Part VIII - Proceed on Course
Chapter 39 -- The Max Factor
Nearly ten years had passed since the last battle of the First Robotech War. Both my daughters were growing up to be tall, beautiful, and brilliant. Life was good. Although there were still some rogue Zentraedi elements making trouble throughout the world, the RDF had done a grand job of quelling them. I had long since retired from that business and now spent my days as a part-time airline captain, part-time airshow pilot. Things were truly marvelous.
The only complaint I had was the dreams. Nightmares, really. They were always the same. Rebellious Zentraedi forces, under the leadership of a purple haired dictator cast in the mold of Adolf Hitler, set off a series of nuclear warheads in major cities throughout North and South America, causing devastation and panic of ungodly proportions. San Antonio, one of the largest cities in the United States with its population of nearly one million people, was only 65 miles to the east of my home in Hunt, Texas. In the dreams, a brilliant flash of white light signaled the destruction of the "Alamo City," and I would awaken in a cold sweat, scared out of my mind.
On that fateful spring afternoon, I pondered the dreams in my living room. With a soda in one hand, I plopped into my favorite recliner and wondered if these visions were a revelation from on high. People who had dreams of a similar nature, be they about plane crashes or earthquakes, often saw them come to fruition. Could these dreams I was having be a premonition? I didn't know.
I decided to check on my kids as they rode their bicycles up and down the street. As I rose from my chair, a bright flash lit up the living room. The blood drained out of my face and I felt momentarily paralyzed.
"Oh Christ..." I mumbled quietly, before dashing for the front door. As I sprinted down the driveway and out into the street the sight that greeted me was enough to stop my heart. In the distance, a bilious mushroom cloud, evil and foreboding, rose slowly from behind the Juniper-covered limestone hills that made up the Hill Country of central Texas.
"Casey! Lisa Ann! Get over here now!" I screamed as loudly as I could, reversing my course in a dead run toward my two daughters. My worst fear had come to pass.
"Daddy! What is that?!" Casey pointed over my shoulder as she brought her small bicycle to a halt.
"Come on baby! We've got to hurry inside! I'll explain it later, come on!" I grabbed them both up, letting the bikes lay where they fell, and ran inside the house with a final look at the fiery gray cloud that signaled a devastation that was in so many ways worse than anything even the Zentraedi had been able to cause.
I scrambled into the basement, set the girls down, and lit a pair of candles and a battery-powered lantern to provide light. "Stay right here, sweethearts, I'll be right back."
"I'm scared," Casey cried out, tears welling up in her eyes.
"It's going to be okay, baby. It's going to be okay," I said, hugging her tightly to me. "You stay here and wait for me. Don't leave this room no matter what happens. I'll be back. I promise. Okay?" Both girls nodded quietly. "Okay." I turned and dashed back up the stairs with three bounds. "Stay here. I'll be right back," I said, closing the door behind me.
I scrambled through the house, insuring that all the windows, doors, and curtains were closed, and began running the water in all the sinks and bathtubs--radiation-free water would be a sure necessity, and the amount I had in the basement now seemed woefully inadequate. I checked the garage door to insure it was shut, then dashed out the back door toward the hangar where my Valkyrie was parked. I had to close and seal the hangar doors before the shock wave and fallout made their presence known. Since my house was perched near the top one of the taller hills in the area, those surrounding it would provide little protection from the devastating aftereffects of the nuclear blast.
I charged into the hangar and looked at my fighter for a quick moment. The emerald green and sky blue trimmed Guardian was as wonderful and beautiful a vision as I had seen, and was sure to be the last tranquil image in my life for a long time to come. Scrambling about the hangar as quickly as I could, I began securing the Veritech to the hangar floor with the tie-down cables to keep it from being blown off the hill when the shock wave arrived. Anchored into the rock by spikes drilled a hundred feet down, they were as secure as anything could be, and even if the hangar was ripped away, the Valkyrie would remain in place--at least I hoped it would.
After securing my Veritech, I sealed and locked the hangar doors--no fallout would reach its interior. I glanced at my watch and decided it was time to get back to my basement. The shock wave would arrive soon and I had to be back with my family before it hit.
I turned and dashed to my house on the hill, praying like mad that we would survive the hell heading our way. As I reached the back door I found it locked. The blood drained once more from my face as I fumbled for the keys. They weren't in my pocket! I ran to the front door and found that it too was locked.
