Reconciliation

a Robotech fan fiction by

Douglas Neman

I will not flinch! Miriya thought, steeling herself for the blade. Her head was bowed and her eyes were closed as befitted a shamed Quadrano. But try as she might, she couldn't stop the tears.

"What?" asked her opponent. Strange that he fought so well, yet did not understand her request.

"End my life, please," she repeated, commanding every muscle of her body to keep still, to retain what dignity she could. So many rivals within the Zentraedi fleet, even some of her fellow Quadranos, had long wanted to best her. She could imagine their laughter now. At least they would never know of her defeat.

"But...but I couldn't!" said the strange Micronian, Maximillian. "You're...you're so beautiful!"

She felt the touch beneath her chin. Here it comes, she thought, expecting the blade to slide down to her throat. But it wasn't cold steel, it was warm flesh. It...

It tingled.

And it was this that made her flinch, not the fear of death. Somehow, she didn't mind. Max's finger was warm, sweaty, shaking a little. She could feel the tiny pulse of his heart in that fingertip. It slowly raised her head from her shame, until she was looking up at his face like a bright moon in a starlit sky.

He was looking at her in wonder. Not in the way a scientist would gaze upon a specimen, but...in some way for which she had no words. Was this what the humans called happiness? It must have been, for the sheer power of the emotion that washed over her was like an ocean poured upon someone who has never known water, an ocean that slammed into her heart and across her body like a shock wave. In one instant it washed away centuries of never having been loved, never having been held, never having had someone place his finger beneath her chin and raise her face, never having been looked at with such joy. Never having been told she was beautiful.

Blood pounded in her head and the universe swirled around her. She felt like she was floating, dreaming almost. Before she knew it, she was on her feet and holding this human in her arms and his lips were pressing against hers and...

Oh, my.

Eons passed.

Their lips parted, and Miriya was beyond understanding, beyond herself, far beyond anything she had previously comprehended. More tears fell from her cheeks, but this time they weren't tears of shame, or of fear. They were tears of loss, a huge loss of some kind inside her. She couldn't explain it.

Max reached up another finger and wiped one of her tears away. It felt so wonderful. "This is going to sound crazy, but will you marry me?"

"Marry?" she asked. "What's marry?"

"It's something no words can describe," he replied. "Miriya, it's love, and that's the most beautiful thing there is." He kissed her again, then held her for a long, long time. Finally he led her to a park bench to sit down. They were both shaking.

Max took both of her hands in his very carefully and asked, "Now why don't you tell me what that was all about?" He couldn't help being excited at the prospect of getting to know this vision of loveliness, and found himself vowing to help her no matter what the cost.

"Oh, Maximillian," she said, still trembling at the shock of all that she was feeling. "I am so sorry, I...I wanted to kill you for humiliating me in battle."

"So you said, but which battles?" he asked. "I'm sorry if this sounds insulting, but I really don't..." Then Max's voice trailed away as he thought back several weeks to the battle in which Commander Fokker had died, and in which a mysterious Zentraedi ace pilot had singled him out for a ferocious one-on-one duel of destruction.

"That was you?" he breathed, his wonder causing his eyes to widen considerably, and now Miriya saw not only his love for her, but his admiration for her piloting skill. Yet, still no hatred. "You were the pilot who chased me across the sky and led me into the SDF-1?"

"Yes, that was me," Miriya replied. "You are the only pilot ever to best me, Maximillian, across a dozen star systems. I came here to avenge that loss or die trying. But I...I never envisioned that there was a third choice."

"There are lots of choices, Miriya," Max enthused quietly. "Hundreds, thousands of them!" He cupped her face in his hands. "Let me show you some of the better ones." And he kissed her again.

She hungrily kissed him back, eager for more of this wonderful feeling. Somehow, the thought of their tongues meeting so exploringly didn't repulse her the way it should have. It felt utterly natural.

Max interrupted the kissing just long enough to say that they should continue in his quarters where they would have more privacy. Miriya went with him, her soul still swirling in a maelstrom of emotions, thinking that nothing could shock her more than the feeling of Max's arms around her and of his tongue sliding into her mouth.

When Max slowly began to make love to her, she realized just how wrong she was.

 

Members of Skull Squadron, each within his or her own room, awoke as the woman's wild screaming of ecstasy tore through the barracks on their level. Several of them even stepped into the corridor to see what the noise was, and incredulously talked amongst themselves for a minute as they discerned that the screaming was coming from Max's room. They laughed with each other, glad that Max, of all people, had apparently scored big, and went back to bed.

But the screaming came and went throughout the night.

 

Miriya lay in his arms, finally exhausted, shaking like a leaf and clutching him tightly. Max himself wasn't doing much better, overcome by the sheer emotion of making love (on a first date, no less) to a woman as passionate, as vibrant, as Miriya Parina.

He tried to put her into some kind of perspective and found it was quite a chore. In a way, it was like befriending a human who had grown up in the wild and who was just now coming back to civilization. Yet that was a poor analogy, for she was extremely intelligent and quick-witted, she shared the same sense of privacy and modesty as the average human, and she knew how to conduct herself around others. What was more, he had the distinct feeling that if Miriya made a commitment to someone or to something, she would follow that commitment through to the end.

"Maximillian," she finally whispered, struggling to put words to what she felt.

"Max," he whispered back. "Maximillian is a long, formal version of my name. Just call me Max."

"Max..." she said. "This...lovemaking. It...can we do this often?"

Max smiled, wondering how he could tell her that it could, in fact, become mundane if done too much, despite many a male myth to the contrary. "Does that mean you wish to stay with me?"

"Oh, yes!" Miriya replied. "Yes, Max, yes! Is that what it means to marry?"

"Marriage is when two people love each other so much that they stay together, living with each other. Ideally, marriage lasts until one of the two people dies, although sometimes marriages fall apart, like friendships or other agreements. And yes, we can make love whenever we want."

She laid her head back onto Max's chest and listened to his beating heart. "Max, I will marry you. I would rather die than return to the Zentraedi forces and resume my life as if nothing had happened. Max...oh, I don't know how to say it!"

"It's all right, Miriya," he replied. "I know what you're trying to say. Some events are so huge that they alter our lives forever. You've just experienced a life-altering event. In fact, we both have. As long as it's for the better, it's something to be cherished. So let's cherish it."

She smiled and held him more closely. "This is all so different. We Zentraedi do nothing but fight. To us, that is all that there is in the universe. But you humans are extraordinary! You make excellent fighters, but your lives are centered around love."

"Miriya," Max said gently, "we don't seek to fight. We hate fighting. The only reason we're so ferocious in battle is to protect the ones we love. You see, we just want to live our lives, doing the work we enjoy doing, loving the people we want to love, and making love when we want to. We only fight when someone tries to take this away from us."

She thought about this. "Now I understand," she whispered. "Max, I...I've killed some of your kind in battle."

"Shhh," he said, stroking her hair.

"No!" she answered. "No, it must be said, and I must be the one to say it! I killed some of your fellow pilots in battle, perhaps some of your friends. It is because of me that those people will not be able to make love again, or do the things that they enjoy doing. I stole their lives from them, and I caused pain for those who loved them." Then she fell silent.

Max stared at the ceiling, desperately trying to think of something to say. But she was right, and she was bold enough to address it. He knew then, more than ever, that if he could work through his problems with her, he would stay with her forever.

"It wasn't your fault," he finally said, realizing as he did that not everyone would see it that way. Only now was it beginning to dawn on him how much of an uphill climb he'd staked out for himself by falling in love with Miriya. "You were a soldier doing what you'd been ordered to do, and you never knew there were alternatives. We're all free to choose, but none of us can choose an option that's invisible to our eyes. The option of not fighting was made invisible to you. I know this because I've spoken with several other Zentraedi defectors, and their stories match yours. But you made the choice for a better life, a life of love instead of war, the moment you realized that choice was available, and Miriya, that's all I need to know.

"I don't blame you for the lives you've taken, just as I wouldn't expect the Zentraedi high command to blame me for the lives I've taken if I were ever caught, but simply to treat me as a prisoner of war. We're soldiers, Miriya. We don't answer for our governments' faults, or take the credit for our governments' successes. We just do."

She silently stroked his arm. "Max, I never want to kill again."

He squeezed her more tightly. "I feel exactly the same way. But reality dictates that I probably will, to protect the SDF-1."

"To protect all the people who wish to make love," she said.

"And everything else."

She lifted her head again and looked him in the eye. Then she suddenly lunged over the side of the bed and grabbed the knife with which Max had defended himself just hours before and came back up, holding it in front of him with a look of intense determination on her face.

She noticed with satisfaction that Max never flinched. His eyes grew wide in surprise and confusion, but he was not afraid. If she'd betrayed him then, killed his idealism by plunging the knife into his chest, then at most he would have been disappointed. He would have felt absolutely no hatred for her. She knew then, more than ever, that if she could work through her problems with him, she would stay with him forever.

She made a small slice across her left palm, then did the same to his. He didn't cry out, nor did he show any fear that her blood would be poisonous to him, or vice versa. He watched silently as she held their palms together and recited, "Tsaminorin al parkhadion. Please say it, Max."

"Tsaminorin al parkhadion," he repeated. "What does that mean?"

"It is a rare, ancient Quadrano rite. It means that we are now wingmates." She kissed him. "From now on, we fly together."

 

Max took Miriya shopping for clothes, trying his best to answer her candid questions about human society, sexuality and mores. She didn't understand some of it, pointing out paradoxes and hypocrisies (some subtle, some obvious) which Max had never stopped to consider, but which he was forced to concede. Miriya promised she would accept what Max said, even if some of it was baffling to her, and would perhaps always be so.

