Revision Dates: 6 May 1999 / 8 May 2001 / 23 July 2001
Part Seven - Climbout
Chapter Thirty-three - Footsteps at the Door
For the weeks following the Super's first flight my time was divided between intense work on the Super VF Project and my daughter. I still flew combat periodically, but for the most part Josh and Waylan operated as a two-man team on seek and destroy missions, flying out to extreme ranges to bait the enemy into a fight. These "Lone Wolf" tactics bore tremendous fruit, and their performance reached a new level of excellence. To the surprise of no one, Josh in particular, had again resumed the torrid pace that carried him into the 100 Club, and it seemed that the 200 Club would bear his name in only a few months time.
It was a relief to get out of combat for awhile. Leaving each day to depart on a mission knowing that a bad day at the office would orphan an infant child was enough to put a tremendous strain on anyone, and I was no exception. Although I was flying the still unproven prototype of the Super Valkyrie in a grueling and hazardous test program, the bugs had nearly all been rung out. The most dangerous gremlin--a specification mismatch between the fuel transfer pumps and main fuel lines--had been fixed weeks prior, and the level of risk was now comparatively small. As it stood, I piloted the Super every third hop, and on the days when I wasn't flying it, flew chase for one of the other two test pilots--clearly one could think of riskier ventures. Any way I chose to look at it, the Super VF program allowed me the opportunity to lower my blood pressure for awhile and I welcomed it. After all, combat never became something "fun" or "routine" no matter how long one did it, and the only way to relieve stress outside of playing racquetball or lifting weights--both of which my team and I did religiously--was to stay on deck.
The Super VF Project was a lesson in precision. Every single mission had to meet a pre-planned profile and an error of so little as one knot in closure rate or one one-hundredth in Delta-V could screw up everything we were working to achieve. Maneuvers, headings, rendezvous points, and on-station times had to be met with perfection. Going into a roll at three hundred sixty-five degrees per second instead of three hundred sixty would invalidate the results and force us to lose valuable time repeating a test series. It was mentally taxing, but a welcome--if not tremendous--challenge and I took great pride in my piloting skills with each successful test mission.
The Super VF's test schedule, while grueling, was the closest thing to a routine as I had experienced since joining the Navy, and it allowed me my first true opportunity to spend a regular amount of time with my daughter. Being a father was a truly rewarding experience and I savored every moment with my baby girl. Each night, while reading, writing, and revising the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) for the Super, Casey would sleep in my lap as I held her bottle in one hand and a red pen in the other. Her breath a soft sigh, her mouth in perpetual motion as she gulped down the contents out of her bottle, I marveled at her preciousness. I wondered how it could be that I, now six feet four inches tall, had once been the size of that little bundle of innocence. The sight of her gave me a new perspective on life; a new way of looking at the world as it marched on, oblivious to anything but the collective actions of those who lived in it--and those who attacked it.
The quirks of a child are something every parent learns to appreciate and Casey's were no exception. Carrying her to the park or the store, I cherished the wide-eyed look of wonder and amazement on her face as her head, supported and controlled by neck muscles and nerve paths still under development, would flop around in an attempt to keep track of a bird or squirrel (yes, we had them aboard ship!). At other times she would wake from a nap, crying uncontrollably. I tried everything I could think of to get her to stop, but nothing worked. Finally, with a feeling of genuine concern and desperation, I decided to call the doctor. As I made my way over to the couch I needed both hands free to make the call. Lying down on the couch with Casey's stomach on my chest, I reached for the phone and began to dial. Mysteriously, she quit crying. I don't know if it was the warmth of my body, the rhythm of my breathing, or the mere fact that she was lying on her stomach that caused her to stop. Whatever the reason, I would use this method to quiet her down, and each time I did so I could not help but smile to myself. Little things like this are what make being a father the marvelous experience it is.
The morning of 06 March 2011 began just like any other. After dragging myself out of bed I started making preparations for the new day. My first action was to fix Casey her breakfast, for I had long before learned how grumpy she was when she didn't get her bottle first thing in the morning. I donned my flight suit after the ritualistic shower and shave, gave the squirt her bottle, changed her diapers, and took her to my parents' house where she would remain until I returned from duty. My parents were always glad to see the little one, and I had no worries when she was in their care. With a kiss on the cheek and a pat on the head, I handed her over to my mother before making my way to one of the three Mess Halls aboard SDF-1 where I was to meet up with Rick Hunter and James Dickson for our daily informal briefing.
Our first mission of the day, a three-hour targeting system test flight, was scheduled for 1300 hours. I was the primary chase pilot for Hunter, who would fly the Super and run it through simulated attacks against Dickson and myself. It was hoped that we could have the Super's attack software completed by March ninth, with weapons trials to begin the following week. The development of the Super was progressing at a rapid pace, and we were confident that we would meet our schedule.
The informal briefing concluded with the usual "See you on deck," and as the two pilots left the table I sat quietly, staring into my orange juice as I stirred it with a spoon. The inner peace I had felt during the previous weeks had evaporated and in its place was an overwhelming feeling of dread. I sensed something amiss, but I could not nail it down. Everything was perfect in my life. I was highly respected aboard ship, having carved for myself a reputation as a skilled fighter pilot and leader. My daughter was happy and healthy, and the opportunity of a lifetime had fallen into my lap with the assignment to the Super VF project. In addition, Waylan, Josh, and I had just received our promotions to 2nd Lieutenant, and the rumor mill had it that I would be posted as the executive officer of a squadron to be formed sometime in May. Things were clearly going my way.
Although it was true that I missed Rebeckah, I had grown accustomed to her absence, and had cordoned off that part of my mind, using the energy once devoted to mourning and self pity for more constructive purposes. It had worked well, and until now, I felt I could go on with my life like any normal, healthy person. But there was something different in the air today, and try as I might, I could not determine what.
I gulped down the last of my orange juice and stood up from the table. With an audible sigh I pushed the chair in and headed out the door to my quarters--I had some pre-flight preparation to attend to that could not wait. As I walked down the sidewalk I noticed the buzz of activity around me. Everyone was busy, doing those things that one did in our situation. Some faces were stern and focused, others were cheery and relaxed. The faces that passed me fell into no particular pattern, but were rather, just part of an irregular flow of people, on their way to do what they had to do.
I entered my quarters and pulled out my Mission Profile Folder. The MP Folder contained what was basically a detailed synopsis of future Super VF test flights, with tentative dates and the procedures to be followed on each hop. The MP Folder also had sections for "Normal Operations," "Emergency Procedures," and briefing notes--including frequencies, call signs, and post-flight remarks. The former were always being revised in order to better serve future pilots of the Super VF. All three duty pilots had a copy and we were to familiarize ourselves with the profiles for both the chase pilots and the primary test pilot for each mission. As I thumbed through the binder to find the day's mission, I sensed the feeling of dread as it weighed more on my shoulders. I decided it was best to call someone.
Reaching for the phone, I dialed Waylan's quarters. He was not in. Leaving a voice mail message would be a waste of time as he was probably out flying a mission. Josh and Max would be gone as well, as the three were flying together on the days when Hunter and I were working on the Super VF Project. There was nothing to do but to tough it out and move on.
I sat down and immersed myself in reading the day's mission profile until my concentration was abruptly shattered by the ringing of my phone. I picked it up and heard Lt. Hunter's voice.
"I need you down at SDF-1's CIC on the double," he ordered.
I set the phone in its cradle and headed out the door to the SDF-1's Combat Information Center. The CIC was the nerve center of the SDF-1. Into it flowed all the information on the location and disposition of combat units, friend and foe alike. Although the Fighter Director on the SDF-1's bridge had the final say on where fighters were to be deployed, it was here that all the real coordination was undertaken, and it was always a beehive of activity.
I walked into the CIC and was bathed in red light. All around me technicians gazed into their radar sets and issued instructions to fighters and recon aircraft. Soft radio chatter filled the air as pilots communicated with their controllers. As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, the young Lieutenant reached out and shook my hand. "Hello, Yah. We're canceled for today. Something's come up in a big way," he whispered quietly, motioning to the plotting board in the center of the room.
I took a look at the plotting board, a tall plate of glass with several hundred dots of light scattered all over it. Each dot represented a ship or fighter--blue and red for friendly fighters and recon aircraft, green and yellow for enemy cruisers and fighters--while the center of the plotting board represented the SDF-1. Small white letters beneath each dot gave information on course, bearing, distance, identification, and for friendly fighters, fuel status. Immediately, the cluster of green lights on the top left side of the glass caught my attention. The green dots were moving toward us at a slow pace, though accelerating.
"Looks like we're going to have company, CAG," I noted grimly. The reason for my unease was now clear.
"Yeah," he replied, with a seriousness that befitted his position.
I looked at the board for the designator of Igloo Team. They were just about to come aboard ship. Probably to refuel. Waylan's aircraft was displaying 7600 on its transponder, meaning an in-flight emergency. I stared at the dot for several seconds then walked over to his controller and asked what the problem was.
"Well, sir, he has an intermittent fuel pump failure so they're bringing him back aboard. I just handed him off to Prometheus Approach, so he should be on deck in about two and a half minutes," the controller said before turning back to his radar console.
"Okay. Thanks," I said, turning back to Lt. Hunter. "So, what's the plan skipper?"
"Well, we've got a real shortage of aircraft at the moment. There are a lot of tired birds out there right now and we just haven't had time to keep up with them all." The look on Hunter's face was a mixture of concern and frustration, and any doubts I had once had about his fitness to be Air Wing Commander evaporated at that moment. "I think this group up here is going to make a run on us. If they do, we're going to have no choice but to launch everything that will fly to try and buy us some time. We're going to fill Daedelus up with every Destroid she can carry and use the Daedelus Maneuver on these ships if they close in on us," he said, pointing to a group of nine Zentraedi cruisers--each one over a mile in length and capable of launching some twenty thousand fighters apiece--that were breaking away from the main force I had noticed moments before.
The "Daedelus Maneuver" was first used the previous September, shortly before Beki was released from the hospital. Considered our first offensive victory during Robotech War One, the battle culminated in the use of the Destroid-laden Daedelus as a battering ram. By placing the pinpoint barriers at the front of the carrier, huge holes could be punched into any Zentraedi ship. Once inside, the Daedelus' front loading bay was opened and a maelstrom of destruction was unleashed by the Destroids within. This maneuver had been used a second time, with less effective results, during the Battle for Bird Island. Ironically, Lt. Hunter himself had been gravely injured during that battle when his Veritech was hit by missiles fired from Daedelus, after the giant ship penetrated all the way through an attacking Thuverl Salan cruiser.
"All right, skipper. What do you want me to do?" I asked.
"I want you to take care of the Super. Don is going to have to park his bird and he'll have no choice but to fly someone else's. With you in the Super your plane is free, and I want Green to take it. You're only going to have a gun--no missiles, no armor, and no backpack unit. Keep that airplane out of Harm's Way. Do not engage the enemy except in self-defense. We need that aircraft intact, understand?"
I nodded in the affirmative.
"Okay. Get over to Promie and move that fighter. I'm going to go find Max and see what we can do to stop these guys. Good luck," he said with a grim smile.
"You too, sir."
With a final glance at the plotting board I turned and left the CIC, on my way to Prometheus' hangar deck and the Super VF.
I stepped into the Ready Room and found Waylan and Josh sitting at the table with Max. The three were drinking coffee, waiting for their planes to be refueled and refilled with oxygen before heading back out as part of the defense effort that was already gearing up.
"Hello, Max," I said, reaching for a glass of water.
"Hi, Jake. It's about to get dicey out there," he said, peering over his cup.
"Yeah. Hunter just briefed me on it. He's going to meet you at the Skull Squadron Ready Room in ten minutes."
"OH! Well, I'd better get over there," he said, standing and heading for the door. "I'll see you guys."
"Save some for us, will you?" Josh said with a mock whine.
"Don't worry, I'll leave you guys lots of little pieces!" the blue-haired one shouted over his shoulder as the Ready Room hatch closed behind him.
"What a character," Josh said with a chuckle. It was hard not to laugh at Max's antics.
"So, what's the word, Jake?" Waylan asked.
"What's wrong with your airplane, Don-Don?"
"Fuel transfer pump is shot. It'll take two hours to replace it," he said in disgust. "Those damned things just never hold together very long. That's the third one I've lost in as many weeks. The people who designed that damned thing must have had their heads up their asses." It was a common complaint. Designed to operate in every conceivable environment, the pressurized fuel system on the Valkyrie left much to be desired, and the problems inherent in the design would plague the VF-1 throughout its service life. With a fighter as complex as the Valkyrie, bugs were to be expected, and systems failures were not uncommon. All the fighter pilots could do about it was bitch & moan, groan, complain--and move on.
"Well, we don't have that much time, I'm afraid," I said, looking at my watch. "I want you to take Two-Zero-Niner. I will follow as soon as I take care of some unfinished business."
"What's going on, Jake?" Josh inquired.
"Ah, the muscle heads upstairs want me to help coordinate the counter-strike up in CIC. I'm going to try and wriggle my way out of it and meet up with you guys out there before the shooting starts," I lied. The Super VF was such a big secret that only those directly involved with it--and about half a dozen tower personnel--knew anything about it, and we were told to keep it that way.
At that moment a maintenance officer, followed closely by Lt.'s Wise, Andresen, and Martin, stuck his head into the room. "Lieutenants, 209 and 210 are ready to go."
"Thanks Chief," Waylan replied, stacking paperwork and flight gear before rising.
I turned and looked Waylan square in the eye. "I don't want a scratch on that airplane when you come back, understand?"
"Yes, sir, I do," the hulking fighter pilot said solemnly, "Don't worry. I'll take good care of her. I promise."
I nodded. It is an unwritten rule of combat flying that dying is sometimes unavoidable--getting dinked in someone else's airplane, however, is totally unforgivable.
"Good hunting, boys," I said, as I watched them walk out to their fighters, helmets in hand.
"See you on deck," Josh shouted over the din created by the startup of a dozen nuclear-armed Veritechs.
