ROBOTECH

ACES OF HEARTS

Disclaimer: Robotech belongs to its original creators and if anyone is going to bother me with legal technicalities, Iíll have the SDF-1ís main gun charged up and ready to fire.

< >: Thoughts

Chapter 3

Moving Forward

May 2009 A.D.

Three months...

It had been three long, and very interesting months since the SDF-1 had accidentally found itself on the farthest reaches of the Earthís Solar System. Along with raw graduates of the Robotech Defense Forces (RDF), were the 70,000 survivors of Macross Island, which had been transplanted, along with a huge amount of ocean, into the orbit of the planet Pluto. Among those survivors were two teens who were trying to make the best of their situation, in the only way they knew how, in fierce combat.

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"All right you suckers, come and get some!" Ben cried out as he drove his Veritech directly into a swarm of Battlepods. However, against such odds, his enthusiasm quickly turned into shock as he found himself targeted by a flock of sizzling missiles and laser bolts. His fighter was blown to pieces before he even had a chance to engage his own weapons. He was immediately engulfed in a huge explosion and then...

"GAME OVER."

"Oh."

Ben got up dejectedly from the machineís seat and walked away from it while scratching the back of his head. He hadnít lasted 30 seconds.

"Sheesh. Even the best fighter pilot has an off day."

As the stocky teen made his way through the noisy and blinking world of the Close Encounters Arcade, he noticed that a large group of people were crowded around the holographic fighting game called Amazon Princess. The center was alive with flashing images and metallic sparks as blades were furiously clashing against each other.

"Pardon me. ĎScuse me. Cominí thru. On your left."

When Ben made it to the center and looked over the railing, he let off a short chuckle as he saw who was beating the game.

"I shoulda known."

Max was currently fighting the final Boss Character of the highest level, which happened to be a voluptuous and scantily-clad warrior woman with brown hair. The holographic image was dressed in an armored bikini and was wielding a two-handled broadsword. Max was fighting with a wide-bladed sword that was ridiculously long and clumsy-looking, while dressed in holographic samurai armor. Despite his opponentís ferocity, speed and expert maneuvers, Max countered each attack and forced the computerized maiden back. The crowds that were cheering around the arena were astonished at the blue-haired reflexes and agility. The gameís sensors were having a hard time of keeping up with Maxís movements.

The game reached its climax as Max parried his adversaryís blade and had the opportunity to send her into video game oblivion.

"YEAH! FINISH HER!" Several spectators cried out, expecting him to deliver the deathblow.

However, Max had other ideas as he knocked the sword out of the Amazon Princessí hand sand forced her to her knees. He smiled down at the image and held out a hand to her. "Itís much MORE challenging to spare your opponent."

At that moment, the image and his armor disappeared as the computer announced that Max was the victor. Maxís expression was one of slight disappointment as his friend came up to him.

"HA! If only she were real, eh Max?"

Benís friend smiled good-naturedly at him and asked, "So, Ben, how did your game go?"

The larger boy scratched the back of his head while laughing nervously. "Oh, you know..."

At that moment, a huge impact caused the entire ship to shudder. Sirens began to go off as Captain Glovalís voice was heard over the P.A. System.

"ATTENTION ALL CITIZENS! THIS IS CAPTAIN GLOVAL. WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED ENEMY FORCES. FOR YOUR SAFETY, IíM ISSUING A CITY-WIDE ALERT. ALL CITIZENS ARE TO PROCEED IMMEDIATELY TO THE NEAREST DESIGNATED SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"

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Hey Max! Weíre supposed to be in a shelter by now!" Ben called out to his friend as they made their way towards an observation port.

"Yeah, but you can get the best view of the Veritech launches here." Max replied as he looked out of the window and watched the fighters take off to engage the enemy.

