STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright by Voyager Entertainment and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Huge shout-out to Annie and Eva, who gave me the courage to let strangers read my writing!
August 19, 2202
Carina had a hard time holding it together after the Commander spoke to the Star Force. Mark was all right (for now, a nagging voice in her head added) but she didn’t know when (or if, the voice interjected helpfully) she would see him again. The Star Force would likely be gone for months. And in the meantime, the threat of this “hyperon bomb” would be hanging over all of their heads.
And what about Nova? If she had been separated from the Star Force, and she wasn’t here at HQ… The Commander had assumed she was dead, but Carina wouldn’t let herself believe that. Nova had been through too much to allow herself to die foolishly in an accident. Just because she hadn’t made it to the underground HQ didn’t mean they should assume the worst.
She looked around, her head spinning. The reaction of the soldiers to the communication with the Star Force was mixed. Some, who had been muttering that Earth should hand the Argo over to the invaders, had changed their tune now that they saw there was a chance for the ship to save them once again. Others seemed to think the Commander had sent the Star Force on a fool’s journey, that the threat of the hyperon bomb was greater than the possibility that the Argo could find the enemy planet and disarm the bomb before the aliens detonated it; still others were planning their strategy, deciding the best course of action against the invaders.
Carina’s friend Jenny Greenwood, working with the communications team, had relaxed visibly now that she had seen that Chris Eager had made it safely to the Argo. The Commander had tensed, however. Carina knew he was fond of Nova and wondered whether he was thinking about her. She watched as Colonel Okajima approached the Commander for a private conversation and scanned the room for other top brass. There were a handful of generals and admirals scattered about, but one man was conspicuous in his absence: General Stone. He usually stuck close by the Commander. Was he…? Shaking off the thought, she approached Jenny. “Anything new?”
The sergeant shook her head. “We’re keeping audio open everywhere we can at HQ. They were talking about what to do with all the bodies – sounds like they’re going to put the survivors who stayed topside to work.”
Carina scoffed. “I’d say it’s decent of them to let us bury our dead, but I’m sure they’re more worried about the smell.”
An idea began to form in Carina’s mind. “Jenny, what if I wore a wire or something and sneaked up to the surface to help with the recovery? I’m sure they’ll be supervising it pretty closely, and so far all of the soldiers we’ve seen have been male. They won’t suspect a woman if the women on their planet don’t fight. We might be able to pick up some useful information.”
She thought about it. “Maybe. You’d have to stick awfully close to them, though. There might be another way of doing it…”
The two women brainstormed for a few minutes before approaching the Commander with the idea. He considered it quietly for a moment. “I don’t want you to take unnecessary risks, Lieutenant.”
“No sir, neither do I, but the soldiers who are doing the grunt work might let something slip if they’re bored. And I’ve been told more than once that I don’t look ‘military.’ I’m sure I can get away with planting a bug or two. According to Sgt. Greenwood, we have some available that will be virtually undetectable unless the enemy knows what they’re looking for. Besides,” she added, “it could be a chance to find out what’s happened to… Well, to some of the missing.”
The Commander thought for another few seconds, then ran his hand over his tired face with a sigh. “Very well. We’ll discuss this plan further. Report for duty in the morning and I’ll let you know your assignment.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Col. Okajima and Lt. Gilman had joined them. The colonel looked critically at her face. “Go home for the night, Lieutenant. You’ve been up for 36 hours – try to get some sleep. Gilman, walk her home and then get some rest yourself.”
Carina opened her mouth to protest, but she knew it would do her no good. The boys in her department had been very protective of her since she had been assaulted last spring – she was almost never allowed to go anywhere by herself anymore. Still, she was glad to have the opportunity to sleep. She saluted gratefully and walked out, Jim Gilman on her heels.
“Are you sure you want to go up to the surface, Clarkie? It seems like you’re going to be taking an awfully big chance.”
“For heaven’s sake, Gilman, I’m a soldier. I’m not made of glass.”
