Part VIII - Proceed on Course
Chapter 41 - Fighting With Knives
I clambered out of the cockpit, nowhere near as fatigued as I thought I'd be. I smiled brightly as I unstrapped my anti-G suit and helmet. It wasn't until I noticed how many empty parking spaces there were on the flight deck that the stark reality of the day's battle hit me. Although we had won a great victory, the cost was still higher than any of us would have liked, and I wondered who from my squadron would fail to return.
It had been a productive day--the post mission briefing would show 17 kills, 8 probables, and 43 damaged--perhaps the most successful single mission of my career. Just going over the numbers in my head boggled my mind, and it was clear that my own lethality was something I had yet to come to terms with. I was not one who thought much about the fact that I killed "people" for a living--an ironic occupation to be sure. After all, they had started this carnage and killed many people about whom I cared a great deal. What did it matter if they vomited their lungs into the vacuum of space or roasted in the confines of a cockpit I had destroyed with a missile or gun pod? It was a question I had avoided for a long time--and one that I began to think about more and more since Miriya stepped onto the scene.
When it came to concerns about raw ability as a fighter pilot, this day should have erased all doubts. I was as effective in the cockpit as anyone--more so than most--yet I never regarded myself as anything other than just an average guy doing a tough job. Pride could get one killed faster than the deadliest missile, and I tried to never take myself, or my abilities, for granted. Perhaps that is what set me apart from the truly great aces like Fokker, Brubaker, Plog, and Sterling--where I considered myself just another fighter pilot trying to stay alive, they considered themselves the best in the business, without question, without hesitation. These pilots never considered the possibility they would come up on the short end of the stick. As I mulled these thoughts over in my mind I came to the realization that perhaps this was why so many of the great aces were dead.
As I helped Philo secure my aircraft, the remaining members of our squadron began to taxi in. Six out. Six in. Relieved to see that we had again suffered no losses, I completed my task and headed off to Sick Bay. My hand was a mess, and the flight surgeon would have his work cut out for him.
Little did I know that soon, I too would have my work cut out for me.
A general malaise descended on the SDF-1 for the next couple of days. The alien cruisers that had massed for the assault which would crush the SDF-1 underfoot once and for all had withdrawn. In there wake was only a cloud of confusion and disarray.
Production of the Super Valkyrie was now underway, and Lt. Hunter had a problem on his hands. Only three pilots--Hunter, Dickson, and myself--were qualified in the Super, and it would be up to us to train more than three hundred fighter pilots in the operation of the RDF's most advanced fighter. If the Zentraedi decided to mount another assault on us, our only salvation would be squadrons of Super Valks piloted by experts, and time was of the essence.
It was decided that best way to get people transitioned into the new fighter would be to train pilots to train pilots. Each of us would go back to our squadrons and bring our squadron mates up to speed on the Super. Once their training was completed, these pilots would move to other squadrons to train those pilots and so on, until every fighter pilot aboard ship was Super-qualified. It was a daunting task, but one that we attacked with abandon, for our very existence was now at stake as we raced against the sweep hand of the clock.
I received the first seven Super Valkyrie armor units--now known as the FAAST-1 (Fuel, Armor, and Armament System, Tactical), or "Fast One"--and immediately went to work bringing the Streak Eagles up to speed. My squadron mates were without question, the finest group of fighter pilots aboard ship, and I found it hard to accept the reality that this would be our last assignment as a unit. We had been through a lot together, and in the heat of combat had grown as close as any family. I would miss them when they were gone.
After an intensive eight day training course, during which every system and feature of the Super Valkyrie was explained and re-explained in excruciating detail, the members of VF-12 were fully qualified to fly the new fighter. Watching Josh operate the Super, I realized for the first time what a truly marvelous pilot he was. That he had done so well guarding my tail should have been proof enough, but his poetic handling of the Super Valkyrie during our practice dogfighting sessions rammed the point home resoundingly. His understanding of the systems and finesse with the controls marveled even the most casual observer, and I knew he would make an excellent teacher and flight leader.
