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!
September 16, 2202
Space Cruiser Argo
Less than a month after Earth was attacked, the Argo approached her destination. It had been a suspiciously quiet trip, Mark thought as he stared out the window of the aft observation deck, taking advantage of the opportunity for relaxation while Sandor’s team analyzed their current location. When they first left the Milky Way there had been a quick battle in which the Star Force had suffered minor damages while destroying a tremendous enemy supply base, but while a couple of fighter planes and their pilots had been lost, the victory had been almost pathetically easy. Not that it would seem so to the families of those pilots, Mark reminded himself. Still, what kind of enemy was this who had the technology to build a bomb that could wipe out all life on Earth, but whose structures exploded at the slightest blast? Maybe that was why they had been mining Iscandar and Gamilon. Maybe the resources on their own planet weren’t strong enough for their war machines. In any case, they hadn’t even faced a skirmish since the destruction of that base. What were the aliens up to?
It doesn’t really matter, as long as we reach their planet in time to disable that bomb, he decided. Earth was OK so far – Homer had received a brief message from HQ confirming that this morning – but how long would the enemy wait? Mark’s gut feeling was that if they found their way into the underground city, that would be the end. There would be no reason for them to hold back; they had to know the Argo was approaching their galaxy. And quickly, too. Since their initial mini-warp, they had traveled in progressively longer warps, stopping between each one only long enough to check the ship’s equipment and make any necessary repairs. The trip had been blessedly quick, but also exhausting. Mark and Eager were constantly on the move between the first bridge and the navigation deck, calculating course adjustments after each warp. It left very little time for R and R, but time was of the essence.
At least the course adjustments they’d had to make were small. Sandor’s retooling of the warp system was incredible. They’d had to make minor repairs, sure, but the ship was holding together very well, and the accuracy in plotting location was megameters ahead of where it had been in the past. The warping process itself felt different, too. No one seemed to get sick anymore, and the strange psychedelic experiences that had been par for the course with the original warping system were gone… Mark didn’t know what Sandor had changed, but it was brilliant. He might even be able to convince Carina that long-distance space travel wasn’t so bad anymore. He was sure Sandor would be happy to bring her on as a member of his team, as long as the mission wasn’t too dangerous. He sighed. Not only would he worry less about her if she were here, but he could see her and talk to her whenever he felt like it, along with having the opportunity for private time together. When they got home, if she was…
The door to the deck startled him, and Mark saw Wildstar’s face reflected in the window. “Venture? When you weren’t in your room, I figured you’d be out here. Is everything OK?”
“Sure – I was just thinking. At this point during our trip to Iscandar, we were already way behind schedule. It’s hard to believe we’ve traveled farther in a month than we did that entire year. The old girl is doing a great job. We just might make make it back home sooner than any of us dared to hope.”
“Don’t jinx us,” Wildstar chortled. “Not that I don’t hope you’re right. The Argo is performing beautifully, isn’t she? The captain was right when we took off – with the improvements Sandor’s made, it’s almost like we’re serving on a different ship. We’ve had to relearn so many things.”
“Her spirit is the same, though. There’s no mistaking the Argo.”
“That’s for sure. No other ship is like her – when I step through her hatch, I feel like I’m coming home. Every time.” He became quiet. “I only wish Nova were here with us.”
“We all do.” Mark heard Wildstar take a shaky breath.
“Why haven’t we heard anything about her, Venture? If she’s safe, she should have contacted Headquarters by now, shouldn’t she?” Wildstar faced him. “Do you really believe she’s still alive?”
Mark looked him in the eye solemnly. “I do. And you do too, don’t you? Derek, you can’t give up hope. Especially not now, when we’re so close to ending this thing. Nova is alive. You know she is.”
Wildstar squeezed his eyes shut. “It’s just so hard – I expect to see her every time I turn to the radar station. Seeing someone else there still seems so wrong. Sasha’s not Nova. And she may be my niece, but she’s also so young – she’s such a little girl in some ways.”
“Yes, she is.” Sasha seemed… a little too attached to Derek, and Mark knew he should approach the subject. He chose his next words carefully. “I worry about her with you, Wildstar.”
Wildstar peered at him. “What are you saying? I’m the only family she has,” he said, clenching his fists defensively. Under Mark’s even gaze, however, his shoulders sagged and he sighed. “I know she’s a little clingy, but she’s alone. I don’t think she means anything by it. What can I do?”
“Just be careful. You’re her uncle, but that doesn’t mean she can’t have a crush on you.”
“Boy, I hope you’re wrong about that.” Wildstar ran his hands through his hair, thinking. “I haven’t given up hope, Mark. I know Nova’s waiting for me back on Earth. And when Sasha sees that, she’ll get over her attachment to me.” He shook his head and glanced at his watch. “Hey, the reason I came looking for you in the first place was that the captain wants us all to gather in the operations room at 2030. We should head down.”
