Good luck Commander. I know you'll do a fine job." And with that, he was gone. Off on a mission of tremendous proportions, leaving me behind with a vital one of my own. Of course, everyone knows the legend behind the man, the blue-haired, bespectacled wonder who terrorized the skies and stars during the First Robotech War. If the tales about the man seem unworldly, they are. But Captain Maximillian Sterling was no worldly man. And what's more, he was a dear friend and leader who had entrusted me with a mission that would test the limits of my own abilities, and my faith in the goodness of mankind.
The Author (r.) with then-Lieutenant Max Sterling, a.k.a. "The Blue Devil," on the hangar deck of CVS-101 Prometheus, c. 20 March 2011. [From the Archives of RADM Edwin Chan, RDFN (Ret.).]
The decision not to join the Pioneer Mission was one of the most difficult in my life. A veteran of countless combat sorties both on Earth and in space, my superiors considered my expertise a vital asset and begged me to volunteer. But the years I spent in that cold vacuum, both on the SDF-1 and on the A.R.M.D. platforms in Earth-space, had taken their toll on me, and I found myself yearning to never leave my home world again. This seems selfish on the surface, and I have been resoundingly criticized for this by some. But there was another, more important reason behind my decision.
The Pioneer Mission, intended to seek out the home world of the Robotech Masters, whose thugs, the Zentraedi, had not long before nearly destroyed the Earth in search of the SDF-1, was a monumental undertaking requiring vast amounts of personnel and equipment to accomplish successfully. With all the highly experienced servicemen and women leaving on the Pioneer Mission, Earth would be almost totally devoid of competent military commanders. This is not an attack on anyone by any means, nor is it intended to reflect negatively on these people by any fault of their own. The inescapable fact was that through years of attrition, the number of combat-experienced flight crews and battlefield commanders had reached a dangerously low level. Those personnel that were to remain behind would have little, if any, combat experience, and I felt my skills would most be needed here.
My assignment was to assist in the transition of the Robotech Defense Force Navy's (RDFN) remaining Prometheus-class Submersible Aircraft Carriers to the Southern Cross Navy (SCN), upon completion of which I would take over as Chief of Naval Air Operations, Southern Cross Navy. We were tasked with having the carriers fully operational-including air assets--and under SCN control no later than one year from the date of departure. No small task, as I saw it.
The first of these carriers to go was the hardest one to release. The Pluto--affectionately known as "Pollute-O" because of an unusual problem with its septic system--had been my home for four cruises. It was from this carrier that I launched my first strikes against the Drelann-Rau Rebels in the mountains of Asia and the sands of the Middle East, the bloodiest episodes of unrest since the Zentraedi Uprisings of 2016. The most decorated naval vessel in the RDF Fleet, Pollute-O won seven battle stars, forty-three Battle V's, and her air wing accounted for nearly two thousand aerial victories during the five years between the first Zentraedi Uprising in 2013 and the end of the Drelann-Raijan Conflict in 2019--an awesome accomplishment.
A.R.M.D. Space Platform [U.N. Spacy Photo.]
I served as Air Wing Commander on the Pollute-O twice--including her final cruise under RDFN control--and to give her up was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I had many friends aboard this ship who never came home. They were the unknown heroes and peace keepers of the RDF-era, and the thought that I would be forced to entrust their monument-their shrine if you will-to some incompetent, bungle headed bureaucrat from the Southern Cross made this pill a particularly bitter one to swallow.
It is no small secret that my opinion of the Southern Cross' naval commanders was poor. The gentleman--I use the term loosely--who was the Chief Naval Officer of the Southern Cross Navy was none other than Admiral Carl T. Ruddman, my former CAG when I served aboard Chronos. My contempt for the man was without reservation, and with good reason--I place the blood of some truly fine young aviators on his hands. But alas, that is another chapter in this warrior's tale that will be addressed somewhere in these pages you are about to read.
From the first battles with the Zentraedi in space during the First Robotech War to the Zentraedi Uprisings during Reconstruction... From the ridges and karsts of Southeast Asia during the Drelann-Raijan Conflict to the battles with the Robotech Masters during the Second Robotech War... And finally, to the bitter, hellish days of the Third Robotech War with the Invid, this is the story of but one man's life and times through three intergalactic wars and numerous regional conflicts.
Super Dimensional Fortress One (SDF-1) departing
Macross Island in Cruiser Mode, March 2009
The events depicted in this book are, to the best of my knowledge, historically accurate. I attempted to reconstruct the events as they happened based upon my recollections, my logbook, and historical references. Out of respect for my comrades, both living and dead, I have not changed any names-they deserve their place in history, and I hope this book will give it to them.
Many historical scholars, scientific experts, veterans, and proofreaders have come forward to assist me in the writing of this tale. I will refer the reader to the Acknowledgments section to see this list of tremendous people. Additional thanks must be paid to the following for performance above and beyond the call of duty:
- Vice Admiral Mathew W. Weed, SCN (Ret.)
- Rear Admiral Robert "Morgue" Morgenstern, RDFN (Ret.)
- Rear Admiral Steven Pustay, RDFN (Ret.)
- Brigadier General Pete "Pistol" Walker, REF (Ret.)
- Captain Rafael R. Pinero, RDFN (Ret.)
- Captain Pieter Thomassen, REF (Ret.).
- Lieutenant Commander Stephan Bennett, SCN (Ret.)
Their efforts have made this novel the truly special thing that it is.
To paraphrase the great RADM Paul Gilcrist, USN (Ret.), please remember that any and all errors in this book are mine alone, and are probably the result of old age, the passage of years, and the unavoidable dimness of the past. I hope you will do your best to sit back and enjoy this story, and when you get the chance, say thanks to one of us tired warriors. I understand that there is a bar where Robotech War veterans like to hang out called "Old Soldiers." Of course, I don't know if this place really exists, but if it does, look me up there. I'd be interested in meeting you sometime.
Jeffrey Dale Framton
New River, Texas USA
Part One: Preflight
Chapter One - Beginnings
"Fine!!!!" I slammed down the phone and stormed out of the phone booth. My girlfriend had decided that she didn't want to go to the air show. "That stupid bitch!" I seethed. She didn't feel like it. The most spectacular aerial extravaganza in the history of the world and she didn't feel like going?! Screw her! Had I known at that moment it would be the last time I would speak to Jennifer Martinez, perhaps I would have reacted differently.
Earth had received a special treasure from the skies in the summer of 1999. A massive alien spacecraft slammed into the atmosphere, touching down on a tiny, unremarkable South Pacific island the world barely knew existed, and would not soon forget. The global war that raged across the planet like a wildfire came to a screeching halt, and the Earth united for the first time under the threat of extra-terrestrial invasion. A worldwide governing body, the United Earth Government (UEG), was formed to unlock the secrets of the giant alien ship and to take steps necessary to defend the planet from alien invasion. For ten years, Earth's greatest scientists were gathered together to uncover the secrets held deep inside the alien craft--and their discoveries would shortly save humankind from extinction.
The UEG faced surprisingly little resistance from the people of earth. Tired of fighting with one another, and terrified at the prospect of invasion by an alien force, they accepted the UEG and its United Earth Militaries (later known as the Robotech Defense Forces) with open arms. As an American in general, and a Texan in particular, I was not so willing to embrace the idea of a one-world government and the potential horrors it presented for those who cherished individual liberty. Despite my distrust, however, the UEG proved a benevolent organization for the moment, and focused its energies towards its primary goal--defense of the planet from alien invasion.
The ship, which spanned nearly three-quarters of a mile along its length, was christened "Super Dimensional Fortress One," or SDF-1 (the original designation "Alien Star Ship One" worked out to ASS-1 and, for obvious reasons, was quickly relegated to obscurity), and her maiden departure from Earth in the South Pacific summer of 2009 was the culmination of ten years of global effort. The world's top leaders, engineers, and scientists--as well as the morbidly curious who were wealthy and politically connected enough to make the trip--gathered on the tiny pebble in the South Pacific known as Macross Island to watch the launch of Earth's great hope.
I was merely a boy on that humid summer day, a young, restless teenager from Texas. The first born son of an aeronautical/aerospace engineer--and head of the Robotech Research Group's Aerospace Development Division--I was destined to love airplanes. It was a love that dated back to long before I could remember, back to the days before I could even walk. Most young children loved dolls and stuffed animals--and, of course, I did too--but my first and truest love was the airplane.
An invention of the early twentieth century, the airplane had undergone some radical changes in the one hundred-odd years since, and I never lost my fascination, or my love affair, with them. Of course, it was a natural extension of my genes that someday I would become a military aviator. In my heart I knew it was written in stone that someday Jeff Framton would be a fighter pilot. That is until the most bitter day of my life, my unlucky thirteenth birthday, when I saw the stone tablet crumble before my eyes.
It was during a visit to the eye doctor on a sunny afternoon some months before where I overheard a conversation between himself and my mother. He said something to the effect that I would gradually begin to have difficulty reading the chalk board at school. If I had not heard these words my teenage years might have been a little less frustrating for me. My mother swore to me years later that the conversation never took place, and so it seems the doctor was not referring to me. But, I did hear them.
It was a strange thing, those words. They consumed me. As the days passed by, I began to notice that the board was indeed getting fuzzy and that I could no longer read the stop sign at the end of my street when all my friends could. Soon enough, I found myself faking eye exams. It was a miserable day, my thirteenth birthday, when, unable to fake them any longer, I had bombed a vision test. The doctor told me I needed glasses...I was crushed. The military did not want pilots who wore glasses. It was an archaic rule, dating back to the days when weeding out candidates was more important than finding the ones most desirous of the duty at hand. My lifelong dream seemed doomed.
Now, four years later, a top student at military academy in South Texas, on a track that would land me at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs if I chose to accept it, I was still kicking stones over the unlucky hand The Great Dealer had dealt. Being around military pilots always brought me to a rage. They could do everything I lived for because they could see better than I. What a rotten, miserable existence I would have to lead! And of course came the inevitable question, "Why me?"
It was while brooding about my fate prior to the launch ceremonies leading up to the SDF-1's maiden voyage that I first caught sight of the airplane that would be my lover and companion for the next twenty years: the VF-1 "Valkyrie," the first Variable Engineering Robotic Implementation Technology(VERITECH) fighter, a.k.a. "Variable Technology Fighter" or "Veritech Fighter" for short. The most elegant aircraft ever to grace the skies, the Valk was also the keeper of a wonderful secret--one that in a few short hours would prove vital in defending Earth against the greatest threat ever to face mankind.
She was absolutely beautiful. A sleek and elegant killer. The sight of her made me furious! I was being robbed of my destiny, damn it!! Curse those idiot commanders and flight surgeons! What did they know?! Why did it matter whether you could see perfectly the first day if it didn't matter after that?! By this time, over forty-five percent of RDF fighter pilots wore corrective lenses of one form or another, which merely added to my frustration. I fumed--I fumed so hard in fact, that I must certainly have shortened my life by at least a few years!!!
Why had God chosen to saddle me with this fate? I pondered the question in my mind over and again to no avail. As it would later turn out, Fortune's wheel would be mercifully kind to me, though this fact was of little use to me that day.
I was on Special Leave from school for the launch ceremonies, as were many of my contemporaries, and what a treat it was indeed. Every conceivable type of airplane from the fastest to biggest was on display. Oshkosh and Paris combined couldn't hold a candle to this extravaganza. I spent the morning wandering around the air base, gawking like a schoolboy at the Robotech Defense Force's newest, most advanced fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance aircraft. And the transports? Good heavens, the transports! They were enormous! Absolutely gigantic. They could carry half again as many people as the 20th century's largest airliner, the Boeing 747. It was at that moment that the stark reality of progress hit me head on. How far we had come from the string and fabric biplanes of the First World War!!!
While gazing at the airplanes, I very literally ran into a pair of my high school friends, Nathan "Nate" Morris and Joseph "Punchy" Burkett. Nate was a gaunt young man, with chiseled features and an appearance that belied his ferocious nature. With one eye permanently cocked askew, he looked the part of the prankster he was. Joe looked like...well....Joe. Tall and muscular, he earned his nickname as a Gold Glove boxer on our school's boxing team.
"Hey, Jake!" they exclaimed. Jake was, of course, my nickname--given to me by mom because of her die hard love of 20th Century movie star John Wayne (a la "Big Jake"), and by my friends because of my passion for the 1966 motion picture "The Sand Pebbles." The movie, starring Steve McQueen, focused on the story of a sailor on a gunboat in China during the 1920's. A remarkable picture--I always felt the old ones were the best any way--it was no secret that it was my all-time favorite, and it was not long before my friends began to call me Jake, after McQueen's character Jake Holman.
Jake Holman (Steve McQueen), l., in "The Sand Pebbles," 1966. (© 20th Century Fox)
"Hey guys! What's up?" I asked, exchanging handshakes and fist slams with my friends.
"This is one hell of a show, isn't it?" Nate asked, a wide smile on his face. The guy, no matter how hard he tried, always looked stoned.
"You bet it is," I returned. "Hey, let's go check out those airplanes over there," I said, pointing to a row of vintage fighters parked far across the apron.
"Sounds like a plan."
