To Dream With the Stars
By Sarah Bloy

Chapter Five: Duelists

    "In order to understand the decisions made by many politicians, one must understand the Human nature's me-first attitude. Most people, especially of that time, ran around the world concerned only with their own happiness."
    "The Greeks defined happiness as the exercise of vital powers along the lines of enlightened self-interest.
    "Is it any wonder, then, that the members of the UEDC decided as they did in the case of the SDF-1? Quite simply stated, they decided to cover their own butts rather than deal with the real problem.
    "Don't you just love Human nature?"
                        - Keiko Bragg, "Vital Powers: Earth, the Zentraedi, the UEDC and the SDF-1"

    Last time on Robotech: To Dream With the Stars, Max found himself ordered off duty after his return to the SDF-1 with Vermillion Team. As the mammoth ship returned to Earth, a fierce battle ensued; a battle which claimed the life of Ariana Allan. Now, Max is trapped in between guilt and confusion, grieving for a war that would take the life of his best friend.

    Max sat on a bench in Macross City park, just watching various people stroll by or hurry off to somewhere in particular. He was never quite a part of it all, yet he always seemed to be in the middle.
    There he sat, still brooding getting more and more annoyed by the wide berth he was receiving from people, Rick and Ben in particular.
    Try not to think about it, he told himself, just think about something else.
    Presently, Max spotted a little boy and his mother peering into the window of a comic book store.
    "Can I get that one mommy?" the boy asked.
    "No, hon, I don't think you're old enough yet," his mother responded, grabbing his wrist and pulling him down the street. The two of them out of the way, Max could clearly see the comic book in question.
    A copy of "Green Lantern."
    "Oh," he moaned to no one specific, "that's not fair."
    "I'll say it isn't!" Exclaimed a rather high-pitched voice behind him. "Four lovely young ladies like us without dates!"
    Max nearly jumped and turned. Sammie Porter was leaning against the back of the bench along with Kim Young. Vanessa Leeds and Lisa Hayes were standing behind them.
    "And on our lunch break, too!" Vanessa agreed.
    "You look a little lonely, Lieutenant," stated Kim.
    "How 'bout it, Max," Lisa ventured, "you up for Chinese?"
    Max cracked a smile, looking up at all of them. "I think I'd better be," he said, "four lovely ladies like you, it's either go along with it or report for a long talk with the flight surgeon. Right?"
    Lisa and the trio looked at each other and giggled as Max stood. Together, the five of them walked down the street and into the White Dragon.
    Where else? Max thought.
    The place was packed with people, not one empty table in the room. A fair number of the patrons seemed in a mood for a celebration, almost like a big family.
    "Looks kind of crowded, doesn't it?" Kim mused.
    And suddenly, someone was calling to them from a large roundtop table. Rick Hunter stood there, waiving his arms at them all alone at the table. It had previously been the only unoccupied one in the room. Max and the ladies wandered over.
    At that moment, Max was faced with a problem; the guys were supposed to hold the ladies' chairs for them as they sat down. It was only polite. But how was he supposed to be in four places at once? Did it go by rank? Should he start with Lisa, then move on? The result was that he rushed around in a silly stupor as Rick said something or another about a case of good timing.
    "Minmei's long-lost cousin, Kyle, was in Yokohama. And she wouldn't come back without him," Rick explained, "so it's a big reunion. Everybody in the neighborhood came in to see him."
    "Gee, what a hunk!" Sammie gushed, her eyes aglaze and staring at Macross City's newest citizen. Doing likewise, Vanessa and Kim were quick to agree.
    Lisa shifted her gaze to Kyle and seemed to go a little scarecrow. Max wondered just what it was that distracted her so about Kyle. He looked between the two for several seconds before taking off his glasses and cleaning them off on his napkin.
    What was it about this guy?
    "OH! WELL HE'S SURE GOOD LOOKING, ISN'T HE!" the trio chimed together, breaking Max's train of thought.
    Maybe "Bridge Bunnies" isn't such a bad name for them, after all, Max mused putting his glasses back on and taking another look at Lynn-Kyle.
    "Gee," Kim sighed, "Minmei looks so happy."
    Rick made a face and seemed about to say something on the topic when Mayor Luan sauntered over to the group in a jovial mood. Campaigning as usual, he immediately took a shine to the RDFers, the ladies in particular.
    "Well, well, well, Rick m'boy!" he exclaimed as though surprised to see them all. "So these are some of your friends, eh? Why don't you introduce me to the ladies, hmm?"
    What am I, Mecha fodder? Max wondered to himself. I hate politics.
    Rick was about to respond when Kyle came up to the table with Minmei latched on to his arm. Tall, long-haired, and graceful looking, Kyle looked every part the host. But Max caught something in his eye that seemed to indicate different. He couldn't quite pin it down, but...
    "Hello, Mr. Mayor," he said politely, "glad to have you back on Earth. I'd like to introduce myself: my name is Lynn-Kyle. Welcome to my family's restaurant."
    "Hi!" Minmei added cheerfully, still clinging to Kyle.
    Slight pandemonium erupted just then as the Trio all started vying for Kyle's attention while introducing themselves. They all tried to talk over one another and they only got progressively louder.
    Lisa, meanwhile, still was strangely quiet.
    "Yeah, hi," Max mumbled, still trying to figure out what was behind those eyes.
    "Well, Kyle," Luan stated heartily, "even if you don't like the army, you have to admit there are some lovely ladies in the military!" Everyone stared at Luan, daring him to elaborate. "Oh! Uh, did I say something perhaps I shouldn't have?" he asked, pouring on the innocence. "Well young people should get to know one another. 'Scuse me." He strolled off in another direction leaving an uncomfortable silence.
    Was he smirking at something?
    "Was the Mayor implying you have something against the service?" Sammie, ever so tactfully, piped up.
    Kyle shook his head and allowed his black hair to waive this way and that. "It's not just the military. I don't like fighting of any kind."
    "Oh really?" Sammie said dreamily.
    "Fighting produces nothing!" Kyle declared. "It only results in devastation and destruction!"
    So that was his story. Still, Max couldn't help but press the issue. There was something more, yet. "Are you saying that everyone in the service enjoys destroying things?" Max asked, directly.
    "Well, I didn't join the Robotech Defense Forces because I like devastation and destruction," Rick agreed.
    And, dreamy as they may have found Kyle, the ladies all agreed as well.
    Finally sensing the tension, Minmei broke in on the conversation and suggested turning on a program she had taped earlier. She was met with approval all around and so it was done. The crowd in the White Dragon went wild in excitement. Fists were pounding on tables and feet were taping in short order.

