To Dream With the Stars
By Sarah Bloy

Chapter Eight: Firestorm

 “When you are powerless
 To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced
 By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste
 In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute
 To pluck life back.  The guns of the steeled fleet
 Recoil and then repeat
 The hoarse salute.”
- Robert Lowell, “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket.”

Last time on Robotech: To Dream With the Stars!  No one ever said love made one think in their right mind.  The death and destruction of the war was momentarily forgotten as Max fell in love with Miriya Parino, an ace for the Zentraedi airforce.  Culture gap aside, the two seem well suited to one another, for reasons Max can’t quite entirely fathom.  But, at least he’s not alone, as Miriya can’t seem to fathom it either.  But, of course, there are other things Max can’t seem to fathom, too.

    It was all Max could seem to say in the face of this new person he and Miriya were now both looking straight at.  He was a short fellow, almost a full head smaller than either Max or Miriya or anyone else in the room, for that matter.  That fact didn’t seem to be lost on him, either, as he looked about as though expecting to have been the tallest person in the room.  He had large, round eyes that betrayed a certain amount of curiosity behind the show of propriety he was putting out.
    More important than how he looked, though, was who he was.  From Miriya’s reaction, he had to be some sort of powerful person with the Zentraedi.  Perhaps, and most probable, even a Micronized Zentraedi.  Whoever he was, he had to be someone pretty scary for Miriya, of all people, to react the way she did.  She had tightened her stance to a straight attention and seemed unwilling to waver from it in the slightest until this short, funny-looking little man told her differently.
    However, he shrugged as if Miriya’s acknowledgement of him weren’t important.  “I found your pairing ritual- marriage?- quite… provocative,” he said, matter-of-factly, almost as though he had just reviewed a so-so movie.
    Miriya sputtered somewhat as though searching for a proper response.  “You are probably wondering why we did it.”
    “Yes, just as you are no doubt wondering what I am doing here.”  The awkward looking little man’s eyes now fell on Max, vaguely criticizing, yet somehow also seemingly a little uncomfortable.  “And this must be the male half of your pair.”
    Miriya, who had up until this point been standing straight and tall at attention suddenly shrank back from both Max and the newcomer.  She blinked a few times, as though almost ashamed of herself.  “Ah… that’s right, sir.”
    Ouch… not exactly the most ringing of endorsements.  Oh sure, she was just fine with this a few days ago, not a single reservation about it.  Now was a little late to be getting cold feet, seeing as how it was a done deal.
    And suddenly, Max had a revelation of sorts.  It was suddenly very apparent how little he actually knew about his wife.  Understandably, he was frustrated and this frustration manifested itself in the form of a sour mumble.  “Gee, ya’ don’t sound too thrilled about it.”  This was, of course, in lieu of actually showing her what he meant when he told her he loved her.
    But there were brass around and the little guy looked a smidge ill to begin with.
    Rick entered just then and reported for duty and as they all took their seats around the conference table, he sent a whisper Max’s direction.  “Hey, you don’t look so good.”
    Oh, how Max wanted to be able to strike a superior officer.  Instead, he simply crossed his arms and slouched down in the seat a bit.  He took this moment of shuffling around and minor reorganizing to lean over to Miriya and ask a question.  “Mir, who is this guy, anyway?”
    “Minister Exedore Formo,” she whispered back, “T’sen Breetai Tul’s second in command and the single most intelligent member of the Zentraedi race.”
    “He’s got a stick up his butt,” Max mumbled.
    “I’m sorry?”
    “Never mind.”
    Exedore suddenly gave an outburst, pointing to Rick and Max excitedly, practically jumping up and down.  “That’s it!  The Micronization process must have affected my memory!  You’re two of the hostages from Dolza’s flagship, aren’t you?”
    Well, the meeting was just full of “suddenlies.”  Max suddenly had a flash of that mission he and Rick had had with Lisa and Ben.  He seemed to remember a whip of red hair shortly after bursting through a door on Breetai’s ship.  Could Exedore have been that Zentraedi?
    “Does someone want to tell me what’s going on here?” Rick asked.  Apparently, he was having similar sentiments.
    Exedore continued to rattle on excitedly, tracing out a circle on the floor as he paced.  “This time, the circumstances are a bit different,” he said, “but tell me: How did you and the others manage to escape?  Was it some hidden Micronian power?”
    Rick and Max glanced at each other, both seeing that the other was wondering if they should let the cat out of the bag.  But, before Max could say that Exedore’s people had fallen for the oldest trick in the book, Rick spoke up for the both of them.
“Uh, I guess you could say that.”
