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!
March 15, 2202
Sending Mark home on Sunday had been more difficult than Carina could have imagined, although she knew it was the right thing to do. She had sat in silence and thought for a long time after he left. It was obvious that he’d wanted to stay with her, and if she was being honest, she’d wanted him to stay as well. She had been on the brink of giving in when he had massaged her neck, but a sudden mental image of him holding baby Sasha had made her freeze. Carina refused to rob Mark of a family and have him resent her five or ten years down the line. She needed time to sort it all out, and so did he. She had lost the first great love she had known – she couldn’t handle losing this one as well. If that meant holding him at arm’s length to preserve their friendship, then so be it.
Finally giving in to her aching head and exhaustion, Carina went to bed early in the evening and slept heavily Sunday night. It hadn’t registered in her conscious mind that she had acknowledged Mark as her “great love,” but her subconscious picked up on it and provided her with very satisfying dreams, leaving her contented and hopeful about the future – albeit a little embarrassed – Monday morning. She walked into the office cheerfully, feeling more like herself than she had in a week, to find the boys in the coffee station eyeing her cautiously. She had been pretty testy with them last week when she was anxious about hearing from Mark – she should make it up to them. Smiling, she gave them her best “Old West” accent. “Mornin’, fellers.”
When they saw that she wasn’t going to snap at them, they relaxed visibly. Their group leader, Jim, wiggled his thick eyebrows at her. “Saw your friend this weekend, didn’t you?”
She looked at him innocently. “I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”
“Hey, as long as you’re happy, we’re happy.”
“I admit nothing.” Still smiling, she took her mug from the cabinet and poured hot water over a teabag. “What are you slackers all standing around for? If the Colonel sees you, he’ll have your necks.”
Jim checked his watch. “He had an early meeting, but you’re right. Get to work, ya mooks!”
The analysts filtered back to their desks, grumbling. A Russian corporal named Alexei hung back and turned back to Carina. “Clarkie,” he said loudly, struggling as he always did to find the English words, “we had to wait to make sure you weren’t still mad at us!”
“Come on!” Somehow, she could never manage to keep her voice down when she spoke to Alexei. “I was never mad at you guys!”
“OK,” he laughed as he walked away.
Jim walked with her toward her office. “You did have a good weekend.”
“I spent time with some good friends who have been in space for a while, yes,” she said non-committally. She herself was unsure what her relationship with Mark was; she certainly wasn’t going to feed the rumor mill if she could help it.
“Well, whatever it was, I’m glad. And the guys are glad, too,” he added with a grin. “They were quaking in their boots whenever you walked by the other day.”
“Yeah, they probably deserved it,” she said with a wave as he ducked into his office. Shortly after she settled in behind her own desk and began to read her messages, a call came through from Colonel Okajima asking her to come to his office right away. She wondered whether she had done something wrong, but nothing came to mind, and he had a relaxed, informal attitude when she closed his door and sat opposite him.
“Lt. Clark, I assume you’ve heard that a decision has been made on the command of the automated fleet.”
She wasn’t expecting this, but it made sense that it was what he wanted to talk to her about. “Yes, sir. Word on the street is that Commander Venture has been assigned the position.”
The colonel chuckled. “’Word on the street?’ You’ve been spending too much time with Jim Gilman. Yes, the ‘word’ is correct. Effective immediately, Mark Venture is the commander of the fleet.” She nodded. “The reason I called you in here, Lieutenant, is that we’ve been requested to provide someone to train Cdr. Venture on the system in the short term, and to be available for ongoing technical support in the long term. You’re the obvious choice for the role, if you’re interested. The training will be scheduled around your hospital shifts.”
Carina fought to keep a serious expression on her face. If she was interested? “I would be honored to accept the position, sir.” The words came out faster than she would have liked, and the colonel’s mouth twitched.
“Lieutenant, I know I don’t have to caution you to behave in a professional manner.”
“No, sir. Of course not.”
He nodded. “I would like to advise you, though, that this is an extremely high-profile project. The smallest step over the line – on-duty or off – could put your career at risk – or his.”
Carina straightened uncomfortably in her seat. “Understood, sir. You have nothing to worry about.”