"Jesus, this can't be happening! Not now!"
I checked every window and door and found them all locked up tight. I ran back to the sliding glass door for the sun room that opened into the back yard. It too, was locked. I began banging on the door with all my might, trying to get Casey or Lisa to come open it. As I slammed the door repeatedly with the bottom of my hand, I saw the door that stood between the sun room and the living room swing open. A beautiful girl, with long, flowing brown hair emerged and walked slowly toward the sliding glass door. I couldn't place her face, but it was unmistakably familiar, and although I had no idea who she was, I was glad she was there.
"Thank God you're here!! Hurry, please!!!"
She stopped and looked at me quizzically as if she did not understand what I was saying.
"Please, unlock this thing!"
She looked at me strangely, then replied softly, "I can't open it."
Her response caught me unprepared. "What do you mean you can't open it?"
"I can't open it. I am dead," she said softly. "You killed me."
I raised an eyebrow in surprise, not understanding what she meant by her comment. "I killed you?" I asked. "What do you mean?"
"You killed me. And now I will kill you," she stated, her voice even and foreboding.
She gazed off into the distance behind me and I turned to see what she was looking at. A thin, gray, cloud-like ribbon was rolling toward me at incredible speed. I recognized it immediately as the shock wave.
"Let me in, damn it!! Please!"
"I can't. You killed me... You killed me..."
She turned and began to walk away. Beyond her in the living room I could see someone on the floor. The person was crawling toward the basement door, leaving a crimson red trail of blood behind him. Dressed in a burned flight suit and helmet, he had no legs at all, and it was then I realized who these people were.
"You son of a bitch, leave my children alone!" I roared over the vicious wind that was now beginning to blow around me.
"You killed me," the girl said again, evenly.
"It was an accident! I'm sorry!!"
The wind grew fiercer and the sky rumbled. I tried to break the glass but it was to no avail. I looked behind me and saw the shock wave, evil, sinister, and I started to scream...
I bolted upright in my bed with my heart beating like a jackhammer, cold, clammy sweat covering my body. With a lump in my throat I reached out in the darkness for the lamp by my bed and turned it on. I put my glasses on and made my way groggily to the kitchen for a drink of water. After draining two full glasses I took a seat at the table and stared at the clock on the microwave. I was calm now, but this nightmare was becoming a recurring theme and I did not enjoy it. My hand was beginning to throb with pain and I took some medication to relieve it. The lacerations were healing rapidly, and it would not be long before I again took to the sky in defense of the SDF-1.
Because of the stitches in my hand--and, more likely, due to my lack of temper--I was now off the Super VF project. In a way it did not matter. We had completed over 90% of the test program and Hunter's successful effort to defend CDR. Hayes' shuttle showed us more than we could have learned attacking Ghost drones. In fact, Hunter's auspicious debut combat action proved that the Super Valk attack software was ready to go, and full production of operational Super Valkyries and armor packages for refit VF-1s was only days away. They could not be ready too soon.
Things had not gone well for us. In previous months, the Zentraedi would attack then pull back, giving us the time to regroup for the next onslaught. But things were different now. The attacks lasted longer and the reprieve periods were shorter. The barracks were emptier now, too, and the only way to put bodies into Valkyrie cockpits was to cut back on training. This resulted in pilots that were not as qualified as their predecessors and caused the loss rate to climb. It was a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the Zentraedi were using larger formations and longer ranged missiles which negated the first strike advantage we had enjoyed for so long. It was a dismal time, and I itched to get back into action where my skills could be put to use. Little did I know that by the time I next launched from the deck of Prometheus things would be drastically different in more ways than one.
In spite of the difficulties in the combat arena, the focal point of the time--and the impetus that dramatically changed the direction of the First Robotech War--proved to be a personal one. During one of the many skirmishes unleashed by the Zentraedi during the Spring of 2011, a very different kind of spy found her way aboard the SDF-1 with vengeance on her mind.
Miriya Parina, commander of the elite Quadrano Battalion (equipped with the amazingly powerful Queadlunn-Rau), and arguably the Zentraedi's greatest ace, had been bested by Max Sterling during her short penetration of the SDF-1 on 08 August--the same fight that cost the life of Air Wing Commander Roy Fokker. Stunned by her defeat, Miriya found herself completely overcome with rage. Determined to avenge her loss, the ace Zentraedi pilot allowed herself to be reduced in size--from the standard Zentraedi height of 35 feet to a more human like 5'6"--through a process the Zentraedi referred to as "Micronization." She then had herself smuggled aboard the ship where she searched for the "Micronian" who had beaten her.
