Track 5:  Love and Hope

The wind played with his hair.  Unlike the generated wind of Island 1, this wind was playful and even whimsical.  He cut the engines of his flight suit and dived sharply, feeling the acceleration.  At the critical point, he banked up and flew towards the bright sun in a tight corkscrew.  His arms reached out to the heavens and welcomed the sky at the apex of his ascent.  For a moment, he remained still and suspended.

His eyes gazed over the landscape of Frontier.  From here, he could imagine possibilities of the future.  On this planet, the colonists were rebuilding their lives.  It was a world where everyone could stretch out their wings and fly.  As he watched the colony below, images of his friends, family and crewmates flashed through his mind. 

He prayed, "Live... live and I'll protect this sky for you."

The insistent pull of gravity broke his reverie.  He angled his wings and caught the wind.  As he glided level to the horizon, his phone rang.  He picked it up.  "Alto here."

"Alto... she's dead..." came Ranka's sobbing voice.

"Who's dead?!" exclaimed Alto.

"Sheryl... Brera sent a message... and I can't sense her..."

"What?!  Send me the message."  

Within minutes, he got a copy of Brera's message.  "She collapsed... That doesn't mean anything.  Look, it doesn't say that she's really dead.  The Quarter's almost repaired.  We can launch tomorrow."

"That's too late!  I'd rather fold on a Vajra instead!"

"Do you know where she is?"

"I don't know."

Alto stared at the message and cursed.  The numbers below the text looked like a set of coordinates.  Brera was probably trying to tell them the carrier's location.  "Maybe we can ask someone to trace it."

"Cathy said that it's a Galaxy phone.  She knows the scientists who built it."

"Ok, let's go see her.  I'll meet you at City hall.  In the meantime, ask the guards to call her."

Meanwhile, Cathy was meeting with the bioengineers when she received the news.  She quickly cancelled the meeting and hurried back to City hall.  Lt. Maxwell, Ranka, Ai and Alto were already there.  

She held out her hand.  "Where's the message?"

Ranka handed her Brera's phone.  Despite the errors, there was no doubt of its contents.  "I'll ask the Galaxy engineers to do a trace.  They may be able to give us an idea of the carrier's last location.  Then I'll put more crews on the Quarter.  It should be ready to launch in a day."

Ranka stood up, her face filled with desperation.  "That's not enough!  Just let me know where to fold and I'll ask a carrier to get me there!"

"I see.  I'll let you know when we've got the coordinates.  In the meantime, please see the queen.  If she has any idea why Sheryl collapsed, then we may be able to figure out how to save her."  Cathy put a gentle hand on Ranka's shoulder and tried to reassure her.   "Dr. Jenus and Dr. Zore are with her.  I'm sure they'll do what they can to stabilize her until we come."

"I'll go see the queen now."

"I'll take you there," offered Alto.  

They walked to the parking lot where Alto's valkyrie stood in gerwalk mode.  Using slave-mode, Alto manipulated a hand to lift them up to cockpit level.  He helped Ranka into her seat before hopping into his.  Once secure, they flew to the mothership with Ai hanging on to the wing.

Once there, Ranka wasted no time in explaining the situation to the queen.  The queen's benign expression shifted to concern.

"We shall find her.  Sing with us."  

Her quavering voice blended with the queen's.  As she sang, she felt several other voices echoing from a distance.  Suddenly, an immense presence filled her mind.

"Feel her in the flow..." whispered the mother queen.

Ranka reached out and felt herself floating through space.  She flew across thousands of dazzling stars and unique cosmic anomalies but none of them caught her attention.  In the end, her eyes focused on an image of a Vajra carrier surrounded by asteroids.  

"There!" she cried.  

"It is far for you," said the queen.  "Sing with us and we will guide you there.  Go to her.  Bring her back."

"I understand.  I'll go right away."  She left the flow and opened her eyes.  She turned to Alto.  "Can we go now?"


They flew out of the mothership and located the carrier that they were allowed to use.  With Ranka's directions, Alto guided his valkyrie to a large chamber.  He transformed to gerwalk mode and landed.  In the middle of the chamber, thick tentacles suspended a crystal about the size of a car.  Ai flew to it and touched the crystal.  A purple light flashed within it.

"This is the fold reactor," explained Ranka.  "The queen and I will synchronize and she will help us fold to where Sheryl is."

The veins of the carrier throbbed.  He felt the valkyrie lean to the side.  Quickly, he adjusted its balance.

"I'm asking it to go into orbit," explained Ranka.  "When we're far enough, we're going to fold."

Before they folded, the queen warned her.  "Beware.  She sends them."

She relayed the message to Alto before she synchronized with the queen.  "Alto, the queen says that there might be enemy Vajra."

"Roger."  Alto checked his instruments and primed his weapons.

They folded into the midst of a battle.  Alto immediately broadcasted their IFF.  Within seconds, Brera hailed them.

"It's about time!  Get over here and I'll cover you!" yelled Brera.

"Go, Ranka!  I help too!" yelled Ai.  Her hand on the crystal glowed an eerie red.

His valkyrie transformed to fighter mode and flew out of the carrier.  A bright glow behind them indicated that the Ai's carrier was preparing to fire.

"Over here!" yelled Brera who was blasting away as he flew in battroid mode.

Alto spotted him and followed his lead.  Along with Brera, three ghost fighters escorted them to towards Sheryl's carrier.  Alto looked at his radar and noted a swarm of Vajra behind them.  He hated running, but he had no choice.  Keeping an eye on his radar, he dodged their attacks.

Suddenly, there was a great flash of light and a high-pressure wave pushed them forward.  The radar indicated that most of Vajra were flung almost half a light-year away.

Behind him, Ranka whispered, "Thanks, Ai-chan."

He smiled quietly then focused his eyes on Sheryl's carrier.  "Let's go!  To Sheryl!"  He pushed the lever to full throttle, causing his valkyrie to surge ahead.  

When they reached the docking area, Ranka begged, "Don't stop.  Go right."

Alto obeyed and transformed to gerwalk mode to fit in the tight corridors.  With Ranka's directions, they reached the fold reactor chamber.  There, by the side of the crystal, was a cocoon.  Dr. Jenus and Dr. Zore were nearby and seemed to be monitoring it.

"Sheryl!" yelled Ranka as soon as the cockpit rose.  Hastily, she clambered down the valkyrie and ran to the cocoon.  "Sheryl!"

"She's in some sort of stasis," said Dr. Zore.  

Ranka's eyes widened in alarm as she saw the heartbeat reading on the monitor: a flat line.  Then there was a loud explosion and the carrier shook.  Ranka grabbed a nearby vein for balance.

"Ranka!  I'm gonna fight!"  With that, Alto took off.

She touched the cocoon.  "What should I do?" she thought desperately.

Just then, a presence touched her mind.  She recognized her.  "Hope!  Is that you?"

Warmth increased under her hand and the urge to sing filled her.  Then she understood.  "Please watch over her, Hope!  I'll be right back!"

She sprinted to the bridge as fast as her legs allowed.  As soon as she entered the bridge, she commanded, "The mic!"

Someone handed her Sheryl's mic.  She ran up the platform and sang Northern Cross.  The sound system recognized the melody and played the instrumentals.  

I can no longer remember the start of this journey.
Before I realized, I was already here.
As the seasons wore away,
Those who sense the invisible infrared rays become lost.

I will probably lose them,
These feelings that I risk for life for.
I loved as if I were fighting to survive.
I spent all my time building my dream.
I wanted to land on that star.
I wanted to fly in your sky.

Soon, the tide of battle turned in their favor.  The enemy Vajra became confused and defeated or were converted to join their ranks.

And it will begin,
The finale I will risk my life for.
I loved as if I were fighting to survive.
I kicked on dreams on until they are crumpled.
I wanted to end on that star.
I wanted to bloom in your sky.

Wouldn't someone please caress my empty contours?
The motions of time have erased away
The words of love that could not be saved.
So please, give me your answer one more time.
Chosen by destiny, the Northern Star is burning bright.
Though it snatched you away from me into the sooty darkness,
You continued to smile so gracefully. I loved that part of you.

When the scanners confirmed that all enemy Vajra were destroyed, their fighters were recalled as quickly as possible.  Ranka asked Ai, "Are you ready?"

Ai answered, "Yes, I follow."

It took several folds to make it back to Frontier.  In exhaustion, Ranka collapsed onto a nearby chair.  Her lips curved up into a smile as Frontier centered on the main screen.  "Home at last," she whispered.

The next hour seemed to drag into eternity as the cocoon was delivered to the queen.  Anxiously, Ranka waited for the queen's assessment as her tentacles hovered over the cocoon.  Then several tentacles punctured the cocoon with a sticky squishy sound.  

"Only a little more," said the queen.  "We will watch over her until she wakes."

"Is she dying?" asked Ranka anxiously.

"No, she is changing."

"What do you mean?  I don't understand!"

"She will be part of us, as you are part of us."

That statement confused Ranka even more.  When did she become part Vajra?  Did that mean that she was infected too?  She turned to Dr. Zore.

"The queen said that I'm part of them.  Am I infected by the virus?"

"Not directly."  Dr. Zore tapped over his digipad and displayed a report.  "Your mother was infected while you were in her womb.  Somehow, your infant cells were able to adapt to the virus."

Her eyes sped through the text.  When she was done, she looked up.  "Then what about Sheryl?"

"I suggested to Sheryl that the queen might be able to help if she explains her condition well enough.  To this effect, I've been writing reports so that she can explain it to the queen."  He put a hand on her shoulder.  His voice was tinged with sadness and guilt.  "I'm willing to take responsibility if circumstances turn for the worse.  I was the one who made the suggestion."

Ai held her hand.  "It is fine.  The queen save her.  Just wait."

A wave of relief surged through Ranka's body.  Tears dripped from her eyes.  Ai hugged her tightly and she wept on her shoulder.

Brera and Canaria Berstein came after they had finished dinner.  Brera hugged his sister.  "How is she?"

"The queen is looking after her now.  Ai told me to wait," replied Ranka as she sat next to him by the cocoon.  "What happened?"

"That damn Grace tried to wipe us out with a Dimension Eater."  He heard Ranka gasp.  "Yeah, that one... the same kind we used on Island 3.  Looks like she built one, and sent it on a Vajra.  Somehow, Sheryl knew it was coming.  She told everyone to retreat."

He clenched his fists.  "But we weren't fast enough.  So she increased the fold radius and waited for everyone to gate through.  If it weren't for her, half the fleet would've died.  She collapsed after the carrier escaped."

Dr. Jenus continued, "We did our best to stabilize her and remove the toxins in her body, but her nervous system was behaving erratically.  Before we knew it, she went into cardiac arrest.  We were about to pronounce her dead when Hope came with several Vajra and took her away to the reactor chamber.  Then Hope underwent some sort of metamorphosis and formed a cocoon around Sheryl."

Ranka's eyes grew wide and she turned to Ai.  "What will happen to Hope?"

"When Sheryl wake, Hope change too. She like me before this body." responded Ai.

She exhaled with relief.  "Thank god!"

They kept vigil through the night.  The scientists brought their shuttle so that they could prepare food and take turns sleeping in its bunk beds.  

On the afternoon of the next day, Ranka sat by the cocoon and began editing her song on her digipad.  Soon it would be finished, and she could sing it for Sheryl.  The gentle notes of her song echoed through the chamber as she sang the melody.

   Show me your guiding hand
   And let me know your touch.
   Hold me in your arms
   And make me want you.
   Sing me your shining song
   And awaken my true self.

   Each moment together
   becomes a star in the sky.
   My night is bright with joy...

A glob of goo splashed on the digipad.  In alarm, Ranka turned around and saw a crack in the cocoon.  The monitor beeped weakly, causing the flat line to produce a wiggle.

"Her heart is starting again!" exclaimed Dr. Zore as he fiddled with the instruments.

Ranka dropped the digipad and touched the cocoon.  "Sheryl!"

The crack widened and goo gushed out, covering Ranka.  The scientists hastily stepped away but she did not care.  She moved forward and reached for the shadowy form within the cocoon.  Her arms grew heavy as that form slid onto her.  She staggered for balance and tried to maintain her position.  

Ai put her arm around her and reached in as well.  Together, they caught Sheryl and positioned her over their laps.  Sheryl began to cough.  Ranka lifted her head with her left hand and swept the goo from her nose and mouth with her right.  Then she drew a deep breath and covered her mouth with her own.  She exhaled into Sheryl's mouth.

She repeated the exchange until Sheryl began to breathe normally.  Then Sheryl opened her eyes.  Her pupils wandered randomly at first and then focused on Ranka.  

Her lips formed a whisper.  "Hi..."

Ranka swallowed and tried to remain calm, but already, she could feel tears flowing down her cheeks.  "Hi... how are you feeling?"

Sheryl drew a deep breath.  "Like a really bad period..."

A few moments later, Dr. Jenus handed Ai a towel.  Ai took it and began to wipe off the goo on Sheryl's body.

"We should get her to the hospital as soon as possible," said Canaria as she wheeled over a stretcher.

Ranka noted her gloved hands and medical gown.  Everyone kept his or her distance from the goo.  She could only guess that they were afraid of contracting the V-Type infection.  With Ai's help, she and Canaria transferred Sheryl to the stretcher and took her to the shuttle.  Then they flew to the hospital where Sheryl was placed in a special room to monitor her condition.  During that time, Ranka held her hand until the hospital staff told her to stay in the waiting area.