The SDF-1 was currently in its transformed state and resembled a gigantic Battloid with twin towers mounted on its shoulders. The format change had devastated the reconstructed Macross City within its interior and the city had to be rebuilt from scratch again. As the battle-fortress made its way through the rings of Saturn, Max continued to gaze out into space and watched the conflict rage between the RDF and the alien enemy. The tiny explosions and the movements of the fighters fascinated him, but the background of giant ice fragments, reminded him of Macross Island, which they had left near Pluto ninety days ago. This made him bring up mental images of his parents and their stance against him joining the military. This of course, tore at his desire to get into the action and live out his dream of becoming a pilot.

When the silence went on long enough, Ben let off a loud sigh.

"This is boring. Can you believe that? Iím bored. Weíre living inside a city reconstructed inside a spaceship, and I actually found a way be BORED!"

Max matched Benís sigh with his own. "Me too."

This admission caught Ben by surprise. He had always thought Max as a laid-back, go-with-the-flow kind of person, who accepted his lot in life.

"REALLY?"

The teen with a blue tint in his hair nodded. "Yeah, the actionís out there... with the Veritech squadrons."

This caused Ben to brighten up as he walked up to his buddy. "Well, say no more, my good friend. Have I got news for you!"

"What are you talking about?"

"Two recruiters from the RDF came to my folksí store to put a poster up in the window. The RDF is actively recruiting new cadets!"

"Are you serious?" A gleam in Maxís eye began to show.

"Max Sterling... would I lie to you? We have GOT to sign up. This is... this is HUGE!"

Max smiled at the prospect of fulfilling his childhood dream, but then his expression saddened as an image of his parents came back to him. He bowed his head sadly and turned away from Ben to gaze once more at the battle raging in space.

"Buddy? Whatís wrong? Arenít you excited?"

"I... canít. ItĎs not that I donĎt want to... I really do want it... but... I canĎt."

"Huh?" This got Ben confused again. First Max was getting excited about joining the RDF, and now he was saying no? What was going on?

"You... can go ahead, Ben."

"What?!"

----------

Somewhere on the other side of the galaxy...

"What?!" Miriya exclaimed as she had just received her new orders.

After she had received the news of Breetaiís fleet locating the missing battle fortress, the green-haired ace of the Quadranos had believed that the restrictions, that had been imposed on her by Azonia, would be lifted. She had been expecting to be assigned to the sector where the battle fortress had been located and be thrust once again into glorious battle. She had been hearing reports about the enemy who were in possession of Zorís ship and how they were giving even the mighty Breetai a hard time. Logically, the Quadranos would be called in to deal with them.

However, that was not to be. Azoniaís fleet was to be held back in reserve and with it, her Quadrano Battalion. There was even talk that Khyronís division might be called in to deal with the puny Micronian enemy. The Backstabber of all people!

Miriya felt the need to burn off some stress, but with the standing orders of not to damage her only mecha unduly, she couldn't go out and casually destroy anything that ran across her path. She could only pace about in her quarters and continue to fume about her situation. She was the greatest of all the Zentraedi pilots, damn it! Why were they holding her back? She should not be denied her destiny!

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"Aw címon Max! This our big chance! Itís the chance of a lifetime! Weíve always dreamed of doing this and now we can! Destiny only knocks on your door once and youíd better answer when it does!"

"I know... but... I..."

"Now donít you say that Ďcanítí word again, Ďcause I ainít hearing it!" Ben put a hand on his friendís shoulder. "Now youíd better tell me why youíre gettiní cold feet all of a sudden. I ainít gonna enlist unless youíre there with me! Weíve always done stuff together! Itís Ben and Max to the end!"

"I know, but..."

"But what Max? Give me one good reason why I shouldnít just drag you to the recruiterís office and force you to sign on the dotted line?"

The son of Michael and Donna Sterling too a deep breath, and turned to face his friend. After a long pause, he gave his answer in a quiet, somber voice. "Itís because... Iíd be betraying my parentsí memory if I joined up."

Benís expression softened up as he remembered how much Maxís parents had been against the notion of their son enlisting in the military. He also recalled how distraught his friend had been when his father and mother were cruelly taken from him, and how their son regretted his last words to them before they were killed. It made sense as to why Max had not joined the RDF after all this time, even though it was obvious that he wanted to.

"Max... Iím sorry. I didn't know just how much it hurt you..."