    Exedore sat down to puzzle over the Micronian secret and, for a moment, it seemed as though the meeting would settle down somewhat.  However, Rico, Bron, and Konda, the three Zentraedi responsible for the “Minmei Rebellion,” entered and everything hit the fan again.  Max sighed, and so did Miriya and Rick on either side of him.
    It was going to be one of those meetings…

    Things settled down again following Exedore’s reassurances that he was not aboard the SDF-1 to take back the Zentraedi defectors.
    And, of course, there was his absolutely stirring rendition of Minmei’s “Stage Fright.”  Max was going to have nightmares about that one.
    And so, finally, it came to light that the higher-ups of the Zentraedi hierarchy believed that Minmei’s singing was a sort of psychological weapon the crew of the SDF-1 had been using.  It wasn’t until Gloval called the charming singer and her perpetually irate (and pontificating) cousin, Kyle, to the meeting that Exedore finally understood the difference between a war-training film and a fictional movie.
    With that finally cleared up, they were able to move on to the real issues at hand.  The subject abruptly moved to something Exedore called Protoculture.  Max had heard the term a few times in conjunction with Robotechnology, but he’d never known just what it was.
    “Ah!  But you’ve forgotten the Protoculture!” Exedore exclaimed.  “The great genius of the Robotech Master’s race, Zor, hid the secrets of Protoculture and its last manufacturing source in this vessel before he dispatched it here.”
    Okay, so now it was just getting downright confusing.  Who in the hell was Zor?
    Gloval keyed a commlink.  “I think we’re ready for Doctor Lang, now.”
    Lang entered the room and, from the look he was wearing, it was apparent that he had been listening in on the conversation.  Max had met the Wizard of Robotechnology only a few times before and only in passing.  Once, just after word of Max’s skill in battle had gotten out, Lang strolled up to him in the hanger and asked to attach a small data-recording box to his fighter.  A few battles later, he had showed up to remove it.  Max never heard what came of that data and decided that he probably never would.
    “We’ve heard Protoculture mentioned several times, Emissary,” Lang said, “will you tell me now what it is?”
Exedore blinked at him.  “You mean you still insist that you Micronians don’t know?” He asked.  “Protoculture is the most powerful energy source in the universe.”
    “I’ve been able to find nothing of that nature in this vessel,” Lang replied, “and I’ve been searching ever since your fleet first arrived in the Solar System.  But I believe I know what has happened.  Will you come with me, please?”  He stepped aside, inviting Exedore to leave the conference room with him for the moment.  Gloval, too, stood and made his way across the room.
    “Will you all kindly remain here, please,” the captain ordered.
    And the door closed behind the three as they left the room.  After everyone who was left was finished looking at the door, puzzled, obviously out of the loop to varying degrees, they looked back to one another.
    Now, here’s the thing.  Max, Miriya, and Rick were sitting directly across the table from Minmei and Kyle.  Max was already irate and… well, Kyle didn’t help matters.
    “Is there something wrong, Max?” Miriya asked.
    “Oh, I’m just peachy,” Max bit back.
    Across the way, Kyle smirked.  “Marital problems already Sterling?  That didn’t take long.”
    Max’s look of annoyance turned to a deep scowl he directed at Kyle.  “What’s it to you?”
    “Kyle!” Minmei exclaimed.  Rick cleared his throat.
    Claudia, at the end of the table, was wondering what to do about the meeting’s minutes.  Rico, Bron, and Konda, still sitting at the end opposite Claudia still looked a little frightened.  They kept staring at Miriya as though just waiting with terror for the tiger to spring and eat them.
    “I’ll tell you what it is to me, Sterling,” Kyle bit back, “this whole situation with our enemy is ambiguous enough as it is and you’re really not helping anything.”
    “I don’t like the way that sentiment sounds.  If you’ve got a statement to make, Lynn, then make it.”
Minmei got to her feet and put both her hands on the table.  “Both of you stop it, right now!” she commanded.  “We’re here to make peace with the Zentraedi.  How can we do that if we’re fighting amongst ourselves?”
    Max and Kyle looked away from each other, both looking quite put out.  The rest of the time they sat waiting for Gloval, Lang, and Exedore to return passed in a tense silence.
    When the bigwigs finally did return, it was a whirlwind of a meeting.  The Zentraedi had misunderstood Human culture in general, but no one could deny the power of Minmei’s singing, Gloval wouldn’t dream of it, they had a severely blushing actress, the Zentraedi had seen something like this before and it nearly wiped them out…
    Wait… wiped them out?  Hold on a second.
    “How do you mean that?” Gloval asked, obviously having similar sentiments.
    Exedore went on to explain the situation.  Apparently, the Zentraedi weren’t used to showing their emotions as freely as Humans.  Their entire lives were geared toward creating the perfect soldier in every single member of their society.  So, when they experienced a culture as open and free with emotions as the Humans were, and several of their people refused to fight, it was seen as a disease.