While they waited, Canaria convinced them to shower.  Two excruciatingly long hours later, Ranka and Ai were allowed to see her.  On their entrance, Sheryl smiled from beneath her oxygen mask.  She held up her hand and Ranka clasped it to her heart.

"You're crying again."

"That's because you keep on worrying me!"  She hastily wiped away her tears with the back of her hand.

"I worry too!" said Ai.

"Sorry... I was afraid of that..."  She paused to breathe.  "I overheard them... Canaria was going to send you home."  She took another breath.  "I told her, that I'd bring the swarm down if... hah... if she did that.  She made you wait... I don't like it... hah... I'm going to... sleep a little bit, ok?  So don't worry.  Get some sleep too..."

"No!  I'm not leaving!" protested Ranka.  

Sheryl squeezed weakly.  "You silly girl..."  Then she closed her eyes.

Immediately, Ranka stared at the monitor that displayed her vital signs.  Her anxiety went away as she confirmed a steady heartbeat.  Sitting on a nearby chair, she began her vigil again.

The scent of fresh eggs and pancakes filled the air.  Ranka got out of bed and walked down the stairs.  Her mouth watered at the dishes on the table.  Sheryl turned around in her apron.

"Have some breakfast, Honey!"

She woke up with a start, causing the blanket around her shoulders to fall.  By the height of the sun, it was morning.

"Finally, you're awake!" came that familiar teasing lilt.  "Now we can have breakfast!"

Ranka almost tackled her in relief.  "Sheryl!"  She buried her stinging eyes in the warmth of her hospital gown.  "I was so worried!"

Sheryl stroked her head.  "I'm sorry.  I'll make it up to you, ok?"

Ranka pulled away and wiped her tears.  "You better..."

Her hand stroked her cheek.  "Hush now.  I'm fine, see?  I'll feel even better if I eat some food."

As if on cue, Ai wheeled the food cart near the bed.  Ranka followed up by adjusting the movable tray in front of Sheryl.

Breakfast was an eerie affair as the dishes from her strange dream showed up in their meal.  However, the eerie feeling was eclipsed by Sheryl's increased appetite.  She had never seen her eat so fast and so much.  

When Sheryl was done, she leaned back into her pillows contentedly.  "Aaahhh, that was good."

Ranka giggled.  She was relieved to see her acting normally.  "When can you go home?"

"I'm feeling so good that I'd go home right now, but Dr. Jenus wants to do more tests."

"I see."

"But in the meantime, I need a bath."  Sheryl swung her legs off the side of the bed and took a few steps before swaying precariously.

"Sheryl!"  Ranka quickly caught her.  "Don't force yourself!"

"I was just a bit dizzy," said Sheryl.  "I'll be fine."

Ranka slipped an arm around her waist.  "What if you fall in the shower?  I'll help you.  Ai-chan, can you ask the nurse for a change of clothes?"

"Sure!" responded Ai enthusiastically.  She zoomed out of the room and left.

As she closed the bathroom door, Sheryl spoke quietly.

"How're you going help me when you couldn't even look at me with my clothes on?"

Ranka colored visibly as she noted the subtle challenge.  She seated her on the stool in the tub.  Irritably, she said, "I'm just a bit shy, ok?  And it's not like I haven't seen what you have."

"You're right."  With that, she began to remove her gown.

Ranka swallowed.  Her body was more beautiful than she remembered it to be.  Her eyes took in her graceful curves and ample bosom.  Unfortunately, her view was obstructed when Sheryl held up her gown in front of her face.

"I'm ready now," declared Sheryl as she modestly covered her front with an arm.

Ranka took the gown and gave her a small towel to cover her front.  Then she pulled off the showerhead from its receptacle and extended its hose.  She knelt by the side of the tub and positioned the nozzle over Sheryl's head.

Sheryl closed her eyes as warm droplets rained down.  Ranka's hand threaded gently through her sticky hair and slowly eased her tangled locks.  Giddiness spread across her stomach and she could not tell whether the warm water running over her skin or Ranka's caressing hand caused it.

Slowly but surely, her head felt lighter and her scalp tingled as grime was washed away.  With another rinse, she could already feel its clean silkiness against her shoulders and back.

Her eyes opened when she felt a sponge against her back.  "Wow... I wonder how far she'll go..." thought Sheryl.

She got her answer when Ranka asked, "Please move your arm."

Sheryl obeyed.  She gasped as the bath sponge scrubbed gently against her chest.  It was too much.  Her hand leapt up and grabbed Ranka's wrist, causing her to drop the sponge. "That's enough... I can manage by myself."

"Umm... Sheryl..."

Without the bath sponge in the way, Ranka's hand was in full contact with her breast.  Quickly, she let go.

Just then, Ranka snickered.  A sly gleam twinkled from her eye.  "Who's the shy one now?"

Her face burned and she covered her front with the towel.  "Why... you!"

Ranka laughed heartily.  The look on her face was priceless.  "It's your fault for making me lose the sponge!"  She picked up the sponge and rinsed it before offering it to Sheryl.  "Here.  You scrub and I'll rinse.  It'll be faster that way."

"Alright."  Sheryl took the sponge and began the scrub.  She had performed for thousands of people and modeled for countless magazines.  And yet, for some reason, she felt more self-conscious now than ever before.

Purposely, she skipped scrubbing the inside of her thighs.  Unfortunately, Ranka noticed.

"You missed a spot," said Ranka as she aimed the spray at her legs.

Blushing fiercely, Sheryl held out her hand.  "Give me that!"

Instead of obeying, Ranka smirked, "If I give it to you, will you guarantee that you won't spray me?"  When Sheryl did not answer at once, she asked again, "Well?"

Her intentions anticipated, Sheryl muttered, "Ok, I won't..."  When Ranka handed her shower head, she asked, "Please turn around."

Satisfied with the results of her teasing, Ranka turned around and waited until she was done.  When she was ready, she took two towels from the cabinet.  She gave one to Sheryl to wrap around her while she used the other one to dry her head.  Then she helped Sheryl out of the tub and seated her on the stool in front of the mirror.  With the hair dryer and brush, she dried the remaining water and styled her hair.

At the same time, Ranka sent a quick question to Ai who answered by bringing her a clean hospital gown.  Sheryl took the gown and slipped it over her head.  Then she did the fasteners on its back.

"Thanks," said Sheryl as Ranka helped her up.

"It was my pleasure," replied Ranka with a wink.

Her response caused Sheryl to blush as she recalled what happened earlier.  Usually, she preferred to be the one teasing and not the one being teased.  But in this case, a part of her was thrilled at the thought of a more assertive Ranka.

Ranka opened the bathroom door and was surprised to see visitors.  "Nana-chan!  Luca!"

Nanase stood up and waved.  "We heard you were back!  How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," replied Sheryl.  "How about you?"

As they chatted away, Ranka was glad to see Nanase walking on her own.  Luca stood close to her, his eyes stealing glances at his new girlfriend.  They were a cute couple.

They chatted until Canaria came in with the scientists.  "Hello everyone.  I'm sorry to interrupt, but we need to do some tests to make sure Sheryl is ok."

"When will you be done?" asked Ranka.

"It'll probably take two hours or so," replied Canaria while she prepared the scanner.  "You should go home.  We'll take care of things here."

Reluctantly, she filed out of the room with Ai, Nanase and Luca and was already making her way to the waiting room.  A familiar gruff voice stopped her.

"Ranka," said Ozma as he stood before her.  "Come home.  It's safe now.  Brera and I are there."

She clenched her hands.  It probably was safe, but after his lecture, she was afraid to be subjected to more of it.  However, there may be a way out.  Alto said that the Quarter repairs were almost done and that it would go on another mission to hunt Grace down.  If she could stall long enough, then she would not need to go home.

"Just one more day, Ozma-nii.  Let me be with Alto for one more day. I... I feel safe with him."  Hopefully, she sounded like a love struck teenager.

Ozma ran his hand through his hair and sighed.  "Oh well... I guess it can't be helped."  He knelt before her.  "I wish I was there.  I would've made sure that those bastards regretted attacking you."

She hugged him.  "Thanks, Ozma-nii."

Ozma stood up and ruffled her head as if she were still a child.  "And tell that brat that if he doesn't take good care of you, he'll be sorry.  Very sorry."

"Don't worry.  His family is looking after me."

She watched him leave before going to the waiting room.  Patiently, she waited and had lunch with Ai when they got hungry.  Around 2 PM, she was about to check if the tests were done when Sheryl walked in with Lt. Maxwell.  She was already dressed in normal clothes.

"Sheryl!" cried Ranka as she threw her arms around her.

With the extra weight, Sheryl leaned on her cane.  At the same time, Lt. Maxwell placed a steady hand on her back.  "Whoa!  Careful now!"

Ranka drew back and held her hand.  "How were the tests?"

She smiled triumphantly.  "I'm cured."

Joy filled her heart.  "What?!  Really?"

Sheryl nodded.  "All thanks to you, Hope and the queen."  She held up her right wrist that had a bracelet of some sort.  It was about two inches wide and about a quarter inch thick.  It was snug against her wrist and showed a several numbers on its display.

"However, just to be safe, they've tagged me with this to monitor my vital signs.  They wanted me to stay a day longer, but I told them that if I don't go home, you'll worry yourself to death.  So this is their compromise."

Ranka blushed at her excuse, but she could not complain.  "Does that mean you can go home now?"

Sheryl smiled widely.  "Yes."

She hugged her again.  "Alright!"

As usual, Lt. Maxwell drove them to Sheryl's hotel.  Upon arriving there, Ranka discovered that her room was not reserved anymore since she was staying at Alto's house.  As she entered Sheryl's suite, she hoped that Sheryl would let her sleep on the sofa.

"Ai-chan, I'm a little worried about Hope.  Can you check on her?" asked Sheryl.

"Ok!" Ai went out the balcony and flew away.

Ranka wondered why Sheryl asked Ai to do that when she could have just asked the queen.  Just then, she realized that they were alone together for the first time since Ozma returned.  She waited until Sheryl sat down on a sofa before sitting next to her.  

She drew a deep breath, gathered her courage and asked, "So... what did you want to talk about?"

The startled look on Sheryl's face confirmed her suspicions.  Sheryl cleared her throat.

"Well... we didn't get a chance to talk ever since... that time."

Ranka blushed as she remembered what she had assumed to be a dream.  However, she kept silent.

Sheryl continued, "It's my fault, you see... I should've thought it through before asking the queen.  I didn't realize that they would involve you like that.  I'm really sorry.  It shouldn't have happened."  She paused.

When Ranka did not say anything, she continued, "If I knew that they were going to do that, I would've stopped them.  That sort of thing... well, if it were up to me, I wouldn't even plan on doing something like that until much later."

"When would you do it?" asked Ranka.

Sheryl swallowed.  "Well... first, I'd find out if she might be interested in me."  She opened the drawer of the cabinet next to the sofa and pulled out a yaribue.  "Then, I would give this to her."

Ranka took it from her and ran her hand across its undulating curves that symbolized the meeting of the ocean and the sky.  She wondered which role Sheryl represented.  "What else?"

Sheryl clasped her hands together and stared at the floor.  "If she accepts, then I'd ask her to go out with me.  We'd go on dates, have fun... maybe k-kiss... but I wouldn't sleep with her right away... only if we were really serious..."  Already, she could feel her cheeks burning.  She chanced a glance at Ranka and noticed that she was holding the yaribue on her lap.  She stared at the floor some more.  

She waited for Ranka to say something, but she did not.  Unable to stand the silence, she blurted out, "I guess, if we really liked each other, I'd propose to her and give her a ring."

Finally, Ranka spoke.  "What kind of a ring?"

Sheryl reached into the cabinet again and picked up a small box.  She was about to open it when Ranka deftly plucked it from her hand.

She opened the box and gazed at the ring.  "That's a really big diamond!"

"It's not a diamond," declared Sheryl proudly.

Her eyes narrowed and disappointment dripped from her voice.  "Cubic zirconia?"

Indignant, Sheryl countered, "I'm not that cheap!  I want the best for my beloved!"  Then her voice changed to a mysterious key.  "Something special... something like... starfire..."  She cupped her hand over the ring, enveloping it in darkness.

Ranka peeked under her hand and gasped in astonishment.  Even though it was dark, a flickering light seemed to come from inside of the gem.  She cupped her own hand over it to make it even darker.  The gem sparkled brightly, throwing a kaleidoscope of colors against her hand.  "How... how does it do that?"

"I don't know," replied Sheryl.  Dr. LaSalle is still trying to figure it out.  But at least, it's as hard as a diamond."  Sheryl chuckled.  "The jeweler had a hard time cutting it."

"Where did you find this?"

"Hope picked it up somewhere.  She has a pile of junk in the corner of my room.  One night, I saw something flashing brightly and there it was.  So I had Dr. LaSalle check it to make sure it was safe before taking it to the jeweler."

"It's a very nice ring," remarked Ranka as she closed the lid and placed it on the side table next to the sofa.  "What other Mayan traditions would you include?"

"What traditions?" repeated Sheryl in confusion.  A drop of sweat rolled down her temple.  "Like the wedding and the three day celebration?"  It was more of a question than a statement.

"That would be nice to have.  And then what?"

Sheryl wiped her clammy hands on her skirt.  Somehow, she had a feeling that she just agreed to do something that she did not plan to.  "After the wedding... I guess we'll go on our honeymoon.  And then, that's when... we'll do it..."  Her voice trailed off.

