To Dream With the Stars
By Sarah Bloy

Chapter Seven: Haze

    “The letters pile up, Vince dear, perhaps to be read by you someday or perhaps not, but today especially I have to set down how full my heart is – more so than at any time since Roy was killed.
     “I heard Gloval murmuring something astounding while he was sitting in his command chair: “Capulets and Montagues.”  I thought he was going soft; heaven knows the rest of us have.  But when I looked at the clipboard he had been studying, it was an intel rundown on books Miriya had screened from the Central Database while she was here – while she was hunting Max.  Shakespeare was there, of course.
     “I don’t know what to think, except – damn it!  We’ve got to change the ending this time!”
                            - Lt. Claudia Grant in a letter to her brother Vincent.

    Last time on Robotech: To Dream With the Stars!  A rift began to form between Max and Rick as they both dealt with their own emotional problems.  The death of another mutual friend, their wingmate Ben, only served to widen the gulf until both were  forced to come to their senses by an observant Claudia Grant and a cleaver Lisa.  Lynn-Kyle also had a few words to say.  Now, with Lisa transferred to Alaska Base on Earth, Max again feels torn between his boisterous pilot companions and a deafening silence of loneliness.

     Damn alarm clock!
     All Max wanted was some sleep; a descent amount of sleep.  But every time the almighty decided to afford him any, along came the accursed alarm clock to jerk him out of the comforting land of dreams.  Especially lately, it seemed.
     For the fifth time that morning, he clamped his hand down on the offending appliance.  It was his day off, so why the Hell had he set it?  Through the haze afforded by the interval between snooze buttons, Max could not discern that all he had to do was turn the thing off.  He lied in bed, staring at the digital display until he was falling asleep once again…
     Nine minutes later, the alarm clock sprang to life once more.
     Screw it, Max decided.  Breakfast awaited down in the mess.

     Breakfast?  What breakfast?  It all looked like some indescribable slop to him.  Max had gone through the cafeteria line and had promptly lost his appetite.  Maybe it was the fact that he was still half asleep, but everything looked as though it could only be described as “grey lumps with brown sauce.”  He opted for a simple cup of coffee instead.
     Dumping a creamer and a packet of sugar into the cup, he wandered over to a table and sat.  Spotting Rick at a table by himself, Max gave momentary thought to joining his team leader, but decided against it when he noticed Rick’s brooding nature.  He proceeded to another empty table and sipped on the hot coffee while dividing his attention between Rick and the view out the window.
     Thirty minutes and half a cup of coffee later, Max again looked over to Rick while fiddling with his own cup.  The lieutenant was simply sitting there, as though he were a statue.
     He’s been sitting there by himself for half an hour twiddling his spoon, and it’s like his food isn’t even there, Max reflected.  He finally made a decision, left the rest of his coffee behind on the table and approached Rick.
     “Lieutenant, it’s too early to be depressed about this,” he jumped right in, “I’m sure Commander Hayes will get back here, somehow.”
     Rick shot him a glare, then turned away from Max, still resting his chin on his hands.
     You’re an idiot, Max, Max thought to himself, generally, one says “hi, how are you this morning” or something to that effect.  Jeez-us!  Social skills, man!
     “First of all,” Rick snapped, “I’m not  thinking about her, and secondly, what makes you think I’m depressed?”
     Well, that about clinched it.  The conversation was officially a train wreck from the get-go.  It wasn’t going to be going anywhere.  In the ensuing silence that passed between them, Max went through his normal steps of mentally chiding himself, wondering why Rick was so snappy, and thinking of a way to change the topic.
     “Maybe you need a little excitement – some distraction,” he persisted, pulling Rick to his feet by the arm, “how about a game?  I know just the place!  Let’s go!”
     Rick’s cold breakfast was promptly left behind.

     They both rattled the game controls furiously.  Rick kept making annoyed noises as he worked his way through the level.  At one point, Max even heard him mumble something about the Fox being faster than a Zentraedi Tri-thruster.  The blue-haired pilot continued working his own controls with ease until a flood of tokens poured out of the machine and into his bin.
     “That’s great!” he exclaimed.  “I always make more than I can cart off.”
     “Well, you left me behind,” Rick responded, still struggling with Aesop’s Gauntlet.
     At one point, Max had to pause the game and reach down to scoop up tokens that had over flown the bin.  Rick paused his own game and gazed down at Max with a perturbed face.