Max tried not to let Miriya know how nervous he was. While she was trying on dresses, he placed several calls to the barracks to track down Rick. The duty officer told him he was in the C deck coffee bar.

When Miriya stepped out of the changing rooms wearing a new pink dress and matching shoes, Max's jaw just about hit the floor. "You are absolutely lovely," he said.

Miriya blushed.

After buying Miriya all the things he felt she would need, Max nervously said, "Well, I, uh, suppose I'd better introduce you to some other people."

"Are you going to be punished for wanting to marry me?" Miriya asked.

"Well, no, not exactly," Max replied. "But there are complications. First of all, it's extremely unusual – unheard of, in fact – for two people to commit to a marriage so soon after meeting each other. I've no doubt that I want to marry you, but I'm going to get a few lectures from my friends."

"And the fact that I'm a Zentraedi?" Miriya touched his arm. "I don't want to make trouble for you."

"Well, we've already accepted other Zentraedi defectors," Max replied. "But so far, no one's wanted to marry them. This is going to be different." He sighed. "I'm not worried, just very nervous."

"You're a combat pilot," Miriya said. "You've faced myself and other Zentraedi warriors without fear. Why is this more difficult?"

"Well, first of all, I've never faced battle without fear," Max replied. "And second of all, there are different types of fears, in the same way that there are different ways of getting hurt. I'm afraid of telling people about you in the same way that you would be afraid of returning to the Zentraedi, only less so."

She gripped his arm. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Well, do you know the coffee bar on observation deck C?"

"Yes."

"Meet me there in fifteen minutes. I really, really need to talk to my best friend before anything else."

She agreed, and Max went looking for his commanding officer, hoping he would be understanding.

 

Rick blew his coffee across the table. "You're gonna what?!"

"Marry," Max repeated. "I guess."

"Why, that's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!" Rick snapped. "You only went on one date. Don't you think you should get to know each other?"

Max defended himself as best he could, despondent that his quest to tell others about Miriya was meeting with opposition from the start. But Rick changed his mind as soon as Miriya joined them, which relieved Max immensely. With Rick by his side, he felt a great many more things were possible than without him.

 

"Captain," Claudia Grant said, turning from her bridge station to address her superior officer. "Lieutenant Rick Hunter and Second Lieutenant Max Sterling have requested to see both of us. They say it's urgent."

"Hmm," Captain Gloval replied. "Did they mention why?"

"No, sir. But Lieutenant Hunter guaranteed that we wouldn't want to miss what they have to say. And he said they were bringing a guest."

"Very well. Have them meet us in my office in ten minutes. And Claudia...set up a video log. Just in case."

"Yes, sir."

 

Max felt his heart thudding away in his chest and tried desperately to conceal his anxiety from Miriya. He had no idea how successful he was, and no way of knowing how she felt. Her face was amazingly calm. As hard as it was for him – telling his commanding officer that he was determined to marry an enemy defector within hours of meeting her – he knew it was much worse for Miriya. For all she knew, she was marching to her doom. She was only there on Max's word.

"I'm really glad you're here, lieutenant," Max suddenly said.

Rick gave him a quick smile to show that he understood, and then they reached Captain Gloval's office. Its desk and home furnishings made it look more like a parlor. The door slid open and they stepped in to find Captain Gloval and Claudia seated in two easy chairs, with three empty chairs facing them. When Miriya saw the two RDF pilots salute, she instinctively did the same.

Claudia and Captain Gloval exchanged a quick glance, wondering why they were being saluted by the pretty lady in the pink dress.

"Welcome, gentlemen," Captain Gloval said. "I'd like to keep this informal, especially as you are two of the finest officers and pilots aboard this ship. Please have a seat and tell us what this is about."

They sat and Max tried to speak. His voice broke, forcing him to stop, clear his throat and try again. "Miriya, this is Captain Henry Gloval, commander of the SDF-1, and Lieutenant Commander Claudia Grant. Captain Gloval, Commander Grant, please let me introduce to you Miriya Parina. She is a Zentraedi defector."

Claudia's jaw dropped open somewhat, but Captain Gloval took it in perfect stride. "Another one," he said. "This is getting to be a habit. Welcome, Miss Parina."

"Uh...thank you, sir," Miriya said.

Captain Gloval raised an eyebrow ever so slightly at Max, sensing there was more coming. The poor boy was desperately nervous about something.

"Uh...well, let me start from the beginning. I...well...that is to say...uh, Miriya and I actually went on a date tonight. I mean, last night. I mean...wait, um, before that, she was...well, you're not going to believe this, but, um..."

"Lieutenant Sterling," Captain Gloval interrupted. "Your ability to fly a veritech far outshines your ability to come to the point."

"Uh..." Max blushed deeply. "Sorry, sir."

Miriya sighed and stood to attention. "Sir, what the lieutenant is trying to say is that not only do I wish to become a Micronian, he and I are to be married."

"What?" Claudia gasped.

Captain Gloval, for once in his life, was speechless for at least ten seconds. "Married?" he finally asked, his eyes wide, staring at Rick, Max and Miriya in turn.

"That's right, sir," Max said, finally finding his voice, and a bit ashamed that Miriya seemed not to have any problems addressing his captain. "She and I met last night, I asked her to marry me, and she accepted."

Captain Gloval and Claudia exchanged incredulous looks, then both stared at Rick, who shrugged. "Don't ask me, I wasn't there. I'm only here as Max's commanding officer."

"Hmm," Captain Gloval said, regaining his composure. "Miss Parina, I know you are accustomed to military protocol within the Zentraedi army, but please, you may sit down. You do not have to stand at attention in order to address me, at least not at the moment."

"Thank you, sir," Miriya said, and promptly sat down again.

The captain closed his eyes, considering. He needed time to take all this in, and he needed to know more about this new defector, so he found himself saying, "Perhaps you had better tell me how this came about, from the beginning. Miss Parina, from your persepective first, please."

"Yes, sir," Miriya said. "My full title is Quadrano Leader Miriya Parina, and I am the finest pilot the Zentraedi armada has ever seen." She made this statement with no bravado or smugness. As far as she was concerned, she was simply stating a fact. "I considered myself to be the finest combat pilot in the universe, and I considered all other pilots to be my inferior. Several weeks ago, one of my fellow officers in the Zentraedi Air Force informed me that there was an ace pilot aboard this ship who was a better pilot than myself. I promptly led my squadron into battle with the sole purpose of finding this pilot and defeating him. I now know that the pilot in question was Lieutenant Max Sterling. You may remember the battle. I penetrated this ship's defenses and fought Lieutenant Sterling on the streets of Macross City. He defeated me."

From the expression on their faces, Miriya saw that Captain Gloval and Claudia remembered the battle clearly, and that the last thing in the universe they had ever expected was to meet that pilot in person. Claudia, in particular, looked aghast.

Miriya glanced at Max, who smiled and took her hand. She continued, speaking clearly, yet with great emotion.

"The defeat was the first I had ever suffered in my life. I was humiliated beyond words. Therefore I volunteered to become micronized and inserted into this ship as a spy. But my real reason for coming here was to hunt down and destroy the pilot who had beaten me. I finally discovered that it was Lieutenant Sterling. Last night I challenged him to a duel, and we fought in hand to hand combat. Again he defeated me. When I begged him to take my life because I could not endure the shame, he instead proposed marriage, and I accepted."

By this time, Rick was as stunned as Captain Gloval and Claudia, for Max hadn't had the chance yet to tell him that Miriya had tried to kill him on their date! All three of them were staring at Miriya in shock, while Max just stared at the floor and prayed they wouldn't throw Miriya in prison and declare him legally insane. He knew perfectly well what it must sound like to them.

Captain Gloval ran his finger around his collar and said, "Claudia, why don't you get everyone a stiff drink. I think we're all going to need it."

Claudia wordlessly did so, giving Miriya a leery look as she handed the defector her glass. As she sat down, Max said, "Sir, I know what this must all sound like, but please believe me, I know what I'm doing."

"I don't doubt it, lieutenant," Captain Gloval said. "From your persepective, tell us how this came about."

"Um...well...I'd seen Miriya around town a number of times, and I was intrigued by her because she's very beautiful. I finally met her face to face in the video arcade yesterday afternoon, and arranged a date with her in the park later that evening. When she arrived, it was as she said. She challenged me to a duel, which I won, and then begged me to kill her on the spot because she was too ashamed to have been defeated by anyone.

"Well, sir, I couldn't kill her, obviously. So, I fell in love with her instead. And, um...well, that's kind of it, really. Sir."

"Hmm," Captain Gloval said, mulling it over. A number of possibilities raced through his mind, and he didn't like most of them. Chief on the list was that Lieutenant Sterling had fallen under some kind of hypnosis or other spell manufactured by a fake Zentraedi defector. But all he said was, "Well, I must say, it's the most fantastic story I've ever heard."

"Sir," Miriya said, "I realize fully that this must all sound improbable, but it's true. My concern is for Max. If you wish to hold me as a prisoner of war or execute me, I would not protest."

"Huh?" Max asked, startled.

"Furthermore," Miriya continued, "if my association with Max will cause him trouble in any way, I will gladly end my relationship with him to keep him safe."

"What are you talking about?" Max asked, incredulous at Miriya's offer. But Miriya didn't look at him. Her eyes were only for Captain Gloval, allowing him to search deep within them to see their truth. Captain Gloval met her stare evenly, silently, for a few moments.

