ACES OF HEARTS
Disclaimer: Robotech and all of its characters belong to their respective creators and I’m only doing this for fun, (though donations would be appreciated).
< >: Thoughts
Victory and Defeat, Gains and Losses
April 2010 A.D.
Miriya nodded as she watched all of the battle footage that had been recorded from the Reconnaissance Pods and Cyclops Ships. Apparently, there WERE a few pilots that could give her the challenge that she so craved. She began to mentally catalogue the ones that had distinctive markings and had performed exceptionally well in combat. Several particular Veritechs were especially ingrained into her mind. One of them was obviously a squadron leader, with its black and gold trim and Jolly Roger tailfins. It had been seen frequently leading many of the SDF-1’s defenders against the Zentraedi and had racked up an impressive kill record. There was also the red-trimmed fighter that had chased her during the last battle. And then there was the other one.
Miriya thought that the blue-trimmed fighter was a bit out of place among its green and tan counterparts. There had been reports of the uniquely colored Veritech inflicting considerable losses to the Zentreadi Battle Pod and Tri-Thruster groups. And she had to admit, it had pulled off some impressive evasive maneuvers and instances of uncanny accuracy. It was even rumored that this pilot had been the one that had downed Khyron the Backstabber.
However, she would not designate it or the other ones as her primary target until she had seen them in action for herself. Now all she needed was an excuse to find the great and fearsome ace that Khyron claimed that even she, Miriya Parino, could not defeat.
Azonia shook her head as she and Miriya gazed upon a tactical display of the SDF-1 and its Veritech squadrons.
“Miriya, you realize that we are under orders to suspend offensive operations against the battle-fortress itself. I cannot allow you to risk my most elite battalion on a whim.”
The green-haired Quadrano pilot shook her head and argued her point. “Commander, the weakness in Micronian strategy is their reliance on manned fighters to intercept forces too small for the SDF-1’s defense systems.” She gestured to an image of a Veritech squadron. “Our objective is simple. We are to launch a surgical strike, targeting their very best pilots. By swiftly dealing a crushing blow to a key segment of their defenses, we will demoralize the rest of their forces and make their utter defeat all the more imminent.”
Miriya’s superior considered her subordinate’s proposal for a long while, then decided that it was feasible and gave her consent. However, she gave her best pilot a small warning. “Very well. I trust you know what you are doing. I hope this exercise is not a crusade to simply fulfill your ego.”
Miriya nodded and kept her expression neutral. <I am only fulfilling my destiny as the finest Zentraedi pilot. >
“Huh? I’m being promoted?” Max said as his superior had just informed him of his advance in rank.
Wolfe nodded as he handed Sterling a new metal insignia. “That’s right Sterling. The upper brass and even Captain Gloval have been more than impressed with your combat record and have decided that you be awarded the rank of third lieutenant. Congratulations.”
“I... don’t know what to say.” The blue-haired pilot stuttered as he looked upon his new uniform decoration. The new position meant that he was now second-in-command to the Vermilion Squadron and Ben’s superior. “I don't think I’ve done anything to be promoted like this...”
“You say haven't done ANYTHING?” Wolfe said with some surprise. “As I recall, you were the only pilot to have successfully boarded an enemy vessel and infiltrate into their ranks, was instrumental in the rescue of your comrades and had actually shot down a Zentraedi Officer’s Pod. Not to mention that your latest kills have now put you at the top, among the aces. You‘ve even edged out Commander Fokker.”
“Aw, I’m not that good.”
The veteran pilot and instructor found Max’s humbleness and lack of an ego to be quite a change from the usual showoffs and braggarts that he was familiar with. It was hard to believe that this gentle-looking youth was the premiere fighter pilot of the SDF-1 and genius of aerial combat.
At that point a new voice was heard.
“Well Sterling, the uppers think that you are that good. And if you’re able to beat even my record, then I’m inclined to agree.”
Both men looked over to the door and saw Roy and Ben coming through it.
Some time later...
