To Dream With the Stars
By Sarah Bloy

Chapter Six: Breaking Point

    "It was a crazy time. The people formerly of Macross Island had lost everything in the fold to Plutospace, lost loved ones to the war or to accidents along the way back home, lost hope of ever making it, it seemed at times. Then, when we finally did make it back, we found out that we'd lost our planet as well.
    "And me? Heck, losing one friend and almost losing another right then seemed pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And maybe it sounds cheesy, but I didn't know where I was going. So, stress piled up and certain people got under my skin."
    - Ambassador Maximillian Sterling (RDF) (ret.), as quoted in Lapstein's Interviews.

    Last time on Robotech: To Dream With the Stars! Max was forced to push aside his emotions in order to deal with the situations the war with the Zentraedi thrust upon him, often times unsuccessfully. Even as friends tried to cheer him up, more crises presented themselves, including a furious battle over the South Pacific with a Zentraedi Quedlann Rau. Max's duel with the alien ended in a draw, leaving the pilot with a strange feeling that the fight has yet to be resolved.

    Fitfully, Max paced his quarters.
    I won't start walking, I won't start walking, I won't start walking....
    He had just heard about the death of Roy Fokker, pilot of Skull One and Rick's long time "big brother." He had also been the first to understand Max's motivation in joining the RDF. The loss had affected the entire squadron and the last thing any of the pilots needed was the tell-tale sign that something was wrong of Max Sterling aimlessly wandering the streets of Macross City.
    He was beginning to find it cliché anyway.
    Aw, screw it.
    Max exited his quarters and aimlessly headed in the general direction of Macross City.

    Here he was, at that big window once again. He found himself looking out at the blue ocean which disappeared into the curved horizon with no break in sight. He stood there as if contemplating the scene; there was something mesmerizing about the two shades of blue coming together.
    He knew that she SDF-1 was moving, but one would never have been able to tell from the scene Max was looking at. The ocean remained unchanging from mile to mile as the ship drifted northeastward, toward North America.
    North America. He'd been born there, nineteen years ago, in a place called Aimes, Iowa to James William and Allegra Philby Sterling. It was there that he had first heard of the SDF-1 when he was eight. It had been called The Visitor then, but the thing that Max could most vividly remember was that the annoying interruptions to his favorite cartoon shows had suddenly stopped. No more of that Nasetian and EBSIS stuff.
    He seemed to remember something a certain pilot had once said to him while next to this window.
    So, you're from Iowa, you only work in outer space.
    He still didn't know what that meant. Perhaps the locket...
    He pulled the thing out of his pocket again and thought about opening it. He might have if it hadn't have been for a sudden interruption.
    "Hey Max! What'cha got there?"
    Max shoved the locket back in his pocket as Ben came strolling up to him as if everything was right with the world.
    "N-nothing," Max responded, "just something I found. It's nothing important."
    Ben smiled a mischievous smile. "Did you get it from a girl or somethin'?"
    "What's it to you!" Max shot back, feeling his cheeks growing hot.
    Ben, having seen what Max could do in combat decided to do the only safe thing he could have done; he changed the subject. "You hear that North American Ontario Quadrant's been talkin' to the Captain? Word is they're gonna take the civilians."
    "Really? That's great news."
    "You sound a little less than enthused. Somethin' botherin' you?"
    "No, I'm all right. It just occurs to me that the city will be leaving. We should get our licks in now, right?"
    "Hey! You're right! I say we go for some steak!"