The completion of the training program marked the end of an era for the Streak Eagles. With more FAAST-1 units being built every day, it was time for us to move on to our next assignment, and Lt. Plog called us all together for one last squadron meeting. The purpose of the meeting was not lost on anyone: VF-12 was to be officially disbanded, and its members spread among the other squadrons to train them in the use of the Super Valkyrie.
Lt. Sprabary was the last pilot to enter the Ready Room, and once he was seated, Lt. Plog started VF-12's final squadron briefing. "Gentlemen...this is perhaps the last time I will ever stand before you..." he said solemnly, gripping a white sheet of paper in his right hand. "This is a copy of our official orders. They read as follows: 'As of 1200 hours, 11 June, 2011, Fighter Squadron 12 is officially decommissioned. The members of Fighter Squadron 12 have acquitted themselves honorably during nearly 24 months of combat duty, from 27 June, 2009 to 11 June, 2011, compiling a combat record of 2,081 enemy craft destroyed on 4,994 operational sorties. VF-12's performance under arduous conditions during this period is worthy of the highest praise. In accordance with Special Operations Order 211-2901, the members of VF-12 are assigned to the following squadrons...'"
As the Lieutenant read us our new assignments I looked at the pilots around me. There was a sadness even among the most veteran pilots that could not be ignored, evidenced by the gloomy expressions on their faces. It didn't seem possible that we were being disbanded, but as Plog continued on, disbelief turned into to denial, and later, resignation.
"'Each member of the unit is hereby promoted one grade in recognition of your successful completion of the condensed FAAST-1 training program. The ship's commanders, crew, and citizens express their sincere appreciation for your outstanding efforts and wish you continued success in future endeavors. Signed, Henry J. Gloval, Captain; Col. Johannes I. Maistroff, Executive Officer; LCDR Rick Hunter, Senior Air Group Commander.'" Lt. Plog--now Lieutenant Commander Plog--folded the memo and tossed it on the table in front of him.
The room remained silent.
"And now," LCDR Plog said, turning and reaching for a case of Scotch he had stashed in a cabinet, "I would like you gentlemen to help me get rid of this stuff by joining me in a toast to fallen comrades." He set the case on the table in front of him and motioned to it with an open hand.
Not sure what to say, the seven remaining members of the squadron exchanged knowing glances at one another. The Scotch made it official. The Streak Eagles were no more.
I reported to my new unit that afternoon, suffering from the effects of one Scotch and one reminiscence too many. VF-51, a squadron re-organized from the remnants of two others--VF-61 "The Lumberjacks" and VF-96 "The Fighting Vampires"--was my new home. In honor of Max and Miriya Sterling, the new unit adopted the name "The Fighting Knives" and painted a pair of crossed daggers on the tails of their Valkyries. I considered the double meaning a nice touch.
I reported to my new Squadron Commander, a tall, bespectacled First Lieutenant of slight stature named Vincent "Weasel" May. With dark hair and piercing eyes, the Lieutenant was well-known for his incessant search for newer and better ways to fight our alien friends. Formerly the Executive Officer (X.O.) of VF-96, Lt. May was the senior member of the newly formed squadron and assumed its command. With 85 victories, May was no LCDR Plog, but he was an experienced combat pilot with a wealth of knowledge in the area of tactics, and I quickly felt comfortable with my new commander.
"Welcome aboard, Lt. Framton. I've read your file and I like what I see, so, to make a long story short...if you have no objections, I am tapping you as my new Exec.."
I was momentarily taken aback. "No objections, sir," I managed.
"Good," he smiled, turning to stare out the window behind him. "Seeing as how you are the FAAST expert, the show is yours to run as you see fit," he said. The Lieutenant turned back to his desk and grabbed a manila folder. "Here are the personnel records. Take a look at them. If there's anything you need, you just let me know."
"Aye aye, sir," I said, my head ringing like a gong.
"Very well. Carry on. Once again, welcome aboard."
"Thank you sir," I said before turning dizzily on my heel in search of some aspirin, the personnel files tucked tightly under my arm.
After downing what seemed like half a bottle of pain killers I was able to glance at the records. The members of the squadron were, for the most part, unremarkable. Perhaps it was a bias in favor of my old unit that made me look at them this way, but I just didn't see anything worth getting excited about. There were a few 50-kill aces in the group, but for the most part, this was a highly inexperienced bunch. Going over the squadron's personnel records showed that my job was indeed going to be a tough one, made tougher by the fact that for the first time in my career, I would be working without Joshua Kauffman.