By a strange twist of fate, Max Sterling bumped into Miriya at a local video arcade. Entranced by her beauty and skill, he challenged her to a friendly duel on a 3-D Valkyrie simulator. Like gladiators the two sparred, each seemingly unable to best the other. For five long minutes they dueled until, finally, Max exploited a minor mistake and turned Miriya's red Battloid into dust with a series of torso hits--exactly as he had done nearly a year before. The Zentraedi ace knew then that she had found the target of her hatred.
As she stood and turned to leave in humiliation, Max--struck squarely in the heart by Cupid's arrow--set up a time to meet with the slender alien fighter pilot. It would prove to be the strangest date of his life. That evening, instead of a smile of happiness, Max was greeted with a pair of razor sharp daggers. Miriya wasted no time in going for the kill and launched a knife in Max's direction. The Blue Devil stepped deftly aside and the knife imbedded itself in a tree trunk.
"I am Miriya Parina, Zentraedi Air Force! Prepare for your doom!" Miriya screamed as she charged at the Flying Genius with bared teeth.
Max's perplexed reaction was characteristic in its coolness. "There goes our first...date," he mumbled quietly to himself.
As they had on both previous occasions, the pair of aces fought a fierce contest, this time in a remote section of Macross City Park, as Miriya hurled epithets at the blue haired fighter pilot.
"I will not be humiliated by a Micronian! The first time you were lucky, the second was your final victory! Nothing can save you now! I will defeat you!!"
Filled with a bloodlust to avenge previous defeats, she charged after the intrepid RDF ace, a second dagger in hand. Unlike the other two confrontations, however, it was Max who slipped this time. Was it a rock or a tree root that felled humanity's greatest fighter pilot? The answer is still debated even to this day. Drama seekers say it was a rock, the same rock Max lunged for as Miriya dove down on him, knife in hand, a blood curdling battle yell emanating from her angered face.
As the knife came down onto Max's throat the rock came up to meet it, thrust into its path by the embattled Micronian ace. Miriya's knife glanced harmlessly off the rock and gave Max the time to scramble for the other knife. With Miriya in pursuit, the Blue Devil reached the dagger, ripped it out of the tree, and turned to face his attacker. A series of parries followed. Once more, Max capitalized on a mistake and within moments, the Zentraedi fighter ace found herself disarmed with a knife at her throat.
Once more the Quadrono leader had been bested by the bespectacled fighter pilot.
"I guess I win again," he said matter-of-factly.
"You've beaten me again," she sobbed in humiliation. "This is a shame I cannot endure... End my life. Please."
Max's eyes widened, and he threw the knife aside. "But...but I couldn't. You're so beautiful." As the blue haired warrior stared into the eyes of the woman who had nearly killed him, Max found himself on the verge of tears. In an incredible display of chivalry, he posed to her the most difficult question any man could ask of a woman. "Miriya, this is going to sound crazy but...will you marry me?"
With those words, the fate of mankind was unalterably changed.
It didn't take long for the rumor mill to wind up to full speed. I was on my way out the door to pick up Casey and Lisa when Josh stopped me and gave me a quick rundown of what he'd heard.
"They're getting married on June 1st, too!"
"They're what? Married? To an alien?! He's out of his damned mind!" I said, my forehead wrinkling like a Sharpei's.
Josh simply nodded.
"With a Zentraedi? Jesus. What is the world coming to? What's with this damned sleeping with the enemy crap? Has he gone crazy?" I ranted.
"Apparently so--crazy in love. She's pretty damned good looking, Jake," he shrugged.
"I don't care if she's Jan-Fucking-Morris, she's still one of them!" I hissed.
Josh shrugged. "I guess..." he managed.
I turned and began walking down the corridor. Now Joshua was falling for it, too. Had everyone forgotten that we were at war? The emotions that welled up inside me began fighting with each other. I felt a grotesque, racist hatred simmering deep in my gut. My wife was dead. Waylan Green was dead. William Brubaker was dead. Jacien Carr was dead. The Zentraedi were a race of beings that had caused so much death and anguish, and now, in spite of it all, one of my dearest friends was going to marry one, my wingman was going to support him, and the Captain of the ship was going to let him! It made me sick to my stomach.