     The solution; wipe it out.
     It was at that moment that the call came in.  It was patched directly from the Bridge.  Reportedly, it was from Commander Breetai of the Zentraedi forces and he wished to speak with Exedore.  The Micronized Zentraedi redhead obliged and there was a short exchange in the Zentraedi language.  Max could have sworn he heard Miriya’s breath catch in her throat.
    Exedore slowly replaced the handset in the cradle before speaking.  “Captain, you must prepare yourselves to escape this star system.”
    The entire room gave a collective gasp and Exedore’s warning only served to confirm whatever it was that Miriya had suspected.  Gloval remained calm, his face hardening.
    “And leave the Earth defenseless?”
    “Out of the question!” Gloval responded, partly horrified by what Exedore was suggesting.  “We are sworn to defend our planet.”
    “Yes, I understand that,” Exedore stated, “we Zentraedi would not act any differently.  What’s more, without your help, escape for us would be all but hopeless.  The Protoculture matrix was our great hope for success; the armada’s supplies are almost exhausted.”  He sighed, as though a great weight had been dropped on to his shoulders.  “It seems we shall soon be fighting a common enemy.”
    Maistroff was out of his seat almost immediately.  “What did you say?” he demanded.
    And that was when Exedore demonstrated that Miriya wasn’t the only one of her people who could drop emotional bombs.  “My Lord Breetai has just informed me that the Grand Fleet is headed for this star system.  That means four million, eight hundred thousand ships with the destructive force of a supernova.”
    Max went numb.  It was true, then.  Zentraedi history was repeating and the Grand Fleet, that vast, unending swarm of ships he, Rick, and Lisa had seen, was already on its way to Earth to wipe out every last trace of the Human race.  His hand was already making its way to Miriya’s, before he even realized it.  It was as though it knew what he needed more than he himself did; to cling to the one thing, the one person, he somehow knew would always be his.  Even so, the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on him.
    “Miriya,” he said, quietly so as not to interrupt the official talks, “I’m so afraid this might be the end of us.  Just when we’ve found each other.”
    “I don’t care,” she whispered back, squeezing his hand, “as long as I’m at your side in battle.”
    Max allowed himself a very short, sharp gasp before he caught himself.  Squeezing Miriya’s hand harder, he looked at the tabletop, studiously.
    “It’s not over yet!” Exedore exclaimed.  “There might still be a way!”
    The entire room put their eyes back on him and Gloval seemed particularly interested in what the diplomat had to say.      “Explain,” he bade the Zentraedi.
    “Thus far, this vessel has proved itself unbeatable,” Exedore obliged, “I will need more information before I can be sure, but I believe there is a way that we can win.”

     Max ran the towel through his hair letting a portion of the rest of the water from his shower drip onto the mat he was standing on.  It was several hours after the meeting that he and Miriya had finally gotten back to their quarters and prepared for a little extra sleep before the other shoe dropped… well, sleep if they could, that is.
     “That Exedore sure is a character,” he called out the bathroom door to Miriya, “he always go on that long?”
     “Wouldn’t know,” Miriya called back, “Azonia was always the one who had to deal with him.  Have you seen my hairbrush?”
     “Check in the nightstand drawer.”
     “I already did.”
     “Try mine, I mighta grabbed it this morning in a rush.”  He hung up his towel and put his bathrobe on.  “So what do you think of Azonia?  Will she bring the Quadrono’s down on our side?”
     There was a long pause.  “She’s… she’s a survivor,” Miriya replied, “she’ll help us, I think.”
     “That’s good,” Max stated, wiping the fog off his glasses and exiting the bathroom.  “The more of your people we can get on our side… the…”  He stopped short as he entered the bedroom and put his glasses on.  Miriya was sitting on the side of the bed, staring intently at a book that she had in her hand.  Max recognized it as a hymnal he had borrowed from the church in Macross City.  There had been a certain hymn he hadn’t been able to get out of his head and he’d had found the page only to have to leave it suddenly and bookmark it with a photograph.
     A photograph that Miriya now held up for him to see.  It was a picture that Ben had taken of Max and Ariana shortly after their first sortie following graduation.  They were both all smiles and Ari had an arm around Max’s shoulder, winking and making a V sign with her other hand.  Max, for his part, had been blushing and the photo called up memories of some joking taunting from Ben.
     “Can I assume that you were going to tell me about her?” Miriya asked him.  Max took the picture from her and plopped down on the side of the bed next to Miriya, wordlessly.  “You told me I was the first, Max.  Did you-”
     “I’ve never lied to you, Miriya.”
     “Then who is that?”
