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 20, 2202
“Hey, Venture, you awake over there?”
Mark stopped staring into space and looked across at Wildstar. “Huh? Sure I am. It might be about time to hand the controls over to the cadets, though.” It had been a long 48 hours, the senior officers of the Argo maintaining their stations while only allowing themselves brief naps in rotation. There had been no sign of activity, and the crew was finally satisfied that they had escaped the notice of the enemy. As their fears had subsided over the course of the day, their adrenaline had run out and they had begun to feel their exhaustion.
“Agreed, Commander. Wildstar, order the second shift to report to the bridge in 15 minutes. You men need some sleep.” Wildstar saluted Yamanami and gave the order. Mark had calculated the route they would follow for the next 24 hours, and was preparing to set the automatic pilot when Homer spoke.
“Captain Yamanami, we’re receiving a message from Earth Defense Headquarters. Oh – Venture, I think it’s Carina.”
“What? What’s she saying, Homer?” He had been vaguely worried about Carina all day, and was halfway to the communication station before he remembered that they had a by-the-books senior officer with them on this mission. Standing at attention, he turned to face the admiral. “My apologies, sir. That was out of line.”
“That’s all right, son. As you were. Homer, switch it to the main video panel.”
Mark headed back toward his station, but stopped when Carina’s face appeared on the screen. She looked haggard – her eyes were puffy with dark circles beneath them, there were smudges of dirt on her face, and her hair was pulled back sloppily. Mark thought she had never looked more beautiful. He didn’t expect to have a chance to talk to her, but he hoped…
“Admiral Yamanami, this is a message from Commander Singleton. We wish the Star Force to be informed that we have confirmed the identity of the enemy invasion force to be the same as that of the force which caused the destruction of both Gamilon and Iscandar in January of this year. You are urged to exercise extreme caution against the enemy, as they hold the Star Force and the Argo responsible for the destruction of their mining operation and their space fortress ‘Gorba.’ Their primary purpose in attacking Earth seems to have been the capture and destruction of the Argo.
“We have been unable to determine the precise location of the invaders’ home planet, but we have learned that they originated in the Libra star system. You are hereby instructed to set a course for Libra, and we hope to have more specific information for you in the near future.” She looked up from her prepared statement and her eyes settled on Mark for a moment before seeking out the captain. “Please, be careful.”
Yamanami nodded. “Thank you, Lieutenant. That is valuable information. What can you tell us about the conditions on Earth?”
“It’s been quiet since the initial deluge, sir. Our understanding is that the attack was primarily focused on Great Island. Other military bases across the globe were also attacked, but while the rest of the planet is in danger from the neutron bomb, it seems the enemy knew where to find Earth Defense Headquarters, and the brunt of its force was directed here.”
Of course it was. Mark supposed that was one of the hazards of having a centralized world government and military system. It took the attack by the Gamilons to end the wars between Earth’s nations; unfortunately, that unification left Earth as a whole that much more vulnerable. He glanced at Wildstar, who was looking earnestly at the video panel. “Carina, has there been any sign of Nova?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. Can you tell me where you were when she was lost, Wildstar?”
“We were in the president’s secret hangar. She was wounded just before we took off in the escape plane, and she – she didn’t make it aboard.” Mark put his hand on Wildstar’s back. When he looked up again, the Commander had stepped into view behind Carina on the screen.
“Wildstar, our men – and woman,” he added, nodding toward Carina, “infiltrated the enemy’s cleanup efforts today. Lieutenant Clark herself participated undercover in the recovery of bodies from Earth Defense Headquarters.” She did what? “She did not find Nova’s body in that hangar. Isn’t that correct, Lieutenant?”
“That’s right. Wildstar, there were several alien bodies in that hangar – we were instructed not to touch them – but Nova’s body was not there. You’ve got to have hope. She’s strong. She’ll be all right.”
“Thank you, Carina. Knowing that you didn’t find her bod… that you didn’t find her does give me hope.” Wildstar’s posture relaxed a little, while Mark’s tensed.
“Carina, you’ve asked us to be careful. You need to be careful, too. Don’t take unnecessary risks.”