“No, but you ain’t really trained in combat, either.”
“Just because I’ve never been in combat doesn’t mean I haven’t trained for it.” She was tired, exasperated, but she knew he was just looking out for her. “Look, Jim, if you or another one of the guys goes up there, even in civilian clothes, they won’t let their guard down for a second. If I go up acting like a distraught girl looking for her lover, they won’t give me a second thought.”
“Maybe. Just remember, though: guys get distraught when they lose their lovers, too. You’re not a single girl anymore. You have someone else to think about.”
“I know. Believe me, he’s been in my thoughts every second since this started. I’ll be careful. I won’t put him through that.”
“OK.” They had reached the Ventures’ apartment building. “See ya in the mornin’.”
“Laytah.” He grinned at her mocking of his accent before turning off for his own place. Carina entered and knocked on the Ventures’ door. Katie opened it almost immediately and threw herself into her sister’s arms.
“Cricket, where were you? You said you’d be here when I woke up.”
“I know, Kate, and I’m sorry. I wanted to stay until we got in touch with the Star Force, and it happened a lot later than I expected.”
“But you did get in touch with them?” Mrs. Venture’s face was anxious.
“Yes.” Carina nodded and filled them in on what had transpired: the Commander, the partisan army, the Star Force’s mission to disarm the bomb. She didn’t tell them that she planned to act as a spy on the surface – that would worry her sister too much. She would share that information privately with Mark’s parents later. Instead, she kept her voice light, trying to make it sound as though she wasn’t at all concerned about what the outcome of the Argo’s journey would be.
Jordy seemed satisfied when she finished speaking. “So you saw Mark, and he’s OK?”
“Yup, he is. It’s going to be a long trip, though. It might feel to you like it did when he went to Iscandar.” The boy nodded wisely.
“We were just finishing dinner. Would you like to join us for dessert?” She thought Mr. Venture wanted to question her further, but she was pretty sure he wouldn’t do it in front of the children. Mrs. Venture jumped in.
“Oh, yes – with what we had stored here and the supplies they gave us at the shelter today, we discovered we had all the ingredients to make a cake. We decided to have a party to cheer ourselves up. Jordy, Kate, why don’t you run into the kitchen and get the cake and plates?”
They were only gone for a minute, but it was enough time for Carina to tell Mark’s parents what she planned to do, as well as tell them that Nova was missing. They weren’t happy about either piece of news, but put on cheerful faces for the kids. By the time they finished eating Carina could barely keep her eyes open. She bounced her fist on Kate’s head.
“OK, missy, it’s time for us to go to bed. I’ll bring you back here in the morning?” She looked to the Ventures, who nodded confirmation. After saying goodnight, the sisters dragged their feet several blocks to the military apartment complex. It occurred to Carina that the clothes she had stored for Kate hadn’t been replaced since the Comet Empire War, when everyone had been reminded that the underground cities might still be necessary. Most of what she had was probably too small. Mrs. Venture had filled a backpack for each of the kids, so Kate at least had a few days’ worth of clothes… Maybe when she was on the surface, Carina could manage to pick up some extras. It looked like they were going to be underground for a long time.
She expected to fall asleep as soon as she lay down, but instead Carina stared at the wall, unable to keep her eyes closed. After a few restless minutes, she realized what the problem was: this was the first time in three months she had gone to bed without a goodnight kiss – or at least a call – from Mark. When he worked the night shift at the control tower he would wait until he was sure she was in bed, then call to tell her he loved her. It had become a sweet ritual between them whenever they weren’t together, and Carina understood that her body was primed now, waiting for the phone to ring. She sighed and rolled over. This coming Sunday, it would be three months since they had finally kissed and had their “first date.” Hoping to calm her mind, she thought back on the early days of their relationship.
May 23, 2202
She awoke in the hotel room in
“How did you sleep, love?” He sounded like he had just woken up, too, but his tone got her blood running.
