November Has Come
I had gone "under the knife" as they said, rendering my facial features more proportionate and what was termed "aquiline", my skin several shades lighter, all to seem less unnerving. I had known all along that my appearance wasn't the major problem, but knew that it mattered to some, and had agreed to the procedure readily enough.
They had reassured me that others would still be able to tell who I was, an assurance I had not asked for, but I found that it had settled something I hadn't been aware of.
Rico, Bron, Konda, and Miriya were all astonished at the idea, even more at the results, but they had instantly accepted me as myself. I haven't noticed any softening of reaction to me in the political arena, but I hadn't expected that to happen.
But in many quarters, the five of us were already considered nonthreatening; I'd heard us disparagingly described as "A chick, a poindexter, and three overgrown kids", hardly the sort to inspire notions that the Zentraedi could become a more multifaceted race when we were already so different from the norm.
But when we were out walking, we were always surrounded by escorts, and directed to go with myself and Miriya in the middle, the trio around us in whatever configuration they wanted. Likely Miriya and the trio had also guessed that it was to protect the most "valuable" in our group, but we never spoke of this to each other.
Sometimes I wondered how much this odd friendship had shielded us from the inveterate pessimism that had surrounded all Zentraedi during the Malcontent period, both in feeling it and receiving it. Certainly I hadn't been shielded enough for some, though when I made certain statements, I had always done so in the name of pragmatism rather than callousness.
"And why would I need to 'soften' my image?"
Mr. Minucci had swallowed once, then tugged at his collar. "It's our opinion that you've been coming off as too harsh in recent broadcasts. We recognize that this all is stressful for you, but people can only see what is in front of their faces."
I literally waved my hand to dismiss the idea. "I was merely reporting the facts. There is nothing less that I can do."
"Yes, but you have to realize that people aren't going to see it that way. They trust what appeals to them immediately, to the heart. What's the truth isn't always what they would like to hear."
Deception. I was careful to hide my disgust at this, to only answer with, "And what did you have in mind?"
"Not what, who."
Minucci put his hands behind his back. He was still sweating. "There is a woman named Marjory Prix; she used to be quite a famous face in Macross City. She's looking for something to put her back into the spotlight, and has agreed to attend the function at the Hotel Centinel with you. It will make you look...softer. Kinder."
Minucci was standing in the office part of my quarters, having refused to sit before my desk. He didn't move as I made myself control my confusion, probably believing that I was mulling it over instead. Still, this would be better than asking me to soften my words. "I shall agree to this."
But when we'd exchanged pleasantries (at the office again), Marjory Prix had been constantly looking towards the bookshelves instead. "I don't want you to even touch me," she had suddenly blurted. Now her eyes were wide, and her tone was pleading, as she focused entirely on me. "Just, you know, arm in arm," she then added in a more controlled voice.
She looked familiar, but I could not remember from where. "That's all that's been agreed to, yes. Why would you fear anything different?"
Then she did look angry, but said nothing.
The press had once dubbed the quintet of us "the Friendly Five". I had once privately wished that it would have been six, but had not pressed Breetai after the first few inquiries. His choices were his own, and he liked hearing my recollections on Earth, had even accepted the sight of friendship between Miriya and I.
One story that Breetai had followed with a particular amusement had finally come to fruition, and our escorts had led us into this nondescript building to witness this.
After it was over, Miriya, Rico, Bron, Konda, and myself filed into the meeting room as had been requested. Across from us stood that group of Micronians, waiting to hear our response. They looked very anxious and also trying not to appear that way.
Miriya was the first to speak. "It was kind of confusing, but I took no offence to it." She chuckled. "I don't think you have to worry about us killing you in retribution."
Several of the production crew exhaled audibly, but one elbowed another and pointed to Miriya's right, where I stood.
I guessed what they wanted. "Well, someone of my stature can ill afford to feel vanity, especially at a mere fictional representation. I was unperturbed."
Someone at the back of the little crowd didn't seem to believe me. She asked, in a certain tone, "Really?"