"It's a good plan," said Ranka with a wide grin on her face.

Her restless hands gripped the sofa cushion that she was sitting on.  "Do you think it'll work?"

"Yes, I think so."

Sheryl's hand slowly reached for the yaribue but Ranka moved it away.  For several seconds, they sat in silence.

Her heart was beating rapidly.  "Are we officially dating now?"

"No," replied Ranka casually.

Her heart sank.  What did she do wrong?  "But... the yaribue..."

Ranka reminded her, "By tradition, the date starts at midnight."

Sheryl checked the clock.  3:47 PM.  "You mean, I have to wait for 8 more hours?!"

Ranka leaned back, her hands still holding the yaribue.  "You have to.  Otherwise, the kadun of dating will curse you for breaking the rules."

Sheryl frowned.  "There's no such thing!"

Her eyes challenged her.  "Are you willing to chance it?"

Instead of answering, Sheryl went to the clock.  Several button clicks later, it read 12 AM.   She placed her hands on each side of Ranka's head and leaned over her.  "Even if it exists, it won't come."

"That's good," murmured Ranka as her hand wove around Sheryl's neck.  "We won't be disturbed."  Then she kissed her.

Her lips were softer than she dreamt it to be.  Ranka caressed them with her own and lightly nibbled at them.  Sheryl's lips did the same and slowly traced its contours.

Her body yearned for the warmth that the dream promised.  Her free hand moved the yaribue to the side table before reaching for Sheryl's arm.  She slid sideways to lie on the sofa and urged Sheryl to follow.

Sheryl complied and lay on top of her.  Their lips met again to continue their dance.  Meanwhile, her hands wandered over Sheryl's curves and slowly slid across her back.  Then one hand threaded through those golden-coral silky tresses, spreading the fragrance of her shampoo.

"You're like the wind," thought Ranka as she gazed into those light blue eyes.  "I loved to sing but I was content to just sing for myself.  But ever since I heard you sing, your song fanned the flame of my dream.  With each kind word you gave me, you lured me to follow you to the sky and lifted me up."  She hugged the Galaxy Fairy tightly, feeling her ample bosom press against hers.  "Is it too greedy of me to be a star in your sky?"

The temperature of the room seemed to rise with each kiss.  An insistent warmth grew between her thighs and became harder to ignore.

Then Sheryl buckled to her left side.  "Can we move to the bed?" she pleaded.  "It's getting more difficult to prop myself up."

Ranka cupped her face between her hands and watched the cute expression on her face.  "You're not sticking to your plan," she accused.

"You took the ring already," she reasoned.  "Or are you going to give it back?"

She kissed her.  "Who in their right mind would return a ring like that?" she whispered.  "Lead the way."

They walked to the bedroom and lay side by side.  Sheryl noted that Ranka picked the same side like last time.  Then the events of that morning flashed through her mind.  "Say, Ranka..."

Already, Ranka was snuggling against her.  "Hmm?"

"Was it your first time back then?"

She blushed scarlet, warming the skin on Sheryl's breast.  "Yes," came her meek answer.

Her heart glowed with delight.  "It was my first time too."  She leaned in and captured her lips.

Lying side by side was much better.  Her freed hands slid across the smooth skin of Ranka's arm and slipped down to her waist.  Then her fingers felt the hem of her blouse.  Her hand swept up to uncover the side of her stomach.  When her fingertips caressed her skin, Ranka giggled in between kisses.

"Don't distract me," complained Ranka as she continued savoring the Fairy's lips.

"I just want to feel you," whispered Sheryl.  Her hand slid across her back and unhooked her bra.

Ranka's eyes flicked open and she broke the kiss.  "I thought you planned to take it slow."

Sheryl withdrew her hand hastily and turned away.  Her hand gripped the bed covers to keep itself from wandering.  Holding back was so much easier before that fateful day.  But now, her body knew Ranka's touch and temptation was difficult to resist.  "I... I'm sorry.  I thought since we already... you know... that maybe it's ok... but if it bothers you, then I'll wait."  

Ranka was surprised at how disappointed she sounded.  She cupped her face between her hands and gazed at her worried face.  "You want me that much?"

"Yes," she confessed softly.  "Since that night, I dreamt..."  Then she bit her lip.  She had said too much.

Unfortunately, Ranka pressed on.  "What did you dream?"  To loosen her tongue, she kissed near her mouth and slipped her hand under her blouse.

"I dreamt of you..."  She swallowed as Ranka's hand drew lazy circles under her blouse.  "We were in bed like this and we were kissing."

"Go on," coaxed Ranka as her fingers traced the cloth of Sheryl's bra.  Meanwhile, supple lips kissed the nape of her graceful neck.  Just like in her interviews, Sheryl had a habit of saying too much.  With the right encouragement, Ranka wondered what the Galaxy Fairy would reveal.

Before she knew it, Sheryl ended up describing her dream in lucid detail while Ranka touched her underneath her blouse.  "What have I done!?" thought Sheryl.  "Of all the perverted things to tell her!"

Ranka kissed her and gazed into her eyes.  "Some say dreams represent our unconscious desires.  Were you planning on doing all that to me?"

"Not really..."  Sheryl looked away from that probing gaze.  In response, Ranka trapped her head so that there was no other place to look but her face.  Those reddish-orange orbs demanded an answer.  Helplessly, she nodded.

Ranka gently tugged at the hand gripping the bed.  When Sheryl let go, she guided her hand underneath her own blouse and positioned it near her bra strap.  Then she leaned in to kiss her.

Sheryl's heart drummed in her ears.  Her excitement rose as she loosened the bra to uncover the treasure that it protected.  Many kisses later, their garments were discarded over the side of the bed.

She gasped as Ranka nibbled her ear.  "No fair... I... I was supposed to do that!"

"And let you have all the fun?"  whispered Ranka as slipped her leg between Sheryl's.  She slid it against her until Sheryl reacted with a satisfactory whimper.

Sheryl tilted her hips forward as she hugged Ranka closer.  When Ranka pushed against her, she threw her head back with eyes partly closed and delirious with the sensations of the contact.

Just then, a voice squeaked out of the bracelet.  "Miss Nome?  Are you alright?" came Dr. Jenus' voice.

They froze.  Sheryl lifted her hand and stared at the blinking red light on the bracelet.  She cleared her throat and brought it near her mouth.  "I'm fine," she said unsteadily.

"Oh, thank goodness!  We were getting erratic readings and then your heart rate just shot up, so we just wanted to check."

"Please don't worry.  I'm fine," she said hurriedly while Ranka rested her head on her chest.

"In that case, please be sure to get some rest.  I suggest going to bed early or taking a nap."

"Alright, I'll do that.  Thank you for checking."

"Good-bye."  The red light blinked off.

"Should we stop?" asked Ranka with a playful smile.

Sheryl smirked slyly.  "You heard him.  I have to go to bed.  Doctor's orders."

However, Ranka did not move.  "Maybe we shouldn't go too far.  Your heart is going pretty fast."

"I can handle it!" protested Sheryl.  "So... can we?"

Ranka rose to her face and nibbled her nose.  "Just once, ok?  You've been through a lot.  When you've rested more, we can do more, just like you dreamt."

In response, Sheryl kissed her excitedly.  Ranka kissed her back with equal fervor.  Soon, their lips and hands explored each other in a dance choreographed to the melody of their passion.  With each soft gasp that escaped from Ranka's lips, Sheryl's hand journeyed lower and lower until it reached her abdomen.

A knock on the door stilled them to silence.  "Yo, Sheryl... Ranka... It's Alto."

Sheryl's first impulse was to scream and tell him to go away, but she could never do that to Alto.  Reluctantly, she stole one more kiss and sat up.  "We should see him."

Ranka closed her eyes and nodded in agreement.  As quick as possible, they dressed up.  Instead of brushing her hair, Sheryl tied it with a hair band.  Then she went out first and closed the bedroom door.  She opened the suite door and forced a normal smile.

"Alto!" greeted Sheryl.

"Hey," said Alto as he offered a decorated get-well bouquet and gift basket.  "You're looking good."

She accepted graciously.  "Yes, thanks to everyone.  Have a seat."  She gestured to the sofa.  "Lisa told me what you did for Ranka.  Thank you."

"No problem," said Alto as he sat on the sofa.  Then his eyes fell on the wooden stick on the side table.  "Someone sent you a lovestick?"

"No."  Sheryl prayed that he would not ask further as she unpacked the gift basket.  "Want something to drink?"

"Green tea, if you have it."  Although he was curious, Alto kept quiet.  It was not his business anyway.

Sheryl darted behind the bar and picked a teacup.  "Coming right up."

Ranka came out when the tea was ready.  They talked about the past week while snacking on the treats from the gift basket.  As they chatted, she could not help but be amused as Sheryl consistently glanced at the clock.  

By the time Alto left, the clock read 3:21 AM.  As soon as they heard the elevator doors whirring shut, they reached for each other and kissed longingly.  Within minutes, they slipped under the covers in bed.  

After many kisses, Sheryl gathered her courage again and directed her hand towards her goal.  After she passed her belly button, Ranka spread her legs more.  Encouraged by her action, Sheryl's hand crept lower.

Another set of knocks echoed from the suite door.  "Ranka, Sheryl... it's Nanase."

Sheryl pounded on the bed with an exclamation of frustration.  She stared at Ranka who sighed.  

"We have to see them," said Ranka sadly.

Once again, they dressed up.  Sheryl opened the door to the suite.  Nanase stood smiling with Luca.  Everyone exchanged hugs and greetings.

Nanase lifted a bag.  "We got you dinner, but they told us you went home, so we came here instead.  I hope you're hungry!"

Sheryl accepted the bag and forced a cheerful smile.  "That's so nice of you!  Come on in!"

Nanase walked in and immediately saw it.  "A lovestick!"  she exclaimed.  She picked it up and turned to Ranka hopefully.  "Did Alto give it to you?"  They had passed Alto's car while they were driving to the hotel.

Ranka replied casually,  "No.  Sheryl gave it to me."  She took the yaribue from Nanase.

Sheryl almost dropped the bag.  She walked hurriedly to the table and turned away to hide her blushing face.  She could not believe that Ranka said it.  Quietly, she unpacked their meal.

A few seconds passed before Nanase spoke.  "Sheryl... did?"  Confusion reigned in her voice.  She watched Ranka as she walked to the side table by the sofa and picked up a small jewelry box.  Then she laughed.  "Gee, Ranka!  You almost had me fooled there!"

Ranka simply smiled and flicked the lid of the jewelry box.  Nanase's jaw dropped.

"Girl, now 'that' is a rock!" said Nanase as she took box from Ranka.  Her eyes examined the gem greedily.  Then her eyes darted between Sheryl and Ranka before staring at Ranka incredulously.  "Don't tell me..."

"I'm not joking," said Ranka as she retrieved the box from Nanase.

"What?!  Since when?"

She checked the clock.  4:12 AM.  "Well, officially, at midnight, about four hours from now."  From the corner of her eye, she saw Sheryl twitch.

Nanase sat down on the sofa and patted the cushion.  "You're not making any sense.  Sit down and explain everything from the beginning."

"I will, Nana-chan.  But not right now.  Dinner is getting cold."

"Ok, but I want a full explanation later."

They enjoyed dinner with animated conversation.  After dinner, Ranka thought they might stay for karaoke, but Nanase insisted on leaving.

"Sheryl needs her rest, y'know.  She shouldn't stay up so late."  She winked knowingly and guided a confused Luca to the door.

Ranka noted the subtle innuendo.  "Don't worry.  I'll make sure she goes to bed early."

When they were sure that Nanase and Luca were safely away on the elevator, they half ran to the bedroom.  While they were kissing passionately, the fire alarm rang.  

Sheryl groaned about the ruined mood.  "Why is this happening?"

Ranka giggled.  "Didn't I tell you..."  Sheryl's index finger on her mouth stopped her sentence.

"No, don't say it... it's just a coincidence!  It must be!"

They did not have time to debate since Pvt. Porter was knocking on the door.  As they were escorted to the armored van, Sheryl asked, "How can you be so calm at a time like this?"

"Well," said Ranka slowly.  "It's all a matter of perspective."  Amusement danced in her eyes.

Then she realized.  "You... you were watching me... all this time... I was so nervous and frustrated while you were enjoying yourself!"

Ranka broke out in a fit of laughter and covered her mouth.  "All those expressions on your face...  I've never seen you like that!"   

About an hour later, they were allowed back into the building.  A malfunctioning detector set off the alarm.   Sheryl gritted her teeth in irritation when she heard about it.

As soon as they returned to the suite, they resumed once more.  Ranka leaned in and kissed Sheryl deeply to wash away her frowning face.  She felt her relax and she hugged her closer.  As she did so, Sheryl slid her leg between hers.  She gasped as her wetness coated the top of her thigh.

Trembling fingers approached the junction of her legs and Ranka tilted her hips in invitation.  Then in the distance, a familiar voice sang.

   aimo aimo                                                [5]
   neder rushe

Ranka projected her thoughts.  "Ai-chan, stop."  Ai stopped and she sensed the Vajra girl's confusion.

"Why?" asked Ai.

"Please don't.  And don't listen.  Keep watching Hope."

"Ok," said Ai.  However, Ranka could sense Ai's trailing thoughts as her presence left her mind.  "Humans are strange..."

In the living room, her phone belched.  It was midnight.  Ranka hugged her tightly and whispered, "We're official now."