I glanced at my watch and stifled the urge to find Max and throttle him. My kids had to come before my immature notions of righting the wrongs of the world. As pilots poked their heads out of their doorways to hear what I was so pissed about, I unleashed a guttural grunt and stormed out of the barracks, wondering to myself how things could have gotten so screwed up.
As crazy as it seemed, Miriya Parina had agreed to wed the handsome fighter pilot after what amounted to a twenty minute courtship, and preparations for the "Interstellar Wedding" were quickly underway. The three Zentraedi spies, Rico, Bron, and Konda, had been granted asylum aboard the SDF-1 in spite of Maistroff's objections, and it seemed that a peaceful resolution to the conflict might actually be within reach. After all, if the top fighter pilots from each side could find a way to get along, it seemed likely that the rest of us could too.
My initial anger eventually gave way to simple amusement. It seemed ironic that Max and Miriya's courtship was, in truth, not much shorter than Rebeckah's and my own had been. In the end, my only regret would be that I gave voice to my irrational hatred. My words, as regrettable and unintentional as they were, found their way back to Max and put a needless, irretrievable strain on our relationship. When I stopped by his Ready Room to offer my congratulations, he was curt and restrained, not the outgoing, fun-loving Max I had known so well. My handshake offer was refused, much to my surprise, and I realized I had made a grievous error in expressing such knee jerk thoughts.
I regret doing so to this day.
June 1st rolled around and the SDF-1 was a buzz with excitement. History was in the making, and people crowded around monitors throughout the ship to satisfy their morbid curiosity at what was about to take place. It was a grand gala, the biggest, most extravagant event the people of Macross had ever seen. A towering wedding cake shaped like the SDF-1 stood in the center of the SDF-1's "Grand Ballroom," a lavish section of the ship used for all manner of ceremonies. It was there that the vows would be exchanged.
The celebration was remarkable for its imprudence. Fireworks were unleashed into the cold vacuum of space to the delight of the spectators crowded around observation portals. Valkyries floated silently on either side of the departure end of the Prometheus, waiting for Max's blue trimmed Valkyrie to fly "down the isle" with the bride-to-be in the rear seat. Through it all, the SDF-1's broadcasting network had a field day, booming pictures of the spectacle out into space and--to the chagrin of the United Earth Government--back to Earth as well.
Suddenly, brilliant flashes lit up the sky. Max's Valk screamed between the towering Battloids lined up off Promie's bow as they fired tracer rounds out into space. After a smooth touchdown on the deck, his fighter was lowered on an elevator to the hangar deck. Max and Miriya made their way out of the cockpit and into a waiting limousine which rushed them to the Grand Ballroom. The couple exchanged vows in a pseudo-traditional ceremony then cut the wedding cake, smiles indelibly etched on their faces. Those gathered to witness the wedding cheered wildly.
An announcer then introduced the Guest of Honor, Capt. Henry J. Gloval, who had a brief speech to make. As the Captain stepped to the podium, regal in his finest dress uniform, the crowd applauded him politely. Once the room fell silent, he addressed the residents of Macross City--and the universe beyond. We were unprepared for what he would say.
"I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Max and Miriya, for this wedding carries with it a great historical significance. As you all know, Miriya was a Zentraedi warrior who destroyed many of our own ships. She comes from a culture that we have grown to fear and hate. Clearly it is the Zentraedi who have caused our present situation. They alone prevent our return to Earth, our homes, and our beloved families. It is they who have caused injury, destruction, and endless suffering!" he snarled.
Everyone was taken aback by the venom of his speech, and murmurs resonated through the ballroom crowd.
"Captain, please!" Max whispered from the guest table.
"Captain!" Lt. Hunter called out from across the room.
Gloval waved them off. "Now I know what you are thinking.... 'Why is he choosing this time to remind us of these terrible things?' I remind you of these brutal acts ladies and gentleman because we must learn to forgive our enemies. We do not forgive blindly or out of ignorance, but because we are a strong and willing nation. We cannot blame the Zentraedi for this inexplicable lust for war. They have never known another way of life and it is their only means of survival. Nor can we condemn the individuals of that society for the mass insanity of their war machine. Instead we must look to their good nature.