“I hope the Skipper will be all right.” Max said as he and Ben headed toward their favorite hangout, the Close Encounters Arcade. They had just finished visiting Rick in the hospital and had decided to kill some time before their next combat assignment.
“Aw, don’t worry about him, buddy!” Ben said in his usual cheerful tone. “Commander Fokker said that he’ll be okay. He’ll be up and about before ya know it!”
“I suppose you’re right.” Max said as he and Ben entered the dark and blinking world of the arcade.
The manager of the establishment groaned as he saw Max once again heading toward the fighter games.
<Oh no! Not HIM again!>
He felt an overwhelming urge to bang his head on the counter of his register. The last few times Max was here, he had nearly bankrupted the arcade with his token winnings. Despite setting all the most difficult machines on their highest skill levels, Sterling had no problems in beating them and draining the arcade’s token supply. Didn’t Max have anywhere ELSE to go?
Somewhere high above the Pacific Ocean, Miriya’s battle cruiser began descending down toward the Earth's surface as the ace pilot had begun preparing her squadrons of Quadranos and Tri-Thrusters. Among them were some of her best pilots, (not as good as her of course).
As soon as the ship cleared through the atmosphere and had picked up the SDF-1’s position, Miriya gave the go ahead signal. Quadranos exited the open hangers like giant paratroopers jumping out of a plane. They were soon followed by swarms of Tri-Thrusters. At the spearhead of the attack group was the ace pilot of the Zentraedi, Miriya Parino.
“I am looking for one particular enemy fighter. He will appear through superior performance. When I have identified him, you are ordered to withdraw and leave his destruction to me personally, is that understood?”
Her subordinates all gave her their understanding as she prepared for what may be the fight of her life. She was eager to engage this oh-so-terrible enemy ace and prove to all that she was second to none.
<Whoever you are, Micronian, today shall be your last, I swear it!>
“Thanks Ben.” Max rubbed his nose after the sudden sneeze, and that was when the battle alert sounded. Without a second thought, the two pilots raced out of the arcade and flagged down a taxi to get them back to the base.
As he watched them leave, the arcade manager breathed out a sigh of relief and motioned for his assistant to collect Max’s winnings. It was an unspoken rule that any unclaimed tokens that were found on the floor were to be used to restock the machines’ reservoirs. Max had already won three pans worth of the glittery pieces, and it would have REALLY hurt the Close Encounters business if he had cashed them in.
“VERMILLION TWO AND THREE, PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF.” Lisa said on the communications net.
“Roger Bridge.” Max replied.
“Roger Bridge.” Ben chimed in.
A minute later, the two friends were catapulted off the carrier deck and were in the air with Skull Squadron. Another minute later, Roy Fokker joined up with them.
“At last our Commander arrives.” Ben said jokingly.
“No cracks today, hotshot.” Roy stated as he headed up the formation. “We’re going to have our hands busy, so keep your eyes peeled and your trigger fingers ready.”
“You got it, Sir.” Max nodded.
“Affirmative, Sir.” Ben agreed.
Just then, the enemy appeared from out of the clouds.
<Now where is this great enemy ace that Khyron fears so?> Miriya wondered as she ordered her forces to engage the enemy. She kept back and watched as the two sides collided with each other. She immediately spotted Roy Fokker’s Skull One as it did a lazy barrel roll to evade a barrage of plasma bolts, then shot its main autocannon through the head of one of her Quadrano Units. The mecha made a slow and lazy dive toward the surface of the Earth.
Miriya had recognized that pilot as one of the newer and less experienced recruits of the elite female battalion. She had shown some promise, but now it would never be realized. She then turned her attention back to the battle and noticed that a great deal of the action was being concentrated in one area. She then saw the color blue.
Max’s Veritech did a complex spiraling maneuver while shifting to Battloid Mode. He easily evaded a hornet’s nest of missiles that had been launched by a Quadrano, then returned fire, blowing his opponent to pieces. A second Quadrano tried to bushwhack him from behind, but he made his machine do a sharp U-turn and blasted his would-be killer from behind.