Sheryl's jaw dropped.  Ranka cupped her face between her hands and kissed her tenderly.  "Go on.  I'm yours tonight."

With a wide grin on her face, Sheryl took the plunge.  At her entry, Ranka's muscles tightened around her fingers.  As she pushed in, Ranka's hips shifted slightly to grant her access until the tips of her fingers touched a nub of flesh at the end.  She pressed against the firm flesh lightly, causing Ranka to shiver in response.

"Does it hurt?"

"Just a little... but the feeling of you inside me... it more than makes up for it."  Ranka kissed her.  "Keep going," she whispered between kisses.

Encouraged by this, her fingers slid against that warm flesh.  With every gasp and cry, Ranka's body quivered beneath her like caressing ocean waves. 

"You're just like Mao," Sheryl thought.  "You wrap me in your warmth and invite me to see your hidden wonders and explore your depths.  Will you show me your greatest treasure?"

Drawing on her knowledge of yoga, Sheryl used her lips and hands to stimulate erogenous zones.  In particular, Ranka's breasts were very sensitive.  She discovered the proper rhythm of twirling her tongue around her nipple and kneading a particular area within her.  Whenever she did that, Ranka would tremble and her inner muscles wrapped around her fingers tightly.  As soon as that happened, Sheryl would follow up with a deep thrust to touch the contracted muscles at the end, thus releasing its stored tension.  A wonderful moan of bliss would fill her ears.

Little by little, Sheryl mapped out a blueprint of her beloved's pleasure centers.  Sucking on the nape of her neck should be followed up with light stroking on her clitoris with her thumb.  Twirling her fingers in small circles inside her was accompanied by nibbles on her left ear.

Unfortunately, Sheryl's stamina was running out.  Her hand ached from being at an awkward angle.  Meanwhile, her arm muscles were cramping due to repetitive motions.  And yet, she pressed on, determined to give the best performance possible.

Eventually, her persistence paid off when Ranka arched against her and clutched her tightly, her nails scratching across her back.  "Aaaahhh... Sheryl!"

Satisfied, Sheryl slumped down and rested her head on Ranka's chest.  Ranka's voice still rang in her ears, singing the depth of her love.  Finally, she heard her true song.  It was a wonderful treasure indeed.

Meanwhile, Ranka was drowning with the sensations surging within her.  She had expected it to be like the first time, but this time was much different.  This time, her mind was not muddled in some Vajra induced state.  She was more aware of Sheryl's touch and each moment burned brightly in her consciousness.  She stroked those golden-coral tresses in gratitude and held her Galaxy Fairy quietly while basking in the waves of passion.  When she was ready to return the favor, Ranka nudged her.  "Sheryl?"

Instead of an answer, a slow, warm breath tickled her skin.  Ranka smiled gently and carefully moved her sleeping Fairy to a pillow.  Then she closed her eyes and talked to Ai.  When she was done talking, she kissed Sheryl's lips gently.

"Sleep well, my sweet Fairy.  I love you."  She snuggled against Sheryl and went to sleep.

Cathy signed another bill and stamped it.  With a careless toss, it landed on pile before her.  Her eyes noted the time:  11:02 PM.

She leaned back into her chair and stretched.  At least two hours had passed since she started on the paperwork.  About half an inch was left.  As she reached for the next one, someone knocked on the door.

"Come in."

The door opened to admit Ozma.  "Hey," he greeted gruffly.  He walked over with a backpack slung over his shoulder and sat on the chair in front of her desk.

Cathy beamed him a welcoming smile.  "Hi.  What brings you here so late?"

"I called your house and your butler said you haven't come home.  So I thought I'd check here."  He eyed the pile of paper.  "Can't someone help you with that?"

"My aides already have.  I just wanted to look over them before I sign it."

"You're too thorough sometimes.  You gotta trust your people more."

"That's the problem.  They haven't earned my trust yet.  I want to rely on their work, so I want to make sure that it's up to snuff."

"It can't be helped, I guessed.  You don't know 'em till you've worked with 'em."  Given her father's betrayal, he understood that she could not immediately trust someone who used to work under her father's administration.  The search for those involved with Leon was still going on and everyone could be a suspect.  However, he did not come here to talk about politics.

"Hey, Cathy... have you... ever liked another girl?"

Cathy did not bother to look up.  "Is this about Ranka?"

"Well... er... not really.  But anyway, have you?"

Cathy fought the urge to yell at him.  Why talk about Ranka when they had so little free time together?  However, he looked really worried, so she kept her cool.  "No.  You know my preferences."

Ozma coughed into his hand.  "Can you tell if a girl likes another girl?"

She sighed and continued authorizing colony paperwork.  "Why are you so worried?  She's old enough to decide on her own.  Besides, she's quarter zentraedi.  Even now, some zentraedi prefer cloning with the same gender rather than mating."

"Really?  How many?"

"About 37% of males and 29% of females, which by the way, includes your Capt. Clang and Lt. Rora who have been to a cloning facility."

"What?  That can't be right!  You're pulling my leg!"  exclaimed Ozma.

"I'm just repeating what my aide told me."  

"There can't be that many who clone..." muttered Ozma.

She continued in her most brisk, business-like tone.  "I receive a monthly report from the cloning centers.  The government has to keep track of its future citizens whether conceived naturally or otherwise.  Anyway, you should let her deal with it.  You can't be mothering her forever."  

She leaned back into her chair and clasped her hands in front of her.  "My father tried to do that.  After I became Ms. Macross, he expected me to go into show business, be famous and marry the son of one of his friends.  So when I told him I'd join the army, he went ballistic.  Now that he's gone, I realized how hard it was for him.  Parents want the best for their children, but in the end, they have to stand back and let their kids make their own decisions."

She paused for a moment before picking up her pen.  "And just so you know, I'm Sheryl's official guardian until she turns 20 or until one of her relatives on Earth decide to replace me.  So if you don't have anymore questions, I have some requests that I need to file."  There, that should put the last nail in the coffin.

Ozma sighed defeatedly.  If he had to deal with Cathy, he might as well give up.  "Sorry to disturb you about it.  So, if you don't mind, lemme make it up to you."  He opened his pack and extracted a canteen, a container and utensils.  Then he poured hot zencoffee from the canteen into her cup.  "Just ground a batch this morning.  I also baked some pineapple pie."

The enticing aroma of the zencoffee filled her nostrils.  She picked up the cup and took a sip.  "It's good."  She eyed the pie.  "Thanks for the coffee, but I'll pass on the pie."

"Oh, come on!  I spent half the morning on it."

"Your pie is awful.  I've rewritten my instructions several times, and you still messed it up."

"But this one's different!  My best one ever."  He grinned proudly.

Just to humor him, she decided to try it.  "Really?"

"It's to die for."

"God, I hope not."  She nibbled a piece.  "Looks like I'll live..."  Then she slipped a spoonful into her mouth.  It was just the right balance of sweet and sour.

"See?  Told ya."  He poured himself some zencoffee.  "Anyway, if you don't mind the company, I'll stay till you're done."

She smiled gratefully.  "Thanks."

Sheryl yawned and stretched.  Although the carrier's bed was adequate, she slept better on the hotel's luxurious mattress.  After stretching, she allowed her arm to fall across the bed.  It landed on the covers with a soft thud.

The thud set off an alarm in her head and she turned to stare at the empty side of the bed.  Her face paled and she sprang to her feet.

"Ranka!" shouted Sheryl as she dashed to the living room.  To her horror, no one was there.  Her knees buckled and she fell to the floor.  Was last night a dream?

The sound of the balcony door sliding caught her attention.  Tears of relief trickled down her face when she saw that familiar green hair and reddish-orange eyes.

Ranka went to her immediately.  "Sheryl!  What's wrong?"

Sheryl hugged her tightly and cried into her bosom.  "Don't leave me like that!"

She kissed the top of her head.  "I'm sorry.  You were still sleeping, so I thought I'd make us some breakfast.  Don't worry.  I'm not going away."  She lifted her chin and wiped away her tears with the top of her index finger.  Then she kissed her.  "So don't cry anymore."
"When I woke up and you weren't there... I thought I lost you again."

She kissed her forehead.  "I'm sorry.  I'll stay until you wake up, ok?  Now, let's get you some clothes."  Ranka stood up and pulled Sheryl to her feet.

Sheryl blushed scarlet.  In her haste, she forgot that she was naked.  Immediately, her arms covered the front of her body.

Ranka laughed at her reaction and took her hand.  They went to the bedroom and picked out an outfit to wear.  After Sheryl was properly dressed, they sat at the dining table for breakfast.

While they were eating, Sheryl's eyes wandered to the clock.  It read 11:43 AM.  

"Did you fix the clock?" asked Sheryl.

"Yes, that's the correct time."

If that was true, then she had slept for at least ten hours.  "I'm sorry I kept you waiting."

"It's fine.  I snacked on the leftovers from Alto."

When they were finished with breakfast, Sheryl asked casually, "So... when's our next date?"

Ranka gazed at her with narrowed eyes.  "A normal date or a Mayan date?"  When her Fairy blushed, she guessed what was on her mind.  "For that you have to wait till midnight."

Sheryl stood up and leaned over the table to steal a kiss.  When she pulled away, she leered at her. "You know I don't like to follow the rules.  And besides, I think you owe me one."

"It's not my fault," said Ranka as she stood up.  "You were asleep."

"I'm awake now."  Sheryl slipped her arms around her waist and captured her lips.  A few moments later, Ranka's tongue requested entry.  She parted her lips in welcome.

They barely heard the balcony door open.  "Again?" asked Ai.  

Reluctantly, they parted.  Ai walked over to them with the newly molted Hope in tow.

"Hope!" cried Sheryl as she threw her arms around Hope's green carapace.  Hope chirped happily.  Gently, she probed Hope's mind and confirmed her health.  She turned to Ai.  "Thanks for watching over her."

"The queen helped Hope.  Why did you send me away?"

The sadness in Ai's voice surprised Ranka.  For a few moments, she thought about Ai's question.  Since the queen was looking after Hope already, there was no need for Ai to be there.  Furthermore, they could always ask the queen for Hope's status through the flow.  Ai had seen through their excuse.  She had to tell her the truth.

"Ai, sometimes humans want to be alone with the one they love."

"Ranka not love me?"  Her voice trembled.

"Of course, I love you!  But each human has a special person they love most and sometimes they want to be alone with that person."

For several moments, Ai was silent.  Then she spoke slowly, "Humans do not love each other the same.  Humans love one person most and breed alone with that person."

It was a strange way of saying it, but in essence, it was true.  "That's right," admitted Ranka.

"Are you going to breed now?"

Both of them blushed.  Ranka cleared her throat.  "Well, we want to..."

Ai grabbed Hope's claw.  "We watch TV in Ranka's house.  When you breed, we go there.  Is ok?"

She broke out in goosebumps.  If her brother knew what they were doing, he might go crazy.  "No!  Don't go there!  If you ever meet Ozma-nii, don't tell him that we're breeding!"  She turned to Sheryl.  "Is it ok if they stayed?"

Sheryl sighed.  She preferred to be alone with Ranka, but there was no choice.  "Well, we can't hide what we're doing anyway, so they can stay."

Ranka handed Ai the remote.  "Ai-chan, you can watch TV here.  Don't go into the bedroom, ok?"

"Ok," said Ai as she accepted the remote.  Then she asked, "Why breed again?  Sheryl is healthy now."

This time, Sheryl answered, "Ai, humans don't breed to evolve.  We breed to show how much we love each other."

"Humans are strange," concluded Ai as she sat on the sofa and turned on the TV.  Meanwhile, Hope landed on the cushion next to her.

Abashed, they went to the bedroom and closed the door.  Sheryl kissed Ranka's forehead.  "I guess we'll just have to be discreet.'

Ranka leered at her.  "If we can't stay here, why don't we go somewhere else?"


After Ranka explained her idea, a wide grin blossomed on Sheryl's face.  "That just might work!"

They stuffed the pillows and blankets into a suitcase as well as a change of clothes.  Then they told Ai that they were going to be gone for a few hours.  

Ai stared at them.  "I understand."  Then she returned her attention to the TV.

Her simple statement indicated that Ai realized what their intentions were.  They walked out to the balcony and summoned a Vajra.  Their Vajra took them to a carrier and dropped them near its fold reactor.

Ranka commanded the carrier to seal itself so that air would not escape.  Then she asked it to go into orbit.  The carrier obeyed and ascended to space.  By the time the carrier reached orbit, they had unpacked the contents of the suitcase and made a secured hammock from the bed sheets and covers.  They crawled in with their pillows and snuggled against each other as they floated between the sheets.  

"This was a good idea," said Sheryl as she nuzzled Ranka's neck.

One by one, their clothes floated away from them.  When the air grew cold, Ranka commanded the carrier to warm up the reactor which glowed a dim purple as it generated heat.

With trial and error, they managed to find an optimal position that prevented them from floating apart.  A little more practice was needed to minimize crashing their teeth and to fine-tune their kissing.  Finally, they literally got the hang of it and directed their efforts to exploring each other.

Ranka's hand felt its way down Sheryl's body.  Never in her wildest dreams did Ranka imagine that she would end up with Sheryl like this.  She gazed into those light blue eyes and hoped that she was worthy of the Galaxy Fairy.  When her hand reached its destination, she waited until those eyes pleaded for her to continue.  The tilting of Sheryl's hips was her cue.  Her fingers slid through those moist folds of skin and searched for the entrance to heaven's gate.  When she found it, Ranka braced her leg behind her hand for support and passed through the gate.  Sheryl's soft quivering gasp cheered at her entry.  Once the entire length of her fingers was embraced by that warm, wet flesh, she began her performance. 

