"Only one mystery remained now: why Great Breetai had to die. Exedore had himself exhibited a novel talent upon hearing the news. He had cried. There had already been laughter, love and song. But now a Zentraedi had been moved to tears. (Robotech: The Sentinels Book 5: Rubicon by Jack McKinney, p. 121)"
* * *
What got him in the end was that he should have expected it.
Breetai was Zentraedi, after all, just like he was. Dying in battle was the greatest honor any warrior of their race could achieve. That was what they had been taught by the Robotech Masters.
It hadn't gone unnoticed by Exedore that he wasn't the Masters' ideal for the perfect cloned warrior; nay, far from it. He was shorter in stature than the Zentraedi that came after him, the smallest of the entire population in fact. His misshapen head, lidless eyes and twisted, hunched back distanced him even further from what the Masters had wanted. It was obvious from the get-go that Exedore Formo would never be a warrior.
But they did need a lawgiver, someone to teach other Zentraedi their history and their laws. And who better than the one Zentraedi who couldn't fight? So they turned around a failure and made it into a success. For centuries Zentraedi learned everything they needed to know from him, including their philosophy on death. At one time something as trivial as this would not have bothered him.
But not now. And never again.
* * *
"All right; in we go," Exedore said as he placed the last Pollinator in its holding chamber for the night. He paused and chuckled to himself, shaking his head. Cabell's notes and his own studies had shown that the little creatures calmed considerably when they were being spoken to, yet two or three decades ago Exedore would have found the whole situation ludicrous and most likely beneath him. But now he merely brushed it off.
He had been on Haydon IV for a few months now, continuing Cabell's research on Aurora Sterling, Max and Miriya's enigmatic second child, as well as working on the new Protoculture matrix that the Robotech Elder had been trying to create. Normally after completing his work for the day, Exedore would have returned to his small apartment at the back of the laboratory. But tonight the Sterlings had invited him up to their quarters for dinner, and Miriya had mock-threatened him that it would be in his best interests if he didn't refuse.
Here was another thing that Exedore could not have foreseen himself doing a century ago: willingly fraternizing with a female. Back then he had only known Miriya Parino by reputation only, as the best pilot that the Quadronos had to offer. He'd spoken with her a few times in visual communiques, but that had been the extent of it. Now she, along with her Terran husband Max, was one of his good friends. There were times when the enormity of all the changes in his life hit like a sledgehammer, and all Exedore could do was sit back and marvel at it.
* * *
"Honey, could you get the door please?" Max asked when he heard the bell to their apartment ring. He would have done it himself, had he not been worried about the food on the stove. The bell sounded a second time. "Miriya!"
"Just a minute, Max!" his wife called back from the bedroom. Unnoticed by either of her parents Aurora, who had been playing quietly in the living room, got up and answered the door herself.
It threw Exedore for a moment when Aurora opened the door, dark eyes staring up at him intensely. "Good evening, Aurora," he greeted her with a smile. She looked at him for a moment before smiling back and allowing him inside.
"Father's in the kitchen, and Mother's still getting ready," Aurora explained. Having relayed this news she went back to her prior engagement. Exedore sat down on the living room couch and watched her, trying not to observe her as he would the Pollinators. He was here to visit friends, not treat their daughter as a science experiment.
After about five minutes Max finally left the kitchen and greeted their guest. "Glad you could make it, Exedore," he said. "Your work probably keeps you busy."
The Zentraedi nodded in agreement, standing to exchange handshakes with the pilot. "That it does," he said. Then lowering his voice he added, "Plus, I'd rather not risk angering your wife if you understand my point." Max laughed, and Exedore found himself joining in.
"And just what are you two laughing at?" Miriya asked as she finally walked out of the bedroom. She eyed both men suspiciously, and they managed to reply, with a bit of difficulty, "Nothing."
Miriya sighed and shook her head. "Is dinner ready, Max?"
"Yeah," Max replied. "I just need to finish setting the table before we can sit down. Would you mind helping me?"
"Of course not," Miriya told him, smiling as she followed him into the kitchen. Something in that smile told Exedore he would be better off remaining in the living room for the time being, so he sat back down on the couch and watched Aurora play.
* * *
Dinner started off fine, Max and Miriya sitting on one side of the table while Exedore sat beside Aurora on the other side. Conversation topics ranged from Exedore's research to the latest goings on with the Sentinels to what Miriya and Aurora had done that day. Max related that he'd heard nothing more of Edwards' flight to Optera or of the Zentraedi ship Valivarre which had followed Edwards and his Ghost Riders to the planet.
Exedore remained silent at this revelation, a kernel of anxiousness forming in his stomach. He'd had the same feeling when he'd last seen Breetai and his mate Kazianna and bade the both of them good-bye. It was like he knew he wasn't going to see either of them again. Of all the emotions that he had experienced since rejecting the Imperative, this was one of his least favorites.