    The two pilots found Rick in the hanger bay, doing some maintenance on Skull One. Rick had been assigned the fighter as well as command of Skull Squadron; he had become the replacement of his long time friend and "big brother."
    Rick, too, seemed to be in a contemplative mood as they approached him and with good reason. Max could sense the presence of the Lieutenant Commander who had previously flown the craft; it was hanging in the air, almost palpable. A few words were exchanged about the fact that Rick was to fly the Mecha and he seemed less than happy about it.
    Jovially, and trying to push aside feelings on the matter, Max told Rick of the news about Macross City as the Lieutenant closed the panel he was working inside.
    "So how's about we get a jump on the celebration?" Ben added. "We could hit Macross for some food, drink, whatever else comes along."
    "You could use the recreation, Lieutenant," Max added, quickly. He almost added that they both could but decided against it. Rick cast him a slightly sharp look at the invocation of his rank, but said nothing. The look quickly vanished as Rick made up his mind.
    "It sounds good, guys," he said, "in fact, it'll be my treat."
    "Well, how 'bout that, Max?" Ben beamed, moving between his two squad mates and nearly head locking both of them as he put an arm around one shoulder of each, "doesn't that sound like something the new pilot of Skull One would do? C'mon, let's get goin' before he changes his mind."
    Ben pulled the two smaller pilots out of the hanger bay and Rick seemed to struggle, trying to cast one last glance at the silent Mecha behind them.

    The Kindest Cut was the best steak house in Macross City, bar none. Any and every meat lover in the city came there for the best filet mignon, top sirloin, and steak sandwiches and the three pilots of Vermillion Team were no exception. As they entered, Ben directed them to the table closest to the grills he could find, explaining it was better to be "close to the action." However being that close to the grills had the disadvantage of being particularly smokey. While Ben took in the sights, sounds, smells, and vaporized fat, Rick and Max were left with a queasy feeling that caused them to order smaller portions than they might have otherwise.
    "Here you are, mister," said the chef to Ben, placing practically a whole side of beef in front of him, "one giant top sirloin, medium rare."
    "Thanks a lot pal," said Ben, pulling the cutting board toward him like someone who hadn't eaten in three years, "does this smell great or what?"
    "It... looks like a lot to eat," Max stated tentatively, eyes wide in disbelief as to how one person could down the whole thing. He had to admit that he was getting hungry though.
    Ben began to ravenously dig into the hunk of meat surrounded by onions and mushrooms. He impaled a piece on the end of his fork and waved it in the air. "I'm so hungry I might order another one."
    Max and Rick both stared at Ben, blinking several times, and Rick seemed to wonder about the price tag of such an endeavor.
    However, just as Ben had the piece of meat an inch away from his open mouth, the city-wide PA began to blare.
    "Attention all fighter pilots. Red alert. Red alert. This is not a drill..."
    Ben shoved the one piece of meat in his mouth anyway as Rick and Max got up and made their way toward the door.
    "Hey, Ben, move out!" Rick called.
    The larger pilot reluctantly rose from his seat and cast one last glance at his meal. "Don't move," he told it, "I'll be back."