I cleared my throat. Maybe I should have recognized the value of terseness more, but: "Well, in truth I wondered if those fluid metallic extensions were meant to be his limbs, unable to activate when he was away from a console. Even if a Minister of Affairs is not a combatant, there would be no reason to engineer such helplessness. The same thing holds true for such an exposed, expanded braincase; making something so important so vulnerable would be very inefficient, especially since the size of the brain is no measure of its capacity."
There was a sharp nasal sound coming from Miriya; likely she was trying to suppress mirth. I wouldn't have been offended if that were the case.
"Why did they have to get rid of my hair?" whined Konda, running a hand over the shock of purple that covered his left eye. "The females got to keep theirs!"
"It was only a fictional representation," I repeated, looking over at Konda. "That particular quirk was probably derived from an older Western military practice, just 'my' design was derived from certain conventions of antique science fiction." I turned to the assembled. "Isn't that correct?"
Several gaped, likely surprised that I knew of such things, though I wasn't the enthusiast that Konda was.
Finally one spoke up. "Uh...that's right, Minister Exedore. You see we thought, well, it hasn't been that long since the war, so if things looked a little different, they'd be swallowed easier. Not to mention the homage to classic SF, we were thinking This Island Earth or Invasion of the Saucer Men. And since you've got the brains, well..."
"Very interesting," I remarked, in a tone that gave away nothing.
Someone else from the production crew chimed in. "And, well, the war of the sexes was to keep it separate from reality, and it's something that everyone can relate to."
The five of us all exchanged glances at that. I couldn't think of anything to say.
Konda finally did. "So, um, why didn't you change the way the females looked?"
"Well, we had to keep some things close to reality, and, uh..."
"You mean you wanted beautiful women to draw the crowds in." That was Rico. I couldn't tell if he was complaining or not, but his tone was sharp.
One of the crew members shrugged, "You've got us. Miss Miriya here is a legend. The guys on this planet were pretty disappointed when all female Zentraedi didn't turn out to be so good-looking."
Bron said, "It's really weird, though. Why do you need to tell a story about something that already happened?"
When the filmmakers looked blankly at us again, I volunteered to answer him. "Some believe it lends an air of legitimacy to the story, even if they radically alter the facts."
In truth, it didn't entirely make sense to me, either. I didn't feel awe at this notion of creating something from nothing, but some bewildered admiration had grown, and the attacks on its legitimacy from its own side, the hunger to make it more "real" when it would never be so, were confusing.
"That actress could never be as good as Minmei." Rico adjusted his fake glasses as if to punctuate the point. The other two fell into wistful looks on cue. I felt queerly nostalgic, too, but I had other things to occupy myself, as did Miriya.
The fact that the trio weren't about to attack the production staff for labelling another woman as their beloved Minmei was proof that they had matured somewhat, though before the film was finished they'd been raging against the idea, until Miriya had had to smartly tell them to be quiet for once. Perhaps they'd simply gotten it out of their systems, though I still preferred to think of it as maturity.
Such irrational optimism still felt knew to me, but when I tried to recall my original indifference to the trio, or to tell myself I was being premature, I simply could not.
And soon Miriya and I would not be able to see them, perhaps forever. On occasion it still seemed strange to think of missing Konda, Bron, and Rico, but for the most part that idea had become natural.
We were soon escorted out of the building by the crew, who no doubt were going to get into a heated discussion of whether or not we had approved of their production. But I just couldn't give them a simple answer, and probably neither could the rest.
"'If I were in your position, I would have all Zentraedi executed'"
"You said what?"
I knew that Max had heard me correctly, and waited for his response.
He tried to speak several times, but only managed to spit out syllables, before reaching, "Exedore...you..."
"That would have been the best solution. And these times seem to offer nothing else easy."
"But you don't say it," Max finally got out. "You don't admit that you basically think genocide...suicide's the best solution."
"Do you mistake my pronouncements for advocacy? I assure you that I am not ready to abandon my duties just yet."
Max put one hand to his head.
"I think he's right, Max," said Miriya, from the couch. She had her daughter on her lap, Dana playing with what looked for all the world like a soft toy Battlepod. The child twisted its legs, oblivious. "They're just words. We've got a lot more to worry about."