“Mmmmm… Very well. I was extremely… relaxed,” she purred and stretched languidly as she listened to him chuckle. She could practically see his chest puffing out from the inflation she was giving his male ego. Well, he was the best kisser she’d ever known (sorry, Daniel,) so she didn’t really have a problem with creating that monster. “Is this my wake-up call?”
“I’m afraid so. I’ll meet you in half an hour?”
After attending early-morning church services and sharing a comparitavely
coherent meal with Wildstar and Nova, they caught their private flight back to
The next thing she knew, they were making their descent onto
“Not a problem, love. I dozed off myself for a while.” He kissed the side of her head.
“I guess we didn’t get to review for the meeting. Why don’t you come in for a bit when we get home, and we can run through the report quickly.” By the time they got home and unloaded their luggage, it was nearly 0300 local time. Their presentation wasn’t until 1100 and they had both been granted the rest of the day off, but still that didn’t leave much time for sleep. They spent about half an hour reviewing their notes and planning what to say before she walked Mark to the door.
“I’m still not 100% convinced that I’m not dreaming,” she murmured into his neck as he took her in his arms.
“Me neither, but we can’t both be having the same dream, can we?” His lips tugged gently at the side of her neck.
“Doesn’t seem likely,” she admitted, looking him in the eye. “I feel like this weekend changed my life forever, Mark.”
He bent to kiss her mouth. “Forever.” She could feel his breathing deepen when she ran her fingers up and down his back, and a low sound escaped from his throat. “I’d better get home. I’ll call you in the morning.”
“Yeah, OK.” She stepped back regretfully but leaned in for one more kiss. “I love you, Commander.”
“I love you, too, Lieutenant. Goodnight.”
Carina leaned against the door after he left, smiling. Still wound up, she decided to take a shower before going to bed. It would mean she wouldn’t be able to straighten her hair before the meeting, but at least she could sleep a little later in the morning.
After another wake-up call provided by Mark, she looked in the mirror and groaned. Her hair was an unruly mess, but pulling half of it back in a clip made it presentable enough for their meeting. And she was intrigued to find that, despite losing sleep two nights in a row, her skin and eyes were bright and clear. This must be that “feminine glow” people talk about, she thought with a blushing smile. Still, she took extra care applying her makeup, not wanting to appear before the Council looking like a young girl.
The meeting went fairly smoothly. Or at least Mark’s part of it did. When she spoke to the concerns the American soldiers had regarding the automatic fleet and the technical issues that worried them, the Council dismissed her patronizingly. Still, they had allowed her to speak her piece, and she thought the Commander had paid attention to what she said.
Carina and Mark, dismissed, walked out together. “That went well,” he said, waiting until they were off HQ grounds before taking her hand.
“I guess so. Better for you than for me. What’s the deal with the Council not wanting smart women to open their mouths?” She was more aggravated than she had realized.
“Don’t ask me. I think your brain is sexy.”
She couldn’t help giggling. “Thanks. What do you want to do now? Would you like to come over for lunch?”
He grinned at her lasciviously. “Are you inviting me for lunch, or for ‘lunch?’” he asked, making air quotes with his fingers.
“I’m not going to dignify that question with a response.”
“OK. Yes, I would love to come over for lunch,” he said with a chuckle, putting an arm around her shoulder. “Have you ever noticed how much of our time together revolves around food?”
“What can I say? I love to eat. And they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. What makes you think it hasn’t all been a nefarious scheme on my part?”
“Well, if it has been, it’s worked.” They had reached her apartment, where she changed out of her uniform and then quickly pulled together a jar of stew to heat on the stove and fresh biscuits for the oven. After putting the kettle on for tea, she sat across from Mark at the kitchen table. He had been flipping through the newspaper while she cooked and she found herself staring at him. She couldn’t seem to wipe the foolish, smitten expression off her face. He looked up after a few moments and smiled uncomfortably. “What’s up?”