     “What?” Max asked, innocently.
     They mutually decided to give it a rest.
     Heading down the stairs to the lower level, Max carrying his own overflowing bin and Rick carrying his almost empty one, they went to go and cash in their tokens for vouchers on their next visit.
     “Well, those things aren’t Veritechs, that’s for sure,” Rick mumbled.
     “I’ll say,” Max agreed, “but don’t worry, it just takes a bit to get used to it.  I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it eventually if you…”
     Max trailed off and stopped on the stairs.  Rick looked as though he didn’t really mind the pause in the light banter, but looked up to see what had caught his friend’s attention.  Max was staring straight ahead, to the middle of the room, with a semi-hazy look in his eyes.
     “Oh, that girl!” Max exclaimed, still looking straight ahead.  “Sitting at that game!”
     Rick followed his gaze to the center of the room, to a table game that was called, simply, “Veritechs!”  A young lady was sitting at it, the bin at her feet overflowing, working the controls as though she had been born to it.  Her hair was dyed green and she wore an outfit that was common to the latest fashion; brown body suit with a bright yellow scarf tied around her neck.
     “So?” Rick finally asked.  “What about her?”
     “Isn’t she incredible?” Max bubbled.  “I’ve been seeing her everywhere.”
     “Well, she is sort of attractive,” Rick admitted.
     Before Rick knew it, Max was rushing down the stairs toward the table game.  “Maybe I can get her in a game with me!” he was saying as he went.
     Vaguely noticing that Rick was sputtering a protest, Max stepped out onto the main floor of Close Encounters and approached the small group that had gathered.  He pushed his way through and watched the young lady finish her current game, flawlessly.  He went to the end of the table where she was sitting, his bin of tokens still in his hands.  She seemed to glance up at him once, twice, very quickly, almost imperceptibly.
     Finally, Max worked up his nerve to speak. “’Scuse, me,” he said, “would you be interested in playing a game with me?  From what I’ve seen, I think we’d be pretty equally matched.  Don’t you?”
     She barely afforded a glance up at him, but seemed to reconsider, noticing his bin of tokens.
     “You willing to bet all that?”
     Max’s breath caught in his throat and he had to struggle to make sure it didn’t escape in a shout of glee.  “Yes, I am!” he answered instead, placing his bin down next to hers.  He scooted around to the other end of the table and sat down.  “This is absolutely terrific!” he exclaimed.  “I know we’re gonna have a great game!”  He popped in a token, called up the menu, and selected blue as his Veritech color.  She seemed to perk up at his choice, for some odd reason.  “How about starting with Level B?  All right with you?”
     “Fine,” she stated, shrugging, acting so indifferent that one might have mistaken her for someone who really didn’t care.
     Max made the selection.  “All right.  Here we go.”
     He was completely calm, surprisingly enough.  He decided that it had to do with the fact that he was playing a Veritech game, his specialty.  Due to some twist of fate, he had been both blessed and cursed with what Doctor Lang had termed the Alpha Ability; that ability truly legendary pilots had to surrender themselves to their craft and become the thing they were flying.
     The green-haired young lady was no slouch either, Max reflected as their two computer generated Veritechs fired at each other under the surface of the table.  Even so, though, he managed to steal a glace up at her during the battle; she looked confused, even a little annoyed…
     … but still deliriously beautiful…
     Before he knew it, the round was over and the machine was indicating that he had won.  He really wasn’t sure whether or not he had meant to and noticed the particularly menacing look the woman gave him.
     “Oops!  Looks like I won, huh?” he said, putting on as embarrassed a look as he could muster under her gaze.  “Wanna go on to level A?”  He tossed a wink at her, hoping to disarm the look.  It didn’t seem to work and she regarded him coldly.
     “Yes,” she agreed, “let’s go on to Level A.  That should prove quite interesting.”
     Max wasn’t entirely sure what the remark meant, but chose to disregard it.  He decided it was a good sign that she hadn’t gotten up and stalked straight out of the arcade.  Popping in another token, he called up the menu again and selected Level A.  This time, the whole table lit up at once and a holoprojection sprang out of it in a light blue hemisphere.  Two miniature Veritechs, one blue, one red, were generated above the table.  The crowd around them swelled and mutterings were silenced by the true gaming geeks.