She looked at him. “I’ll be safe, Mark. I promise. And I’ll let your family know that you’re safe, too.” Now was not the time for personal conversation, but her gaze lingered on him briefly, and her eyes spoke volumes to him, as he hoped his did to her. Turning back to the captain, she spoke to the crew at large. “We here on Earth are praying for you, every minute.”
The Commander took a step forward. “Once again, Star Force, you’re our best hope. Hurry home.” They saluted as the screen went blank.
On the bridge of the Argo, Sandor’s niece Mio spoke first, startling Mark – he still wasn’t used to having the young girl here in Nova’s place. “Their home planet is in the Libra star system? Then we know we’re heading in the right direction.”
Wildstar nodded. “Yes, but we’re going to need to be more precise than that if we’re going to disarm that bomb before they set it off.”
An idea had formed in Mark’s head. “Wildstar… Captain Yamanami… What about Desslok?”
“Leader Desslok?” Wildstar sounded unsure. “You think he can help us?”
Sandor brought his hand to his mouth in thought. “Mmmm… It would make sense. After all, planet Gamilon was the main focus of Desslok’s life. The aliens destroyed it once and for all. I’m sure he’d be more than willing to help in any way he can.”
“And who would be more likely than Desslok to keep tabs on his enemies?” Mark continued. “I’ll bet he has a pretty good idea of where they come from.”
Captain Yamanami considered this. “Wildstar, do you know how to contact Desslok?”
“Yes, sir. He and I have reached a level of trust and understanding, and he’s given me the means to contact him in case of an emergency. I’d say this qualifies.”
“Very well. I’ll give the idea some thought, and we’ll discuss it further in the morning.” As the cadets entered the bridge for their shift, the captain turned to them and changed the subject. “Gentlemen, we have been informed that the enemy which has attacked Earth is especially interested in taking revenge against the Argo. I need you to be extra vigilant…”
Ten minutes later, Mark sat in the mess hall with Sandor and Wildstar, sharing a beer before finally retiring to bed. “It’s good news about Nova, Wildstar,” Mark said. “Hopeful.”
“Yeah.” Wildstar’s eyes were a little less haunted than they had been earlier. “I have to believe she was able to get away.” He took a sip of his beer. “I do believe it. Nova is always with me – I would feel it if she had been killed.”
“I’m sure you would. There’s not a question in my mind that I would know if anything happened to Carina.”
Sandor shook his head. “You guys fascinate me. I wonder if I’ll ever feel that sort of connection with anyone.”
Mark grinned. “Carina thinks you’re married to the Argo. She doesn’t think any woman could compete. I prefer to believe that you’ll find somebody someday.”
“I hope so Venture, but she just might be right.” Sandor chuckled as he took a drink.
Wildstar laughed. “Well, you make a good couple, anyway. I can’t get over how smoothly the ship is running, Sandor.”
“Me neither,” Mark nodded. “I can’t remember the engines ever running this well, and that warp! That was incredible.”
“I’ll admit I’m proud of the improvements to the warping system. It will make our job a lot easier, especially for this mission where time is the most important factor because of that bomb. If the other systems don’t all break down when we attempt a larger warp, I’m confident we’ll be able to reach their mother planet in time to disable the triggering device.”
At that, the three men clinked their glasses for good luck, drained them of the last of the beer, and returned to their cabins. Mark said a quick prayer for the success of their mission before collapsing into his bed, sending his last waking thought out to Carina. I love you. And I’ll be home soon, I promise. Please be safe.
August 22, 2202
Sandor’s improvements to the Argo became even more apparent as they traveled on. The ship left the galactic system in a quarter of the time it had taken them during the trip to Iscandar. Mark dressed for his shift Sunday morning, lost in thought. Today marked three months since he and Carina had their first date, and he’d had plans. Important ones.