"Now some have made the request to end the fighting and I believe it is a genuine request. We must respond with equal integrity. The blood of both these young people was tested before the ceremony...Zentraedi blood was found to be exactly the same as human blood. There is no reason why we cannot coexist in peace, so let this occasion represent the future where all people can live in harmony."
The spectators seated in the ballroom went wild with cheering, cutting the Captain off. "Please allow me to speak just a moment longer!" The applause only grew more boisterous.
Finally, the Captain was able to continue. "I am sure there are those who have lost loved ones during the war and cannot help harboring ill feelings for the Zentraedi. But somehow we must overcome these feelings. We must stop this senseless destruction before it is too late for us all. I challenge each and every citizen to a single commitment--each and every citizen must develop a responsible attitude toward the prospect of peace. We must learn from our mistakes to live with different people--different nations. Think of the challenge! I am not proposing laying down our arms but extending them in friendship, so that if there is a chance of a peaceful solution we can find it together as these young people have done. The Zentraedi are a strong and intelligent people. Therefore, let this act today stand as a symbol of our approval. We must follow their example. They are the heroes of today!"
The crowds in the streets went crazy! A huge cheer went up throughout the giant ship, and a raucous celebration erupted. For whatever the reason, I found the Captain's words to be a great comfort to me, and for a moment, the bitterness I harbored faded away completely. As the people nearby hugged me and patted my back, I smiled. I was at peace once again, even if only for a minute, and absorbed the intensely wonderful camaraderie that grew from Gloval's speech. Sadly, the joy we all felt would prove to be fleeting, as events of a more grave nature were just around the corner.
Chapter 40 -- The Regult Turkey Shoot
The party was nowhere near breaking up almost half an hour after Gloval's speech. My family and I were savoring an outdoor barbecue sponsored by one of the local restaurants, and I relished the opportunity to catch up on things with my mother, father, brother, and in-laws. Lisa Ann was across the park playing with her "Aunt Kristy," and I could just make out her laughter over the music being played by a local blues band--a sign that I regarded her as my daughter even on a subconscious level. I had just reached forward to lift Casey out of my mom's arms when the alarm sounded its urgent call to action.
"All pilots, scramble! Scramble! This is no drill! Red alert!! All pilots, scramble! Scramble! This a full scale alert!! All personnel report to your duty stations immediately!" the shrill voice cried over the public address system.
The crowd began to disperse almost immediately, as military personnel dashed toward their duty stations and cockpits, and civilians rushed for the shelters. The blues band, engrossed in its music, continued to play on as if nothing were happening.
"Gotta' go, gang!!" I said, releasing Casey. I kissed her on the cheek, then turned and began to run toward the bustling traffic of a nearby thoroughfare. "I'll see you all later! Bye mom!"
"You be careful, Jake!" she called back, a hint of worry in her voice.
"I will! I love you all!" I said, scrambling for the street to catch a ride to Prometheus.
I ran up behind four other fighter pilots who were clambering into the same cab and managed to squeeze into the back seat. The driver began to roll before I even closed the door. As the cab pulled into the street, two other fighter pilots ran up, jumped onto the roof of the moving vehicle, and clung to the luggage rack on top as we sped down the street. Pandemonium abounded, and I began to wonder which was more dangerous: dogfighting Zentraedi or hitching a cab ride during a red alert. I wasn't sure.
We raced up the tunnel that connected Prometheus to the SDF-1, and the adrenaline began its familiar rush through my veins. My heart pounded in my chest and my hand began to throb with pain. We flashed past the guard station with its gates open wide--nobody was checking identification at this perilous moment--and in seconds, came screeching to a halt on the hangar deck. The two pilots on the luggage rack leapt off the roof and onto the hood of the cab before it even stopped, as the rest of us piled out of the yellow four door. As I reached the driver's side door, I stopped and handed the cabby a five that he immediately refused.
"Just give them hell up there!" he hollered, flashing me a thumbs up.
"Thanks I will!" I replied, patting him on the shoulder then scurrying for my Ready Room.
Turning a corner, I charged into the Ready Room hatch just as Josh and James Andresen were heading out of it.
Josh pulled up short as Andresen continued on toward his Veritech. "Jake! You flying this one?" he asked with a look of genuine surprise.
"Yeah! You and James going out as a section?" I said, grabbing my anti-G suit and flight helmet.
"Yeah, he was going to be my number two."
I zipped up the anti-G suit and reached for my gloves. "Okay, get goin'. I'll form up on you as your number three."