     The two Battloids began shooting back and forth immediately, jinking and dodging each others’ fire, going to fighter mode, guardian, and back as their controllers decreed.  Still, as intense as the simulated battle was, Max managed to steal another glance at the woman.  She stared up at the two little Mecha, her eyes darting this way and that as they twisted over the table.  She wore the most intense look Max had ever seen on a gamer before.
     He looked back up at the two holograms and was suddenly overcome by a serious case of déjà vu and for some odd reason that Tex Ritter song forced its way into his head again.
     He had really, honestly meant to lose to her, this time around.  Maybe then she wouldn’t think he was a heel.  But something clicked in his mind and refused to let him lose.  Max suddenly found himself in his Alpha State and before he could shake himself out of it, the little red Veritech had been blown into little pieces.  He was finally able to snap out of it when the two holograms disappeared and were replaced by a projection of the word “Strong!!!” in large, friendly, blue letters.
     He looked over to the woman at the other end of the table.  She seemed exceedingly mystified and somehow very, very angry at the same time.
     Someone smacked him on the back, hard and called his attention away from her.
     “I dunno how you pulled that off buddy!” the guy was proclaiming.
     “Aw there were a couple of tight spots in the middle and near the end,” Max stated, “ but all in all, it wasn’t too tough.”
     The young lady, meanwhile, snapped to her feet and started marching out of the arcade, right past Max with an very indignant look on her features.  The blue-haired pilot quickly forgot the fulfilling feeling of victory and started after her.  He caught up with her and managed to catch her wrist.
     “Wait!” he pleaded.  “I’ve been wanting to speak to you for a long time.  I think you’re wonderful and I want to get to know you better.  This is my only chance to get your name and phone number.”
     She started at his touch and looked up at him with cold eyes.  “My name is Miriya,” she snapped, “and I don’t currently have a phone number.”
     Max stopped himself before he could sputter helplessly under her cold gaze.  “Then would you meet me in the park this evening?  By the Peace Fountain, nine o’clock?”
     She stared hard at him again before looking away.  “Oh, whatever you want!  Just let me go!”  Max let go, simply happy that she had continued her acknowledgement of his existence.  “Thank you,” she snapped before continuing out of the arcade.
     Max literally had to catch his breath after he had watched her go.  He became aware of a figure at his side and reasoned it to be Rick, who he had lost in the crowd earlier.  “Isn’t she something?  Whew!”

     The poor grass next to the Peace Fountain was being trampled down in a single, long, narrow oval.  The same pair of feet had been over it way more then fifty times in the past half hour, repeating the motion.  The grounds keeper of Macross City Park had passed by more than once, wearing quite the perturbed expression.  He had finally given up a half hour after his shift had ended, figuring that the blue-haired and bespectacled young man wasn’t going to be leaving any time soon.
     Max checked his watch for the seventh time in two minutes.
     “Jeez,” he said to himself, “it’s almost nine.  I hope she’s all right.”
     He paced some more and checked his watch again.  As he did so, he noticed a small thread hanging off the end of his only sport jacket.  He gave it an experimental tug and found that it only hung out further.  Desperately, he tried to tuck it into the cuff, hoping it wouldn’t be noticed.
     He checked his watch again.
     “I can’t believe I asked her to meet me in the park,” he muttered, “a girl.  At night!  She could get mugged or something!”
     He paced some more… checked his watch…
     “Maximillian, prepare for your doom!”
     … Heard a death threat…
     He turned and came face to face with Miriya, coming straight at him.  The first thing he noticed was that it was, in fact, her.  He began fumbling through a nervous greeting, his mind not registering the fact that the green-haired beauty was coming at him with knives.  Those strangely given combat instincts kicked in once more and Max found himself dodging one of them that had been thrown.
     “Uh…” was all he could manage after everything had finally slid into place in his head.
     Miriya continued toward him, charging headlong, full throttle, a knife slashing through the air.
     Max just barely managed to dodge it and he finally found his voice again.  “Hey, are you crazy?”
     She backed off for a moment, pulling still another knife out from its hiding place.  “I am Quadrono Leader Miriya Parino!” She proclaimed.  “Zentraedi Airforce!”
     Max gulped, shifting his weight to the balls of his feet automatically.  “There goes our first date.”  Every instinct he had told Max to counter attack, to stop her, take her down before she could do anything to him.
