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 24, 2202
Mark dressed in his cabin, preparing for the special meal Wildstar was leading for the crew now that the ship’s repairs were completed. Why did victory always taste so bitter? Once again they had destroyed an entire society – and hopefully only one. No one knew what else was destroyed when the double galaxy collapsed and a new galaxy formed. Even though they’d had no choice, and even though the Dezarians were a violent people bent on the destruction of human life, it was a tough pill to swallow. Wildstar was right – their hands were covered in blood. The one positive, if you could call it that, was that Sasha’s life had been taken by the enemy and not by the Wave Motion Gun. Mark didn’t think either Wildstar or Sandor would be able to live with himself if he’d fired the shot that killed her. It would have been the end of both of them.
It would have been the end of him, too, if Carina hadn’t survived her wound. He was glad he hadn’t found out her condition until the final battle was over and they were on their way back to Earth. True, he had known (or sensed) that something had happened to her; but while he would like to believe that he’d have been just as focused on his duty if he had known she was unresponsive in the hospital, he was afraid it wasn’t true. Even now he was uneasy. He had felt a little better after he spoke to her on Wednesday night, but she had looked so pale and tired, and she had just kept crying. One thing he couldn’t stand was to see her upset. Still, Nova had told Wildstar that Carina had been moved to the hospital on Earth’s surface today, which Mark hoped was a good sign. He would have to wait until tomorrow to call her; instead he had gotten in touch with Jordy and told him to buy her a big bouquet of flowers. That would cheer her up and let her know he was thinking about her.
He ran a hand over his face and exited his cabin as Wildstar did the same across the hall. Although Wildstar was the acting captain now that they’d lost Yamanami, he’d refused to occupy the captain’s quarters. Mark wasn’t sure whether that was out of respect or superstition – a little bit of both, he suspected – but he was just as happy to have his friend within shouting distance if he needed him. “Ready to go?” Mark asked him.
“Yeah.” Wildstar took a deep breath, then exhaled loudly through puffed cheeks. “I don’t like making speeches under the best of circumstances. But this is worse. I have to praise the crew for a job well done at the same time that I comfort them over the friends they’ve lost. I’m not at all sure I’ll say the right thing.”
“You’ve always done well when you’ve addressed the crew, Wildstar. You’ll be fine. And anyway, Sandor and I will be right there to support you – and Nova will be there in spirit. You know that.”
“I know.” Wildstar’s mood had improved drastically since Nova’s first communication, and he smiled briefly. “All right, let’s go.”
The crew was lined up in the mess hall when they got there; Sandor was already waiting on the dais at the head of the room, while IQ-9 was in the process of distributing cups of spring water to the crew – the traditional victory toast of the Star Force since their trip to Iscandar. When Mark and Wildstar mounted the dais, the hum of conversation slowly died away.
“My friends,” Wildstar began, “thank you all for being here. Our final victory in the Dark Nebula came at a heavy price for all of us. The loss of Captain Yamanami had a profound effect on us, naturally, but we hold every fallen comrade in equal esteem. Thanks to them and thanks to all of you, Earth is once again safe from the threat of annihilation at the hands of an alien enemy.
“I know for most of you, this was your first real mission. It might seem strange to you to hold a celebration after the losses we’ve suffered and the destruction we’ve witnessed. I ask you, tonight, not only to celebrate our victory but also to remember those who were lost on both sides of the battle.
“Near the home on Earth of Captain Avatar, our mentor and the original captain of the Star Force, a fresh and clear spring continues to flow. It is our tradition to drink a toast of that spring water in commemoration and in celebration.” He raised his glass. “And so I ask you now to remember those men and women and to give them thanks for their role in saving Earth. You should all be very proud of them, as well as of yourselves.”
The crew raised their glasses high and drank a toast, after which there was a moment of silence. Mark offered up a prayer for Captain Yamanami and for Sasha, and remembered the close friends he had lost to battle in the past: Orion, Conroy, Hardy… He had seen more than enough death, but if Earth was in danger, he wouldn’t hesitate to fight again. None of them would.
Wildstar spoke again. “Thank you all for everything you’ve done for Earth. Now if you’ll have a seat, the kitchen has prepared a special victory meal for all of us.”
The veteran Star Force members brought their trays to the bridge so the cadets could have a break from work and enjoy their meal together. As they moved to their seats, Sandor put his hand on Wildstar’s shoulder. “You did a good job in there, Wildstar.”
“Thanks. I’m glad it’s over with.” Wildstar turned to his left. “Homer, why don’t we call Earth Defense Headquarters?”