     “It’s… just an old friend, that’s all,” Max stated, folding the picture back between the pages of the hymnal and closing it.
     “She looks like more than just-”
     “Mir, you don’t have to be jealous of someone who’s dead.”  He placed the book back in the drawer of his nightstand and closed it.  As soon as he did so, He found Miriya’s arms wrapped around his chest and her head buried in his back.  His hands covered hers and he squeezed them.  “That was outta line, I shouldn’t have-”
     “I’d like to hear about her someday.”
     Max sighed.  “Yeah… someday.  I think you would have liked Ariana, Mir.  Coulda passed for a Quadrono.”  He turned around, still holding both her hands in his.  “Listen, Mir, about this battle coming up.”
     “Don’t even-”
     “I don’t want you to be-”
     “We’ve been through this already, Domillian.  I should be-”
     “I don’t want you out there with the Skulls.”
     “There is no other place for me, Max, you know that.”
     “Miriya, I… I don’t wanna lose you, too.”
     “And I refuse to lose you!”
     This brought Max to a dead halt in his argument with Miriya.  She was arguing the same thing he was, so he couldn’t very well rule it out.  He was trapped in a corner with no way out.
     “If this truly is to be the final battle of the Zentraedi,” Miriya continued, “what follows, for better or for worse, is a world of nothing but peace.  I could never live in such a world without the person who brought me to it.  And now that I’ve seen it… there’s no going back to the other world.  If I were forced to live on as you died in that other world… I would tear apart this world until there was nothing left of it.  I would blow up this ship, the Earth, and everything within ten star systems before I’d live in that world… without you.  And you know you feel the same about me, so you can’t argue against it.  I’m going with the Skulls.”
     Max blinked somewhat stupidly several times, trying to formulate some argument against it.  Try to make something, anything, make sense and convince Miriya not to go along.
     He was interrupted by a high-pitched series of chimes coming from his nightstand drawer.  They formed themselves into a slow, un-intruding tune that would have been jazzy had the tempo been faster.  When it began repeating itself, Max curiously went over to the nightstand and opened the drawer.  Moving the hymnal aside and digging through it, he tracked the music back to the other precious item in the drawer; that silver and blue locket.  Carefully, he picked it up, feeling the vibrations of the picked bells inside it he had never known about before.
     “What is it?” Miriya asked.
     “I never knew this was a music box, too,” he said, as if to himself, “I wonder why it’s never played before.”  Suddenly, he remembered the day he had first taken it out of that old lumpy envelope.  It had clacked to the ground before he had known it was there.
    They both listened to the tune for several moments and then Max sighed, giving a slight smile.  “Yeah, you’re right, Ari… I was forced to stay out of it once, too… and look what happened.”  His smile had faded and Miriya put a hand on his shoulder the locket slowed and wound down to a stop mid-song.  He looked away from the locket, at Miriya.  “You’re right,” he said to her, “you do belong with the Skulls.  I was being selfish.  Just do me one favor?”
    “Name it.”
    “Don’t get out of my sight?”
    Miriya shrugged, making a mock sour face.  “Why Domillian!  If I did that, then we wouldn’t be able to fight together, now would we.”
    Max laughed.  “When you’re right, you’re right!  Here.”  Carefully, he undid the clasp on the chain of the locket and put it around Miriya’s neck.  “I want you to have this.  I’ve been wondering what I should do with it.  Call it a good luck charm.”
Miriya looked a little questionable, but moved her hair out of the way anyhow and allowed Max to put it on her.  “Zentraedi make their own luck.”
    “Well, Humans don’t, so can you humor me?”
    “Oh all right.”
    “And just one other thing?”
    “What’s Domillian mean?”

    And of course, no sooner had they both found their ways to their pillows when the ship-wide alarm had sounded, calling all pilots to their battle stations.  The two of them ran into Rick on the way in .
    “Hey, Rick,” Max called through the maelstrom of hurrying pilots and launch deck crew, “what’s going on, is this some kinda drill?”
    Rick shook his head.  “No, it’s the Grand Fleet.  They’re here already.  Everyone’s scrambling as fast as they can.”
    “Vermillion team, report to ready room.  Vermillion team, report to ready room,” came the urgent voice over the comm.
    “Well, that’s us,” Max said to Miriya.  She responded with a slight nod.
    Max’s mind started racing again, all at once.  As he was looking at Miriya, he wondered if there wasn’t some way, anyway at all, of getting her to stay behind.  Was there yet some argument he could use?  Was there something else he could get her to do?  Would simply knocking her unconscious for the duration of the battle work?
    Alas, he feared that any of those would result in his castration, eventually.  Nothing for it except to take her by the hand and charge into it all headlong, full speed.  So, Max did just that and tossed a wave back at Rick.  “Well, see ya’ ‘round, boss,” he said with phony cheer.