It would take some getting used to.
My training sessions with VF-51 were not nearly as successful as they had been with my old squadron. The pilots in the group lacked experience and it took them longer to learn the new fighter. Worse, the respect I commanded from my peers did not carry over with the new group, and I placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of a young First Lieutenant named John "Roach" Cochran.
He was a beady-eyed, sawed off little bastard. Of all the people it has been my personal displeasure to know, I would definitely place him in the top three. Although Cochran was senior to me, he did not have my experience and was passed over for the billet of Squadron Executive Officer (X.O.). This did not rest well with the young fighter pilot and he blamed me--and my father's "position" within the SDF-1's "political hierarchy"--for his failure to secure the job.
I noticed the hatred almost immediately. Cochran would ignore my directions during our work-up period (i.e. the time we spent getting up to speed in the Super), pretending not to hear my instructions over the radio or in the briefing room. He even went so far as to try and undermine my authority with the other pilots in the squadron by giving them orders that contradicted my own. Forced to choose between listening to a new Squadron X.O. or a known entity, the junior pilots tended to follow Cochran's instructions over mine, and the training program began to suffer.
I found it incredible that this petty squabble could be taking place during such a desperate time. Our fighter squadrons were down to just over half strength, and this was not the time to be fighting with each other. That being said, I couldn't resist the urge to riddle Cochran's fighter with 55mm cannon holes, and there were moments where I had to fight the urge with all the willpower in my body.
I knew that something had to be done quickly, but I didn't want to go to Lt. May with my difficulties. It would show a weakness in leadership on my part, and could go so far as to cause a rift within the squadron, with half the pilots in favor of Cochran and half in favor of May. I needed another answer.
The last straw came on June 13th. I was doing an intense weapons familiarization drill with Cochran and three junior pilots. Despite my orders, the idiot wouldn't stay in formation. Instead, he chose to do a series of barrel rolls around my fighter, which not only made me look like a blithering idiot, but also caused the other three pilots to lose concentration.
"Lt. Cochran! Get your ass in formation right now!" I demanded.
"What was that?" he asked, pretending once more to have not heard my instructions, rolling his Valk around until it was almost canopy to canopy with my own.
"Gawdamnit, that's it!" I hissed. "Sand Pebbles Three, Four, and Five, RTB--immediately. Mr. Cochran, you stay here--I want a word with you in private." I had decided that I was going to frag the son of a bitch myself--challenge him to a 21st century duel and be done with it.
I didn't get the chance. As the other three fighters broke out of the formation in the direction of the SDF-1, Cochran went with them.
"That son of a bitch..." I seethed into my mask. "Damn that little bastard!"
I yanked my Super hard to the right and rammed the throttles to the stops. Aware of my charge, Cochran and his three wingmen did the same, screaming toward the Prometheus Marshall as fast as they could go. I knew I could catch them, but by the time I did I'd be in the pattern and there wouldn't be much chance of settling the score my way. I reluctantly decided to handle things on deck.
After coasting in the Marshall Pattern for ten minutes, I started down the chute. My blood pressure had risen steadily during the intervening time period, and I was ready to commit murder. I concentrated on getting aboard, but I was not flying well and only barely managed to snag the five wire. When the elevator lowered me to the hangar deck, I taxied to my parking space and jumped out of the cockpit the instant I shut the engines down. In disgust, I flung my helmet down next to the nose gear and went looking for Cochran.
I found him standing next to his fighter, hee-hawing it up with the other pilots in the squadron. Filled with a rage that defies description, I walked right up behind him, both fists clenched. As he turned to see me stomping up to meet him, I knocked him flat on his ass with a right cross to the chin.
"You slimey, insubordinate piece of shit!" I roared, picking him up off the ground by the scruff of his flight suit. "I'm going to kill you!" I grabbed his hair and slammed his face into the side of his Valkyrie, then let him drop onto the deck in a heap.