    And somehow, it all went straight to Hell from there.
    Such luck he was having lately! Folded to God-knows-where on a Zentraedi ship, losing his best friend, and now breaking about twenty-thousand regs in a classic barroom brawl.
    Max quickly proved his combat reflexes to be no fluke; his skills were as sharp as in a real battle and he was dodging and feinting by fractions of inches and milliseconds. A left hook there, a kidney punch there, and a couple of well placed pushes later, Max was leaning against a door frame and knuckling a bit of blood from a split lip.
    "Hey Kyle," Rick said a ways off, "why don't you hand 'em a pamphlet!"
    The nth generation Lynn was standing stalk still in the middle of the room, barely breathing heavily.
    "You okay, Rick?" Max panted, rubbing an aching rib where someone had taken a chunk out of him. Rick nodded, slowly, seeming to check his teeth for holes. Max glanced over at Lisa and the Terrible Trio. Sammie plopped a particularly heavy looking stoneware plate back on the nearest still standing table and dusted her hands off triumphantly.
    "Oh Kyle! I'm so proud of you!" Minmei gushed, throwing her arms around Kyle's neck. "Are you okay?"
    The elder Lynn cousin nodded, grunting a soft "Mm hm" as a response.
    " 'Okay'?" Rick asked, somewhat miffed.
    Max found himself staring at Kyle with some interest and quite a bit of puzzlement. There was also a bit of animosity he would not recognize until later and would spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out. "They barely laid a hand on you," he hissed out.
    One slightly pale looking former-combatant was just getting to his feet. "He's the best I've ever fought against," he said begrudgingly, staunching a blood flow from a broken nose. "That's the truth."
    "Yeah," Max returned, "he's got moves I never saw before. It doesn't make sense." He moved toward Kyle. The pilot's everyday demeanor had vanished and the things that had already begun to make him a Robotech legend seemed oddly active, eager to be used.
    It was not a temper. Far from it. It was more an instinct than anything else. The majority of the White Dragon patrons seemed to realize this and didn't get in the way. No one dared move.
    "You're a pretty well-trained fighter for someone who doesn't like to fight," Max stated, level tone only adding to the tension.
    Max and Kyle stood staring at one another for several moments, seeming to size the other up, analyzing weaknesses in case the ultimate slugfest erupted.
    But it was idealistic Kyle that finally broke the stalemate. "It was just something that had to be done, I guess," he said, casting his eyes down, "I'm sorry." He looked up again, revealing a small trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth.
    Both Minmei and, curiously enough, Lisa were instantly in motion, babying Kyle with handkerchiefs. But Kyle refused Lisa's help on the basis that she was military.
    Why did Lisa seem so hurt? Max briefly considered going over there and clocking Kyle one, regs be damned, but his rational mind kicked back in and he thought better of it.
    He felt more than saw Rick come up behind him. "Is he for real or am I crazy?"
    Rick shrugged. "If you're asking me, the answer is yes."