The decision was made to proceed at battle conditions through the stable center of the dark nebula they were approaching. When they lost their radar due to the thickness of the gas, Mark had a moment of panic. It had been a long time since he’d been forced to navigate visually, and he was still a little gun-shy after the debacle with the automated fleet. As enemy ships appeared and began firing on them, however, he focused his mind. Something Carina had said to him six months earlier suddenly came to him, as though she could sense his insecurity and was speaking into his ear:
“You’re the best navigator-pilot Earth Defense has ever seen. That’s not just me talking – everyone says so.”
She was right, and he’d prove it, he resolved. He’d gotten them through far worse predicaments than this. Thank you, love. He sent the thought to her across space, then concentrated on maneuvering the ship through the enemy fire.
It was a difficult battle, but in the end Sandor’s new Wave-Motion cartridge guns brought the Star Force to victory. Mark didn’t care too much how it had happened – he was just glad that the battle was apparently over. After an uneventful half-hour, the captain ordered a change in shift so that the bridge crew might get some rest. Wildstar and Mark headed toward their cabins, while Sandor lingered behind, chatting with Mio. Wildstar looked at them for a second, then turned to Mark.
“I can’t believe I called her Nova. Well, she does look a lot like her from the back…”
“Except for the fact that her hair is blonde and about three feet longer,” Mark said, raising a skeptical eyebrow at him.
“OK. Maybe that’s not an excuse. I guess our conversation earlier stuck with me. And I did it twice…”
“She didn’t react all that well to it, either,” Mark said. “Wildstar, I think you should talk to her. Explain to her what Nova means to you. If you don’t do it now, there could be trouble down the line.”
“I guess so. Yeah, you’re right.” Wildstar sighed. “I’m not looking forward to it, but I guess I’ll get it over with now. I’ll see you later.”
Mark nodded as Wildstar turned around. As he walked away, he heard him say, “Mio, could I talk to you for a minute? Let’s go out to the observation deck.”
Mark smiled to himself as he continued toward his cabin. He didn’t envy Wildstar the conversation he was about to have. There were benefits to being the quiet one, the “second banana.” It had made him crazy when they were younger, but Mark thought he had done pretty well for himself in the end. As he entered his cabin, he ran a hand over the damaged pea coat hanging on the back of his door. It was the coat he’d been wearing the night they’d left Earth – the last time he’d seen Carina. The fabric still held a trace of her scent, and somehow having it hang on his door made him feel better. She was safe back on Earth with the family, he thought as he got ready for bed. Family. Mark knew how lucky he was, despite the losses he had faced, to still have both his parents and his brother. Carina had lost her mother, but Mom and Dad treated her like a daughter, and her family had accepted him completely as well. He sighed. Soon, love. We’re almost there.
September 16, 2202
Dressed all in black, Carina slipped out of the Ventures’ apartment after kissing Kate on the forehead. As she closed the door behind her, she assured Maria and Anthony Venture that she would be all right. They knew she was going out on a special mission, but she had opted not to give them any of them the details. No need to worry them unnecessarily, and they would have tried to talk her out of it.
She sighed. They had all tried to talk her out of this mission. When the resistance began blowing up Earth Defense’s ammunition reserves, the female soldiers had been expressly forbidden from participating in the raids. This final planned bombing had presented logistical problems, however. Jenny Greenwood had downloaded the blueprint for the warehouse that held Earth’s last large collection of ammunition. The enemy was guarding the building heavily; the resistance needed to lay explosives inside, and the only safe entrance was a window that was much too small for any of the male soldiers to squeeze through. Jenny’s build was more squat and broad than Carina’s; in Carina’s mind, that left her as the obvious choice to enter the building. Jim Gilman had immediately protested.
“No way! There’s no way we’re gonna let you take that risk.”
“Come on, Gilman,” she said. “Someone has to get in there.”
Colonel Okajima nodded. “I agree with Lt. Gilman,” he said. “We’ll find a man who’s small enough.”
“Like who?” Carina asked, frustrated. “Who in the resistance is small enough to fit through that window? Are you going to recruit some kid from the high school? Just because I have a uterus, guys, doesn’t mean I’m made of spun sugar. And it doesn’t mean that my life is more valuable than any other soldier’s.”
In the end they had agreed to abide by the Commander’s decision, and he had reluctantly decided to allow her to take the risk. As she approached the reconnaissance point for the mission, she could see Jim Gilman glaring at her. He had to accept the Commander’s decision, but he didn’t have to like it. Gilman would accompany her and be her look-out while she was inside the warehouse, and he would set off the explosives when she was safely out. The other two soldiers waiting for her, burly marines, were to create a distraction on the other side of the building while Carina crawled through the window. The marines would use a separate exit to the surface, to confuse the enemy, and would rendezvous with her and Gilman at the warehouse. Carina took a deep breath, putting on a false attitude of bravery.
“Ready to go?” she asked. “Let’s do this thing.” The marines gave each other a look as they turned off, but Carina wasn’t going to worry about their opinion of her. Gilman was awfully quiet as they made reached the surface and made their way through the woods to the warehouse, though. “What’s up, Jim?” Carina kept her voice low, but she sounded a little more testy than she meant to.