Three Tri-Thrusters came down from above and fired, but Max easily evaded the enemy ships and picked them off as they zoomed by. He did not even waste much ammunition as he carefully took them out with aimed shots to their cockpits and thrusters. The fact that he was hitting his intended targets with pinpoint accuracy at high rates of speed was extraordinary.
This display most certainly captured one pilot’s attention...
<Ah! So there he is!> Miriya grinned maliciously as she put her own Quadrano Unit into a dive toward Max. <NOW YOU DIE!>
However, dying was the last thing on Max’s mind as he skillfully evaded Miriya’s initial attacks, then made his Veritech do a sharp reversal and fired back at his newest opponent. The Quadrano let loose with a swarm of short-range missiles, but they did not find their mark as the blue-trimmed fighter dodged them and let loose with a quartet of missiles of its own.
Miriya smirked as she easily evaded that pathetic attempt to shoot her down. Her smirk disappeared when her opponent suddenly shifted to Battloid and let loose with his autocannon rifle, clipping her Quadrano’s left arm and damaging the tri-barrel blaster. She realized that the missiles he had fired had been a distraction. She immediately put her mecha into a ballistic climb, which the Battloid followed, firing all the time.
“You devil!” The Zentraedi pilot said fondly as she turned about and let loose with a sizzling barrage of particle beams and cannon rounds.
Max returned fire as he sped toward his diving opponent. The two combatants passed each other within mere meters of each other. In that instant, he had his Battloid’s head turn about and fire its one head-mounted laser cannon. The beam managed to rake across the Quadrano’s chest, causing the metal to smoke a bit as she sped by.
Miriya became angered that the Micronian had scored a direct hit, though it was of minimal damage. She immediately turned about and let loose with another swarm of missiles, then fired her remaining tri-blaster. Her missiles once again failed to connect as the Micronian ace evaded them and shifted to Guardian. However, she managed to clip the tip of his left wing as he shifted to Fighter mode and took evasive action.
“You can't dodge forever!” Miriya cried out as she gave chase, firing off another flock of missiles.
Max’s adrenaline levels were climbing at astounding rates as he continued to match his skills against his determined opponent. He had realized almost immediately that this challenger was different from all the others. The way the foe continued to evade most of his attacks and dog his tail was unbelievable. Never before had he ever faced an adversary that could push his skills to their utmost limits. His sense of time seemed to slip away as he felt more alive than he ever had before. The shy, unassuming Maximilian Sterling could afford to be humble on the ground, but this was his element, where he ruled the skies and lived at light speed. All of his attention was focused on one goal, defeating his antagonist with all the skills he had at his disposal. He slipped into a kind of trance where only the battle mattered.
He almost forgot about the rest of the world in general until he heard Roy Fokker’s voice on his communicator.
“Max, the base is asking you to retreat. Right now!”
His voice shook Max out of his combat trance as he acknowledged, still evading his opponents attacks. “Huh? They want me to retreat? W-Wait, I don’t get it. What’s the big idea, huh?”
“That bandit on your tail is trying too hard.”
“So they want to find out what his game is.”
Max nodded as he pushed his control stick over and had his Veritech dive toward the Pacific Ocean. As expected, his opponent dived in after him in hot pursuit, firing at him all the time.
“You can’t escape!” Miriya cried out as she chased after her quarry. Never before had she tried so hard to kill just one enemy fighter. The pilot of the blue-trimmed Veritech was the most elusive and dangerous foe she had ever faced. So far, he had only sustained minimal damage and had had scored several direct hits on her own mecha, despite the Quadrano’s incredible speed, armor, weapons and maneuverability. On several instances, she had nearly been killed as her adversary continued to wear her down.
Taking a quick glance at her weapons console, she frowned as she discovered that she had already used up all of her initial payload of missiles and was halfway through her only set of reloads. Her left tri-blaster was inoperative and her right was in danger of overheating. Her chest cannons were almost out of shells. She gritted her teeth in frustration as she realized that she might run out of ammunition before she could kill her quarry. And if she couldn’t fight back then she would have to face either defeat or retreat. Neither option was preferable.