“Sorry.” She blushed and shook her head. “I just… This feels like a perfect moment, you know?”
He put down the paper and took her hand. “I do.” As they grinned at each other, the tea kettle whistled. She shook herself out of her reverie and jumped up to finish preparing lunch.
Mark helped her to wash the dishes when they finished eating. As she hung the dish towel on the handle of the oven to dry, he stepped up behind her, running his fingers lightly up and down her arms. She felt goose bumps rise on her neck. “So what do you feel like doing now?” he murmured.
“Not sure,” she teased, leaning into his chest. “I thought maybe I’d go shopping for new shoes, or maybe get a pedicure…” She tried to think of other “girly” activities he wouldn’t enjoy, but suddenly her brain wasn’t functioning quite as well as it had been earlier.
“Any chance I can talk you into something else?”
“Possibly,” she whispered, then took his hand and led him toward the living room. “Tell you what: why don’t we see if we can find a good movie to watch? Your back must be stiff after all the flying you did last week. How about a shoulder rub?”
He smiled softly at her. “Love one.”
They settled on a spooky looking ghost story (“You’re the strangest girl I’ve ever met,” Mark had told her with affection, thrilled that she hadn’t insisted on a romantic drama,) and Carina sat back against the arm of the sofa, propping one leg up. Mark looked at her for a moment before settling himself between her legs and leaning back into her hands. She began to knead the muscles in his shoulders a little nervously, not completely sure what she was getting into. But he was giving off nervous vibes as well, and she reminded herself that they were going down this road together.
They tried to focus on the movie they had selected, commenting on the characters and the plot, but the thriller was less than thrilling, and as Mark’s shoulder muscles relaxed and Carina’s hands traveled further down his back, they both became distracted. She knew very well how strong he was; having the freedom to run her hands over those muscles, exploring them at her leisure without embarrassment, was incredibly exciting. She could feel his rising body heat through his shirt as well, and wondered at the effect she had on him. When Mark inched his way back toward her, draping his arm over her knee to caress the calf she had deliberately left bare when she changed out of her uniform, she gave up even pretending to follow the plot of the movie. Instead she leaned toward him, resting her cheek against his back to inhale his scent, sliding her hands around to his abdomen and letting them wander up and over his chest.
She could hear his heart pounding heavily; his breath was uneven, as was hers; when she sat up, kissed the back of his neck and then traced her tongue across to his ear and nibbled at it, he let out a low moan and turned toward her. “Carina…” He kissed her mouth and rolled over, pulling her down the so that she was lying comfortably beneath him. He looked at her for a few seconds, his eyes burning with love and desire, then bent to gently kiss her: first her eyes, then the tip of her nose, her chin, and finally her mouth. As he gently parted her lips with his tongue, the heat which she had managed to contain in her belly coursed through the rest of her body. She slipped her tongue into his mouth and dragged the tip along his hard palate, smiling as she felt him shudder.
He continued to kiss her mouth deeply for several more minutes, and then trailed his mouth across her face, down her throat and along the scooped neckline of her shirt. His hand moved slowly up her side, pausing when it reached her breast, tentatively caressing her flesh. She tensed for a split second before closing her eyes and relaxing into his touch. When his fingertips brushed over the sensitive area of her nipple, she gasped and sighed audibly. “Oh…”
Mark groaned and brought his mouth back to her neck, nuzzling and nibbling at it while his hand toyed with her breast. Her fingers ran through his hair and over his back as she sighed his name. She had a vague idea that she should to put a stop to this soon, but not yet.
A sudden hideous scream from the television did what she couldn’t bring herself to do, dragging them out of their fog. Carina had forgotten about the movie they had been watching – apparently the action was picking up there as well. She and Mark looked at each other and smiled sheepishly. He looked flushed, warm, and his eyes were on fire, but he took a deep, steadying breath, moved his hand to her face and kissed her gently. “What am I going to do with you?” he whispered, stroking her cheek as he looked in her eyes.