As Sheryl squirmed, they bounced inside the area enclosed by the sheets.  Ranka learned to time her motions so that it coincided with the impact of the bounce, thus accentuating the resulting kinetic vibration.  When properly executed, Sheryl would quiver in response.

As they bounced around, Ranka discovered a particular area that was very sensitive to vibration.  She pressed against it and wiggled her fingers rapidly.  With every movement, Sheryl's gasps and moans increased in frequency and intensity. 

Floating felt very different.  With gravity, at least a portion of the body was in contact with the bed and was therefore inaccessible.  But in this case, Ranka had access to all of Sheryl.  Her only regret was that she only had one free hand.  Just then, she had an idea.  She commanded several small tentacles to caress Sheryl's skin.  Some went to the back of her neck while small tendrils stroked her firm buttocks.  Another set played with the back of her knees.  Then Ranka reserved her free hand and lips for Sheryl's breasts.

Sheryl broke out in goosebumps at the multiple sources of sensations.  As it went on, she moaned, "Aaaahh... ahh... this is... too much..."  Tears and saliva floated away from her eyes and mouth as her mind involuntarily lost control of her muscles.

Ranka silenced her weak protests with deep kisses, her tongue dancing with Sheryl's.  Meanwhile, her fingers continued probing and wiggling within her.  Finally, the Galaxy Fairy cried out in bliss, "Oh... oh, Ranka!"

Ranka exhaled sharply as Sheryl's crushing embrace forced the air out of her lungs.  "Too much..." she squeaked.

Sheryl relaxed and kissed her.  What started as a warm glow ignited into a supernova.  Its resulting shock waves reverberated through her body and sent heavenly thrills down her spine.  "That was incredible..."

Tears formed in Ranka's eyes and floated away in little beads.  There was a place for her in the Fairy's sky.

After she recovered, Sheryl grinned wolfishly at Ranka.  "I'm going to borrow your little helpers."  Then she commanded the tentacles to flip her.

Memories from their first time flashed in Ranka's mind.  "You want to do this way?"

Sheryl smiled evilly as a tentacle secured them together.  "If I remember, you liked it a lot."  Then she buried her lips in Ranka's womanhood. 

Ranka's soft gasps caressed her ears.  It was a melody she could not tire of.  To hear more, her tongue licked the soft folds of flesh.  As she kissed, probed and licked, her own womanhood burned to be quenched of its desire.  Reluctantly, she broke off her attack and glanced over her shoulder to Ranka who was panting heavily.

"You can do it too," said Sheryl.

"I... I can barely think at the moment..."

Sheryl shifted her hips towards Ranka's face.  "Please... just a little."  Then she commanded tentacles to guide Ranka's hands to her own hips.

Ranka's eyes narrowed.  "You really want it, don't you?"

"Yes, so pl---- aaahhh!!!"  cried Sheryl as Ranka sucked on her clitoris.  Then she felt more tendrils caressing her skin.  She gathered up her remaining wits and ordered other tentacles to do the same with Ranka.

There was only one way to control Ranka at this point.  She dove down and pushed her tongue in as deep as possible.  A flashback flickered in her mind.  She had done this before to suck on the red nectar of Ranka's lost innocence.  Her tongue tingled at the memory of its bitter and salty flavor.

This time, the red nectar was replaced by the white wetness of  Ranka's desire.  Sheryl explored the folds of flesh to savor that succulent cream.  When it was all gone, her tongue dove in to coax more out.  With Ranka's moans to guide her, Sheryl discovered the right rhythm to force a contraction.  As a reward, a small spray of white would gush out.

At first, Ranka fought for control.  But after a few attempts, she realized that neither of them was getting what they really wanted, so she purposely allowed Sheryl to take the lead.  However, she watched her womanhood carefully.  As soon as it dilated, that was her cue to satisfy Sheryl's needs.  She would lean forward and suck for a minute or two.  And then, her tongue would swirl within Sheryl until she felt Sheryl's tongue inside her again.

Then Sheryl extended her hand to her.  "Ranka... I'm... I'm almost there..."

Ranka intertwined their fingers and panted, "Me too..."



Each of them dove in.  It took a lot of control not to stop and moan in response.  Their persistence paid off as each one felt the other's forceful contractions around her tongue.  They relaxed against each other to catch their breath.

They continued their weightless dance of desire for the next hour and a half.  When their reserves exhausted, they decided to go home.

As soon as they descended to the mothership, they received messages that could not be delivered when they were in orbit.  For Sheryl, it was the scientists who were worried about her vital signs.  For Ranka, it was Ozma who did not find her at Alto's house.

It was easy for Sheryl to reassure the scientists.  For Ranka, they came up with an excuse of visiting Nanase.  After a quick call to Nanase who agreed to play along, Ranka reluctantly hopped on a Vajra that would take her to Nanase's house.

"I'll try to see you tonight, but Ozma-nii really wants me to come home."

"If you don't, that's ok," replied Sheryl.  She held Ranka's hands between her own.  "There's always tomorrow."  She kissed her.  "I love you."

"I love you too."  Ranka let go and commanded her Vajra to fly.

Sheryl watched her for a while before riding her own Vajra.  She yawned and flew back to the hotel.  It was time to get some real sleep.

As she feared, Ranka did not come that night.  Sheryl was about to call her when her phone rang with Cathy's number displayed on its screen.  "Hello Cathy."

"Hello Sheryl.  Are you well enough to come to a meeting this afternoon?"


"Good.  It will be around 2 PM.  We would like to plan our strategy against Grace's clones.  Your input would be appreciated.  Lt. Maxwell will pick you up.  I'll see you then."

"Good-bye."  Sheryl hung up.  She wanted to see Ranka now, but prudence dictated that she lay low for Ozma.

Meanwhile, Ranka received a similar call during breakfast with Ozma, Brera and Ai.  When she hung up, Ozma asked her.

"Was that Cathy?"

"Yes.  She wanted me to come to a meeting at 2 PM."

"We'll be there too," said Brera while cutting up a sausage.  

Ozma's face hardened.  "Will she be there too?"

"Who?" asked Ranka innocently.


"Most likely," replied Brera.  "She'll be needed on the other carrier, so she'll have to know our plans."

Although Ozma did not say anything, Ranka knew him well enough to sense his dark mood.  After breakfast, Ranka and Ai went to her room to study.  It was all she could do until the meeting.

They met at City Hall.  Sheryl steeled herself and tried to act casual as Ranka, Ai, Ozma and Brera took their seats at the farthest part of the table from her.  Nearby attendants went to them and served coffee and treats.

Reluctantly, she looked away and noted the other people in attendance.  The Protoculture scientists were there, of course.  Captains Wilder and Stirling were exchanging war stories.  Judging from their uniforms and goggles, some Galaxy personnel sat together, each one staring off into space.  To Frontier people, they would look strange, but to Sheryl, she was certain that those goggles might be part of some cybernetic implant to allow them to view data discreetly.

The door opened and Cathy walked in with her aides.  "Welcome, everyone.  Thank you for coming to discuss this very important matter."

Cathy took the seat at the head of the table.  "First, let us present the facts as we know it.  Ms. Fung, if you please."

The room dimmed and the projector displayed a slide.  Then Ms. Fung summarized the events that occurred since they landed on the planet.  Sheryl sat quietly and listened until the lights came on again.

Cathy stood up.  "So ladies and gentlemen, what are we going to do about it?  As it stands, Grace has probably made at least two other clones of herself.  We can wait until we run into her, but that is a passive approach.  Let us put your thoughts on the table and try to sort out a solution."

For the next thirty minutes, everyone shared his or her ideas.  Each idea was analyzed and its advantages and disadvantages were examined.  

The technical discussion was over Ranka's head.  She did not even know why she had to come.  She stared at the table and watched an ant crawl to a crumb.

Then she heard someone say, "She's a pest that needs to be exterminated!"

Ranka's eyes widened and when she looked up, she locked eyes with Sheryl.  For a few moments, they stared at each other.  Then Sheryl's eyes filled with encouragement and her lips drew taut with determination.  She nodded slightly.  

Ranka drew strength from that and took a deep breath.  "Excuse me..."

The conversation died down and eyes turned to her.  She cleared her throat.  "We've been thinking of ways of tracking her and attacking her.  What if we let her come to us?  What if we prepare a trap for her?"

"There are lots of Vajra nests in the universe.  Even if we find the ones closest to us, it will take a lot of time to put traps in all of them," said Capt. Stirling.

She hoped that she could change their perspective.  "When Ozma-nii finds ants in the house, he doesn't use bug spray.  Instead, he baits them with special ant food.  The ants bring it to the queen, she eats it and it poisons her and any of the eggs that she lays."

Brera's fist pounded on the table.  "I see... we take advantage of the weakness of her cybernetic flesh."

The Galaxy personnel began whispering excitedly.  Cathy clapped to get their attention.  "Please hold your opinions.  I believe Ms. Lee hasn't finished yet."

Ranka smiled at Cathy gratefully before continuing.  "What if we can find her weakness and explain it to the Vajra?  Then the Vajra can adapt themselves so that they can poison Grace as soon as she tries to take over a nest."

"Is that all, Ms. Lee?" asked Cathy.

"Yes," replied Ranka.

Dr. Jenus spoke first.  "Since her clones have to merge with the queen in order to take over the nest, then the clones would become poisoned."

"What if the clones switch to a full metal body?" asked one of the Galaxy scientists.

"Based on the data from Galia 4, the Vajra can generate an interference field.  It would block or disrupt the clone's neural net," said Dr. Zore.  "If the Vajra can evolve to make themselves poisonous to cybernetic flesh, then all that's left is for each queen to recognize the clone and react to it."

"Between Ranka and I, we can tell the queen how to do it," said Sheryl.  "I've explained technical subjects to her before and she was able to understand."

The mood of the table shifted to hopeful euphoria.  Little by little, their strategy was defined.  The scientists, bioengineers and Galaxy cyberneticists would team up to produce several sample poisons that would corrode cybernetic flesh.  They would also provide samples of flesh so that the queen could learn how to recognize it.  The cyberneticists would create a report to explain the types of interference that was fatal to a cyborg body and give the report to Sheryl and Ranka.  

When the samples and reports were ready, Sheryl and Ranka would explain it to the queen.  If they were successful, then the queen could try to produce larvae that had the desired characteristics.  Once the proper larvae hatched, the queen would propagate the information to the other nests.

Since the evolution process would take some time, the Galaxy engineers could add the new uni-link technology to the sensor systems.  The modified sensor array would be used as a long-range scanner to find the stolen biogenerator and detect MDE bombs.  If they could retrieve or destroy the biogenerator, then that would stop the spread of the clones.  Once they found it, the Quarter and the Vajra carrier, now named Crevasse, would launch.

Everyone left the meeting in high spirits to start on their assigned tasks.  Before they got into their respective vehicles, Ranka and Sheryl cast longing looks at each other.  Sheryl stood by Lt. Maxwell's car and watched Ozma's car leave the parking lot.

"Soon, it'll be over," said Dr. Jenus.  

"Yes, I hope so."

"What will you do then?"

"I guess, go back to singing.  My manager's already postponed my concert."

"Ah, a pity.  With your intuition, you would make a good scientist."

Sheryl stared at him.  "Really?"

He nodded.  "I know... I see her in you... your grandmother, that is."  He offered her a card.  "If you ever want to do something else other than sing, call me.  I can arrange an internship and a recommendation to Frontier University."

"Thank you," said Sheryl.  "But I don't think I'll give up singing.  It's been part of my life for so long."

"You don't have to.  Your grandmother didn't.  She was in the university jazz band."

She pocketed the card.  Having options was never a bad idea.  "I see.  I'll keep it in mind."

"Well then, take care of yourself.  We'll have those samples ready soon."  With that, he walked towards the lab shuttle.

The scientist gave her a lot to think about.  "The future... I must plan for the future.  Ranka..."  It was then that she realized that there was something that needed to be done.  She turned to Lt. Maxwell.

"Lisa, I want to talk to Cathy."

"Let's go now, before she starts something else."

Hurriedly, they walked back to her office.  Cathy rose from her seat on their entry.

"What brings you back?" asked Cathy.

"I'd like to do a press conference.  I want to stop the hate."

Cathy's eyebrows rose.  "This is about Ranka, isn't it?"

Sheryl nodded.  "I'm the Galaxy Fairy.  They would listen to me."

"Very well.  Have a seat.  Tell me what you plan to say."

Sheryl sat down and drew a deep breath.  For the next thirty minutes, she composed her speech on the fly while Cathy's aide jotted it down.  Then Cathy went over the speech and proposed suggestions.  

The aide handed Cathy the edited speech and she reviewed it.  "It's good.  We'll send you a copy and put it on the teleprompter.  When do you want to do it?"

"As soon as possible," replied Sheryl.

"Alright.  I'll alert all networks and have it in conference room 1 at 10 AM tomorrow.  Is that ok?"

"It's perfect."

Cathy stood up and held out her hand.  Sheryl shook it.  "I wish you luck.  This takes a lot of courage.  I hope you understand the implications."

"If I don't do this, Ranka's efforts will be in vain.  She'll be afraid to sing."

"And you don't want that, do you?" asked Cathy softly.

Sheryl blushed slightly.  How much did she know?  "I want a world where she can sing to her heart's content.  That's not a bad thing, is it?"