<This cannot be...> The strange feeling of uncertainty began to creep into her mind. She couldn’t be on the verge of... defeat?
No! She would NOT accept that outcome! She was the greatest pilot of the Zentraedi. She was the QUEEN of the battlefield and she would not admit that a tiny Micronian was her better! There just HAD to be a way to defeat him! There had to be!
It was just after she had evaded a stream of tracer fire that she caught sight of the SDF-1 and decided on an audacious plan.
Max’s eyes widened as his opponent suddenly began heading toward the SDF-1. He immediately put his Veritech into pursuit, but knew that he wasn’t going to catch up in time.
“It’s too late to stop!” He cried out to the battle-fortress’ bridge.
Consequently, the anti-aircraft batteries refrained from firing for fear of hitting Sterling as he chased after the Zentraedi ace. All exterior hatches were being sealed quickly to prevent invasion of the enemy, but Miriya found one final opening and dove in, with Max in determined pursuit.
“This is it!” The blue-haired pilot said as he focused on his wily opponent. Whatever happened, this battle was going to end!
Inside her mecha, Miriya smiled as she watched her rearview monitor at the pursuing Veritech. Her fighter was barely able to navigate the relatively tight corridor as she sped at hair-raising speeds.
<Run little man, run! And when you catch me, you will die!>
Her forward sensors then alerted her that she was reaching the end of the corridor. She braced herself for whatever kind of environment that she would encounter. Whatever happened, this battle was going to end!
The citizens of Macross City were quite shocked when they heard the announcement that the enemy had penetrated the defenses and everyone was to take cover. Three unauthorized denizens of the city were especially surprised to hear this news.
“Did you hear that?” Konda asked as he, Bron, and Konda stood at a café that was near the hospital.
“Do you think it’s true?” Bron wondered.
In answer to his question, a huge rumbling was heard near the hospital, followed by the roar of huge thrusters.
Max took a deep breath as his Battloid dropped down to the streets and charged down the streets of Macross after his opponent. He had the advantage of knowing his way around the city, but he also had the handicap to protect the citizens from the enemy. If he didn't defeat his adversary and quickly, innocent people might be hurt or even killed.
As he received the coordinates of the Zentraedi from the Civil Defense Network, he decided to shift to Guardian Mode in order to intercept the Quadrano.
Konda, Rico and Bron were still wondering what was going on, when a huge, dark green shape suddenly roared past them, causing them to be thrown off their feet in its jetwash. All three gasped in surprise as they recognized the markings of the Zentraedi mecha. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that it had delivered them to the SDF-1.
“Wasn’t that Miriya Parino?” Rico cried out as they watched the mecha speed off into the distance.
A moment later, speeding past them, was a blue-trimmed Veritech in Guardian Mode. The three Zentraedi spies caught a glimpse of the pilot as light was reflected through his canopy and off his glasses.
“Hey... don’t we know that guy?” Bron asked.
Max nodded as he caught sight of his target and decided to take it down! When he got close enough, he shifted to Battoid Mode. The feet of the fighter gushed thruster fire and he skidded to a halt. Whipping out his autocannon, he opened fire.
Miriya had begun to rethink her strategy of coming to the SDF-1. She was unfamiliar with her surroundings and the streets didn’t provide for much maneuverability. Just as she was about to make another turn, her threat sensors went off. Then she was pushed forward as something impacted hard against the back of her mecha, causing it to slam face-first into the pavement, making a deep depression in the concrete.
The Zentraedi ace was in a blood-red rage as she realized that her opponent had gotten the drop on her. Ignoring the damage readouts on her machine, she got the Quadrano back onto its feet and faced off against Max.
“YOU WISH TO DO COMBAT?! YOU IMPUDENT FOOL!”