Anything you want, she was tempted to reply, but no, that would be the wrong answer. She stroked his cheek as well. “This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”
“Uh-uh. You know I’ve never been good at controlling myself with you, love. How many times did I come close to forcing myself on you when I was in the hospital?”
“’Forcing yourself on me?’ Zero. I know what that feels like, remember. And I’ve never exactly been a paragon of self-control with you, either.” She thought for a minute, stroking his hair. “We’ll be back on our regular work schedule tomorrow… and my sister will be arriving for the summer in just a couple of weeks. We’ll be forced to watch our behavior while she’s here, and this sort of opportunity won’t present itself very often anyway.”
“Yeah. I just don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to take things too fast.” He kissed her and lay down on top of her, resting his head on her shoulder. As her hand began tracing circles on his back, he sighed contentedly. “You know, don’t you… This is for real, Carina. When I use words like ‘forever,’ that’s not just talk. I need to know that you understand that. It might be too early to announce it to the world, but I mean every word.”
Tears filled her eyes. “I know, Mark. The world might think we’re crazy, but I meant what I said to you – forever sounds good to me.”
He squeezed her tightly for a moment before they both became quiet. They redirected their attention to the movie, but were both asleep by the time it ended.
Forever, Carina thought as she began to doze off in the underground city. She thought about what he had said to her before he left for Heroes’ Hill: God didn’t bring us together like this just to tear us apart so quickly. He was right. She absolutely believed that God had brought them together, and that same God wouldn’t put either one of them through such a devastating loss, not so soon after they’d healed from their previous losses. She couldn’t call him, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t know she was thinking of him. Goodnight, my love, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
After a night of exhausting dreams, she left Kate with the Ventures Friday morning and reported to HQ. A number of the soldiers who had been there Thursday had gone home to rest, replaced in smaller numbers by new faces, but Commander Singleton looked as though he’d been there all night. “Any news, sir?” she asked as she approached him.
“Lieutenant Clark.” He returned her salute. “Not a lot, I’m afraid. What we need is more specific information on the location of their home planet, so the Star Force can disarm the neutron bomb. Lieutenant, are you still determined to try and bug their guard stations?”
“Yes, sir.” She showed him the civilian clothes she had brought with her. “If I present myself as the wife of a missing soldier, I don’t think they’ll suspect me. I’ll bug the areas around Earth Defense, and hopefully we’ll gain something useful.”
“Mmm, all right.” The Commander gave her a stern look. “I think you’re right that they’re more likely to allow women near HQ. But I still don’t like it, and after today I want you to stay underground. It won’t be an easy job, you know – you’re likely to encounter the remains of people you’ve been friendly with, people you’ve worked with.”
“Understood, sir.” They met briefly with Jenny Greenwood who gave Carina the instructions she needed to activate the bugs, and she went to change out of her uniform. When she returned in civilian work clothes, the Commander saluted her and wished her well. She paused for a moment before exiting. “Sir… do you know where Nova was when she disappeared?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Wildstar didn’t say whether she was with them or not. Keep an eye open. And Lieutenant… Carina… be careful. I don’t want to give another one of those boys bad news.” He put his hand on her shoulder.
It was the first time he ever called her by her first name. Touched, Carina saluted again. “I’ll be back later today, sir.” The Commander had a granddaughter who was about to graduate from the Academy. Carina hadn’t met her, but she knew he sometimes equated the young women who worked for him with Wendy. She was honored to have apparently joined that club.
After sneaking to the surface through an old ruined building outside of town, Carina made her way to Earth Defense Headquarters. Sure enough, a crowd of Earthlings (her instinct had been correct – it was mostly young women and adolescent boys in this location) was gathered outside the grounds, having been selected to clear the debris and remove the human remains from the area. The aliens seemed to be providing shovels and carts for the process as well. It was easy enough to melt into the crowd, since the air was still heavy with smoke and no one saw her sneak in at the last minute. She tried to put on the air of a worried lover, a role she didn’t find difficult to play.