"And Josh," I said, as he started to turn for the door. "I'm sorry about the things I said about Max the other day. I was out of line."
He shook his head. "Nah, Jake. Don't sweat it."
"Thanks..." I said, solemnly. "Now get outta' here you bum!"
"Aye aye, sir," he said with a twinkle in his eye and a nod of the head, before flying out the door to his fighter.
I smiled to myself as I grabbed my kneeboard and helmet. In the latter I found a note from my optometrist. "Jake, I hope this does the trick for you. Good luck! Doc." I smiled, tucked the note into a flight suit pocket, then headed out of the Ready Room to my Valkyrie.
The hangar deck was a beehive of activity and my bird was parked in the back row of my squadron's parking section. After my short sprint I found her sitting idle near the hangar bay wall. Nobody had expected me to be going up that day, and Philo was taking the opportunity to fine tune the fighter's systems. When he spotted me making a mad cap walk around of the newly refit fighter, now resplendent in a fresh eggshell blue on lavender paint scheme I had commissioned (one of the privileges of being a high ranking ace), the veteran Corporal came running over to help.
"Lieutenant! I didn't realize you were going up!"
"I am! Help me out here, will you?" I said, reaching down to remove a landing gear pin.
"Get strapped in and start her up, Lieutenant, I'll handle the rest!" he said, pointing to the cockpit. "Murphy! Jonesy! Get over here on the double!" he yelled to his ground crew members.
I scrambled to the boarding ladder and smacked the bang button with my good hand. Stuffing my glasses into an empty sleeve pocket, I tugged my flight helmet on then lowered my new prescription visor. This was my first opportunity to test it, and I hoped it would work as well as advertised . Reaching for the ladder, I heaved myself up off the hangar deck. In the rush to get into the sky I had forgotten about the stitches in my right hand. The strain placed by 200-plus pounds of human weight and flight gear proved more than the thin pieces of wire could handle, and with a painful series of pops, they ripped themselves loose.
"Son of a bitch!" I cursed, jumping off the ladder. Grabbing my gloved right hand with my left as I went to one knee, I continued to spew profanities. "Ah...hell!"
The engines began to roar in my ears as they spooled up, and I could feel the glove filling up with blood, but I couldn't do anything about it at that moment. With only one hand, I clambered awkwardly up the ladder and into the cockpit, clenching my teeth against the agonizing throbbing that racked my blood soaked right paw. Ignoring it as best I could, I fumbled with the harness that would secure me to the ejection seat then ran through my preflight checklist. As I watched, my three ground crewmen began loading Stilettos onto the missile racks, and in thirty seconds I had twelve missiles ready to go.
The instrument panel lit up with information and the computerized self-test showed that everything was ready to go. I lowered the canopy and waited for the cockpit to pressurize. When it did, I popped my ears and attached my face mask.
"Sand Pebble One is up, Button Four," I called out.
Josh was listening for me. "Sand Pebble One from Husky One, we're already taxiing. Join up at your discretion."
"Sand Pebble One. Roger. I'll assume the call Husky Three when we form up."
"Roger, Sand Pebble One. See you on deck."
Throughout the hangar deck Valkyries were taxiing to elevators while other pilots were climbing into cockpits and making their "up" calls.
"Basher One is up, Button Four."
"Basher Two is up."
"Basher Three is up."
"Bashers go to Button Six."
"Asp One is up, Button Four."
"Asp Two is up."
"Asp Three is up."
"Dagger One is up."
And so it went.
I leaned out of the cockpit, peering aft for a glimpse of Philo who emerged from underneath the left intake with a thumbs up. He motioned me to taxi forward then handed me off to the plane director with a snappy salute. I returned the gesture with one of my own as I taxied out of the parking area, guided by the yellow shirted plane director. I reached the elevator and tapped the brakes with my toes to bring the Valk to a halt. Two other fighters pulled up beside me, and the elevator rushed us to the flight deck where we each handed off to another plane director.
I was directed to a spot behind one of the starboard bow catapults and took a moment to look around. Valkyries were being launched into space faster than I had ever seen. From every catapult and launch bay they were screaming off to meet the enemy assault, thrusters flaring in the midnight black sky. The airwaves, alive with the chatter of flight leaders coordinating their elements, lent an air of desperation to the situation--and desperate it was.