Naturally, we teamed up with each other for the rest of the day, and raised hell like the hormonally-enraged teenage freaks we were. We had a blast. Never had any of us seen so many airplanes in one place at one time. The sheer magnitude was enough to make one's jaw droop and, of course, mine did.
The newly re-formed Japanese Air Force Aerobatic Team (formerly of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force), "The Blue Impulse," gave its first public performance since being disbanded during the Global War. Their brightly painted VF-1's did things the pilots of their three previous mounts--North American's classic F-86 "Sabre," Mitsubishi's T-2, and Kawasaki's T-4--could never have imagined possible. The crowd went wild at the team's maneuvers, each choreographed to show both the finesse and power of the new Valkyrie. The jets thundered overhead and a chill ran down my spine. They were truly marvelous.
T-4's of the JASDF's "Blue Impulse" aerial demonstration squadron
performing one of their last air shows before the outbreak of Global War One, c. 1995.
As we craned our necks skyward, looking at the jets flying above us, it wasn't long before the notion of going up into the control tower to get a better view of the air show came over me. This idea was particularly appealing since my friends had not been up there before--I knew they would enjoy seeing how things were done.
I ran over to the tower cab and pushed the mike button. "Hi guys, it's me, Jake Framton. Got room for any visitors up there today?"
"Hey there Jake, how's it going?" queried the voice from the tower. During the days when I was working on my pilot's license my instructor had given us a tour of the tower. I was so impressed that I made it a point to visit regularly and quickly ended up on a first-name basis with most of the controllers. "Listen, we're a bit full right now, what with the dignitaries and all. Why don't you check back in an hour or so, okay buddy?"
"Yeah, okay," I replied, trying to hide my disappointment. "Thanks."
Great, I thought, thwarted in my attempt to impress my friends. Another snafu. My immaturity allowed far too much self-pity, and I asked myself if anything else could possibly go wrong. I should have known better than to tempt the gods, for they had plenty of surprises in store for everyone on Ea4rth that day.
But, as luck would have it, every cloud has a silver lining, and my failure to find a perch in the lofty control tower turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As we walked from the tower toward the ramp, I spied the most beautiful legs I had ever seen on a woman in my life. Long, tan, slender. Like a Pavlovian Dog I salivated. It wasn't long before my companions realized they were walking by themselves. I was positioning myself for an attack!
My intrepid companions soon caught sight of the object of my attention and I boldly announced my intentions. "I'm going to ask her out," I stated with an uncharacteristic confidence.
"Hot damn, Jake, go for it!!!" Nate exclaimed.
"She's the finest woman I've ever seen," I said excitedly, hoping the young woman was not within earshot.
"No doubt, Jake. I'd love to bite her on the ass and get lock jaw!" Punchy roared.
I backhanded Joe in the stomach. "Hush, man! You'll scare her off."
He just laughed.
I pursued the leggy brunette over to the nearby VC-27 "Tunny" VTOL transport, my friends in tow close behind me. What a beauty she was. With straight, dark hair, and a lean figure accentuated by a navy blue mini-skirt, I was completely entranced by her. I had to move fast to catch up with her before it was...
VC-27 "Tunny" VTOL Heavy Lift Transport
Too late. From out of nowhere a whole load of kids ran over to the boarding ladder and formed a huge line. She would disappear in that mess and I would never see her again. Drat!!
"We'll never find her in there," I lamented.
"Don't worry about it, we'll find her," Punchy promised, as she disappeared into the bowels of the cavernous transport. We followed her as soon as we could, losing at least a couple of precious minutes due to the length of the line. After what seemed an eternity, we reached the entrance door and I peered inside. People were everywhere.
"Man, we'll never find her," I said dejectedly.
"Don't worry, man, we'll find her," Punchy assured me with a wink. As usual, Joe Burkett was on top of things, and his confidence was on target. "Over there," he exclaimed, pointing at the rear exit ramp of the transport. "Come on, come on, move it!! Let's get over there!" We squeezed our way past hundreds of people and made our way to the exit ramp, only to find it empty.
"Damn!" I exclaimed. "Which way did she go?" Peeved beyond words, I searched frantically in all directions, but to no avail. She had put the slip on me once more, and I got the distinct--albeit incorrect--impression she had done it on purpose. Though prudence dictated a hasty retreat, I pressed on, and through sheer perseverance, picked her out of the gathered throng yet again.
She was talking to an elderly, gray-haired civilian man underneath the wing of an old KC-135 "Stratotanker," and I realized, much to my chagrin, that it would be nigh impossible to get her attention without making an awkward, potentially embarrassing approach in front of a pretty large group of people. Wondering what I had done to deserve this cruel punishment, I ambled over to the young woman and stood quietly behind her, staring like an idiot. As I pondered a way to engage her in a conversation without letting the nearby crowd hear me, Nate jumped between the girl and the old man.
"Excuse me, sir, do you fly this airplane?" he asked, with the most convincing poker face I have ever seen. It was the perfect thing to do!
"Oh, ho, no, sonny!" the man rasped with a good natured chuckle.
Touchdown!!!! Trying desperately to keep from laughing, I jumped at my chance and grabbed the girl's attention. "Hi there, how are ya'?" I stammered.
She looked at me quizzically. "Hello."
"My name is Jeff and I couldn't help but notice you," I said, with a sudden burst of confidence that amazed me. "Do you like airplanes?" I could tell by her face that I had scored a direct hit.
"Why, yes, I do! I want to be a pilot someday," she stated with a bright smile.
"Really? Well, I'm a pilot," I said, straightening my shoulders proudly.
He eyes widened. "You're a pilot?!"
"I sure am. I'll be glad to take you for a ride sometime--even teach you how it's done, if you like. Jeff Framton," I said, waiting for her to extend her hand.
"Rebeckah Casey," she said, reaching out and clasping my hand firmly, her long brown hair draping casually down the right side of her chest. "But you can call me Beki," she added with an almost seductive wink.
I stood there for what seemed like hours taking in the beauty of this lithesome young woman. With bright blue eyes, small, thin lips, and a tiny nose that turned upward ever so slightly at the tip, she was, without question, as beautiful a girl as I had ever seen, and I fell instantly in love with her. Forget puppy love, forget infatuation, I went straight past "GO!" and collected my $200. When it came to reading people my intuition was an unfailing sixth sense, and from the moment we first spoke, I knew this was the girl for me. To my amazement, we hit it off instantly, and for the rest of the day we walked around arm in arm, laughing at each others' jokes, ribbing MPs (Military Police), trading sun screen...
We basked in the warm glow of the midday sun, the mingled sweat on our bodies a pleasant proof of our togetherness. It was the last chance I would get to enjoy a dose of Earth side sunshine for a long time, because all hell was about to break loose.
Chapter Two - Storm Clouds
When the SDF-1 arrived, I was a seven year old popcorn fart, sitting at home with my little brother watching the "Buggs Bunny, Road Runner Show"--my standard Saturday morning activity. Global war raged on in the outside world, but my father had taken great pains to keep us insulated from the chaos that enveloped Earth. We were lucky. The United States of America had been comparatively untouched by the savage war that I was too young to understand. That is not to say we were without casualties, be they people or entire cities, but compared to the rest of the world we were in great shape.
As I sat in front of the TV screen watching the Coyote doing his best to catch the Road Runner--always unsuccessfully--the picture went blank, followed by a "CBS Special Report" screen. I could tell by the look on the reporter's face that something unusual had occurred. "We have just been informed that a large asteroid of unknown origin entered Earth's atmosphere at 11:57 Eastern Time, causing tremendous damage to parts of the southwestern United States and..." Those are the only words I can clearly recall. An asteroid, they said. Astronomers worldwide were at a loss to explain why it wasn't sighted before it hit.
Then came footage. Horrific pictures of destruction and chaos, unmistakable testimony of the ship-they-called-an-asteroid's uncontrolled fall from the sky. Graphic scenes of death and anarchy relayed to me by satellite. My jaw hit the floor. My laughter choked into silence. I was completely and totally mesmerized. Even at that young age I realized that something astounding had happened. I knew in my young mind that my world would be forever changed.
The phone rang. Muted conversation. "Yes, sir. On my way." A hug from dad and a command not to worry. He had to go away for awhile but he'd be back soon. A kiss for mom...and he was gone. My fun-loving, carefree life had turned, suddenly, into utter chaos.
Beki and I enjoyed a soda underneath the wing of a B-52 "Stratofortress" (nicknamed the "BUFF" for Big, Ugly, Fat Fucker/Fella), one of the classic warbirds on display that day at the air show. A lumbering hulk of an airplane dating back to the mid-twentieth century, it was the mainstay of the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command from the 1950s to the early 2000s. Slow, old, and vulnerable, they were quickly withdrawn from front-line service after suffering tremendous losses during the Global War. No longer serving in its role of delivering heavy loads of conventional or nuclear weapons to a distant target, it was a real crowd pleaser at air shows throughout the world. With its long, swept back wings drooping forlornly to the ground, it acted as a giant aluminum tent--a great place to escape from the sun.
B-52 "Stratofortress" Nuclear Strategic Bomber
As we sat contentedly under the BUFF watching a trio of sport planes perform a graceful aerobatic routine, a sheet of holy fire erupted from the long, slender front booms of the SDF-1. It was the brightest burst of light I had ever seen. The hulking, blue and gray battle fortress disappeared from view for an instant, and as I shielded my eyes, my first thought was that it was a nuclear explosion planted by the wackos of the Anti-Unification League. It was only when I found that I had no flash blindness that I realized it had to be something else. As the flash subsided, a tremendous roar followed and, despite covering my ears with both hands, I fell to my knees screaming with pain. Then the heat from the blast rolled over us as if the air itself was burning. In moments, the heat became totally unbearable and I felt as if I had been flung into the mouth of a furnace. My skin began to sizzle. My lungs hurt so badly I couldn't breathe. People writhed in agony. Elderly people collapsed--some even had heart attacks. Babies cried.
And then the shock wave hit.
It sounded like an amplified "ker-WUMP." All those who were standing found themselves quickly and efficiently placed on their backsides. Baby carriages turned over, or worse, were flung like paper bags being blown by a gale. The three sport planes disintegrated, their robust airframes ripped to pieces by the fury of the blast. Fortunately for us, we were far enough away from the SDF-1 to escape serious harm. Others, however, were not so lucky.
As I gathered my senses and tried to stop the ringing in my ears, I noticed that half the island was gone! The hills that overlooked the northern edge of Macross City had been sliced away--removed as if by a giant ice cream scooper. It appeared that a malfunction had caused the ship's main battery to accidentally fire. Panic began to envelop the crowd and everyone began running for the gate. The frightened mob rushed to get away from the giant ship as MP's did their best to control them. With bullhorns in hand, the soldiers tried to issue instructions to the crowd, but it was an utterly futile gesture. I didn't know where these people wanted to go on this tiny island, but it appeared that wherever it was, they damned sure wanted to be there right away!
Getting to my feet, I grabbed Beki by the hand and made my way along the B-52's fuselage to the forward entrance hatch. Better to hide in here than risk being trampled by an out of control mob of people, I reasoned. I fiddled with the handle that secured the small door on the bomber's belly and finally got it open. Taking a foot in both hands, I hoisted Beki into the airplane, then climbed aboard, shutting the hatch behind me. We huddled together inside the old bomber for several minutes as the crowd rushed by us yelling and screaming.
After what seemed an interminable length of time, Beki finally spoke up. "What happened? Why did the ship fire?" she asked, a concerned expression on her face.
"I don't know," I said, perplexed.
The sounds of people shouting in fear continued as we sat quietly staring at one another. We waited several minutes more, but nobody noticed us--or else nobody cared. Either way, I felt safe from detection in the B-52 and decided that the best way to get some answers would be through the BUFF's radio.
Motioning Beki into the co-pilot's seat on the right, I climbed into the aircraft commander's on the left. Fumbling around the unfamiliar cockpit, I found the master switch and the radios. I switched them on, flipped over to the Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS) frequency and tugged on a helmet to hear what had occurred. Beki did the same, and I gazed longingly at her for a brief instant as she did so. She looked incredibly cute in that helmet, easily five sizes too large for her, and I smiled unconsciously.
"Macross International Airport, information Delta, 0645 Zulu, Special. All aircraft caution. SDF-1 experiencing severe technical problems that pose a serious threat to all aircraft north of the airport. All aircraft at all altitudes caution, severe turbulence also possible. All aircraft advised to proceed to nearest alternate airport. Macross International Airport is closed."
At least my suspicions had been confirmed. Turning off the master switch, I sat there absorbing what had happened, not certain what to do next. There was no more screaming or yelling, and the ship hadn't fired again. For all practical purposes, the danger seemed over, so there was no point in hiding any longer.
I climbed out of the pilot's seat and offered my hand to Beki. "Well, kiddo, I think everything will be okay. The worst has passed," I said, full of confidence. Perhaps I should say, "Full of shit."
I should have known better than to try to predict the weather.
Chapter Three - Warning Signs
I imagine it is safe to state that in those days I didn't have a great talent for noticing the obvious. My naiveté was the end product of a sheltered childhood. My parents' attempts to keep the world's problems away from me probably robbed me of some common sense skills early on, and it is for this reason that I did not realize what was really happening. It almost cost me my life.