The two veteran fighter pilots proceeded to their fighters, as the ground crews scrambled frantically about them. Laden with four nuclear missiles and eight Stilettos apiece, it was hoped that they could stop--or at least slow down--the approaching Zentraedi ships. The additional mass of the nuclear weapons stuck out on the wings would seriously cut into the roll rate of the Valkyries, and their only chance of success lay in attacking the target and departing the area as fast as possible. Rolling a Veritech in this configuration took more power than usual to overcome the added mass hung on the wings, and likewise, more power to stop the inertia of a roll in progress. Attempting a close quarter dogfight would be suicide, and the Valks would have to avoid any engagements, lest they be forced to jettison their missiles short of the target. The Zentraedi fighter defense network would focus on one goal--forcing the Valks to abandon their efforts--and this gave the enemy interceptors a tremendous advantage.
Philo stood next to my "Hard Case," waiting patiently for Waylan to reach the boarding ladder. As I watched the two fighter pilots check the disposition of the weapons slung beneath the wings of their Valks, a twinge of guilt nagged at me. They were my comrades, my partners--my family--and I would be forced to watch them do battle without me. It was the most intense feeling of frustration I have ever known, but my orders were clear--"move the Super and do not engage the enemy except in self defense." I concluded that even if I were able to fly this mission, Waylan's fighter would be out of commission until long after the battle was over. Reluctantly, I accepted the fact that there was nothing I could do, and turned my attention to the task at hand.
At that moment, the SDF-1's First Officer came over the loudspeakers. "Red alert! Red alert! All Veritech pilots scramble! Scramble! This is not a drill!"
With Lisa's urgent prodding I stepped back into the Ready Room and nodded to the three pilots that had walked in moments before. With a pat on the shoulder I wished them each good luck as they scrambled out of the Ready Room, then grabbed my helmet and made my way over to the starboard maintenance section well away from the bustling activity of the main hangar deck. I flashed my ID to the guards standing in front of the doors that shielded the fighter from view, and they quickly stepped aside. Sliding the card key into the electronic lock, I entered the security code and watched as the blast doors slid open slowly. Inside I found the VTOL mode Super VF illuminated in bright white light, stripped of all her armor and boosters as she waited patiently for me to bring her to life. With eyes searching for anything amiss, I did a quick walkaround, removing the various protective covers and pulling the pins for the GU-11 gunpod and turret-mounted head lasers. Satisfied that she was ready to go, I climbed aboard and started her up. The familiar cockpit came alive with information as the systems brought themselves up to speed. Once the systems were stabilized I took a quick look around to clear the area, then walked the Valkyrie out of the hangar, turning left to make my way aft toward the tunnel connecting the Prometheus and the SDF-1.
As I walked along the striped roadway, jeeps and trucks--busy hustling fighter pilots to the Prometheus' hangar deck--made way for my passage. Without the boosters and armor the Super looked like any other Veritech Fighter, and hence, nobody seemed to even notice. As I proceeded through the tunnel air lock and turned to make my way up inside the SDF-1, I decided that the best place to go would be up near the support framework for the ship's giant leg sections. This was the strongest part of the battle fortress and the least likely to suffer major damage in the event of a serious attack.
All around me Civil Defense units were gearing up for battle, moving civilians to shelters and taking up defensive positions throughout the city. Though the likelihood of a Zentraedi boarding party was rare, the CD's were taking no chances. Most of the members of the Civil Defense Corps had never been presented with the opportunity to do combat, and as such, they moved with ferocious abandon--itching on one hand for the chance to do combat, and praying on the other they would never have to.
Moving the throttle forward ever so slightly, I brought my fighter off the deck into a hover thirty feet above the street. With a slight forward pressure on the stick I moved the Valk forward on Military Highway--an odd name for a road inside a ship, I thought--before turning left on Macross Drive. This allowed me to clear the roadway so that pilots could get to their planes as quickly as possible.
I set my center MFD to Tactical Display Mode, which gave me the view from the SDF-1's radar system, and told it to track the location of Sand Pebble Team. Waylan had just started his turn to meet Josh after launching from the catapult, and I watched as the two dots met each other before heading off to their patrol station. I then set my secondary radio to their frequency, leaving the primary on the Civil Defense freq.
The Zent ships were continuing to close, hulking, giant elephants stacked in a pyramid formation, intent on trampling the SDF-1 into the dust, with only a few tiny mosquitoes standing between them and their goal. I realized then that this was the most intense effort put forth by the Zentraedi to date, and as I hovered toward the leg framework section, the feeling of dread intensified--rivaled only by the intense frustration I felt at being forced to sit back and watch it all.
After reaching the framework section I parked my Valk in a darkened recess, making myself effectively invisible to any unwelcome eyes. The battle began to unfold before me, and I watched with apprehension as Don and Husky made their attack run on one of the giant Zentraedi cruisers. As I watched, the five dots that made up Sand Pebble Squad split in different directions before merging with the larger dot of the Zentraedi ship. The size of the Zentraedi vessel effectively blotted out the radar signature of the five Valkyries, and I held my breath for several seconds, waiting for them to reappear on the screen. After what seemed an eternity they reappeared, one by one--but only four of them had made it to the other side. The attack run on the Zentraedi ship was the last for "Martian" Martin.
I cursed bitterly at the realization that one of my boys had been lost. "Damn...damn, damn, damn!"
A skilled warrior, Martin had joined the squadron after the loss of GYSGT White. Already an experienced fighter pilot, I picked him to head my Fire Team Two for many reasons. Never one to back away from a tough task, Martin had distinguished himself well in combat, and I liked the thorough way he approached his duties. A take charge kind of person, Martian did things the way I wanted them done, and I could always count on him to put forth his best effort.
He was flying as the No. 5 aircraft in the formation and was responsible for covering the other four fighters as they made their runs on the target. His eyes focused on guarding his comrades, Martin didn't see the communications tower jutting out of the hull of the Zentraedi cruiser, or else he saw it to late. As he weaved in and out behind the other four fighters his left wing struck the tower at a closing speed of over six hundred knots, yawing his Valkyrie violently to the left, where it impacted the armored plating of the enemy vessel tail first and exploded. It was a tremendous loss.
As Sand Pebble Team exited the target in all directions, I saw Plog's command team begin its run on the second enemy cruiser. The "Surgeon" would doubtless do his usual expert job.
"Okay, Sand Pebbles, form up on me," Waylan called, his voice a full octave higher than normal. There was no doubting the adrenaline rush all four pilots were now experiencing.
"Fast Eagle Lead, Fox Seven! Fox Seven!" came Plog's excited call. He had just unleashed a pair of nuclear missiles on the Zentraedi ship, as did his Number Two.
"Sand Pebbles, keep it tight," Waylan called, his voice almost imploring them, now. The area was filled with enemy fighters, and he was reminding his pilots to stick together for mutual protection. "Let's keep our speed up here, boys. Keep your eyes open now. They'll be coming."
"Sand Pebble Lead from Two. Twelve Lawn Darts at eleven o'clock high," Josh called aloud, alerting his leader to the presence of twelve Gnerl fighter pods ahead and to the left of the Team.
"Good kill, Surgeon! Good kill! Cruiser one is down! Cruiser one is down!" It was Sprabary. "Nice shooting, Surgeon." Plog's Zentraedi cruiser had just bitten the dust, and was doubtless slinging rivets and armor plating into eternity as it erupted in a series of massive internal explosions. The crew inside would die a violent death either from the radioactive conflagration that was rushing through the ship or from explosive decompression as the cruiser came apart.
"Sand Pebbles let's ease it right a little. A little more speed here now. Stay with me, boys," Waylan continued, guiding his pilots through the maze of enemy fighters that were attempting to intercept them. Outnumbered and outgunned, it would be suicidal--not to mention ineffectual--to engage the Zents so far from the ship and the reinforcements & rearming it provided.
"Fast Eagles, let's take it left."
"Talon Squadron at the IP. We're starting our run on Cruiser Two, now. Talon's step into 'Attack.' Talon Three, close it up! Here we go!"
"Sand Pebble Lead from Four, I think those bandits have broken loose now!"
"Sand Pebble One from Fast Eagle One. Negative! Those bandits are still with you, closing at your left seven o'clock low!" Apparently Sand Pebble Four had lost visual with the bandits, and Plog wanted to insure that Waylan knew not to get complacent.
"Surgeon from Don. If I come right up here can you shoot them?"
"Rog. Come right any time."
I watched the radar link. Four dots chased by twelve who were, in turn, pursued by three others. As Waylan's group broke to the right, Plog's team cut loose.
"Fast Eagle Lead, Fox Three, heading three-three-zero, one-zero."
"Eagle Two, Fox Three."
"Eagle Three, Fox Three, Fox Three."
As I watched, a group of twelve missiles zeroed in on the enemy fighter pods. Aware that they were under attack the pods scattered in different directions in a desperate attempt to evade the fusillade unleashed upon them--but it was too late. The twelve dots disappeared from the screen as the missiles from Plog's team turned them into cosmic dust.
"Okay Sand Pebbles, let's continue to ease it right. Speed up, eyes open. Tuck it in tight here now," Waylan was steering his charges back toward the SDF-1 to provide whatever protection he could while doing his best to avoid the fighters that were attempting to intercept him.
As the four Veritechs completed their turn, a group of Gnerls made a mad dash to cut them off. Converging from all sides, there was nowhere to go now but through them, and as the fighters closed all hell broke loose.
"Sand Pebbles go to combat spread." The blips spread out slightly, forming up in pairs for better mutual defense in the event of a turning engagement.
When the enemy fighters entered into range Waylan's Team of four launched half its remaining missiles from maximum range, scoring a dozen hits. That left two dozen Zent fighters to deal with, and a salvo of missiles to avoid.
"Missile launch! Missile Launch! One o'clock!" As the missiles closed, the members of Sand Pebble Team broke in different directions, successfully evading the Zent opening volley before forming up on one another once again. As I watched, the Veritechs of Sand Pebble Squad found themselves completely surrounded, as the Zentraedi fighters launched a second volley of missiles at close range.
"Missile launch!! Missile launch!! Eleven o'clock, Sand Pebbles! Eleven o'clock!" Josh wailed over the Tac Net.
Here the battle became almost too confusing to follow, as missiles were fired by both sides and fighters careened in every possible direction. Waylan and Josh covered each other, as did Andresen and Wise. With the skill and precision that came from months of teamwork, Sand Pebble Squad scored nine kills in quick succession--but in their place came a dozen Regults to deal with, and no missiles with which to shoot at them.
"Donny break right!" Josh called.
Two missiles streaked past Waylan Green, as Joshua Kaufman engaged the pod that had fired them. He destroyed one, then another, then two more, each coming from different directions like a game of "Asteroids 2001." The pilots were holding their own as the Gnerls slashed in on them from all sides. Lieutenants "Beowulf" Andresen and Tom "Notso" Wise each "Hoovered" five apiece, and Waylan was doing his usual fearless best. But luck could not hold out forever. Sooner or later someone would slip. Sooner or later someone would be a half-second late in moving out of Harm's way. It was one of those things that sometimes happened, and sooner or later, someone would die. And someone did.
As a trio of pods closed on Lt. Wise the veteran ace turned to face them. Andresen, flitting about on Wise's blind side, was similarly engaged by another trio. As the Zentraedi fighters launched eight missiles at him there was only one thing the English Literature buff could do. He leveled his gun pod at the incoming missiles and fired. The hypersonic rounds tore out of the GU-11 like bolts of lightning, filling the sky in front of the Zentraedi volley. Six of the eight erupted into short-lived fireballs as the other two closed on him undaunted. With both eyes locked on the pair of flashing red halos on the HUD, a warning tone screaming in his ears, Andresen scooted left at the last instant, narrowly avoiding death.
Intent upon his own survival, Beo did not realize that his leader was directly behind him. The missiles were not as deprived of knowledge, however, and as Wise's last shot cleared the barrel of his GU-11 gunpod, the first missile struck his Valkyrie's right shoulder, spinning him forward and to the left. "What th--" he transmitted over the Tac Net, a fraction of a second before his uncommanded rotation put the vernier pack directly in the path of the onrushing missiles, which struck the fuel-laden thruster unit dead center. With a brilliant flash of light, Wise's Veritech disintegrated in a violent explosion that threw out a billion pieces of steel and composites each no larger than a pencil eraser.
"Pebble One from Four, I just lost Three!" Andresen screamed, near a panic. He was all alone now, surrounded by a dozen pods of various types, with only his gunpod and lasers standing between him and a funeral.
Without support, "Beowulf" Andresen would go soon, as well.
Waylan and Josh were fairing little better. "Husky is Winchester," Joshua called into the net as a Gnerl was torn to pieces by the last 55mm rounds in his gunpod. He was now out of ammo and Waylan would not be far behind.
I watched helplessly, fighting the urge to blast out of the ship through an air lock above my head. It would be a futile gesture. By the time I got there it would be too late, and I bit my lip in anger and frustration, drawing blood.
"Surgeon from Don! We need help over here in a bad way!" Waylan called. But the Surgeon had his own problems to deal with today, and the silence on the radio told Waylan that he was not going to find any help from the Fast Eagle commander.
Dispatching a pair of Regults, Waylan hollered into his radio, his breathing labored by the strain of combat, "Okay, Sand Pebbles, hold it together!! Beowulf, use your head laser. Use the head laser!" An obvious alternative, but one that could easily be forgotten in the heat of battle. Timely advice which Andresen heeded, scoring three more kills with his Battloid's single head laser, until he overheated it and found himself defenseless.
"Oh, Jesus," he muttered. As he looked around at the enemy ships that screamed in on him from all directions, Andresen saw only his impending doom. There was nothing left for him to do, and with a gritty determination that would have stunned anyone who witnessed it, he turned his Battloid toward a trio of Regult pods--and charged. "Yaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!" he screamed over the net, sure that he would die.
But the Regults had other ideas, and they scattered out of his way, two of them colliding with each other in their frantic attempt to escape the psychotic, suicidal "Micronian" pilot. Dodging cannon fire, Lt. Andresen again charged them, and again, they scattered. Two more moves of a similar nature, and the Regults decided to go after easier prey. "Beowulf" was free and clear!
"Son of a bitch!" he yelled into the net, incredulous at the realization that he was still alive. Surrounded by nothing but empty space, he dove headlong toward Green and Kaufman, intent on doing whatever he could to help his embattled comrades. As he barreled in on the Zent pods, they too, scattered in all directions. Taking up the idea, Joshua did the same, charging and shooting. Within seconds the enemy pods that had not been destroyed moved on to better game.
I was ecstatic! "Hot damn!" I yelled. "Way to go bay-bee!!!!"
The trio had pulled themselves out of a very bad situation and, with no ammo and almost no fuel remaining, the three pilots beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of the carrier, having wiped out or driven off three full divisions of attacking pods. In so doing, Waylan scored his 179th kill, Josh his 175th, and Andresen his 69th. Losing Notso was bad enough. To lose the others would have been indescribable. To have survived against such impossible odds was a remarkable feat that would go down in the history books as one of the most incredible chapters in the story of the Robotech Defense Force--one that would shortly be marred by a dark and ominous footnote.
Chapter Thirty-four - Boarding Party
As I waited in my hiding place, the Zentraedi cruisers moved in for the kill. The Valk squadrons had managed to take out five of the nine attacking cruisers, but our losses were tremendous, and with a cantankerous Main Gun, there was nothing the SDF-1 could do to stop those that remained. I girded for the blast that would destroy the battle fortress once and for all, but it never came. Instead, the Zentraedi cruisers closed on the SDF-1, setting themselves up to be hit by the Daedelus Maneuver.
As the lead Zentraedi vessel moved slowly into range, the massive transport carrier was slung back, then forward like a boxer delivering a punch. The hull of the enemy ship was no match for the kinetic energy delivered by the impact of over a million tons of steel hurtling toward it at incredible speed. The outer skin of the enemy ship buckled inward from the force of the impact before collapsing, and Daedelus was driven like a spike deep into the heart of the massive Zentraedi cruiser. As it came to a halt, the cargo doors were flung open and a division of Destroids moved in for the kill.
They barely had a chance to fire.
From behind every crevice and bulkhead, Zentraedi mecha emerged and unleashed a fusillade of tremendous proportions. The Destroid squadrons, lined up shoulder to shoulder with one another as they charged into the enemy ship, were sitting ducks. The first Zentraedi missiles hit the leader of the Raider X unit and set off a chain reaction of explosions that combined with the fire from the other Zentraedi mecha to completely destroy the Destroids massed at the front of the Daedelus.
With a wave of his hand, Khyron's number one henchman, Grel, wrote the first line of yet another page in his commander's evil legacy as he ordered his mecha teams forward into the Daedelus. Khyron Kravshera, the fanatical Zentraedi commander whose obsessive pursuit of the SDF-1 had seen him thwarted on the desert sand surrounding Mars Base Sara, repulsed over the ocean waves at Bird Island Sound, and blunted in the mountain valley of Ontario, Canada, was back with a vengeance, and history would not soon forget his treachery.
As Grel charged into the Daedelus, Khyron brought another squadron of pods into one of the SDF-1's landing bays. The blood curdling screams over the Tac Net told all that needed saying as Civil Defense units were cut to pieces with impunity by the combined attack. With only token resistance, Grel's force made its way through Daedelus and swarmed throughout the interior of the SDF-1, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake.
As fires broke out all over Macross City, I peered out from my hiding place and saw a gigantic wall of flame cascading to the roof of the battle fortress. In minutes the carnage exceeded the capabilities of the available damage control parties, and I began to fear for the safety of the ship. If the fires were allowed to continue, the entire city--and quite possibly the SDF-1 itself--would be lost.
From my vantagepoint it was clear that something drastic had to be done. Pandemonium swept through the ship, fed by the fire and destruction unleashed by Khyron's cunning, ruthless attack. My desperate attempts to get through to the bridge proved futile as my transmissions were obliterated by the frantic cries of Civil Defense pilots. Radio discipline had long since evaporated, and the channel was nothing but a mass of squealing and squelching, making communication impossible. I realized that help would not be forthcoming soon, and that my duty to protect the Super Valk would be pointless if the SDF-1 was destroyed. Drastic measures would have to be taken--and quickly.
As any Boy Scout knows, fire cannot exist without three elements: fuel, heat, and oxygen. Remove any one of the three and the fire goes out. What the fire crews could not accomplish through blood, sweat, and tears, oxygen starvation could. Ramming the throttles forward, I took my Battloid up toward the air lock over my head. Depressurizing the ship was the only alternative I could see to stopping the damage from continuing.
As my trusty Valkyrie rocketed toward the ceiling overhead I took a quick glance downward. It was total chaos. Debris littered the streets and Zentraedi mecha swarmed everywhere like ants, demolishing buildings, flipping over cars, crushing civilians and firefighters underfoot. From what I could determine, mine was the only functional Veritech Fighter inside the ship.
Reaching the air lock I brought my aircraft to a hover. In desperation I made several frantic calls to alert everyone of what was about to happen. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people milling around on the ground below--firefighters, pilots who had escaped from burning Battloids and Destroids, and civilians unable to reach the shelters. Once the air lock was opened, anything--and anyone--that was not tied or strapped down would be sucked out of the ship like cola through a straw. Without hostile environment suits, many of those on the ground would die from exposure to the cold, oxygen-free vacuum of space. I wrestled with the moral consequences of the decision I had to make. It could easily have been me sitting helplessly on the ground and another man--a pilot safe in the confines of a Veritech cockpit--about to make a decision that would determine whether I lived or died. Yet it was I, alone and protected from the harsh vacuum of space, who was about to make a decision that would kill thousands. I shut the thought out of my mind and turned toward the Air Lock Control Panel. There was simply no other choice.
After fumbling awkwardly with the control panel cover I finally broke down and ripped it off of its hinges. With a final look at the carnage below, I used my Battloid to pull the air lock control handle out before twisting it clockwise for half a turn. The green light indicating a secure air lock door changed from green to yellow to red as the door began to open. With my left hand I added power and rose into the air lock compartment itself, using the Battloid's shoulder-mounted flood lights to see the control panel. I repeated the same sequence as before and braced for the force that would pull my fighter--and nearly everything in Macross City--into space. Nothing happened.
I tried again. Nothing.
"Gawdamnit!" I cursed, pounding on the control panel. The air lock door did not budge. "Screw it," I muttered to myself, dropping back out of the air lock compartment.
Once again I made a call on the radio, but nobody answered me. The fires were growing in intensity, and time was quickly running out. Frustrated and without options, I charged into the compartment one last time in an attempt to get the air lock door to open, but my effort was in vain. In desperation I dropped back out of the air lock a second time, leveled my gun pod at the door, and with a clenched jaw, squeezed the trigger on the control stick.
The Super Valk shuddered and bucked as cannon rounds ricocheted off the armored air lock and ripped more than a dozen holes in my Battloid's arms and torso. "Gawdamn son of a bitch!!" I screamed at myself, as my Veritech fell away from the air lock in a right handed spiral. It was the stupidest move I had ever made in my life. Because they are a logical place for a boarding party to gain entrance, all air lock doors on the ship were made of reinforced armor plate. The pressure of the situation had caused me to forget the fact that a door constructed of armor plating is armored on both sides. By neglecting to note this trivial fact I had nearly shot myself down.
With the armored deck of the ship hurtling up at me, I wrestled with my wounded fighter for what seemed like eternity before regaining control, wondering the entire time how someone so stupid had been fortunate enough to have lived this long. Looking around it was clear that the fires were growing in intensity. The smoke layer that was rising to the ceiling of the ship was beginning to thicken at a precipitous rate. The ship was in big trouble and nobody seemed to be aware of this fact. Barely able to control my growing apprehension, I made another desperate attempt to get someone on the radio.
"Fast Eagle Two Zero Niner to SDF-1 bridge." A pause, but no answer. "Fast Eagle Two Zero Niner to SDF-1 bridge, this is an emergency." Another pause. "Gawdamnit, someone answer me!" I roared, banging my fist on the arm rest.
I didn't have time to worry about it. A loud series of thumps rocked my Veritech as cannon fire ripped more holes into my already riddled Battloid. "Jesus Christ, this is not my day!" I yelled, shoving everything forward in a maddening dive toward the orange-red inferno below. I didn't know who was shooting at me, nor did I care. What I did know, however, was that I was failing miserably in my duty to protect the Super Valk and the only way to avoid becoming a statistic was to reach cover as quickly as possible.
I slammed onto the ground and ducked behind one of the few buildings in the city that was not burning. With my Valk's gun pod at the ready and my Battloid's back facing the wall, I braced for the onslaught that would soon come. A glint of light off the windows on the building to my left attracted my attention. A missile-armed Regult Heavy Artillery Pod was attempting to sneak up on me, doubtless covered by a dozen others. I took a quick look to the right. Seeing nothing, I darted across the street, hoping like hell to avoid contact. It was a cat and mouse game and I was anything but thrilled to be playing.
I succeeded in crossing the block without being seen. Taking a left at the next street, I ran halfway down it before ducking to the right into a darkened, dead end street. With my back to the wall and a support beam over my head, there was only one way to go if they succeeded in tracking me--and I'd never walked a Valk through a building before. Peering cautiously around the corner I watched as the Heavy Artillery Regult walked past. Right behind him came five others. I was thankful to have avoided them and hoped they would not double back and find me. It was like playing chess and not being able to see your opponent's pieces--though the stakes in this game were far higher.
As I pondered my next move, the staccato rumble of cannon fire pierced the serenity of my darkened cockpit. A pair of loud explosions followed as debris flew back from where I expected the Regults to be. Bright flashes lit the darkness throwing macabre shadows on the walls of nearby buildings as a pair of pods beat a hasty retreat, pursued by the darkened silhouette of a Battloid that rushed by directly behind them, its GU-11 spewing fire.
Opening my faceplate, I removed my gloves and blew on my palms to dry them. Then, with a deep breath, I moved cautiously from my hiding place, heading back in the direction from which I had just retreated. The fires continued to grow, and I could feel my nerves beginning to fray. At that moment, the shadow of a Glaug Combat Pod leapt from around the corner and I instinctively pulled the trigger on my GU-11. It was a mistake, and I knew it, but my reflexes out paced the signals from my brain, and even though I instantly released my pull and yanked the stick up and to the right, a dozen rounds screamed out of the tri-barreled cannon in my Battloid's right hand. Time slowed to a snail's pace, and as I watched, eight of the rounds struck the Battloid Mode Valkyrie dead center, the other four hitting an apartment complex across the street. The Battloid staggered backward, then toppled onto its back, one hand clawing for the sky, its gun pod firing into the air in defiance before running out of ammunition.
"Holy shit!" I yelled, dashing toward the crumpled Veritech.
Seconds later, a pair of Regult Light Artillery Pods appeared from around the corner and unleashed a hornet's nest of missiles at close range. I didn't have a chance to react as the missiles screamed toward me, corkscrewing wildly. I closed my eyes, and knowing it would be the last conscious act I would ever make, sprayed the area in front of me with the gun pod. I felt a thump translate itself through my Battloid's frame and braced for the explosion that would kill me. "Well, you've done it now," I thought to myself as I waited for the searing heat that would turn me to ash. And waited...and waited...and waited... But it never came.
Opening my eyes in disbelief, I found only devastation and ruin. Shrapnel, rubble, and debris littered the streets. The Regults were no more. All that remained of them was a pair of burned out hulks, surrounded by flaming pieces of wreckage. Yanking and stomping on the controls, I staggered awkwardly toward the Battloid I had destroyed only moments before. Kneeling beside the charred and riddled torso, I shined my shoulder lights into the blackened pilot's compartment. The rounds from my GU-11 had torn right through the cockpit, one of them drilling a hole nearly three feet in diameter that destroyed everything--instrument panel, ejection seat, everything--from the pilot's chest downward. The pilot's charred upper body still clutched the controls of the burned out, blood stained cockpit. The sight made me gag.
Uncinching the sleeve of my flight suit, I retched uncontrollably before heaving my guts out until I thought I might never stop. Tears filled my eyes, the acidic taste of bile simply overwhelming me. Cinching the sleeve of my flight suit back up, I looked up from the broken fighter, filled with shock, rage, and disbelief. The buildings in front of and beside me were riddled with cannon holes. Turning slowly to my left, the devastation continued. The buildings behind me were completely wiped out--now nothing more than piles of broken concrete and steel--destroyed by the missiles that had been intended for me. As I continued to turn to my left, I saw the building that had been on my right side when the Zentraedi had fired on me. It was no longer standing--the handiwork of the only missile to hit my fighter. Launched at close range it had failed to arm itself, ricocheted off my Battloid's right leg, and slammed into the first floor of the building beside me, collapsing it.
I placed my hands on my helmet and thought, "Holy shit...what have I done?" I simply couldn't believe what had happened.
After several moments, I decided it was time to get going. The fires that raged throughout the ship were closing on me, and I had to get out of their path. The explosions in this area would doubtless attract attention as well, and prudence dictated that I move out. With a salute to the fighter pilot I had just killed, I made my way toward the street and walked past the Regult pods, fighting the urge to empty my gun pod into their mangled carcasses.
I reached for the switch to turn off the shoulder mounted lights when the rubble began to move in the right corner of my field of view. Training the lights in that direction I saw a pale hand reaching out of the debris that littered the street. Moving my Valk as quickly as I dared, I found myself looking down on an ivory skinned, dark-haired young woman. She was trapped by the debris from the apartment complex I had hit with my gun pod.
"Oh, Christ," I muttered, switching my Valk into Guardian mode. Looking around I saw more bodies. Switching to Guard frequency I made an emergency call in the blind, praying to myself that someone would hear me. "This is Lt. Framton on Guard. I've got wounded people at the corner of Delrose and 14th streets! I need paramedics here on the double!"
Popping my harness off with one hand and opening the canopy with the other, I threw my helmet out of the cockpit and leapt from the ejection seat. I ran up to the first girl, the front landing lights of my Veritech casting eerie shadows on the walls. Kneeling beside her head, I stroked that beautiful pained face with my hands. No older than twenty, she looked up at me with piercing blue eyes that seemed to say, "Please...don't let me die--not here." She could not speak, and I tried to reassure her that she would be all right
"Hold on, sweetheart, you're doing fine," I said to her. It was a lie. She was anything but fine, and she was losing blood at a steady rate. As she clutched my hand, fighting desperately for her life, I realized that if help did not come soon, this beautiful, innocent woman would not live through the hour.
Looking to the right I saw the apartment complex where the young girl lived. The reason for her condition was clear. One of the rounds from my cannon had torn into the room where she had been huddling during the attack. When the building collapsed, she fell out onto the street, only to be buried by thousands of pounds of concrete.
With all the force I could muster, I struggled with the rubble that pinned her, but my efforts were in vain. I held her hand and caressed her face in the harsh white light that played from my Valkyrie. Searching desperately for help that had yet to arrive, I did my best to put on a good face. All around me lay dead and dying people, but I could not leave the brown-haired girl--I knew in my heart that if I left her, she would die. For more than forty minutes I sat there in the rubble with the young woman. Still no help arrived, and I could see her beginning to slip away from blood loss.
As the fires around us began to die down, she smiled at me weakly and with a quiet sigh, her pupils dilated...and she was dead. I started CPR immediately, but my effort was futile. Less than a minute after her last breath, the first paramedics arrived on the scene. Too late to help anyone--too late, once again.
In a daze, I pointed to all the bodies around me before staggering weakly to my Guardian and blasting off toward the Prometheus' hangar deck. I had seen and done enough killing to last a lifetime--there was no point in viewing my handiwork any longer.
Chapter Thirty-five - Operational Losses
Khyron's attack devastated Macross City and depleted a large portion of the ship's emergency oxygen supply. The fires roaring through the city caused the oxygen systems to turn on. Corrosion from the ship's long stay at Macross Island caused the temperature shutoff switches to fail. Thousands died. Entire families were wiped out. Indeed, the attack on the SDF-1 proved to be the turning point in the First Robotech War, but not for the reasons we thought at the time.
For two of the previous three months a trio of Zentraedi spies had made themselves a home aboard the ship. Searching for information that would help the Zentraedi recapture the SDF-1, the spies found the openness and freedom aboard the battle fortress--qualities that contrasted greatly the strict lifestyle they had known as soldiers--irresistibly appealing. Upon returning to their ship, the spies spread the word among their fellow troops and shared some of the things they had garnered while aboard the battle fortress: food, music, and tales of the things humans did with one another. In time, the entire Zentraedi fleet found itself filled with soldiers who wanted to experience the Micronian culture for themselves--particularly the music of a young singer named Lynn Minmei.
Lynn Minmei was quite possibly the single-most famous human of the First Robotech War. A Japanese native of Chinese ancestry, she had emigrated to the Island with her aunt and uncle in pursuit of the tremendous economic opportunities the rebuilding project provided. With typical Asian entrepreneuristic fervor, they opened a Chinese restaurant that was perhaps the most popular restaurant in the entire city. When the Zentraedi attacked on the day of the SDF-1's maiden flight Minmei was rescued by a wet-behind-the-ears civilian pilot named Rick Hunter--yes, that Rick Hunter. A short-lived romance blossomed, but it was not to be.
Once Macross City had been rebuilt inside the ship, a beauty contest was held, and as fate would have it, Minmei was chosen the winner. What ensued was quite possibly one of the strangest events of the war. Perhaps it was because she was the first. Perhaps it was because there was simply no one else. It certainly wasn't because she had a good voice--she couldn't carry a tune if it was handed to her in a bucket. For reasons I to this day cannot understand, Minmei became the entertainment queen of the ship, and Rick Hunter suddenly became a very low priority on her agenda. Albums, concerts, movies. The people aboard the SDF-1--Josh Kaufman and Max Sterling notwithstanding--simply couldn't get enough of her, and neither could the three Zentraedi spies.
Historians have stated that the Zentraedi culture was not only harshly regimented, but unemotional, cold, and "completely devoid of any pleasure-seeking" as well. As a member of a race that was highly segregated along gender lines, the average Zentraedi was not exposed to the things Westernized cultures have taken for granted for centuries--sexuality, excessiveness, and an almost unrestricted freedom to do as one pleased.
When his forces charged into the ramming arm, Khyron he had no way of knowing that many of his own troops were "infected" by the desire to live a different life. Carrying with them small "Singing Minmei" dolls, a huge number of Zentraedi broke away from their formations and went searching for the young Chinese singer. They wanted to meet for themselves the teenage girl they had only seen on record labels, and whose voice they had only heard on Compact Discs and tapes.
The mass defections that occurred on that hellish day may have done more to save the SDF-1 than anything her crew could have, for Khyron became so enraged that he began killing his own troops--and any others who stood in his way. By the time he finally withdrew it was nearly impossible to tell who had killed more Zentraedi--the shipboard defense network or Khyron himself.
Still, the defections did not happen early enough to prevent the massive devastation that swept through the battle fortress. Nearly every building in Macross City was damaged or destroyed, three quarters of the ships mobile defenses--Destroids, Valkyries, etc.--were wiped out, and thousands of people were maimed or killed. As we learned firsthand, Khyron was not one to hesitate in mauling helpless civilians who found themselves trapped in the open.
Our own losses were tremendous. More than half the bunks in the barracks were empty and we lost some of our best aviators. Of the eleven Fast Eagle pilots who sortied that day, three--Wise, Martin, and Mitchell--failed to return. Compared to the shipboard average, my squadron was lucky, but it did little to ease the emotional scars our losses caused.
Losing Lt. Brian Mitchell proved to be particularly disturbing. Having survived an underwater ejection the previous March, he fought to get back on flight status and his determination was an inspiration to everyone. His fondness for barbecued chicken was so overwhelming that it bordered on addiction, and was a constant source of merriment to his fellow pilots. When it came to bar fights, dog fights, or an argument with an overbearing superior officer, he was one person to be on good terms with and could always be counted on to watch your back in a crunch. Brian was among the hardest working pilots aboard ship before his accident, and flew far more missions than any of his contemporaries. After his return to flight status, the dashing young ace spent countless hours in the simulators in ceaseless quest of ways to improve his skills. The unfortunate part of it was that despite his best efforts, this highly regarded veteran never regained the form he possessed before his accident, and I have no doubt that the time he spent away from the cockpit contributed to his untimely death.
The bad news didn't stop there. Lieutenant Joe "Punchy" Burkett--one of two friends who was with me the day I met Rebeckah--was killed when Grel's troops opened fire on the Destroids inside Daedelus. Caught in the middle of the formation with nowhere to run, duck, or hide, Joe was gunned down in a hail of laser and cannon fire, bringing to an ignominious end the life of a tremendous person. I was crushed by the news, which took me completely by surprise. In recent months I had not spent nearly as much time with Joe as I should have, always finding excuses to put off a visit to see him. I behaved in this way because I never expected anything to happen to my closest friends--especially this talented warrior. Despite the tremendous odds against us, I felt that we would eventually wear down the enemy's resolve and emerge victorious. Things would return to normal then, and friendships would pick up where they had left off, strengthened by the challenges we had faced and conquered. Sadly, this grandiose fantasy was not to be, and now that Joe was gone, I felt overwhelmingly guilty for taking his presence for granted. I could only hope that in his last moments he did not hold my failing against me.
There was good news to go with the bad. Joshua, Waylan, and Andresen were recommended for the RDFC for their actions on that fateful March day. The trio posted a rare triple double to go with their shared cruiser kill, scoring eighteen, fifteen, and ten kills respectively--the vast majority with guns only. When the Zentraedi sent a second attack force after the SDF-1, Waylan and Josh vaulted into themselves into the "200 Club" during a short, fifteen minute dogfight, flaming eight fighters apiece. Waylan's toll now stood at 202 confirmed kills with Josh only one behind at 201 (by comparison, my total stood at an anemic 137). In truth, their totals were probably closer to 300, but despite modern technology our ability to confirm victories was rather dismal.
Such high scores may seem unreasonably common. The layman might sit back and ask aloud, "How the hell can someone score three hundred kills in eighteen months?" When one considers the extraordinary lethality of the fighters of the day, the effects of damage on a craft flying in vacuum, and the incredible abilities of such fighter pilots as Fokker, Green, Sterling, and Kaufman, these scores become much more reasonable. Never before in the history of armed conflict did such a lethal combination exist, and the successes and failures of our fighter pilots during the First Robotech War provided history with a stunningly graphic first look at the future of warfare.
The story of that fateful day would not be complete without mentioning the performances of Lt.'s Plog and Sprabary. In an incredible display of courage and skill, Lt. Plog's command team destroyed two cruisers and assisted with a third. Plog and Sprabary were each credited with the destruction of a Thuverl Salan battle cruiser and a partial on a third. In the dogfight that followed, Plog passed Bill Brubaker for third place, bringing his total to two hundred eighty-six confirmed victories. Only Vince Kramer and Roy Fokker had higher scores. All told the pilots of Fast Eagle squadron accounted for four Zentraedi cruisers to go with a thirty-three-to-one kill ratio in the dogfight that followed. An outstanding performance by any standard, it was a sad defeat for the losses we suffered.
We could not ignore the loss of three of our comrades, and the tone in the ready room was a somber one for the members of VF-12. When one considered the odds we had faced and the losses suffered by the other squadrons, losing three pilots was getting off easy. Even so, there was not a single Streak Eagle who took solace in the fact that we had done "better than average." The loss of three squadron mates turned what would otherwise have been an awful day into one that was so terrible it could only be spoken of in soft whispers.
The odds against us were mounting. We were fighting an enemy that to this point had held back the overwhelming majority of his forces. History would later show this to be the result of the Zentraedi's need to capture the space fortress completely intact. In that vein, even when outnumbered a hundred to one, our enemy was launching nothing more than harassment raids against us. Had they wanted to--had it occurred to them to try--an all-out assault with every fighter in the fleet would have cut us down in short order, but it was an option that continued to be ignored.
For me, the hours spent inside the SDF-1 during Khyron's attack and the aftermath that followed had been something of a nightmare, and I found myself reliving them over and over again. The face of the brown-haired girl was indelibly etched into my mind, and in quiet moments, haunts me to this day. A hastily convened board of inquiry reviewed the incident that caused her death, and that of the Veritech pilot. The board determined that my identification error was the result of extensive fatigue coupled with stress, and so no official reprimand was handed down. It was a fact that did little to comfort me in what I had done. Although friendly fire incidents are a fact of life as old as warfare itself, one can find little excuse for them. There are those that believe the day will come when such incidents are a thing of the past, but I won't hold out hope. Instead, I will carry that day with me for eternity and work as hard as I can to insure it never happens again.
The incident served as an interesting object lesson on the camaraderie between aviators. In the days that followed the incident I expected to be regarded somewhat coldly by my fellow warriors. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Everywhere I turned came a soft-spoken "Hang in there" or a pat on the back and a reassuring nod. Both Waylan and Josh spent as much time with me as their schedules allowed, providing moral support. Rick Hunter, concerned about the effects of the day's action, and on the recommendation of the board, took me off flight status for three days. "I need you at one hundred and fifty percent when we resume the test program for the Super. Try and forget what has happened. It's the shits, I know, but try to stop dwelling on it--it will eat you alive if you don't."
I did my best to heed Hunter's sage words, but I was not successful. At night I would toss and turn and re-live the nightmare over and over again, only to awake in a cold sweat, so scared out of my mind that sleep for the rest of the night was impossible. The pilot I killed had a family--a wife and kids. They were told he died while engaged against a superior enemy force, but they did not hear how it had actually happened. Surely they deserve to know the truth. Surely they deserve to know the details of his tragic death. But I don't know if they ever will. Perhaps one day I will have courage to face them on my own, though I find myself doubting it will ever happen.
Time will tell.
For the three days off I decided that it would be prudent to spend time with my family. I had not been with them nearly enough in the recent past. The pain of the previous action was overwhelming, and it consumed my being. I sat down with my father and spoke to him of the events that had occurred, hoping that sharing my pain would make it go away. It didn't.
During those days I spent much of my time going for walks. During these moments of solitude I would find myself speaking aloud to God, asking--begging--Him to forgive me for what I had done, but my conscience did not let me be. The image of the riddled Battloid, the face of the youthful girl looking to me to save her, the dead bodies and burning buildings of Macross City, all combined into a swirling reminder of the horrors of war--a kind of demented slide show in my mind. Nothing I did could make it go away.
In desperation, I ventured over to a local bar that had somehow survived the devastation of Khyron's attack and proceeded to get completely smashed. The place was surprisingly deserted, and after choking down so much alcohol I thought I'd explode, I staggered down the street toward home. I never made it that far.
My next conscious thought was of Joshua and Waylan leaning over me, concerned expressions on their faces.
"Jake...come on Jake...Wake up!" Waylan implored me, slapping the side of my face, his voice sounding as if it was coming from a long tunnel. "Jake! Come on...snap out of it boy."
"He's coming around," came Josh's voice. "Let's get him on his feet. We've got to get him moving before he overdoses on us."
The two fighter pilots heaved me onto my feet, where I found myself unable to stand on rubbery legs.
"Jesus, Jake, how much did you have for God's sake?" Waylan asked rhetorically. "Come on big man, stand up for me. 'Atta' boy."
My head was spinning and it hurt like hell. Everything was shimmering like a tarmac on a hot day, and I began retching uncontrollably before heaving my guts out--just as I did when I looked into the cockpit of that Battloid.
"That's it! Get it out of there Jake," Waylan said, patting my back with a free hand.
The taste of stomach acid was present in spades, and I yearned for a drink of water. "Wh-where am I?" I asked, my words horribly slurred by the lingering effects of alcohol.
"You're with us, buddy. We're going to take you home," Josh responded.
"I don't want to go home...Leave me out here..wuh...with the ruh-ruh rest of the s-s-snakes..."
It was the wrong thing to say, as Waylan was not in the mood for self-pity. "Gawdamnit, Jake! Cut out the whining! I'm sick of this petty bullshit!" He lifted me off the floor by my uniform blouse and shook me violently. " Pull yourself together, damn you, or I'll drop kick your ass through the observation window!" His action had the desired effect--I began to sober up immediately.
"All right...Don. All right... You've made your point. Just...just take me home," I managed.
The hulking fighter pilot set me down and with Josh's help, began escorting me to my quarters. The two warriors chatted with me and I spoke of what had happened, even though they had heard it before.
"Those things happen, Jake. You've got to let go of it and move on," Josh said.
"Exactly," Waylan added. "War is a horrible thing and freedom isn't free. It is paid for with the blood of patriots--bought through the sacrifices of a few. We are that few. Those people that died the other day were that few. It was a mistake that anyone could have made, and you can't beat yourself up over it. You have an obligation to go forward from here and do the best you can. You can't do that through self-pity, and you damned sure can't do it by drinking."
"Yeah...I know," I replied, before vomiting once again. "Oh, Jesus, I'm sick..."
"You sure as hell are," Josh stated, stifling a laugh. "I hope you've learned your lesson."
The two fighter pilots carried me up the stairs to my quarters, where they pulled up a couch and watched over me through the night. I had consumed enough booze to kill a horse, and they wanted to be sure that nothing happened to me while I slept. Throughout the night I called out in my sleep as I relived the events of that horrible day--these dreams would continue for a long time. When I awoke the next morning my head was ringing like a church bell, and my stomach protested my excess. It took eight hours for me to get over the effects of the previous evening's binge, and I learned the hard way that alcohol did not solve one's problems, it merely created new ones.
The mass of Zentraedi defections during Khyron's assault on the SDF-1 proved to be one of the most unusual, not to mention timely, events of the First Robotech War. The three Zentraedi spies--Rico, Bron, and Konda--came forward to seek asylum aboard the battle fortress. Over the firm objections of Col. Maistroff, Capt. Gloval accepted the aliens' request, and they became official residents of the ship. A series of tests had revealed that the Zentraedi's genetic makeup was almost indistinguishable from that of Homo sapiens, suggesting a common ancestry. Maistroff, ever the closed-minded fool, refused to believe the tests and threatened to contact the United Earth Council and have Gloval's decision overturned.
This brought us to the fateful day of 20 March 2011. A shuttle flight was scheduled to take SDF-1's First Officer, CDR Lisa Hayes, to Earth in a last ditch effort to drum up support for the theory that the Zentraedi could be negotiated with. Recent revelations had shown that the Zentraedi could indeed be peaceful, and CDR Hayes was determined to convince the UEC that an attempt to negotiate peace with the Zentraedi would bear fruit. Her father was an Admiral on the council, and she felt that if no one else would listen to her, perhaps he would.
As preparations for the mission were getting under way, I was busy sipping on some water in the Ready Room. The Super Valk weapons test had been scrubbed because of the shuttle mission. Max Sterling, as commander of the escort group, had hand picked the pilots who would go on the mission. Waylan was scheduled to fly as part of the shuttle escort group, and I was reassigned to "Ready Five." Ready Five pilots had to be prepared to launch with only five minutes advanced notice, which meant that we were never far from our planes. As I sat waiting for the fighters to be armed and fueled, I sensed some uneasiness in my wingman.
"Hey, Don. Is something wrong?" I asked.
"Yeah, Jake, there is," he managed to say.
"Well spit it out."
"I don't want to fly with Max today," Waylan said.
I almost choked on my water. "What do you mean you don't want to fly with Max?"
"I've just got a bad feeling," he said, a puzzled look on his face.
"Aw come on, Don. This is Max we're talking about here. Max Sterling," I stated.
He looked down at his kneeboard as it sat alone on the center of the table. "Yeah, I know. But I'd rather fly with you or Husky." He said it without fear or whining. It was a simple matter-of-fact statement of preference, nothing more.
I reached across the table and patted my friend on the arm. "Listen, pal, you'll be fine. It's a simple escort mission--a milk run. You won't have any problems. Besides, you're a great pilot and you've got the 'Blue Devil' over there to watch over you if it gets hot. Hey, you know he asked for you personally. You don't want to turn him down do you?"
Waylan stared at the wall to his left. "No, I guess not."
"I didn't think so. Just relax. You'll be fine."
"That a boy."
A brief silence descended upon us, before he spoke again. "You know, I've been thinking. When is the dying going to stop?" It was a rhetorical question, sighed aloud to no one in particular.
I seized the opportunity to jump in. "Perhaps it will end today, Donny. Who knows? Perhaps it ended when they tore our ship all to hell," I stated with all the conviction I could muster as I stared through the wall in the direction of the SDF-1. It came out sounding hollow.
"The truth of the matter is it will end when we're all dead. Out numbered nine million to one... Are we insane? Why are we kidding ourselves?"
"Because we have the home planet advantage, that's why," I joked, hoping to derail Don's uncharacteristically negative train of thought. Of course, he was absolutely correct. Our enemy was using only a fraction of his available force. If he chose to up the ante, we would fold.
We sat in silence for several minutes, each of us studying the mission plan. If one of the escorts had to abort I would be the first fighter to take his place, and I realized that I had yet to preflight my airplane. Standing from the table, I patted Waylan's shoulder and tried to encourage him.
"Relax, partner. You'll be fine. I'll talk to you when you get back."
"Aye, sir," he said, with a joking, half-assed salute that belied the underlying unease he clearly felt.
I returned it with equal nonchalance and a middle finger. Waylan's actions were simply physical proof of the pre-mission jitters that struck us all and I had no doubts that he would be fine. Flying off into space with nothing to protect you but a few inches of steel and glass was enough to make anyone sick to their stomach. In this regard Don was no different than any of us, yet even under these direst of circumstances he spoke in a matter of fact tone completely devoid of fear. He was not complaining or lamenting and went about his duties with his usual thorough and dignified manner. There are few certainties in life, but one thing is beyond question: Waylan J. Green was a very brave man.
"I'll see you on deck," I said to him before turning on my heel in search of Max Sterling. I had a favor to ask of him.
"Yeah. See ya'," he replied.
As I walked into the hangar deck and made my way to Skull Squadron's ready room, I was entranced by the beehive of activity. The electricity in the air was powerful. All around, ground crews were bustling to get the escort force of Veritechs and Ghosts ready for launch, and I felt an overwhelming sense of pride in being a part of this outstanding group of people.
Peeking into the Skull Squadron's ready room I found it empty. Glancing around the Veritech-laden hangar bay, I spotted Max talking to a pair of fighter pilots I did not recognize. Walking over to where he was standing, I crept up behind "The Flying Genius" as quietly as I could, and waited patiently for him to finish his chat with the two aviators.
"Any questions?" he asked them.
"Very well. I'll see you on deck in fifteen minutes."
"Aye aye, sir," the pilots responded in unison.
"Carry on," he said, before turning in a deliberately slow about face. "Hello, Lt. Jake," he said with a smile, his bright blue eyes flashing mischievously.
"Jesus you must have eyes in the back of your head."
"Nah. I just saw you in the reflection off the paint on that bird there," he said, pointing over his shoulder to a shiny tan Valkyrie. "You're on Ready Five, aren't you?"
"What can I do for you?"
"It's not a big deal, really, but uh... Look, Don's a little jumpy for some reason. I don't know why, but I'd sure appreciate it if you'd keep an eye on him for me."
"What's the problem?" Max asked me with a raised eyebrow.
"He's a little nervous about flying today. I don't know why and I can't think of any reason for it. You guys will be home free before I can get a soda out of the machine," I said, smiling.
"Yeah, well, I'll watch him. No problem."
"Thanks, buddy," I said, shaking Max's hand.
"Don't mention it."
We turned and began walking down toward Max's Valk, sitting patiently at the far end of the hangar bay. On both sides of us, parked wingtip to wingtip, were scores of shiny new tan and white Valkyries. I marveled at their sleek lines as we passed them and smiled. The assembly facility, freshly stocked with new parts, was putting out replacements quicker than ever, and it was good to see. The new fighters carried provisions for the attachment of the Super VF hardware and I could barely contain my excitement. The Super would be a giant thorn--no, a tree--in the side of the Zentraedi. It was our best chance to swing the odds back closer toward our favor. No longer would we come home to barracks that were only half full. It would soon be pay back time.
As we talked about recent events, an announcement over the loudspeaker caught our attention. "Shuttle escort group you will be reporting for special duty assignment on Flight Deck A in five minutes." It was Samantha Porter's voice.
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.).
"Sammy must be substituting for the Commander," Max said, looking skyward.
I groaned silently. "I hope she stays calm. Last time she had me flying figure eights around the tower," I noted dryly, hoping that Sammy would not repeat the fiascoes of her not-too-distant past.
"Oh!" Max exclaimed, turning and pointing to Rick Hunter's "Skull One," which had been recently modified to serve as the operational service prototype for the Super Valkyrie program. "That armored Veritech sure can do its share of damage. Wouldn't that be something to fly?"
"I suppose," I replied, feigning ignorance. "Watch yourself up there," I added, before heading off to my fighter.
Everything on my Valkyrie checked out. After seeing Waylan off, I headed to the Ready Room, and spent the better part of an hour going over some reports that had to be filled out. Times were as tough as ever, and the higher ups wanted more answers to questions that had none.
Just when I had felt certain the mission was indeed a milk run, my concentration was broken by a scramble alert. Seizing my helmet, I dashed out of the Ready Room and vaulted myself into the cockpit of my Valk as the siren's shrill tone cascaded across the hangar bay. With practiced precision, I began tying myself to the airplane, securing harnesses, connecting oxygen hoses, and flipping switches. I was ready to go in under sixty seconds.
I received a short briefing over the radio. A group of Zentraedi mecha was making an attack on the shuttle and its escorts. Outnumbered and outgunned, the escort group found itself in desperate need of assistance. As I taxied to the elevator, the plane director motioned me to stop. I was stunned, and threw my hands up at him as if to say, "What the hell are you doing?!" He pointed to my right and the answer was clear. Rick Hunter, in his flight suit and helmet, was dashing toward the second Super Veritech. As I watched, Hunter brought the Super up, and moved it out of its chocks toward the elevator in front of me.
"Sorry, Yah-Yah. Change in plans," he said as he taxied past me. "I'm sorry to cut you off."
"Just give 'em hell, Lieutenant."
A thumbs up was his reply.
I watched and listened as Hunter's fighter was taken to the flight deck. When it came to incompetence, I thought Sammy Porter had shown the world all there was to see. I was wrong.
"Your destination is Lambda Thirty-four," she said, as Hunter's fighter went into tension on the catapult, engines roaring at full thrust.
"What? I have no idea what you're talking about," was Rick's exasperated reply.
The space around SDF-1 out to a thousand miles was divided into cubes and individually labeled for ease of reference. Thinking he was off duty until the following day, Sammy had failed to pass out the latest code book to Lt. Hunter, despite the fact he was required to have it. I couldn't believe my ears.
"Jesus Christ!" I screamed into my mask, motioning the plane director to get the hell out of my way. "Give him a fucking vector, Sammy!" Codes be damned, a distance and heading would have been sufficient!
There was an interminable pause as Hunter's fighter wasted precious fuel on the catapult, then Sammy's voice broke the silence. "Here's the coordinates from the old code. Head for point Delta Five."
"Roger," Rick replied, as he was blasted off the flight deck.
"Jesus!" I swore aloud, as I banged the canopy with my fist. "How the hell did that twit get herself back into the controller's seat?!" It is a question many of us still ask to this day.
With Lt. Hunter out of the way it was now my turn. I bumped the thrust levers forward and began to roll toward the elevator, but the plane director refused to move. Incredibly, he motioned me to shut down my engines. I waved him out of the way once more but he repeated his gesture. I could not believe my eyes. Clenching my jaw tightly, I held the brakes with my toes and moved the throttle momentarily into afterburner before shutting the engines down. Furious, I popped open my canopy, unstrapped myself from the ejection seat, and leapt from the cockpit.
"What's the big idea, you son of a bitch?!" I screamed, grabbing the wiry plane director by the collar.
"I'm sorry Lieutenant! I was given orders! You can't get there in time to do any good," he managed.
"I can't get there at all if I don't launch!" I exclaimed. "Jesus Christ, what's gotten into everyone around here?!" I slammed the plane director back onto his feet and dashed off to find some answers.
I stormed into Prometheus' Primary Flight Control (Pri-Fly) to see what the hell was happening. As I made my way onto the bridge the Air Boss informed me as to what had transpired. The shuttle mission had indeed run into some trouble. For reasons unknown to anyone, the Zentraedi decided they would blockade the shuttle's return to Earth. The history books would show that the leader of the attack had been none other than Khyron Kravshera. Instead of a short milk run to earth, Max's group of escorts found itself in a life and death battle for survival. Facing tremendous odds, the escorts fought bravely, but one by one they fell to Zentraedi guns.
The operational prototype that Max had pointed to in the hangar bay was the difference between life and death for the shuttle and its remaining escorts. With its overwhelming firepower, the Super turned certain defeat into a resounding victory, cutting the Zentraedi assault force to shreds in mere moments. With the shuttle now safe, Max rounded up his charges and headed back to the ship.
"Escort group returning to base," came Max's call. "Lieutenant Hunter is now guarding the shuttle."
Something in his tone caused a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I recalled Waylan's apprehension. I paced the bridge impatiently, waiting for the fighters to return. Half the escort group had failed to check in, and Waylan was one of them. As the minutes ticked slowly by, the fighters entered the pattern and one by one slammed onto Promie's deck. Max's was the last fighter to land, and Waylan was still unaccounted for. As Igloo's fighter was lowered to the hangar deck I rushed down to find out what had happened.
I shoved Max's plane captain out of the way and climbed up the boarding ladder, fearing the answer to the question I had not yet asked. "Iggy! What happened? Where's Waylan?"
He looked at me with a haggard expression.
"Damnit Max, where is Waylan?!"
Igloo Sterling sat wilted in his ejection seat and threw his hands up in despair. "I don't know Jake. I'm sorry, but I just don't know. It was pretty rough out there. We were jumped by a mixed group of Gnerls and Regults. They kicked our ass good, Jake, they really did." He looked into the cockpit before continuing. "I did what I could to keep an eye on him but I had my hands full. The last I saw of him, he was diving onto a Glaug Pod. When the fight broke up, I called for him but he didn't answer. I waited for him for as long as I could, but my fuel was low so I had to bug out. I don't know, maybe he's still out there, Jake." Max's eyes were welling up with the tears that come from anger--as were mine--and he gritted his teeth in an effort to hold them back. We looked at one another in shock, both unwilling to believe that the "Gentle Giant" was gone.
I placed a hand on his shoulder. "Okay, Max," I managed. "Okay."
I jumped off of the boarding ladder and walked back down the hangar bay to my fighter--I had to find my wingman before it was too late. The plane director could tell by the look on my face that I was not in the mood to debate the issue. With a curt nod, he stood back as I taxied to the elevator and was raised to the Prometheus' flight deck. Filled with a rage that defies definition, I blasted into the cold blackness in search of my friend. It would prove to be a futile gesture.
Chapter Thirty-six - The End of the Line
I stayed out for nearly six hours, covering every cubic mile of space along the shuttle's flight path, hunting for any sign of Third Lieutenant Waylan James Green. Josh Kaufman and Surgeon Plog launched a short while after I did and spent the better part of five hours prowling about along with me. Max could not join us. His fighter had been damaged in the dogfight--an almost unheard of occurrence for "The Blue Devil"--and was undergoing repairs in the maintenance bay. After three hours of searching without a trace of Waylan's fighter, my hopes were given a boost when Josh spotted what he thought was a flashing landing light.
"Rescue Three to Rescue One. I've got a landing light Bullseye three-one-zero, two-six-zero, for one-seven-five-five miles. Repeat, 3-1-0, 2-6-0, for 1-7-5-5 miles. I'm maneuvering for an intercept. Stand by."
The silence was maddening as I waited for Joshua's report. Then it came.
"Lead from Three. Sorry. There's nothing here but wreckage. It's just sunlight flashing off of some debris, gawdamnit."
Josh's uncharacteristic reaction echoed the frustration we all felt, and for another forty minutes we scanned the skies without success, looking for our comrade. With our fuel at a critical state, we reluctantly returned to the ship. I trapped aboard Prometheus without fanfare, and ordered my fighter refueled. Rick Hunter was there when I climbed out of the cockpit, and I waited for his order to stand down. Instead, he ordered ten fighters into the air to join Plog, Josh, and myself. I grabbed a sandwich in the ready room and launched on a second search. For four more hours I searched in vain. Max, too, joined in the effort once his fighter was repaired, but it was all for naught. As much as I hated to admit it, there was no way around it. Unless he had somehow re-entered the Earth's atmosphere along with CDR. Hayes' shuttle, Waylan James Green was dead.
I trapped aboard Prometheus after three tries. Tired, sweaty, and running on nothing but pure adrenaline, I interviewed some of the surviving pilots from the escort mission. Nobody saw Waylan get hit, and at least one pilot corroborated Max's story of Waylan in pursuit of a Glaug Combat Pod. It was such a difficult thing to deal with. Waylan James Green. The self-less roomate in boot camp. The faithful wingman who had protected my tail through hundreds of combat missions. The hulking and handsome ace fighter pilot who was never too busy to help someone in need, never too tired to lend a word of advice, and always ready to stop a bullet for a friend. It did not seem possible that he was gone, and yet, when his name was listed as "Missing, Presumed Dead" I reluctantly forced myself to accept the unacceptable. My friend was gone. I had never lost a wingman before, and to lose him on a mission I made him fly against his wishes was the hardest thing I have ever had to live with. The emptiness left by his passing was something I would never get over.
A short memorial service was held the day after the MIA reports were published. The chaplain's eulogy was short and to the point, and clearly did not come close to giving the true picture of this great warrior. It was clear that the chances of finding the missing pilots had long since passed, and the service was an attempt to bring some closure to the events of the previous week. It served only to pour salt on the wound.
Once the memorial service ended, I walked to Waylan's quarters in a daze. It was my duty to take care of Waylan's personal effects, as he had requested, and I asked Josh to assist me in the task. Going through Waylan's personal gear was a sobering experience, and many of the items I found brought back memories of times that were happier, and others that were not. We carefully packed his gear into some cardboard boxes and talked about what a good person Waylan had been. It was a difficult thing to accept the fact that he was gone, and we both found ourselves in denial. Like a bad dream, we both expected to wake up--but we did not.
As I placed Waylan's spare flight helmet in a box, I turned and looked at his rack. Neatly made, just as it had been a thousand times before, it was the only remaining evidence that this room had indeed been his.
"Well...I guess this is it, Josh," I said soberly.
"Yeah," he said, reaching for Waylan's pillow. "Hey, what's this?" he asked, pulling an envelope out from underneath it.
"Let's see it," I said, reaching for the white envelope. 'Open only in case of death or incapacitation,' it read in black scripted letters.
I opened the letter carefully and read it aloud.
"Dear Jeff & Josh,
This letter was probably written long ago. I plan to place it under
my pillow before every mission because I know my number will
come up one day. If you are reading it now then it is safe to
presume that I have been killed. Don't fret. I've been ready for it.
My only regret will be that I never got the chance to spend a day at
the beach with my daughter. Yes, surprise, surprise, I have a three
year old girl. It was a foolish mistake, having a baby at such a
young age. But I love her with all my soul and would not trade her
for anything. Her mother is dead. She was killed when the
Zentraedi attacked Macross Island.
Ah, Karen Ann. She was a beautiful woman. So young and sweet.
In many ways she was like your Rebeckah was, Jeff. I've never been
so happy as the day she first kissed me. Never so proud as the day
she gave birth to our child. Never so crushed as I was when she was
I don't have any family. They kicked me out of the house when they
discovered that I had gotten Karen pregnant. I don't even know if
they are alive any more. Karen and I moved to the Island in the
hopes of finding a better life, and we succeeded. It was a shame
that the Zentraedi had other plans.
I want you to take care of my Lisa. Raise her to be a decent and
caring person. Tell her that her father did not die in vain. Tell
her he died because he loved her with all his heart and felt she was
worth fighting for. Do not allow her to be bitter--bitterness
accomplishes nothing. Believe me, I know.
Now, for the legal side of things I state the following:
I, Waylan James Green, being of sound mind and body, do hereby
request that care and custody of my daughter, Lisa Ann Green, be
given over to my friend, Jeffrey Dale Framton. In the event Mr.
Framton is unable or unwilling to care for her, I request that she be
placed in the care of Joshua Peter Kaufman.
There. It's done. You can find Lisa through Chaplain Tomlin.
Please know that I have moved on to a better place. I have loved
all of you--Jake, Josh, and Max--as though you were my own
brothers, and my last conscious thought will be that you each find
peace in your lives.
Waylan J. Green
P.S. -- Life is such a funny thing. Did you ever notice the fact that we never survive it?"
"Jee-sus Christ," I muttered, stunned by the words contained in the letter I was holding. "I can't believe it... He has a daughter, Husky. He has a freaking daughter! I had no idea."
"Neither did I," he said, eyes open wide.
We sat in stunned silence for several minutes. I looked around at Waylan's room, now bare of posters and belongings. A new pilot would occupy it within a few days, never knowing the greatness of the man who preceded him. I shook my head in disbelief.
"I don't know what to say," I said to Josh.
"I don't either, Jake. I... Gawd... We need to make sure we hang on to these things for the kid."
"I don't know anything about her for God's sake. Jesus...Josh. We're her only link to her father. Without us, she'll have nothing to remember him by."
"He's given us a tremendous responsibility, Jake."
A long pause, neither of us willing to say it. Finally, Josh broke the silence. "Well, I guess this is it. The end of the line."
"Yep," I managed, rising from Waylan's desk chair. After pushing it up to the desk I reached for one of the cardboard boxes that now held the belongings of "3LT Waylan J. Green, RDFN." With footsteps that were painful in their finality, we carried Waylan's belongings to the door. I reached for the light with one hand as I balanced the box I was carrying with the other.
"So long Waylan," I whispered to the empty room before flipping off the light.
"Yeah. So long, pal," Josh stated somberly, before turning away and heading down the corridor.
I contacted Chaplain Tomlin and arranged a time to meet Waylan's daughter. I was not prepared for the meeting at all. As Josh and I walked into the chaplain's office, we were both struck by what we saw. Lisa was a beautiful little girl, with blonde hair and green eyes--a spitting image of her father. I immediately recognized her as the girl in the picture I had uncovered in Waylan's locker so long ago, and tears welled up in my cheeks.
She looked at us quizzically.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I-I'm--we're friends of your daddy," I stammered.
"My daddy's not coming back is he?" she asked.
Looking at this innocent, orphaned child, I bit my lip in an effort to hold back the tears that wanted desperately to stream forth. Try as I might, I could not stop them. "No sweetheart. He's not. But, he asked us to watch over you for him," I managed before giving way to the unstoppable tides of emotion. I reached down and picked her up, holding her closely to me as I the tears streamed down my cheeks. She hugged me tightly, as she had done with her father so many times before. Josh walked over and put an arm around the little one as well. We looked at each other for a fast second and came to the same conclusion--no matter what the odds, no matter what the cost, we would take care of Lisa Ann and see that she grew up to be the fine person her father was before her.
"Come on, sweetie," Josh said to her, reaching out for the young girl. "Let's go talk about your father."
With this suggestion, I nodded to the Chaplain and handed the child to Josh before heading out the door. As I wiped the salty tears from my face I realized the responsibility that had just befallen me. I was now a father for the second time, and this one task I could not allow myself to fail.
I had a follow up session with some of the pilots from the escort mission and was able to partially piece together the events of Waylan's final mission. Eye witness accounts credited Waylan with at least seven kills, for a final total of two hundred nine confirmed victories, and two other pilots came forward with some evidence that shed even more light on the events of that awful day.
A common practice among fighter pilots was to carry a small tape recorder that we plugged into the com system of our planes. After a mission we could listen to what had transpired and learn from the lessons the tapes presented. I was always surprised at the amount of information that, though clear as a bell on the tape, did not register with me while flying.
We listened to the tapes that two of the pilots had recorded and the revelation was startling in its clarity.
Waylan was flying as "Eagle Lead" or "Eagle One." Max was "Igloo One." The other call signs were pilots in their respective teams. Waylan was the commander of a group of eight fighters with Max in charge of the other in addition to being overall commander of the escort group. Things proceeded normally until the Zentraedi raiders made their move on the escort group.
"Igloo Lead, to group. Enemy approaching from behind, so spread out and prepare to form a defensive perimeter."
"Roger. Eagle Wing moving out now." It was Waylan's voice. The term "wing" was, in this instance, the slang term that meant any group of aircraft attached to a leader, regardless of force size.
"Igloo One to group. Stay alert. I want to see all of you at breakfast tomorrow." Across the table, Max squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.
"Bandits approaching at ten and two," Waylan stated.
"Roger, I got 'em." Max's voice. "Okay, boys, fight's on! Go get 'em!"
The radio erupted into a maelstrom of garbled voices.
"I hope we can hold 'em 'til help gets here," Max commented between orders.
As the tape played on, voices that were easily distinguished from one another began to fall silent. And then came a transmission that made my blood curdle.
"Hey, I've got a problem," Waylan's voice called into the void as clear as day, followed by a thump. "Wh-," his voice was interrupted by a crack and a whooshing sound.
We played the tape over and over again, and the conclusion was unmistakable. Waylan's fighter had suffered a catastrophic decompression. Whether it was the result of a guns pass by an enemy fighter that jumped into the saddle behind him, or simply the fault of a canopy or canopy seal that gave out, it was clear that his fighter had decompressed. That his sentence ended so abruptly suggested one of two things: his fighter had exploded, killing him instantly, or his mask failed shortly after the decompression, killing him a bit less than instantly. Exposed to the vacuum of space, Waylan would have died a quick and violent death.
Those of us gathered around the tape player looked at each other with a grim understanding. There was no way around it now. Waylan James Green, the RDF's seventh highest ranked ace and a man barely twenty years old, was gone. "The Three Picassos" numbered only two.
Chapter Thirty-seven - Pay Back
I cannot think of a single word to completely describe the loss of a close friend. Emptiness. Anger. Frustration. Bitterness. Rage. These are all applicable, and when combined, come close to conveying the way such an event makes one feel--but not one of them can give a complete description by itself. If I were forced to choose just one word to describe the way I felt in the days following Waylan's death it would be enraged.
It was hard to feel any other way. I was mad at the world. Mad and tired. I had been granted my life's dream--that of becoming a fighter pilot--but it came at a cost that made me wonder if it was worth it. I'd lost so many close friends, squadron mates, and loved ones in such a short time. Bill Brubaker, Dain Clements, Jin Takamura, Jacien Carr. Wise, Martin and Mitchell. Joe Burkett, Rebeckah...and now Waylan. I was growing tired of the empty racks in the barracks and the families destroyed by this awful war, and I was angered by my inability to do anything about it.
Waylan's death was particularly gut-wrenching because I realized too late that I could have done something to prevent it. I ignored the warning signs. Waylan's premonitions, his uneasiness before his last flight, and an eerie passage from Sakai's "Samurai!". I could not have been presented with a clearer sign than Sakai's. The circumstances were different, but the outcome was the same. A wingman, uneasy over being forced to fly with someone other than his usual leader was lost forever. Honda and Green. Both fighter pilots, both skilled, and both only twenty years old. Sent to their deaths by men who ignored the warnings they had been shown, resulting in deaths that were tragic, futile, and unnecessary .
"Those that ignore history are destined to repeat it." As I sat around brooding, those words echoed in my head like a song you can't stop singing, and try as I might, I could not silence them. At that moment I decided that payback for Waylan's death was long overdue and set out to do something about it. Knowing that he, too, would be eager to settle things with our alien friends, I went looking for Josh Kaufman.
We would, of course, need a plan--and the one I had in mind would do just fine.
One of the strange and wonderful loopholes in the RDFN's voluminous book of standard operating procedures was created specifically for aviators. When repairs to an aircraft were made, it was a requirement to test fly said aircraft before returning it to an active duty status. In wartime, SOP dictated that the fighter be test flown prior to any combat action "if conditions conducive to a test flight exist." As one can imagine, those fighter pilots with the highest scores tended to have planes undergoing "repairs" quite frequently in order to exploit this particular rule.
A quick conversation with Philo resulted in a fuel transfer "problem" that needed to be checked out. Strangely enough, a similar anomaly afflicted Josh Kaufman's bird. While Husky and I went to the ready room to prep for our flight, our groundcrews loaded both fighters up with fuel and ammunition. For defensive purposes our fighters were loaded with six Stilettos, hung three apiece on both inboard missile racks, and a full load of 55mm rounds for our GU-11 gun pods.
My plan was simple. We would head to the practice area before diverting toward the current location of the nearest enemy battle force, holding on station in orbit around the moon. A prolonged radar sweep would serve to entice the aliens to sortie a group of fighters to intercept us, and the game would be on. The mission also gave us our first chance to test out the latest Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) program. Our alien friends had reworked their missiles to be more resistant to our jammers, and as such, our losses had soared well above what they had been in previous weeks.
After running over the plan with Josh, I suited up for our flight. On the days when I actually had time to put them in I flew with my contact lenses on. This didn't happen often any more. Scrambling out of my rack in the middle of the night and dashing madly to my airplane left little time to pop them in, and I had to come up with other ideas.
Glasses were okay to an extent, but they presented their own set of unique problems. Conventional paddle temple glasses were not very comfortable under a tight-fitting helmet, as the seals around the integral headset would press them into the sides of your head. After a few hours of this, a headache was inevitable, and concentration quickly went to pieces. Cable temples, which wrapped around behind the ear, were far more comfortable and had the added benefit of holding the glasses on your face, preventing them from sliding down your nose when pulling G's. However, unlike paddle temple glasses, where the pilot could put his helmet on and then slide the glasses on with ease, a pilot wearing cable temples had to put the helmet on second. More often than not, the ear seals would knock one or both cable temples off your ears and the process would have to be repeated. When seconds counted, this was not an attractive situation.
My racquetball goggles, with their elastic strap, were the closest thing to a combination of both--easier to put on than cable temple glasses, more comfortable than paddles--so long as the strap stayed straight in the back while pulling the helmet on over them. Unfortunately, this too proved problematic at times, and today was one of those times. My contacts had given me fits all morning, and I decided to go without them. Three times I tried to pull my helmet on over my goggles, and three times the strap got screwed up. Since we used full-face masks, there was no way to put the goggles around the helmet like the fighter pilots of the 1940s and 50s. It was clear that I needed another option, and as I fumbled with the goggles for the fourth time I swore to resolve the problem once and for all upon my return.
Josh had some problems of his own with his facemask seal, but he got it straightened out, and on the beautiful morning of 25 March 2011, we launched on our mission of vengeance. The cat shot and rendezvous were uneventful, and after a few short radio transmissions we received our clearance to the practice area. With the SDF-1 shrinking behind me, I turned my fighter toward the practice area and proceeded as planned. With a few deep breaths I began to psych myself up for the task at hand. Flashing my formation lights five times, I signaled Josh to switch to our discreet Button Five frequency.
I pressed the button on my throttle, waited five seconds, then gave my wingman a call. "Okay Husky, it's just you and me. Let's flame us a few of these assholes, what do you say?"
"Roger that. Ready when you are, boss."
"Okay, here we go. Coming left." With revenge on my mind and hatred in my heart, I moved the stick gently to the left, pointing us in the direction of the moon and the Zentraedi battle group on its far side.
"Fast Eagle Two Zero Niner, Prometheus Departure. You are deviating from your flight plan, please advise."
I realized that it wouldn't take long for the SDF-1 to figure out where we were and what frequency we'd switched to. In this regard the controller had proven me correct. I decided to try and stall them.
"Prometheus Departure, Fast Eagle Two Zero Niner. We're proceeding out in this direction for a high speed fuel flow test, over."
A pause. The controller was doubtless speaking to a supervisor to find out what he should do. After a prolonged silence he continued, "Ah, Two Zero Niner, roger. Understand. Switch to Button Three at this time, over."
I did not reply.
"Fast Eagle Two Zero Niner, this is Prometheus Departure. Switch to Button Three, over."
I waited in silence.
"Two Zero Niner, Two Zero Niner, this is Prometheus Departure," the controller called out anxiously. "Do you read?"
Not wanting the controller to freak out and send fighters out to rescue us, I tried a trick that was as old as the radio itself. "Prome-...us...-proach...-ast...Two Ze-...-er...I c-...-arely read you...-ver." Clicking the mike on and off and whistling, here and there, I hoped the controller would think I was merely having radio troubles and would leave me alone. He made several calls to both Joshua and myself before giving up out of pure frustration. It was the oldest trick in the book but--for now at least--it was working.
The cold, cratered, dusty gray surface of the moon crept passed steadily beneath us, and with it went our protection from the alien fleet. I spotted the Sea of Tranquillity, the famous spot where Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon. Unconsciously, I strained for a glimpse of Apollo 11's Lunar Excursion Module and the U.S. flag erected by the astronauts, knowing full well that I could never see them from such a great distance--assuming they still existed at all.
Bumping the throttle up an inch, and using the moon's gravitational pull as a slingshot, I increased our closure rate on the enemy fleet. With the flip of a switch I began sweeping the area in front of us with my radar. I was not concerned about remaining hidden, as the only way to sucker the Zentraedi into fighting was to be sure they knew where we were. The Threat Detection Display came to life, drawing its wavy bands of yellow and red as my defensive electronics system began computing my fighter's detectability to Zentraedi search radars and EW systems. As we entered into the yellow band, which indicated that the enemy had a 50/50 chance of picking us up, I began to sweat. In another fifteen seconds there would be no doubt that the Zentraedi would have us on radar, and we would find ourselves fighting for our lives in mere moments.
I stole a glance over my right shoulder. Josh was sitting off my right wing, steady and faithful as always. The fierce look in his eyes before we departed was ingrained in my mind, and eliminated any thoughts of guilt at endangering him in this way. It was clear that his rage equaled mine, and the only way to quell it would be to draw blood.
"All right, Husky, you ready to party?" I asked him.
"Ready when you are Jake."
"Okay." A tone went off in my headset. "Enemy search radar, one o'clock. He's got us." The Threat Detection System went to a solid red.
"Rog. Won't be long now," he stated.
"Knockers up, Two," I ordered.
With the instinctive reaction bred by months of combat, our gloved fingers reached for our respective Master Arm switches and engaged them. Josh's Weapons System Display and HUD lit up with information on armament status, as did my own. The familiar rush that came before every engagement hit me with its usual intensity, and I shuddered as a cold chill ran down my spine. Some things would truly never change.
As we barreled in on the nearest Zentraedi strike cruiser--a Queadol Magdomilla, a.k.a. "Queasy Maggie"--I popped my knuckles, and thought of my departed friend. I found myself filled by a surge of anger that doubtless clouded my judgment. An assault on a Zentraedi fleet with a pair of Veritech Fighters was not something a rational person would do, but thoughts of Waylan's death made it impossible for me to behave in a rational manner.
I toggled my target selector switch on the stick and lit up the enemy ship. The red halo on the HUD showed that I could hit the heavy cruiser even at this extreme range, but my missiles were not intended for her--they wouldn't cause any appreciable damage on the nearly two-mile long vessel any way. I had other plans for the missiles on my racks, and for any Zentraedi pod unfortunate enough to show itself that day. With grim determination, we continued to close on the Queadol. As we moved to within seven hundred miles of the ship, I wondered aloud why the Zents had not launched to intercept us. At two-hundred miles I was just plain perplexed.
"Where are the interceptors, Husky?" I called out, knowing full well Josh would not have any more answers than I did.
"I think they're chicken, boss," he replied.
I allowed myself a quick smile. I felt like I could take on the entire Zentraedi fleet single-handed, so I really couldn't blame them for being afraid to fight.
"Okay. Change in plans. I want you to take out the communications and radar towers aft. I'm going to go for the ones forward. That should buy us some time and screw up their coordination. We'll rendezvous behind her, so make your break to the right and join up with me after you hit them. I'll be right behind you. I repeat, rendezvous to the stern--aft."
"Roger," Josh called.
"Okay. Here we go."
"One is in."
"Two is in."
I thumbed the button on the stick and selected the radar and communications arrays on the nose of the giant ship. A warble in my headset and a red halo on the HUD showed that my missiles had acquired the target. I was closing on the Queadol at over twenty thousand feet per second, giving me about twenty-five seconds to lock on the target and fire. Clenching my jaw, I squeezed the trigger on the stick twice and watched as a pair of Stilettos leapt off the rails after their prey. It was easy. Too easy. The missiles struck the forward radar and communications suite, turning the cluster of antennae located there into cosmic dust.
A glance at the center EFIS display showed me a magnified view of the cruiser ahead of me. A touch on the right rudder pedal brought my gun pod to bear on a row of sensor blisters and antennae on the ship's front dorsal hump. Thumbing the button on the stick I unleashed a hail of 55mm bullets toward the alien vessel. I eased the stick back slightly and walked my cannon fire across the backside of the dark green enemy ship. The blisters disintegrated into a cloud of steel and armor plating that erupted from the cruiser, ripping the sensor array to shreds. As I flashed over the top of the ship, I cleared the hump by mere inches as debris from the cruiser bounced off my fighter's nose.
Racking my fighter to the right, pulling as hard as I dared, I let Josh know that I was clear of the target. "One is off."
It seemed to take a day for Josh to respond. Finally, he called, "Two is off."
I used the targeting system to pick up his fighter, now up and to my right, hauling ass away from the ship as fast as it could go. The bright light reflecting off the moon was beautiful, and as I closed on Josh's Valkyrie, the silhouette of his fighter against the lunar surface painted a surreal--if menacing--picture.
"Here they come, Jake," Josh said.
My Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) sounded its high-pitched alarm a split second later, confirming Josh's call.
"Roger. I've got a targeting radar at six o'clock," then another tone. "He's firing! Break right!"
Josh's Valk broke away sharply to the right as I reefed my fighter over to the left. I was able to jam the missiles that had been launched at me just long enough to get them to overshoot. Their proximity fuses caused them to explode, but I was outside of their lethality envelope and avoided damage. A snap assessment of the situation showed a dozen Regults of various types and six Gnerls.
As the trio of Gnerls flashed in front of my nose I fired three of my remaining four Stilettos and watched them hit the overshooting Zentraedi interceptors. Like clockwork, Josh destroyed the other three in a staccato series of explosions and flashed past me on my right side.
"Okay, Josh, let's take her over the top."
In unison, we executed a half loop, rolling out into a head on pass on the Regults that were in trail behind the Gnerls we had just destroyed. My RWR was still raising hell, and my targeting system didn't take long to point out the source of the radar.
"Josh, there's a Radar Regult...ugh!" I began, before yanking my fighter around to avoid the shots fired by the gaggle of Regults that were now close enough to touch. As the cannon fire flashed beneath my fighter's nose, I was reminded of the rule which stated that incoming fire has the right of way. Thumbing the button on the stick I cut loose a burst of gunfire at the pods, scattering them in all directions. "Josh, cover me, I'm going after that Radar Pod. If we can knock him out it'll foul up their targeting and tracking and we can get the hell out of here."
"Roger, you're covered. Go."
I closed rapidly on the pod. The halo on the HUD turned from yellow to red and I squeezed the trigger. The last Stiletto left the rail and tore after the Recon Scout Regult, homing on the emissions from its targeting radar. As advertised, the missile struck the pod dead center, destroying it with a short-lived fireball. With the radar pod now destroyed, the RWR tone in my headset went silent, and Josh and I turned our attention to the Regults that were now behind us.
Going to Guardian mode, we charged after them, guns blazing. Like demons possessed, we fought them for ten minutes, Josh scoring seven while I took care of the other five. With the sky around us now empty--and sensing that discretion was the better part of valor--we departed for home. Beating a hasty retreat toward the backside of the moon, we kept ourselves alert for the presence of enemy fighters. There were none to be found, and as we approached the safety of Earth's only natural satellite, I began to relax. With the Queadol's radar system out of commission there was not much chance of them being able to find us, and once we reached Luna's far side we would be untouchable.
"Boy that was something, Josh," I smiled, glancing over at my wingman.
"No shit," he intoned. "I think I need to change my drawers."
I laughed. The adrenaline that came from the fight was wearing off now, and my hands began to shake. The reality of what we had done had not yet registered with me, but we had pulled off an incredible feat. Two fighters attacking and disabling a Queadol Magdomilla without nuclear warheads was an unheard of accomplishment, and if we didn't end up in a court martial hearing for our little stunt we would surely end up with a medal.
At that moment, and for reasons I can't explain, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Glancing over my shoulder I spotted a Glaug Officer's Pod roaring in on us.
"Jesus break!!" I screamed, hauling my fighter into a loop more violent than any I had ever tried.
As the G's forced me into my seat, I strained for a glimpse of the alien fighter. The Glaug stuck with me turn for turn as I reefed my fighter back and forth in a desperate attempt to keep from getting flamed. The Officer's Pod had the distinct advantage of having an extremely large field of fire. It's particle beam and multiple cannon could be pointed in almost any direction, making it a very hard fighter to dodge. I had encountered a Glaug only once in my career and came out of the experience with a plane full of holes. Only Divine Intervention had spared me that afternoon, and I found myself hoping Divine Intervention would save me today as well.
"Josh, get this fucker off me!" I yelled near a panic. It is all but impossible to remain unruffled when people are shooting at you, and I was no exception in this case.
The Glaug was sticking to me like glue, and nothing I did could shake him. I rolled to the left and yanked on the stick, doing my damnedest to get underneath him. As Josh closed in behind him, the Glaug unleashed a torrent of fire. My right wing disappeared in a flash of light, and I found myself thinking I had finally met the end. "Well, this is it," I said to myself, waiting for the next burst which would rip my plane to shreds. Thankfully, I was premature in predicting my demise, for Josh came to the rescue and successfully drove off the alien attacker.
Changing into Guardian mode I tore after the Glaug as he broke sharply away, wishing now that I had saved my last Stiletto for the trip home. With my thrust levers nearly to the stops, I was not closing on the pod very quickly. In fact, I found myself wondering if I was closing on him at all. The halo on the HUD surrounded the fleeing Zentraedi fighter with its yellow ring, and I waited impatiently for it to change to red. Suddenly--and with timing that could not have been worse--the computer alerted me to my fuel status with her calm, matter of fact, "Bingo. Fuel, Twelve Point Zero."
"Oh you bitch," I muttered, glancing at my fuel gauges.
"I'm Bingo, Jake," Josh called.
I would not have blamed him if he had turned for the safety of the ship, but he did not. Josh had never been one to question me on anything, and if I were to chase this pod to the sun on one tank of gas, he would have followed me the entire way in perfect formation. I continued my pursuit of the alien craft, the distance between us--and the fuel in my tanks--diminishing steadily. It was then I recalled that Waylan was last seen chasing a Glaug not unlike this one.
"Son of a bitch," I managed between clenched teeth.
Glaugs were among the rarest of Zentraedi mecha. As such, it was highly probable that this bastard--who had come so close to killing me moments before--had succeeded in downing Waylan Green. I was eager now to return the favor.
Ignoring the fact that we were now moving away from home once again, I bumped the throttle forward a half an inch, and increased my closure rate on the enemy fighter. It was now a race between my fuel gauge and the halo on the Heads Up Display. It didn't take long to realize the fuel gauge was winning.
With an unmistakable tone of concern, Josh brought our fuel problems up once more. "Jake, we need to break off now or we--"
"I know it! I know it!" I snapped back, cutting off his transmission.
I cursed our bad luck. The green-blooded prick was going to get away. Frustrated and angry, I unleashed a burst from my gun pod at maximum range before reluctantly breaking off my pursuit. Turning for home, I cursed into my mask in frustration. Revenge would have to wait for another day.