"I believe you," he finally said. "But please forgive me if I must still ask you some questions to lay any fears to rest. May I ask what caused you to have such a drastic and profound change of heart, especially in such a short amount of time?"

Now it was Miriya's turn to be silent as she struggled to find the words. It was a fair question. She had taken the measure of Captain Gloval within moments of entering the room, and she was beginning to like him a lot, as well as understand just why Breetai and Azonia were having such problems outmaneuvering him. This man seemed to understand things.

"Well, in a way, it wasn't sudden," Miriya said, surprising herself with her realization. "I have been slowly coming to enjoy the way you Micronians live in the past few weeks, with your open society, your songs, your socialization and your emphasis on things other than military in nature. But mostly, it...it was Max." She gave him a smile, and to everyone's surprise, she started crying. "Max told me I was beautiful, which no one had ever done before. He...he offered me love, which as a Zentraedi, is something I'd never experienced." Her tears were flowing freely now. "Imagine living your entire life without anyone ever treating you as someone special, or telling you that they love you, or holding you and telling you that they want to protect you. That's how it is for us Zentraedi. So when Max began telling me these things, I became aware of how much I had been missing, and how hollow my life really was. Suddenly, all my combat kills, my superior abilities and my perfect record meant nothing. All I knew, and all I know now, is that I want Max to continue loving me, to continue giving me these feelings that he awoke within me last night." She grasped his hand. "And I am haunted by the fact that I could have won our battle and never come here to meet him."

Max just smiled back, his eyes closed.

Captain Gloval sighed. He was wise enough to know two young fools in love when he saw it, and whatever doubts he may have had about a hidden agenda for Miriya were entirely dispelled. But this presented new problems.

Rick and Claudia, for their part, were alternately looking at Max and Miriya's display of affection, at the floor, or glancing awkwardly at each other.

"Well, let me do what I have to do in the proper order," Captain Gloval said. "First of all, as the captain of the SDF-1, I formally welcome you on board and accept your application for political asylum. Based upon the information you have told me so far, I have no desire to treat you as a criminal or as a prisoner of war, and as long as you are the honest defector you seem to be, you will hereby be treated as a citizen of Macross City and a member of this ship's crew."

"Thank you, Captain," Miriya said, her voice filled with respect and wonder.

"Our other Zentraedi defectors have been kind enough to agree to physical examinations, as well as a strategic and military debriefing," he continued. "I hope you will agree to the same."

Miriya hesitated, her soul caught just for a moment between conflicting worlds.

"You strike me as a perfect example of an excellent and conscientious officer," Captain Gloval said. "I know that asking you to tell us inside information about the Zentraedi fleet will seem like a betrayal to your comrades with whom you have fought for so long, so believe me, I understand the dilemma. In fact, it brings me comfort to know that you concern yourself with the ethics of what I am asking. But you must understand that the lives of everyone aboard this ship are my first responsibility, and I take that responsibility very seriously, so we must know all we can about the Zentraedi fleet if we are to survive."

"I understand, captain, and I will comply with your requests," Miriya said. "My concern was actually for the oath I took years ago, to the greater glory of the Zentraedi, which I have already betrayed. But now that I think about it, it was actually the Zentraedi and the Robotech Masters who betrayed me, by creating me to be a warrior and never allowing me a chance to know love."

Then she gave an ironic smile. "As for my old comrades, I was never really friends with any of them. They were rivals, people to command or outmaneuver for promotion." She thought of Azonia, and it suddenly hit her that she would probably never see her again. "The only friends I have in the universe are within this room," she whispered. Then she looked with bold resolve at Captain Gloval. "So I will give you all the help I can, including my services as a fighter pilot in the Robotech Defense Force."

"And I will gladly accept them," Captain Gloval said with a smile. "Now, about this wedding. Do you still plan to go forward with this?"

"Oh, yes!" Miriya beamed.

"Absolutely," Max answered. "If you'll allow it, sir."

"Well, I can't very well stop it from happening," Captain Gloval replied. "You can marry a rock or a blade of grass for all I care, as long as you continue to perform your duty to the best of your ability. My only concern will be with how your marriage will affect the morale and the people aboard this ship, for make no mistake, there will be repercussions. The most we can do is to make them good repercussions instead of bad ones. Not everyone will be as accepting of Miriya as the rest of us." Captain Gloval gave Max a meaningul look. "Do you understand what I am saying, lieutenant?"

Max nodded. "More than you know, sir. More than you know."

"Good. Commander Grant, escort Miriya to Dr. Fredericks and explain the situation. Lieutenants Sterling and Hunter, remain here a moment longer."

Captain Gloval caught Max and Miriya's awkward glance at each other and smiled. "Don't worry, Miriya, what I said was the truth. I'm not going to talk about you behind your back. It's just that I genuinely need to speak with the lieutenants in private, and I do need you to see Dr. Fredericks right away."

Miriya stood and saluted, her momentary fears eased again. "Yes, sir. And thank you, sir, with all of my heart." She left with Claudia.

Captain Gloval calmly walked to his desk and activated a few controls on a small console. Then he took out some tobacco and walked back to his chair, idly filling his pipe.

Max fidgeted only a little, his feelings torn between jubilation that it had gone so well and dread of what his captain was going to say next. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like it.

Rick waited expectantly, his thoughts wandering again and again to Lisa, currently on Earth trying to convince the UED to open peace negotiations with the Zentraedi.

"I would appreciate it if you would keep the talk we are about to have to yourselves," Captain Gloval finally said after lighting his pipe. "I could make it an order, make a record of our talk, and then mark it as classified, but I would feel extremely silly for doing so."

"I won't tell a soul, sir," Max promised.

"Yes, sir, completely confidential," Rick echoed.

"Thank you. You'll have to forgive me, Lieutenant Sterling, but this isn't easy for me. But first I want to commend you for your bravery and for your honesty, not only in sparing Miriya's life but extending to her the hand of friendship and love. I believe that your actions in the last 24 hours have practically doubled our chances of survival in one fell swoop."

"You really think so, sir?" Rick asked.

"Yes, but don't ask me how, for I cannot see the future. I am just telling you my intuition. Now, I have to thank you, for you have placed me in a position quite unique in the history of military commanders. You see, you are both officers of a lower rank, and I adhere to a strict code of non-fraternization between commanding officers and their subordinates. Not only do I know nothing of your personal lives, I do not want to know anything of your personal lives. Yet my responsibility to the people aboard this ship demands that your personal life, Lieutenant Sterling, to a certain extent, become a subject of concern to me. You must understand my dilemma."

It took Max several moments to realize that Captain Gloval genuinely considered it almost an unpardonable sin to be talking with his subordinate officers as he was. His respect for his captain just about tripled in a heartbeat. "I understand, sir, and I apologize if Miriya and I have made your job more difficult."

Captain Gloval chuckled. "No, don't apologize. I think your upcoming marriage is wonderful, but whether you like it or not, your marriage will be a political one. That is a fact of life which you cannot escape. Also, there are military concerns, which is why I am including you in this conversation, Lieutenant Hunter." Captain Gloval puffed on his pipe for a second before clearing his throat. "So, as awkward as it may seem, I feel I must have a talk with you about your marriage in the manner usually reserved for priests and fathers, not commanding officers."

"I understand," Max said, relieved that Captain Gloval wasn't going to drop some secret bad news on him.

"First of all, are you serious about this marriage?" Captain Gloval asked. "Do you understand the massive implications of what it means to be married?"

"Uh, well..." Max faltered. "I am serious about it. Miriya is a far better woman than I could have ever dreamed of marrying. If I were to lose her by letting her go because of some indecision on my part, I would be haunted by it to my dying day."

"Hmm," Captain Gloval said. "I understand your feelings, but do you understand what it means to be married?"

"Well, my parents were married until they both died," Max said. "I think they had a wonderful marriage, and didn't hide anything from me. So I can use them as an example, and I think it's a good foundation. But beyond that, no, I probably have no idea what I'm getting into."

"Fair enough," Captain Gloval replied. "Lieutenant Sterling, I am going to take a risk on your marriage. I am going to use it to make the biggest, best case that I possibly can that coexistence is possible between humans and the Zentraedi."

"I think that's a wonderful idea!" Max enthused.

"It sure is!" Rick agreed.

Captain Gloval looked at Max sternly. "So you must understand that if this is nothing more than some youthful impulse, and you end up divorcing Miriya within a week, I will be left looking like a complete idiot, and the chance for peace would be dealt a serious blow."

"Oh," Max said, suddenly realizing what his captain was driving at – and what kind of burden lay upon his own shoulders.

"So let me ask you again," Captain Gloval continued sternly. "Are you sure about this marriage?"

Max searched his feelings as best he could, ruthlessly. He owed his commanding officer nothing less. "Yes," he heard himself saying, his spirit coming up with the answer long before his mind could. "Yes, I'm sure." He looked up at Captain Gloval. "I will do everything in my power to make this marriage work."

"Thank you, lieutenant, that eases my mind greatly," Captain Gloval replied. "Now, about the military side of things. If Miriya is who she says she is, then we cannot possibly turn down her offer to become a fighter pilot, for we need all the help we can get.

"Until now, the prospect of exposing defectors to knowledge of our own military has never been an issue, for they have all wanted to become civilians. But to give an enemy defector a commission within our own army – at all, much less immediately – is almost unheard of, and would almost certainly earn me severe reprimands when we return to Earth, possibly even finishing my career. Yet commissioning Miriya is exactly what I plan to do. Her evaluation will commence tomorrow morning.