<Kyhron was right! He is a Micronian devil!>
Max knew that this was it. The two of them had been pushed to their utmost limits and it was almost certain that only one of them was going to come out of this encounter alive. He then looked down at his own console and noted that he was nearly out of ammunition. His next shots would have to count and... they would have to be final. As a result, he held his fire until he was certain that he would get a sure kill. There was no room for mistakes or second chances. As things stood as they were, it looked as if Max and his opponent would both die when the shooting started.
It was then that fate, or rather Captain Gloval gave him another option.
“Open the overhead hatch! We have to force the alien off of our ship!”
As soon as the opening was made, the Quadrano pilot decided to go for it. As she headed back up into the open air, she released her remaining missiles to cover her escape. The Battloid evaded them, shifted to Fighter Mode and kept on coming.
<Lose your taste for combat my friend?> Max thought as he was about to kick in the afterburners to pursue his foe. However, that was when Lisa Hayes raised him on the tactical net.
“Return to base, Vermillion Three. You’ve beaten him.”
Max sighed as he watched the enemy mecha zoom off into the distance, followed by the remnants of the Zentraedi attack force. “Not decisively.”
As far as Max was concerned, the battle had ended up in a draw.
As far as Miriya was concerned, a draw is the same as losing. She had failed in killing him!
“MIRIYA WILL NOT FORGET THIS DAY, MICRONIAN!”
“Max, what was up with that Zentraedi you tangled with earlier?” Ben asked as he and Max were heading to where Roy Fokker was supposed to be.
Max shrugged as he held up a small device. “I don’t know. Maybe Commander Fokker can make sense of the data from my flight recorder.”
Ben then smirked and joked, “You don’t think this bogey has a crush on you?”
“Yeah, whatever.” Max smiled good-naturedly as he knocked on the door to Claudia Grant’s quarters. He had heard that she and Roy were having dinner together.
However, it was her brother Vince Grant who answered the door. His expression was that of utter seriousness and sadness. Inside, Claudia was crying inconsolably on the couch with Lisa Hayes sitting beside her, trying to comfort her.
That was when Vince told them of the final fate of Skull Leader.
Max couldn’t believe that Roy Fokker was gone, as he, Rick, Ben, Claudia, Lisa and Captain Gloval attended the funeral. Roy’s body had been placed in a coffin that was draped with the flag of the RDF. As Gloval gave the eulogy, Max bowed his head in reverence for a great officer and good friend.
As the body was being prepared for a burial at sea, the bugler began playing taps and everyone present saluted, all except for Sterling, who instead made the sign of the Catholic Cross.
“You okay, Max?” Ben asked.
Sterling nodded as he sighed. “Yeah. I just haven’t done that since... since my parents died.”
The Zentraedi fleet...
Miriya took out her frustration on her belongings in her quarters, throwing things left and right as she thought back to her battle with the Micronian ace... and LOST! To a Micronian! To an insignificant bug!
Technically speaking, there had been no clear winner in their duel, but to the Zentraedi female, it had been a terrible blow to her pride as the greatest combat pilot. She could have stayed and fight, but the Micronian had faced her down and made her flee. The outcome had been unacceptable and she couldn’t live with the only time she had faced an opponent and not emerge as the victor! Her perfect record was now blemished with that one encounter. It was just unbearable! She just HAD to correct that! SHE HAD TO!
It had been some time since that fateful battle and Miriya had come to a decision. She hadn't stopped thinking about it and the desire of defeating that Micronian pilot had become more and more consuming. Every time she went to sleep, she would see the duel in her dreams and it made her more anguish each time. She had to destroy him. She had to eliminate the source of her inner turmoil. And before she sent him to oblivion, she needed to see just who he was.
To that end, she had decided on a most radical course of action to regain her honor and title as the best combat pilot. It would cost her much, but Miriya was willing to pay the price.
Azonia was shocked.
“What? Are you serious? Miriya, why would an excellent pilot like yourself would want to become a Micronian spy? It doesn’t make sense!”
Miriya steeled herself as she convinced herself that this was the only way. “Azonia, please... I have no choice!”
The female commander saw the determination in her subordinate’s eyes and could tell that Miriya would brook no argument.
“Oh... I see.”