When she arrived at the gate, she was scanned for clearance by alien guards. After she was cleared, she leaned against the wall and pretended to shake a rock from her shoe, actually transferring a tiny listening device from her finger to the wall behind the guards’ station. With any luck, the aliens would be posted here all day and their conversation would be recorded at the underground HQ. Carina would pull the same trick at several more stations at HQ, primarily in the heavily-guarded arsenal areas, and she understood that other soldiers were doing the same throughout the city.
It was a grueling day, although Carina suspected she was actually lucky to have been sent to HQ. Most of the soldiers here had managed to get to safety underground; there were bodies in the hospital area, but not many in the headquarters buildings themselves. The workers in the civilian areas would have it much worse.
The one exception was the hallway by the prison holding area. While clearing the rubble, Carina came across the twisted remains of a dog tag that read “Wildstar.” Alex. This must be where he sacrificed himself to save the Commander. Pocketing the ID, she blinked back tears. Alex Wildstar’s body must have been incinerated by the bomb he carried. Others were not as lucky, however. With the help of other women, she hoisted the remains of several men in suits into a large cart. These must be members of the Defense Council who were being led to their execution when the bomb went off. Next they found the remains of a number of soldiers, whose dog tags Carina surreptitiously removed and slipped into her pocket. At the sight of the final body in army greens, she stopped in her tracks. General Stone. She had never felt any love for the man, but as second-in-command under Singleton, he had quite a bit of interaction with the rank-and-file soldiers of Earth Defense. The sight of his lifeless body shocked her so that she couldn’t move for several moments. Finally one of the women working with her broke the silence they had seemed to fall into so naturally over the course of the day. “Did you know him?”
Carina blinked and nodded. “Not well, but yes. I’ve worked for him.”
The woman glanced around to be sure no aliens were listening, then simply nodded and moved on. Carina knew the woman had understood that she worked for Earth Defense, and had had the sense not to comment or question her about it.
At the end of the day, the aliens sent the Earthlings home, filthy and exhausted. They had dug a mass grave outside of the city and dumped the bodies there; Carina didn’t think they would ever know exactly who or how many had died in the initial attack. After following the crowd back into the city, she ducked into the shadows and returned to the underground HQ the same way she had left it that morning. The Commander was resting when she arrived, and she took advantage of the few minutes it would take an aide to fetch him to wash up in the women’s room sink and change into her uniform.
She gave the Commander a quick report of her day, presenting him with the dog tags she had removed from the fallen soldiers. “I’m afraid General Stone was lost, sir,” she told him, and although he stiffened and closed his eyes for a moment, his voice didn’t betray any emotion.
“Thank you, Carina. A number of soldiers’ bodies were identified today. I’ll tell you right now that Nova’s was not among them. We still don’t know what’s happened to her.” He paused. “Your idea to bug the guards proved to be a valuable one – we were able to confirm that this enemy is in fact from the Dark Nebula, the group that plundered Gamilon and Iscandar in the spring. They’re looking for revenge against the Star Force, but they also seem to want more from us than that. Nearly all of the alien guards made comments about the humans and their bodies… We don’t know what their plan is, but it doesn’t sound good. We hope to learn more in the next day or two.”
“Sir, has the Star Force been informed of the identity of the enemy?” Surely it would help them to determine the location of the mother planet, and might also give them a clue about how to defeat the invaders.
“Not yet. We’re waiting for the last couple of ‘civilian volunteers’ to return before we contact the Argo, in case they’ve picked up any new information.” The slightest hint of a smile appeared behind his moustache. “Would you mind contacting the Argo for me, Lieutenant? You have more first-hand information than I have. You can speak more intelligently to the navigation crew.”
Carina felt the corner of her own mouth pull back slightly. The Commander was a sly old dog. “Yes, sir. Whatever you need.”