    Max was pushed back in his seat as his Veritech was launched off the deck of the Prometheus in fighter mode. He circled around allowing his wingmates to be hurled off the deck as well then joined Rick's formation as Skull One came up. He had taken the port side, Ben the starboard, as the formation flew out over the city of the North American Ontario Quadrant.
    The western part of the sky was dotted with small orange explosions already, each small blossom serving as a grim reminder that a life had suddenly been snuffed out.
    Max swooped and swerved through the sky, dodging enemy fire and dishing out a fare share of his own as he, Rick, and Ben broke formation and joined the fray. He switched to Battleoid in order to better defend his piece of the sky, never moving, counting on his boosters to keep him aloft. Three Zentraedi pods seemed to recognize his skill and decided to attack at once, from a few different angles. Quick decisions had to be made by the pilot and even quicker actions had to be taken by the Veritech; actions that were just outside its ability. Max swung around, gatling blazing, and managed to take down the first two to come along, but the third clipped him and went on in the direction it had approached, preparing for a second strike. Within the blink of an eye, Max shook off the jolt and turned his Mecha once again, taking the third Battle pod out.
    He took quick stock of his situation and found no serious damage to the craft. It was just then that Rick ordered he and Max out of the arena.
    "The Zentraedi have jammed the RADAR on the ship," Rick explained, "we need some recon around here."
    "Roger," Ben responded.
    "Roger that," Max added, switching to Fighter mode and forming up on Rick's wing.
    The three Veritechs flew around to the SDF-1's port side and began their sweep. Not getting anything on RADAR himself, Max turned his controls over to infrared. It only took a moment for the computer to register what he could see on the screen; five large blobs of heat blocking what should have been cold, empty sky.
    "Lisa, are you monitoring?" Rick asked of the bridge officer.
    "Affirmative," she answered, "Skull has visual on five alien cruisers; range, seventy miles, south-southeast, vector headings coming in now..."
    Max didn't need to know the vector headings; draw a line from the incoming ships, through him, to the SDF-1 and there you had it. And God, were they coming in fast!
    Rick was about to order Max and Ben to follow him back to the main battle, but cut himself short when he spotted a small unit of Quedlann Rau class Zentraedi Mecha. One, in particular, was moving very fast, very deliberately toward the SDF-1. The others spread out and defended it on its way in.
    "Let's take 'em out, guys," Rick ordered.
    "Roger," said Max.
    "With pleasure," Ben cackled.
    They charged the Zentraedi unit, guns blazing and drove a wedge into the formation. The powered armors scattered, then regrouped and came back in, answering the Veritechs' fire in kind. Inconceivably, the Quedlann Rau that was being protected sped up even more as the others moved in and kept the three RDF pilots sufficiently busy.
    Max found himself fending off three of the enemy Mecha, each coming from a different direction. He opted for the better maneuverability of Battloid form and pulled down on the B lever. Imaging the motion through his Thinking Cap, he recovered like lightning and blasted one with his gun/cannon, square in the troll-like chest. Expertly, he evaded fire from the other two. Turning, he fired at one and cut his foot thrusters, falling out of the last one's line of fire. He came back up underneath it, firing all the while until it broke apart and exploded.
    "Damn it," Max cursed, noticing the leader's sudden absence from the battle.
    "Forget it, Max," Rick commanded, "they're bringing the new Barrier System on line now. It won't get through."
    The area around the SDF-1 was suddenly filled by an iridescent yellow-green glow. The immense techno-knight of a ship seemed to bathe in the light, floating there above the city like a misplaced Christmas ornament of some ridiculous scale.
    Almost immediately, the Zentraedi opened fire, all at once, firing out so many missiles that the sky was filled with vapor trails. There were so many of them that is seemed as if a storm cloud had suddenly moved into the area. Max went to work, evading the ones coming his direction, but most of them went straight for the SDF-1 and its new shields.
    Lisa ordered Rick and the two Vermilions to counterattack the Zentraedi ships, adding, as if it were necessary, a warning to Rick that the fate of everyone aboard the ship was in their hands. Who needed pressure?
    All three pilots went to Guardian mode and descended on the enemy craft like hawks descending to catch prey. They landed in a wedge on the ship's hull and transformed to Battloid, Gatlings blazing as they moved toward the stern. They took out as many weapons ports and gun turrets as they could, but Max realized with a touch of despair that that still left four ships spewing death at the SDF-1.
    Suddenly, radiation detectors went wild in Max's cockpit. He was about to tell Rick when he heard Lisa shouting over the tac net an order to evacuate the area. Rick echoed the order, switching to Guardian and Max and Ben followed suit. They took off and executed perfect about-faces, hurtling off the Zentraedi ship in the direction they had come.
    The sound of the explosion was audible over the radio before it came to the ears of the three Veritech pilots. Max chanced a glance back at the ship and saw, to his horror, a bright white sphere of vaporizing death expanding from where the SDF-1 had been. He hit his afterburners, full on, and caught up to Rick's port side.
    "Ben! Ben!" Rick cried.
    "Behind you, Lieutenant!" Ben shouted in response.
    "Hit your afterburner-now! Do you copy?"
    Still another hazy spot in Max Sterling's memory was created in the moments that followed. He couldn't remember feeling any particular emotion; he simply remembered watching Ben's RADAR blip on his tac display fade out with morbid fascination. He was transfixed with the display for an indeterminate amount of time until Rick's summons finally registered.
    "Max! Max, do you copy?"
    "Yeah... copy," he found himself stating, flatly and emotionlessly.