    “Count on it,” Rick responded in kind.
    And Max and Miriya were off, sprinting to the Vermillion Team ready rooms, grabbing their gear from their lockers on the way.  The other members of Vermillion had already taken all but one of the changing rooms, so Max and Miriya nabbed the last one, entered, and flicked over the occupied sign.
    Miriya immediately began to take off her uniform jacket.  Max blinked and his sense of propriety kicked in.
    “I’ll just be over here,” he said, turning to face out the room’s big window.  It was looking out of the slowly rotating Earth below and in the distance the newly appeared stars that signified the presence of the Zentraedi Grand Fleet.  The innumerable sparkles looked almost pretty, if it weren’t for the presence of impending doom inherent in them.
    It was only a few more moments before they were both changed and garbed in RDF flightsuits.  It was still another fetching outfit for her, that suit of almost all red, trimmed in white in the same places where his was blue.  Between the suit and her fighter, Max started to wonder if maybe she was taking the red theme a bit far…
    But then, of course, he remembered his own propensity for the color blue.
    “Max, I’m worried about the Destroids,” Miriya said matter-of-factly, “Captain Gloval will pull them in before the attack on Dolza’s flagship, won’t he?”
    “I suppose it depends on how the fight’s going,” Max responded, “if the VTs are all occupied, we might need them to protect the SDF-1’s hull.”
    “I suppose so,” Miriya agreed, slowly.  Max sensed the hesitation.
    “Something the matter, Mir?” he asked turning away from the window and facing her again as he pulled on his gloves.
    “It’s just… this battle,” she stated, “Max, I’ve never felt like this prior to a battle, before.”
    “Yeah,” Max agreed, “me either.”  He put both his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes, allowing himself to fall into them.  “Miriya, I promise, if there’s a way to get through this, you and I will find it.”
    He stopped.  Max’s slow descent into Miriya’s gaze was suddenly interrupted by a reflection of bright orange blossoming across her pupils.  First one, then another, then several more.  All of varying size, shape, and color.  Max cast a gaze over his shoulder and found the source of the reflections.  Gasping, he turned full around and shortly Miriya had a similar sentiment.
    Outside the window, the Earth below was alight with giant orange, red, and yellow fireballs, the only silent signal of the massive explosions taking place on the planet’s surface.  The entire Grand Fleet was attacking the Earth from all sides of the globe, relentlessly bringing down a rain of death upon the hapless cities and countries on the surface.
    Max stood there numbly for several moments, not saying a word, simply transfixed by the obscenely-sized fireballs covering the planet.  Miriya got close to him and put her arm around his waist and he answered by putting an arm around her shoulder.
    No words passed between them, for neither one of them had any.

    Radio silence in a battle this insane?  Gloval had to be kidding himself!  Coordination was going to be all but impossible and with every single Mecha in the air, coordination was rather necessary.  Max decided that that was all.  It was the final nail in the coffin of the SDF-1, the RDF, and the Human race.
    In his cockpit, he glanced out the canopy toward Miriya’s Veritech, flying in formation on his port side.  The other two member of Vermillion Team, Hatchin and O’Keefe, made up the rest of the tight diamond of four VTs.  Miriya was looking his way and she nodded.  He nodded back in wordless agreement with her; the best thing for it would be to break formation right off and just stay in two pairs instead of a single foursome.  Max pulled the B lever and visualized the change over to Battloid mode.  Holding up a giant metal shod hand, he signaled the team to a halt.  Miriya, Hatchin, and O’Keefe brought their fighters to a similar halt and also changed modes.  Once again demonstrating his adeptness with the Veritech controls, Max moved his Mecha through a series of hand gestures, motioning to the others what he wanted done.  Hatchin and O’Keefe posed their VTs in a salute for acknowledgment, then both moved up beside Max and Miriya in a twosome.
    And then, holding position there, they waited.
    Max checked the timepiece on his console, wondering just how much time had passed.  It had only been a few seconds, but it felt as though it were an eternity.  There, arrayed in a massive display of Mecha force, every single pilot of the RDF was spread out in front of the SDF-1, waiting, waiting…
    …waiting for a song to signal the beginning of their attack.
    The comm screen of the Tac net that Max’s Veritech had tuned to the SDF-1 Bridge flicked to life, showing Minmei gently swaying back and forth to the intro of her latest song, “We Will Win.”
    Doubt it, Max thought bitterly, then pushed the thought aside as he spotted Rick at the fore of the entirety of the Skull Squadron Veritechs move out.  There was no more time for emotional thoughts other than shoot or be shot, kill or be killed.