     But he couldn’t do it.  Something inside him, deeper than combat instincts, was stopping him, keeping his feet rooted to the ground, refusing to allow him to throw a single punch at her.
     Miriya, however, didn’t seem to have any such limitations on her actions.  She slashed at him again and again with the knife in her hand, a frighteningly murderous look in her eye.
     “You’re such a fool!” She howled.  “Fight for your life!”
     Max lost more ground, retreating from her slashing blade.  “My life?  But why attack me?”
     She paused for a moment to regain an en garde stance, holding the knife straight out in front of her and pointing its tip at Max.  “I will have my revenge.”
     Max found himself next to the tree in which Miriya’s first knife had embedded itself.  His hand moved toward the knife’s hilt, ready to pull it out and use it if need be.
     But again… that override kicked in.  Max let go of the knife handle, slowly, almost unsurely and unwillingly.
     “I’m afraid I don’t know what this is all about,” he said to Miriya, everything finally making sense in the back of his mind.  I’m in love with this Zentraedi… I wonder what the court-martial punishment is for falling in love with the enemy.  “What do you mean revenge?  If you’re a Zentraedi, I can understand why we… why we have to fight.  But why do you want revenge?”
     She glared at him, still holding the knife in between them.  “I… have… reasons.”  She charged him again, slashing through the air where he had only moments before been.
     “Miriya, what’d I ever do to you?”
     “You defeated me!  And you don’t even know who I am, do you?”  Another slash cut the air between them.  “I am the Zentraedi’s greatest warrior and I will not be humiliated by a Human insect!”
     And so they continued in this way for some time; Max confused and retreating, Miriya galvanized and attacking.  Max lost ground in spades, his helpless fighting style in this case not affording him any ability to attack, only to defend.  Finally, he toppled over, tripping over something that was protruding out of the ground.  He was flat on his back, Miriya standing over him like a hunting cat over its pinned prey.
     There was that Tex Ritter song again.  Do not forsake me oh my darlin’…
     “Now, it’s over,” she stated, evenly.
     Odd that… that she took time to say that… she didn’t take the chance to kill him right away…
     On this our weddin’ day…
     Everything became a blur and Max suddenly found himself strangely detached from the scene.  He was on his feet again, somehow, Miriya still shouting at him.  He had a knife of his own, now, and he and Miriya were dueling it out as fencers.
     Max’s combat instincts had finally won out, taking control, leaving his confused mind to ponder the happenings.
     Why… why did he suddenly find himself fighting her?  Why was he able to?  And why couldn’t he seem to stop himself?
     The haze in the world continued to surround Max and faded the world from its normal, clear hues, sounds, and actions.  It was as if everything had slowed, even time itself.
     What?  What was this?  Why was this important?
     Why was it… important?
     … Important…
     It was important!
     Time caught up with him and the world became clear once more.  Max found himself staring Miriya in the eye, a single knife between them…
     … his.
     It was long moments before his voice was existent.
     “I guess I win again.”
     There was a long pause between them.
     “I’ve lost to you,” said Miriya, simply.  She sank to her knees and looked to the ground, defeated.  “Kill me.”
     “End my life.  Do it now.”
     And the knife fell from Max’s hand.  He sank to the ground next to her and reached a hand out to lift her chin.  “But I couldn’t… you’re so beautiful.”
     And suddenly they were both on their feet again, locked in an embrace and held in the grips of one another’s kiss.  They came apart and looked at each other, both somewhat lost, but realizing they were thinking the same thing.  No word was spoken for a long time until Max finally found his nerve.
     “Miriya, this is gonna sound crazy, but… will you marry me?”
     “Yes, if you wish,” she responded.  Max felt his heart leap higher than it ever had before.  Flying couldn’t have given it a greater jump!  “Maximillian… what’s marry?”

     That haze was back again.
     Max was beginning to wish it would just go away, quite frankly.  Not being able to remember important events very clearly was getting on his nerves.  Not to mention it made things hard to explain.  He sure as hell didn’t know how he was going to explain this latest event.
     Then don’t.
     The voice had come from all around him in the endless fog that had closed in from nowhere.  Max wondered who it was addressing.  Don’t what?
     Explain it.  Don’t explain it.  Live with it.
     The voice was familiar.  Hurried, Max looked around for the voice, looking in every direction that he could think of.  Not seeing the voice he began moving through the fog, searching.