The other pilots, stunned by what they had seen, stood there with mouths open wide. I turned and stared at the lot of them. "Who's next?!" I eyeballed each of them individually. "Well come on, you snotty little punks! No smart ass comments? No insubordinate remarks? What's the matter, ladies, ain't got the balls to trash me to my face?!" I paused for a short moment before continuing. "Come on wise guys. Surely a backward Texan like me can't take all of you on by himself, right?"
One of the pilots, a brawny Austrian named Brian Lukavich, started to move toward me but thought better of it when he saw the fire in my eyes. The others simply stood there.
"All right! This is the way it's going to be!" I hollered in my loudest command voice. Throughout the hangar bay maintenance crews and fighter pilots stopped what they were doing to see what was going on. "I am the boss here. Me Chief, you Indian. Me talk, you listen. The first one of you shitheads that crosses me is going to end up like good ol' Cochran here, you got me?"
They snapped quickly to attention.
"Get a bucket of water and wake up this pathetic piece of crap," I said, waving my hand disgustedly in Cochran's direction. "I want all of you on deck in fifteen minutes ready to train and train hard. Dismissed!!" I turned and stormed off in the direction from which I had come, secure in the knowledge that I had made a lasting impression on my pilots.
Cochran's face was a bruised and bloodied mess when he regained consciousness. Naturally, Lt. May wanted to know what had transpired to cause such injuries. The answer he got from everyone involved was that Cochran tripped on a deckplate and bashed his head on the side of his fighter. That was the last anyone said about the incident, though it was clearly on everyone's mind from that moment on.
The change in attitude exemplified by my pilots was instantaneous as showed by their performance during subsequent training missions. The rest of our Super Valkyrie work-up period went off without a hitch, and I had no further problems from Lt. John Cochran.
In due time, events of a pressing nature reared their ugly head. On 18 June, the Zentraedi made a most incredible overture. The flagship of the million-vessel Zentraedi Imperial Class Fleet approached the SDF-1 seeking a cessation of hostilities. Any doubts about the alien commander's sincerity were erased when a division of Regults from Khyron's Botoru Fleet were destroyed by shots fired from the command ship.
The alien emissary was the Zentraedi's Minister of Affairs, a short, ashen-faced man named Exedore. Small by Zentraedi standards, he had himself "micronized" and flown aboard the SDF-1 under a heavy escort of Veritech Fighters. His revelations proved startling.
The overwhelming might of the Zentraedi had been held in check because the aliens were under orders from their superiors--a race known as "The Robotech Masters--to capture the fortress intact. For centuries the Robotech Masters had controlled a vast empire that stretched for several light years. Centered around an incredibly efficient power source known as "Protoculture"--the secrets of which were hidden somewhere deep inside the SDF-1--this empire was defended by a race of beings created for this sole purpose. That race was the Zentraedi.
Exposure to the "Micronian Culture"--particularly the songs of Lynn Minmei--(something completely foreign to the alien race) had caused defections and insubordination on a scale that far exceeded that experienced by Khyron during his jaunt through Macross City. The live broadcast of Max and Miriya's wedding merely exacerbated the problem, and in the midst of an offensive to retake the SDF-1 once and for all, the Imperial Fleet Commander (a powerful Zentraedi warrior named Breetai) found that more than half his troops refused to fight. Torn between the immorality of fighting his own people--namely Zentraedi defectors now living aboard the SDF-1--and his orders to destroy the battle fortress, Breetai had a difficult decision. Finally, on Exedore's advice, Breetai had recalled his forces and contemplated his next move.
Dolza, the Zentraedi Supreme Commander, was not pleased with Breetai's failure--nor with the "Micronian contamination" of his fleet--and was en route to solve the problem once and for all. With half his force refusing to do battle, energy levels at a level that made escape impossible, and the wrath of Dolza's four-million vessel Grand Fleet bearing down on him, Breetai was stuck between a rock and a hard place. His only hope for survival was to join forces with Earth in a desperate effort to fight Dolza, and so he sent Exedore to the SDF-1 to forge a peace agreement.
Breetai's change in heart came not a moment too soon. The Zentraedi-Human summit meeting was still in session when sensors aboard the bridge screamed a shrill warning. A spacefold operation of unimaginable scale was in progress. Dolza's Grand Fleet had arrived.