    Oddly enough, they never heard anything about the brawl from any of the higher ups. Either there were just too many occurrences of the type around the SDF-1 after the announcement had been made that no one could leave or Lisa managed to intercept the reports. After the initial chaos settled, the days passed in the somber reassurances from SDF-1 staff that the restriction was only temporary.
    Somehow, a battle had been slipped into the midst of those days. Max had finally witnessed the Deadalus Maneuver in action and was duly impressed. The right arm of the SDF-1 actually punched the enemy ship!
    And then, promptly shot down Vermillion One.
    Max stood on the opposite side of the plexi watching Rick's unconscious and bandaged form lay still with an almost deathlike pallor. The machinery he was hooked up to said that he was delirious, but Max could see that for himself. Every now and then, Rick's head or hand would twitch. But he remained in the unconscious state.
    "Been on your feet a while?"
    Max turned, startled, not having heard the person who had come up behind him. Lisa was approaching him and came to a stop next to him, also staring in at Rick.
    "Ten, fifteen minutes, maybe," Max sighed.
    "Try three hours. And that's just here. You haven't rested since the battle."
    "How can I?"
    Max clomped a hand on his mouth, realizing what he had said out loud. "N-Nothing. Never mind. I guess I just haven't noticed the time, Commander."
    "Well, I have. Go get some rest."
    "The RDF is short on pilots as it is. I don't need you falling over in the middle of a battle. So I'm making this an order, Max. Go get some rest."
    Max found himself staring agape at Lisa. She never even looked at him, though, looking instead through the plexi, ever looking at Rick. Max cast a glance at his wingmate once more, then straightened to attention and snapped off a salute.
    "Yes, sir."
    "Good. Dismissed."
    Without another moment's hesitation, Max turned and exited the room.
    "Don't worry," Lisa said after him, "it's my turn to play watchman anyhow."

    What was he walking on? There didn't seem to be anything underneath him, but he wasn't falling. And he could move fast; very fast. The landscape around him went past so quickly that he could barely make out that it was landscape at all. But it was green and rich and extremely inviting. He wished he could reach it. But something was keeping him up. Away from it.
    It's amazing, Old Blue! We can fly!
    The landscape abruptly disappeared as though a think fog had decided to roll in just then. Instead, walking next to him was Ariana.
    I should've let you keep the controls. You're a better pilot than I am.
    The fog shattered, splintering into thousands upon thousands of tiny shards. In its place, the landscape returned. He looked back to it, seeing its inviting scene once again.
    But she was falling. Ariana went toward the landscape as though whatever they had both been standing on had crumbled out from under her.
    Yet, there was nothing he could do. Nothing but watch as she vanished into the vast green below. And suddenly, the landscape was not inviting at all.
    And that was when he began to fall...