“One step ahead of you, Captain. By the way, did you know that Nova is working tonight?” Homer had a devilish grin on his face, while Dash chuckled beside him.
“OK, so I want her to drink a toast with us. She sacrificed as much for this mission as the rest of us did. No backtalk.”
“No Sir,” Homer said with mock seriousness as he patched the radio through to Earth.
They were all laughing, but Mark knew that Wildstar was right about Nova’s suffering. He didn’t know the full story, but from what Wildstar had told him she had been held prisoner by the guard who saved her life after she was shot; it was because of her that the soldier had turned over the instructions for disarming the bomb. The first time they had heard from her she had looked rough; Wildstar had told Mark that she was doing better now, and the smile on her face as her image came up on the video panel confirmed that report. She smiled more broadly when the bridge crew gave her a cheer – no one other than Wildstar had spoken to her since her initial call when they were on Dezarium, and she was as happy to see all of them as they were to see her.
“Hi, guys! It’s so good to see all of you!” Nova’s eyes twinkled as she looked over the crew.
“Not as good as it is for us to see you,” Eager said. “We were worried sick!”
“I was, too – I didn’t have any news of the Star Force, either. The last thing I was told was that the escape pod you hijacked showed no signs of life. As far as I knew, you were dead.”
Mark saw the expression that crossed her face for a split second; saw the way she and Wildstar were looking at each other. He put his hand on Wildstar’s shoulder. “Well, we’re all alive and well. No one’s going to destroy the Star Force. Nova, how is everything on Earth?”
She gave him a sly smile. “Things are getting back to normal, but you mean how is everyone on Earth, don’t you? Eager, I saw Jenny earlier. She sends her love. And Mark, Carina is waiting for you to call her. You know she’s in the hospital on the surface now.”
“I know. I plan to talk to her tomorrow” – he gave Wildstar a playful shove – “if I can get a little time off. This guy is running us ragged.”
“Hey…” Wildstar began, but Dash cut him off.
“Venture’s right. Without you here to calm him down, he’s out of control.”
Homer was nodding. “You should have seen him when we left you behind. He tried to kill me!”
Wildstar rubbed his head, embarrassed. “Listen, someone has to keep you guys in line. Nova, we want you to drink a toast with us. I don’t know how much time you have, so we’d better do it now.”
“You’re right – I’ll need to get back to work in a minute. I managed to get a bottle of the Captain’s water, though, so it will almost be like we’re all together.” She poured the water into a small cup as the bridge crew raised their glasses to her. “Here’s to the Star Force,” Nova said. “Even when we’re separated by hundreds of thousands of light years, we work together as a unit and get the job done.”
“To the Star Force,” they echoed, and drank as one.
“I’m afraid I have to go now. Safe journey home, all of you. I’ll be waiting at the gate when you arrive.” Nova smiled as her eyes scanned the crew, finally landing on Wildstar. “Derek, I’ll talk to you later?”
“Of course, Nova.” Mark watched his two friends as the crew said goodbye to Nova and her image faded from the screen. On previous missions he’d been so jealous of their relationship and had always felt guilty for feeling that way. Now he felt nothing but happiness for them. Tomorrow’s time in the communication room couldn’t come soon enough.
It was late in the day on Saturday before he was able to call Carina. Wildstar had offered him the use of the communicator in the captain’s suite for privacy and he had accepted gratefully. He wouldn’t be chased out by any of the cadets tonight. He tapped nervously on the arm of the chair as he waited for her, but when she answered and he saw that she was sitting up and alert he relaxed and gave her a broad smile. “Hi, love. How are you feeling today?”
“Better today, thanks.” Her eyes sparkled at him as she smiled. “Much better now. I’ve been waiting for you to call since I was moved to the surface. I have so much to tell you!”
“I figured you’d be too tired last night, and I just got off work. I sent an emissary over with a gift yesterday, though. Did you get it?”
“In fact, I did. A very enthusiastic young man brought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. He mentioned something about his brother… They made my day. Thank you.”
“If I happen to talk to that young man, I’ll let him know. What is it you have to tell me, other than that you survived your transfer to Earth’s surface?”
“Oh, my goodness!” She sat up a little straighter. “The Commander and the Colonel came to talk to me yesterday. I’m being promoted!”
Surprised, Mark felt tremendous pride rising in his chest. “That’s wonderful, Cricket! I thought you were going to tell me your family was coming to visit or something. Wow – I’m so proud of you!”
She grinned. “Well, my family is coming to visit, but I know!