    The North American Ontario Quadrant withdrew their offer within minutes of the shock wave's dispersal. Despite the fact that the Earth had been scorched out to a distance of 25 kilometers in all directions from the SDF-1, they were able to make an official announcement rather quickly.
    Such was bureaucracy.
    The ready room of the Skull Squadron was an uncomfortable silence. The surviving pilots all moved about like ghosts that had returned from the edge of fate, having just escaped the triune jaws of the death dog, Cerberus.
    Max was the most ghost-like of all, even to himself. Thoughts weren't even coming to his mind as he went through the much-practiced moves of setting all his gear ready for the next battle. He didn't even find it necessary to respond to Rick's inquiry of his well-being.
    Silently, he left the ready room, feet taking over once again.

    Max had run into Lisa in Macross City, doing a little off-duty shopping. She was sitting on a bench in the park, several filled bags resting on the ground near her, staring out at the vast sea of stars seemingly lost in thought.
    There they were again, those stars. A constant reminder that the SDF-1 was again in space, a full load of civilians still in its vast cargo hold.
    "Hey there, Commander," Max greeted, "looks like you found one of my favorite spots."
    Lisa looked up, startled, then smiled wanly. "Oh, hello Max."
    "Mind if I join ya'?"
    "Go ahead. It is a bit a of a lonely view."
    Max snorted a bitter laugh. "I think that's why I end up here so much. So, I hear you're leaving for Alaska tomorrow?"
    "Yeah," she sighed, "I'd rather stay here, though. My father is liable to keep me under lock and key, down there. But I might be able to convince him to let the SDF-1 back on Earth."
    "Well, the tac net's not gonna be the same without ya'. Sammie had Elkins doing acrobatics like you wouldn't believe, last time."
    "She'll get used to it. Elkins, one of your guys, right, Second Lieutenant?"
    "You know, I never dreamed I'd be in command of Vermillion team. It was always Dixon and Sterling under Hunter. Now it's Elkins and Rossburg under Sterling. It feels bizarre."
    "When did you talk to Rick last, anyway?"
    Max gave pause at Lisa's question. He looked at her a blinked several times as if asking her to elaborate.
    "You guys were inseparable not too long ago, but ever since the North American Ontario Quadrant-"
    "We've seen each other since then, what do you mean?"
    "How many times?"
    There was a long pause.
    "I dunno, two maybe three times."
    "But, it's been almost a month, and-"
    They were interrupted by the sounds of a paper bag ripping, followed by several metallic thuds and a bunch of swearing. Max and Lisa turned to look and found Lynn-Kyle stooped in the middle of the sidewalk, picking up cans of groceries and trying his best to put them in something he could carry them in, the bag having ripped open on the bottom.
    Before Max even realized what was happening, Lisa was up and heading Kyle's way. "Here, let me help you with that," she said, stooping down to pick up a few cans.
    Kyle grabbed the first can she picked up out of her hand as if her touch would infect it. "I don't take help from warmongers."
    "I was just trying to-"
    "I don't want any help from any of you people."
    "But, I-"
    The last word had come as a command from behind Kyle. Slowly, almost menacingly, the self-proclaimed pacifist rose and turned to face a vary irate looking Max. "What?"
    "You heard me." Max's eyes were cold, the cold he only allowed to show during battle.
    "You expect me to take orders from you, Lieutenant Sterling?" Kyle asked, incredulously. "Does it look like I'm wearing that uniform?"
    "Apologize to the lady."
    "If you ask me, you're the ones who should apologize, to all of Macross City for dragging them into all of this."
    "I didn't ask you."
    Kyle snorted, a tone that indicated disgust. "That's quite obvious. I don't get you, Sterling. Of all people, why are you in the Robotech Defense Force. You lost your entire family to this madness, after all." Kyle turned to leave, his arms full of soup cans, but Max clamped a hand down on his shoulder.
    "I said, apologize."
    "Let go of, me!" Kyle growled, turning on Max, allowing his cans to fall to the ground once again, and knocked Max's hand off his shoulder. Acting on some as yet unconquered instinct, he followed through with a fist.
    Max caught Kyle's fist in his own hand, still staring that cold stare of his battle persona. They both stood there, like that, for several moments, daring the other to make the next move.
    "That's enough, Lieutenant," said Lisa, grabbing Max's free hand and pulling, "he's entitled to his own opinion. Let's go."
    Lisa's pull broke the stalemate between the two men and Max allowed himself to be led away from Kyle. The later, however, didn't seem content with the interruption of their standoff of wit.
    "Everyone knows about you, Sterling," Kyle called after them, "the orphan of the RDF who turned around and got his revenge by doing the same thing to the enemy."
    That stopped Max in his tracks as if instantaneously growing roots had suddenly sprouted from his feet. He clamped his hand into a fist so hard that Lisa had to let go or risk breaking a finger. He turned and faced Kyle once more, eyes cold and staring.
    "Revenge?" he asked. "You think that's what this is about?" He took a few slow steps toward Kyle, Lisa only looking on, waiting for the worst. "My family died the day the Zentraedi came. Where were you? I've lost some of my best friends to the battles that go on out there. Where were you? I'll tell you where. Safe, just like the rest of the people of Macross City. I fight so that they don't have to. I fight so that the other people on this ship don't have to feel what I felt the day the SDF-1 left Earth." He continued forward until he had just passed Kyle. "It has nothing to do with revenge."
    Calmly, without another word, he continued on and left Kyle to contemplate his words and Lisa to play the diplomat. His fist was still clenched tight, digging his fingernails into his palm.
    He hardly cared at the moment.
    Lisa took a few step in his direction, intending to follow, but decided against it. She turned to Kyle with an apologetic look. "Boy, did you pick the wrong topic to dredge up."
    Without so much as a word, Kyle gathered up his remaining groceries and took his leave. Lisa payed little attention to his departure, instead watching Max disappear around a corner.