    Max jerked awake just before he hit bottom. He sat up in bed trying to catch his breath and bring the rest of his body out of the adrenaline filled dream world.
    As any newly-woken dreamer would, he glanced up at the clock. Not quite able to make out the hands he reached over to the nightstand to find his glasses. When his fingertips touched something metal he brought it up to his face to put it on.
    He was met with the sight of a small silver locket dangling in front of him.
    Max forgot about the clock. He knew what time it was anyway. It was that time in the middle of the night when you can't sleep because of all the things you worry about. The time when all the frightening thoughts you don't have time for during the day can finally surface and have their fun with your mind.
    When you wonder what it will be like when you finally die.
    Max pushed away all thoughts entirely and reached over for the light. He quickly opened the nearest drawer and shoved the locket inside, not wanting to deal with any of it. He found his glasses and put them on. He made his way into the small bathroom area and turned on the sink faucet. Once the water was warm he ran his hand under it and splashed some onto his face.
    I told you I'd come back and haunt you.
    Max's head popped up from the sink and he looked in the mirror. For a second, he thought he saw Ari standing behind him and he whipped his head around.
    The room was empty save for him, and silent save for the sound of running water.
    So much for sleep. It was time for some coffee. And noise. God, did he need noise! The radio would do nicely.
    As he lost himself in Minmei's latest rendition of "Stage Fright," he wondered if this was supposed to be one of those times when a person needed a drink. He supposed it was, but, not being of drinking age, he didn't really know.
    It was amazing that he still had two more years until he could find out.

    "I dunno, Ben. I don't think I'm in the mood for this kinda thing."
    Max stood outside the small storefront, looking up at the sign dubiously. The neon sign was bright and rather unfriendly to the eye but itself silent. Inside, in contrast, was rather dark and noisy.
    The Close Encounters Arcade.
    "Oh, c'mon, Max," Ben pleaded, pulling on Max's arm as he led the way inside, "it'll be fun. Besides, you need to relax, get your mind off of things."
    "Look, I've asked you to drop it."
    "What, you think I'm gonna, like I don't care? Get real. You and I are gonna play a game and have some fun even if you don't like it."
    "Stubborn mule."
    "Moping cave dweller. Now get over here."
    Ben towed Max to the nearest two-player game, a finish-the-level-first game called Man-Kzin Wars, and deposited a coin. They both spent the next few minutes trying to wax the Humanoid cat-creatures that were trying to steal the priceless artifact.
    Ben rethought after a few rounds and moved them both to a pair of one-players.
    "Aesop's Beastary" Max mused aloud, handling the game control easily, "who comes up with these things?"
    "Quit complaining and have fun, dang it!" Ben commanded having some trouble at his own game.
    Max finished the game for the second time and leaned back, sighing and looking about the arcade. He spotted a game a little ways off named Veritechs! Two players were sitting at opposite ends of the game, each trying to blow the other VT hologram, blue or red, out of the air above the table.
    "Hey Ben, wanna go a round on that one?" Max asked of his companion, chucking a thumb over his shoulder.
    Ben gave him a look that asked if he had completely lost it.
    "What? C'mon. It'll be fun. I'll only use my right hand."
    "I'm supposed to be the one cheering up you, but you're not supposed to make me feel awful."
    Max shrugged.
    "Attention!" Sammie's voice blared over the intercom. "Lieutenants Ben Dixon and Max Sterling please report to Commander Fokker's office, immediately."
    Max shot Ben a look. "What'd you do now?"
    "That's my line, buddy boy," Ben responded.
    "Don't look at me!"
    "Ah, knock it off, and let's get up there."
    "All right," Max said, picking up his token bin, "just let me cash this in, quick." Max left Ben standing next to their games as he made his way over to the change machine and dumped in his massive amount of tokens. He returned to a rather irate looking Ben.
    "You're really excelling today, Max. Really excelling."

    "Lieutenants Sterling and Dixon, reporting as ordered," Ben snapped off and he and Max entered Fokker's office, saluting.
    "Oh cut the formalities," Roy told them, "this isn't anything official. I need your help with something. It's about Rick."
    "Lieutenant Hunter?" Ben asked.
    "What's the matter, I thought he was doing all right," said Max.
    "Oh sure, physically, but emotionally," Roy trailed off and glanced off into space, "well, let's just say he could use a friend." He shifted his gaze to Max, completely unnoticed by Ben. "I'm sure we all could right about now."
    Max almost gave a start, but stopped himself before Ben could notice his expression. He gave a lop-sided smile and nodded to Fokker, agreeing.
    "So, what do you want us to do, Commander?" Ben asked.
    "I'm going up to see him. I'd like you two to come along. One friend is helpful, three's a party!"
    "I thought three was a crowd," Ben mumbled.
    "Who's excelling today?" Max carped, eyes flat.
    "Oh shut up."