         Life is only what we choose to make it
         Let us take it
         Let us be free
    Minmei’s singing drifted out over both the Tac Net and the generic frequencies and Skull Squad took its signal, breaking formation and swooping in on the innumerable Zentraedi battle pods, powered armors, and carriers.  Max was pleased as the four Vermillion Team VTs all swooped in on the same carrier in the middle of a cluster of purple powered armors.  The powered armors all simply sat there as if transfixed by some massive hypnotic suggestion, unmoving, marionettes whose strings were being ignored by their controller.
         We can find the glory we all dream of
         And with our love
         We can win
    As one, the Vermillion Veritechs let loose a barrage of missiles at the carrier, each one hitting its mark dead on.  The resulting explosion was enough to snap the powered armors out of their stupor and into action and suddenly, Vermillion Team had an actual fight on their hands.  Max kept track of Hatchin and O’Keefe for as long as he could, but the insanity swallowed the two pilots up within thirty second and with no radio allowed, there was no way he could find them in the mess.
         Still, if we must fight or face defeat
         We must stand tall and not retreat
    Max switched back to Fighter mode and near him, Miriya followed suit.  A fair number of the powered armors were making attack runs on the two of them now and they both looped relative upward, jinking away from the Zentraedi fire.  Minmei’s song was obviously still distracting the Zentraedi, for it was apparent to Max that they were hampered by a severe lack of communication as well.  This became their fatal weakness when Max jinked inwards of the loop he and Miriya had formed and she jinked outward.  They passed each other by mere feet and were both quickly face to face with several Armors that had been chasing the other.  Both Max and Miriya fired off several shots and took out the confused Armors with practiced ease.
    After finishing off that group of Armors, Max and Miriya looped back and regrouped, looking for new prey.  Max signaled Miriya by pointing to another group of Armors ahead of them.  She nodded and smiled back shortly, the smile of a tiger hunting easy prey and knowing it.
         With our strength, we’ll find the light
         There’s no fight we can’t fight
         Together, oh together
         We will win
    Together, Max and Miriya’s Veritech sped into the middle of this new melee of menacing purple armors.  Switching over to Battloid and thrusting to the side, transferring their forward momentum into a spiral, they circled around each other back to back, firing.  Their loops got narrower and narrower with each pass and each wave of the enemy destroyed until they were back to back, their two thrusts having cancelled out on contact, “standing” in the middle of the group.  From the racks of missiles on the shoulders of their two Veritechs, shots spurted forth in a fountain of fire and vapor trails, erupting in a light show in oranges all around them.
         Blessed with strong hearts that beat as one
         Watch us soar
         And with love that conquers all
         We’ll win this battle
         This last battle
         We will win
         We must win
         We can win
    For the brief lull before another wave of the enemy came swooping in, Max wished he had that kind of confidence.  Sure, they were fighting well right now.  But how long could they last.  This battle was one of attrition and everyone fighting in it knew it.
    And that was the last thought unrelated to battle that Max had for well around fifteen minutes.
         As the battle goes on we feel stronger
         How much longer
         Must this go on?
    As his cockpit indicators read that he was out of missiles, Max wondered the very same thing.  Now with only his Veritech’s gun/cannon left, he would have a definite harder time of things.
    The fighting had moved closer to the Earth’s upper stratosphere and Max found himself with his back to the planet, Miriya, though either some miracle of coincidence or ESP, was still right there with him.  A number of Regult pods were on their way in, duel plastron cannons firing off brand new gouts of death and destruction.  It was during this new fight that they were engaged in that Claudia’s voice finally broke out over the tac net, finally breaking the radio silence imposed by the Bridge.
    “All escort fighters break contact and attack objective immediately,” she ordered.
    To Max and Miriya’s port, several clicks away, the SDF-1 began its attack on Dolza’s massive main flagship.  The flagship was nearly as big as Earth’s Moon and the SDF-1, dwarfed in comparison, appeared to be a small tin soldier attempting to attack an oncoming semi truck.
         Each and every day we dream of winning
         And beginning
         A new life
    And still Minmei sang on.
    Max swept his gun/cannon around in a deadly arc, fending off the oncoming Regults long enough to open his own channel to the tac net.  Dolza’s flagship wasn’t Vermillion Team’s target and he had to at least try and make certain that his other two teammates didn’t try anything that would get them killed in the massive blast that was about to happen.
    “Vermillion Team,” he barked out, “cut and run.  Take out whatever of the enemy are left and prepare for atmospheric insertion.”  Two voices responded in the affirmative; Miriya’s and Hatchin’s.  Either O’Keefe was out of radio range, or they had lost him.
    Max pulled down on the F lever and Mechamorphosed back to Fighter mode.  Firing away a path to the west, away from the SDF-1 and Dolza’s flagship, Max poured on his full thrusters.  Miriya was right behind him and shortly Hatchin joined them in a triad formation.
