to contact the bridge. She wasn't successful, however, and there was a brief few moments when they thought they would be shot out of the sky by friendly fire. But instead, a number of Battloids, including Roy Fokker's Skull One, rendezvoused with the pod and towed them into one of the hanger bays. Soon, they were surrounded by mecha and desperately trying to open the pod's hatch.
    "Okay, heave!" Rick commanded his two Vermillion wingmates. The hatch finally popped open and all three fell back onto the giant seat.
    "Well, finally!" Lisa exclaimed. "Thank goodness! When you start bragging to your fighter pilot buddies about this mission, boys, don't forget it took you just about forever to get a simple hatch open."
    "You weren't so hot at getting in touch with your precious bridge, I noticed!" Rick shot back.
    Max sighed. There they went again. "I thought you both did very well," he said, placatingly.
    "Ah look out, Max," said Rick, "and let's get outta here."
    They all began to scramble about, climbing up the sides of the pod and trying to get out. Needless to say, there was a certain amount of unrest.
    Ben was climbing up one control panel, Lisa just behind him, when his foot slipped and knocked into the commander's face.
    "Ben, if you don't get your foot out of my face, I'm going to break it off!"
    Rick jumped in to defend Ben, Max began checking Lisa's head for lumps, and all Hell broke lose, bringing new meaning to the term "battlepod."
    "Everybody shut up!" Rick shouted, breaking it up. "Ben, Max: gimme a boost up, here."
    Ben and Max obliged, both cupping their hands and allowing Rick to step into them. Together, they hoisted him up to where he could reach the lip of the pod's exit. "Hold your fire!" Rick exclaimed, hauling himself up triumphantly. "Roy, we escaped from the Zentraedi- um..." He paused and looked back down at the others. "We escaped! Man, have we got stories to tell! We were in an enemy ship! We met their leaders! We shot our way out in this pod! We... We... What's wrong?"
    Max, Ben, and Lisa could hear a number of annoyed groans issue from several external speakers.
    "We were hoping for a POW," they all heard Roy, his tone half in jest, "boy is Captain Gloval gonna be sore at you for not being a Zentraedi."


Coming soon! Chapter Four of To Dream With the Stars!
    After the Vermillion Team's triumphant return to the SDF-1, Max is reunited with Ariana. He finally learns the truth about her reasons for joining the Robotech Defense Force and finds there's more to her than meets the eye. Max is thrown into an intense emotional melee as he is ordered to stay out of a battle she must fight in.
    Be here for Robotech: To Dream With the Stars Chapter Four: Shattered Dreams!