"Not only is this highly unusual and a potential security breach – as commanding officer, I must logically concede the possibility – but it will place Miriya within the very ranks of the people she was trying to kill until recently, men and women who may have lost friends to Miriya herself when she was our enemy. I have no doubt that morale among our fighter pilots is very high, and there is a chance she will be accepted. But I must take into account the possibility that Miriya's presence will cause trouble.

"And not only that – yes, lieutenant, there's more – but history has proven that no one likes a turncoat. People often feel that anyone who suddenly betrays his or her side in the middle of a war must be a despicable person, and they often feel resentment or contempt for such defectors, even if the defector helped them or saved their lives.

"And if any of these developments arise, I cannot take a direct hand in sorting them out, or else I would be seen as showing favor or meddling in the petty affairs of the rank and file. Except in cases of extreme emergency, you would be on your own.

"So you see, Lieutenant Sterling, there is much to consider when allowing Miriya to be a fighter pilot. If she's as good as she says she is, then by all means, we'll put her in a plane and to hell with anyone who doesn't like it. I don't know how it's all going to turn out, but I need you both to understand the enormity of the complications, and that if any conflict arises concerning Miriya, you will find yourselves in the center of it. And you also need to understand that I will do whatever I feel is in the best interests of the SDF-1 as a whole, no matter whose personal feelings get hurt or, God help me, whose individual lives are lost as a result of those decisions – including yours, and hers. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

Max's head was spinning with the picture of potential troubles the captain had laid out for him. He hadn't even begun to consider them! "Yes, sir, I understand perfectly," he said. "I know that the road ahead might be a hard one, but it can't be any harder than the one we're on already."

Captain Gloval found himself smiling. "You know, lieutenant, you are perfectly correct. I could almost give you a promotion for that observation alone."

Max smiled his best "Aw, shucks" smile.

Rick said, "Sir, Max and I will do everything we can to make Miriya's assimilation into our community and into our fighter squadrons as smooth as possible. I understand what's at stake, and you have our full support. We'll take care of everything from our end, sir."

"Excellent," Captain Gloval replied. "In that case, the only thing left to say is, congratulations, lieutenant. I hope your marriage is a happy one."

"Thank you, sir," Max replied. He and Rick stood, saluted and left.

 

Claudia silently led Miriya through the SDF-1's command center. Miriya tried not to stare at anything around her, as she was all too aware of the suspicion many people would have that she was a spy. However, she couldn't help but notice the appraising looks many men gave her. Apparently, by human standards, she did possess great physical beauty, as Max said. Whether this was an asset or a liability remained to be seen.

Miriya also noticed the iciness with which Claudia treated her. It was obvious even to a Zentraedi.

Humans had a phrase which described a person's ability to interact with others: social IQ. It was a simple term to describe something enormously complex. There was no instruction book for social interaction. Nothing about it could be easily explained. One simply learned as a child how to interact with others, at all levels of society. The rules were unwritten and vague, and there were exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to the exceptions.

Miriya had only been on board for a few weeks. She was keenly aware that her social IQ was still very low. Should she say anything to Commander Grant? If so, should it be now or later?

Miriya decided to ask Max, first, and do nothing for the moment.

Claudia stopped at an unmarked office door and knocked. A man's voice from inside said, "Come in," and the two women entered.

The room was a combination of an office and a rudimentary medical examination room. A tired-looking man in his late forties sat at the desk.

"Miriya, this is Dr. Fredericks," Claudia said. "Dr. Fredericks, this is Mirya Parina, a Zentraedi defector. Captain Gloval orders you to conduct a physical examination right away."

Fredericks grunted. "Gloval didn't call ahead? I could have been preparing while you were on your way."

"He's in a meeting," Claudia said. "It's been a hell of a day."

"This is the SDF-1, Claudia. Every day is a hell of a day."

"Even by our standards, this one has been a doozy. And it's not even noon, yet."

They smiled at each other. But when Claudia turned to Miriya, the smile was gone. "I'll wait outside. When you're finished with Dr. Fredericks, report to me immediately."

"Send Nurse Jackson in, will you, Claudia?" Dr. Fredericks asked.

Claudia nodded and left.

 

Miriya patiently complied with the intense physical examination. She found it interesting that, during the part of the exam which required her to be naked, Dr. Fredericks left the room and a female nurse took over. The two genders were not allowed to see one another naked outside of intimacy, but she knew that doctor visits and something called "skinny dipping" were exceptions to this rule. Yet Dr. Fredericks had left the room, anyway, so maybe this particular doctor was an exception to the exception. More social rules which Miriya didn't understand. More questions to ask Max.

After the exam, Miriya left the room to find Claudia waiting for her. Claudia didn't say a word. She simply walked away, expecting Miriya to follow, which she did.

Claudia led Miriya to the large conference room. Captain Gloval sat in his usual position, at the center of the head table, beneath the large RDF insignia on the wall. Colonel Maistroff sat to his right, Dr. Lang to his left. A few other officers sat along the other tables. Below and to one side, a stenographer sat at a keyboard.

"Please have a seat, Ms. Parina," Captain Gloval said, indicating the center seat on the floor.

Miriya sat down.

"Thank you, Commander Grant," Captain Gloval said. "You may return to the bridge."

Claudia saluted and left, and the military debriefing began. After a few minutes, Dr. Fredericks joined them, bringing the results of the physical exam.

For the rest of the day, with only one break about halfway through, Miriya described the Zentraedi war fleet. Being clones, Zentraedi males and females interacted only through video communication, never in person. Because of this, the two genders had developed slightly different command structures and customs, and flew different mecha. Miriya was not only the highest ranking defector to date, she was also the first female defector, and as such, she provided a wealth of information which the other defectors could not have done.

In particular, Miriya confirmed Captain Gloval's theory that there was a split in the Zentraedi command structure. Khyron, a lower officer with delusions of sanity, was apparently the chief aggressor. Breetai and Azonia, following the orders of Supreme Commander Dolza, were the ones who played it safe. Captain Gloval brought up a display of the surrounding Zentraedi fleet, and Miriya pointed out which battalions were assigned to which officers, and described how they could tell them apart. Any ship belonging to Khyron was the most dangerous.

However, Miriya was not able to answer the one question Captain Gloval most wanted answered: with all their firepower, why did the Zentraedi simply not destroy the SDF-1 outright?

"I wish I could tell you," Miriya said. "All I know is that both Breetai and Azonia were ordered to capture this ship intact. Supreme Commander Dolza never gives reasons for his orders, and we never question them. Well, Khyron questions them, but only because he's a petulant child who throws a tantrum when he doesn't get what he wants. It's possible that Dolza may have told Breetai the reason; they are two of the oldest Zentraedi, and have shared many battles together. I'm convinced Azonia was never told the reason."

The debriefing also included Dr. Fredericks's assessment of Miriya's physical exam, which, barring the difference in gender, was not significantly different from the results of the exams of the other Zentraedi defectors.

After nine hours, Captain Gloval finally called a halt. "I can't thank you enough for all the information you have given us, Miriya," he said. "I sincerely hope that your defection, and your new life, will be a turning point, and a catalyst for better things."

"I hope so, too, sir. Thank you for accepting me." Even though she was not yet inducted into the RDF, Miriya stood and saluted.

As she left the conference room, the officers did not get out of their seats. She knew they would talk long into the night, poring over all the new information she had provided. If the information saved even one life on the SDF-1, she was glad to have given it.

The conference room door shut behind her and Miriya found herself alone. No one had been instructed to escort her anywhere. She, a Zentraedi defector, was being allowed to walk freely through the military command structure of the SDF-1.

She breathed deeply and closed her eyes, overcome with the emotion that someone trusted her enough to do that. Then she made her way as quickly as possible to Max's quarters in the barracks.

Her home.

 

The next morning, the citizens of Macross City awoke to the most bizarre news story of their lives. And that was saying something.

"Zentraedi defector to marry RDF pilot after trying to kill him," read the newspaper headline.

The morning talk shows were all abuzz. Astonishment swept the ship. Many wondered if it was some kind of sick joke.

No one besides the military's press officer was available for interviews, and all he could really do was repeat a summary of the official press release: "Zentraedi defector Miriya Parina and RDF fighter pilot Second Lieutenant Max Sterling will be joined in marriage Friday. After intense debriefing, we are convinced of the authenticity and sincerity of Ms. Parina's actions. From this moment forward, she will be risking her life in defense of the SDF-1. Her defection and attitude are proof that the Zentraedi do possess compassion. We will be working with her to find a way to appeal to the compassion of the Zentraedi race, and to find a way to end this war. Her RDF induction ceremony will be at 3:00 PM today, and will be open to the public."

With the lack of any other immediate information, the TV talking heads filled up the air time with opinions and conjecture. Mostly, they wondered how anyone could try to kill someone one moment, then agree to marry them the next. They asked Kyle and Minmei for their opinions. They asked random people on the street for their opinions. They asked each other for their opinions. They wished they could ask other Zentraedi defectors for their opinions, but Captain Gloval still wasn't allowing the media to interview them. The only thing everyone agreed on was that Captain Gloval was obviously trying to make a statement by turning the whole thing into a show.

Around noon, the RDF began assembling a stage in the town plaza (because the concert hall was still in shambles), so the news crews filmed that, and talked some more.

At 2:45 the plaza was packed. TV cameras covered the stage from every angle. A single street into the plaza had been left open, and police lined the street to keep the crowd under control. Everyone unable to make it to the plaza in person, even on-duty military personnel, was glued to the TV.

At 2:55, a convoy of jeeps carrying Captain Gloval, Rick, Max, Miriya, and other officers arrived. Rick hadn't originally been included, but Max had requested it.