    He had been checked out on an atmospheric insertion on simulator runs, but Max had never had to actually do one before, much less while under fire from the enemy.  He had always been aboard ship when they had traveled through the Earth’s stratosphere.  About four Zentraedi Regult pods were still on their tail following close and refusing to let them get away.  They had to get rid of them before they could make their approach to the planet’s surface or all seven of them, RDFer and Zentraedi alike,  would burn up in the upper atmosphere.
    Max banked under the other two Vermillion fighters and poured on his thrusters.  Nearly blacking out from the acceleration, he sped past the Regults as well and looped back up behind them, righting himself to the Earth’s horizon as he did.  Quick as lightning, he drew a bead on two of them and fired off shots, hitting each in that weak junction between the leg and the bulbous main body.  They flailed and went careening steeply into the stratosphere, breaking apart in orange blossoms.  In the meantime, the other two pods had reacted and were now facing him, weapons pointed and ready to fire.  Max jinked upward, imaging a conversion to Guardian.  One of the shots had narrowly missed him and he found that Miriya had followed his cue and had turned backward to their approach path to take out a third pod.
    That left only the one who had just narrowly missed Max, which had again turned its attention back to Miriya and Hatchin.  He switched back to Fighter again, the gauges in his cockpit screaming at him about slowly rising hull temperatures.  Again, Max poured on his thrusters to catch up with the Regult.  Once back within weapons range, Max drew a bead and fired, catching the pod in its aft most engine.  The pod exploded directly in front of him and he was going so fast that he didn’t have time to avoid it.  Still pouring on his backward thrusters, he sped through the space where the pod had been only nanoseconds earlier, feeling his Mecha shudder with the force of the blast.  As he emerged out the other side of that fireball, he couldn’t help but think there was something vaguely familiar about the sequence.
    It clicked when a new alarm went off in his cockpit; the fire indicator.  He didn’t even have time to note where the fire was before a small voice sounded in his head.
    Eject!  Eject now, before it happens to you, too!
    Max clamped a hand down on the ejection mechanism.  An instant later, the canopy had blown off and he was being propelled a relative upward into the space just above the extremely thin atmosphere.  However, he was still falling along the re-entry path and now he was without any kind of heat shield protection.  Perhaps he had jumped the gun on the ejection.
That thought was declared null and void as a moment later, the left side of Max’s Mecha split apart in a massive explosion of bright orange fire.  The force of it blew the rest of the Mecha apart in seconds.
    Max was already beginning to feel ridiculously hot inside his airtight flight suit.  It was another instant later that a small tear formed in the shoulder of his suit.  He clamped a hand over it, desperately, trying to keep the air from escaping, all the while feeling heat growing all around him.
    The metal-shod hand of Miriya’s Guardian came up underneath him and scooped him up.  Max twisted around and spotted Miriya through the canopy signaling him to curl up as tightly as he could.  Then the other hand of her Guardian came clamping down over him, encasing him in darkness.  The temperature around him dropped slightly, but air was still slowly leaking out of his flight suit.
    Max felt the Mecha around him shudder and the temperature began to rise again.  Encased in the darkness, Max floated there in the zero G of the fall toward Earth with no reference for where they were in relation to the surface, the temperature still climbing noticeably.  He began to feel himself losing his grip on consciousness and fought to keep a grip on the real world, no matter how hellishly hot and unbearable it was.  He wasn’t sure if the world was spinning around him or if he was the one spinning.  There was no way to tell in pitch black zero G.
    Through the roar of the superheated atmosphere outside and the steady leak of his flight suit, a thought managed to form itself in Max’s mind.
    I’m going to die, now.
    And that other voice answered him, that other part of him that he had thought long since lost.
     No, you’re not.  Wake up!
     As if involuntarily, Max’s grip on the tear in his flight suit renewed itself.  He clamped down harder, the cramps in his hand unimportant.
     The feel of the heat dropped away, as though it had suddenly become unimportant.  Max was transfixed with the second inner voice he suddenly found he had.
     He was brought back to reality when he slammed into the metal shod hand beneath him.  Light exploded forth into his senses, a clouded sky reflecting light down into his eyes with a vengeance.  It was a moment before he realized that it was because Miriya had taken the hand that had been covering him above off.  As the heat bled away, for real this time, Max flopped onto his back, breathing as if to catch his breath, one hand still covering that tear in his suit’s shoulder and beads of sweat rolling down his neck.  It was another indeterminate amount of time before he realized that Miriya’s VT had stopped moving and she was presently standing over him.  He finally took his hand off the tear and triggered open his face place, still gasping for air and catching his breath.
     “I don’t recommend that,” he wheezed out between breaths and through his dry throat and lips.