     He ran into someone and turned to them.  It was Rick.
     “Do you think this is going to make you forget her?  Someone else can replace her?”
     He seemed miffed for some reason.
     Max didn’t know why, but he was filled with a sudden urge to throw a punch at Rick.  He found himself following through with it and couldn’t entirely figure that one out either.
     Rick faded back into the fog, Max’s fist going through empty air.
     Don’t explain it.
     The voice again.  His feet were on the move once more, searching for it, not knowing where they were going.  He wandered the fog aimlessly, still searching.  Ever searching.  A familiar silhouette formed out of the mist and Max continued to it.  Red hair and green eyes met his gaze.
     “Nothing needs to be explained… it’s your soul.  Now’s the time.”
     Max jerked awake, sitting up in bed and breathing to catch his breath as though he’d been running and suddenly a light turned on from the side of the room.  He turned to it and found Miriya, pulling on a shoe.
     “Sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
     One of Max’s hands automatically went to the space behind him on the bed.  He found it, for some reason, inexplicably empty.
     “N-no, it’s okay,” he stated, shaking off the last few effects of his dream, “I should be up anyway. I gotta catch Rick down in the mess… about what we talked about.”  The fact that she was dressed finally registered.  “Where are you going?”
     “I’m going to see Captain Gloval,” she stated, “I’m defecting… for real, officially.”
     “Miriya, we talked about this last night.  The others-”
     “Fought their way out to defect.  Yes, I know.”
     “And you just came over here on a mission.  How’d it look if you just went to him and said you had a change of heart?”
     “Like I had a change of heart… or a finding of one, anyway.”  She winked at him.
     Max’s face got hot.  “Yeah, see that’s another thing…”  He shook it off, clearing his throat.  “I said I wanted to get Rick on board with this before we go to the Captain.  Please?  It would make me feel better and I think it would smooth things over a bit.”
     Miriya sighed.  “Oh all right.  But I’ve got something else to do.”
     “What’s that?”
     “I’m going to find Rico, Bron, and Konda, the ones who defected before.  If I can get them to believe me-”
     “It’ll smooth things over, too.  I get it.  All right, I’ll meet you in the mess in an hour, all right?  Hopefully, I’ll have Rick with us on this.”
     “All right.”  Miriya went over to him and planted a kiss on his lips.  “I’ll see you then, Domillian.”
     Without any further words, she left, closing the door behind her.  Max finally got up and started getting ready for duty.  Suddenly, a thought occurred to him.
     “ ‘Domillian’?”
     He’d have to ask her what that meant.  Great… a language barrier.  Fun fun fun…
     He reached for his glasses on the night stand and found them non-existent.  He pulled open the drawer in search of them and found Ariana’s locket instead.
     Now’s the time.
     Odd was the feeling.  He knew that the time was right.  There was no doubt in his mind that he had to open it, right then and there.
     And so he did.  And a small piece of paper fell out.  Carefully unfolding it, he squinted and brought it closer to his face to read it.
     “I knew you’d find her.”

     Mission accomplished!  Rick was on board with Max on the issue.  Miriya had greeted Max and Rick in the mess with news that Rico, Bron, and Konda were the same way.  The bumps were smoothed over from every possible angle.  All six were in Gloval’s office now, Max and Miriya at the front of the group and the rest standing behind them.
     “What in the Devil’s name were you thinking, Sterling!?!”
     Well… almost all the bumps…
     The group flinched at Gloval’s roar, quite obviously directed almost completely at Max.  For his part, Max jumped halfway to the ceiling, but managed to remain in his spot when every impulse was to get the hell out of the captain’s office.
     “I, um, ah… I c-can’t say I…was, sir.”
     “That’s obvious!”
     “Yes, sir.”
     “Captain,” Rick chimed in, “you can’t really expect Max to just-”
     “Have I asked for your input yet, Mister Hunter?”
     “No, sir.”
     “Then, hold your tongue.  I’m not done yet!”
     “Yes, sir.”  Rick backed off and Gloval turned his gaze back to Max.
     “You waited a day, Mister Sterling!  An entire day!  Do you have any idea how this is going to look to the general public?”
     Max gulped.  “Can I speak freely, sir?”
     “No!  I’ll tell you how this is going to look!  It’s going to look as though the pilots of the RDF are more willing to… fraternize with the enemy than fight them!  Macross City will be in an uproar over this!  You should have come to me right away!  Last night!  Before anything else happened!”
