Part IX: Cruise
Chapter 43 -- Starting Over The destruction of Dolza's Grand Fleet provided the impetus for a rapid end to the first Robotech War, but what we, the victors, would gain for our efforts was not the romantically joyful ending we had hoped. The road to happiness and peace, already a long and arduous one, had many miles left to travel--and they would not get much easier. Earth was a little more than a devastated, smoldering rock, and humanity was left hanging by a thread. All the great works of civilization had been destroyed by Dolza's rain of death. No more monuments. No more libraries. Nearly all that remained of everything mankind had worked so hard to learn during the previous ten thousand years was what was stored safely underground, or in the computer banks and libraries of SDF-1, Prometheus, and Daedelus. The survivors of the last great battle of Robotech War I found themselves unable to recognize the now-barren world we had fought so hard to protect. It seemed as lifeless and inhospitable as Mars, only worse. The giant fires that consumed the planet after Dolza's attack threw Earth's ecosystem into disarray. Sandstorms, drought, floods, bitter cold fronts, horrendous thunderstorms, and monsoons that lasted for months at a time: the Earth was having a fit, and all we could do was--pardon the pun--weather it out inside our giant ship. That ship was of course, the SDF-1. She was a beautiful weapon, but it was clear that her best days were decidedly behind her. She had fought long and hard to bring us home, and she did so faithfully and without complaint. When we called upon her during the climactic battle with the Grand Fleet she performed brilliantly, but she did so at the cost of her own life. The giant lady had given all she had to give on that fateful June day, and in so doing had consigned herself to a life at the bottom of one of the millions of craters left by the Grand Fleet's final bombardment. As with any great catastrophe, the resilience of mankind was put to the test, and it was a test passed with flying colors. SDF-1's population, comprised in part of some of the most brilliant minds on the planet--engineers, doctors, scientists, botanists--began to scrape out an outpost in the barren North American landscape. It would be nearly a year before the smoke cleared enough to propel solar power to the forefront. In the meantime, Protoculture reactors were used to provide power, and a small community began to spring up around the giant battle fortress, complete with businesses, streets, a small dirt airstrip, and an overhead transit system to shuttle personnel between the ship and the city known as New Macross. For protective purposes a three hundred mile BARCAP was established, screened by four squadrons of Valkyries operating in three hour shifts. It was demanding work, and, because of bad weather, smoke, haze, and/or blowing dust, was often conducted entirely under IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions). One afternoon, just for kicks, I decided to see just how high the scud layer was. I lost sight of the ground at only one hundred feet AGL and didn't break into the clear until I reached sixty-five thousand feet! That the skies were clear way up there was not much help, for our typical mission altitude was only around twenty thousand feet. Spending three hours boring holes through the smoke, clouds, and dusty haze that filled the atmosphere and obscured completely any outside visual references, was a dangerous job that required complete concentration. Most of us had very limited instrument experience, and the majority of what we did have was in the simulators. By the time a low-time instrument pilot clambered out of the cockpit after a mission of this type, he was mentally and physically exhausted. Although a sweat-soaked flight suit and an ear splitting headache was often the only guerdon for his labor, he would not complain, for being alive was surely reward enough. An otherwise benign instrumentation failure or a few moments of inattention, and one could easily wind up spiraling into the ground over "East Bullet Hole, Wherever." There were clearly more glamorous ways to die. During patrols, we were vectored by our controllers all across the charred North American landscape below. By transmitting "in the blind" on different frequencies, we tried to establish contact with other survivors of the Holocaust. Though frustratingly futile at first, this policy eventually bore fruit as communication with other communities and townships that had sprung up from the ashes of the Earth was made, and SDF-1 began to slowly expand her protective umbrella to encompass these survivors. With the only known operational Veritech Fighter and Destroid support facilities in the region, SDF-1 established a small maintenance network for other surviving RDF units, and in time, became the center of a vast--if not undermanned--defense infrastructure that encompassed a sizable chunk of the North American continent. As our situation stabilized, squadrons were detached on a temporary basis to assist in rebuilding efforts and to provide some semblance of order for survivors to cling to during a very turbulent time. Despite our best efforts, keeping the peace proved a daunting--and at times disappointing--task. After the climactic end of Robotech War One's greatest battle, thousands of damaged Zentraedi warships--both allied and adversary--crash landed on the planet. In short order, a series of regional conflicts erupted all over the planet as surviving forces continued the battle they had started in space. The functional remnants of Breetai's Imperial Class Fleet were off hunting the survivors of Dolza's Grand Fleet, as well as other surviving Zentraedi forces that posed an immediate threat to the planet. With his forces all but completely out of Protoculture to power their reactors, it was hoped that Breetai's fearsome and charismatic presence would convince these Zentraedi forces to join our side. