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.
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.
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
Copyright © 1996 Robert Morgenstern
Version Last Updated: 27 April 2000