Miriya and the officers took to the stage. Miriya sported a light blue dress; everyone else wore dress uniforms. The murmuring crowd was restless. Captain Gloval had not allowed photographs of the other Zentraedi defectors to be released, for their own safety, so when the TV cameras zoomed in on Miriya, almost everyone on board got their first look at a real live Zentraedi.

On the bridge, Claudia watched the screen and scowled.

The other Zentraedi defectors, gathered in Rico, Bron and Konda's apartment, huddled around the television.

"Incredible!" Rico exclaimed. "It really is Miriya! This is really happening!"

"Do you guys think we should volunteer to fight, like she's doing?" one of the other Zentraedi asked. "I didn't volunteer, because I didn't think they'd let us."

"I don't know," Konda said. "I'm so sick of fighting, I'm not sure I could."

"Yeah," Bron agreed. "But most of us have volunteered for other support duties. I'm in the emergency fire brigade. If you want to give to the SDF-1, that's probably the way to go."

"Yeah," the others said, nodding in agreement.

Alone in her room at Alaska Base, Lisa watched the screen with her mouth open, speechless.

Captain Gloval approached the microphone.

"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you the SDF-1's newest defender, Miriya Parina." He gestured at the woman standing behind him.

Silence from the crowd.

"I know how strange all this must seem to you," the captain continued. "Believe me, it was equally strange when I was first told. But Miriya's arrival, and the crucial military information she has brought us, has convinced me more than ever that individual Zentraedi warriors are not responsible for their actions. As clones created in a laboratory, they exist in a society which indoctrinates them with nothing but war propaganda every single moment of their lives. A number of Zentraedi have deserted their war machine the moment they came into contact with our non-militaristic society, and I have no doubt that many more will do the same. For lack of a better term, these people have been brainwashed. Without exception, every single Zentraedi defector has expressed sincere remorse for this war, and has also expressed a heartfelt desire to do anything they can to make restitution for the suffering we have endured. Miriya is no exception. I have personally witnessed her sorrow and her anguish, and her desire to change her life completely and to make this universe a better place. One of our own pilots, Second Lieutenant Max Sterling – who, believe me, is no fool – has fought against Miriya, and yet accepts her completely, and believes in her, as do I.

"In throwing herself on our mercy, Miriya has taken an incredible leap of faith, and made herself extremely vulnerable. It is my sincere hope, ladies and gentlemen, that you understand her situation, and understand the Zentraedi brainwashing and war machine as well as I am coming to understand it. From this moment forward, Miriya will risk her life to protect us all. I humbly ask that each and every one of you welcome our Zentraedi defectors with kindness and understanding. On so many levels, it is vital that we do so. I assure you, they will respond in kind, and they are working to help us in any way they can."

Captain Gloval paused for these words to sink in. The crowd was still silent, but now in a thoughtful way. The mood had changed. The captain's words were definitely finding their mark.

"In addition to being a Zentraedi defector," he continued, "Miriya is also an outstanding fighter pilot, one of the best we have ever seen. By far, fighter pilots are our most important asset. We desperately need as many as we can get. Miriya has offered her services as a pilot, to go into battle in defense of this ship and in defense of her new way of life, and we would be complete idiots to turn down such an incredible asset, so I have accepted her offer."

He turned to Miriya, took a small step back, and said, "Please stand before me."

Miriya approached the microphone, and she and Captain Gloval stood facing each other.

"Miriya Parina, do you accept a commision in the Robotech Defense Force?" Captain Gloval asked.

"I do."

"Then raise your right hand and recite the oath of allegiance."

With pride, Miriya raised her right hand, and the crowd was astonished to see tears in her eyes. She gulped once, and with a slight catch in her throat, and with a mouth that trembled just a bit, recited her oath.

"I, Miriya Parina, hereby solemnly swear allegiance to the Robotech Defense Force; to devote my life to the defense of the Planet Earth and all her peoples; and to obey the orders of the officers appointed over me."

"I accept your service, and I hereby grant you the rank of third lieutenant," Captain Gloval said. "Well done."

Miriya snapped to attention and saluted.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Captain Gloval said. "I give you the newest defender of the SDF-1, Third Lieutenant Miriya Parina!"

This time, the cheers were deafening.

Miriya gazed in wonder over the crowd, tears streaming down her face, fighting herself not to break down into sobs. She waved at them all.

Behind her, Rick smiled. Max positively glowed. Even Colonel Maistroff applauded with a small smile, acceptance on his face at last.

Claudia gazed at the screen in grudging admiration. "I gotta hand it to you, captain," she murmured. "Well done."

 

"I don't know why Claudia would be so hostile to you," Max said. "Usually she's exactly the opposite."

"Yeah, I don't get it, either," Rick said. "Maybe she just had a bad day?"

The elevator doors opened and Rick, Max and Miriya emerged onto the flight deck.

"Should I say anything to her?" Miriya asked.

"Nah, not unless it really does turn out to be something significant," Max said. "It might not have been about you at all."

All three wore flight suits, and were still feeling the high of Miriya's induction ceremony an hour earlier.

"Hey, chief," Rick called. "You got a plane for my new third lieutenant?"

"Sure do," Chief Harrison smiled, and indicated a fighter at the end of the line. "Our latest veritech, decked out with red trim, just like you asked, ma'am."

Miriya approached it, admiring the sleek machine with wonder. Then she turned. "Thank you, Chief Harrison. It's beautiful. I'll take good care of it."

"Taking care of it is our job, ma'am," he smiled. "You just get to enjoy it."

Miriya beamed at him and turned back to look at her ship.

"The color pattern of your veritech matches mine!" Max exclaimed.

"That's what I requested," Miriya said. "Yours is blue and mine is red, but everyone will see that they belong together."

Max grinned.

The rest of Skull Squadron approached. They were all there a few minutes early because Rick had ordered a quick meeting before their patrol.

"All right, everyone," Rick announced. "This is Third Lieutenant Miriya Parina. She is now a member of Skull Squadron."

"It's a pleasure to meet you all," Miriya said.

As Rick expected, the pilots gave mixed reactions. Some smiled and nodded in greeting, some looked away, some scowled. Pete glared at Miriya, and did not bother to conceal the look of murder in his eyes.

"I expect all of you to make her feel welcome," Rick said.

"Excuse me, lieutenant," Amanda said. "I'm not complaining or anything, I'm just curious. Regulation says no romantic relationships among squadron members, so why's she in Skull with Max?"

"That's an excellent question," Rick said. "Captain Gloval discussed the issue with us for some time this morning, and he decided that this was a special situation, so he ordered that Miriya fly with Max." Rick neglected to mention that Captain Gloval had initially been against the idea, but that Miriya had talked him into it. ("Ah," the captain had sighed. "I've already broken so many regulations concerning you, Miriya. What's one more?")

Amanda nodded, her curiosity satisfied. No one else said anything.

"All right, load 'em up," Rick said.

They climbed into their veritechs and went on their first patrol with their most unusual new comrade.

Throughout the patrol, there was considerably less chatter than usual.

 

"Are you sure I don't have to wear my wedding dress for the rehearsal?" Miriya asked. She sounded worried. Max realized that she was genuinely concerned that she would mess up a human ritual, or commit some kind of faus pax out of ignorance.

"No. I assure you, it's fine. It's just a rehearsal. The chaplain will tell us where to stand, we'll tell him when we want to take our vows, that kind of thing." He squeezed her hand. "This isn't a big deal. We'll be fine."

Miriya smiled in relief.

They arrived in the ballroom and found Sammie, Kim, Vanessa, Rico, Bron and Konda already putting up decorations, even though the wedding was the next day.

The three Zentraedi defectors rushed up to them. "Hello, Miriya!" Rico exclaimed. "So nice to finally meet you in person!"

"Yeah," Bron agreed. "All these years of serving together, and we have to defect to an alien civilization to meet face to face. Life sure is weird."

"It certainly is," Miriya agreed, astonished, and suddenly feeling a little queasy. When she had arrived on the SDF-1, it had taken a few days to get used to mingling with human males, but now she was accustomed to it. However, mingling with Zentraedi males with whom she had once served suddenly made her feel strange. She was breaking an old taboo. "I have to say, it does feel very odd to stand in your presence like this."

"We know how you feel," Konda said, looking woozy. "I think we're getting that, too."

"Yeah," Bron said. "I feel like I'm going to be punished any moment. Weird."

Max introduced Miriya to the Terrible Trio.

"It's an honor to meet you!" Sammie gushed.

"I recognize your voice," Miriya said. "You're the bridge officer who directs traffic."

"Yes, I am! I'm a little new at it, so I hope I did a good job during your patrol yesterday."

"It was fair."

Sammie blinked, clearly not expecting the blunt criticism. Max smiled at her, as a way of getting Sammie to understand that Miriya wasn't aware she was being rude. Sammie gave a weak smile in return to show that she understood.

Miriya, oblivious to the faux pas, redeemed herself just as innocently when she said, "This room is pretty. Are all these beautiful decorations for us?"

"Yes they are!" Kim said. "And thank you for inviting us all to the wedding!"

"We're so excited to see you walk down the aisle!" Vanessa enthused.

"What aisle?" Miriya asked.

"Walk down the aisle is a human expression," Rico said, trying to sound like an authority on the subject. "It's a cute way of saying the same thing as get married in a wedding."

"I see," said Miriya, who clearly did not.

Claudia entered the ballroom. She had taken a few steps into the room when she saw Miriya. She froze, just for a moment, staring straight at Miriya with eyes of steel.

Claudia then caught Vanessa's eye and said, "I'm ready." Then she turned and walked back out.

"What was that about?" Kim asked.

