By Neil Burns
Nova was playing poker with some of the Okita crew, including Kodai, and completely taking them to the cleaners with her notorious "babe-in-the-woods/I-never-played-poker-before" act. It was the seventh or eighth hand when some of the others just threw down their cards in disgust. Sanada smiled as he saw a player who was finally his and Kodai's equal.
"I am impressed," the cyborg smiled. "You've played before?"
"Well," Nova shrugged modestly, "my uncle owns a casino on the Nevada-Colorado state line and I used to watch the action."
"Thus picking up the game?"
"Yup. Cleaned out Derek and the others numbers of times."
"How deceitful," Kodai grumbled.
"Of course, Derek also helped me in a few scams as well."
A sad smile crossed her face as she wondered how Yuki was doing and how she was adjusting to seeing supposedly dead crewmates. As she was counting her winnings, a thought entered her mind. Mi-kun jumped onto the table and was greeted with a gentle stroking behind her neck. Gentle purring tickled the Argo captain's ears.
"Shiro-san," Nova queried. "You went to the academy with Susumu's brother?"
"Mamoru?" Sanada replied. "Yes. He and I were classmates."
"Fun. Athletic. A real woman-chaser, right?"
"Well, I wouldn't say that. He did have an eye for the opposite sex though."
"And his coffee was a helluva lot better," Yamakazi chimed in. "This shit tastes like fucking mud."
"That's because it is mud," Nova smirked dryly. "I figured it would be a nice change."
"Stick to cooking. Analyzer makes better coffee."
"When he's not flashing every nurse on the ship, that is."
There was a round of chuckles at that comment. The crew had grown fond of Nova, admiring her spunk and gumption as well as her leadership skills, as exemplified in the morning's drills where she led her team to a flawless victory in the fastest time ever recorded. It was almost a shame that she had to go back. The next day on Mars, Desslok was informing the Earth Defense Forces on how the expatriate Earthmen-turned-Iscandarians were doing. A joint Earth-Gamilon proposal was petitioned to help solve Earth's overcrowding, as well as that of the colony planets. The solution was to have a large number of people transport to Iscandar and help Alex Wildstar and Starsha repopulate the beautiful, but dead planet. The happy couple themselves had since welcomed triplets into their lives. They coincidentally were all girls. Astra, named for Starsha's sister, Emeraldas and Maetel, both named for the two ladies who often visited Iscandar. That afternoon, a combination beach party-barbecue was going on and the Argo had landed for the festivities. The two Wildstars were having a brew and talking about the goings-on of their lives.
"So you have triplets," Wildstar mused. "Sasha must be happy."
"She loves it," Alex replied. "She adores her sisters."
"Alex and Starsha say hello."
"Our love to them as well. So how is Yuki?"
"Great. She is almost like Nova except for one small detail."
"She cooks like shit." a soft soprano caught their attention.
The two brothers turned and saw Yuki and Starsha walk over, both wearing EDF T-shirts and jeans. The Iscandarian looked incongrously lovely in something other than her usual navy-blue gown. Yuki smirked as she gently kissed Wildstar on the cheek.
"Hi, ladies," Wildstar greeted.
"Derek," Starsha smiled. "Alex. Yuki was telling me how you don't like her cooking."
"Well, it's not the most appetizing."
"Of course, Nova's coffee isn't so great either."
"Please." Wildstar made a face. "I have to get up to that shit each morning."
"At least, you enjoy her cooking," Yuki smiled. "Suko has to tolerate my poor attempts."
"You make the effort, though," Alex put in. "And he loves you for it. That's all that matters, Yuki."
"Yeah," Wildstar agreed. "As long as you try, then you've accomplished something."
"Very diplomatically put, Wildstar."
The group turned at the familiar somewhat fey-sounding tenor and saw Desslok standing there in a very un-Gamilon ensemble of Hawaiian shirt, bermudas and sandals. The two Wildstars suddenly developed a "coughing fit" to cover their impulse to laugh. However, others were not so shy as howls and catcalls could be heard.
"Yo! Check him out!"
"Hey, Des! Nice duds!"
"Desslok goes Hawaiian!"
"I have to say," Wildstar gasped, trying very hard not to laugh, "that is an interesting look for you."