Max looked between the both of us, still unable to understand. Words did have power, but not in the same fashion. I did not regret what I said, perhaps if it had been taken as a true suggestion and implemented, but not now.
Outside, it was cold with the impending winter. The trio always liked this "fall", and the warm colours it produced, but I could have done without the drop in temperature, having found myself rather disliking the cold.
"I didn't really care about my hair," Konda suddenly mumbled. "I just didn't want to talk about them still being alive."
"I wish that had happened in real life," added Bron.
Rico didn't say anything. I knew they would have been affected by the sight of the girls peacefully asleep at their consoles. "Well, you have survived the reality, and should be able to cope with the reliving of this."
"Uh, thanks, uh, Exedore," Bron said.
I looked at Miriya. Probably she was not even thinking of the film anymore, feeling again the impending Hayes-Hunter wedding tugging at her to join fully with the rituals of Micronians of her gender, to the exclusion of other relationships. Or she was thinking of the past few years.
But today we had journeyed there, the first to witness the final result of this small, strange project, this "underground", mostly independent (though there was a rumour that the UEG had funded it for propaganda purposes) film based on the Robotech War.
It was called Do You Remember Love?, and according to Konda, it was a marvel that they could have produced something so elaborate and effective with such limited technology and funds. That was another thing about Robotechnology, he had said; you didn't need much of it to make good special effects. "Look at Small White Dragon, they made such a good movie with such small resources, inside a space fortress."
Bron spoke up again, talking to his ringleader. "Hey, Rico, why did you think they made us look that way? Do they still think we're monsters or something?"
"Well, uh..." Rico paused, thinking. Then he held up one finger. "Obviously not, because the females still looked good, and, uh, 'we' didn't look that bad. And everybody knows Breetai and Exedore are, uh...good. Good is what I meant to say! It's just a movie, you know." Rico grinned.
"Then why did the Zentraedi leave at the end?" Konda said.
"It was just a movie; they wanted to say it that way, so they did."
I wondered if Rico or the other two knew anything about "subtext" or "projection", but it would have been wasteful to spend time pondering what the makers intended or did not.
Yet I thought again of the creature with the dark robes and the swollen cranium. Even if my representation looked little like me, its very existence had made me quaver in an inexplicable way; it was thrilling, but also disquieting. Here was our own life, replicated, modified, real and yet not, creating its own false, encapsulated world.
Not everyone was looking at this in such an ambivalent way. Even if Rico, Bron, Konda, Miriya, and myself were the first to see the "final cut", there had already been extensive debate about the concept, ever since news of its existence had emerged a short while before its completion.
There were those saying it was a perversion of the Robotech War, a mockery of what had been lost, and others feared Zentraedi reprisals. This was countered by the assertion that media projects depicting real-life tragedies had been made throughout history, with the counter-counter argument that there had never been an incident on that scale. No doubt in the coming weeks the five of us would be pressed constantly for our reaction.
I had had no strong opinions on the morality of the production, having not entirely understood the thought processes behind the debate. This was reality; the events depicted had already happened. Where was the conflict?
I listened to Miriya talk with the trio. There were differences between us not of conditioning but personality, which led me to listen more often than talk when it came to my own interaction, and sometimes to exclude myself from certain outings because they were not to my taste. I would never be what was termed the party's life.
She didn't break her stride; by now we were mostly used to addressing each other directly. "Hm?"
"Could I...that is, I would like to come to your party."
"I would just like to come for the company. There will be no mannerism out of the ordinary from me, with one exception."
Miriya's eyes widened. "But Exedore, you know that it's--"
"I do. And that is the exception. Something I would like to participate in."
I had found a certain satisfaction in announcing the way in which Marla Stenik and Jinas Treng would meet their ends. I recognized its nature: against all logic, I had enjoyed seeing them punished, especially at the hands of my friends. It is not something I would revel too much in; nonetheless it happened.