"Ready for what?" Max asked.

"We invited Claudia to come join us when she went on break," Vanessa said, then added awkwardly, "It...kind of looked like she wasn't expecting to see Miriya here."

Miriya sighed.

"Don't worry about it," Max whispered, giving her hand a sqeeze. "Whatever it is, we'll work it out."

"Well," Sammie said hesitantly, clearly not wanting to be rude. "Claudia's waiting for us. Her break is only fifteen minutes."

"Yeah, go catch up with her," Max said. "We're here for our rehearsal. It'll start as soon as the chaplain arrives, which should be any moment."

"Okay. See ya!" Kim said. The six friends headed out the door to join Claudia.

"I really don't know what to tell you about Claudia," Max said. "She's usually not like that."

Miriya gave him a smile. "As you said, we'll work it out."

 

Miriya checked her uniform in the mirror and turned to leave the quarters she shared with Max when she saw the note on the floor. It had evidently been carelessly tossed through the door while she was in the shower. She picked it up. It read, "Your officer orientation session has been moved to Conference Room 8 on Deck E."

That's a strange way to notify me of something like this, she thought. But she stuck the note in her pocket and proceeded to her new destination without another thought, assuming it was just another way humans had of doing certain things.

She reached the conference room to find it empty, although the lights were on. She took a few steps inside and looked around, puzzled. She heard the door hiss as it slid shut behind her, then immediately hiss open again. She turned to find Pete standing in the doorway with a hefty metal pipe in his hand. It was a good meter in length.

"My brother was killed in the battle on Mars," he said.

He stepped inside. The door slid shut behind him. He never took his eyes off Miriya.

She didn't take her eyes off him either, but carefully moved to the center of the room.

"My mother was killed after we folded to Pluto." Pete slowly advanced on her. "My father was on the bridge of the Daedalus."

He stopped six feet away from her. "No one else is on this deck," he said softly. "No one will hear you scream. No one but me."

Miriya's face was expressionless. For a long moment neither spoke.

Finally, she said, "Whatever you're going to do, get it over with."

Pete snapped. His face twisted in rage, he raised the pipe and charged. Miriya calmly stepped to her right and hit his chest with the flat of her right hand, sending him to her left. Pete flew past and sprawled on the floor.

He sprang up and charged again. And again. And again. Miriya just executed the same move every time, and it finally occurred to her that Pete wasn't thinking, he was just in an animalistic rage. This could go on for hours. She had to do something else.

So the next time he charged, she just cold-cocked him across the jaw. Something broke. Pete went flying backwards and lay still, moaning.

She checked her knuckles and flexed her hand. Whatever had broken, it wasn't hers.

She picked up the pipe and leaned it against the wall, out of Pete's reach, then crouched beside him. He looked up at her in agony.

"I'm sorry about your family," she said. "And I'm sorry I had to hit you like that. I would assist you to the hospital, but first of all, I don't think you would accept my help, and second of all, I'm running the risk of being late for my officer orientation session."

She stood up, took the note out of her pocket and dropped it on his chest. "Please don't try something like this again."

She left without looking back.

 

After her officer orientation session, Miriya felt more mentally exhausted than she had ever been. Sensitivity training. Diversity awareness. What to do when an underling reports a rape. All these new concepts! These humans led such complicated lives.

Miriya was alone. The elevator taking her to the barracks level stopped at another floor on the way. When the doors opened, Miriya found herself staring into the eyes of Claudia Grant.

Claudia froze, then backed up. "I'll wait for the next one," she said.

The doors slid shut, but just before they met, Miriya put out her hand and forced them open again. She stepped out.

"Commander Grant," Miriya said. "Can we please talk?"

Claudia stared at her for a moment, her eyes wide. "I have nothing to say to you," she said coldly.

Behind Miriya, the elevator doors slid shut and the elevator continued its journey. The two women were alone.

"Your hatred of me is obvious," Miriya said. "Most of the other high-ranking officers have accepted me, but you haven't. I understand your hatred, but please, if there's anything at all that I can do-"

"Why don't you find the nearest airlock and throw yourself into space!" Claudia snapped. She stepped around Miriya and punched the elevator call button again.

"Would that bring you peace?" Miriya asked. "Would it heal your pain?"

"Nothing would heal my pain!" Claudia hissed at her.

"Then why should I do it?"

Claudia stared at her for a moment and slowly realized that Miriya was not being rhetorical, nor was she being deliberately antagonistic. The woman's questions were genuine.

"Never mind," Claudia said. "Just stay away from me."

"You know that won't happen," Miriya said. "We share the same friends, now."

Claudia's shoulders slumped. She closed her eyes.

"You lost someone dear to you," Miriya continued. "Please tell me about it."

"Why?" Claudia snapped. "So you can gloat?"

Miriya just shook her head. Her gaze was steady.

"His name was Commander Roy Fokker. He was my fiance, and he was leader of Skull Squadron until three weeks ago!"

"What happened?"

"You happened!" Claudia screamed. Even Miriya was taken aback by the sheer force of her emotion.

"I see," Miriya said. "You're saying I killed Commander Fokker."

Claudia glared at her for a long moment. The elevator again opened, waited, closed. Both women ignored it.

"Not directly," Claudia finally said, her voice quiet but intense. "He died because you ordered your troops into battle just so you could go after Max."

Two tears escaped from Miriya's eyes.

"Your quest for personal glory that day means the man I love is dead and gone forever."

Miriya saw the pain in Claudia's eyes, heard the bitterness in her voice. Miriya swallowed hard, and whispered, "If I could exchange my life for his in order to bring him back, I would."

Claudia looked away. She punched the elevator call button again. The two women stood in awkward silence.

The elevator arrived. Claudia stepped into it and turned around.

"I believe you, Miriya," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "But I still want you to stay away from me."

The doors slid shut between the two women, leaving Miriya standing alone.

Miriya leaned her forehead against the elevator doors, wondering what she could possibly do. Pete's accusations had been bad enough, but Claudia's pain hit harder because she, Miriya, had had a direct role in causing it. Both had hurled their venom at her within a few hours of each other. And they wouldn't be the last. Despite Captain Gloval's speech at her induction ceremony, forgiveness and understanding wasn't going to come from everyone.

Miriya snapped her head up at the sudden howl of the raid siren.

She raced for the stairs. The elevator would be too slow.

 

"Green Squadron, assemble at Gamma 34," Sammie's voice came over the flight deck loudspeaker. "Orange Squadron, protect damage control crews near the port airlocks, they weren't able to get inside in time. Green Squadron, you've got enemy pods at nine o'clock."

Why are all the squadrons named after colors except Skull Squadron? Miriya wondered to herself as she ran to her plane. It was one of those trivia questions she would have to ask Max later.

As she reached her fighter, she heard Amanda ask, "Hey, Pete, what happened to your face?"

She twisted around and saw Pete, a large bandage on his face, heading for his own fighter. She couldn't hear his answer.

She climbed aboard and dismissed Pete's problems from her mind. Battle was not the time to dwell on anything unimportant, and anything which wasn't immediately deadly was unimportant.

"Skull Squadron, you are go for launch. I repeat, you are go for launch."

Rick's voice came over the comm link. "All right, Skull. Let's move 'em out!"

Skull Squadron blasted into space and formed up.

"Why would they be attacking now?" Max asked. "Is this Khyron throwing another tantrum?" Much of the battle information Miriya had provided had been passed on to the pilots, so they now all knew his name.

"Looks like it," Rick replied. "Those are his ships."

"Yes, they are," Miriya confirmed.

"All right, everyone. Let's go get 'em!"

They plowed into battle. It was fast and furious. Over the comm link came the sounds of humans fighting for their freedom, fighting for their loved ones. A few began dying for them.

Miriya instantly saw that Pete fought with his veritech a lot like he fought with his fists: all rage and no brains. She sighed. The poor guy wouldn't last long.

Sure enough, it only took a few moments for a small squad of pods to swing around and target him. He was too sloppy.

Miriya rolled right, switching to Guardian mode as she did, and took out two enemy pods. Her first two kills. Her first act of killing fellow Zentraedi. She filed away any emotions she might have for later. Now was not the time.

"I've got four on my tail!" Pete screamed. He would also have to learn not to shout into the comm link.

"I've got them," Miriya said calmly. She swooped down and around, spinning, took out two of them, and switched to Battloid. The other two pods broke off pursuit of Pete and fired missiles at her.

Miriya stuck out the veritech's left leg, simultaneously halting her spin and sending the fighter sideways. This allowed her to dodge the missiles while still facing her opponents. Her cannon spit energy and the remaining two pods were dust.

Pete was dumbstruck. He'd never seen anyone fly a veritech like that. He wouldn't have thought it was possible. (When Rick would view the video footage later in his battle review, he would also be gobsmacked.)

"You all right?" Miriya asked Pete.

"Uh...yeah," he said. "I'm-"

"Watch out!" Miriya called, and snapped off another cannon shot. It streaked past Pete's fighter and nailed a fifth enemy pod which had been about to get him.

"-fine," Pete finished.

"Look alive!" Miriya snapped. "Shut off your emotions and be aware of your surroundings."

Pete gulped. Miriya could hear him breathing hard. "Yeah," he said.

Miriya sighed. He's just a kid. She felt despair at the thought, and filed that feeling away for later, too.

"Emergency!" Sammie called to all fighters. "An enemy battle cruiser is coming out of hyperspace directly in front of us!"

"Oh, no!" Max wailed, looking back at the ship. Sure enough, one of Khyron's battle cruisers had just performed a space fold to a point directly above the SDF-1. As they watched, more enemy pods flooded out of the battle cruiser and swarmed the space fortress.