I was stunned. I was half
expecting them to tell me I had to retire – Dr. Russo keeps telling me I’m
‘compromised’ – but instead they told me I ‘displayed remarkable bravery and
leadership during the past month,’ and that they believe I’m ‘suited to take on
a stronger position of leadership within Earth Defense.’” Mark chuckled at the way she aped the voices
of the Commander and Colonel Okajima, which she did whenever she quoted
them. He was pretty sure she didn’t
realize she did it. “They’re flying Dad
out tomorrow for the ceremony – the Commander wants to do it before I’m
discharged from the hospital since I’ll be ‘out of commission’ for a while, so
to speak. He’s going to stay for the week
to make sure I’m OK at home, then he’s taking Katie
back to the
“Sure. Of course. I’ll just talk to Wildstar; I’m sure he’ll give me the time. Hey, does this mean I no longer outrank you?”
“You never outranked me, pal. But now you can’t even pretend. Don’t expect me to salute you anymore.”
“I can’t recall that you ever did salute me, buddy.” It was such a relief to see her doing well. “You look so much better today, and you sound like yourself again, love.”
Carina nodded. “It’s amazing what seeing the sun can do for you.”
“I wish I was there to see it with you.” He eyed her critically. “You are still pale and you’re too thin, but I was a little worried the other day.” The truth was that he had lost sleep over her sickly appearance, but she didn’t need to know that.
“Ugh. I read Nova the riot act for letting you see me like that. I was afraid I’d scare you off.”
“What are you talking about? I thought you looked adorable.”
She blushed, rolling her eyes. “Well, thanks. Kiss-up.”
“What? It’s true,” he insisted, although they both knew he was lying. “Anyway, I didn’t exactly look my best when I was in the hospital last year, but you stuck around.”
“I did indeed.” She grinned. “And at least you didn’t see me naked when I was sick.”
He chuckled. “That would have been all right with – wait. You saw me naked?” How had this important piece of information escaped him for almost a year?
Giggling, she teased him. “Who do you think cut you out of that filthy old uniform and gave you a sponge bath? Oh, and Nova was there, too.”
Mark felt his cheeks get hot. “I wish you hadn’t told me that. How am I supposed to face either one of you again?”
“Aw, sweetie… I don’t know what you’re embarrassed about.” She was smirking at him, and he began to squirm uncomfortably. “Nova had the good taste to avoid an awkward situation by only washing your upper body, and I’ve never been able to keep my hands off you, have I? Even when you were unconscious and half-starved…” That was enough. He held one hand up to stop her while rubbing the back of his head with the other hand, laughing.
“OK. Let’s end this discussion now. Boy, you are feeling better.” The fact that she felt well enough to pick on him – although he’d have preferred not to have been left with the image of her scrubbing down his wasted, comatose body – made him feel more relaxed than he had been all week. And he wouldn’t have thought twice about taking care of her when – he suddenly felt serious. She picked up on the change in his mood immediately, and when her expression softened he felt his insides turn to jelly. Two seconds under her gaze and I fall apart. “I felt it, you know.” He spoke tenderly. “When you were shot. I’m sure of it.”
Nodding solemnly, she said, “I believe you.” They both knew there was something unusual about their relationship. Carina had told him she believed that most women had a bit of a sixth sense when it came to their loved ones, but she said this was different for her. He knew it was different for him. It reminded him of the way he’d been able to send his thoughts to Trelaina on Telezart – it was as though they were constantly in touch with each other, and it had kept him sane while he was away from her in space. She seemed to be struggling for words. “This… this thing we have between us, Mark, it’s…” she trailed off, shrugging.
He nodded. “I know. And if it came from Trelaina, if it was part of her gift to me when she brought me back – her gift to us, somehow – I only wish I could thank her.”
“I’m pretty sure it did come from Trelaina. She’s…” she took a deep breath and started again, looking off to the side. “This is going to sound crazy, but when I was unconscious I had some sort of visions, or… maybe hallucinations. I’m not sure what they were. I felt like I was put in communication with Heaven. I was able to talk to my mother and Daniel… And to Trelaina.”
She met his eyes when she said this last sentence. He blinked at the mention of Trelaina’s name, but did his best not to react too strongly. After letting the information sink in for a moment, he said quietly, “Are you sure it was her? You never met her.”
“No, I didn’t, but I described her to Nova, and she said it sounded like her – her speech patterns, her voice… You believe me?”