"Thatís okay, Ben. Itís not your fault. Itís just that..."

BUH-WHOOM!

The two friends were knocked off their feet as the SDF-1 shuddered from a massive impact. As they scrambled back up, they looked out the observation window and saw a sight that made their blood run cold. A huge Zentraedi battle cruiser was bearing down on the battle fortress with weapons blazing. What was unbelievable was the fact that the SDF-1 wasnít firing back.

"Whatís going on?!" Ben cried out as he and Max stared at the huge alien craft.

Max was feeling a chill race down his spine as he saw three, huge circles of green-white light race across the surface of the SDF-1. Each was about the size of a baseball field and were being moved to intercept incoming shots from the enemy cruiser.

<I donít get it, why arenít they firing the Main Gun?> Max wondered as the warship continued to advance toward them. It was then that he saw a several vapor trails corkscrewing toward where he and Ben were standing. There was no time to run for cover as he braced for the end.

A split second before impact, one of the shields of the Pinpoint Barrier System slid over the area and took the brunt of the missile salvo. The section shuddered, but did not collapse as the warheads exploded against the shield. A second later, the shield came back up to full strength and raced away to intercept another shot.

It took Ben and Max several moments to bring themselves back to reality after only narrowly being saved. The SDF-1 continued to tremble as several direct hits got past the three protective shields. As more and more shots continued to punish the ship, Max began to get a feeling of foreboding. Was this it? Was this the end?

It was then that the vessel suddenly lurched forward, causing the two teens to be thrown off their feet again. Max was the first to recover as he braced himself against the railing and looked out the window. What he saw was simply unbelievable.

The SDF-1 held out one of its appendages, which happened to be the carrier Daedalus, and focused its three barriers at its front. The bow of the carrier, which looked like a can-opener, punched through the nose of the alien cruiser and embedded itself deep within. A minute later, bulges began to appear along the hull of the enemy vessel as explosions rocked its insides. Using its pectoral thrusters, the SDF-1 pulled away from its foe and extracting its arm from the nose, just as the Zentraedi cruiser went into its death throes. Ben and Max had to shield their eyes to keep from being blinded from the resulting explosion as the RDF scored its first major victory in what would later be called the Battle of Saturnís Rings.

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Later...

Max was deep in thought as he watched the news on the TV in his room. The announcer praised the courage and ingenuity of the RDF forces, as they had overcome overwhelming odds and won a great victory. The strategy that was called the Daedalus Maneuver, was a shining example of human bravery and how just one person (namely Commander Lisa Hayes who had come up with the idea), can make a difference.

As Max listened in on the newscast, he began seeing things in a new light. Just what good was he doing in just moping around? His parents were gone and there was nothing he could do about that. There was a ruthless enemy that was out there and thousands of innocents that needed to be protected. If he could do something, even a small bit to make things better, then wouldnít it be worth it? Surely, if they were still alive, his parents would have approved.

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The next day...

"Man! I canít believe it! Weíre actually gonna do it!" Ben said excitedly as he and Max walked toward the RDF Recruitment Office.

"Yeah." Max said firmly as they neared their destination.

"So what made you change your mind?"

Max gave his closest friend his whimsical smile. "I was thinking about what had happened yesterday and I realized that Mom and Dad only wanted to keep me safe, because they thought I wasnít strong enough for the military. Well, I want to PROVE that I am strong enough, not only to protect myself, but to protect everyone on board this ship! I want to prove that I can do it, even with these!" He tapped his glasses with his right index finger, then patted Benís right shoulder with his left hand. "And as long as Iíve got friends like you by my side, there isn't anything that I canít face!"

"Damn straight buddy!" Ben gave Max a hard pat on the back, which almost made him fall forward. "Weíre gonna have one HELL of a tour of duty! And with all the hours I clocked on Battloid Attack, how could the RDF turn me away? Heh, Iím probably already flight certified, so I can help you get in too!"

Max developed a large sweatdrop as they entered the recruitment office.

"Can I help you boys?" The officer behind the administration desk asked.