"It's a worthy cause for love."  Cathy returned to her chair and smiled gently.  Then she picked up a digipad to read.

By now, her cheeks were aflame.  Sheryl quickly left the office with Lt. Maxwell following behind her.  What Cathy said was embarrassing, but it struck directly at the heart of the matter.  

She loved Ranka's voice.  When she first heard her sing, something stirred within her and she stopped Ranka on the street on impulse.  Since then, she wanted to hear more.  "I won't forgive anyone who silences that beautiful, innocent voice."

As they drove back to her hotel, Sheryl clenched her fists.  "Don't worry, Ranka.  I'll protect your true song."

Cathy started the press conference by giving a speech thanking everyone who helped with the colonization.  Then she reported the prison terms of the people who attacked Ranka.

She ended by saying, "Those who undermine colonization efforts and harm innocent citizens by breaking the law will be dealt with severely.  Now, I'd like to present Frontier's ambassador to the Vajra, Miss Sheryl Nome."

The reporters cheered as Sheryl stepped on the stage.  When she reached the podium, she raised her hand and waited for them to quiet down.  Then she took a deep breath.  It was now or never.

"Thank you for coming.  First of all, I would like to thank the Central Government for keeping things in order in the midst of all this chaos.  Second, I would like to thank the army for protecting us and assisting the government.  Third, I would like to thank the Vajra."

A deathly silence filled the room.  "Yes, I would like to thank them.  As you all know, this planet is the Vajra's homeworld.  A few days after we landed here, a Vajra mothership arrived.  They did not want to fight.  In fact, they wanted peace.  As the Vajra ambassador, I have studied them and taught one of their queens about human culture."

"As I learned about them, I discovered that the Vajra are not insects like we are led to believe.  They are a sentient race."  The room echoed with soft whispers.  Sheryl cleared her throat to get their attention.  "I have been teaching them our language."

That was the cue for Hope to fly on stage.  Increased movement in the crowd indicated that some reporters were panicking.  At the same time, flash bulbs fired.  Sheryl gestured towards Hope and spoke louder.

"This Vajra will give a demonstration.  Ms. Vajra, please write the letter A."  In her mind, Sheryl imagined Hope taking the marker from Lisa and using it to write A on the poster board that was held by Kim.  When Hope finished drawing a crude letter A, Sheryl continued, "As you can see, they are quite intelligent."

"So, that begs the question, why did we fight them?  Through some research, I have discovered that flow crystals are formed within their bodies.  Flow crystals are necessary for interstellar travel."  A faint murmuring rose from the crowd.  

"I see that some of you are making the connection.  The Vajra were seen as a resource for flow crystals.  To those who wanted to control interstellar travel, it was necessary to find a means to control them and harvest the precious flow crystals.  Because of this, an elaborate plot was hatched to manipulate the colony into attacking them.  There are too many details to go over right now, but I'm sure President Glass will have another press conference about it later."  

Purposefully, she excluded the information about Grace.  The Vajra were sentient, but they were very vulnerable to a direct mental attack.  The last thing she needed was another Grace-like enemy hacking into the Vajra mind.  The flow crystal plot should be sufficient enough to serve her argument.  "In the end, the Vajra had to protect themselves.  However, a full-scale war was prevented due to the efforts of Macross Quarter and our own President Glass.  They uncovered the plot and freed the Vajra from the true enemy's control.  The colonies, as well as the Vajra, were victims."

"So if any of you assume we defeated the Vajra, think again.  The Vajra outnumbered us and yet, they left this planet."  She added more emphasis in her speech.  "We did not drive them away.  They left on their own.  Why?  Because they understood that we meant no harm.  They understood that we needed a world, so they gave it to us with the intention of cultivating peace with humanity."

She gestured to Hope again.  "They have sent their own ambassador to learn about us so that we will never fight again.  So if anyone out there ruins the peace between our races by hurting the Vajra or by hurting those involved with the Vajra, you will be found and punished.  Hate will not be tolerated.  I am more than willing to protect this peace even if I have to fold the offenders off this planet myself.  That is all.  Thank you for your attention."

As reporters elbowed their way to the stage with their microphones out, Cathy took over the podium and hoped to calm them down.  Since it was a live broadcast, it was too late to undo the damage of Sheryl's concluding statement about folding the offenders off.  There was a more diplomatic way of stating that point.  She should have told Sheryl to stick to the script and opted for a taped broadcast.  

In the Lee residence, Ranka cried into Ai's arms as she watched the broadcast on the terminal in her room.  Sheryl was trying to carry her burden.  Although she was worried about the Galaxy Fairy, a part of her was happy that she defended the Vajra.

Downstairs, Ozma watched Cathy field the reporter's questions as Sheryl was escorted off the stage.  He downed the rest of his beer.  "She's got guts, that girl," he muttered.

"Yeah..." agreed Brera.  "Looks like I'll have to protect her too."

"You don't have to."

"If something happens to her, Ranka will be very upset."

Ozma shot him a piercing look.  "How much do you know?"

Brera matched his stare.  "Enough to hear her cry for her every night."

Ozma crumpled the empty beer can and threw it at the wastebasket, knocking it over.  "It's not right.  She needs to get a real boyfriend."

Brera stood up.  "She's already decided and I support her decision."

"You're spoiling her," he growled.

"She's my sister.  I want her to be happy."  With that, Brera went to his room.

Ozma banged his fist on the coffee table and then cradled his head between his hands.  He was fighting a losing battle.

The following three days was torture.  Sheryl would only see Ranka during their lessons.  Ozma was there and they did not dare hold hands.  

Finally, the scientists announced that the samples were ready.  Sheryl and Ranka studied the reports.  When they were ready, brought the samples to the queen.  The queen listened attentively until they finished their explanation.

Tentacles picked up the samples.  "We shall try."

The next day, Ozma told Ranka and Ai over breakfast that the Quarter was leaving to do a sweep.  "We're gonna find that generator for sure.  Until then, you two look out for each other."

Ranka was trying her best not to sound too happy.  "You too, Ozma-nii.  And don't worry.  Lisa's squad has been pretty good in guarding me."

Ozma gulped his coffee.  "Gotta get going.  I'll send you a message once we're out there."

Ranka saw her brothers off at the door.  When Ozma's car rounded the corner, her shaking hand drew out her phone from her pocket.  Impatient fingers dialed her number.

The voice that she longed to hear answered, "Hello, Ranka."

"Sheryl!  Ozma-nii and onii-chan are leaving on the Quarter today!"

"What time?" asked Sheryl excitedly.

"Around 10 or 11."

"Do you want to have lunch together after the lessons?"

"Yes!  Definitely!  I'll see you at the ship!"

"Ok, Bye!"

Ranka hung up.  The long wait was over.  Her anticipation of their date distracted her through the morning lessons.  After an hour, the queen ended it.

"You are not listening!" she exclaimed in exasperation.  "Go and breed.  When you are done, return."

Both of them blushed brightly.  Neither of them concentrated on preventing the queen from reading their surface thoughts.  At least, the scientists could not understand her.  

They went to Sheryl's hotel and ordered lunch.  While they were waiting, Ranka reached into her purse and extracted a jewelry box.  She offered it to Sheryl.  "For you."

Sheryl opened the box and was surprised to see another starfire gem mounted on a ring.  She looked at the ring closely and recognized Mayan decorative patterns etched on its mount.  "It's beautiful!"

"You like it?"

"Yes!"  Then her faced grew concerned.  "It cost a lot of money to have your gem cut.  The jeweler had to buy new tools since it was harder than a diamond.  I hope he didn't charge you too much."

"Not much," replied Ranka.  "Ai found several gems, so I picked the nicest one and bargained with the jeweler.  He lowered the price a lot when I told him I'd give him two gems.  And Ozma-nii doesn't know since I used the money from my pro account."

"I see..."  Her arms wound around Ranka's neck and she drew her into a kiss.  "Thank you."

Within minutes, they ended up in the bedroom.  Ranka whispered softly in Sheryl's ear.

"Say, Sheryl..."


"Can we... try some of those advanced yoga poses?" she asked coyly.

Sheryl's jaw dropped.  Ranka was becoming more daring.  In voice rising with excitement, she replied, "Sure!  As much as you want!"

They did a lot of yoga until the hotel staff delivered lunch around noon.  After lunch, they continued where they left off. 

After several tantric poses, Ranka felt that strange feeling of butterflies in her stomach.  The feeling was similar to the one she felt when Sheryl showed her the pose for the first time.  The feeling increased with every pose they did.  Then Sheryl pushed her down.

"Do you feel it?" asked Sheryl with half-lidded eyes and rushed breath.  Her hand rested on Ranka's abdomen.  "Because I certainly do..."

"It tingles... inside..." replied Ranka whose skin was prickling against Sheryl's hand.

Sheryl's hand crept lower.  "I guess I'll have to do something about that..." 

Ranka gasped at the sensations within her.  For some reason, her flesh seemed more sensitive.

Meanwhile, Sheryl's heart was soaring with every melodious moan and cry from her beloved.  "Yesss..... let me hear it..." 

Ranka's body quivered as the swarm of butterflies fluttered wildly within her.  Her hips shifted and her pelvic muscles contracted in an effort to uncage its wild flight.  Sweat rolled down her forehead with every futile effort.  As she spasmed uncontrollably, Sheryl tickled her ear with a soft tease.

"Shall I release it?"

Ranka shouted in frustration, "Yes!"

Sheryl grinned evilly.  "Then I shall open the lotus blossom."  Her fingers pushed deeply and drew circles against that tense flesh.

Ranka screamed as the butterflies rushed out from her abdomen and spread down her spine.  The flight of delicate wings tickled sensitive muscles and nerves, causing them to contract for a moment and then relax.  Her arms slid off Sheryl as her body twitched in the throes of pleasure.

She lay there panting for several seconds.  Then Sheryl pulled her to lie on top. 

"Now, do it to me..." came her urgent request.

"Wait..." replied Ranka weakly.  The sensations were still surging within her and her mind was in chaos.

"Please..." pleaded Sheryl.  "Just touch me..."  She guided Ranka's hand.

Ranka sighed.  "You're so demanding..."  She pressed against her.

Strangely, each soft gasp from Sheryl seemed to give her strength.  After a couple of minutes, Ranka was able to gather her wits and tried to imitate what Sheryl did.  Soon, Sheryl's body was reacting just like hers did.

Between gasps, Sheryl whispered, "Now... would be good..."

However, Ranka tried to wait a little longer just to punish her for being so demanding and not letting her rest.  Unfortunately, she could not resist those pleading sky blue eyes.  In preparation for that inevitable crushing embrace, her free arm shielded her ribcage.  Then she complied and watched her beloved's lotus blossom unfold.

Her eyes tried to take in every quiver and spasm on that lithe body while her ears recorded every passionate note.  She waited patiently for Sheryl to finish savoring the sensations.  Then Sheryl pulled her in for a deep kiss and whispered.

"Want to do it again?"

"Only if you tell me where you get this incredible stamina."

A wicked glint flashed from her eye and she simply smiled.  "Just a lot of yoga."

Ranka giggled.  "I guess I need to do more, huh?"  With that, she dove in for another kiss.

They continued their amorous training until they exhausted themselves.  Around 4 PM, they returned to the mothership to continue their lessons.  Although they would much rather be in bed, they wanted to be prepared for battle.

Until they received word from the Quarter, they attended their lessons and taught Ai and Hope.  At night, they enjoyed their newfound pastime.  

Two days after the Quarter left, they received the message that the generator was found.  Hand in hand, they boarded the carrier Crevasse and folded over to where the Quarter was.  Once there, Ranka transferred to the Quarter.

After the briefing, they commenced the operation.  The valkyrie squadrons from the Quarter would land on the planet to find the generator and attempt to secure it.  If that was not possible, it would be destroyed.  The Crevasse would provide backup.  

As soon as they folded near the planet, hundreds of Vajra attacked.  With the coordinated effort between the Quarter and the Crevasse, the enemy Vajra were either destroyed or converted by Sheryl and Ranka's singing.  However, Capt. Wilder ordered all fighters to return to the carrier instead of advancing towards the planet.  Then he asked Monica to do a sweep for MDE bombs.  A few minutes later, Monica confirmed the presence of two bombs.  

"Send the coordinates to Major Sterne.  Tell him and the Crevasse to commence operation Dolza."

On the main screen, Brera's squads flew towards the planet.  The Crevasse followed and provided cover fire.  Meanwhile, the Quarter monitored the MDE bombs for activation.  While the second wave of Vajra attacked, Monica detected a bomb activation.

"Relay the information to Major Sterne and the Crevasse," ordered Capt. Wilder.

Anxiously, the bridge crew watched them retreat.  Since the Vajra were faster than the valkyries, two escort Vajra were assigned to carry one valkyrie out of the bomb's range.  Then the bomb activated, carving a crater on the planet's surface.  Held breaths were released when no casualties were reported.

"The generator is on the move!" reported Monica.

"Onscreen!" barked Capt. Wilder.

The main screen showed protoculture readings coming from a Vajra carrier that was flying into orbit.  A large swarm accompanied it.

"Focus fire on the carrier, but proceed with caution!  Grace still has one more bomb!"

Operation Dolza resumed to destroy the carrier.  The large swarm formed a living wall and blocked any attacks thus sacrificing themselves to protect the carrier.  After seeing this, Sheryl and Ranka concentrated and focused their singing on the swarm in an effort to convert them.  Within seconds, some Vajra disengaged from the wall and joined their ranks.