Chapter 42 - End Game
The arrival of Dolza's Fleet was no great surprise (though it did arrive about three hours earlier than our commanders had predicted, turning our efforts to get the ship's fighters armed and ready from a methodical and organized process into a maddening frenzy). The real shock came in the magnitude of the fold itself. For nearly two hours ships of every size and type defolded into Earth's orbit, and by they time the fold ended, over 4 million battle-ready Zentraedi cruisers stood poised to obliterate the planet.
Throughout the Allied Fleet, flight crews were briefed on a hastily devised plan of attack. Outnumbered by more than four to one, our only hope was to strike the Achilles Heel of the attacking Zentraedi Fleet--Dolza's gargantuan, boulder-like Command Ship. As the command and control center of the invading force, its destruction would leave the enemy fleet without coordination, making it easily susceptible to a counter offensive.
Lt. May covered this information in as much detail as he could during our emergency squadron briefing. However, time was of the essence and there simply wasn't enough time to go into more than a cursory overview of the method behind the madness. As it stood, our mission was simple: those fighters armed with the new Reflex RMS-1"Death Angel" C would go after the alien cruisers that stood between the SDF-1 and Dolza's command ship. Those fighters not armed with Reflex Missiles would provide cover for those that did.
A giant leap in missile technology, the Reflex Missile System was designed to increase the lethality of our conventional missiles by making them "intelligent." The brilliance behind the new Reflex technology rested in an onboard computer which increased the probability of a missile hitting its target through a combination fuel conservation and defensive evasion techniques. If the missile was attacked, it had the ability to jink out of the way before pressing its attack. Once the target was reached, a marked increase in lethality resulted from the missile's ability to hit its target at whatever angle would produce the most damage. Though Reflex Missiles had never been tested in combat, the engineers with their slide rules predicted that these improvements would make them roughly twice as effective as conventional warheads of equal yield. We were about to find out if the they were right.
We wouldn't know whether or not we'd be carrying Reflex Missiles until we climbed aboard our fighters, and the arming process would continue until the very moment it was time to taxi our planes out of their parking spaces. Regardless what our role, we would have to be exceedingly careful not to fire upon any friendly Zentraedi ships, as their only distinguishing mark being a white chevron painted on the fuselages of allied fighters and cruisers--there simply wasn't enough time to outfit them with IFF gear that our fighters could interrogate.
The briefing had barely concluded when things took an evil tack. With sheer brute force as opposed to tactical soundness, Dolza set his Grand Fleet into motion. To the horror of those unfortunate enough to see it, a rain of fire descended upon the Planet Earth, and in a span of 45 seconds, this living, breathing, beautiful world was reduced to a smoldering, dead rock. Millions of fires, each hotter than the greatest volcano, tore their way across the planet, devastating entire nations. By the time closed circuit video of the devastation reached the Ready Rooms, our beautiful blue world had turned to a smoky color of gray.
As I stared at the overhead monitor at the devastated planet, surrounded by 4 million battle-ready alien ships, I was struck with an indescribable fear. My fatherly impulse was to seek out my children and protect them in any way I could. It was a horrible feeling, standing in that Ready Room without my girls at my side, and I fought against my impulses as if they were demons. I could not defend my children by being with them. I could only do so in the cold vacuum of space--my office in the blackness, where a moment's hesitation meant a swift, untimely death.
The blood inside me begin to boil, my cheeks flushed, and a wave of heat ran through my body. Caught between fear and anger, I said a quick prayer for steady nerves and a cool head. The odds were stacked against us and I realized that success and failure were not too far removed. Death in combat would be swift and sure. Death on my devastated home world would be far more painful. The thought that we had fought for so long only to succumb to an inevitable demise was the most frustrating thing I had felt in a long time, and it scared me more than anything I had ever known.
"All right, boys, let's mount up!" Lt. May called out from the Ready Room hatch.
It was time to go. With another prayer, I snatched my helmet off the rack and headed for my fighter. As I walked through the hangar bay I could see the grim feeling had permeated the air. Outnumbered by more than four to one, and outgunned by nearly ten to one, it seemed the end would come swiftly.