"Yes sir. We are here to enlist in the Robotech Defense Force!" Ben replied.

"We want to be Veritech fighter pilots." Max added with a determined tone.

The recruiting officer gave each boy a once over, and gave Max an especially long gaze. Normally, he would have rejected a candidate with glasses for the Veritech Squadrons, but there was just something about him that seemed to make him stand out as someone very special.

"You boys think youíve got what it takes to be pilots, eh? Well, weíll soon fond out..."

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October 2009 A.D. Dolzaís flagship...

Miriya let off a snort of disdain as she read the latest reports. It seemed that the Micronians were proving to be more difficult to handle than the great Breetai thought. If he had called in Azoniaís fleet and the Quadranos sooner, than the battle fortress would have been in Zentraedi hands by now. So far, his tactics had been inefficient as well as ineffectual, and now he was calling in Khyronís Seventh Mechanized Fleet to prepare a trap for the SDF-1 on the fourth planet of the Micronian system.

Although the Backstabberís division was known for its ground-based savagery, the ace pilot of the Quadranos had a feeling that this plan was less than foolproof, especially when the fool was Khyron. Already it had started on a bad omen as the Backstabberís division had recklessly emerged from hyperspace and crashed into four of Breetaiís ships.

Well, as she had no choice but to wait for news of the battleís outcome, she began to mentally prepare herself for her eventual confrontation with the enemy as it was only a matter of time before the Quadranos were needed.

It would soon be time to show what the female Zentraedi could do.

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Mars...

"I HATE TO LOSE A FIGHT!"

Khyron could only pound the console of his Battlepod as the SDF-1 lifted off the surface of the red planet. The detonation of the Seras Base reflex furnaces had not only destroyed the gravity mines that had the battle fortress trapped, but it had also decimated the 200 troops that he had commanded.

The Backstabber vowed that he would give the Micronians no quarter the next time they met.

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November 2009 A.D.

"Iím taking heavy enemy fire!" Ben cried out as his Veritech was being attacked by several Battlepods. He tried to swerve out of the way as a barrage of particle beams came raining down on him. However, he wasn't fast enough as a blast sheared off the left wing of his fighter. The trainee was engulfed in a massive explosion...

"AAAARRRGGGHHH!"

That was when the simulation ended.

Ben let off a sigh as the capsule opened up. His instructor came up to him with a smirk and said, "Crash and burn, Dixon."

The chunky recruit stepped down from the training pod with his head bowed down. "Iím sorry, Lieutenant Wolfe. Iíll do better next time."

"See that you do." The lieutenant stated. "The Veritech simulator wonít cut you any slack for sloppiness... because your life depends on it!"

Ben nodded. It had just been a mere six months since he and Max had enlisted into the RDF. They had been put through a grueling series of physical and mental exercises that had pushed their very beings to their limits. Surprisingly, the seemingly frail-looking Max Sterling had come through basic training with some of the most impressive scores ever to be attained by a cadet.

Dixon had already known that his friend was stronger than he looked, but even he was surprised at Sterlingís performance, especially during the self-defense courses and target range. What Max lacked in brute power, he made up for in accuracy and speed. He emphasized on using precision and efficiency, to attain his goals. His raw talent had later been refined by the RDF training, which turned the slender youthís body tough and wiry, making him quite the exceptional fighter. What impressed his instructors the most was his ability with mecha controls and innate piloting skills, which made him a prime candidate for the Veritech squadrons, despite his less-than-perfect eyesight.

Through it all, Max still remained the same, quiet and unassuming person that he was when he first signed up. He followed the rules and regulations, never talked back to his superiors and performed the duties and tasks as they were given to him. He never took credit for any of his accomplishments and always seemed to wear that cheerful, whimsical smile of his.

"Hey Johnny. YouĎre gonna want to take a look at this."

The instructor turned to his cohort, who manning the other simulator pod. Within it, Max Sterling was being put through his paces.

"Howís Sterling doing?"

"See for yourself!"

Wolf did just that and was more than impressed by Maxís performance. The simulatorís computers were having a hard time keeping up with the cadetís movements as he worked the controls like a seasoned pro.