A short while after that first dinner party with the trio and the Sterlings, I had realized that Miriya and Max must have held their own wake for Gloval and the bridge crew with the rest of their human companions, saving the fateful Zentraedi meeting for the next day. I did not mind when I understood the unspoken truth; it likely had worked better that way.
But in less than a year, I would be going on a mission with these people. Even if I could not or would not follow all of their conventions, their "loosening up", I felt this strange need to do something.
But this would be an even more bizarre show of good faith, and I could not entirely understand why I was doing it. Was I intending to make a kind of offering to the foreign concept of fiction that had now challenged me so strangely? Or was it also to show that I could remove my Zentraedi mask at any time?
For it was a holiday of masks, and I had no idea what to render myself as but this, the same image that the film had made of me. My face and neck were covered with green paint, and a lumped foam cap, coated with rubber in that same shade, was strapped to my head. On my shoulders was a dark cloak, its folded-over collar painted a grey-green. The jewel-thing, made of soft plastic, was pinned to the front, obscuring the clasp. Underneath the cloak I was dressed all in black, including gloves.
Max and Konda had made the cap and jewel for me, while Bron had painted the collar; I suppose that their collaboration made the dressing symbolic in another way. We had discussed how to represent the strange tendril-arms, but decided that the most elegant solution would be to leave them out entirely.
The illusion was hardly complete; my corneas were not blue, the cap had no veins sculpted to it, and my hair remained (though pinned up and tucked under the cap), but it was Max's opinion that the imperfection was part of the fun.
Max and Miriya were going with their human friends, while Rico, Bron, Konda, and I would travel together. But the method would be the same for all groups; "herded" into cars with yet more escorts, who would obviously not be dressed for the occasion.
When it was time, I secured the strap under my chin and then went to my door to meet them all. The trio were all standing clustered together; identical grins split their faces, and they were twitching on the spot. The phrase "joined at the hip" occurred to me, as it often did after I'd learned the idiom.
I stepped out slowly, suddenly having to fight the instinct to turn back away. What was I doing there, turned into this, ready to go there?
But I went on, the hem of my cloak sweeping the threshold. I reminded myself to descend the stairs carefully, lest I trip.
"Nice, uh, costume, Sir," Bron said as we walked, even though he had already seen it. While Miriya and the Micronians had learned to call me by my name, the trio vacillated between that and the honorific.
"Thank you. And yours in kind."
They all nodded together. I recognized the figures they had rendered: Konda a "knight", Bron a "cowboy", Rico a "cat".
We piled into the back of the long car; because it was meant for three, I found myself being squashed against the far window by their overeager boarding, with an apologetic Bron instantly trying to settle himself better.
Our location was far away from where we were sequestered, but we had to drive through a populated area, observing the accoutrements and the people at play. Some of the images worn by the small Micronians, the children that scampered the streets, defeated me in their recognition.
I wondered again about the ability to find frivolity in the middle of war, and how the trio had thought it served better than it hindered.
Just as before, Max opened the door to greet me. He was dressed in what I recognized as much older clothes, ancient by their standards. It might have been the "Bonnie and Clyde" he had been talking about with Miriya.
"Hi guys; c'mon in."
As soon as I was past the threshold I quickly moved to the left; even I was able to sense the trio's eagerness to be inside, fighting with their deference.
And they did pile in, while Max warned them, as perhaps a "father" might, but in a joking tone, "Now remember that you guys promised Miriya you'd behave yourselves."
They might not have recognized the joke, straightening up and saying, "Yes sir!" in unison again. But then they started laughing, and melded instantly into the crowd.
The room was full of spectres. I felt again that strange sensation, that shock about fiction that was not quite love or fear. These people lived a part of their lives in things that Zentraedi might have called delusions, but now we only called them stories.
Things had changed, and stories were a way to release ourselves, to--
"Hey! Nice costume. So tell me, what'd you think Exedore thought when he saw the movie?"
I turned to face him. "Hello, Mr. Hunter."
He jumped, sputtering some of his drink onto his chest. "You're here?! I, uh, sorry, Exedore. They told me you'd be coming, but I gotta say I didn't really think--and you'd be--" He looked at the glass in his hand. "Okay, starting again. What I mean is that it's a shock. Max didn't tell me what you'd be dressing up as."