As I reached the "Hard Case," I discovered that she was loaded up with Reflex Missiles. The fighters of Lt. May and two other pilots were also carrying them. After my walkaround, we huddled together in front of Lt. May's fighter. I whispered something in his ear then turned toward my aircraft. A few moments later, Lt. Cochran and SSGT Lukavich made their way over to me. As the huge Lukavich lumbered over toward me I wondered if I had not made a mistake in asking that they fly as my cover.
"Well, boys, this is the big show. The way this is coming down has the makings of a bad movie, and it looks like you've got two choices. One, you can frag my ass and be done with it, or two, you can protect my ass, help me frag some bad guys, and we can all come home and make millions writing our memoirs. The choice is yours. Personally, I'd prefer writing a book about this someday over dying. It's your choice."
The two pilots looked around awkwardly as they pondered my words, then Lukavich stepped forward with an outstretched hand. "Lead on boss. I've got your six."
I reached out and shook his hand. "Thanks, Brian."
He smiled, then marched off toward his fighter.
Cochran continued to stare down the hangar bay, then he too stuck his hand out. "Okay, skipper. I'm with you all the way."
I nodded with a smile, then took his hand in my own. "Good show. Glad to have you on my wing, Lieutenant."
As he turned and walked to his Valk I breathed a sigh of relief. "Jesus, that was like walking on glass," I muttered to myself, before climbing aboard my aircraft.
Philo Rorbough, faithful and trustworthy as always, helped me strap myself into the ejection seat. There was a dour expression on his face.
"What's wrong Philo?" I asked him.
"Nothing skipper. Just kick their ass and bring my airplane back in one piece," he said, managing a smile.
I grinned. At about that moment, a huge cheer went up from the far end of the hangar bay. We both looked to see what the ruckus was all about and in a few moments we had our answer.
"Earth Defense Command just took out a million Zentraedi warships!" someone shouted over the din in the hangar bay.
Philo and I looked at one another with bewildered expressions. There were still people alive on the planet, and the odds against us had just been reduced by a great margin. "Hot damn!" we exclaimed in unison.
"Go get 'em boss!" he hollered, smiling brightly now, as he clapped me on the shoulder.
As I would find out later, the UEG had secretly constructed a giant cannon known simply as "The Grand Cannon." Using the Earth's core and magnetic field for power, it was an awesome weapon, but it proved good enough for only one shot, and it didn't take out as many ships as our enthused deck crewman had thought. Still, if only for the boost in morale it provided, the Grand Cannon could be considered nothing less than a success.
For the millionth time that day I bowed my head and said a silent prayer. Opening my eyes, I peered around me. The missile packs that mounted on the front of the Super Valkyrie booster units hampered visibility at 2 o'clock and 11 o'clock, from just behind the forward canopy seal all the way aft. This was a necessary evil. In order to cram the engines, fuel, and weaponry into the Super that made it such a powerful machine the engineers had to make the booms that contained them extremely long--more so than any dogfighter wanted--and as a result, we really couldn't see worth a damn to the sides or behind us. Even so, there wasn't a pilot aboard ship who would trade his Super for anything, regardless of the view. This baby was our ace in the hole.
I popped my ears and sealed my face plate. I looked at the faces on my instrument panel: Beki, Lisa, Casey, and Waylan. It was now time to go to work.
"Bolo Lead is up, Button Nine," Lt. May called.
"Bolo One, Dash Two is up," Lt. May's wingman called.
"Bolo One, Dash Three is up," came his other wingman.
In order to better coordinate the giant force about to launch into space we were operating using pre-assigned mission call signs, which in this case turned out to be our squadron identifier--"Bolo"--followed by our "section number" and position. As the leader of the first strike group, Lt. May was Bolo Lead, and as leader of the second group, I was Bolo Two.
Things were moving quickly now and I thumbed the mike button on the throttle. "Bolo Two is up," I called.
In quick succession my wingmen checked in. "Bolo Two, Dash Two is up," came Cochran.
"Bolo Two, Dash Three is up," Lukavich called out.
And so it went until everyone was ready to roll.