    In a twist of fate, quite the coincidence, seeing as how Lisa had just mentioned him to Max, it was Rick who found him next. Max had retreated to one of the upper levels of the cargo hold, where he could look down at Macross City as it got ready to go to sleep for the night.
    "Hey, Max," Rick said, approaching him, "heard you almost got into it with Kyle."
    Max checked his watch. It had only been a half an hour since he had run into the elder Lynn cousin. "Wow, word travels fast," he said, somewhat bitterly.
    "Yeah, and it said you two nearly came to blows. What's the deal, Max?"
    "Nothin's the deal, he pissed me off. That's all."
    Rick blinked at him, a rather confused expression on his face. He had only known Max for about a year, now. But in that time he had come to notice that Max's shipside persona was almost a complete, polar opposite of the one he put on in battle. It was almost as if stepping through the door of the hanger bay transformed the blue haired pilot either way, but the two never seemed to mix.
    Frankly, it terrified Rick that he didn't know which he was talking to now.
    "Hey, you all right? You seem a little-"
    "I'm fine."
    There was a long pause between them. Slowly, as if expecting Max to turn into a giant monster and snap off his head in one bite, Rick joined him in leaning on the railing that was along the edge of the deck. He directed his gaze to the lower level as well, looking up only once in order to possibly figure out what was behind those bespectacled eyes that were somehow frightening.
    "Guess we haven't talked much, lately," stated Rick.
    No answer seemed forthcoming.
    "Guess we've both been kinda busy since Ben died," he continued.
    Another long pause.
    "So, have you talked to anyone-"
    Rick turned back to Max, an annoyed expression. "Why the hell not? He wouldn't want you to keep it in, you know."
    "I'm not keeping anything in," Max practically snapped at Rick, turning to him. The look in his eye caused Rick to take a step back.
    Another long pause as they regarded one another ensued until Max finally turned away and started walking again.
    "I'm not keeping anything in because I don't have anything left."
    That said, he left Rick alone without another word.
    "He was my friend too, ya' know!" Rick called after him before leaving, himself.
    Neither of them had known it, but a certain set of ears had been listening on the opposite turn of a corner. She definitely didn't like what she had heard, seeing as how the two men were two of the ranking officers in the Veritech Squadron. Having them at each others' throats would be bad for moral. Not to mention for them.
    It was time for Claudia Grant to intervene.