"Ignore them," Starsha smiled as she fussed with the shirt. "It is very becoming."
"Oh, sure," Alex intoned. "Wear that to your next public address. Guarantee it'll be a big hit."
"I must admit," Desslok mused. "It may not look dignified, but it is fairly comfortable."
"Of course. Stone lives in these when he's not being an asshole."
"Which is very rare," Wildstar groused.
Yuki enjoyed the exchange and was rather surprised at the interaction between Desslok and Starsha. Granted they were not friends, but their relationship was certainly friendlier than the frosty, distant one between Stasha and Desslar. In fact, a part of Yuki wondered if Stasha's sacrifice/suicide was partly a "Screw you" to the Gamilus ruler. Mimi rubbed against her leg and was picked up to be cuddled, purring contentedly. Suddenly, something caught Yuki's eye.
"Look!" she pointed in the direction.
Everyone turned and saw a ship coming out of warp and start to land. It was obviously modelled after the Argo, but it had a sleeker design and seemed to have Gamilon influences. The ramp lowered and hit the beach as the hatch opened, revealing the disembarking crew. There were gasps of disbelief as people saw themselves. Yuki gasped with joy seeing Kodai and Nova walking toward them, both in appropriate beachwear. Each woman ran to their respective husband as the said husbands stared blankly at each other. Venture walked up and coiled an arm around Starsha, puffing with interest. Starsha calmly took the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it to the ground, crushing it under a delicate bare foot. The pilot merely shrugged and took out another one to light.
"Can we say 'Twilight Zone'?" he mused.
"Indeed," the Iscandarian mused. "It is almost disconcerting."
"They're both the same, yet I can almost seem to tell the difference."
"Shima!" Kodai exclaimed, hurrying over to Venture. "It's true! You're alive!"
"No, bud," Venture replied. "Hate to burst your bubble, but the name's Mark Venture."
"Neesan!" Kodai embraced Alex Wildstar tightly. "This must be a dream!"
"It is," Alex gently rebuked in Japanese. "I am Alex Wildstar. My family has not used the name Kodai in over a hundred years."
"Welcome to our universe, Susumu," Nova smiled gently.
She began to give the Okita captain the full scoop as the two Sandors chatted away over beer about their respective misadventures with their IQ9/Ananlyzers. The aforementioned "genius robots" were having a field day flashing women and cruising around the beach avoiding an army of pissed off, such women. Nova and Yuki merely looked at each other and sighed. Desslok merely watched the festivities with quiet amusement, a Cuban cigar in his mouth and a pina colada in his hand. Humans. What an amusing species. Later, both crews and other EDF officials had a poker tournament. Kodai and Sanada smoked through their bracket while Nova and Wildstar left many a victim in their wake, Nova's "innocent babe" routine working in full force. In fact, the Argo captain was enjoying taking others' winnings, including Stone's while her husband simply buzzsawed through the others with ruthless efficency. It was finally the two Kodai/Wildstars, Sanada and Nova. Yuki turned to an intrigued Desslok.
"Leader Desslok?" she smiled.
"Yes?" the Gamilon leader replied.
"I was wondering how long you have been Earth's ally."
"About three years. A most interesting and beneficial relationship."
"I am curious. Have you and Starsha resolved your differences?"
"Well, we are not exactly close friends, but we have an understanding."
"I see. Desslar and Stasha did not."
"Stasha apparently wanted nothing to do with him. In fact, when she destroyed herself and Iscandar, I was wondering if maybe she wasn't saying "up yours".
"I could not tell you as I have not have the privilege of knowing her, nor will I as she is now dead."
A noise interrupted the conversation as Nova was finally knocked out of the game, courtesy of a smug Wildstar. In fact, the Combat Commander wound up winning the whole contest. The next morning, after Nova wowed the crews with a breakfast to remember, they got into a wargames/paintball match. Desslok got snared into it and wound up getting covered in green paint. Both sides took heavy "casualties", but the Argo won rather handily. After lunch, the two crews said goodbye and the Okita flew off and disappeared back into its universe. Later that night, the Wildstars were in bed gazing out the window at the moonlight, thinking about their counterparts and wondering how they were doing. They then held each other and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
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