The combined weight of an entire Zentraedi Attack Fleet was bearing down on us, spearheaded by thousands upon thousands of fighters to prevent us from hitting the giant warships. With a large percentage of our force composed of poorly trained, completely inexperienced pilots, there was nothing ahead for us but a rough time, and it seemed the end had finally come. As my computer struggled to keep up with all the information being relayed to it by the SDF-1's radar network, I said a quick prayer that we would survive the hell that was coming for us.
The fighter ahead of me began to taxi forward, and I focused once more on the task at hand. My turn at the catapult was only seconds away and a flight control check was necessary. I'd neglected to do one earlier because I wanted my hand to stop bleeding. Keeping it immobile had helped, but if I was going to fight I had to be able to hold the control stick. I reached up to grab the pole but couldn't grip it with any authority. Exhaling loudly, I squeezed it as hard as I dared. It hurt like hell and my hand began bleeding profusely once more. Thankfully, the pain dissipated quickly, and I completed the flight control check without an instant to spare.
The plane director motioned furiously for me to move, and I bumped the throttle forward a fraction of an inch. I taxied into the cat shuttle and placed both hands on the glare panel. The safety pins for the weapons slung beneath my fighter were removed, and in seconds, I was blasted off the bow of the Prometheus toward the alien cruisers headed our way.
I switched to Button Five and made a call to Joshua. "Husky Lead, Sand Pebble One."
"Sand Pebble One, Husky One, go ahead."
"Husky One, I have you on screen, I'll be with you in three minutes, thirty seconds, over."
"Roger, Sand Pebble One. Three-three-zero."
The chatter over the net gave a good picture of what was happening. Six different squadrons tasked with attacking the enemy cruisers attempted to break through the Zentraedi fighter cover, only to be forced into retreat. Lt. Plog's command team was the only group that managed to pierce the enemy's fighter defenses. With three nukes and three Stilettos slung on his Valk's hard points--and Sprabary and Ray providing cover--Plog attacked the lead enemy battle cruiser, severely crippling the huge ship. His valiant effort did little to halt the advance of the alien fleet, however, and it wasn't long before the fight reached BARCAP Ring Two.
I had just passed the inner BARCAP ring, closing quickly on Josh's two-plane formation, when I ran through my combat checklist for the third time. A beautiful and brilliant trail of blue flares spread out in front of me like headlights on a gently rolling highway. In the distance, bright flashes punctuated the darkness as the dogfight raged on with renewed intensity. From that moment on, things began to move much faster than I had expected, and before I knew it, red halos were lighting up on my HUD and missile launch warnings were crying in my headset.
I launched half a dozen Stilettos at the incoming raiders before pulling my fighter into a vertical pitchout, unleashing flares as I did so. The tone fell silent and I craned my neck back to see a train of Regults streaking away behind me, as five magnesium flares floated lazily down toward them. I pulled harder on the stick, brought my fighter over the top, then executed a half roll. The pods were in my sights now, thrusters flaring as they charged away from me as fast as they could manage. Bumping the throttle forward I pounced on them, and salvoed my remaining Stilettos at the intruding gaggle of alien mecha. I didn't wait to see if they hit home.
We were outnumbered nearly 100 to 1, and with Zentraedi fighters all about, one dared not stay on a constant vector for more than two seconds. So, with a quick glance aft, I yanked the stick to the left and back, stomping on the left rudder as I did so. The vernier thrusters on top of the left wing and below the right fired, as did those on the right side of the nose and the left side of the tail. The ACS momentarily yanked the left engine to idle and the right engine into max thrust. Combined, these actions yawed my Valkyrie over in a spiraling corkscrew that I hoped would foil any gun solution that a fighter on my tail might be trying to compute.
After four seconds and four and a half spirals, I centered the stick, then pulled it back, heading once more in the direction I had been on when I first fired--Josh was counting on me to cover him and I had to join up as soon as possible. I jinked back and forth, slashing in and out of the attacking Zentraedi formations with my GU-11 and newly mounted twin laser turret, as explosions and missiles danced about. Progress was slow, and several times I was forced into a turning engagement with a Regult or a rare Raulon've. Although Raulon'ves were conspicuous by their near total absence, Regults were simply everywhere, and I realized that it wouldn't be long before we all ran out of ammunition, fuel, or just plain luck.
As I struggled to stay alive in the increasingly crowded sky my headset transmitted one of the strangest orders my ears have ever heard. Lt. Hunter, possessed by some strange insanity, was ordering us to do our best not to destroy any enemy ships. "Just damage them," he called. "We can stop this war without bloodshed, gents."