Halfway through the meal the telephone rang, and Max excused himself to go answer it. Miriya and Exedore couldn't hear the Max's side of the conversation at all, but from the tone his voice took on about five seconds into the call it didn't sound like good news. Both Zentraedi exchanged worried Looks. Aurora remained ignorant of this exchange, concentrating on her meal.
About ten minutes later Max came back into the kitchen, his face considerably paler and his expression one of great shock. Silence reigned as he sat back down. Finally Miriya asked, "Max? What is it, what's wrong?"
"The Invid Regent is dead," the blue-haired, bespectacled Veritech ace replied, voice echoing the look on his face. Again, Exedore and Miriya exchanged Looks. Unaware of the exchange Max continued, "The Valivarre reports seventy-three dead in the raid on the Home Hive."
He looked Exedore straight in the eyes as he said, "Breetai...is dead."
A pin could have shattered the silence that had fallen over the Sterlings' apartment.
Miriya inhaled shakily before dissolving into tears; Max pulled her close and she buried her head into his shoulder. Exedore appeared even more stunned than Max had when he'd first heard. He excused himself and got up from the table, disappearing into the living room. Only Aurora appeared unaffected by the news; she'd never met Breetai. She looked seriously at her parents, not saying a word.
* * *
Exedore sat down in a chair and bent over with his head in his hands, elbows propped on his legs. He took a couple deep breaths to try and compose himself after hearing Max's announcement. What he didn't understand was why it had affected him in this way. He was prepared for it, had been prepared for it since the day that Breetai and Kazianna had departed for Optera and Exedore had left for Haydon IV. He had been expecting since he'd recieved word that the Valivarre had reached Optera. But the news had still taken him totally by surprise.
It was getting harder to breathe through his nose and he tried unsuccessfully to discreetly clear it. There was also a tightness in his chest that wouldn't go away. Moisture was building up in his eyes, blurring his vision and making it difficult for him to see. Exedore didn't know what was happening to him, but something in the back of his mind nagged that this reaction was normal.
"It is difficult for me, m'lord. I...I will miss you."
"And I you, my friend."
He remembered this exchange as clearly as he remembered the first time that he'd served under Great Breetai. The friendship that had grown between them was extremely rare among the peoples of their race before they rejected the Imperative. And now his friend was gone.
He felt something wet sliding down his face, and reached up a hand towards his eye which seemed to be the source of the problem. The wetness that had been accumulating had finally spilled over. As the realization that Breetai was dead hit him again, he uttered a sound akin to a cross between a gasp and a cough. The sound repeated itself twice before Exedore figured out what it was.
Crying. He was crying.
* * *
Max and Miriya exchanged startled looks when they heard hoarse sobs coming from the living room. Exedore was the only person in that room, and he was the last person they would have expected to break down in tears. Miriya got up, wiping away a few stray tears from her eyes. "I'll go talk to him," she told her husband. He nodded and proceeded to clear the table.
Miriya stepped into the living room cautiously. She found Exedore sitting in a chair, his head buried in his hands and his body shaking. The former Quadrono stepped closer, careful not to startle him. "Exedore?" He looked up, surprised. His red hair was slightly disarrayed, and his eyes were about as red as Miriya's were at the moment. A lone tear slid down his cheek. "Are you all right?"
The Eldest of the Zentraedi appeared a little lost before finally answering, "I don't know." His voice had none of the confidence and wisdom it usually had when he was explaining something to Breetai or to Admiral Hunter. In fact, he sounded more or less confused. Miriya held back a smile; she could remember feeling the same way when she had first experienced the different range of emotions that humans were prone to. The first time she had broken down in tears was after Khyron's suicide run against the SDF-1. The emotional roller-coaster of that day had taken its toll on everyone and when the realization that Gloval, Claudia and the Bridge Bunnies were gone and that they had almost lost Lisa finally hit, Miriya almost went into hysterics. Fortunately for her Max was there to provide an anchor during her emotional storm.
She believed it was the least she could do for her friend.
Exedore was slightly surprised as Miriya perched herself on the arm of the chair and took his hand in hers. He'd felt the tightness in his chest return as well as the moisture in his eyes, and had wished that she'd leave him to deal with this in private. She seemed to sense what he was thinking, because she looked right at him. "It's all right," she whispered.
That was all the validation Exedore needed, and the tears came once again. Miriya couldn't help but join in, the overwhelming sadness of having lost a good friend striking home once again. Max watched from the kitchen doorway, holding Aurora to him. His eyes were also filled with tears, and he could feel a couple spill over and slide down his face.
* * *
He should have expected it. Breetai was a soldier, after all; Zentraedi. But that didn't add any more sense to the fact that Exedore had lost his best friend. Maybe later, much later, he would be able to make sense out of it all.
But for now, he could cry.