    Max wasn't sure what he had said to make Rick so mad. Was it something he had said at all? Should he have come? There was something about Rick's mood that Max couldn't put a finger on, but it really bothered him.
    What did Rick have to feel sorry about, anyway? At least the one he cared about was still alive...
    "How much longer am I going to have to haunt you?"
    The voice from the bush had seemed so real, yet when Max turned to it, there was nothing there. Besides that, when had he gone to the park? The Peace Fountain was the only noise among the trees and bushes of Macross City, yet the window to the ocean outside seemed to have a presence about it.
    A small lump in his pocket made its presence known and he reached in for it. His hand pulled out the silver locket once again. He pondered it for a moment before putting it between his hands to open it.
    No. It wasn't right. There was something wrong.
    Damn! He thought, shoving the locket back into its place. I've really gotta stop these aimless walks or I'll be one pilot short of a squadron pretty quick.
    The ship-wide alarms chose that moment to begin blaring. So jolted from his reverie was Max that he nearly fell backward into the fountain.
    "Red alert, red alert," Lisa's voice came over the intercom, "this is not a drill. All military personnel report for duty. All civilians to the shelters. We are under attack."
    Max pushed all previous thoughts out of his head and broke into a run for the Prometheus, running into Ben along the way.
    "What's going on?" the larger pilot asked.
    "I don't know," Max admitted, "the Zentraedi decided that one day was a long enough break?"
    "Ha ha," Ben responded, a flat note in his tone.
    "Lieutenants Dixon and Sterling, stand by for Skull Leader," Lisa called over the comm. Max and Ben stopped dead in their tracks, having heard the order just as they got to the prep rooms.
    "Stand by?" Ben inquired. "What for?"
    "He's not keeping us out of the battle is he?" Max mused.
    "Negative, men," Roy said, rushing through the door and almost bowling them over in the process, "on the contrary. You're my wingmen, since Rick's out of commission. Let's go! Get a move on!"
    "Why am I scared?" Ben asked after a moment in which they both looked after the Skull Leader, blinking.
    "If you're not, you're crazy," Max intoned, shrugging and following Roy.
    Ben sighed and followed suit.