Inside the holographic simulator, Max felt as if he had become the psuedo-Veritech he was piloting. Enemy missiles swirled about him, but none were able to home in on him. He was evading the deadly projectiles by the barest of margins and returning fire, destroying enemy fighters left and right. It was if he had become a totally different person when he had gotten into the cockpit. Instead of the shy and unsure youth that Ben knew of, his demeanor had radically changed to a calm, cool and utterly methodical attitude. His computerized foes were simply no match for his superior reflexes and uncanny accuracy.

As the simulation was completed and the hatch to the capsule opened up, Maxís expression immediately changed back to his usual, unassuming self. With a small hop, he exited the cockpit and faced Johnny Wolfe.

"So howíd I do, sir?"

The lieutenant kept his composure as he gave the young trainee a conservative form of praise. "Not too shabby for a guy with glasses. We could have used someone like you on Mars." He gestured with a thumb to Ben. "Maybe you can give your buddy over there some pointers."

This made Ben very flustered and upset, but Max simply smiled and said, "Donít worry sir. Iíll have him flight-ready in time for graduation."

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Graduation...

"Ladies and gentlemen, I couldnít be more proud of this graduating class." Captian Gloval said as he addressed the group of cadets that had just completed the RDF training. "Youíve all shown true integrity and spirit and I know that youíll serve valiantly in our struggle against the enemy. Many of the top graduates had already received commissions to serve immediately."

As the cadets began unsealing their packets to find out their assignments, Max took a deep breath before looking into his. Behind him, Ben looked over his shoulder.

"Max, you know Iím your wingman. Címon already. Whatís our assignment?"

"Whoa."

That was all Max could say as he opened up the packet.

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"To the two brightest, bravest pilots to ever climb into a Veritech! To Ben and Max!"

"Thanks Pop!" Ben said as he lifted his own glass. Max and Ben, along with Benís parents, had decided to celebrate by taking them to Benís favorite steakhouse.

As Ben and his father began a conversation concerning his new assignment, Max excused himself to stop at the restroom. A few minutes later, he emerged to find Mrs. Dixon standing nearby. Benís mother looked very forlorn as she addressed the young pilot.

"Max... can I have a word with you... away from Ben and his father?"

"Sure Mrs. Dixon." Max could never refuse the person, whom he considered like a mother, after the tragedy which had taken his real parents away from him. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes, something is wrong." The gentle woman took a deep breath before continuing. "The thing is... you boys are so gung ho about being fighter pilots, even Benís father is excited about it. But Iím not. I can sense from the turnover of the crew visiting our dry cleaning business that theyíre getting desperate to enlist young men. Iím afraid for Benís life."

Max nodded as he started to see a bit of Donna Sterling in Benís mother. He could understand her feelings.

Mrs. Dixon continued. "You know how he is. He goes through life with that dopey grin, never truly appreciating the gravity of the situation. I need you to promise me something, Max." Her eyes began to collect moisture and her voice became strained. "I need you to promise me that youíll take care of Ben and keep him safe."

Max nodded without hesitation. "Ben is like a big brother to me and Iíll do everything that I can. You have my word."

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December 2009 A.D.

Max had more than a case of the nerves as he and Ben flew out on their first mission with their new commander Rick Hunter. It was quite a surprise for both of them, when they found out that they would be serving under the same amateur pilot who had dazzled the audiences during the SDF-1ís launching day festivities. He looked to be no older than Max or Ben. However, Max was impressed when he learned that Hunter had been awarded the Titanium Medal of Valor. Anyone who earned that medal would HAVE to be good and Max was eager to learn all that he could from him.

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As the three Veritechs raced through space on their patrol, Ben began moaning of how boring it was, and wanted to engage the enemy forces that were currently going up against the other squadrons. Hunter was adamant against Benís over-eagerness to disobey orders. However, that became a moot point as a swarm of enemy Battlepods started heading toward their position.