“I’m not worried. We’ll arrange a meeting this afternoon so the two of you can ‘get to know each other.’ Dismissed, Lieutenant.” He saluted her as she rose.
As she opened his office door after returning the salute, he spoke again. “Lieutenant.”
“It’s OK – you can thank me for this later if you want.” His eyes were twinkling, and she couldn’t suppress a grin.
“Thank you, Colonel. You won’t regret it, I promise.” She continued to smile as she returned to her office. Not only would she get to work with Mark, but the requirement to be on their best behavior bought the time they both needed to figure out what they were doing. The thought helped her to relax.
At 1400 hours, Carina and the colonel entered one of the new offices in the control tower. Mark was already there, along with Earth Defense Commander Singleton, whom they saluted. When he saw her, a surprised smile appeared on Mark’s face.
It felt a little awkward to face him after the dreams she’d had last night. Still, her eyes danced at him while the colonel and the Commander talked quietly. Finally, Cdr. Singleton turned to them. “Cdr. Venture, Lt. Clark, I believe you’ve met before, have you not?” He knew that they had, of course. The commander was a reserved man, enough so that people sometimes underestimated him, but he was well aware of everything that transpired at Earth Defense Headquarters.
“Yes, sir,” they both said, and Carina continued, “I was one of Cdr. Venture’s nurses when he was in the hospital. I look forward to working with him professionally. How are you, Commander?”
“Fine, thank you, Lieutenant.” Mark stepped forward and shook her hand. “I look forward to working with you, as well.”
They grinned at each other until Singleton spoke again. Carina hastily dropped Mark’s hand and turned to face the Commander, who was smiling behind his full grey moustache, amused by their faux introduction. He didn’t call them on their pretense. “Lieutenant Clark, we’re looking at three days’ training per week – preferably Monday, Wednesday and Friday – for the first month or so, allowing you one day in your office and one shift at the hospital every week. After that, you’ll only be needed for support. Is that satisfactory?”
“Of course, sir. Whatever you feel is necessary.”
“Good. Thank you, Lieutenant. We’ll leave the two of you to work out your schedule for this week, and perhaps you can get started with some of the basics.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Both Carina and Mark saluted as the senior officers exited the office. When the door was closed, Mark turned to her, grinning again. “Did you know about this?”
She shook her head, feeling a ridiculous grin on her own face as well. “I just found out this morning. Is this your office?” It was an impressive room, with solid wooden furniture, navigational charts and books lining the walls, and expansive windows overlooking the bay and, she supposed, the night sky.
“Yes. Apparently I’ll have my own secretary by the end of the week, too.” He nudged her. “I was afraid one of your ‘boys’ would be training me.”
“You lucked out.” She grinned at him for another few seconds, then bounced up and down on her toes and clapped her hands as Katie would. “Eeeee! This is going to be so great!”
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Did you just say ‘Eeeee?’”
“I did. I squealed,” she nodded, blushing.
Mark chuckled. “You’re feeling a lot better today than you were yesterday,” he said as he pushed a second chair behind his desk for her.
“Mmm. I was wiped out last night – I stayed in bed close to twelve hours. Sorry again for being so weird yesterday.” As he stepped around her he rested his hand, rough and warm, on her neck, making her blush hotly at the memory of what that hand had done to her last night in her dreams. She’d better talk to him. “Mark,” she said, pulling his hand away, “listen, I got ‘the talk’ from the colonel this morning. I was warned not to set one toenail over the line of professionalism. I think we need to be very careful.”
“Oh,” he said as he sat heavily in his chair. “The no touching rule is back?”
“For real this time. And I think, to be safe, we’d better not spend time alone in each other’s apartments. According to Col. Okajima, this project is being watched pretty closely and the slightest appearance of impropriety could be bad news for both of us.”
“Right. I get that.” He sighed and leaned back, giving her a pathetic look. “How long is this exile going to last?”
She pushed the thought away but couldn’t help smiling. “How fast a learner are you? I figure once we’re into the support phase, we can loosen the restrictions a little. Anyway, there’s no reason we can’t be together in public if you keep your hands to yourself.” Not that it made much difference – a look from him raised her temperature almost as much as a touch did.