"It's quite all right. I wanted to come. I was...curious."
Rick wore a white suit with a matching hat cocked at a jaunty angle. A grotesque creature which I could put no name to in either folklore or reality came close to us. It pinched the bottom of its long jaw and drew its head back, revealing Lisa Hayes. "Planning to catch some flies with that mouth, Mr. Hunter? Hello, Exedore."
"The surprise is quite understandable," I put in, perhaps trying to save Rick's dignity, though I recognized that Lisa was joking.
She looked me over. "So I guess you liked that movie, huh?"
"'Like' is far too simple a word," I answered, carefully; when it came to Micronians, I had met with Rick and Lisa on a personal level far less often than Max or Dr. Lang. "I would say that I have more of a...perverse fascination with it. One of the last things we've had to get used to is this concept of 'fiction', and when it involves us, we find ourselves cast back to the earlier days."
"That's right," Lisa suddenly looked very tired. "Me, I think it was too soon. I didn't think we needed that kind of tribute. Not when we're heading out to God-knows-what."
"Yeah," Rick growled, suddenly vehement. "Roy wasn't like that!"
Instead of responding to this, I said, "We must not expect the worst, merely prepare for it."
Lisa tossed her hair with one hand. "And enjoy ourselves, right? Well, Exedore, have fun."
Fun? I only nodded, and she left me, linking arms with her future mate-husband and leading him off, Rick still looking affronted.
The first thing I said to Miriya over the video communication was, "You've cut your hair." It was a needless statement.
Miriya shrugged. She did not smile. "It's...symbolic."
"Of what, exactly?"
Her eyes had a faraway look, or seemed to. I was not good at judging that. "A lot of things. Because I've changed, and because I've decided that I want to change. Max did it too."
"And I've decided that I'm going to Tirol. We're leaving Dana here on Earth."
I blinked. "You?"
"Yes, things have...Exedore, I think Max was right."
"About what you said. Even if they were just words, there's still something dark about the Zentraedi; we're still something ugly. I still want us to be friends, Exedore, and we're going to be friends, but after all this, we've got to be aware of what we are. That even the Friendly Five have room for improvement."
"I know that we are facing our old troubles writ large. What do you propose this time?" We would not be speaking as if the Malcontent period was suddenly over.
She shook her head lightly. "I don't know. All we can do is keep living."
Two days after that, I was approached with the request for my own physical transformation.
Later I did go out to the balcony, which was also guarded. Outside it was much cooler and quieter, which was my preference.
As was usual for me at functions, I had simply been moving through them, not wanting to participate in the drinking, dancing, or the chatter unless it was expressly political.
My costume had produced mixed reactions. There were many compliments, and laughter at the strange nature of the choice. Still others didn't seem to like the idea that I had chosen to become that, or that I was present at all.
Part of me was feeling as though I'd had enough of observing, but I also wanted to stay. I took off the foam cap, held it in my hands, and looked at the sky.
It was Miriya. Without turning around, I said, "You know, I now further understand why I am here. I cannot discount the desire to observe, but this...entire party was a representation of Micronian dreams, and yet more proof of how far we have come. Perhaps it is a shelter."
I then moved to face her, realizing that I was again sounding awkward to their ears, what Micronians would call a pedant. But I was only what I was.
"I never thought of it that way, I'll admit it." Miriya rubbed her upper arm. "I'm glad you're happy."
"Well, I am glad you would take the time to establish a friendship with me. I realize that I am not the most sociable of beings."
Her only response was, "We've all changed, in ways we don't even realize."
The subject felt too redundant, and perhaps slightly morbid. "Yes, and this journey will prove that more than anything, won't it? The prodigal creations returning home, on a mission of peace." I looked at the cap in my hands.
"And do you still think the odds are bad?" but she was smiling as she asked it.
"That's not to discount the meaning of it."
Max was suddenly leaning out into the balcony. "Hey Miriya, they're here!"