Chapter Thirty-eight - Down Time
It was only by the grace of God that we made it back to the carrier. The thrust required to alter our orbit three different times was enough to drain the fuel our fuel tanks. Josh trapped aboard ship as his turbines gulped the last bit of reaction mass from their tanks and he had to be towed to the hangar bay. My Valk's engines flamed out in the groove, and just as I had on my first mission, I trapped on the ship dead stick. No fighter pilot in the history of the RDF had ever trapped on a space carrier dead stick twice, and people began to wonder just how much longer my luck would hold out.
Nine Kills. My toll now stood at one hundred forty-six. By all accounts I should have been elated at the success of our sweep, but I was not. Once again I had let my guard down at a critical moment and it had nearly cost me my life. I climbed out of my fighter and walked around to where the right wing should have been. In its place was a section of charred metal that extended from the wing root glove outward for all of two feet, stark evidence of the disaster that had nearly befallen me. All I could do was shake my head and kick my fighter's right main gear tire as I condemned myself.
The damage itself was not particularly time critical. Like many of the SDF-1's older Veritechs, my fighter was scheduled to undergo a refit at the Veritech Aircraft Rebuilding Facility (VARF). The refit would bring it up to the VF-1J standard and add attachment provisions for the Super VF armor package, which would be ready for production once the test program was completed. While she was undergoing the upgrade the damaged wing would be replaced, and I would have her back as good as new within a week. This fact did little to ease the anger I felt at not getting that Glaug Pod, however, and I stormed off to my quarters fuming.
I walked into my room and slammed the door, then walked slowly to my desk. A small black medal box and a letter from some faceless, high-ranking paper pusher were sitting near my lamp. I opened the box and in it was an RDF Cross with a silver star for valor. I knew it was not meant for me, and after reading the letter, I was proven correct.
Waylan's medal had finally come in. When he hit the 200 mark he had been recommended for the much-deserved award. The letter acknowledged his superior service to his nation and his world. It detailed the actions on 03 March, 2011, when Waylan, "while leading his fighters against vastly superior forces," had "successfully destroyed an enemy cruiser" and "[driven off] three full divisions of attacking pods before launching on a second mission and attacking a fourth division of pods." The letter, bold, and full of praise, closed by stating, "You exemplify the highest standards of courage and discipline, and we wish you continued success in future endeavors." The bureaucratic apparatus had failed once again, and a medal was being awarded to a man who was dead--awarded as if he were going to get up and fly a mission the next morning! I resisted the urge to seek out the nameless Captain who had composed this note and throttle him. Did our military truly appreciate his sacrifice if it couldn't even see that he was gone?
I felt the anger inside begin to build, and I struggled to contain it. Rage would not bring him back, I told myself repeatedly. As I sat staring at the pictures on my shelves, I began counting the faces in the frames, and found more dead than alive. Waylan Green's picture struck me the hardest. He had been such a good friend, and he was dead now because I had failed to see the warning signs.
"Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it." "We wish you continued success in future endeavors." The words echoed in my head over and over again. I became so enraged by them that I momentarily lost control of myself.
"Mother fuckers!!" I roared at the top of my lungs, flipping my desk over before turning and putting a fist through the plate glass window in my room. The broken glass opened a pair of five-inch gashes along the top of my hand and blood spurted out of like a lawn sprinkler. I could not have cared less. I began hurling books, charts, chairs--anything I could get my hands on--out of the window, smashing and destroying everything in sight. I would have probably kept it up until I bled to death if Josh, Sprabary, and Plog had not barged into the room and stopped me.
Lieutenant Sprabary was the first one to try and grab me. In my rage, I flipped the three hundred-pound fighter pilot over my back and began hopping around the room cursing and yelling like a satanic banshee. Husky and Surgeon lunged after me, each one grabbing an arm. I struggled until, with Sprabary's help, the two pilots took me to the ground face first. Still roaring with anger, I fought to throw them off me, but it was for naught. I was clearly no match for a combined seven hundred pounds of weight and simply gave up, reduced to sobbing like a child. A crowd had gathered by the door as my squadron mates, alerted by my yelling, ran down to find out what was going on. Plog shooed them off with a crisp order and they dispersed, as Sprabary charged down the corridor for a First Aid Kit.
My hand was bleeding profusely and my room was a shambles. Blood was splattered on the floor, walls, windows, and furniture. Papers and books were strewn everywhere. Undoubtedly, my squadron mates were thinking I had lost my mind--and they would have been correct in their assessment. As Lt. Plog worked on my lacerated hand, I cried my eyes out. I couldn't help but feel that Waylan's death was my fault. Like Lt. Carr's death before him, I had failed to act properly and the result was a dead friend. To make matters worse, my outburst had almost certainly ruined my chances of becoming a squadron X.O.--shattered them like the bloodstained window in my quarters. Any thoughts of seeking further retribution for Waylan's death would be a waste of time, now, as I would be lucky to ever step foot into a fighter's cockpit again.
Lieutenant Plog ordered my squadron mates to clean up the mess I had made before escorting me to sick bay. As we walked to the Lieutenant's jeep, I ran my fingers through my hair in exasperation. The flight surgeon would ground me indefinitely when he discovered the reason for my chewed up right hand. During the trip to sick bay I vacillated between remorsefulness and resignation. On one hand I shamefully regretted my behavior, but on the other I couldn't have cared less. I was struggling to put up a mental defense for what I had done, because--fighter ace or not--there was no way to ignore my actions, and it seemed my flying days would be over.
We walked into Sick Bay and were escorted down a corridor by a beautiful blonde nurse. She motioned me through the door of a stale white examining room, complete with a black examining table along the far wall. I took a seat on the table, wondering what the flight surgeon would think when he saw my hand.
"What have we here?" the gray haired Lieutenant Commander asked, his eyes narrowing as he focused in on my mangled hand.
During the trip to sick bay I'd tried coming up with an answer that might seem reasonable, but I couldn't think of one. For what seemed an eternity my mind scrambled for an appropriate response to the question I knew the Commander would ask, all to no avail. Mercifully, Lt. Plog spared me the indignity of replying, and at the same time, probably saved my career.
"We were doing some...hand to hand combat practice, Commander. It was my fault. I kinda' threw him through a window."
The Commander's eyes narrowed further, and I could tell that he didn't buy the explanation. But he didn't pursue the questioning any further, and after twenty-seven stitches in three different places, I was sent on my way with a "Light Duty" chit good for seven days. I was lucky. All the tendons in my hand were surprisingly untouched, and I would be back to normal in no time. Until then, the doc's light duty chit meant that I would not be in a cockpit for at least two weeks, and that my time would probably be spent shuffling papers or typing reports with one hand.
As we pulled up to the barracks, Surgeon Plog asked me to join him in his quarters. I jumped out of the jeep and tried to prepare myself for the ass chewing that would doubtless come. To my surprise, the Lieutenant had more to offer me than mere chastisement.
"Listen, Jake, I understand what you are feeling right now. Believe me I do. But this," he said, motioning toward my bandaged hand, "is not the answer."
I pursed my lips involuntarily at Plog's comment. "Sir, I don't think you can possibly understand how I feel," my voice trembled, as I struggled with the rage I felt inside.
"What do you mean, Lieutenant? How can you say that I don't understand? How can you say that I don't understand? You think I don't know what it feels like to send men off to face their deaths? Mmm? Look at what I have to do every single day. You think I don't know what it feels like to lose friends?" he asked, his voice rising slightly. "Fokker, Carr, Ordorica, Van Wielink. I've lost plenty of friends, Mr. Framton, and I don't enjoy it any more than you do. Lieutenant Carr was like a brother to me, and if you think I don't walk around with a hole in my heart every day because he is gone then you are dead wrong. You do not have a monopoly on losing people who are close to you, mister."
I was taken aback by his brusqueness, but it was deserved. "Yes, sir," I managed, suddenly ashamed for questioning a man like Lieutenant Plog.
"You want to become a leader, don't you? You've got your shiny silver bar on your collar and you're itching to command a squadron of your own someday, right? Well then you'd better get used to something and do it quickly. One of the drawbacks to surviving is you have to live through the deaths of others. When you send men out to do combat they don't always come back. You will lose more friends along the way, Lieutenant, and if you live long enough it will happen to you again, and again, and again--and each time it does it will hurt more than it did before. Believe me, son, if you resort to punching out windows each time it happens you will run out of blood long before it does you any good. You can bank on that, Mr. Framton," he said, steeping toward me with a pointed index finger. "You can bank on that!"
I nodded silently.
"I happen to think you are a fine leader and one hell of a fighter pilot, Lt. Framton. If I didn't think you were worth it I'd have told the flight surgeon the truth about you. Lord knows what would have been the outcome of that," he said with a knowledgeable scowl. "Now...I've put my neck out on the chopping block for you, mister, and I'm going to have to write a dozen reports to cover your ass on this one to boot. Don't you screw me. No more outbursts like that one ever. If you pull a stunt like that again, no matter how much I might agree with your feelings personally, I'll flame you myself. Understand?"
"Aye, aye, sir," I stated with a newfound firmness.
"Very well. Enjoy your time out of the saddle. I expect results when you are back on flight status. Dismissed."
I saluted my C.O., and did a smart about face.
"By the way, good work on that Queasy Maggie today. That was damned brave of you two."
"Thank you, sir."
"Scram," he said with a grin.
"Yes, sir. And thanks again."
"Any time, Lieutenant."
I walked out of Plog's quarters toward my own. My C.O.'s advice eased my anger, but only momentarily. Despite his words I began to seethe once again, and I needed to let it out. Retribution was still on my mind, and I was determined to even up the score. Somehow.
Despite my eagerness, revenge would have to wait. My hand was now as stiff as a board, and it hurt like pure hell. Besides, I had other things to attend to which were more important than the antiquated notion I could makeup for Waylan's death by killing Zentraedi. The simple fact was that I could never even the score--a trillion deaths would not bring him back. In the back of my mind I knew that if I didn't stop myself soon, I would become obsessed with evening a score that could not be evened. With each kill made--and each kill missed--I would be consumed with hatred until I either ended up dead or completely mad. For several hours I fought the forces tugging inside my heart--one side seeking vengeance, the other begging for reason. It was enough to make me sick.
I returned to my quarters, which, with the exception of the broken window, looked as undisturbed as they had before my outburst. Waylan's medal was on my desk, along with the letter, each one a symbol--in more ways than one--of what this war was about. I reached out and shut the box, placing it in one of my blouse pockets, then turned and left.
In the hopes that it would clear my head, I decided to try solving the difficulties I was having in getting my glasses on under my helmet. During a quick visit to my optometrist, I told him of the problems I was having and offered him a potential solution. The standard flight helmet had provisions in it for four non-corrective visors: a nuclear flash visor, a standard black tinted visor, a photosensitive visor, and a clear visor. I asked the doctor if he thought he could create a clear prescription visor and put it in place of the green tinted visor in my helmet. After a few minutes of toying around with the helmet he concluded that it could be done.
"I'll have it ready in about two days, is that all right?"
"Excellent. Thanks doc," I replied, glancing at my watch before turning to leave. I still had other matters to attend to and they could not wait.
"No problem," he called out, as I strolled out the door.
It was 1453 and I had to meet Josh, his longtime girlfriend Kristy Ann Harris--"Harriska," as we called her--and Lisa Green. From the moment I first met Kristy Harris I had been entranced by the beautiful brunette. Her high cheekbones, bright green eyes, and radiant smile could bring life to even the dullest room. Although Josh had never mentioned it, I could tell the two were getting quite serious in their relationship, and it didn't take much effort to see he had found a truly wonderful girl. Our new child was perhaps the greatest beneficiary of Josh's find.
A young lady with a big heart, Kristy took a very active role in caring for Lisa Ann, doting over the little girl as if she were her own. To be sure she had plenty of time with her now extended family, we had worked it out so that at least one of us was with her during our off duty periods. That May afternoon proved to be the first opportunity for the three of us to spend with Waylan's daughter, and if I didn't hurry, I would be late.
I rushed over to my mom and dad's house and picked up Casey, then headed to the Macross City Park. Little Casey was already turning into a sweetheart, and as I made my way on foot to the park I was stopped numerous times by some of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.
"So this is how you meet women," I joked to Casey, tickling her tummy. She responded with a huge smile that lit up her entire face.
I found Josh rough housing with Lisa as Kristy sat and watched from underneath a large oak tree. I ambled over to her and politely asked if I could have a seat next to her on the picnic blanket she had laid out on the ground.
"Sure! Come here, sweetie!" she said, reaching for Casey. I handed her over. "Oh what a darling you are!"
I smiled proudly as any father would. "That Lisa sure has spunk, doesn't she?" I asked, watching Josh and Lisa as they horseplayed.
"She is a tough little cookie. This whole thing must be hard on her," Kristy observed.
I nodded silently, watching as the two played tag on the lush grass that had survived the harsh treatment it had received during the ship's numerous and devastating transformations. In time, the two wore themselves out on that game, and the little one reached for Josh's hand.
"Come on, Uncle Josh! Let's go over there now," she said, pointing toward the swing set.
"Oh, geeze, sweetheart, your Uncle Josh is going to have a heart attack!" he wheezed. "Why don't you ask Uncle Jake if he will go with you."
She turned toward me and with a wide-eyed look of surprise exclaimed, "Uncle Jake!! Uncle Jake!!"
"There's my cue. See ya' later Harriska," I said, before rising and moving to greet Lisa, who was now running at full speed toward me. "Hey cooter bug!"
"Uncle Jake! Uncle Jake!"
"Come here you little squirt!" I yelled, reaching down and lifting the girl in a warm embrace. "How about a kiss for your Uncle Jake, hmmm?"
She smooched me on the cheek then turned and pointed to the swing set. "I want to go on the swing!"
"Hahaha! Okay kiddo," I laughed. "To the swing! Zooooooom!!" I lifted her up and let her pretend she was flying.
I buckled her into the kiddie seat and started swinging her back and forth. As she laughed and yelled, "Weeeeeeeee!" I looked around. Josh, Kristy, and Casey were over on the blanket enjoying the atmosphere, and or the first time, I found myself feeling like a dad. Not just a father, but a dad. Lisa's happiness saddened me because Waylan was not here to see it, but I felt my insides tingle as the healing process began.
I reached for the medal in my pocket, and made sure it was there. One day, when Lisa was old enough to understand its significance, I would give it to her. Waylan J. Green was gone, but his memory would live on inside his child long after those of us who knew him were gone as well. As I watched my extended family enjoying the peaceful afternoon I resolved once more to insure both Lisa and Casey were safe from harm, no matter what the price.
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.
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