“I will if you will.” He winked, and she felt her face get hot again. “Do you think it will still be OK for you to have dinner with my family on Saturday, though? Jordy asked me again last night and I sort of promised him.”
“Awww, Jordy. Sure, let me clear it with the colonel, but I think that’s fine. He’s a suitable chaperone.”
He frowned. “I believe you like my brother more than you like me.”
“Please. I don’t like anyone more than I like you, and you know it. But you have to admit, he’s awfully cute.” He gave her a strange look. Embarrassed, she swung her chair away from him. When would she learn to think before she spoke? “OK, let’s get started here. I’m not prepared to do any training today, but you’ve got the software, so we can at least set up your account.”
“Hey.” His voice was soft. “I didn’t know that. But the feeling is mutual.” She dropped her eyes for a moment, smiling, before returning to the task at hand. She could feel his eyes on her as she typed information into his computer. When he spoke again, he sounded unsure. “Carina, do you feel pretty confident about this fleet?” She paused, her hands over the keys. “Just between us,” Mark continued. “I know you’ll tell me the truth.”
Carina measured her words. “I think… I think an automated fleet is a good idea, and I think it has a real purpose that it will serve, but to be honest, I’d feel a lot better if we had a manned defense fleet patrolling Earth as well. The robots manning the ships provide a level of accuracy, but they can only react to what they’re programmed to react to. And there necessarily has to be lag time if the human commander has to tell the ships how to move. It’s not like you’re there, steering the helm in reaction to what you see in front of you.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he nodded. “It’s fine to have patrol ships in the outer reaches of the solar system, but if an enemy were to break through that line of defense, how successful could we be with no manned defense between Earth and Mars? Our battle satellites weren’t exactly effective against the Comet Empire. And there’s a huge difference between flying a single ship and maneuvering an entire fleet. What if I’m not up to it?”
It was the first time she’d heard him express doubt about the command. She turned and looked him in the eye. “What are you talking about? You’re the best navigator-pilot Earth Defense has ever seen. That’s not just me talking – everyone says so.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. It was so difficult not to reach out to take his hand or stroke his cheek as she went on. “Mark, we’re bound to find bugs in the design of the ships. We’ll probably find bugs in the system interface. Hopefully they’ll be worked out before the ships are ever needed for defense – if they are ever needed for defense, and I pray that they’re not – but there may be things we won’t catch until we get there. I’ll admit that makes me nervous, but I’ll tell you something: if it were anyone else sitting in that chair, I wouldn’t be nervous. I’d be terrified.” He looked at her; when he still didn’t speak she gave him what she hoped was an encouraging smile. “Sweetie, we’re all behind you. Deep down, you know you’re up to it.”
He opened his mouth as if to say something, then changed his mind and set his jaw. “Yes. You’re right – this is a job that needs to be done, and I’m the one to do it.” He nodded, convincing himself, and grinned at her. “Thank you, Carina. Sometimes I guess I need to hear that I’m doing the right thing.”
“You are. You’re the one, Mark.” She tilted her head, considering him, then turned back to his computer. “Come on – let’s get started with your username and password. We can’t let the Commander come back and find out we didn’t do any work today.”
“OK.” He tore his eyes away from her. “Lead on, Cricket.”
She smacked his arm before pulling his chair closer to the desk and getting to work.
He took her to dinner that night at the officers’ club to celebrate their collaboration, walked with her in the morning on Tuesday, and took her out again on Wednesday. But she worked the midday shift at the Hospital on Thursday and he didn’t see her at all, and by the end of the day Friday Mark was surprised by how much he missed talking to her. They had spent the day together in his office, sure, but there was a lot of work to do and he was working hard to keep his focus, trying not to chat about personal things. The fact that they were required to be on their best behavior helped them to get the work done, but it was also frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying at the end of the night when they parted with nothing more than a wave or a nod of the head.
He would see her tomorrow, anyway. Tonight was for the guys. Wildstar had completed the usual whirlwind PR tour this week before preparing to ship out Sunday on a six-week mission which was to be a combination routine patrol and informational trip, to inform the base commanders in the Solar System about the enemy they had encountered at Gamilon; he was spending Saturday with Nova, and tonight he, Mark and Alex were dining at the club, then going into town to meet Homer, Dash and Eager for a beer.