"Coming." Miriya walked eagerly back into the house, and I put my cap back on and joined her.
The newcomers I recognized as Vince and Jean Grant, and...
She came hurtling through the adults and wrapped her arms around me, almost knocking me over in the process. I looked up helplessly at Miriya, who was trying not to laugh. I lifted one hand out from under my cloak, unsure of what to do. "Er, Dana, if you would..."
Dana Sterling let go and walked back a few steps, inspecting me like a technician. She was dressed in a set of plastic pieces approximating an VF-1J Veritech; unsurprisingly a red one. "Hey!" she called, playfully. "You're not supposed to have any arms!"
Max, who had been walking nearby, froze. "Miriya! You didn't take her to see that?!"
It was a leap of logic, considering the amount of media attention around the film once its existence had been revealed. But Miriya only said, "Come on, Max, it's not as if they'd make a version of that movie for children. I wanted Dana to see a representation of our history, even if it was distorted."
Max stammered, "But, but, the heads!"
The other child, Bowie, was hiding behind his parents. Dana, still standing in front of me, turned and called over to him, "Chicken! I told you I could do it; now you have to give me half your candy!"
"I never said that!" Bowie yelled back.
Vince and Jean were dressed as a "vampire" and a "werewolf" respectively (she actually looked a bit like a Garudan), perhaps subverting the gendered interpretations of the fictitious creatures.
After trying to tell the children to be quiet or they'd go home before it was time, Jean said to me, "Sorry about this, Exedore, it's just that Bowie saw that...alien in the television coverage and he's been scared of it ever since."
"Oh, that is quite all right. I do not frighten by intention."
"We're still not going."
And as they had spoken it, The trio all nodded their heads at the same time.
I considered accepting that, but somehow didn't want to. Instead, sitting on the balcony outside my official quarters, Miriya not present, I tried again to convince them. "Things will be difficult for you on Earth. Among the REF you would stand a better chance of a pleasant life."
Bron was the first to reply. "And who's gonna make sure Dana has a pleasant life? Max and Miriya are gonna be gone, that Emerson, uh...it's not that he's a bad guy, he's just...I dunno. But we think she could use some friends."
"And we're still pretty attached to the stuff around here," added Konda with a nervous little laugh.
"The 'stuff' as you call it, can be brought with you," I replied.
"Sorry, Your Excellency, but we've made up our minds." Rico fingered his warped chin. "I'm sure we can find something to occupy ourselves, right?"
"And we're still Zentraedi!" proclaimed Bron, thumping his chest with one fist. "We'll be able to protect her in case something bad happens."
Were they merely oblivious, or was it just their way of coping with matters? It was always difficult to tell with them.
Bron had then reached into the bag by his feet. "Here."
He had passed a colourful box over to me. I took it, staring at it without comprehension.
"It's something to remember us by. I figured we should get you something from our kiosk, because you probably wouldn't have liked any book we did pick out, so..."
It was one of those "model kits", the Veritech-like devices that Micronians had been dreaming of for centuries. Obviously of no use to me, but I would keep it.
"We got one for Miriya, too," added Rico brightly.
It was easy to compare one costume change to another. Today I again secured the X-shaped harness behind my back, before turning to the mirror and adjusting it at the shoulders. Rick Hunter had described this latest iteration of the uniform as "some kind of Buck Rogers reject", but it looked no more ridiculous to me than any other thing I had worn.
It seemed that I found myself clad in purple once again. I had never been able to discern why I always chose civilian clothes in shades similar to my old Zentraedi uniform, but this choice hadn't been in my hands. Still, it was oddly comforting.
I had gotten a small pain in my neck from supporting the heavy cap all Halloween evening; it was not a burden I would have cared to bear all my life. When I'd asked Max what his people did with their costumes after the first night, his reply was that some people kept them, some discarded them, and he'd had a friend who'd made her costumes out of the pieces of the old ones.
I decided that I would keep mine. I was not entirely sure why. Perhaps like my books, it was a luxury that had been in a sense bought with blood, one that I was honour-bound to hold onto. A strange thought, but I kept the costume regardless.