    It was too damn early in the morning!
    If Max was anything, he certainly wasn't a morning person. He had hoped that such early hours as oh-four-hundred would be finished by the end of flight school. All those early simulator runs and training flights with...
    He stopped that train of thought as soon as he realized where it was headed. What had been the point to this mental griping again? Oh yeah. Early hours.
    God, he needed coffee.
    His mission to escort Lisa's shuttle to Earth wasn't until oh-seven-hundred. Yet, she had a note waiting for him on the door of his quarters the night before. He was to report to the mess hall at the extremely early... no, make that ungodly hour of oh-four-freaking-hundred.
    Coffee. Where the Hell was the damn coffee?
    Max found the small can he had been seeking, opened it up, a spoon in hand ready to scoop out some of the most precious granules. The lid was coming off exceptionally hard that morning, and he had to work at it a bit before it finally gave and popped off.
    Just his luck. Empty. He had forgotten. It was his grocery shopping night.
    Desperate for something that would wake him up enough to function, he reached for the sugar bowl, still holding that eager spoon. He dumped a few scoops into a glass of water and downed it, hoping it would create enough of a sugar jolt to keep him awake on only four hours of sleep.
    He was out the door shortly; next stop, the mess hall. At least, that's what he remembered the note saying. A few steps away from his closed door, he stopped and reached into his pocket for the note, just to make certain. He still had about fifteen minutes to get where he needed to be, so it wasn't going to be a problem.
    Unfortunately, it had escaped his memory that quarter to four in the morning was the time when the EVE systems kicked in the city's artificial winds. A gust blew the small piece of paper right out of his hand and down the street a few doors. It was headed straight for the shower houses, Max realized. Slightly panicked, seeing as how the women's showers were on the windward side of the building, he ran after it.
    He didn't quite make it in time, though , and could only watch as the note blew straight under the door and into the shower house, in a combination of several unlikely events.
    Max stood there for a few moments, pondering what to do. Was there anyone inside? Or would it be safe to go in and get the piece of paper?
    The door opened, answering both questions in very short order. Sammie stood in the doorway, a towel strategically wrapped around her, holding it with one hand and the note with the other. Feeling a very warm sensation in his face, Max turned around and coughed into his hand a couple of times. Behind him, Sammie grabbed his hand, shoved the slightly moist note into it, then went back into the shower house without so much as a word.
    This day was definitely not starting out well.

    It was the first Zentraedi that he had a name for. He was a small one, aside from the fact that he had been Micronized, of course. Not what one would expect from a genetically engineered warrior, certainly. Which would explain his reluctance to fight with the Macross City hoodlums who had had him cornered only a few minutes ago. Max had heard of the defectors, just like anyone else had. The media had made a big fuss over them, especially that trio that seemed to have been their leaders.
    In any case, they weren't the ones trying to kill him in battle any more. They just wanted out of it all. They wanted to lead a normal life, no fighting.
    A lot like Max, really.
    Which was probably why he had found himself giving Karita aid in the first place. There was a moment where he considered siding with the thugs, but no. That was hypocritical and definitely not his style. Sure, the Zentraedi were responsible for countless deaths, including...
    But he wasn't going to think about that. The important thing was that there were Zentraedi who didn't want to fight. It was a start.
    Maybe he wouldn't have to fight for much longer.