Without any hesitation, Miriya disrobed and entered the sizing chamber. She said not a word as the tank began to fill with nutrient fluid. As she began to feel her body succumb to the sedative effects of the fluid, her last thoughts were of a certain ace pilot of the SDF-1.
<After all my successes in battle, I have finally been defeated... by a tiny Micronian. So now, I am becoming a Micronian.> As she started to lose consciousness, her last thoughts rang out loudly in her mind. <I must DESTROY that pilot! I MUST!>
Miriya felt a little discomfort as she put on a plain, sackcloth dress that all micronized Zentradi were given. She was not used to such rough clothes, but decided that the slight irritation was bearable. She had already laid out her plans and for once, Khyron was going to prove useful. The Backstabber was already planning for another unauthorized raid on the battle-fortress and Miriya intended to use the attack as a diversion so that she could be inserted into the SDF-1, in much the same manner as she had delivered Konda, Rico and Bron.
She was getting ready to enter the capsule that was specially prepared for her and thought about taking her souvenir laser rifle with her. After pondering about it for a long while, she eventually decided against the notion as she assumed that it would be impossible for her to recharge it and carrying a weapon would probably raise suspicions. She would have to make do on her own, but she felt that she was up to the challenge.
Meanwhile, Max and Ben had decided to find their commander as they had been informed that Rick had been released from the hospital and had even been promoted to first lieutenant. They had also heard that the North American/Ontario Quadrant would be accepting the civilians and thought that the news might cheer Rick up.
As they walked past the various planes that were being serviced in the hanger deck, the two friends talked about their superior officer and the close friend that they had all lost in Commander Fokker.
“It’s been pretty rough with Commander Fokker gone.” Ben remarked.
“Yeah, he was a great guy.” Max agreed. “I think Lieutenant Hunter is really taking hard. He and Commander Fokker were really close friends. Like brothers, you know?”
“Sort of like us, eh Maxie?”
“Yeah...” Max agreed as he began to think back to the promise that he had made to Ben’s mother. The Dixons had took him in after his parents had died and Ben had been with him like the big brother he never had. It was at that moment that he realized how important Ben had become in his life and he had no idea of what he would do if something happened to the big goofball. He began to get a feeling of foreboding, but banished those thoughts from his mind when he caught sight of Rick Hunter and the Skull One. He motioned for Ben to follow.
“I’m right behind you.”
Rick noticed the approach of his two subordinates and the three began a small conversation.
“Hey, this is Commander Fokker’s Skull One, isn’t it?” Ben remarked. “Rick, are you going to be flying it?”
Hunter nodded as he patted the side of the fuselage. “Yeah, I was really lucky to get it as my aircraft assignment. It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? Commander Fokker was always so proud of the fact that he’d never been shot down. Now he’s gone and I get his plane. Me... a guy who’s always being shot down.”
Max noted the sad tone in his voice and decided to spring the news on him. “By the way Rick, have you heard the latest news? Pretty soon the civilians will be leaving. We just heard it ourselves!”
“Gee, I think that’s terrific Max!”
“Yeah. Apparently, the North American/Ontario Quadrant will be accepting them and the official announcement will be given tomorrow by Captain Gloval.”
Ben nodded as he added, “This is what we want to know. How would you like to come into town with Max and me for a little early celebration?”
Max nodded. “Yeah, and besides, you could use the recreation, eh?”
Rick considered the proposal and then smiled. “Well guys, it sounds so good, it'll be my treat!”
In the hanger of the elite Quadrano Units, the female pilots saluted their best as the micronized ace of their squadrons entered the tiny delivery capsule and strapped herself in. They did not understand why their leader had decided to shrink herself and infiltrate the SDF-1, but they did not ask any questions.
Miriya nodded to one of her subordinates as she entered her Quadrano Unit and prepared to launch. The time drew near and soon her honor and reputation as the number one combat pilot would be restored... with Max Sterling’s death!
“Here you go, one giant top sirloin, medium-rare.” The chef said as he handed out a platter.