As I helped Beki clamber out of the B-52, wondering about things as silly as whether or not the air show would continue, I had failed to notice the sudden buzz of activity occurring at various locations around the airport. Jeeps and ammo trucks were making their rounds to the military aircraft that were parked all over the apron, fighter pilots were scrambling to their aircraft--donning helmets, cinching up anti-g suits, and fastening parachute harnesses as they ran--and helicopters were turning up their rotors.
Though the B-52's fuselage shielded my view of the military operations being conducted across the ramp, one thing was for certain, the air show was over. Half the island was gone, and the entire crowd had disappeared as if swallowed by a black hole. I stepped out from underneath the B-52's nose and promptly noticed the depth of the crowd's panic. Everything from paper cups and sandwich bags, to purses and igloo coolers was strewn across the tarmac. Several EMTs were tending to those spectators that had suffered grievous injuries while MPs and FOD (Foreign Object Debris) crews were scrambling about in an attempt to clear the area, lest a jet suck something unwanted into its engine. The hair on the back of my neck stood inexplicably on end as my subconscious tried its damnedest to alert me to a danger I could not perceive, but the frantic nature of the ground crew's efforts was completely lost on me. I presumed they were simply in a hurry so they could get home early.
About that time, my stomach began to growl. Unable to assist in any way with the search and rescue efforts that were no doubt underway, I was prompted to ask my newfound girlfriend out for lunch.
"Everything's under control here. Care to grab a bite?"
"Terrific!" she exclaimed. "I'm starving. I know of a great steak and salad place. How does that strike you?"
"It sounds wonderful," I said, beaming. "Lead on."
With a mischievous smile, Rebeckah put an arm around my waist and guided me in the direction of the main gate, leaving a frantic Robotech Defense Force behind us.
As we walked through the streets of Macross City on our way to Beki's restaurant, I sensed nothing amiss. The bustling traffic, both civilian and military, appeared to be headed toward the base to assist in damage cleanup and search and rescue. The blast from the SDF-1 had caused a great deal of damage to almost everything on the northern side of the island, and cleaning things up would require a massive amount of effort.
We walked past "The Crow's Nest"--which was, incidentally, my favorite burger place--only to discover a "CLOSED" sign on the door. I looked at my watch. 2:05 PM. How odd for "The Nest" to be closed at this hour, I thought. One by one we passed every food shop on the block, and one by one we found them all closed. Very strange indeed. Probably assisting in the cleanup, I reasoned. Was it possible to be any more dense?
"Guess we could always go to my place," I sheepishly suggested. To my pleasure and amazement, she agreed.
"Now that's a date, flyboy," she said through her smile.
My heart began to go pitter-patter in my chest, and I felt a lightness in my step that I had never known before. In the ecstasy of the moment I allowed myself to admit something I had never imagined possible. Put simply, I'd arrived. She really did like me.
We drove up the curved, tree-lined driveway of my parents' two story house. Because of my father's position as Aircraft Development Division Chief, he was able to procure a very lavish home as a perquisite. Construction techniques had come a long way in the years since the ship's arrival--large houses took only a few days to build, smaller ones could be completed in hours--and as a result, most of the high-ranking members of the RDF, both civilian and military, had the privilege of designing their own homes.
The house was beautiful. Sitting atop one of the many hills on Macross island, it commanded a wonderful view of the ocean on two sides, a forest grove on the third, and Macross City on the fourth. The view of the latter was especially spectacular, particularly at night, when the lights of the city painted a most romantic picture. Rebeckah was clearly impressed.
"Oh!!! What a beautiful house, Jake!" she exclaimed. She was completely taken by it. "It's wonderful!"
"And we'll be able to see the launch perfectly from here," I said, pointing a thumb in the direction of the giant ship.
"Oh, boy! I can't wait!" she clapped her hands together.
"Care to look inside, Scarlet?" I asked.
"I'd be honored, sir," she said with mock piety.
I took her hand and led her up the sidewalk to the front door, which I opened after rummaging through my pockets for the key. Nobody was home. Dad would most certainly be at work and mom was probably off taking care of other business, I reckoned, so I had the whole place to myself. While Beki explored the house, I rummaged through the freezer and found a couple of sirloin steaks.
"You up for sirloin?!!" I shouted.
"Mmm-hmm," she said, trotting into the kitchen and rubbing her stomach with a false urgency. "That looks perfect."
I dropped the steaks into the defroster and proceeded out to the rear deck on the second floor, my beautiful new friend in tow. As I reached the door I asked her what she wanted to drink.
"Iced Tea would be great. Sugar, Lemon," she said. Then, with poker-faced seriousness, "Shaken, not stirred."
I laughed aloud at the trademark James Bond line. "Bob! Tea! Sugar, lemon--shaken, not stirred," I said to the computerized drink dispenser. "And one Petite Cola."
There was a long moment of silence as the computer tried to come up with the reference, and I stifled a laugh. Trying to trip Bob up was a sort of juvenile family tradition, and I stifled a laugh as I imagined the proverbial gears in his proverbial head spinning crazily as he tried to figure out how he was supposed to shake the tea. I've got you this time, Bobbo, I thought with a grin.
But, as was usually the case, the computer figured out the answer to my half-baked riddle, and nothing in the house suffered damage or destruction. "Ah, yes, James Bond. Very funny, sir," it said. "Your drinks are ready."
"Thank you, Bob," I called, thwarted once again. It wasn't a clever attempt, I thought to myself, as I lifted the retrieval door, and grabbed the two glasses. But it had potential. Heck, how many computers watch movies?
"You're welcome, sir," it replied.
"Yes, thank you, Bob," Beki said with a smile as I handed her her tea.
"You're welcome, my lady," Bob said.
Beki giggled. "Oh, he's charming."
"Yes, he is. He had a good teacher," I noted, feigning self-importance as I took a quick sip of my Petite Cola, and instantly wished I was back in Texas where I could get my hands on a "Dr. Pepper."
I fired up the grill, eager with anticipation. Computerized appliances could cook the steaks far faster than I could with the grill, but I always felt something was missing. Cooking on a grill had a certain robust romanticism about it that just couldn't be found in the new wave equipment of the day.
"This steak is going to melt in your mouth," I said.
She grinned, her eyes flashing, "I can't wait."
"I'll be right back," I stated, bounding for the door. I returned in a flash, the sirloins in one hand and a bottle of Montreal Steak seasoning in the other. The crackle and sizzle the steaks made as they landed on the grill made my mouth water. The aroma of top quality meat was overwhelming--I could already taste it.
I sat down on the deck chair and reclined. Fetching my cola, I marveled at the spectacle that lay before me. The sea was beautiful and the sun brilliant, its bright light reflecting off the wet sand and ocean waves, as sea gulls glided peacefully above the surf.
"Bob, shade, one-half," I commanded.
"Shade, one-half, sir," the computer replied.
With that, the deck's retractable roof slid forward, shielding us from the sun's rays while still providing an excellent view of the sky to the northwest.
We sat and talked for awhile, and I discovered that Beki was an incredibly intelligent, charming, and ambitious young lady. Among her numerous passions, flying was something she had loved since childhood. Her life's dream was to become an air force pilot, but an inner ear condition derailed her plans. Rebounding from this setback, she had devoted her energies to other areas and had her sights set on becoming a marine biologist. Her father was the Executive Vice President for a major military contractor and insisted that his daughter receive the best education money could buy. With her fertile mind and tireless enthusiasm, it was clear that she was on her way to something big. Beki Casey was indeed a truly incredible girl, and I found myself growing more fond of her by the moment.
As the sun began its four hour decent to the horizon, we enjoyed the wonders the day had presented for us. The cries of the seagulls overhead, the wind blowing through the trees, the ocean waves hitting the rocks down below, the sizzle of the steaks, and Beki's excited laughter, combined to make a song as beautiful as that of the best symphony orchestra. It was a wonderfully enjoyable moment.
It would not last long.
Chapter Four - Lightning Strikes
The steaks were absolutely perfect. In fact, they were the finest steaks I had ever made in my life. Grinning to myself, I said a thankful prayer. In love, as in life, timing was everything, and I could see that I had again scored another point with the leggy brunette. My smile grew ever larger.
"What are you smiling at?" she asked.
Her voice snapped me out of my reverie. "Huh?"
"What are you smiling at?" she asked, again.
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking how great life is up here--and how much fun I am having with you," I stumbled. "Stuff like that." The words did not come out right, and I kicked myself for losing my air of composure.
"That's sweet," she whispered, her smile revealing that I had done no damage.
I breathed a sigh of relief. "I'll bet you thought men couldn't cook," I noted, fishing for a compliment.
"They can't," she replied.
"What?!" I cried indignantly. "You don't like my steak?"
"That's what I'm saying to you," she said sternly. My face dissolved into a horrible impression of a frown--my poker face needed a lot of work. She laughed, "Actually, I love it! It's really good, Jeff."
I smiled inwardly, congratulating myself once more, then shifted in my chair. "So, I take it you're enjoying yourself?"
She set her fork down and leaned across the table, eyes piercing a hole through my heart. "I wouldn't trade this for anything..." Her voice, the most seductive I had ever heard, trailed off, and I felt something stir deep inside me.
There was an unremitting silence. I was caught like a deer in headlights, unable to move, unable to think. In the movies this was the part where the guy kissed the gal and they lived happily ever after--but my brain had taken a vacation without bothering to leave a note, and I sat there, a blank look on my face. Here was this tall, slender, intelligent, drop-dead-gorgeous woman putting out some very overt signals of interest, and I didn't have a clue what to do! Fortunately or unfortunately, I wouldn't have to.
A shadow flew across the deck in front of me almost faster than I could see it. Its passage was marked by a loud crash. I sprang to my feet, prepared to run out front to see what the ruckus was, when I spied something I'd never before seen. About three dozen mechanized "eggs with legs"--looking more like overgrown headless ostriches--emerged from the water below and leapt up the cliff, then over and around the house. Beki screamed as I stood there...mesmerized.
"What the hell...?!" I exclaimed, looking wide eyed in their direction.
"What in the world are those?!" she yelped, rising out of her chair.
"I have no idea! Some new RDF equipment or something, I dunno!" I shot back.
Then I heard the report of cannon fire and saw the Johnson's home next door crushed by one of the giant ostrich-looking machines. I knew then, that they could not have belonged to the RDF.
"Oh my, Gawd..." I mumbled, eyes open wide. "Come on! Let's get out of here!" I yelled, grabbing Beki's hand.
I dragged her through the house and out to the car, where I fumbled for the keys for what seemed like hours before finding the right one. We jumped in, and just as I started the engine, my house exploded, debris flying in all directions. A large piece of the front door struck the car with a thud, taking out the windshield. Jamming the shifter into reverse, I weaved down the driveway, frantically jerking the wheel to avoid the trees lining it. Spinning out onto the roadway, I slammed the stick into drive and stomped on the pedal. The tires squealed and then stuck, and we launched out of that neighborhood like a bat out of hell.
The shock of nearby explosions rocked the car. Beki's eyes, I could see, had filled with tears, and she sat with her feet in the seat, knees clutched to her chest with both arms. I put a hand on hers, amazed at how lucky we'd been.
As I screamed down the road I stole a glimpse at the mirrors. All around I saw the headless ostriches, bounding about like Kangaroos. They made the strangest sounds as they played their sadistic game of leap frog, and I found myself wondering when one would land on the car. The thought had barely registered when one of the giant machines landed on the roadway ahead of me, buckling the pavement. I did not have time to swerve or stop, and struck the pothole left by his foot full force. The car bounded into the air and landed with a jarring crash. The airbags deployed and I was momentarily blinded by the debris and glass they flung at me. I struggled to control the vehicle and by some miracle stayed on the road.
I jammed on the pedal even harder, now. By this time the shelters would no doubt be sealed, and I had no idea how we would get inside if we even made it to one. The best alternate place to hide, I felt, would be somewhere with a bunker. I kicked myself for not hiding in the woods near my house. The ostriches would never have found us there. I pressed on, my mind searching for a place to seek refuge, as Macross City grew slowly larger in my broken windshield.
We descended out of the hills near the outskirts of Macross City, and I saw a sight that brought joy to my heart. Valkyries and Ghosts (a computer controlled drone fighter) were launching from the airport. They wasted little time as they departed the airfield in pairs, afterburners blazing a trail of fire as they pitched through the vertical in their valiant effort to defend the island.
"Go get 'em boys!" I yelled in excitement, pounding the dash with my fist, as a wave of relief swept over me.
"Yeah!! Go get 'em!" Rebeckah exclaimed, thrusting a clenched fist into the air and wiggling her cute little butt around like a hyped-up cheerleader. "Thank God they were able to get off the ground in time," she shouted over the wind.
Comforted by the presence of the Valks and Ghosts, I again focused on the task at hand: finding a safe haven--some place where the enemy's mechanized units could not reach us. Try as I might, I could think of no such place. The bomb shelters were the only thing that came to mind, and again I was faced with the reality that they would be sealed up tight. My mind scrambled as we screamed toward the city limits. Basement...basement...basement. Who has a basement?
I soon realized we did not have many options. Between the two of us we came up with about four options, none of which were truly viable. The Macross City Bank had an underground vault that we could hide in, and the underground parking garage at the airport was another option. Outside of that the shelters were the only other choice--or else a quick dash for the woods that surrounded us.