The tactic was immediately obvious to everyone. The purpose of the first attack had been to draw all fighters away from the SDF-1, and Khyron had used the space fold maneuver to bypass the fighters and attack the space fortress directly with no resistance. It was a clever plan, and he had executed it flawlessly.

"Skull Squadron!" Rick yelled. "Back to the SDF-1!"

But that was easier said than done. The first wave of attack pods wasn't letting them go.

"Amend those orders!" Rick said. "All fighters, break away as soon as you can! But don't force it to happen. Don't try anything fancy! You can't do the SDF-1 any good if you're dead!"

Miriya knew that that last order had been for the youngsters. Rick was an excellent squadron commander. If only he could dispense his wisdom fast enough for the inexperienced ones to learn it.

She blew away the pods harassing her, switched to Veritech mode, and sped back to the SDF-1. She could only hope Pete would be all right. No one was looking out for him any more.

But no one was looking out for the SDF-1 right now, either, and that was more important. The ship's defenses were swamped. With the pods fighting on the ship's surface, Captain Gloval couldn't use the shield, as there would be no point. Even if he could, he probably wouldn't, as Dr. Lang gave it an even chance that it would destroy the SDF-1 because it was so unstable.

Miriya saw that the majority of the pods were converging on the bridge. In response, Sammie had called for all destroids to protect it. The destroids were desperately swarming in to form a defensive perimeter around the bridge, but they obviously weren't going to hold for long.

"Lieutenant Hunter," Miriya said calmly. "The enemy pods are targeting the SDF-1's bridge, and I am engaging. SDF-1, do you copy?"

"We copy," Sammie replied.

"Captain," Claudia said. "Should we evacuate?"

"Not unless we absolutely have to," he said. "If we lose the bridge, we lose everything. Our forces would be overrun within moments without team coordination. It would be a slaughter. We stay as long as we can."

One of the pods let loose a barrage of missiles right at the bridge. A destroid on the port side of the bridge shot them all down, but moments later, it was destroyed, also. The force from the exploding missiles rocked the bridge. Everyone screamed and braced themselves.

Miriya couldn't fire at the pods without hitting the ship herself. Damn you, Khyron!

Another pod broke through all defensive fire and headed straight for the bridge in a suicide run.

Claudia gasped as she saw the incoming pod. There was no time to evacuate now. There was barely time to scream. She took a deep breath and prepared to die, but she refused to close her eyes.

Which was a good thing, because she would have missed what happened next.

Miriya swooped in, changed to Battloid, and grabbed the pod. She swung it away from the bridge and hurled it into the path of another incoming missile.

She positioned her fighter directly in front of the bridge, facing outward, and brought the cannon out to play.

She was alone. No one else from Skull Squadron had been able to break away yet.

"All right, boys," she said. "Let's do this."

Sammie never once glanced out the viewscreen. With nerves of steel, she ignored impending death and calmly continued coordinating all veritechs, gun emplacements, and destroids.

The rest of the bridge crew watched, thunderstruck, as Miriya put on the most incredible show of fighting prowess any of them had ever seen. She dodged energy bursts, knowing there was little chance they would penetrate the ship's hull or viewscreen, and shot down every pod and missile that came her way. She simply kept her thumb on the firing stud and swept the cannon back and forth, up and down, constantly dodging and shooting attackers, like she was playing a video game. She wasn't supposed to keep the cannon running constantly, because it would burn out if she did; it was designed for short bursts only. But everything was swarming at her so fast that she had no choice.

She couldn't have done it alone, but together with the remaining destroids and gun emplacements, their combined firepower was enough. Barely.

Such was her ferocity and skill, the pods actually backed off and regrouped for a moment, allowing her and the cannon a breather for a few seconds. The red light on her console told her the cannon was seconds from overheating.

She sighed. Walking down the aisle would have been fun.

Oh, well.

They came at her again, and again she shot down everything that came her way. But after about five seconds, the cannon gave up the ghost.

She launched all her missiles in an even spread, but she knew that wasn't going to hold back an enemy horde of this magnitude. And that was it. She had nothing left to give but to act as a shield for the first few enemy missiles.

She watched, resigned, as they came at her.

I got to make love, she thought. I got to know Max for a few days. It was worth it.

She placed herself in the missiles' path to protect the bridge. There were so many that ejecting wouldn't save her. She stared resolutely as her death approached.

And a blue-trimmed veritech zoomed in and blew the missiles away.

"Hey there, missy! We have a date tomorrow."

"Max!" Miriya cried. "I'm all out of weapons."

"That's all right," Rick said. "We'll take it from here." And the rest of Skull Squadron tore into the enemy.

Miriya drifted down until she was very near the bridge's viewport. She was unable to contribute any firepower to the battle, and the fighting was so heavy that she couldn't withdraw in any direction. With pride, she watched as her squadron – yes, her squadron – went to work. Her heart leapt with joy when she saw that Pete was still alive.

Miriya glanced at the bridge to make sure they were okay. She was so close that she caught Claudia's eye for a moment. Or maybe that was her imagination. Miriya smiled at her anyway, just in case.

She turned back to the battle. Just because she didn't have any more weapons didn't mean she couldn't contribute.

"Amanda, two at eight o'clock," she said. "Pete, the three pods circling above are actually working together and are trying to encircle you. The way out of that is to destroy the lead one if you can, and shift laterally. There you go. Alan, leave that pod alone, it's too damaged to hurt anyone."

And so the battle went. Such was the skill of Skull Squadron that the pods began to retreat. Reinforcements arrived in the form of Orange Squadron, and the pods had had enough. They retreated to the battle cruiser.

"All veritechs, get away from the Zentraedi battle cruiser," Sammie said. "It is preparing a hyperspace fold."

"Why are they using a fold to run away?" Rick asked.

"Because they know that if they just run away using conventional means, we'll turn the main gun on them and fry their ass!" Sammie exclaimed.

A bright flash lit up surrounding space, and the enemy was gone.

The battle was over.

 

Max and Miriya held each other on the flight deck for a long time. No one even considered interrupting them.

When they finally headed for the exit, Rick intercepted them with a message for Miriya.

"Captain Gloval wants to see you right away."

 

"Come in," Captain Gloval called.

Miriya entered his office and softly closed the door. The lights were low, and the silence of the office was welcome after the heat of battle. Captain Gloval stood at the window, looking out into space, puffing on his pipe.

She saluted. "Third Lieutenant Miriya Parina, reporting as ordered, sir."

Captain Gloval puffed a couple more times, then turned around and sat at his desk. "Have a seat, lieutenant."

"Thank you, sir." She sat.

Captain Gloval looked at her appraisingly.

"I'm not going to give you a medal for what you did today."

Miriya was surprised. "It hadn't occurred to me to ask for one. I was just doing my job."

"I know, but that's not why I won't give you a medal. I won't give you a medal because I don't have one. There isn't a medal big enough, or important enough, or meaningful enough to symbolize what you did today. Thank you for saving our lives."

Miriya blushed and looked down. Captain Gloval got the distinct impression that making Miriya blush like that was difficult to do.

"As I said, sir, I was just doing my job."

Captain Gloval leaned back in his chair.

"Do the Zentraedi have religion of any kind, lieutenant?"

"No, sir. But we have annihilated many cultures that did, so we are aware of the concept."

"So you don't believe in providence?"

"No, sir."

"Hmmm. I can't exactly say that I do, myself, although I would like to, as it's a comforting thought. When good people are killed, it's hard to believe in anything. But life is certainly strange. Part of me wants to believe, so very much, that providence brought you to us just when we needed you."

"I can see why someone would think that," Miriya said. "I would call it a happy coincidence."

"It is not the first happy coincidence that has protected this ship. There have been so many that I can no longer count them."

"Yes, this ship has been protected time and again," Miriya agreed. "But often at such a great cost that I still wouldn't call it providence."

Captain Gloval gave a small, tired smile. "No. Perhaps not. But I am actually asking these questions for a specific purpose, and I would like you to keep this part of our conversation confidential."

"Of course, sir."

"Dr. Lang and I have spent many nights wondering why this ship is so important to the Zentraedi. I know we haven't explored every single square inch of it in detail, but as of three months ago, we finally managed to create a complete map of its corridors and rooms, and we have not found a thing. There's no hidden energy source, no secret laboratory, no hidden documents, nothing. The hull's material is not significantly different from the material of the Zentraedi ships. As far as we can see, there's nothing on board which the Zentraedi don't already have. I just can't fathom why the Zentraedi would be so obsessed with retrieving a single battle fortress."

"I wish I could help you with that, sir, but I'm as much in the dark as you are."

"But lately – and especially after watching you save our lives today – I have been wondering more and more about the significant coincidences which have repeatedly protected this vessel, and I put two and two together into a theory. And I know that this is a wild theory, simply conjecture. But what if there was something on board this vessel which actually had the power to manipulate events, to shape reality itself, so that the ship was protected at all times? And what if that power is what the Zentraedi are after?"

Captain Gloval was pleased to see that Miriya didn't react negatively to his wild theory in any way. Even if she secretly thought he'd gone off the deep end, she still didn't bat an eyelid.

"I would say that this power was very good at protecting the vessel, but not very good at protecting every individual member of its passengers and crew."

"An astute observation. Anything else?"

"No, sir. As you say, it's a fantastic theory. I'm not a scientist and I have no knowledge of these subjects, so I really can't speculate."

"Does this theory stir anything in your memory at all? Does hearing it cause you to remember anything you might have read or overheard other Zentraedi discussing?"