“Thanks.” Ben said as he held up a knife and fork and breathed in the steak’s heavenly aroma. “Mmmmm, does this smell great or what?”
Rick and Max gazed upon the large slab of meat as Ben prepared to dig in.
“I don’t know Ben, it sure looks like a lot to eat.” Max commented, though he began to feel hungry himself.
“I’m so hungry, I may order another one!” Ben laughed as he impaled a huge piece on his fork.
At that moment the battle alert went off as Lisa Hayes’ voice was heard over the P.A.
“ATTENTION, ALL FIGHTER PILOTS! RED ALERT! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!”
Max sighed. “Sounds like the real thing.”
“You bet it does, Max!” Rick agreed as he and the blue-haired pilot got up from their seats and headed out the door. When Rick called back to Ben, the big pilot looked down at his unfinished meal and said to it.
“Don’t move, I’ll be back real soon!”
The skies above the city of Toronto were lit with sights of various explosions, lasers, cannon shots and missile trails as the SDF-1 and its Veritech squadrons battled it out with Zentraedi Tri-Thrusters and Battle Pods.
As the battle raged, a lone craft flew toward the battle-fortress from behind, using the ensuing battle as cover. In its armored right hand was a tiny capsule with the Micronized ace of the Quadrano Battalion.
“Miriya, this is dangerous! Are you sure you want to board the Micronian ship with no weapons?” The pilot asked.
The green-haired ace thought back to Max’s laser rifle again, then shrugged. “Why?”
“Because of Azonia.” The mecha pilot replied. “She’s upset with the failure of this operation.”
“Upset, but not with me.” Miriya pointed out. “She’s upset with Khyron for making a mess of the whole thing. But enough, just deliver me to the Micronian ship.”
The pilot nodded as she streaked toward an unprotected area of the fortress and tore into the hull. Within minutes, she deposited her cargo and made her escape.
Miriya was jostled a bit, but immediately got out of the capsule and began making her way through the bowels of the ship. Within the first fifteen minutes, she had disappeared and no one would be able to track her down.
The hunt had begun!
By this time, the SDF-1 had decided to activate its new barrier system and that’s when Khyron’s forces had begun a non-stop onslaught on it. It wasn’t long before Rick’s squadron received orders to attack the Zentraedi cruisers before the barrier overloaded.
Max dove in with his wingmen and shifted to Battloid when he reached the surface of one of the enemy ships. He threw everything he had, blowing up laser turrets, destroying missile launchers and cannons. He and the rest of the Skull Squadron did their best, but the enemy continued the attack. It seemed that nothing would stop them.
Unfortunately for everyone present, something was about to stop the Zentraedi, at a terrible price.
Max found himself near the heart of a hellish firestorm as Rick was giving orders to clear out. The barrier was about to chain-react and that meant that everything was about to be obliterated. He put his machine through its transformation to Fighter Mode and blasted away from the cruiser, just as the barrier’s energy began to engulf it. As he hit his afterburners, he desperately looked about for his wingmen and saw the Skull One ahead of him. But where was Ben? Where was his best friend and brother?
He then heard Rick Hunter’s desperate voice on the tactical net.
“Ben! Hit your afterburners now! Do you copy?”
Ben’s terrified voice was heard as Max caught sight of his Veritech, as it was engulfed in the barrier’s energy.
“It’s too late Rick! I can’t.... AAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!”
Max closed his eyes shut and tried to shut out the death screams of his closest friend. However, he couldn’t stop the tears from escaping from his eyes as his right hand automatically made the sign of the Catholic Cross.
<Goodbye... my Big Brother Ben.>
June 2010, a few days after the barrier overload and the destruction of Toronto...
Max sat alone in the steakhouse in front of the grill, where his best friend and closest thing he had to a brother, had eaten his last meal. It had been rough since he had lost him to the barrier overload. Naturally of course, the civilians were refused permission to land after that terrible incident and the United Earth Government had been given the SDF-1 orders to leave the planet. The only good news was that Max had been promoted to second lieutenant and it had been barely been a month since he had achieved the rank of third lieutenant. However, he had no wish to celebrate his promotion.