I am sure I was not the only pilot to lift an eyebrow in bewilderment, and the Tac Net was momentarily jammed with exasperated pilots asking Hunter if he had lost his mind.
The early versions of the VF-1 had the disadvantage of being a weapons system that was almost entirely dependent on traditional cannon and missiles. With the exception of the head laser turret (which, particularly in the guise of the single laser VF-1A, was marginal at best against hard targets) Valkyrie pilots were without a true offensive energy weapon of any kind. This changed with the introduction of the Block 10 VF-1's, which added a pair of 30 mm lasers to the nose. Although not nearly as powerful as the 55 mm GU-11 gun pod, in the vacuum of space a well placed shot with the nose lasers could be devastating. With the computerized targeting system and the gimbaled mirrors introduced on Block 20 Valkyries (which allowed the nose lasers' point of aim to be moved at their source a degree and a half in every direction), precision shooting was no longer a pipe dream, and the nose lasers finally evolved into a useful weapon system.
I had never been a fan of the first incarnation of the nose laser system, and in my short career had only used them once. Although I didn't do any damage that day, I was able to scare off a persistently annoying trio of Raulon'ves, and return to the ship. Now it was time to see if the improvements to the laser system that came with the Block 20 Valkyries would pay off.
Hunter sent out a schematic of the Regult to every pilot in the fight which I called up on my right MFD. According to Miriya--who was flying in the back seat of Max's Valkyrie--just above the point where the legs attached to the fuselage was the main power coupling. If damaged, all systems except for life support would be disabled and the Regult would be rendered harmless. The trick was to try and get underneath the armor plate that covered the coupling from every angle except almost directly below. It would require precise shooting from a low-powered weapon, as the GU-11's 55mm rounds would tear through the armor plate, the coupling, and the cockpit, defeating the objective Hunter had in mind.
It wasn't long before I found a target to test Miriya's theory--a lone Regult heading for the SDF-1. With a quick check of my six o'clock, I swooped down on the unsuspecting pod. Going beneath the target, I pulled back on the stick and charged in on him from below. Aiming carefully for the spot shown on the schematic, I fired a short pulse from the nose lasers and watched as a cloud of gas spurted from the damaged enemy craft. The thrusters that had flared brightly seconds before now fell dark and quiet. Miriya's idea was right on the money.
Throughout the combat area, Veritech pilots used this method to disable thousands of Regult pods. As the fight raged, the Zentraedi seemed to lose the hard edge that was their trademark, and the battle swung decisively in our favor. I managed to disable nearly fifty Regults that day. The nose lasers, unsuited for almost any other task, were perfect at this job, and taking out the pods proved to be a piece of cake. By the time the dogfight ended, a giant carpet of disabled Zentraedi mecha floated in the weightlessness of space, unable to do anything but wait for rescue. Like a swarm of bees returning to their nest, the remaining Zentraedi fighters turned and headed for their ships. Once more, the fight ended as abruptly as it had begun, and every pilot breathed much deserved sigh of relief.
Happy to have survived, I glanced at my tracking system and located Josh and Andresen--they were only two miles left of my current track. Moving the stick gently to the left, I cautiously formed up on Josh's wing as he headed for the carrier.
"Nice of you to join us, Lieutenant," he commented with mock sarcasm.
Feigning guilt I muttered, "Sorry, Josh. I ran into some...traffic."
He laughed aloud.
As we coasted toward the Prometheus Marshall I allowed myself a quick moment to reflect on the events of the day. Things had indeed changed in the cold black vacuum of space, and for once, the change was to our advantage. As I stared at the pictures on my instrument panel of Beki, Casey, and Lisa--and at Waylan's RDFC--I could not help but smile. I sensed that a peaceful solution was now within reach, and it was a truly fine day to be alive.
Jason W. Smith
Copyright © 1995 by Jason W. Smith
(Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual events, persons, etc. is coincidental--even if intentionally so! --June 1995)
Based on characters and situations from
Robotech, © 1985 Harmony Gold, USA, Inc.
Robotech (R) is the property of Harmony Gold. This document is in no way intended to infringe upon their rights.
The author has not accepted any remuneration for this work.
Copyright © 1996 Robert Morgenstern
Version Last Updated: 27 November 1998