The rock walls towering along either side of the highway signaled the approach of the last vestiges of forest before entering Macross City. Looking about quickly, I jammed on the brakes and pulled off the road, then parked the car carefully among the trees. I needed time to consider my options. The city was clearly about to be overrun, so being there would not be good for one's health. Considering the destruction that would soon take place, my decision to stop may have been the lone intelligent choice I made that day.
Beki and I sat on the trunk of my smashed up car and watched as the headless ostriches descended upon the city. They came in many different forms--some even had surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles. As they tore through the city almost completely unopposed, they reduced everything in sight to ashes. A few Veritechs could be seen engaging the alien forces in the suburbs, but the vast majority of the Valkyries were nowhere to be seen--they were engaged in their own fight for survival above the overcast that now loomed over us. I thought it odd how quickly the weather--and the world--had changed on that tiny island.
The few Valkyries that remained in the city put up a valiant fight, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. The enemy units wreaked havoc all throughout Macross City as they closed on the SDF-1, and our guys were losing ground fast. Suddenly, I heard a loud roar. Before I could flinch, I caught sight of a flight of Valkyries racing for the city. Behind them came two more flights.
My heart leaped. The cavalry had arrived! With Beki now snuggled up tight against me, I leaned back and watched the fireworks.
The Veritech squadrons made serious progress in taking out the alien invaders, giving more than they got. The Valkyries themselves were amazing, transforming from one mode to the next--jet fighter to a large humanoid configuration ("Battloid") to a strange hybrid ("Guardian") as the situation dictated. I was stunned. Never had I considered such a thing possible, not in my wildest dreams. Yet there it was right before my eyes. They had the agility of a Humming Bird and the lethality of ten conventional fighters. And their speed! Incredible. I shook my head in disbelief.
In spite of this, the enemy mecha units continued their assault undaunted--unfearing. The incredible attrition they suffered did not phase them in the slightest way. The SDF-1 was the object of their attention, and they marched onward. When one of their number was smashed like a plastic Easter egg, the alien inside burned to ashes, three more would emerge to fill the gap. Every casualty these aliens suffered served only to invigorate the others. They pressed onward...relentlessly...as if guided by a lust for death. In spite of the heroic efforts by the RDF pilots the situation turned desperate, and it appeared the SDF-1 would soon be lost.
From our vantage point in the woods overlooking Macross City, the SDF-1 appeared to be in grave danger. The enemy units began to attack in ever growing numbers. My mind reeled at the sheer magnitude of it all. Where in Christendom could they all be coming from? On every street corner they could be seen. Killing, burning, blasting, pillaging... It was as if the ground itself was producing them, straight from Hell's dark chasm.
Things aboard the bridge of the great ship were no doubt bordering on panic--an understandable condition judging from the total surprise it must have been to the new crew. Then-Captain Henry Gloval, the legendary skipper of the SDF-1, was amazingly calm and collected throughout the ordeal. Although such traits are typical among great leaders, it has been theorized that Gloval's calm stemmed from the fact he knew of the attack beforehand, as if some great premonition told him that something severe would occur. Premonition or not, Captain Gloval did, without a doubt, save Earth when he made his decision to leave it.
As the enemy pods continued to pound away at the ship, it began to rise. We were both speechless as the great ship began to climb, slowly and majestically out of the smoke-filled city. Of course, as did almost everything else that day, it didn't work.
During SDF-1's refit, a defect in the design of the support cross members for the anti-gravity engines went unnoticed. The stress of lifting eighteen million tons of steel was more than the poor beams could handle, and the anti-gravity pods broke loose from the giant battle fortress one by one. As the huge engines tore themselves out of the top of the SDF-1, the total lifting power available fell off precipitously and the ship crashed back to Earth with an earthquake-like rumble.
Never one with a talent for spotting the obvious, I managed to stumble onto something. "Woah," I said, looking at Rebeckah as the sound of SDF-1's hard landing reverberated across the island. "Looks like they've got a little problem there." Without a doubt, Emil Lang could not have said it better.
The battle fortress' unsuccessful departure seemed to awaken a great ferocity among the Veritech pilots, and it wasn't long before they began gaining the upper hand on the enemy. Slowly and surely the fighting began to move away from the SDF-1 toward the outer sections of the city, and it wasn't long before Gloval took another stab at getting the giant ship aloft--this time with much greater results.
A loud, rumbling explosion cascaded over the island, followed closely by a tremendous cloud of smoke and debris that enveloped the giant ship. I feared the SDF-1 had been destroyed as the boiling haze obscured the vessel, and held my breath for what seemed like hours until the battle fortress emerged from the hell that had engulfed it. Slowly and gracefully it rose, like a Phoenix out of the ashes, accelerating until it disappeared into the overcast.
A sudden, ominous feeling overcame me at that moment--something not unlike the one that comes from being caught in the bathroom naked. A cold chill ran down my spine and I shuddered.
"Well, nothing we can do now but go home, I guess," I said to Beki.
"Yeah..." she said. "I hope our families are all right."
"Me too, lady. Me too," I replied.
And then came the fall.
I found myself catapulted into the air, way up above the trees. With a suddenness that cannot be described, I found myself hundreds of feet above the forest canopy. With an amazing clarity I could see every leaf and piece of bark on all the trees. Then the ground came rushing up at me. I felt sick and knew then that I would die. A tremendous, gut-wrenching nausea attacked me. My stomach in my mouth, my body accelerating quickly as I plunged, my life seemed such a wasted opportunity. All the things I would never get to do flashed across my mind in an instant. Beki!!! Where was Beki?!! I didn't have time to look. The ground came up to meet me with a suddenness that defies description, and I was instantly and ferociously crushed.
And then I fell...and fell...and fell...into the darkness... Darkness.
Chapter Five - Turbulence
It is bitterly cold. I trundle down the flightline with my crew, declining their offers of cigarettes to warm myself. The darkness is all but total. The air is damp, the wind is brisk. I am chilled to the bone. I reach our plane, "Mac." Mac is a North American B-25J "Mitchell," twin-engine medium bomber. A relic by today's standards, it will carry me where I must go.
North American B-25 "Mitchell" Bomber
A quick head call in the grass behind the aircraft, a meaningless walk around--I can't see a gawddamned thing any way--and I climb aboard.
"Clear prop!!" Mixture rich, props forward, throttle cracked, fuel pump on, and hit the switch. First a great deal of shuddering and vibration, then a loud roar. The Mitchell's port Wright R-2600 radial belches a giant cloud of white smoke before settling into its characteristic rumble. Ditto for the starboard engine. A quick check of the instruments and we're ready to go.
The lead aircraft taxis past me and I follow him out. A push on the throttles to get us moving and then I ease them back. One by one like ducks in a pond the forty B-25's taxi to the runway. As I turn to do my run-up, I see one of the bombardiers get out of his plane and walk over to our commanding officer. "What the hell is he doing?" I wonder aloud, but nobody answers me. We go through our checklists and roar into the sky one by one. Turning gently to the right as we suck our landing gear up, we head for our target.
I move into position behind the leader and we sweep into enemy territory at fifty feet off the deck. A gust of turbulence and lead's airplane rocks and bounces a bit. Trees and rivers rush by. My B-25's tan camouflage won't hide me, I know, but it shouldn't matter. I look back and see the rest of the group in trail, stretching back for miles. It is an awe inspiring sight.
As we approach our objective, I push my throttles to overboost and sweep past the leader. Why I do this I do not know, but I do it. I take control of the bombing sequence from the cockpit as I rush in over the target. The main building of the enemy compound is dead ahead. A giant aluminum box, I bore in and drop two bombs square on top of it. Boom!! The whole mess goes up in a blazing fireball as bodies and parts fly through the air. I reef my Mitchell over to the left and bomb a second building as well. Two bomb hits end its existence in a maelstrom of devastation. I relish this killing. It makes me smile with joy.
Pulling back around to the right, I begin my climb. It is agonizingly slow. I fly right between two trees, my wingtips knocking some leaves and branches--and I hope a few bird nests, too--silly. The climb takes forever...an eternity in which I am naked and exposed to anyone willing to throw a wrench in my direction.
I'm well ahead of my group and start a turn to get into position to catch them as they come off the Initial Point to the target. Ahead and to the right of me, I spot the formation as we close on each other at nearly five hundred knots. As the leader crosses my "three-nine line" (i.e. passes behind me) I reef my Mitchell hard to the left, jam the throttles to their stops, and move up to position myself in the middle of the formation. We continue to close on the target as anti-aircraft fire begins flying up at us. We buck and bounce in the stuff. Wham! Wham! Two hits shake my plane. Despite applying full throttle, I begin to straggle behind the others, dropping quickly out of the formation. I look to my right and see smoke and fire billowing from my now dead right engine. The left is out too, the propeller windmilling in the slipstream. I instinctively reach for the fire extinguishers, fuel shut off valves, and the bomb load jettison switch after feathering the props. I'm through.
As I drop through the sky, I turn in the direction of a muddy field. It is the only place to go. I lower the flaps and prepare to get out of the plane--and fast! I set the belly of my aircraft into the mud just beyond the fence surrounding the field. The Mitchell mushes into the slop and goo and I brace myself. With a severity beyond description I slam forward into the harness. I can already feel the bruises as I pop the harness release and jettison the emergency escape hatch. I climb over the top and sink into the mud. Looking around I decide I had better get the hell out of here. Slogging through the muck as fast as I can, it sucks at stubbornly at my feet and I don't get very far. A glance back at my plane sitting forlornly in the mud nearly makes me sick. What a waste of a great ship, I think to myself as I slog onward.
My crew is nowhere to be seen. I can't seem to figure out what happened to them. No time to worry about it now, I reason. I have to get the hell away from here before I'm found.
Reaching the perimeter fence, I jump over it and run through a grass field. I know I must head north so I set off in that direction. The going is good--not great, but good--and I'm making progress. I know the enemy will be looking for me and I desperately wish for some trees to hide in. As I trundle on, my sweat soaked flight suit begins to weigh me down. They'll be all over this area soon.
Before I see them, I hear them. Two jeeps full of soldiers armed with automatic rifles. If they spot me I'm history. Ducking into the grass, I hear them shouting and freeze in place. Maybe they won't notice me. I sweat and I pray. Crunch! Swish! Swish! Swish! Through the grass they come, dangerously close to me now. I have a sudden, urgent need to urinate, and begin wishing they would disappear so I can relieve myself.
"Don't move," I hear one of them say in Spanish. There is nothing I can do short of giving up. Wisely, I decide to surrender, lest I get a bullet in the head. They haul me off, throw me into the lead jeep, and we speed away. As we wind down a bumpy caliche road, I search for a way to escape, eagerly waiting for a chance to present itself. It is not long before we approach the enemy base. I instantly realize it is the same one I've just bombed.
"Oh shit," I mutter under my breath. "These guys are gonna' be pissed."
They shove me into a one-room building. The room has cedar boards running vertically down the length of the walls. There is a bunk bed along the wall to my left and window in the one across from me, some ten yards away. They leave an armed guard to watch over me, and I dare not do anything sudden because he is holding an M-16 rifle that could ventilate me quite easily. Short, dark-haired, and sweaty, he smokes a cigarette like some kind of highbrowed stogie connoisseur. I look at him and smile inwardly. I can't believe they haven't searched me, and if they don't I won't complain--I'm sure to need the .357 Magnum snub nose revolver in my boot.
Suddenly, a soldier bursts into the shack and tells the guard to come with him. They leave me alone in the room and I waste no time bolting for the window. I climb through and run like hell. Ahead I spy a tree--it's the only place for me to hide until nightfall. I climb the tree and hide in the leafy branches. If they have dogs I'm sunk.
As I peer through the leaves I spot a man being herded out into the middle of the section of the compound where I'm hiding. The grass there strikes me as being very green and freshly mowed--odd for a military compound in wartime. Soldiers armed with rifles take several steps back and face the prisoner. Oh, Christ, they are going to shoot him! There is nothing I can do. As I watch in horror, shots ring out and the prisoner crumples to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I recoil in terror. I have the eerie feeling that I can be seen from behind. I must get out of here.
Far away, I can see soldiers milling around like ants and I hear a distant rumble. More planes. Hot damn! This might be my chance to make a break for it. Explosions and confusion swallow the compound. From my vantage point I spy the enemy airfield. Might be something there. I leap from the tree and head for the perimeter fence. I jump it. The tall weeds growing along its length will help hide me as I make my way to the enemy airfield. I move quickly and reach the barbed wire fence that runs along the airfield boundary. I peek over the top and my heart leaps.
Jets!!! A group of T-33 "Shooting Star" jet trainers line the apron. Hot damn what luck! T-33's don't need external power carts to get started. My heart leaps again. All I have to do is crank one up and move out. If I can only get to one.
Lockheed T-33 "Shooting Star" Jet Trainers
Behind the jets and off to my right sits a huge hangar, its gaping mouth swallowing a whole bunch of T-33's. I look left and right. Nobody anywhere near me. If I wait, I may be caught or perhaps killed. Besides, my group might return and bomb the hell out of the planes and then I'd really be stuck.