     “Lay still, don’t try to talk.  Here,” she helped him get his helmet off and took out a handkerchief, from where Max could only guess.  She wiped up a good deal of the sweat that had drenched him.
     Giant-scaled footsteps sounded behind Miriya’s VT and Hatchin’s Veritech made its presence known, in Battloid form.  His voice came through the externals.
     “Ma’am, is he all right?”
     “He’ll be fine,” Miriya shouted back, “just needs some water, you have any?”
     “Roger that,” Hatchin responded, changing over to Guardian mode.  His canopy popped open and he climbed down along the Mecha’s outstretched arm and joined Max and Miriya on the hand of Miriya’s Veritech.  He handed her a sealed bottle of water and Miriya helped Max to drink.  Within a few minutes, Max was sitting up and was relatively coherent once again.
     “Scottie, any word on Mackie?” Max asked of Hatchin, referring to their absent wingmate, O’Keefe.
     “He didn’t make it, Skipper,” Hatchin responded, “got between me and a whole mess of Regult pods.  Only reason I’m here is because he managed to hold ‘em off.”
     Max crushed the empty water bottle in his hand.  “Dammit,” he swore, chucking the bottle and watching it bounce off the Mecha hand with a loud clang.  It skipped again and fell off the side to the ground.
     Max found himself looking around for the first time since the three of them had landed.  The place where they had put down appeared to be the middle of a vast desert.  A few craters pockmarked the landscape in the distance and sand and dust blew on the desolate feeling breeze.
     “Where did we put down?” he asked.
     “Mid latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere,” Miriya responded, looking to Hatchin for further elaboration.
     “My computer had us around the area west of the Rockies in Washington somewhere, Lieutenant,” he obliged.
     “But,” Max stuttered, uncertain, “there’s a whole redwood forest in Washington.”
     “I know,” Hatchin agreed, grimly.
     The radio in Miriya’s open cockpit crackled to life with notes filtering through the last vestiges of what appeared to be radio blackout from reentry.  Miriya scrambled over to it to turn it up and try to tune it.  First, a few notes filtered through, then more, then, finally, a whole song.  Minmei’s song.
          Now that we have reached this last encounter
          Where are we now?
          What shall be now?
          How could we have come so far to give up?
          We won’t give up
          We will win
     “Look up there!” Hatchin said excitedly, pointing northward.  Descending through the parting clouds the three pilots could see the unmistakable techno knight form of the massive SDF-1.  The ship had made it, and now Minmei’s song was calling all the survivors home.
     Much to Miriya’s protests, Max stood up on semi-shaky legs to get a better view of it.  The ship looked as though it were coming in for a landing several clicks north of their location.  It would take three pilots in two spent Veritechs several hours to reach it, but it was doable.
     “Well, guess we’d better report in, so let’s get moving,” Max commanded, already heading for the cockpit of Miriya’s fighter.  She was following him a step behind and Hatchin had already returned to his Mecha.  He was carefully balancing his way down the arm of the Mecha when a slight wave of vertigo hit him and he tipped.  If it weren’t for Miriya’s steadying arm, he might have fallen off completely.  “Maybe you should drive?” he said to her.
     “As if I would have let you pilot my Mecha in the state you’re in,” she responded, in all seriousness.
     Max climbed into the back seat in the cockpit and Miriya took her seat in the front.  As Miriya got them underway, Hatchin following close behind in his VT, Max called up the navigation computer’s data in an effort to pinpoint, for sure, where they were.  Sure enough, the latitude and longitude readings had them in Washington, not far from what had been Seattle and where now a massive crater stood.  He said as much to Miriya.
     “All the times I’ve seen my people do this to other planets, other worlds,” she said, “but I never imagined the sheer scope of it.  Domillian, your world is… you must feel so lonely.”
     Max shook his head and put a hand on Miriya’s shoulder.  “No,” he said, “I’m not alone any more because you’re here… Dentalla.”
     “Dentalla?”  Miriya puzzled.  “Max, when did you start learning Zentraedi?”
     “When I married my beautiful wife.  She happens to be one, you know.”
          Blessed with strong hearts that beat as one
          Watch us soar
          And with love that conquers all we’ll win this battle
          This last battle
          We will win
          We can win
          We will win.


Coming Soon!  Chapter Nine of Robotech: To Dream With the Stars!
     Max and Miriya’s world is turned upside down when they find she is pregnant.  Both parents are somewhat nonplused by the news and are unsure how to proceed at first, but finally decide to go ahead.  As Max realizes he is forming a new family out of the ashes of his old life, he wonders about the consequences of bringing a life into a world ravaged by war.
     Be here for Robotech: To Dream With the Stars Chapter Nine: Father’s Day!