When he had offered to Rick, to deliver the formal notification of Ben Dixon’s death to his parents, he had prepared for the worst. Of course, Mr. Dixon blamed him for the loss of his son and was on the verge of physically beating him to death. Max had been ready to receive whatever punishment Ben’s father would mete out. After all, he had failed in his promise to protect Ben and deserved whatever Mr. Dixon had in mind.
However, it was Mrs. Dixon’s voice of reason that had saved him. Though she was also distraught at losing her only child, she did not blame Max for what had happened, She told her husband that their son had always gone through life with that big goofy grin and never thinking about the consequences. That was how they were going to remember and cherish him. As far as she was concerned, Max was forgiven, for he had done all he could to keep him safe.
Max sighed and shook his head. The Dixons may have forgiven him, but he certainly didn't think he was deserving of such understanding. As a result, he had moved out all of his things to his barrack, despite Mrs. Dixon’s protests. Sterling had decided not to trouble the Dixon family any more. They had put up with him long enough and he didn’t want to burden them any more.
As he continued to stare at the sizzling grill, he began to accept the fact that he was now alone in the universe again. He had nowhere to call home and no family any more. He let off another sigh and resigned himself to his destiny of solitude.
“Hey buddy, are you going to sit there all night, or are you going to order?” The chef asked as he turned his attention to the Veritech pilot.
Max looked up to face him and noted that he was the same cook who had served Ben his last meal. Then, after a long while, he decided on a gesture to honor his departed comrade.
“One giant top sirloin, medium-rare.”
Max groaned as he staggered into his barrack, with one hand against his stomach.
<I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!>
He made his way to the bathroom and opened up the medicine cabinet. Taking out a bottle of antacids, he popped two pills into his mouth and downed them with a glass of water. He then made his way to his bunk and plopped himself heavily down upon the mattress. As he let the antacids do their work on his stomach, he stared up at the ceiling and contemplated all that he had gained and lost in his life. He felt as if he had lost far more than he had gained. After all, what was the point of being the best fighter pilot of the SDF-1, if everyone that he ever cared about wasn’t there with him to celebrate?
Once again, he felt that overwhelming feeling of loneliness and wondered of he could ever find someone who could alleviate the emptiness in his heart?
Mrs. Dixon took down her laundry as she thought about Max and his sudden departure from her home. She had watched him grow up with Ben and he had become the second son she never had. She hoped that he was doing all right and was praying that he would come around and contract her or her husband soon. It was times like this that people needed each other the most.
It was just as she was reaching for the last articles of clothes that she discovered that several of her garments were missing from the clothesline. She wondered just what had happened to them.
<That was my favorite blouse and vest!>
In a nearby alley...
Miriya smiled as she got out of her sackcloth dress and into the new disguise she had obtained. She found the clothes she had pilfered to be strange, though they fit to her lithe figure quite nicely. She wondered what the elaborate ruffles on the top garment was for. Perhaps they were some kind of military insignia or sign of rank?
She then pulled on the leggings she had gotten from another clothesline, and wondered just why they only came down to her mid-calf. The footwear she had found were also unusual. How could anyone stand with such high heels? She then reasoned that it was for some kind of balance training.
Putting those thoughts aside, she was confident that she would not be recognized as a Zentraedi and began her quest.
<Whoever you are, Micronian Ace, Miriya Parino shall find you!>
To be continued...
Most readers would recognize this chapter from Farewell Big Brother and Bursting Point, as well as Issue Five of Love and War. I crammed these two episodes together as I feel that they had two of the critical turning points in Max’s life, namely his battle with Miriya and the loss of Ben Dixon. I added that steak order scene as Max’s way of honoring his close friend.
This story is a pleasure to write and I’ve decided to extend it one or two chapters past the intended eight. Next up, Miriya begins to discover the joys and horrors of Micronian life as Max must go on with life without Ben. However, a chance encounter in a movie theater might change all of that. See you there!