    Max's eyes were sucked back into his head as his fighter was catapulted off the deck of the Prometheus and he formed up along side of Ben's.
    "Fancy meetin' you here!" Ben quipped over the tac net.
    "Eh, get out of the sky, Sunday flyer!" Max responded in kind.
    Skull One was in the air shortly after and took the lead of Skull Squad's formation. Roy was giving out his usual spiel of instructions when they made visual contact with their enemy. They were the green Mecha they had only recently started seeing. The Humanoid but strangely troll-like bulbous power armor of the female division of Zentraedi. Fast and very maneuverable, the Quedlann Rau class Mecha posed a very large threat indeed.
    Skull Squad broke up almost immediately, taking the Zentraedi fighters one-on-one at some points and with help on others. One of the Zentraedi was flying what Max could only guess to be the fastest Mecha he had ever seen in combat before. It jinked this way and that and nimbly avoided blasts from a great many Veritech pilots, never deviating from its path; a path heading straight for Max and the Blue Devil.
    It was just as he was dodging the pilot's unforgiving volley that Max realized he had spent a great amount of time in awe of this Mecha he was now facing off with. He silently thanked the powers that be that he wasn't canned and resolved to pay better attention.
    The Zentraedi came at him with a vengeance and it was all he could do to dodge the charge just in time. He turned as the Mecha went past him. It, too, turned back to him and opened up with a deafening volley from its weapon. Max went to Battleoid mode and answered the Zentraedi in kind. The two of them went winding through the atmosphere above the Pacific, putting all the other pilots from both sides to a great deal of shame.
    Max was still pouring all of his concentration into the situation when Roy called him over the tac net.
    "Max, pull back!" he ordered.
    "What? Retreat? Why?"
    "That bandit on your tail is trying too hard. Command wants to see what its angle is."
    "Roger." Max pulled down the F lever and imaged a conversion back to fighter mode. As abruptly as he could manage, he broke off his engagement with the Zentraedi and sped toward the SDF-1.
    Max checked his tac display and found the Quedlann Rau still hot on his heels.
    "Shit!" He swore. "What's his beef?"
    "I guess he isn't going to give up easy," Ben commented.
    "No, really?" Max snapped back.
    "Take it easy Max," Roy commanded, "get back to the rest of the squad so we can back you up. Safety in numbers. Trust me, I've been a target before."
    "Right," Max agreed, pulling on the G lever, "dropping trou."
    As soon as the Blue Devil had reconfigured to Guardian mode, Max poured on the foot thrusters and climbed vertically. Then he cut in his retros and dropped back behind the Zentraedi power armor. It turned quick as lightning and opened fire and Max responded with the same as he dodged the attacks.
    Then, it stopped, turned, and sped toward the ship. Max paused his action and blinked. "What in the..." He spotted what the Zentraedi was after just as it left his firing range. A sea-sky rescue vehicle had just exited the SDF-1 and the Quedlann Rau was heading straight for the still open hatch. "Oh no you don't!" Max growled at the retreating Mecha and switched to fighter mode. He kicked in his after burners and chased after it.
    He wasn't quite fast enough, though, and they both slowed to enter the ship. Quickly, Max changed to Battleoid, running after the Zentraedi. He managed to pull himself out of the Alpha state long enough to make certain the bridge knew of the invader.
    "We know, Max," Lisa answered, "we're evacuating the city now. Can you stall it?"
    "Stall it? Commander, this thing's the ultimate tag player!"
    "Understood. Just do what you can."
    As the two entered the city, Max skidded his Mecha to a halt on the first street he came to. He paused, looking around for the intruder, but seeing no sign of it.
    "Vermillion 3, no joy," he stated into the tac net, "I've lost him. I'm patching into the Civil Defense band."
    Max switched the radio frequency on the tac net. The voices of his squad mates disappeared in lieu of those of the panicked and seriously outclassed Civil Defense Centaurs. He listened for a moment, hoping to get some indication of where the Zentraedi had gone, but hearing mostly explosions and cries of fright.
    "This is Theta Six," a voice came, "he's over here, on forty-third street near the hospital!"
    Max was instantly in action, running the shortest distance to the indicated location that the Veritech was capable of running without doing any damage to the city. He rounded the corner off of Vine Road and skidded to a halt once again. The Civil Defense Mecha had retreated, leaving him alone, face-to-face, with the Quedlann Rau.
    They both stopped, looking at each other for a moment before the Zentraedi raised its weapon. Max followed suit and stepped the Blue Devil forward several times.
    "Get out," he snarled at the thing, all the while hearing a song from an old Tex Ritter movie in his head.
    He continued to move forward, closer to the Zentraedi, weapon raised, and the other Mecha began to back off, taking a step backward.
    All at once, the main hatch of the cargo bay opened. Both Mecha looked to it, but it was the Zentraedi one that finally took action and thrustered up and out.
    Max allowed himself a small, almost sinister grin. "Lose your taste for combat, my friend?" He was about to follow it out and pursue it when Lisa contacted him again.
    "Return to base, Vermillion Three," she ordered, "you've beaten him."
    Blue Devil exited the cargo bay and Max looked after the retreating Zentraedi Mecha for a moment. He couldn't help but feel as though it were a cheap victory, as though some rule of engagement had been broken, although he couldn't see what.
    "Not decisively."


    Coming Soon! Chapter Six of Robotech: To Dream with the Stars!
    A rift begins to form between Max and Rick as they both deal with their own emotional problems. The death of another mutual friend only serves to widen the gulf until both are forced to come to their senses by an observant Claudia Grant. Max also clashes with self-proclaimed pacifist Lynn-Kyle.
    Be here for Robotech: To Dream with the Stars Chapter Six: Breaking Point!