I crawl under the fence wires and wait at the edge of the ramp on the other side. A yellow tow-tractor, the kind used to move airplanes, drives past me, its driver unaware of my presence. I make my move toward the closest row of T-33's. Reaching the first one, I remove the pitot tube cover--there is no time to remove the others--and climb the boarding ladder, throwing it to the ground as I seat myself in the front cockpit. I don the white helmet that is sitting on the edge of the canopy rim. It's a tight fit but not uncomfortable. I throw the one on the rear cockpit rim out so the canopy will close, and mutter aloud, "I hope this bitch starts."
As I engage the starter the turbine begins to spool up. Booooommmmmmmmmmmmm! A dull explosion and a roar follow as the fuel ignites. The turbine temperature reaches the green arc and I push the throttle forward. She moves.
I reach over and move the canopy position lever to CLOSED. As the canopy descends I hear machine gun fire and look over my left shoulder. A jeep races right at me, its gunner firing desperately. "Shit!" I exclaim, advancing the throttle all the way forward. I'll have to get off the ground here on the ramp, no way to reach the runway.
The jeep is closing on me rapidly. Crack! Crack! Zing! Two rounds strike the canopy as a third glances off my helmet. Good thing I put it on. The jeep closes still. My airspeed begins to build, but the edge of the ramp is rapidly approaching. Sixty knots. If I go off the edge I'll sink into the mud and grass. The jeep and the edge both closing. Eighty knots. This will have to do. I ease the stick back as the nose comes off the ground. "Fly, damn it. Fly!" I mutter as more bullets strike my wing. I feel a crunch as my wheels hit a taxiway light, but it doesn't matter. I'm in the air.
I raise the gear lever to the UP position. The position indicators barber pole and stay that way. The pins are still in the struts and so they won't budge. Damn. I move the lever back to the DOWN position. This, too, will have to do. I bank right and see the rows of T-Birds parked neatly on the spacious ramp. I search for a master arm switch, wanting nothing more than to strafe the entire lot of them. It strikes me as odd that this government we are fighting doesn't arm their T-33's with cannon. It would make it easier for them--and in this case, easier for me. I head north.
Flying low, I catch sight of a B-29 off to the side of a stretch of road. The "Superfortress" is sitting on its landing gear with the fuselage broken in half just behind the wing. Men are jumping out and running. Jeeps swarm the broken bomber. Once again I am helpless. There is nothing I can do with an unarmed T-33. Damn. I fly on, setting a course for home, vowing vengeance.
I have little time to contemplate my revenge. A flashing red light calls for my immediate attention. "LOW FUEL" it commands. Damn. I pull the stick back and climb for all I'm worth. If I don't make the river I'm as good as dead. The altimeter surges upward, though not nearly fast enough for my comfort. At fifteen thousand feet the engine whines to a stop. No need to put on my oxygen mask now. I push the stick forward slowly, using my energy to gain a few hundred more feet and then begin to set up a glide. My landing gear won't come up so the drag is going to hurt me. I drop. Ten thousand feet. If I can reach the river I'll be okay. Altimeter unwinding...eight thousand feet...I continue my fall. Damn! Five thousand feet. It isn't getting any closer. I'm not going to make it. No way. I begin to fall more quickly now, it seems. The trees rush up at me.
Suddenly, an idea flashes in my mind. The wingtip tanks might still have fuel in them. I turn on the fuel pump and select AUX on my fuel panel. I engage the starter. Nothing. The trees grow in size. "Come on!!" I pound the starter. The turbine begins to accelerate. Forty percent RPM...fifty percent. The trees get larger. I'm not gonna' make it. Seventy percent...I reach for the ejection handle. The turbine catches.
I jettison the canopy. The wind roars in my face and eyes as I close my helmet visor. I'm still flying with one hand when the tires strike the trees. I fight to keep her in the air. Whap!!! A lurch. There is a slight rise ahead and I must get clear. No way. I pull the handle. Nothing. "Shit, shit, gawddamn it!" I scream. The pins are still in the seat! The trees rush up at me. The engine and wind roar in my ears. I won't make it! The trees will rip my wings off! In desperation I hold the nose down. My airspeed builds to a sluggish one hundred fifteen knots. It will have to do. I pull back on the stick and curse. Crunch! My right wing slams a pine and I lurch further right. The airplane slews and buffets wildly. I jam the left rudder pedal and somehow she stays in the air. I clear the rise and begin a slow climb.
The wind tears at me. The plane continues to buffet. My right wing is a tangled mess of pine wood and aluminum, and fuel streams from the ruptured fuel tank. My airspeed stops building at a smidgen over two hundred knots. All the drag is hurting me, but I can see the river ahead. If I can just clear it I'll be okay.
The plane continues to buffet as I reach the river. She is becoming more unmanageable as I turn for the emergency landing field. The fuel light flashes ominously once again. The field is straight ahead. I can make it!
As I line up with the runway, tracers float past. Those bastards are shooting at me! Ignoring them, I concentrate on getting my crate on the ground. Touching down at one hundred fifty knots, as I dare not chance stalling that messed up wing, I jam on the brakes and pray. The runway is rapidly coming to an end. The brakes are smoking and squealing as I hit the paved overrun. The T-33 grinds to a stop just short of the end of the displaced threshold. I unbuckle my harness and leap out of the cockpit, running like hell. BOOOOOOOOOOOM! I'm slammed to the runway. Looking back I see my T-Bird go up in a ball of fire, smoke, and twisted steel. Armed men run up to me shouting, "Don't move, asshole!"
I explain to them who I am and insist that I am not an asshole. At first they don't believe my story, but someone in the group recognizes me and I am eventually released. They take me to my base where I head for my room. I'm damned tired and fall asleep before I hit the pillow. Suddenly, my alarm clock goes off. I stumble toward it in the darkness and realize that I'm in a hospital. "Damn," I say to myself. "What the hell...?"
Chapter Six - Chaos
The darkness that swallowed me the second time was nowhere near as prolonged as it was the first time. The blackness began to clear from the center of my field of view before spreading slowly outward. I was indeed sitting in a hospital, as evidenced by the nurses rushing over to hold me into my bed, lest I attempt to clamber out of it and bust my head again.
The details of this day are not clear. People I could not recognize came in and out of my room at steady intervals, some to poke and prod, others to lay a comforting hand on mine. As I began to regain my senses I found myself shouting the only name in the world I cared about: "Beki!" The watery figures that came in and out of my room were all met with my desperate cry. "Beki!...Beki!!!... Beki!!!!!"
I became more and more frustrated and concerned. She was not answering, and the hands that came to hold mine were not hers. I felt smothered. I could not move. It was as if my limbs were made of lead. I tried to sit up--I had to find my sweet Beki--but it was no use. Damn it! I had to find her! My frustration knew no bounds and each moment spent without her was an eternity in misery. I had met my hell.
Only after what seemed like forever did I begin to clearly see the faces of the people who came to my room. I couldn't hear what they said to me and it was then that I realized I was deaf. I panicked. I screamed as loudly as I could and tried to tear myself free from my shackles, all to no avail. Then came a nurse...and a sedative...and darkness.
My emergence from darkness to light was far better the third time. From far away I heard voices mumbling...growing louder and clearer until finally I could hear what was being said.
"Looks like he's coming around now. Dotty, come over here," a female voice echoed.
"Beki!" I yelled again. "Where is she?!"
"She's fine, Mr. Framton," came the voice. "Just relax. She's fine. Take it easy, dear. You've had a rough go of things lately. Try to relax."
"I want to see Rebeckah! Now!" I roared. "Now!!!"
"Not until you relax, Mr. Framton. You have to calm down or we'll be forced to put you back under sedation. You're going to hurt yourself." The voice again.
"I don't give a fuck!! I want to see Rebeckah! Damn you! Untie my arms! Yaaaaaaaaah!!!" I screamed some more. It was no use, of course, but I didn't know any better at the time.
After another, milder dose of sedatives I found myself whispering more than screaming--the latter took too much effort and gained too few results. Besides, the sedative made my jaw feel like seventy pounds of rock. I knew that something was wrong with Beki. Why would they refuse to bring her in immediately if she was truly all right? The question burned into the depths of my soul and resulted in some vicious anxiety. I was filled with a mortal fear that she was... I forced the thought to stop. She had to be okay. She was pure and kind...and innocent... No way she could have been... I choked the thought off once again. Over and over again, I canceled out the half-baked thought that she may be dead, but no amount of effort could prevent it from forcing itself back into my conscience.
I realized, suddenly, that the fastest way to gain the answers I sought was to play ball with the nurses. I would be a model patient.
After a brief period, I was deemed rational and the nurses removed the nylon web straps that held me to my hospital bed. I continued to ask questions about Beki, and these in turn were brushed aside. Something wasn't right. When the nurse came in to check on me I grabbed her arm as tightly as I could.
"Nurse, please. Is Beki Casey alive? You've got to tell me," I pleaded.
"For God's sake let go of me, you're hurting me!" she squealed.
I relaxed my grip. "Is she alive?" Averting my stare, the nurse turned to walk off and I jerked her back toward my bed. "Tell me or I'll break your gawddamned arm!" I demanded.
"Yes! Yes!! She's alive, now let go!" she jerked her arm out of my grasp and darted out of the room.
I sighed the biggest sigh in my then-recent memory. She was alive! My joy was short-lived, however, overshadowed by the realization that something terrible must have happened to her for everyone to keep this fact so secret. I suddenly felt warm all over and beads of sweat rose up from inside my body, stopping at a point just beneath the surface of my skin. Though far from being the most dedicated Catholic, my belief in a Supreme Being was without question, and I spent many of the coming hours locked in prayer for Beki's safety.
It was unfortunate for my newfound girlfriend that I never had much of a track record for answered prayers.
In a short time, I was met with visitors. I had made peace with the nurses as best I could, and apologized for the bruises on Nurse Karen's arm. The first people to come visit me were naturally my parents. They had been evacuated to the shelters when the SDF-1 fired its "shot heard 'round the world," and it was from them that I learned the events that had transpired since launch day.
A giant alien fleet numbering nearly a thousand warships--each at least half a mile in length--had entered Earth orbit and attacked the giant battle fortress. As Beki and I watched the fighting in Macross City, my car was attacked by one of the "Headless Ostriches" (later known as a "Regult Combat Pod"). I was flung skyward by the explosion, and the force of my impact with the ground caused me to lapse into a coma that lasted six weeks. The blast hurled poor Rebeckah sideways into a large pine tree and resulted in a shattered pelvis, ruptured spleen, bruised heart, and other severe internal injuries from which she was still recovering.
To our good fortune, a Veritech pilot departing the island to rendezvous with the SDF-1 happened to witness the attack and dispatched the Regult Pod without difficulty. Before returning to the battle cruiser, our rescuer made certain that we were transferred to a medical team on the island. The pilot, First Lieutenant (1LT) William "Wild Bill" Brubaker, had visited us both with regularity during our stay in the hospital. His had been one of the hands that frequently comforted me during my early days of consciousness, and I eagerly awaited the chance to thank him for saving my life--and more importantly, Beki's.
In a desperate effort to escape the attacking alien forces (which we would eventually come to know as the "Zentraedi") Captain Gloval attempted a still untested "hyperspace fold operation." Aiming for a jump target just beyond the moon's orbit, he executed the space fold at low altitude after a risky atmospheric re-entry. The effects were not what he had hoped for. Instead of ending up in Lunar orbit the SDF-1emerged from the fold operation near the planet Pluto! As if this were not enough of a problem, the fold carried with it the entire island and a large chunk of the surrounding ocean, along with two of the large naval vessels in Macross harbor. The battle fortress was now on its way back to Earth with seventy thousand civilian refugees crammed inside it, and with our alien adversaries in hot pursuit, the trip was sure to be a long one.
I went from sitting to standing, and from there to walking short distances within a week. I experienced frequent dizzy spells and nausea, but otherwise felt fine. By the tenth day of my emergence from the coma I was able to visit Beki's room for the first time.
I struggled out of bed that morning and forced myself to stand on wobbly legs. As I reached her door I found it difficult to breathe. I was like a nervous schoolboy as I stood by her doorway. A strange feeling of apprehension overcame me, and I began shaking from head to toe as I walked through the door. She was lying on her bed sleeping quietly, tubes and sensors in both arms as she clutched a worn teddy bear.
Reaching carefully for a chair so as not to disturb her slumber, I sat by Beki's bed, my index finger resting gently on her hand. I watched her breathing softly, her blue eyes closed as she slept. The smooth, subtle angle from her cheekbone to her chin was disrupted by a slight hint of swelling that caused me to wince unconsciously. I stared at her beautiful, peaceful face for hours until, finally, she began to stir. Her eyes opened slowly, and as they met mine, a smile--that smile, the one that captivated me like a spotlight into my soul--crossed her face.
"Jake," she said quietly, a joyful tear running slowly down her right cheek.
"Hello my dear, friend," I responded, my eyes welling up with their own tears. "How are you? You look like hell," I managed, with a joking chuckle.
Her smile broadened. "I was so worried for you. I couldn't go to see you, I...couldn't do anything. I was so afraid...you would not come out of it," she continued between sobs.
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you kiddo," I grinned. "Don't cry. Everything's going to be fine." I stroked her hair and caressed her cheek, wiping away the tears that streamed down it. "What's the story with you? Do you feel all right?"
"I'm fine, sir knight," she said weakly. "They had to do a lot of mending I'm afraid. I probably look like a patchwork quilt on the inside."