"MDE activated!  It's coming towards the Crevasse!" yelled Monica.

"Retreat!" commanded the captain.

Quickly, their Vajra carried the valkyries away from the bomb as fast as possible.

"Fold energy detected around carrier!" reported Monica.

With the bomb between them and the carrier, they had no choice but to keep their distance until the bomb went off.  A few seconds later, the carrier folded.

Capt. Wilder banged his fist on the armrest.  "Is the clone still on the planet?"

Monica checked her readings.  "Affirmative."

Capt. Wilder waited until the bomb exploded.  Then he announced, "All units to planet side!"

Once the Quarter reached breathable atmosphere, valkyrie squads launched and prepared to land on the planet.  Then the Crevasse launched its Vajra fighters to protect the squads.

"Protoculture signatures detected!  Displaying!" reported Monica.

The screen showed old Zentraedi warships and mecha on the planet's surface.  Judging from the designs, the units were several generations back.  

"So, you've kept an ace," muttered the captain.  Grace must have salvaged them from a base that was abandoned by the zentraedi when they gave up their warlike ways.  Then he smiled wolfishly.  "Well, we have one too!"  He raised his voice.  "All hands prepare for attack mode!"

Sheryl and Ranka continued singing to distract the enemy Vajra.  In some instances, they managed to convert them.  They looked at each other through the open channel and smiled warmly.  Then they returned their attention to the battle in order to command their Vajra.

Meanwhile, the Quarter provided cover fire for the valkyrie squads by focusing on the warships.  It dodged skillfully through the barrage of enemy fire.  When it could not dodge, it blocked an attack with the new barrier system.

The Quarter flew into the thick of the zentraedi fleet and pointed its arms at the sides of two warships.  The main guns on both arms fired and the Quarter spun around, spreading its carnage in a deadly circle.  Then it flew out of the maelstrom of explosions and fire.  The mainscreen flickered to update the status of surviving warships.  Captain Wilder smiled in satisfaction as 50% of the warships were wiped off the screen.

Across the skies, the squads engaged the zentraedi mecha.  Alto grinned as a number on his display increased by one.  Just then, his radar reported a mech on his tail.  "Alright!  Time to get another one!"

He dove through a cloud for cover and pulled back, using the wind resistance and gravity to stall in the sky.  When he and the mech exited the cloud, they had traded places.  His sights confirmed lock and his finger pressed the trigger.  "Gotcha!"

The number on his display increased again.  Brera's voice crackled in his helmet.  "Don't get too cocky.  We've just started."  Brera's kill count was only 5 less than his.

"I can be cocky," retorted Alto as he blasted another mech.  "I'm the one who's fighting."

Brera's eyes hardened.  "No ghosts are helping me.  The kills are mine."

"We'll just have to see, won't we?  Don't die out there."

"Same to you."

On the ground, Ozma's squad engaged the land-based mecha.  Using guerilla tactics in battroid mode, he found where a mech was hidden and blasted it.

"Move, ya slowpokes!" yelled Ozma as he left a trail of carnage behind him.

"Who's a slowpoke?" responded Clan who blasted a mech next to him.

"Sorry... I meant the others."  He blocked an attack and blasted the mech's head off.

"Just don't get in my way."

He saluted her.  "Of course.  Ladies first."

In due time, the main body of the enemy Vajra and the zentraedi fleet was destroyed.  The Quarter and the Crevasse focused their attention on the queen's nest.  Sheryl spoke to Ranka through the open channel.  "Let's end this."

Together, they concentrated and entered the flow hand in hand.  Within seconds, they located Grace's clone. 

"You!"  yelled Grace in anger.  "This is the third time!  Don't you realize humanity's destiny?"

Sheryl concentrated with the flow and caused it to constrict around Grace.  The clone trembled and choked in response.  "I'll be the one asking questions.  Why did you betray my grandmother?  She trusted you, but you started a war behind her back!"

Grace threw back her head and laughed.  "Peace with these worms?  Her vision was too naive!  Just because of her guardian bloodline, she thinks that she's sooo special.  How dare she call herself a scientist and still believe in Mayan superstition.  But I showed her who had the superior intellect!"  Her malevolent gaze settled on Ranka.  "And that goes for you, too!  Your mother teamed up with her!  She paid the price as well.  Try as much as you want, but it'll be useless.  As we speak, my clones are spreading across the Galaxy.  There's no way you can find them all."

She extended her hand to Sheryl.  "But serve me, and I will spare your worthless life when I rule the universe.  Your blood may still be useful to find the Birdman."

"You greedy bitch," said Sheryl.  "Evolution isn't achieved by war.  Even the zentraedi gave up their warlike ways when they realized that.  But it's too late to change your AI, isn't it?  No matter where you are, we will find you.  Goodbye, Grace."  Then she and Ranka gave a silent command.  "Now."

Grace screamed as the Crevasse's main gun bombarded her body.  Then the Quarter followed up with its main guns as well. Sheryl and Ranka left the flow as soon as her presence dissipated.

Before leaving the planet, Capt. Wilder ordered a final scan.  When Monica did not find anything, he ordered all units to return to their respective carriers.

As they flew back, Brera compared their numbers.  They were even.  He spoke into his helmet.  "I guess it's a draw..."

Just then, Alto's valkyrie dove and fired.  His shots hit a land mech.  A missile from the mech flew off to the side.  His kill count increased by 1.

"That one was still moving," said Alto smugly.

Brera zoomed in on the mech and protested, "That one is no longer effective as a unit!  The launch pods were damaged to the point that it probably couldn't aim properly!"

"A kill's a kill."  With a burst of bravado, Alto sped off to the Quarter.

Brera gritted his teeth in defeat.  He hated to admit it, but Alto was right.

The fleet returned to Frontier in high spirits.  Nyan, nyan was reserved in the evening for a celebration.  When everyone had their preferred drink in their hand, they toasted each other in victory.

"I wish I could've seen it!" said Nanase.

"Don't worry!  I recorded it!  I'll send you a copy," promised Luca.

Nanase kissed his cheek.  "Thanks, sweetie!"

Luca turned bright red while Ranka giggled at his reaction.  Then she quickly glanced at Sheryl's table.  She was sitting with the female officers on the bridge's crew.

Nanase noticed Ranka's behavior and refrained from teasing her.  Her older brother was nearby and she did not want her to get in trouble.  When Ranka told her all the details of their relationship, she felt uncomfortable at the idea that Ranka was seeing a girl, even though that girl was the Galaxy Fairy.  However, the way Ranka talked about Sheryl touched her heart.

Resting her chin on an upturned palm, Nanase watched her best friend in amusement.  "You've changed because of her," she thought.  "You've grown wings and made it to the sky.  Oh yeah... I really should give you that painting."  

She had almost finished it before the battle for the planet.  But after she was injured, she had to wait until she recovered before she could work on it again.  Thank goodness Luca got it away from the school before the art room got bombed.  She hooked arms with Luca and rested her head on his shoulder.  "He may not be a Fairy, but he looks after me."

"Are you tired Nanase?" asked Luca with concern.

"No."  She pecked him on the cheek again.  "Just happy."  Her smile grew wider as the temperature of his skin rose.  He was so easy to read.

The next day, the Lee family had breakfast together.  Ozma started the conversation by saying, "So, are you ready for school tomorrow?"

"School?  It's reopening?" asked Ranka brightly.

Ozma nodded.  "Yep.  I've submitted Ai-chan's info.  She's been admitted due to her special circumstances."

"Will Alto and Luca be there?"

"Yeah, but only part-time.  They'll be needed on the Quarter on standby.  Because they're already seasoned pilots, they've been granted a pass on all pilot courses.  They're just going to the attend classes for their electives."

"What about onii-chan?"

"I don't need to."  Brera tapped at his forehead.  "I can upload all I need up here."

"But school isn't just about studying!  It's about being with your friends, doing sports, and clubs!  You have to do some clubs!"

Ozma leaned back and rubbed his stubbled chin thoughtfully.  Ranka had a point.  Brera's brusque attitude made an unfriendly and elitist impression on a lot of the pilots.  Going to school might make him more sociable.  He slapped Brera's back.  Hard.  "You should!  I'll submit your info today!"

Brera managed to avoid choking on his pancake.  "Erhm... no, that won't be necessary..."

Ozma grabbed his shoulder firmly.  "Listen to your brother, will ya?  'Sides, you've got a really popular sister.  If you don't go, who'd keep an eye on her?"

Brera bristled at him.  "Alright, I'll go."

"Atta boy!  Hey, Ranka, ask Alto or Luca to get him his uniform and stuff, will ya?"

"Of course, Ozma-nii!"

Lunchtime at school was a reunion of sorts.  Even though they selected a table at a far corner, the tables next to theirs were crammed with other students who were overtly taking pictures and sneaking adoring glances.  The only one who was not annoyed at their schoolmates was Ai who sat next to her green-haired caretaker.  She was definitely enjoying the new experience as she was constantly mistaken for Ranka.

"Why do I have to eat lunch with the lot of you?"  said Alto.  "Don't you know how dangerous it is to have all of us together?"

"I don't see any danger," said Brera who looked really handsome in his new uniform and was completely oblivious to the group of girls who stalked him in the hallways.

"But we missed you, Alto!" said Nanase who sat next to Luca.  "We hardly spent anytime with you."

"That's right," said Ranka who sat next to a very happy Sheryl.  "You should hang out with us instead of flying off."

"Speaking of which, I need some help with some aerial maneuvers.  You don't have class at 3, right?" asked Sheryl.

"Why me?" asked Alto, irritation marring his beautiful face.

"Because you're my s-l-a-v-e," replied Sheryl with a wink.

Immediately, Alto's fans squealed in the background, "Noooo!!!  My Princess!!!"

Alto hung his head.  How did he end up with such strange friends?  He clenched his fist.  Maybe, he could pass it off to someone else.  "What about Brera or Luca?"

Nanase hooked arms with Luca.  "Luca is posing for my class."  When she saw the look on their faces, she added, "It's not what you think!  Just for motion studies!"

"Right..." said Alto as a drop of sweat rolled down his temple.  "Good luck, Luca!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked a confused Luca.

"I'll be busy with composition class," replied Brera.

"Composition?  Onii-chan is in the same course as me?" exclaimed Ranka.

"Yeah..."  He tapped his forehead.  "I can pretty much download anything I need here and my cybernetic processing unit runs millions of computations per second, so the science and math courses would be dreadfully boring.  I'm already a good pilot, so that course is no challenge at all.  But music... music is something you can't download."  He placed his hand on his chest.  "Music comes from the heart."

The echoing squeals of girls around them announced the formation of the Brera fan club.

Nanase felt like a piece of meat on display.  Just around the corner, two shadows on the linoleum floor proclaimed their owners' presence.  She whispered, "Say, Ranka... how do you manage it?" 

Ranka whispered back, "I sorta got used to it, I guess.  Just imagine they're not there."

A crisp click sounded from the window.  "It's too obvious to ignore it."

"I'm sorry... if you want to, you can go ahead."

Nanase put her arm around her.  She was not going to abandon her best friend just because of some stalkers.  "Nope.  You were the one who brought it up.  We're gonna do this together."

"Umm... is Ai-chan going to be alright?"

"Don't worry about her.  Vanessa's pretty good with beginners.  I've seen her teach kids to draw.  Ai will be painting in no time!"

They reached their destination.  Nanase gripped the door handle and asked, "Ready?"

Ranka nodded.  "Yeah."

She took a deep breath and opened the door.  Together, they entered the cooking clubroom.

Heads turned in their direction.  Within seconds, whispers spread like the scent of freshly baked cookies.

An upperclassman in a chef's outfit greeted them, "W-welcome!  We are so honored by your visit, Ms. Lee!"  And then he added, "And you as well... er..."

"Nanase Matsura."

"Welcome, Ms. Matsura!  My name is Kyle Dixon.  I'm the president and head chef of the cooking club."  He grabbed a pie from a nearby counter.  "Would you like to try some?"

"Maybe later," replied Nanase with a dismissive wave.  "Right now, we'd like to join the club."

The sound of the pie splattering on the floor was followed by ill-concealed squeals from the worktables.

After the club managed to sort themselves out, the president personally gave them a quick tour of the clubroom's facilities.  He guided them to an unoccupied worktable and pointed to an open page of a cookbook.  "Today's subject is pie.  Please pick a recipe and try it.  If you have any questions, just ask me or the other club officers who are wearing chef's hats."

They bowed.  "Thank you for your help."

His ears burned like a lobster and he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.  "No need to thank me!  I'm here to help new members."

Just then, the door opened again.  "Oh, Ranka... Nanase... you're here too?" came that familiar lilt.

The room degenerated into chaos as Sheryl Nome stepped into the clubroom.  Frantically, the club officers positioned themselves between Sheryl and the members who left their worktables. 

"P-please return to your tables!  Don't let your food burn!" shouted Kyle as he gestured towards the gas stoves.

At least five minutes later, the room had quieted down and Sheryl was able to make her way to their worktable.  "I'm surprised to see you here."

"Well, you see, Ranka wanted to learn new recipes for her darl--- OW!"  Nanase quickly shielded her previously unprotected rib cage.  Meanwhile, Ranka's elbow was still within dangerous striking distance.

"Oh, is that so?" said Sheryl sweetly, as if discovering a forbidden secret.  She leaned forward and lowered her voice.  "I'm here for the same reason."