He nodded, his eyes closed. “I believe anything is possible, love. After Sasha sacrificed herself on Dezarium, we saw her… her spirit. She spoke to us, told us we had done the right thing in letting her go. Starsha was with her, too, welcoming her to the next life… To Heaven, I guess.” He chuckled. “Now I’m the one who sounds crazy, but we all saw it. It was amazing. So yes, I believe you.” His eyes searched her face for several seconds; when he finally spoke he kept his words soft, betraying no emotion. “What did she say, Carina? What did Trelaina say?”
He could see the wave of insecurity pass over her face. Did she really still have doubts about his feelings for her? She relayed her conversation with Trelaina to him, and he could tell she was watching his reactions carefully. “She said she’s glad we found each other,” she finished awkwardly, looking away as her cheeks flared red.
“I’m glad she approves.” Mark swallowed the lump in his throat. “She’s absolutely right, you know: I do belong with you.” He paused until she looked him in the eye again. “Carina… Trelaina was so important to me, but I know it couldn’t have worked between us. Even beyond the fact that she couldn’t control her power, our worlds were just too different. And we never really even had the chance to get to know each other. She knew the truth all along: love can’t solve every problem. But love with the right person is what makes life worth living.” He was perilously close to tears, and she looked as though she was, too. He cleared his throat and asked her, “What about the other two – your mother and Daniel? What did they say?”
She looked away again shyly. “They all said basically the same thing: that they’re watching over us; that I had to come back because you need me; that you love me, and my love for you is what makes you strong. So, you know, yay for me,” she added, blushing furiously.
“They’re right. I hope you know that.”
Eyes brimming, she looked up at him and whispered, “You have no idea how badly I want to kiss you right now.”
He smiled softly. “I think I might have some idea.”
The adrenaline-fueled burst of energy she’d had at the beginning of their conversation had died out fairly quickly after that, and Mark had soon signed off so she could get some sleep. Knowing she would be overwhelmed the next morning as they prepared for her promotion ceremony, he waited until 1055 to call her. He wasn’t surprised to see his family in the room along with Katie and their father, wearing a suit and smiling proudly, and also Nova and Carina’s friend Jenny. He chatted with them as the final preparations were made for the ceremony. Carina was still wearing a hospital johnny, but they had managed to slip her uniform jacket over her arms. The guests all gathered on one side of her bed while the Commander and Colonel Okajima stood on the other side.
“Everyone,” the Commander began, “We’re pleased all of you could join us as we recognize one of our own, First Lieutenant Carina Clark, on the occasion of her promotion to Captain. We are pleased to welcome Lt. Clark’s father, David, and her younger sister Katherine. Colonel Jiro Okajima will officiate today’s ceremony. Colonel?”
The colonel spoke of Carina’s patriotism, integrity and abilities and officially promoted her to the grade of Captain; Mark was too focused on her to hear everything he said, but a nurse whose name he remembered was Cindy was filming the occasion and he would watch it later if Carina wanted him to.
Katie and David Clark stepped forward to pin Carina’s new rank on her shoulders to the applause of the group gathered in the room, after which the Commander himself administered the Oath of Office. Mark smiled proudly as he heard her promise that she would “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office which I am about to enter, so help me God.”
The Commander spoke one more time. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this concludes this afternoon’s ceremony. Congratulations, Captain.” He shook Carina’s hand and stepped back, and she looked around at the circle of her friends before smiling at Mark’s image on the video phone.
“I won’t keep you and I’ve got to get back to work anyway,” he said, “but I’ll call you later tonight. You’ll be home, right?”
“Yes, I’m being discharged this afternoon.”
“OK. Tonight, then. Congratulations, love. I’m so proud of you.” They grinned at each other until Nova cleared her throat pointedly, amused.
“There are other people in this room, you know,” she teased.
“Right,” Mark chuckled. He made his goodbyes to her family and his own, saluted the others and returned to work smiling.
Nova had been with her when he called that night and Mark had kept it brief, promising to try again the next day, but a ruling came down from the Defense Council on Monday morning that it would be safer to limit personal space-to-Earth calls. You never knew when an enemy might be listening in. Loose lips sink ships, Mark supposed, although he was disappointed. He had been looking forward to more long calls to pass the time, and now personnel in space were only allowed fifteen minutes per week to talk to their loved ones. Those conversations were likely to be monitored by Earth Defense, too. Mark and Wildstar looked at each other silently after the news came through from Jenny Greenwood, and Mark heard Eager muttering behind them as well. He sighed as he gathered up his plans for today’s training session with the navigation cadets. It’s going to be a long couple of months.