"Well, you're a strong girl, Beki. You'll be fine. We'll pull through this together," I said. "You know, this was not exactly my idea of a first date."
She laughed quietly. "I'm so tired, Jake."
"Go to sleep, honey. I'll be here when you wake up," I told her.
And with that, she nodded off to sleep.
I was released from the hospital two days after my first visit with Beki. Of course, the doctors should not have bothered--my home for the next few weeks would be Rebeckah's recovery room. I was there twenty-four hours a day, doing whatever I could to encourage her, and the determination she displayed during her physical rehabilitation program never ceased to amaze me. Even the slightest movement caused an excruciating amount of pain in Beki's pelvis, and though her therapy sessions were pure agony, Beki never cried--she was a tough and courageous cookie.
Day after day the therapists came in to work on restoring Rebeckah's range of movement and muscle strength. Within about two weeks it was decided that she had progressed far enough to try becoming a pedestrian once again. The speed of her recovery amazed everyone, and although it hurt like hell, she was walking on her own within three days. I was ecstatic. Ten weeks after suffering what had to have been one of the most devastating accidents that anyone could imagine Rebeckah Jane Casey walked--unassisted--through the hospital doors, and into a new life.
Chapter Seven - First Step
A lot had happened during our stay in the hospital. The SDF-1's ill-fated attempt to escape the alien invaders had landed us in a very bad situation. Although we had lost our pursuers temporarily, the fold engines themselves had completely disappeared! We were forced to make the trip home the hard way: a long, bloody, and grueling journey back to Earth through a swarm of alien ships.
During our stay in the hospital, we were completely isolated from what went on outside it. To our stunned amazement, Macross City was completely rebuilt inside the SDF-1 using four different decks stacked one above the other. Aside from this multi-tiered arrangement, and a few of the ship's structural members here and there, the city was not much different from what it had been before launch day. As we drove through the bustling downtown area I was struck with awe. Dance clubs, restaurants, bars, people walking the streets with shopping bags--it was all here. An entire city inside a spaceship! I couldn't believe it.
The two ships that were caught in the SDF-1's fold had been attached to the battle fortress in place of the A.R.M.D. platforms that had been destroyed during the initial attack. Thanks in part to the fact that these submersible vessels had been at battle stations during the attack--meaning all watertight doors had been sealed--the majority of the crewmembers aboard them had been rescued. With some modifications, including artificial gravity and additional airlocks, these ships and their mecha and personnel compliments now served as a vital part of the SDF-1's defense network. One of them, Daedelus, had even been used as a battering ram against an enemy ship during our first offensive victory in the rings of Saturn.
We turned down the street that led to Beki's house, and as we pulled to a stop near the curb, Nate and Joe were there to greet us. Both had enlisted in the Robotech Defense Force--Nate was a Plane Captain on Prometheus and Joe as a Destroid pilot ("Destroid" was the catchall term for the RDF's many ground mecha). Resplendent in their respective uniforms, they helped me carry all of Rebeckah's things inside. After stopping in to say hello to her parents, I said goodbye to my friends and made my way over to my new home.
Although not nearly as big as the one that we had on the island, our new house was very attractive, and considering the location--inside a vessel hurtling through space--quite large. Amazingly, the layout was almost identical to our old house, with only a few minor changes here and there to save room. As my parents fussed over my younger brother for his usual untidiness, I began to grow weary. The memories of the initial alien attack assaulted my senses, and I felt faint. Suddenly exhausted, I dragged myself upstairs to my room and headed for my bed. I needed rest. I had been through quite a lot in the past two and a half months without fully absorbing it, and my sleep was a fitful one. It would be awhile before I became accustomed to the realities that now faced me.
For the next several days, Beki and I wandered around the giant battle fortress exploring our surroundings. My favorite places were the observation decks. Staring into the blackness of space with nothing but a thin layer of Plexiglas between us and death was an eerie feeling, one which took quite a bit of getting used to. For the longest time, I stood quite some distance from the glass, one hand gripping a chair, my stomach girding as the possibility of being sucked into space loomed over me.
Beki, on the other hand, was totally fearless. It was clear she would have preferred to stand right in front of the window, but she stayed at my side, patiently waiting for me to summon the courage to walk up to the glass. In time I was able to move right up to the observation window without fear and view the flight operations unhindered. During the quiet times, when flight ops were slow, we would simply marvel at the enormity of the universe.
I learned a lot during those days on the observation deck. The stars were a thousand times brighter than they were on even the darkest Earth night, and Rebeckah took the time to point out all the different stars and constellations in the sky. Funny as it seems, seeing those tiny specks of light gave me a great deal of perspective on the universe itself, and for the first time in my life, I realized that I was not as significant a part of it as I had once thought. It was a sobering discovery, and I did a great deal of growing up as a result.
As an airplane nut, the flight operations were fascinating to watch. The flight deck of the aircraft carrier Prometheus was an extraordinary ballet. I had read about such things in books, but never before had I seen it take place. During one of our regular visits to the observation deck, as a pair of Veritechs was launched from the carrier, Beki gave me a quick reality check.
"It's really amazing what those pilots do, blasting off into oblivion like that. If anything goes wrong, they'll wander off into space never to be heard from again," she noted soberly. "I admire their courage."
"So do I. But it is you who has the real courage," I said, stroking her back softly as she stared into space. "You've come a long way, sweetie. A long way indeed."
She smiled at my comment in her captivating, soul-tugging way, then went on to discuss all that she knew about the universe. It proved to be enough to fill a thousand books, and yet, this incredible wealth of knowledge did not overshadow her wonderful innocence. She was insatiably curious, asking me to tell her all there was to know about flying airplanes. It was one of her dreams to be a pilot someday, and I vowed that if we ever made it safely back to Earth I would teach her to fly.
As the days rolled by, I learned a great deal about my newfound sweetheart, and in time, began to notice a change in myself--I had fallen for Rebeckah Casey. As I pondered the realization, I discovered that I had always been in love with her, and that with each passing day my love for her merely grew. Never before had I met a woman so eager to laugh, so strong in spirit, so willing to care. Her courage, tenderness, and intelligence were without equal--her very presence was a constant source of comfort--and I found myself yearning to never leave her side. She was truly incredible.
From the day I met her, Beki had always been an affectionate girl, and I took this to be a sign of interest. As I held her hand on the observation deck, I realized that I had to take a chance. With awkward words, I expressed my feelings for this wonderful young woman. She sat there quietly, without even the slightest expression on her face, and I sensed that I had made a mistake.
"I'm sorry, Rebeckah, I didn't mean to--"
She placed a finger over my mouth, and softly commanded me to hush. She then leaned forward and kissed me gently on the lips. As I held her tightly, she whispered into my ear, "I was wondering when you were going to get to that."
I beamed uncontrollably, a wave of euphoria washing over me as I embraced her. I couldn't stop smiling at the thought of being with her. It was sure to be a dream, I thought, as I pointed us in the direction of her house. Things couldn't have been better. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, she pulled away from me.
"What's wrong?" I asked, worried.
"Nothing. I've got something in my shoe, silly."
I laughed. "I thought you were changing your mind."
"Silly man. I'd never do that," she stated, before jumping up and hugging me tightly around the neck.
"Come on. Let's get you home."
I put my arm around her and headed in the direction of her house. As I walked past the observation window, I spotted a pair of Veritech Fighters being launched from the deck of Prometheus. My thoughts jumped for an instant to the image of 1LT Brubaker. I would have to find him and thank him as soon as possible.
"Tomorrow," I said aloud.
"What?" she said.
"Huh?" I asked. Then, realizing my gaff, "Oh, just some business to take care of," I said, as we walked down the sidewalk leading to the closed shops of Macross City.
I awoke that morning and put on my nicest set of clothes. Nervous and eager at the prospect of meeting the person who had so courageously saved my life, I began singing aloud. I didn't know what I would say to the man other than "thank you" (initiating a conversation with a stranger was never an easy task), but hopefully that would be enough to get things started. As I searched for my wallet, which I had misplaced as always, I was startled by the sound of the doorbell's ring. I jumped, adrenaline coursing through my veins, and ran to the door to see who it was. As I peered through the peephole I saw a handsome face with closely cropped hair.
I opened the door and greeted the tall fighter pilot that stood before me. "Good morning, sir. Can I help you?"
"Yes, you may. I'm Bill Brubaker. You must be Jeff," he said extending his hand.
"Yes, sir I am. I-I...was just about to..." I fumbled.
"May I come in?" the pilot asked, hintingly.
"Oh! Yeah! Sure! Please," I stammered, motioning him inside. My face flushed with embarrassment over my lack of manners. "Can I get you anything to drink, sir?"
"No, thanks," he said.
As he walked through the door I pointed to the couch. "Please, have a seat, sir."
"Thanks," he said, easing gracefully into a small Peacock Chair.
"Lieutenant, I just wanted to thank you for saving my life," I managed gracelessly. "And Beki's too, sir. I really appreciate it."
He raised his hand toward me and motioned me to stop. "Forget it, kid. It was nothing. If I'd only been there about four seconds sooner you kids wouldn't have been in the shape you were in."
"Oh, forget that, sir. If you hadn't shown up we'd be dead for sure," I insisted, sitting on a chair across from him.
"Well, I'm just glad you two pulled through okay," he said.
"Yes sir. Not a lick of trouble for me. Although I creak when I walk," I said smiling, "And Bekah squeaks on every other step."
We both laughed.
The tall, handsome pilot glanced around the room. "Nice place."
"It's better than the BOQ," he winked. "Now for some serious business, Jeff. I understand you want to be a fighter pilot, is that true?" he asked me.
"More than anything in the world, sir! More than anything!!!" I yelled, rising out of my chair to pace the floor. Talk of military flying always got me riled up.
"Well, here's the scoop kid. Your dad tells me you feel like you owe me a debt of some kind or another," he said. Which was totally true. I felt I could never reconcile my debt to this man.
"I sure do, sir. I don't know how to repay you," I said.
"Well, I know a way, son. It won't be easy, and it might be dangerous, but I have a way," he said quietly.
My stomach tightened in anticipation.
"You've got a military background, correct?"
"Well, three years at a military school, but I've gotten very soft since I was a freshman plebe."
He waved dismissively in my direction. "You're fifty steps ahead of the game. Join the RDF, son. We can use all the help we can get, and you are just the type of person we need. Strong, eager, dedicated. I've looked into your background, kid, and it's a good one. Scholastic marks are very high, you've got an aviation and military background. You're the perfect candidate."
The room fell silent. The excitement boiling up inside me was almost more than I could possibly stand. I wanted to blurt out how great it would be, but held it in. Disappointment would surely follow, so why kid myself?
"So what do you say?" Brubaker continued. "Will you help us out?"
"Well, sir, I'd love to but..." my voice choked off.
"Sir, with my eyesight they'll never let me fly. If I can't be a fighter--."
"Forget that nonsense. We need pilots. Smart pilots. Athletic pilots. Eager pilots. To be blunt, we don't have the time or the resources to continue with such subtleties. If you can see with glasses that's all we need there," he said, his voice growing louder.
"You mean I can..."
"Yes!! You can! This is your chance to fulfill your dream, Jeff!"
"Yah-hoo!!!!!" I yelled, launching myself over the coffee table. I hugged the Lieutenant with all my might. "Gawd, yes. Thank you sir! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
He grimaced slightly, as he chuckled, "No problem kid."
"So where do I sign up?" I asked him, taking a step backwards.
"I'll send someone over to talk to you about it tomorrow, how's that sound?"
"Terrific, sir. Oh boy. Thanks!" I said, shaking Brubaker's hand.
"You bet kid," he said. He glanced at his watch. "Well, I better shove off. I'll be in touch." And with that he departed.
I stood in the doorway, awestruck. My life's dream was just over the rise ahead and I couldn't believe it. I dashed across the living room for the telephone--I had to share my good news with Rebeckah. My fingers were out of control! I was so keyed up, I misdialed her number four times before I got it right. When I told her what Brubaker said she let out an excited squeal.
"Jake, that's so wonderful! I'm coming over right now!"
That night I would get very little sleep.
The following morning I was met by a short, sandy-haired RDF enlisted man.
"Hello. Jeff Framton, correct?" he asked matter-of-factly.
"Yes, sir I am."
"I'm Sergeant Hughes. Lieutenant Brubaker told me I could find you here. If you don't mind coming with me for a few hours, we'll get you checked out and on your way."
He motioned me into the passenger seat of a dark green jeep, RDF markings emblazoned on its sides. As we roared through town, a feeling of fear began to creep up on me. No longer would I be blessed with the luxury of having no responsibilities. Now I would be forced to become a man--a prospect I looked at with trepidation.
We reached the main gate, which separated the civilian and military portions of the SDF-1. Giant Battloids and Destroids guarded the fenced perimeter. An MP motioned us through as the Sergeant flashed his identification card, and we roared down a tree-lined road. As we drove past the many buildings, I saw platoons of men--most of them boys like me, really--marching and drilling everywhere. I was overcome by a feeling of remorse. Had I done the right thing? Did I really want to become a fighter pilot after all? I had been "here" before, and the thought of being run through the ringer once more by an overeager drill instructor did not sit well with me. I was scared to death. Still, I suppressed my desire to cry and bit my bottom lip. You can do this, I thought to myself. You can do this.