Flight control check, systems check, avionics check. Everything was set and with what could very well have been my last salute, I taxied out of my parking space, feeling suddenly alone and vulnerable. Josh was not going to be there for the first time since I started flying combat, and I couldn't help but take it as a bad omen.
There was no cat shot today. Instead, we merely taxied to the bow so the armorers could remove the safety pins from our weapons, then rolled our fighters off the front of the flight deck into space. The deck crews waved and saluted us as we departed, and I sensed an electricity in the vacuum that day I had never perceived before, though it had surely always been there. I could feel the people around me and their desire to see us come home safely. It was a strange camaraderie, eerie in its intensity. There was no doubting that the crew was pulling for us with their hearts and souls--they would be much relieved to see us come home safely.
"Bolos Button Eleven," Lt. May called, as the last member of the squadron rolled off the flight deck.
Again a quick check-in, then we waited. When the last fighter of the strike force departed the ship, Capt. Gloval came on the air and addressed us. Many of those who heard his words would not return.
As Gloval spoke I craned my neck back and gazed at the fighters stacked above me. They seemed more numerous than the stars. Off my right wing I could see several hundred Zentraedi Cruisers holding formation with the SDF-1. It was the strangest sight I had seen, yet. Three days ago my ship--my planet--was engaged in a life and death struggle against these same cruisers, yet there they were. Unified by a common goal--or perhaps, more accurately, a common, desperate need.
The waypoint indicator--a pair of blue arrows on my HUD that showed where my target was--drifted very slowly to the left and down as we closed on Dolza's Grand Fleet. The numbers on my center MFD scrolled along smoothly as the strike packages were updated via the SDF-1's LPI Data Link System.
"It will be necessary for you to observe total radio silence on all frequencies so that we can jam the enemy's communications. Good luck, and may God return you all home safely."
Now, when the Captain asked us to stay off the radio so that enemy communications could be hampered, I was presuming there would be some sort of high-tech signal jammer or disrupter--maybe even static. I was not prepared for the music that began to play in my ears, nor the voice of Lynn Minmei.
"What in the hell?" I asked myself. Then it hit me. Of course! Dolza's fleet had never been exposed to "Micronian Culture." If past events were a predictor of future trends, Dolza's forces would find themselves in complete disarray. At the very least, they would find themselves unable to communicate with one another, drastically reducing their effectiveness.
The thrusters on LCDR Hunter's black and gold-trimmed Super Valkyrie flared brightly and he accelerated ahead with the first wave of the strike force. Five seconds later, LCDR Plog darted forward with the second. I lowered my flash shield and ran through my checklist. "Missiles armed. Master Switch on. Fuel pumps set to Emergency On. Boosters slaved," I repeated to myself, checking to see everything was set properly. On the left side of the fifth wave, I watched Plog's group scream away and waited for what seemed like forever until my turn came fifteen seconds later. With a sudden burst of confidence, I slammed my throttle into the "Overboost" detent and was shoved into my seat with a force of 4.7 G's.
With a slight movement on the stick I headed down and left toward my target. The game plan was simple and straight forward. The strike force was supposed to cut a cone right to the heart of the alien fleet--Dolza's command ship--which would allow the SDF-1 to take the battle right to the alien commander's front door. Those fighters carrying Reflex weapons were each assigned two primary objectives, and a third as an alternate, with multiple fighters assigned to each target. Attrition rates were expected to be high as always, and it was hoped that those fighters unable to meet their targets would be covered by those that did.
As accelerated toward my primary target--a Queadol Magdomilla not unlike the one Josh and I had ripped up such a short time ago--I glanced quickly to the left and right. Lukavich and Cochran were doing a perfect job, weaving back and forth behind my fighter to cover me as I made my run.
I was closing fast now, as my Super continued to accelerate. Nervously, I checked the status of all my switches once more, particularly the Master Arm. It would be bad to be on target and not be able to shoot because the Master Arm was set to the "Off" position.
I eased the throttles back to idle and coasted toward the alien ship at more than 30,000 feet per second. The RWR began to scream in my headset, but I ignored it. With all the power available to me, I could easily avoid any incoming missiles just like a matador evades a charging bull. Minmei's singing also blared in my ears and I turned the volume down--all the beeps, tones, whistles, and music were beginning to affect my concentration.