     “Yes, sir.”
     “What do you say to the people who say that?”
     Max paused, not entirely certain Gloval had given him permission to speak yet.
     “Now, you can speak.”
     “Yes, sir.  Um…”
     “Well?  Out with it!  How are you going to respond to the people who ask you how you can marry one of the people responsible for your own family’s death!”
     Max started, almost taking a step back.  He still couldn’t find the right words.
     “That’s not fair!” Bron protested.
     “The Quadronos weren’t even here at that point!” Rico agreed.
     “That’s not a fair question anyway!” Konda chimed.
     “Be quiet!” Gloval thundered.  “I want his answer.”
     There was a very long, uncomfortable pause.  Frantically, his mind racing, Max searched for an excuse, an explanation, anything.  No words came… nothing entered into his mind.  The only thing that existed were Gloval’s angry eyes staring at him.
     A hand closed down on Max’s shoulder and Max almost jumped again.
     “He doesn’t owe you an answer.”  It was Miriya who had finally spoken from Max’s side, staring down Gloval with just as much hostility as he was showing.  “You’ll owe everyone else an answer if we’re kept apart.”
     “I’m still waiting for Lieutenant Sterling’s answer, miss.  I suggest-”
     “Does it look like I’m in your uniform?  I could care less what you suggest!  If you keep us apart, we’ll go out that door and our next stop will be to one of your newspapers where we’ll explain that you’re the one keeping two people who love each other apart.  You keep saying you want an end to the fighting?  That’s not going to happen as long as both you and Commander Breetai keep playing Capulets and Montegues until-”
     “What did you call me?”
     Max was panic stricken.  He clamped his own hand down on Miriya’s, desperately.  “Miriya, don’t-”
     “Capulet or Montegue, Captain!  Take your pick!”
     Miriya and Gloval stared each other down for several long, agonizing seconds.  Anyone in the room could have whipped out a knife and cut the tension in the room with it, right then and there.  Even smothered it in ketchup and eaten it… chewing a lot.
     Finally, Gloval turned away, a hand to his forehead as though a headache was forming in his temple.  He took off his hat and slapped it down on the desk, giving a sigh.  A hand on a hip, he turned back to Miriya.
     “You just said the magic words,” he said, “I’m granting you asylum, Miss Miriya.  What you decide to do as a citizen of this ship… is hereby your own business.”
     The room gave a collective outburst of victory.
     “Provided!”  Gloval stopped the display of celebration rather abruptly, calling the attention back to him.  “Provided that you give Intel a full rundown of everything you would have put into a report had you returned and completed your original mission.”
     Miriya nodded.  “You’ll have it tomorrow.”
     “Captain, you don’t know how much this-”
     “Sterling, just don’t let it happen again.”
     “B-but wouldn’t that be… kinda… yes, sir.”
     “Get out.”
     “Yes, sir,” Max and Rick both chorused at once.
     Rick led the way out of the room, the four Zentraedi following just after him.
     “And Sterling!” Gloval called, just as Max was about to leave.
     “Yes, sir?”
     “Between you and me… make sure you keep her.  You don’t find women like her everywhere.”
     Max couldn’t suppress his smile, not for the world.
     “I know, sir.”

     The next few days were a high-speed jumble of actions, ceremonies, politicking, uproar, and support for Max and Miriya.  At times, it seemed like a dream as Max looked back at it all; flowing, liquid, passing by like water drawn to the falls.
     And of course, there was that old SDF-1 rumor and gossip mill.  Reaction from both Macross City and the RDF crew was mixed, as one might expect.  It was the good ones that were overwhelming, thankfully enough.  However, it was the bad ones that burned into Max’s mind and occupied a great deal of his thinking.
     Max had been returning from a patrol mission when one such reaction manifested itself in the Skulls’ ready room.
     “Aw, give it a rest, Nick-o,” came one voice as Max neared the corner, “love is love if it’s in skin, scales, or feathers.”
     “Shut up, Akito!  You know what I’m getting’ at!”
     “Yeah, I do, and I don’t like where it’s going.”
     “Nick-o’s got a point, Akito.  RDF’ers can’t just marry the enemy!  How do we know she’s for real?  And what will Sterling do if she turns?”