Ben was the first to go charging into battle. However, his aim still needed work. He had launched a flight of missiles, but not a single one had hit his intended targets. The Battlepods came at him like a swarm of angry hornets. Rick immediately came in to assist and just as he beat off Benís assailants, both pilots noticed that another group of enemy units were heavily engaging one of the newest defender of the SDF-1... Max Sterling.

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Max had been prepared to help out his oldest friend when he saw Benís fighter in danger. However, just as he was about to come to his aid, another group of enemy pods had decided to jump on him. Though he was still feeling the jitters over his first combat assignment, that feeling suddenly disappeared when the first laser bolts streaked past his fighter. In an instant, those strangely-given abilities took over and the Veritech began its transformation to its Battloid form.

The son of Michael and Donna Sterling felt as if he was... he couldnít accurately describe the sensation, but it seemed as if everything else had slowed down and became sluggish. He couldnít even feel himself working the controls of his fighter as he made it dodge every attack and before he knew it, the enemy were being turned into fireballs.

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"Hey is that Max? LOOK AT HIM GO!" Ben cried out as Battlepods were being picked off like skeet shoot targets.

Rick was equally impressed as he watched the young corporal take out three foes with almost lazy ease. He raised him up on the communicator.

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The sound of Rickís voice snapped Max out of his trance and her could feel himself being brought back to reality. He was glad to see that Ben was alright.

"Iím glad I was able to help out." Max said as he started to concentrate on the remaining Battlepods. This time however, he could feel his surroundings. The sensations of his hands as they pushed buttons, squeezing the trigger and pulling levers were real now. The enemy was still slow to his perceptions, but now he wasnít mentally and emotionally detached as he was before. It was exhilarating, and yet frightening at the same time. For so long, he had kept his emotions bottled up, but now they were being released and he liked it. He liked it so much that he began to babble, literally talking his way through a maneuver before he knew it. By the time he had finished explaining Fokkerís Feint, two more Battlepods were destroyed.

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Later...

As he taxied his Veritech to the maintenance hanger, Max couldnít believe what he was seeing as he looked at his fighterís flight data. That number couldnít be right, could it? He canít have destroyed THAT many enemy units! It was his first mission after all. He had been hoping to get three, maybe four at the most, but if the computer was telling the truth then he had gotten...

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"NINE?! You got nine?! I didnít even get one!" Ben exclaimed as he nursed the bandage wrapped around his forehead.

Max was still unbelieving himself. He hadnít expected to have done so well, out-shooting even Rickís six confirmed kills. It had to have been luck, just pure dumb luck. He wasnít THAT good, was he? He decided that despite all that had happened, his performance had just been a fluke. He even joked to his comrades of being promoted from corporal to general after one battle.

After all, it could never happen again, right?

----------

Meanwhile...

Miriya let off a scornful laugh as the most recent reports came in. Once again, the Micronians had survived. This time it was due to Khyronís recklessness and disobedience, which had forced Breetai to use the Recall Beam before the Backstabber ended up destroying the SDF-1. This incident made the Zentraedi ace more convinced that Azoniaís fleet and the Quadranos would soon be needed to defeat the Micronians, before they grew too powerful to handle.

There was one detail that had caught her attention though. She had read the casualty reports from the battle and noted that nine Battlepods had been lost in rapid succession, apparently by the same enemy fighter.

<Nine in one engagement, eh? Not bad.>

Naturally, Miriya did not consider the possibility that there might be someone in the Micronian forces that could match her skills in combat. She had well over 350 kills to her credit and she was eager to add more to those figures. With Breetai and Khyron being outwitted and confounded by the Micronians, she was certain that Dolza would realize that her abilities would be required. The green-haired beauty smiled as she imagined herself once again in pitched combat with the SLIM chance of encountering a worthy opponent...

To be continued...

Authorís Notes

Man, Iím really cranking out these chapters! For all you Robotech buffs out there, youíll probably recognize these scenes from Issue #2 and 3 of Robotech: Love & War and Episode #8 Sweet Sixteen from the Macross Saga. In the next chapter, Iím going to fill in a few gaps that were left in the original storyline, plus a few surprises as Max and his friends are captured by the Zentraedi. See you then!