Since Kate had come to stay for the summer, Mark and Carina had had very little time alone together. Katie and Jordy had taken to each other and they spent a lot of their free time with the kids at the beach or at the park; even when they stayed home, their evenings largely consisted of cuddling on the couch while Kate watched a movie, or while Kate and Jordy played games. The few times they’d gotten a babysitter, Carina had wanted to get home early for her sister’s sake. Not that Mark minded the girl’s presence. She was a great kid, and anyway it was temporary, and she certainly kept them honest – knowing Katie was in the next room prevented them from going too far after she had gone to bed. Once or twice they had begun to get carried away, only to have her startle them on her way to the bathroom or to the kitchen for a glass of water, and they had learned their lesson. When Mark left at the end of the night, their shirts might be wrinkled, their hair in disarray, but they resisted doing anything that would require an explanation to a pair of curious 10-year-olds. It was frustrating, of course – he had hoped that actually having her as his girlfriend, being able to hold her and kiss her every day, would take the edge off his desire for her, but the opposite had happened. He wanted her more than ever, and he was getting tired of cold showers.
Last night was supposed to be different, though. Mark had asked his mother to watch Katie for the evening, but she had offered instead to have the girl come for a sleepover with Jordy. You and Carina need some time alone together, she had said. Mark had assured her it wasn’t necessary to keep Kate overnight – and it was, in fact, mortifying trying to explain to your mother without actually saying it that you and your girlfriend were not having sex – but she had insisted, and in the end he and Carina had both agreed to the idea.
He knew that Carina was looking forward to the evening – she had planned a gourmet meal, to be served by candlelight. She was excited to have the chance to dress up and have a quiet evening of “grown-up” time at home. Mark was excited, too, for a slightly different reason. His part of the evening was planned out perfectly, he thought. Carina’s friend Jenny, Eager’s girlfriend, had helped him to put together appropriate “mood music” for the occasion, and he had worked out exactly what to wear, what to bring her, what to say. He sighed now as he thought of the package he had planned to give her last night, the one sitting in his bedside table. He could only hope that it would still be there when they got home; he had no idea whether any of it – the package, the bedside table, the entire barracks – still existed.
Shaking off the thought, Mark headed for the bridge, meeting Wildstar on the way. “Morning, Mr. Deputy Captain. Sleep any better last night?” Wildstar’s anxiety about Nova had been keeping him up at night, and Mark thought he’d seemed extra preoccupied for the past couple of days.
“Maybe a little. I keep telling myself at this point, no news is good news, right?” He ran a hand through his thick hair. “We have time for a cup of coffee, Mark. I want to talk to you about something, if that’s all right.”
“Of course. Let’s go.” The mess hall was fairly crowded, but they managed to find a private table in the corner. Mark took a sip of his coffee and grinned at Wildstar, trying to raise his spirits. “Don’t tell Nova when we get home, but the coffee is really much better this trip.”
Wildstar chuckled bleakly. “I know. Don’t worry – I won’t be the one to tell her. I like my head attached to my shoulders.”
Mark nodded. “Smart thinking. What’s on your mind, Wildstar? Is it something to do with the mission?”
“No, not really. Sort of, I guess…” He faltered, looking for the right words. “It’s about Mio.”
“Sandor’s niece? What’s wrong with her?”
“There’s nothing wrong with her. It’s just that…” Wildstar paused again. “I found out she’s not who she appears to be, Mark. Do you remember – do you remember our last mission, when we brought Alex and Starsha’s daughter Sasha home with us? Remember how quickly she grew?”
Mark nodded again, the pieces falling into place in his brain. “And then she went away to live with Sandor. Yes, I knew about that,” he continued at the surprised look on Wildstar’s face. “Derek, are you telling me that Mio is really Sasha?”
“It’s true. She’s my niece. She told me the other day, after we left the Solar System. I don’t know what to do with her, Venture – I’m not sure there’s anything I should do with her – and I don’t want anyone else to know. But I had to talk to someone about it.”
“I don’t blame you for that. In a strange way, I’m not all that surprised, Wildstar. Something about their story was off from the beginning. You know Sandor doesn’t have any brothers or sisters.” He took another sip of coffee. “I’m not sure what to tell you… I don’t think there’s much you can do for her while we’re on the ship, other than keeping an eye on her. You can figure out how she fits into your life when we get home. Does she know that Alex was killed?”
Wildstar hung his head. “Yes, I told her. I guess you’re right. Sandor’s already watching over her – I’ll just follow his lead and try to keep her safe. I don’t know what else a teenage girl needs. Nova will be able to help me with that part when we get back to Earth.”