"I'm sorry, but no."

"Hmm. Well, I didn't expect it to. It was a long shot." He sighed. "Well, that was what I wanted to ask. You must be worn out. Thank you again for what you did today, lieutenant. It was outstanding. Whether you or I believe in providence, I don't think anyone would dispute that you are a godsend."

Miriya smiled warmly. "It was my pleasure, sir, to do my part to protect my new home and my new friends who care for me so much."

"And we're all glad you're here. Dismissed, lieutenant."

Miriya stood and saluted. "Yes, sir. Good night, sir."

She left his office and found Claudia Grant leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the corridor.

"Oh, hello," Miriya said. "Are you here to see the captain? There's no one with him at the moment."

"No," Claudia said. "I'm here to see you." She paused for a moment, then asked, "Will you come take a walk with me?"

"It would be my honor."

The two women walked in silence out of the base, along a city street, and into a nearby park.

"Roy and I would come here whenever we could," Claudia finally said. "We'd sit on this bench and watch the stars." Claudia sat on a bench looking out an enormous window into space. Miriya sat beside her.

"The stars are so beautiful," Claudia said. "Mankind has always dreamed of traveling to them, of seeing what's out there." She sighed. "But as beautiful as the stars are, what's out there turned out to be so ugly."

"There are many races in the universe besides the Zentraedi," Miriya said. "Billions of them. Not all of them can be ugly."

"I wasn't just talking about the Zentraedi, I was talking about humans, as well."

"I don't understand."

"How did the Zentraedi begin?" Claudia asked. "What made you become a species so fixated on war that you were blind to all other options?"

"I don't know. I've never thought to ask. We have a history, of course. A long history of glorious battles. But it never occurred to me to ask what the first battle was, and what came before that."

"It was probably some form of hatred, or anger, or fear," Claudia said. "Something negative."

Miriya had nothing to say to that.

"Hatred breeds more hatred," Claudia said. "Acts of tragedy breed bitterness, which breeds more tragedy, in a vicious circle. But the circle begins somewhere. Something ignites the hatred. Something sets the wheel in motion, and that wheel turns throughout the centuries, crushing one generation after another."

"Perhaps it's inevitable, and universal," Miriya said. "I hope not, though. That's a depressing thought."

"But it occurred to me tonight, that if something can start the circle, then something else can end it." Claudia looked at Miriya. "Humanity is part of this circle. We can play the game of bitterness and retribution as well as anyone. Our hands are so good at turning the wheel. It's one of the things we do best."

Claudia took Miriya's hand in her own. "You broke the circle for me tonight, Miriya," she whispered.

Tears sprang to Miriya's eyes. "I hurt for you, Claudia. I hurt so much that you lost Roy."

The two women hugged each other and wept.

 

On the way to Dr. Lang's office to discuss his theory, Captain Gloval passed a window overlooking the city and spotted Miriya and Claudia below, entering the park. He stopped to watch them for a moment.

He knew perfectly well the problem Claudia had with Miriya, and he knew why. He also knew that they were both strong, intelligent and compassionate people, and they would work it out.

And he knew that for every person like Claudia, there would be a dozen people who weren't as strong, or as compassionate, as her. Miriya would face resentment and bitterness from survivors for the rest of her life.

But perhaps Captain Gloval could do something to alleviate it. He had already given one impassioned speech, at Miriya's induction ceremony, but what if he could give another? An even more dramatic speech which could sway people's hearts further towards understanding and forgiveness?

The wedding was tomorrow, and Captain Gloval was already attending as the guest of honor. An idea began to form in his mind.

Yes. Perhaps at the wedding he could give another speech...

"Excuse me, sir."

Captain Gloval turned to see Max walking toward him. "Yes, lieutenant."

"I'm looking for Miriya. Last I knew, she was with you in your office."

"I finished speaking with Lieutenant Parina a few minutes ago." Captain Gloval nodded through the window at the two women below and said quietly, "But I believe she and Commander Grant have some talking to do."

"Ah, I see. Thank you, sir." Max ran off.

Ah, youth, Captain Gloval thought.

He continued on his way to Dr. Lang's office.

 

Max jogged through the park and found the two women on a bench, chatting away happily. "There you are!" he said.

"Here I am," Miriya replied.

"Sorry, Max, but I pulled her away for a bit," Claudia said.

"That's not a problem at all, Claudia," Max said. "I just wanted to make sure she knew about Skull gathering at Minmei's aunt and uncle's restaurant."

"You know, they really ought to give their restaurant a name so we can talk about it properly," Claudia said.

"Why start now?" Max asked.

"Is this a social gathering which the entire squadron will attend, and at which we will emotionally bond?" Miriya asked.

"Ummmm...yeah."

"Very well. I would be happy to attend." Miriya turned to Claudia to invite her along as well, but Claudia beat her to the punch.

"You go on," she said. "Partying with a bunch of hotshot pilots isn't really my thing. I'd much rather sit here and enjoy the peace and quiet. And the view."

Miriya smiled. "Very well, Claudia." She leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.

Claudia smiled back. "You two go have fun. You've earned it."

They waved good-bye and headed off.

 

The restaurant was packed. It was after their normal closing time, but as usual after a big battle, they kept the doors open for all the soldiers who needed to unwind.

The Terrible Trio and their boyfriends were at a table in the far corner, having a great time.

"Yes!" Miriya heard Kim exclaim. "She actually said, 'Fry their ass!'" They all erupted in laughter.

Max and Miriya weaved their way through the crowd to another couple of tables around which sat the members of Skull Squadron. When they saw the two approach, they raised their glasses.

"Hey-heeeeey!" they called. "There she is! The woman of the hour!"

For the second time in one day, Miriya blushed.

They had saved them seats – next to each other, naturally – and Max and Miriya gratefully sat down. Miriya looked left and found that she was sitting next to Pete. The bandage was still on his face.

"Hey, Miriya," he began sheepishly. The raucous conversation around them was so loud that no one else heard what they had to say to each other.

She put a hand on his arm. "Don't worry about it." She smiled warmly at him. "It's okay."

He gave her a weak smile. "Thanks. For everything."

Miriya leaned in close and spoke earnestly. "We will end this war, Pete. Somehow. We'll find a way."

Tears sprang to Pete's eyes and he nodded.

 

The next day, Max and Miriya replaced Minmei as the hottest entertainment topic on the ship. Minmei's agent fretted about this all morning, until Minmei finally told him to shove his insecurity where the sun didn't shine and to enjoy the wedding.

The TV talking heads discussed Miriya's exploits in battle the previous day, saving the bridge from a concerted Zentraedi attack. They talked about the veritech fighter squadrons preparing a special presentation for the wedding. They talked about how any future children of Max and Miriya were going to have a genetic gift for flying a fighter jet, and/or would have a lot to live up to.

Just after lunch, they had something else to talk about.

"We have just obtained a video from secret sources within the military," the news anchor gleefully told her audience, knowing they were hanging on her every word. "It turns out that Captain Gloval made a video log of his very first conversation with Miriya Parina, in his office. We have obtained that video, and the RDF press office has grudgingly admitted that the video contains no military secrets or other classified information, and we are free to show it. This video log is actually two recordings taken by different cameras pointing at opposite sides of the room, in order to record both sides of a conversation. We have edited these recordings together to create a single video showing the entire encounter, but we have not omitted a thing!"

The news program then ran the complete video, from the moment Miriya stepped into Captain Gloval's office in her pink dress, to the moment Captain Gloval got up from his chair to switch off the video log immediately after Miriya left the office to see Dr. Fredericks.

So the entire population of the SDF-1 got to see Miriya weep as she explained herself to Captain Gloval.

"I have been slowly coming to enjoy the way you Micronians live in the past few weeks, with your open society, your songs, your socialization and your emphasis on things other than military in nature. But mostly, it...it was Max. Max told me I was beautiful, which no one had ever done before. He...he offered me love, which as a Zentraedi, is something I'd never experienced. Imagine living your entire life without anyone ever treating you as someone special, or telling you that they love you, or holding you and telling you that they want to protect you. That's how it is for us Zentraedi. So when Max began telling me these things, I became aware of how much I had been missing, and how hollow my life really was. Suddenly, all my combat kills, my superior abilities and my perfect record meant nothing. All I knew, and all I know now, is that I want Max to continue loving me, to continue giving me these feelings that he awoke within me last night."

The video was powerful and moving. People were riveted. When it finished, virtually everyone on the ship was in love with Miriya Parina, and wanted nothing but the best for her.

On the bridge, the Terrible Trio and Claudia watched the video, spellbound. Captain Gloval had left the bridge for a while, and Claudia strongly suspected that was not a coincidence.

When the video was finished, Kim said, "Claudia, you sneaky devil."

"What?" Claudia asked.

"That was really clever of you to leak Miriya's video like that," Vanessa said mischievously.

"Girls, I don't know what you're talking about."

The Terrible Trio just laughed.

 

Every veritech pilot on the ship may have been hung over, but that didn't stop them from giving Max and Miriya the best wedding entrance in history. Colored lights streamed from the runway, and every veritech stood to attention and fired its cannon in salute as Max piloted his plane in to land. From the hangar deck it was a limousine ride to the ballroom. The two lovebirds smiled every second.

Once they reached the ballroom, they stood ready, and the doors opened. Ahead of them was a central aisle between rows of seats, leading to the chaplain and to Captain Gloval.

Miriya gasped at the sight before her.

"Oh!" She turned to Max. "Walk down the aisle. I get it now."

Max smiled and offered her his arm.

She took it, and together, they walked forward, into a much brighter future.

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