    Max rushed into the nearly deserted mess hall, breathing to catch his breath and leaning on the door frame as he did. He was nearly ten minutes late, due to the dust up with the thugs in Macross City and figured Lisa would not be happy, seeing as how her note had the tone of a very stern order.
    After catching his breath, he entered and looked around. To his dismay, he found no Commander Hayes present. However, sitting alone at a table, looking out the window at the motionless stars and sipping at a cup of coffee, was Claudia Grant.  Worried that Lisa was mad, he approached Claudia's table.
    "Lieutenant Commander, have you seen Commander Hayes?" he asked.
    Claudia turned to him with a slightly amused smile. "Have a seat, Lieutenant," she said, "Lisa's not coming. You're date's with me."
    "But... I thought that-"
    "I know what you thought, hun, now siddown." Absently, Claudia checked her watch. "Well, at least you're only ten minutes late, unlike our other friend."
    "Who's that, ma'am?" Max asked, cautiously sitting across the table from her.
    Claudia laughed. "Now that is a secret. Good grief, Max, you look like you're facing a firing squad!"
    "Um... Sorry?"
    "Oh, brother!" Frustrated, Claudia rested her head in her hands and gave a tremendous sigh. It was in the midst of this lamentation that a shadow fell across the table as someone approached.
    Max looked up and found Rick standing there, looking somewhat confused.
    "Hey, Claudia, Lisa said that..." Rick trailed off upon noticing Max's presence. "Oh, I can come back later." He turned to leave, only to find Claudia's hand grabbing his and holding fast.
    "I don't think so, fly boy," she said, "I called you both up here, with Lisa's help of course. Now sit down and listen."
    Rick, although not the best judge of a woman's feelings, was no fool when it came to a woman's determination. He sure as Hell wasn't about to argue with Claudia in this case. Quietly, he sat in the third chair at the table, equal distances from both Max and Claudia.
    "There now," she continued, "the way I see it, you two have two choices. One, you can talk over whatever is between you like normal people. Or, two, you can get up right here and now and slug it out for no reason. Either way, it's time for you to get whatever's bugging you out into the open so you'll both stop moping."
    Max and Rick looked at each other.
    "Do you know what she's talking about?" Rick asked.
    "Nope," Max responded, shaking his head back and forth.
    "Typical," Claudia fumed, "then let me help. Since Roy and Ben passed away, you have barely spoken to each other. Now, ever since Vermillion was formed, you guys have been inseparable, so what happened?"
    Max and Rick looked at each other again, Claudia's point finally driving home. But, as one might have predicted, it was Max who looked away first, rising and going to stand at the mess hall's massive window.
    "The rest of the VT pilots pretend the pilots killed in battle never even existed," he stated, "But I always remember. Jeff Machlis, Roy Fokker, Ben Dixon... Ariana Allan... Why am I always the one who has to remember? It's my turn to forget."
    The next thing Max knew, Claudia was next to him, doing something he never would have expected.
    She drew back a hand and smacked him across the face.
    "How cold do you think the rest of the world is, Max?" she practically yelled. "I've got news for ya'! We all remember, even the other pilots! Even if we don't always show it!" She turned away and faced the window in order to hide her own tears. "Dammit... Roy and I were engaged to be married. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him."
    He wasn't quite certain when it had formed itself, but Max relaxed a fist back into hand and stared at Claudia, somewhat agape.
    "I... I didn't know."
    Claudia took a deep breath and steadied herself. "There are others to apologize to," she said, started to walk out of the mess hall. "If you two will excuse me, I have oh-five-hundred duty." She exited, leaving Rick and Max to finish hashing out whatever they needed to.
    After several long moments of silence, Rick joined Max in looking out the window.
    "So, I hear your team is escorting Lisa's shuttle down to Earth."
    "Do me a favor, okay?"
    "What's that?"
    "Take care of her. I'm not in the mood to lose any more friends."
    Max looked Rick evenly in the eye. "Me neither."
    Rick nodded his approval. "Good."
    They both turned back to the window and pondered various things for a few more moments before Rick dug into his pocket and produced a small photograph. "Here," he said, pushing it into Max's hand, "I found this with Ben's stuff. It was right next to the picture of his family. Really tells you how he felt about the people in it. I'll see ya' 'round." With that and nothing more, he exited out the same door that Claudia had.
    Max stared after him for a bit before turning the picture over and looking at it. It was of three familiar Vermillion pilots on their first day as a team.
    Max sighed.
    "Sorry Ben. Guess I was a jack-ass, huh?"
    Ducked in the shadow of the other door to the mess hall, Lisa Hayes smiled to herself, allowing a small, relieved sigh to escape.
    "Mission accomplished," she whispered to herself.


Coming soon! Chapter Seven of Robotech: To Dream with the Stars!
    Our hero meets the woman of his dreams in an arcade and asks her to meet him again by the Peace Fountain. Despite the fact that she's a Zentraedi who tries to kill him, he asks her to spend the rest of her life with him. When her answer is yes, they meet with a small amount of opposition amongst their peers on the SDF-1 but prove them wrong quickly, causing everyone to rethink the war against the Zentraedi, including the giants themselves.
    Be here for Robotech: To Dream with the Stars Chapter Seven: Haze!