We pulled up to a small, white-walled, red-roofed building. A red sign proclaimed "Staff Duty Office" in bright yellow letters. I followed the Sergeant into a small waiting room with red chairs, a black and white tiled floor, white walls, and pictures of Veritech fighters hanging all about. Things apparently hadn't changed very much on this side of the fence.
"Jeff Framton to see the doc," Hughes said to the man behind the glass.
"Okay, we'll take care of him," the duty officer replied.
"I'll see you around, Framton," Hughes said to me as he walked out the door.
I sat there stupefied. "That's all?" I asked myself aloud. "Brother. So much for friendly service," I muttered. "I guess the military isn't all that different from military school after all."
I sat for what seemed like hours, counting the square tiles in the floor. This seemed such an ignominious beginning for the career of a fighter pilot. "I guess it beats getting a real job," I mumbled.
"What was that?" came a scruffy, jolly voice from around the corner.
"Sir?" I queried.
"Beats getting a real job, huh? Let me tell you kid, being a fighter pilot is the only real job there is. I'm Chief Meeks. Just call me Doc. I'm here to check you out, son," said the cherubic, round faced man, one eye cocked strangely outward. "Come with me, please."
I followed him silently.
"Hop up on the table over there," he said, motioning me toward the examination table in the center of the room. "So, you want to be a fighter pilot, eh?" he asked.
"Yes sir," I said, hopping on the table. "More than anything in the world, sir."
"Yes. I've heard about you from Lieutenant Brubaker. He's pulled a lot of strings to get you in here. Has a straight ticket for you--if you pass all your tests and such," Doc said, pointing his thick finger in my face.
"Well, sir, I hope I can make it," I managed.
"You'll make it son. You've been to military school, so you're way ahead of the game. Just keep your mouth shut and your ears open and you'll be fine. Don't volunteer for a gawddamned thing. I hope you enjoy running, son. You'll be doing plenty of that. Inhale," he ordered, placing his stethoscope on my chest.
"Jesus, Doc, do you guys intentionally put those things in a refrigerator before you use them?" I wailed, goose bumps spreading across my entire body.
"Hell yes! It's a great way to test your reflexes. Drop 'em," he said nonchalantly. This was the part I dreaded. "Cough." I coughed. "Again. Not on me!"
"Oh. Sorry, Doc."
"Some day I'm going to learn to tell you guys to turn your heads first," he said, wiping his cheek with one hand.
After enduring a few more pokes and prods--and a series of cardiovascular tests, reflex tests, and other things--I was cleared to my next stage.
"Good luck, kid," Doc said, pumping my hand. "Give 'em hell."
"I will, sir. Thanks."
And with that, I was yanked away to my next phase.
After completing a series of analytical tests, some eye tests, hearing tests, and fitness tests, I was ready to return home. SGT Hughes met me at the Staff Duty Office and drove me home.
"Report for duty tomorrow, 0600, at the base entrance. Bring your toothbrush. Be sure to say goodbye to your friends. You won't see anyone for eight weeks. Good luck." With that, he was gone--just like so many other people in my life. A face with a name. One I would never see again.
Chapter Eight - Forging Swords
I spent my last evening as a civilian with Rebeckah, and we strolled arm in arm through the streets of Macross City. Although she never complained, I could see that walking was still painful for her and decided to find a quiet place to sit and relax. I checked my watch over and over again as we walked, counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds of freedom I had left. My stomach was balled up into a knot and the urge to vomit crept up to the top of my throat. In short, I was a nervous wreck.
"Jesus, Case," I said, invoking my nickname for her as we took a seat on a park bench. "I am absolutely terrified."
"Don't be! Sweetheart, this is your dream! Everything you ever wanted is right at your feet. All you have to do is grab it!" she exclaimed. Her confidence in me was far greater than what I had for myself. Clearly she saw something in me that I did not.
"I'm afraid I won't be able to hack it," I lamented. "Hell, I'm only a kid."
"You are much more than that, Jeff. You already know how to fly for Pete's Sake. That's more than ninety percent of the others can say. Besides, airplanes are your life. You can handle anything! All you have to do is want to," she said.
"I've only been a pilot since May, honey. Hell, I barely have fifty hours, and not one minute of it is in high performance airplanes or..." I shuddered, "...a jet."
"But that's more than anyone else! If they can teach a kid off the street how to fly, then they can certainly teach you. You are ahead of the curve, Jake," she said, reaching for my hand. "I have faith in you. I know you will make it."
The look in her eyes inspired me. "Thank you, sweetheart," I sighed. "Oh geeze," I exhaled, looking at my watch.
"What?" she asked me, her eyes narrowing.
"It's getting late. I'm going to have to get home and get my stuff together."
"Oh, Jake," she said, snuggling up next to me. "I wish we could stop time."
"Me, too," I said, rising from the park bench. "Me, too."
We walked through the park and down the main drag through Macross City. I moved slowly to ease the pain that still ebbed from Beki's injuries. As we reached her house, I found that I was the one having difficulty walking, as the weight I placed upon my own shoulders became almost more than I could bear. So many people--especially Lieutenant Brubaker--had stuck their necks out for me, and I didn't want to let them down.
It was difficult to come up with anything to say. "I guess I'll see you in eight weeks, Case," I managed.
"I'll come to the fence and watch for you every day," she said.
I forced a smile. "Don't be mad at me if I can't wave to you."
"I won't, silly," she said, jabbing me in the ribs.
"I guess this is goodbye, for now."
"Yes...goodbye for now," she said.
We kissed there under the artificial moonlight for what must have been minutes, yet seemed like only seconds. I was overcome by fear and impending loneliness, and as our lips parted, I held her at arms length. "Case, I've got to tell you something..."
She looked at me, a concerned expression on her face.
My voice trembled uncontrollably as I spoke the words. "I love you, Rebeckah Jane Casey."
Her eyes widened, and a smile spread across her thin lips. "I love you, too, Jeffrey Dale Framton" she whispered, as she kissed me and hugged me tightly.
We held each other for a long time, each not wanting to let go of the other. Finally, with a reserved sigh, I backed slowly away. As she turned to enter her doorway I grabbed her hand in desperation.
"Stay with me Bekah. Please. "
"Jake! We can't do that. My parents..." she said, motioning her head toward her parents' room.
"Screw your parents. They're asleep. They'd never know. Besides, we're adults now," I said with newfound conviction. Then, almost pleadingly, "And for what it's worth...I don't want to be alone. Please...I don't want to be without you."
Her eyes stared into the depths of my soul. She glanced nervously inside her house, and then, without saying a word, she took my hand and led me to her bedroom. She closed the door quietly, and I pulled her close to me, kissing her gently. A shudder ran down my spine as we slowly undressed one another. On that quiet September evening, surrounded by the horrors of war, we learned what it meant to give and receive one of life's most precious gifts, as the SDF-1 hurtled dutifully through the cosmos.
That morning I arrived at the main gate and reported to the duty officer.
"Over there," he said, gruffly, motioning in the direction of a group of people standing by the base fence.
"Thank you, sir," I replied, turning in the direction of the cluster of adolescents. I wandered over to the fence and stood there. A nervous conversation was in progress long before I arrived.
"I hear they are really tough on new recruits," came the high-pitched voice of a young, blue-haired teen.
"Yeah, I hear they beat the snot out of anyone who even remotely screws up on anything," came another voice.
"Ha! Well, I'm not too worried about them. Drill Instructors roll off me like water on a ducks back," roared a burly, brown-haired teenager.
The conversation continued until, without warning, a booming voice shattered the peacefulness of the early morning.
"All right you malcontents! Let's move it! Over here on the double!" A lanky Marine Drill Instructor (D.I.) stomped over to where we stood in a gaggle. A hair over six feet--four feet of which started below the waist--he looked like a twig. The fury in his voice put away all doubts about his ass-kicking ability, however, and with a face that wore the deep lines of combat experience, the fifty-something D.I. pointed from his left to his right. "I want three lines from here to there! Move it, move it, move it you morons!! Times'a wastin'!! I ain't got all damned day!! Move!! Move!! Move!! Move!! Mooooooove!! "
We moved--quickly (or so we thought).
"Dress, right...dress!! " he bellowed. Dumbfounded the other recruits looked at each other wondering what to do. He exploded.
"What the hell is your fucking problem people?! I haven't got all day!! Do you not know what 'dress right' means?!!" he screamed, a look of utter stupefication on his crimson face. "Oh...my...gawd! I don't believe this. I think I'm having a heart attack!" he roared, clutching his chest. "I gotta' lie down! You turds are too damned stupid to be fighter pilots! Geeezus CHRIST an amoeba has more intellectual capacity that pathetic blob of collective goo you call brains! Let me clue you little shits in on something right now," he roared, marching back and forth within inches of the faces of those in the front rank. "Your mommy isn't going to be up there to baby-sit you worthless, insubordinate, low-life, scum sucking, good for nothing, cock-sucking pieces of shit!!! She isn't gonna' be there to explain to you what everything means!" he paused, then whipped around so that he was nose-to-nose with the big mouthed, brown-haired youth. "So you'd best figure it out!!!!!!!! "
I cringed and glanced around at the dumbfounded faces that surrounded me. I remembered Doc's admonition not to volunteer for anything, but since I appeared to be the only one who knew what was going on, I decided I'd best speak out, lest we stand in front of the main gate all day long. "Okay people, do it like this," I began, extending my left arm out so that my fingers touched the shoulder of the man to my left.
"Well what have we here, a junior drill instructor!! " the D.I. thundered. "What's your name, mother dear?"
"Framton, Sergeant." I replied, stiffly.
"Sergeant? Sergeant?!! Do I look like a damned sergeant to you boy?!" he boomed. "Count them stripes mister!! I see seven!! That makes me a 'Sergeant Major!!' I haven't been called a sergeant since the last time one of you idiots called me that and I knocked his cavity-riddled teeth out!!"
I cringed some more. This man scared the piss out of me.
"What's the matter, baby? You fixing to start crying on me?" he roared, thick, pulsating veins bulging from both sides of his oversized neck. "Don't start crying on me boy. I don't see any gawdamned fires around here so we don't have much use for a fuckin' water works! Get back over there and finish your lesson, sweetheart! You've just been appointed platoon guide... Move it!!"
I hustled over in front of the group, expecting at any moment to be throttled by our Drill Instructor. With a voice that cracked despite my best efforts to prevent it, I explained to my motley platoon what dress right meant and how to execute it. The Sergeant Major was circling me like a hawk, waiting for the right moment to pounce my guts out. When he didn't like what he saw we were on our faces doing pushups, and becoming intimately familiar with the color and texture of the SDF-1's deck plating. During my first hours under his "loving care" he saw very little that he liked.
During the entire ordeal he hurled epithets and insulted our lineage in ways more creative than any in the history of mankind. For someone with a minimal high school education, a drill instructor could find new and exciting ways to torture the English language and still maintain perfect grammar, often using words one would be hard-pressed to understand without a dictionary.
Before I knew it, we were double-timing, bags in hand, to the processing center, where we were hurriedly sized for and issued uniforms and other gear, before receiving our barracks assignments. I was assigned to Delta Company, First Platoon. After completing our processing, a stocky Sergeant named Perez marched those of us assigned to "D" Company over to the barracks, stopping several times along the way to help one of us carry our bags.
The one thing I remember most was how he went on about how he was going to wash every last one of us out, then eject us with the rest of the garbage into space. "You can take it to the bank! If I tell you a sand flea can pull a freight train, hitch him up."
We reached the tree-lined sidewalk in front of our new home, and were herded inside like cattle. The smell of mold, a direct result of the building's evaporative air conditioning system, assaulted my nostrils. Unlike what I considered the traditional barracks layout--a squad bay that stretched the length of the barracks with racks (beds) on both sides--we were assigned two to a room, with each room joined by a small head (restroom). It actually seemed hospitable to my mind's eye--although I didn't have much time to think it over.
"Turd Squad, standby!" came the thickly accented order.
The eight members of Delta Company, Third Squad immediately hit the walls on either side of our respective doors, doing our best to maintain some semblance of the position of attention.
"I am your squad leader, SGT Moreno. You may call me 'Sergeant Moreno' or 'Mister Moreno.' Replies to my questions will be 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir.' Any reply other than those previously listed will result in your swift execution! Do you read me?!" he bellowed.
"Yes, sir!" we roared.
"Very good. First thing to remember turds: when any senior military personnel are in a room you must ask for permission to carry on before entering! Do you understand?"
"Excellent. Grab your civilian shit and standby. Move!"
We ran to our rooms and grabbed our suitcases. The confusion was overwhelming as we were led down the hallway to a foyer near a stairwell. A loud din of yelling and barking consumed me. I was totally disoriented.
"Here! Take this," Sgt. Moreno ordered. "This is your 'Right Guide.' This tells you everything you must know about being a member of the RDF. Read it, memorize it, know it. Know every bit of it by heart!! Carry it wherever you go and do not forget it for any reason! Read your Right Guides!!!!!"
I opened it and began reading it.
"You moron!! This is not some knitting circle!! Read it like this!!" he roared, holding his right hand three inches in front of his face while standing fully upright. I did as I was told and he moved on to the next hapless victim after yanking my arm around so that it more closely resembled his example.