The side locks around Ranka's head crept forward in an attempt to hide her already blushing cheeks.

Given the remaining time, they settled on a simple apple pie.  Nanase mixed the piecrust while Sheryl peeled apples for Ranka to cut.

"Ow..." exclaimed Ranka as she dropped her third apple on the cutting board.  Her left index finger began to bleed.

"Ranka!  You should be more careful!"  Nanase took Ranka's hand and guided it to her slightly open mouth.

"Don't!"  Before Nanase could protest, Sheryl reached over and slipped the injured finger in her mouth.  For several steaming seconds, only the sound of simmering sauce slipped through the silence.

Despite the urge to suck on her finger, Sheryl pushed her tongue against the injury to stop the bleeding.  When she released the finger, the room broke out in hushed whispers.

"Er... f-feel free to make use of our first aid kit..."  Kyle held the kit out with both hands.

Sheryl took it from him.  "Thanks."  Then she turned to Nanase and whispered hurriedly in the confused girl's ear.  "I'm sorry, but don't ever do that to Ranka.  You might get sick.  I'll tell you later."

Meanwhile, Brera was picking up his composition sheets when his classmate held up his phone.

"Hey, Brera!  Check it out!  Ain't they hot or what?"

Several sheets slipped from Brera's folder as his classmate flashed a picture of Ranka with her finger in Sheryl's mouth.  With lightning speed, he grabbed the phone and read the sender's and receiver's number.  Using one arm, he kept his classmate at bay as he deleted the picture.  Then he tossed the phone back.  "If you get that again, don't you dare send it to anyone or I'll beat you up."

He gathered his things and strode out.  Tonight was going to be busy.

His server sprites contained most of the damage.  The only thing that he could not prevent was the gossip.  The babble around their lunch table increased when Nanase unveiled the apple pie. 

"The three of us baked it yesterday!" declared Nanase proudly.  She distributed paper plates and forks.  "Here... grab a slice."

Even after everyone around their table was served, there was still a couple of slices left.  While they were eating, a freshman with glasses approached the table hesitantly.  "Please... can I have a slice?  I'll pay 50... no 100 credits!"

Before any of them could respond, two groups of students grabbed the offending freshman and hauled him out of the cafeteria.  The members of the groups either wore an armband labeled 'Ranka Lee Fan Club' or 'Sheryl Nome Fan Club'.

Just then, an idea popped into Brera's head.  Maybe, there was a way to police the gossip.  He made a note to talk to the presidents of the Fan Clubs later.

Two weeks  after school started, it was the beginning of the end.  Sheryl was practicing with the student pilots while Ranka was running with the track team.  Someone shouted, "It's leaving!"  Like a wave, word spread and eyes turned to the sky.  The mothership was rising from the crater.

Ranka threw a question towards Ai.  "Ai-chan!  What's going on?"

Ai answered, "Time to leave.  Nothing to teach."

"But we haven't said goodbye!"

"Vajra do not say goodbye.  If you want, go now.  I come with you."

Already, Sheryl landed beside Ranka.  She knelt down and extended her arms.  "Let's go!"

Ranka nodded and allowed Sheryl to carry her.  The flight suit's engines flared and they hurtled towards the sky.  Together with Ai, they flew towards the mothership.  Within minutes, they reached the queen's chamber.

"Where are you going?  What about the plan?" asked Ranka.

"We have adapted."

Ranka's jaw dropped.  "Then it worked?"

"Yes.  Now we go to where the lost ones are.  We will return them to the fold."

It took a few moments for them to realize what she meant.  The lost ones were Vajra who did not have a queen as a result of the clones.  

Sheryl spoke, "Thank you for teaching us.  Will we ever see you again?"

The queen placed a hand on her torso.  "We are here.  When you wish to speak to us, call and we will answer.  You can do it now."

Then they understood Ai's explanation why the Vajra did not say goodbye.  Together, they hugged the queen's image.  "Thank you."

The queen smiled warmly and left their minds.  As they flew out the mothership, Ranka fought back her tears.  A warm drop wet her arm.  She looked up.

"Go on.  It's ok.  It's just us up here." said Sheryl in a trembling voice.  She was clearly crying.  

Ranka clung to her and cried at the parting of a dear friend.

"I go ahead.  Nana-chan wait in art club," said Ai.  Then she darted off towards the school.

High in the alien sky, they cried their tears away.  They flew for a while and just enjoyed each other's company.  Then Sheryl heard Ranka's voice.


Sheryl blinked and looked at Ranka.  She responded in her mind.  "Ranka?  Was that...?"

Ranka giggled, her lips unmoving.  "I keep forgetting we can do this."

"Yeah.  At least, I don't have to shout into the wind."

"Say, Sheryl... why are you still in the pilot's course?"

"Instead of transferring to Performing Arts with you?"

She twiddled her thumbs.  "Yeah..."

"When I got sick, I realized that all I had was my song.  I hated lying on that hospital bed thinking that I'm missing out on life.  So I want to try different things."  She paused.  "But what scared me most was the possibility that I might be gone the next day.  I've waited so long for you to catch up to me.  I was scared that you'd be on stage, but I couldn't be there with you anymore."

"Oh, Sheryl..."  Ranka kissed her cheek tenderly, warming it.  "I'm sorry I made you wait."

"That's alright... in the end, you were worth it."  She winked.

Ranka flushed scarlet.  "There you go... teasing me again..."  She rested her head on the flight suit's shoulder pad.  "Are you planning to be a pilot like Alto?"

"Maybe... maybe not.  I also want to try science and research.  In fact, Dr. Jenus  offered me an internship after I graduate."

"That's great!"

Sheryl winked.  "Want to join me?  Dr. Zore could always use another hand at field research."

"I'll pass.  I don't like snapping flowers."

They laughed together and flew forward towards a future full of possibilities.

"Welcome to the 5th Frontier Festival!  And now, a word from our President,  Catherine Lee!"  

Cathy took the podium.  "Thank you all.  I won't bore you with a long speech.  I have the rest of the year for that."  She paused as the crowd laughed and cheered.  "And as promised, one word to describe this festival:  Deculture!"  The crowd roared.  "I wish everyone a good time!"

Cathy left the stage and the performers for the opening act surged forward.  Meanwhile, a young blonde-haired boy ran through the crowd.

"Michel!  Come back here!" called a short blue-haired Zentran who was followed by a taller one.

A tall brown haired man with curly hair caught the boy and held him aloft by his waist.  "Did you lose something, Major Clang?"

"Aw, c'mon, Unca Luca!  Lemme go!"

Clan slowed down to a stop and swallowed lungfuls of air.  "Thanks, Luca."

Before Luca let Michel Blanc Jr. down, Clan and Nene held his little fists securely.  Clan scolded him, "Michel, if you run away again, I'm not buying you any cotton candy!"

"But Mom, my friend said that there's free Vaja-mon at the purple tent!  What if they run out?" cried a frantic Michel, his eyes full of worry.  Just then, something green and furry touched his cheek.  His jaw dropped when he recognized it.  

"A Vaja-mon!"  He hugged the stuffed toy as he looked up to his new heroine.  "Thanks, Aunt Nana!"

Nanase smiled graciously and ruffled his blonde hair.  As the founder of Alien Kritters, she had access to samples.

"I'm not sure whether to be honored or insulted," said Ai.  She held the hand of a young pink-haired girl who looked like a younger version of Sheryl.  In turn, the girl clutched a Vajra larva under her arm.

Nanase winked.  "But it's a good idea, right?  It'll teach the next generation not to fear Vajra."

"I think it's a great idea, Nana-chan," remarked Ranka who walked over to them.  

"How many eggs?" asked Ai with interest as she surveyed Ranka's belly.

"Only one," replied Ranka as she stroked her belly.  "Humans usually just get one."

"Just one!?  Hope and I have made hundreds already!  In fact, she just had a fresh batch, so she can't be here."  She gestured to the girl by her side.  "That's why Sharon is here instead."

"Oh yes, Sheryl asked that you please don't make any more that look like us.  People are starting to make weird rumors.  By the way, is the Queen coming?"

"Yes.  If you look over there, her entourage is coming out of orbit."  Ai pointed towards the Queen's crater.

In the distance, they could see a fleet of Vajra buzzing around the mother queen.  With her four wings spread across the horizon, she blocked out a good part of the sky.  As she descended, the Vajra made way for her.

"Can she see and hear all the way over there?" asked Clan.

"She can, since we're here," replied Ai.  "To her, we're like the multi-camera unit that humans have.  She can sense anything we see, hear and feel.  I'll be bringing her an extra large batch of fried mochi later.  It's her favorite."

"Wow!  That's something alright."  Clan looked around.  "By the way, where's Sheryl?"

Ranka checked her watch.  "The aerial show is next.  She'll be performing with Alto."

"With the new Fokker flight suit?" asked Luca excitedly.

Ranka nodded.  "She just finished the prototypes.  Come on.  We can all sit at our special booth."

A few minutes later, a rainbow of colored smoke burst forth from behind the main stage.  Seven fliers wove over each other creating intricate patterns over the crowd.  Ranka quickly identified Alto as red and Sheryl as violet.

For several maneuvers, the fliers flew as a team.  Then one by one, each flier did his or her own special maneuver.  At the end of Sheryl's acrobatics, Ranka laughed when she saw that the violet streams formed the letter R and a heart.  As usual, Alto's performance was both beautiful and daring.

After the performance, Sheryl flew down to the booth.  She bowed extravagantly in front of Ranka.  "I wish to put a star in the sky.  Will you help me?"

Ranka stood up.  "With pleasure."

Carefully, she settled in Sheryl's arms and braced herself.  However, instead of an abrupt acceleration, the flight suit rose to the sky smoothly.  "Wow... you did a good job."

"Alto's pretty impressed too.  He abused it until the fuel cells ran out.  He was forced to break his fall on a tree."

Ranka giggled at the thought of Alto stuck in a tree and being attacked by ferocious flowers.  She gripped tightly as they gained speed and flew towards a Vajra carrier.  Her eyebrows rose in surprise.  "Where are we going?"

Sheryl winked.  "You'll see."

They went to the reactor chamber.  When carrier rose to folding altitude, Sheryl sang.

   Leurs coeurs, leurs coeurs                                 [7]
   Dans le calme du ciel                     
   Il est revenu sur la fin du monde                 
   Apparaitre et scintiller                    
   Toutes les etoiles                             

   Dans leur repos brillent leurs coeurs...
   Et il leur dit "La Terre sera meilleure."
   Un cygne en pleur, un fleuve a l'erreur
   Qui s'eleve vers la vie et sur l'horizon

Although the words were foreign, Ranka felt its warmth.  "What is that?"

"A lullaby.  My mom used to sing it to me when I was young.  C'mon."  Sheryl grabbed her hand and led her to a clear carapace.

Ranka gasped.  The planet below was not Frontier.  "Is this... Earth?"  


"When did we...?"

"You didn't feel it?  We folded while I sang."

"Isn't this pretty far?"

"It is, but I figured it out this morning.  I just couldn't wait to show you."

The carrier descended and flew over an island.  Sheryl announced, "We're here."

They exited the carrier and flew towards a very large rock.  They landed near a spring in the middle of the forest.  

Ranka looked around at the painted structures that were illuminated by moonlight.  "This place... this is the real Mayan island, isn't it?"

"Yes.  This is where it all started.  I brought you here because I want to link the future and the past.  My grandma became a scientist in hope that she could figure out a way to find her sister."

"But it's been so long.  Could she still be alive?"

Sheryl looked up at the stars.  "I read grandma's journals.  She believed in her, and I believe that she's still out there, watching over us.  So in my grandma's place, I'll figure out a way to find her."

She held both of Ranka's hands between hers.  "If it's alright with you, will you give birth to Sarah on this island?"

"Sarah Nome," whispered Ranka, feeling the gentle notes on her tongue.  "I'd love to.  It's perfect."

Sheryl's face brightened enough to eclipse the full moon behind her.  She hugged her  and kissed her forehead.  Then she opened her mind.  "Thank you.  It means a lot to me.  I love you."

Tears rose to her eyes at the flood of intense happiness from Sheryl.  Ranka rose on her toes and kissed her.  "I love you too."

A familiar voice rang in their minds.  "I hate to interrupt you two, but everyone's asking where you are.  The festival organizer is worried that both of you won't show up for the concert finale."

"Sorry, Ai-chan.  We'll be right over," replied Ranka.

"Don't get 'lost'," said Ai with a mischievous tone.  "I'll drag you back even if you're fooling around."

They sighed in unison and glanced at each other in surprise.  They laughed at their synchronized reaction.  Sheryl held Ranka's hand and they took one last look at the island before flying back to the carrier.  

As the carrier ascended to orbit, Sheryl asked, "If I ever got lost, could you find me?"

"Of course, I can!  Why bother asking?"

Sheryl looked away.  "Just wondering..."

Ranka trapped the Galaxy Fairy's head between her hands and kissed her tenderly.  "No matter how far apart we are, I can still feel your love.  I'd find you, even to the ends of the galaxy."

Sheryl gazed at those luminous reddish-orange orbs that shone brighter than the stars around them and knew that it was true.  She kissed her wife before raising steady eyes toward Frontier.  

Their minds joined as one and they folded back home to waiting friends and family.

 ~ Fin ~

Music references:
[7] Macross Zero - Akron

Author's Note:
Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback on: - scroll to the bottom for the review button
Macross Frontier forum

Until next Deculture!

Fanfics / Macross Frontier Fics / Frontier Generations Series