The Wildstar brothers entered his office shortly before 1800, just as Mark was wrapping up the report he was writing. Derek looked around and whistled appreciatively. “This is quite the cushy set-up you’ve got here, space jockey. Maybe I should give up space travel and become a pencil pusher.”
“There’s a little more to it than pushing pencils. I am living the good life, though, aren’t I?”
Alex grinned at him. “I even heard they assigned the best looking girl from the secretarial pool to be your assistant.”
“Chrissie?” Mark chortled. The girl was competent, and nice enough, he supposed, but she talked an awful lot without saying much. “She’s beautiful to look at, all right, but there’s a lot of air inside that pretty head. She and Carina don’t seem to like each other much, either.”
Derek and Alex looked at each other, and Derek smirked at Mark. “If Carina doesn’t like her, that must mean she’s gorgeous. Beautiful women fighting over you, Venture? You’ve come a long way from the Academy when you were afraid to talk to girls.”
Embarrassed, Mark grabbed his coat and steered them toward the door. Wildstar knew exactly how to push his buttons. “No one’s fighting over me. Chrissie is my employee and right now Carina and I are officially professional colleagues and nothing more. Come on, let’s go.”
They settled in at their table in the officers’ club. “Alex, have you heard from Sandor?” Derek asked his brother. “I wonder how he’s making out in his top-secret location.”
Alex nodded. “I did speak to him. He’s still not allowed to tell me where he is, but he seems to have settled in all right.”
“And how is baby Sasha?” Mark spoke before he thought, and kicked himself mentally. Derek didn’t know that Sandor had taken his niece into space. Alex looked uncomfortable for a second, but recovered quickly.
“She’s fine – happy as she can be. Kids are adaptable, and she doesn’t have any memory of the things that happened on Iscandar. She’s in good hands,” he added in response to Derek’s question about who was taking care of the girl when Alex wasn’t home. He faced Mark and changed the subject. “Your training is going well, Venture? I’m hearing positive reports about both you and Lieutenant Clark.”
“Yeah – we’ve just gotten started, but so far, so good. We work well together.” He smiled softly when he thought about her, then sighed and shook his head. Derek grinned at him.
“It’s not so easy, is it, having to watch your every move?”
Mark groaned. “I don’t know how you and Nova did it, Wildstar, working next to each other for so long without being allowed to touch each other. Carina and I aren’t even together, and it’s making me crazy after only a week.”
“Why do you think I was always itching for a fight during the trip to Iscandar? It wasn’t just because I wanted to defeat the Gamilons. And Nova and I are less demonstrative than the two of you – it’s bound to be worse for you. You’ve got that hot Mediterranean blood.” Wildstar laughed at the dirty look Mark gave him. “You need to find a way to blow off steam, Venture. Spend some time in the gym or at the firing range. Anyway, it’s only a month, right? Then you’ll be able to be with her.”
“I guess so. There are some things we have to figure out, but the more I think about them, the more I think they don’t matter.”
“They don’t matter, Venture.” Alex was looking at him seriously. “Believe me. The odds were certainly stacked against me and Starsha on Iscandar, but she and I had more happiness than you can imagine in the time we were together. If the two of you love each other, you shouldn’t let anything stand in your way. You don’t know how long your chance will last.”
Mark nodded. “Thank you, Alex. It helps, hearing that from you.” He chuckled wryly. “It would help more if I knew for sure that she loves me.”
“She loves you, Venture. Nova’s sure of it, which makes me sure of it.” Derek looked serious now as well. “Mark, we tease you, but you know we’re happy for you, right? When Trelaina brought you back, it broke our hearts to think how unhappy you would be that you had lost her. But I’ve never seen you smile as much as you do when you’re with Carina. We’re glad you found each other.”
“Thanks, guys.” Mark was beginning to feel embarrassed. “OK, that’s enough about me. Derek, what time are you shipping out on Sunday?”
“Ugh. Early – 0500. They wanted to get us out as early as possible…” Mark relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the evening, although his thoughts kept returning to what Derek and Alex had told him. He hoped they were right.