It was time for them to report to the bridge. They stood and stretched, dropping their mugs in a bin. The other veteran Star Force members were already at their stations. Mark took an appraising look at Mio (Sasha? He should probably continue to think of her as Mio,) and checked in with the navigation cadet who had worked overnight. They were reviewing the logs when Wildstar caught his attention. “Homer, has there been any word from Desslok yet?” They had sent a message to Desslok yesterday asking for his help; so far they hadn’t heard back from him.
“Not yet, Wildstar. I’m hoping he’ll call us sometime today.”
Eager approached Mark’s chair. “Venture, the second bridge just sent up new course corrections for the Libra star system. Do you want to look them over before we have them adjust our heading?”
“Sure. Thanks, Eager.” Mark checked the cadets’ calculations, making a few corrections, and was checking his instruments when Homer spoke again.
“Captain, a message is coming in from Desslok!”
“Switch it to the video panel,” the captain ordered as the crew jumped to their feet. The Gamilon leader appeared on the screen.
“Leader Desslok, thank you for responding to our call,” Wildstar said deferentially. The captain had decided that Wildstar, with his long history of dealing with Desslok, should be the one to speak.
“Wildstar, it’s good to talk to you. I’m sorry to hear about the trouble you’ve had.”
“Thank you, Desslok. Is there any way you can help us?”
“I’m sorry to tell you I can’t give you the precise location of this people’s home planet. I’d like to help you, and there’s nothing I’d like more than to take revenge against the men who destroyed Gamilon and Iscandar and killed Starsha. But in the time since I saw you last, my efforts have been focused on drawing together the separate factions of the Gamilon fleet, to regroup and plan for our future. I can tell you, however, that their planet is located in the Libra star system, within something known as the Dark Nebula.”
Sandor took a step forward. “Leader Desslok, are you sure? Earth has no knowledge of this ‘Dark Nebula.’ Is there any more precise information you can give us?”
“I’m afraid not, Commander. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore it. I will, however, have my men send you the coordinates as we understand them.”
“Thank you, Desslok. That will be very helpful.” Wildstar bowed to his former archenemy, who bowed back. Never thought I’d see the day, Mark thought. He still had a hard time wrapping his head around this friendship.
“I wish I could assist you more,” Desslok replied, and then looked around the bridge of the Argo. “But where is Nova? Surely she wasn’t excluded from this mission.”
“No. I’m afraid Nova was…” Wildstar broke off. He wasn’t handling Nova’s absence as well as he wanted everyone to believe. Mark jumped in to rescue him.
“Nova was wounded in our escape, and we were forced to leave her behind, Leader Desslok.” Mark had never spoken directly to Desslok before. It felt less awkward than he would have expected. He moved to stand next to Wildstar. “But we look forward to seeing her when we return to Earth.”
“I see.” Desslok hung his head for a moment. “She will be in my thoughts. I wish you well, Star Force, and I will have my men send you the coordinates right away. Please feel free to contact me again if there’s anything more I can do to help you.”
“Thank you again, Leader Desslok.” Wildstar saluted him as the screen went black.
They turned to face Captain Yamanami. His face was grey, his jaw clenched. Mark had heard that the captain lost his wife and child to the Gamilon planet bombs. Seeing the man who caused that loss face-to-face, and having to treat him as an ally, had to be difficult. “Venture,” the captain ordered, “when those coordinates come in, report to the second bridge and calculate an amended course for us to follow. I’m going to retire to my quarters to do some work. Wildstar, call me if you need anything.”
“Yes sir.” Mark and Wildstar looked at each other as the captain’s chair took him to his quarters. They were used to Desslok’s appearance and manner; they sometimes forgot how off-putting he could be. They didn’t have time to think about it, however, since a set of coordinates was now being received from the Gamilons.
“I’m sending the information to the second bridge, Venture.”
“Thanks, Homer. IQ-9, take the helm.”
“Yes sir, Commander Venture.” The robot was always happy to be given real responsibility. Mark exited the first bridge and the ship flew on, the crew unaware that the enemy was following at a distance.