I eased into my attack profile exactly as I had done it before, but at a 30,000 feet per second closure rate, I had less time to make my decisions. "Missiles armed. Master Switch on. Fuel pumps set to Emergency On. Boosters slaved," I repeated aloud once again.
The yellow halo on my HUD turned yellow to red and I thumbed the button on the stick twice and watched as my outboard missiles screamed forward. I yanked the stick back and left, then slammed the throttle into "Overboost" once more. I did not want to be around when those missiles cooked off inside that ship. I checked my wingmen once more and saw they were still with me.
As I weaved in and out of the alien formation, trying like hell to keep from ramming into one of the giant green ships that literally covered the sky, hundreds of bright flashes lit up the blackness as our missiles struck their targets. I turned back toward my Secondary target and repeated the process. This time, however, the missile warning that screamed in my headset was very real, and a series of bright red dots flashed ominously on both the HUD and my center Threat Detection Display.
"Holy......." I stifled the urge to curse and switched to Guardian mode. Rolling to the right, I jammed my throttles to Overboost and darted out of the way of all the missiles that were hurtling toward me. I glanced quickly down and left and saw their wavy trails as they flashed by my Guardian's feet.
Back to the right, max. power. 4.8 G's. Grunt. Throttles to idle. Target closing. Missile launch. Headset tone. Missiles closing. Target closing. Halo yellow...halo yellow... Missiles...target...closing...closing...closing. Halo yellow... Damn this thing! Hurry up! Fighters closing! God, please hurry up! Target closing, missiles closing, fighters closing! Red halo, red halo! Two shots! Yank it left, throttles to max. power! 4.9 G's! Grunt! Chaff, chaff, chaff! Tone silent. Throttles idle. Explosions. Lord, huge explosions!
Last target coming up. Fighters at our six. Can't duck. Can't stop. Must go. Go, go, go! Yank it right, full throttle! 5 G's. This is beginning to hurt. Bad guys can't close on us with our acceleration. Fighters ahead. Missile select: Stiletto. Red halos. Shoot, shoot, shoot! Explosions....debris... Missile select: Death Angel. Target ahead. 200 miles and closing fast. God in Heaven what a gigantic ship. Closing, closing....yellow....red....shoot! Shoot!
Back on the stick! Full throttle. Still in Guardian mode. Keep on truckin'. Egress vertically. Bolo Two is off!
I look back and see the green alien ships getting smaller and smaller--and a lot of them are exploding into nothing. Throttle to idle. I have burned a lot of gas. SDF-1 calls for us to get clear of the area. Way ahead of you, gang.
Time to watch the fireworks.
Nothing happens for what seems an eternity. Is SDF-1 dead? Did she fail? Is my family dead? Will I die here in the cold vacuum or will I die on a dead planet?
Then it happened. The largest, fiercest, most awesome explosion mankind has ever seen. Dolza's giant headquarters, miles tall, miles thick, erupts in a giant purple fireball. Purple? My word, Robotechnology has some strange side effects at times. The energy of the explosion spreads out across the entire alien formation and wipes our the enemy fleet just as an eraser eats chalk dust. Jesus, God, no wonder they told us to get out of the way!
I am coasting along up high...way high...watching the alien fleet disappear. Cochran and Lukavich are on my wing. Soon, other Valkyries, elegant and powerful, form up on us like giant birds of prey, normally ready to pounce...now only content to watch in stunned amazement. In time I am leading nearly 50 of them--grizzled survivors of Earth's most devastating war--and we coast along in our orbit, staring at the carnage and devastation below. I watch them. They watch me. They will follow me wherever I go, and I know where I wish to go.
As the dust of the battle settles into the atmosphere, I take my charges and coast lazily around planet Earth, watching as the sun rises and sets on our noses and in our mirrors. Incredibly, we are alive, and it is time to sit back and savor the beauty of our world...and of life.
From below and to the left, Joshua's Valk coasts toward me, perfectly as so many times before, and I smile brightly inside. My friend is alive, and I am truly happy. I key the mike, memories of fallen comrades and loved ones flashing through my mind. "It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done...it is a far better thing..."
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