     “You too, Al?  You’re not being reasonable.”
     “Aren’t we?  You wanna be Sterling’s wingmate when that happens?”
     There was a long pause…
     “You mean if  that happens.”
     “It’s only a matter of time before it does.  The chick’s a Zentraedi!”
     Max chose that moment to round the corner.  Nick-o had his back to the entrance, but both Akito and Al noticed his arrival right off.  The two of them straightened up, uncomfortably as Max approached while Nick-o continued on his tirade.
     “It’s bred into her, she won’t last a week!”
     Al cleared his throat and Akito did the best he could to look as though he hadn’t been a part of the conversation at all.  Nick-o whirled around to face Max, quite obviously surprised that he was there.
     Max leveled his gaze at Nick-o for a moment, then continued to his locker to stow his gear.  He was about to close his locker when Nick-o spoke up again, clearing his throat.
     “Hey Sterling, it’s just talk man, ya’ know?”
     Max slammed his locker shut, staring wordlessly at Nick-o.  He held his gaze for a moment, then left the ready room in a stunned silence.

     And, as fast as it all flew by, one thing brought it all to a jerking halt.  It figured that a marriage made in heaven couldn’t be completely isolated from the cliché honeymoon in hell.  Just as the reception was starting, just as Minmei was warming up for a solo, the alarms had sounded and a flurry of activity ensued.
     Now, Max found himself in the cockpit of his Veritech once again.  This time, though, Miriya was riding shotgun in the back seat, one of Ben Dixon’s old helmets that Max had managed to save before they cleaned out his locker on her head.
     Max didn’t have time to ponder the irony of such a symbol, though, as the Zentraedi battle pods were heading Skull Squad’s way in droves, shooting off gouts of fire as they came within range.
     “Skull Squadron,” Rick’s voice came through the comm, “break formation but stay with your wingmen.”
     “Roger,” was the chorused replay of the pilots, including Max.
     The Veritechs all peeled off in different directions, for the most part staying in threesomes, firing off rounds as they did.  The whole squadron broke into fighting, swooping, pouncing dogfights and it was quite soon that Max was doing the same.  He got into it with one particularly agile pilot and swooped around the sky, trying to fix it in his sights.  When he finally had it, he thumbed the trigger for the kill shot.
     “No, wait!” Miriya exclaimed from the back seat.  “Don’t shoot!”
     The pod was out of Max’s sights before he could comprehend what Miriya had said.
     “Huh?  But they were right in my sights.”
     Miriya took over the controls, aptly maneuvering the Veritech and proving, once again, that she was no slouch as a Mecha pilot.  She moved the Veritech through its paces until the auto targeting system locked on to the pod at one of the junctions between the legs and the main body.
     Max fired off a shot, hitting the pod right where the target had been set.  The pod jumbled around, wobbling as if out of control.
     Max couldn’t help but be impressed.  A weak spot!  One that wouldn’t kill the occupant of the pod!  And since Zentraedi appeared incapable of repairing their equipment, it was just as affective as destroying the pod altogether, in the long run.  There was one thing that bugged him, though.
     “But we could have lost him while we were trying for that shot.”
     “I don’t want anyone else to be hurt in this war,” she replied.
     “But we don’t want to jeopardize our own lives, right?  Or the ship?”
     “Remember what the captain said?”
     Oh boy, did he!  The beginning of Gloval’s speech at the reception had had Max on the edge of his seat, just about ready to slug him one, rank be hanged.  But the Captain had only led into the same point Miriya had made to him in his office.  And it had been met with much praise… just before all hell broke loose once again.
     “Max, it’s time to do more than just talk,” Miriya stated, “we must act.  And now I’ve given you the key.”
     “Oh boy,” Max sighed, “I could lose my bars for this.  But you’re right, though.  We’ll just have to give this a try.”
     Max took Blue Devil back into the battle arena with new vigor, aiming for the same spot over and over.  A few of the pod pilots had caught on, but they were no match for Max’s natural skills as a pilot.
     “What in Heaven’s name is going on in that plane?” Rick yelled over the tac net.
     “Boss, I’m sorry those last few weren’t kills…” Max began.
     “Don’t bull me, Max,” Rick responded, “I think I understand.”