We read our Right Guides with abandon. When Moreno said "memorize it," he wasn't kidding. Chapter names and page numbers may have been mundane details in the real world, but here they were fair game. I discovered this fact by being foolish enough to turn the page before I truly had the table of contents memorized.
Moreno erupted in a volcanic tirade. "Have you memorized this, asshole?" he asked, yanking the Right Guide out of my hands.
"Yes, sir!" I responded.
"What is on page seventy-two, asshole?"
I stood there, trying to recall the information but I could not.
Moreno was not happy, and without warning, socked me right in the gut. "That's for being too smart, you fucking gringo piece of shit!!" he screamed, throwing the Right Guide at my head. "Get up!"
I stood, gasping for breath and listened as he screamed in my ear. This was his simple warning: When asked a question by a superior, the only thing that stood between us and a beating was the correct answer. I took his suggestion to heart.
One by one, the members of Third Squad were ordered into what was dubiously referred to as "The Snack Room." It seemed every training base in the world had one and I often wondered what was meant by the term. Probably a place where cadets get eaten by senior military personnel, I mused. My turn to be snacked on came quickly.
"Next!!" bellowed a voice. I marched into the room.
"You slimy piece of shit! You don't ask for permission to carry on?! Huh? Hit the deck turd!! I want fifty pushups, now!!" the voice commanded.
I was in hell. In the previous two and half years of my life I had perhaps amassed a grand total of twelve pushups--and that's being generous--yet here was this beefy gorilla of a man ordering me to do fifty!!!! Being a plebe was a dream compared to this! My arms shook as I struggled through number twenty, and something told me I would be doing a lot more of them before my ordeal was over. By some miracle, I pumped out number fifty and propped myself up on arms that burned like fire.
"Aren't you going to ask for permission to get up?" The query rattled off the walls of the barracks.
"Permission to get up, sir!!!" I roared.
"Get up turd! Get over here!"
I moved quickly to the edge of the table where the young Staff Sergeant sat. My bags were taken from me and their contents inventoried. Everything but my underwear, shoes, socks, books, and shaving kit were returned to the suitcase and placed in a pile with some other suitcases, duffel bags, etc.. Unbelievably, my collection of "contraband" proved the largest.
"You'll get this stuff back once your training is over," the Staff Sergeant said. "Next!" he bellowed, motioning me to the door that led back to the hallway. There I joined the rest of my squad mates and again began to memorize my Right Guide. It would be an interesting two months, of that I was certain. Strangely, I failed to notice that there was a giant war going on all about me. But then, I guess that was the idea, although I was too overloaded to consider it at the time.
That evening we formed up outside the barracks. We were about to meet our platoon sergeant. The way basic worked in the RDF was not quite the same as it was in "traditional" armed services. Each company was headed by a drill instructor. Beneath him were members of the Training Corps (TC) who lived in our barracks and were in direct charge of our training. The Training Corps was comprised mostly of RDF officers and NCO's (Non-Commissioned Officers) who had been injured and were not fit for combat duty. If a member of the Training Corps was simply awaiting a return to duty his assignment to the TC was temporary. To others, however, injuries of a more severe nature meant posting to the TC was permanent, and the bitterness this caused was usually vented upon unsuspecting cadets.
As we stood listening to our Drill Instructor I began to think of home--and a way to get there. The D.I.'s speech was lost on me. The only line that I can recall was his last one: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness and we damned sure don't want any atheists."
As he marched off, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. A brown-haired man, not much older than twenty, hobbled up in front of the platoon. As he turned to face us, I noticed the reason for his limp--a cast covered his entire leg below the knee. (I later discovered the former Prometheus flight deck crewman was injured while pulling a Veritech pilot out of his cracked up Valkyrie during an alien attack. Apparently just keeping his leg turned out to be a miracle, not to mention surviving. His valor was in vain, however, as the Veritech pilot had already been killed in the crash.)
"My name....is Staff Sergeant Hines. I own you now. For the next sixty days I am going to make your life hell. You are going to be more afraid of me than you will be of death. It is my job to get you in shape. Yanking a space fighter around isn't like playing a video game! You have to be in top physical condition. If you're not, you'll be dead in five minutes."
I caught a glimpse of Hines' face as he limped back and forth in front of us. He looked like a cat--or a lion--minus the whiskers, only a thousand times more ferocious.
"Normally I'd have about fourteen weeks to get you in shape, but there's this huge war going on out there...in case you didn't notice...and I have to turn you pussies into warriors in half that time," he glared contemptuously at us as he spoke. "I don't get you for as long as I would like, but what I lose in quantity I make up for with intensity. I suggest that if any of you has a problem with this...that it is too fucking bad!! Anyone who gives me lip will have this cast shoved up his ass! Do you understand?" he roared.
"Fine. Today we are going to learn how to march. And you'd best pay attention. I get very impatient repeating myself."
For five hours we suffered through drill without a break, and that evening, blistered feet notwithstanding, I fell asleep before hitting the pillow. Brubaker's words danced in my head that night, "It won't be easy." How true they were.
The following week was comprised of getting us briefed on proper military procedure, particularly close order drill. We marched everywhere--to mess, to get our gear, haircuts, etc., etc., etc.--and those places we didn't march to we double-timed to.
As the tallest member of my squad I marched directly behind SGT Moreno. Like Joe Burkett, Moreno was once a Golden Glove boxer. He was utterly ferocious, and it was obvious that the war we found ourselves in was a major inconvenience to him because it had interrupted his boxing career. This was never more evident than in the way he took to one of our squad members, Abel Honigsblum.
Abel was, quite frankly, a lard ass. It didn't help his case any that he was about as smart as a box of hammers. It really wasn't his fault, but his condition immediately attracted SGT Moreno's ire. We were marking our gear with our stamping kits one afternoon to insure that all of it was identified. Moreno, in his characteristically disconcerting manner, called for the squad to stand by. Within seconds, we were all lined up against the bulkhead at attention, and as usual, Abel was the last one out. Moreno's dark tan face turned purple with fury.
"Honigsblum!! Why are you always late you piece of shit?!"
"Eh...eh...sir..." Abel stammered.
"You are such a fat fuck Honigsblum!" Moreno exploded. He then disappeared for a moment and, after several seconds of locker banging and drawer throwing explosions, reappeared with Abel's marking kit. He fumbled with it for a few seconds then grabbed Abel by the neck and dragged him into the middle of the corridor.
"You fat fuck," he said to him. "Look this way everyone!" Moreno bellowed.
We looked timidly as Moreno took Honigsblum's belly in one hand and stamped it with the stamping marker. With one hand he folded Abel's gut in half and held it, then stepped aside as he berated the cowering recruit. "From now on, you are 'Fat Fuck' Honigsblum. If anyone calls for 'Fat Fuck' you will answer!" he boomed in his thick Mexican accent.
Abel stood in a complete state of misery, unable to utter even a single syllable in his own defense.
"What is your name, Hongisblum?" Moreno demanded, his face pulsing with anger. Hongisblum didn't have a chance to respond. "Eh...eh....I'm 'Fat Fuck!'" Moreno roared, mimicking Honigsblum perfectly. As Moreno let go with his hand, Honigsblum's belly flopped open and displayed his new nickname for everyone to see. Our squad leader then proceeded to stamp Honigsblum's forehead, T-shirt, and all his other clothes with the "FAT FUCK" moniker. The poor kid looked so pathetic that it was difficult to laugh at him, but at the same time, he looked so ridiculous I had an equally hard time refraining from doing so.
Despite the dark humor of it, I failed to see the point of this dehumanizing act. Abel was not the type of person capable of defending himself from the Moreno's of the world, and it seemed the latter was not in need of a high level of provocation to unleash his wrath upon the unsuspecting. From that moment on, as did my entire squad, I did my level best to avoid SGT Moreno.
One of the brighter episodes of my boot camp experience came on our first day at the firing range. Marksmanship is the key to being a successful fighter pilot and the lessons one learns with a rifle are directly applicable to hitting targets in a combat aircraft. The range master, a lanky Marine Sergeant Major named Brown, strode up to the podium and promptly told us how poorly we would do on our first day. "Don't worry, you will learn." He then offered a twelve-pack of soda to anyone who could put all one-hundred rounds into the target without pulling any shots out of the black bullseye.
Nobody knew of my marksmanship background, having competed in the National Small Bore Postals and other competitive rifle events. On our first day we fired twenty-five rounds from each of four shooting positions: prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing. I had successfully fired seventy-five rounds through the bull and settled into my customary, albeit unconventional, standing position. The Assistant Range Master, a cocky Saudi Arabian Sergeant named Naoom, possessed with a lack of knowledge regarding my background, wasted little time in taking the opportunity to critique my shooting style. I ignored him as best I could but finally had to ask him to leave me alone. I thought he was going to strangle me, but he managed to go on to bothering someone else. Twenty-five rounds later, the entire target from the eight ring inward was obliterated. Not a single round had strayed beyond the eight ring.
Sergeant Major Brown was flabbergasted. "Nobody has ever done that before! Everyone pulls at least one. Where did you learn to shoot like that, son?"
"Texas, sir. I come from a gun-loving family." I glared at Naoom, who stood silently at Brown's right shoulder. "I've done this sort of thing before."
Naoom's eyes narrowed. I wanted to say something to him, but instead, attempted to telepathically challenge him to a competition. Any time, anywhere, shit head.
"Well!" Brown exclaimed. "Looks like I owe someone that twelve pack. What's your favorite kind, Framton?"
"Dr. Pepper, Sergeant Major."
"You got it," he said, handing my target back to me. "Nice shooting."
I received plenty of pats on the back in the squad bay later that afternoon, but SGT MAJ Brown failed to follow through on his promise. If you happen to be reading this, sir, I'm still waiting. As for Naoom, when the final qualification scores were tabulated later in our training, the arrogant prick intentionally downgraded me from Expert to Sharpshooter. I had mentally scored the target myself before turning it in and there was no way I shot "down" to the lower qualification. It was simply his way of letting me know who was boss.
As for you, Mr. Naoom, the offer still stands. "Any time, anywhere, baby."
During morning physical training SGT Moreno often acted as platoon guide. Since we lined up by height from tallest to shortest, I marched immediately behind Moreno and assumed his post as squad leader when he acted as guide. During runs, Moreno set the pace as guide and it was my job to stay with him, since the other two squad leaders stayed aligned (dressed) based on me. It was miserable and my chest hurt almost constantly. I thought I would surely have a heart attack, Moreno ran so fast. He was doing it to break me and it took every ounce of strength to keep from crumpling into a heap on the deck.
One day, as we ran past the perimeter fence, I was on the verge of collapse. I could feel nothing other than my pounding heart and strained lungs. Just as I began to fall back, I chanced a quick look at the perimeter and saw my devoted Rebeckah standing there watching, her hands gripping the links in the fence. The knowledge that she was there, coupled with the look in her eyes, emboldened me. I ignored the pain in my chest and surged ahead.
Three miles. Four miles. Five miles. On and on we ran. Each week the distance grew, and each week Moreno ran faster. Pushups. Sit-ups. Memorize the Right Guide...What's your problem mister?!!! Martial arts training...Left face!! High diving, acrobatics, tumbling, gymnastics...cleaning the barracks...Stand by for inspection! What are you looking at?! Nothing, sir! You calling me nothing you slimy worm?! Drop and give me fifty! Slap boxing with SSGT Hines...bloody nose...
It went like a blur. Every moment was occupied. Many times during those first weeks I cried myself to sleep. I was so completely exhausted both mentally and physically I just broke down. Many times during our training, my selfless roommate, a tall, muscular Texan named Waylan Green, would take up the slack for my mistakes, saying it was he who did the poor job of sweeping instead of me. A handsome young man with chiseled features like a Greek statue, his small sacrifices during those eight weeks of hell were just enough to allow my tortured body some time to recover, and they set the tone for our relationship--and his life.
Beki did her part as well. We wrote each other every single day, and I kept a picture of her in my wall locker, hidden beneath layers of folded T-shirts. Case's letters during this time were a constant source of encouragement. I read each one of them over and over again. She expressed her love and confidence in me, and they forced me to keep trying, even when I felt I could no longer continue.
The faith both Waylan and Rebeckah placed in me was not wasted, either, for it wasn't long before I noticed a change in myself, one far more dramatic than could ever have been expected. I found that my chest hurt less and less. Just as that day three years ago, during my plebe year at military school...the day my reactions to commands became automatic...when I no longer had to think of which way to turn when my Platoon Sergeant called "Right... face!" I was being honed like fine steel, and I began to gain the confidence that comes from successfully meeting a challenge. The days began to fly by quickly, and, after having done enough pushups to bench press the Earth twice, and running far enough to make it to the moon and back, the moment we had all been waiting for finally arrived.
"Congratulations men. You made it!" Hines announced on graduation day.
We were on to flight school.
Jason W. Smith
Copyright © 1995 by Jason W. Smith
(Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual events, persons, etc. is coincidental--even if intentionally so! --June 1995)
Based on characters and situations from
Robotech, © 1985 Harmony Gold, USA, Inc.
Robotech (R) is the property of Harmony Gold. This document is in no way intended to infringe upon their rights. The author has not accepted any remuneration for this work.HTML by Robert Morgenstern
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Version Last Updated: 27 April 2000