“You know what’s up,” he whispered. “I don’t like you coming out here.”
She took a deep breath. “You know I appreciate the thought,” she said, “but you guys can’t keep treating me with kid gloves just because I’m female. It makes me crazy.”
Gilman sighed. “I know it does. But you have to understand, you’re kind of our… mascot.” At her look, he amended, “I mean, you’re the only girl in the data group. You’re like our sister – we don’t want anything to happen to you. And besides,” he added with a smile, “we all like Venture and we don’t want to see him get hurt.”
That was the one argument she couldn’t counter. “OK. I don’t want that either. But that doesn’t change the fact that you couldn’t have fit through the window.”
He held up his hands in silent concession of the point. They were approaching the warehouse and fell into silence. At the signal from the marines, Gilman boosted Carina onto his shoulders. She pried the window open, dropped in a line so she’d be able to climb back out, tossed the bag she would use to wire the room, and squeezed through. The drop wasn’t too far; she landed on her feet and looked around. Explosive materials were stored in large boxes along the walls, as they’d anticipated. It took her only a few minutes to uncoil the detonating wire in her bag and attach it to the crates according to plan.
She climbed back to the window and shimmied through; Gilman caught her as she landed and gave the signal to the marines to fall back and return underground. When they were about 100 meters from the warehouse, keeping alert for any sign of the enemy, Gilman detonated the explosives. They ran as quickly as they could into the woods as the building behind them shattered, stopping for breath when they were a safe distance away.
“You OK?” Gilman turned Carina to face him. “You did a good job back there.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. “You?”
He nodded, opening his mouth to answer, but they both froze when they heard a twig snap a short distance away. They reached for their guns – they were dangerously close to the entrance to the underground city, and if the enemy was tracking them, it would be trouble. Their eyes darted through the woods but they saw no hint of movement until a laser shot came through the trees at them. They jumped and pointed their guns in the direction of the shot. As another beam of light came toward them they spotted two aliens, and Gilman jumped in front of Carina, pushing her back and firing at the enemy as he took the shot.
Both aliens collapsed to the ground as Gilman staggered and fell. Carina caught him as he went down and eased him to the ground. “Gilman! Are you all right?”
“Not sure,” he said with a grunt, “but you need to get underground. Don’t worry about me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not going without you,” she said, although the amount of blood flowing from his side told her otherwise. She closed her eyes and focused on keeping her voice steady. “Anyway, you took care of those guys. They won’t be following us. Good job.”
“Yeah, well, someone had to protect you, kid.” Gilman’s voice was getting weak, and he lay back with his head in her lap. Carina took his hand and forced a laugh.
“When are you guys going to accept that I can protect myself? I wish you hadn’t done it, Jim. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry – I’m good. I’d do it again in a second. You have a long, happy life ahead of you.” His breathing was shallow.
Carina couldn’t hold her tears in. “I’ll send the guys out to get you. They’ll bring you home.”
“That’d be great. I have a brother in the States – let him know it was OK, will you?”
“Thank you, Carina.”
“Jim…” she began, but he had lost consciousness. She held his hand until he slipped away, and remained there in prayer for several more minutes before laying his head gently on the ground and standing to return to the underground HQ. She had covered half the distance when a sound behind her caused her to whirl around and draw her weapon. One of the aliens, whom she had believed dead, had raised his head and pointed his gun at her. Gasping, she jumped backward and fired blindly at him. It was a lucky shot – the alien dropped – but after a moment she realized there was a burning sensation in her belly.
Looking down, Carina could see blood leaking through her shirt – a lot of it. She was nearly to the entrance to the underground city… Thinking quickly, she removed her shirt and pressed it against her wound so that she wouldn’t leave a trail of blood to the entrance. She forced herself forward, putting as much pressure on her abdomen as she could. She couldn’t tell how serious the wound was, but the shot hadn’t hit her directly. If she could just get to the entrance, the doctors would take care of her. Mark, she thought, I’ll be OK. I promise.
She made it to the hidden entrance and rode the elevator underground, struggling to stay awake. The doors opened and she saw several officers waiting to meet her. She nearly laughed when she saw the expressions on their faces – they weren’t expecting her to return alone, and they certainly weren’t expecting her to return shirtless. But she needed to focus. “Gilman,” she said, breathless. “He’s out on the path. He’s… He didn’t make it. Bring him home.”
Colonel Okajima stepped forward. “Someone call the hospital! Clarkie,” he said, turning to her, “don’t worry. We’ll take care of you.”
“My sister,” she said, reaching for him, suddenly desperate. “Tell her I’m all right. Tell her not to worry.”
“Of course. You’ll be fine. The medics will be…”
That was the last thing Carina heard as she lost consciousness.
September 17, 2202
Officers’ Quarters, Space Cruiser Argo
Mark Venture was jolted from sleep by a searing pain across his midsection. He shot upright in bed, his heart pounding.
Carina… No! What’s happened?