     And word spread throughout the Skulls of the weak spot.  It became a sort for game for the Veritech pilots as the word spread.  The fact that it wasn’t so morbid as to speak of killing the pods’ occupants for sport made it even fun.  RDFers began vying with one another for who could make the most perfect shots.  Space was soon littered with disabled and limply retreating Zentraedi pods.  However, the fully operational ones still far outnumbered those, and they were closing in on the SDF-1.
     And then, just as suddenly as it had all started, it stopped.  All of the Zentraedi pods retreated back to their ships, many taking the disabled ones with them.
     “I don’t get it,” said Max, “they almost had us.”
     Miriya stared at the retreating pods in silence.  “I think… that things are changing.”

     “You wanna what?”
     “Join the Skulls.”
     Max marveled at the sheer number of bombshells Miriya was capable of dropping, even when there were no weapons within twelve city blocks of her.  Her latest had come as Max was just starting to show her around the kitchen, which proved to be an adventure in and of itself.
     “I can do a lot of good, there, I think,” she pressed on as Max stared at her, stirring their soup.
     “Miriya, I’m really not sure if that’s a good idea, just yet,” he said, “there are… people in the Skulls that aren’t too happy about us and-”
     “What better way to convince them, Max?  If I fight with you, as a pilot in the RDF… imagine the symbol for peace it would make.”
     Max sighed.  “Fighting becoming a symbol of peace… Gloval’s gonna have a stroke over this one.”
     “Yeah, he came pretty close.  But he saw my point in the end.”
     “You talked to him about it all ready!?!”
     “Sure did, squadmate!”  She winked at him.
     Max’s jaw dropped… just like Miriya’s latest bombshell.  Latest two, that is.  He sighed and turned back to the soup, adding a bit of paprika to the mix.  “Just… can you make some coffee?  The mix is in that can over there.”
     “Sure,” she responded.
     Max tasted the soup again and decided it needed a bit more cumin.  He added some and stirred it in, thinking about how strangely metaphorical the action was.
     He couldn’t seem to get away from those, for some reason.
     “Max, why is it on fire?  Is this another weird Human recipe?”
     Max whirled around, leaving the spoon in the soup and found a growing tower of flames engulfing the coffeepot.  His eyes went wide and he scrambled for the fire extinguisher.  “Uh honey, get out of the way.  I’ll put it out.”  He fired the red cylinder off with the same accuracy as he fired off shots in his Mecha and the fire was out in very short order.
     “What happened?”
     “I just used that liquid there… the ‘cooking oil.’”
     “You cooked the coffeepot.”
     “I’m sorry… my word, this cooking stuff is complex!”

     Miriya looked fetching in uniform.  The RDF tailor had issued her one in a light lavender that complemented her eyes quite nicely and the green trim was almost a perfect match for her hair.  She said something about how non-utilitarian a skirt was for a warrior, but she obeyed as it was standard women’s issue.
     Max pulled his own uniform jacket on.
     “Any idea why they called us up there?” Miriya asked.
     “Not a one,” Max responded.
     “Just seems so odd.  They took us off of patrol duty at the last minute.  Aren’t the Captain and the rest of the command staff supposed to be talking with the Zentraedi?”
     “Yeah, but when the Captain calls, you better go.  So, let’s get goin’.”
     They left their quarters and headed up to the executive offices near the bridge, having been summoned to the conference room.  Once they’d arrived, Max pulled down on his uniform jacket, making sure he was presentable, and knocked on the door.  Together, Max and Miriya entered the room.
     “Reporting as ordered,” Max said, snapping off a salute and looking around.  Gloval was seated at the head of the conference table, a short, red-headed and dark-skinned man to his right.
     The dark-skinned man rose, looking past Max to Miriya.
     “Ah!  Hello, Quadrono Leader!”
     Miriya straightened into a Zentraedi salute.  “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realize you were the emissary!”
     “Huh?” Max sputtered, immensely confused.


    Coming soon!  Chapter Eight of Robotech: To Dream With the Stars!
    The Zentraedi sue for peace with the crew of the SDF-1 and Max finally begins to understand the war a bit better.  But just as the war appears to be coming to an end, the crew is informed of the approaching onslaught of the entire Zentraedi Grand Fleet.  Max and Miriya debate their combined role in the coming fight, and Max resigns himself to Miriya=s convictions.  As the battle ensues, they discover they are a force to be reckoned with.
    Be here for Robotech: To Dream With the Stars Chapter Eight: Firestorm!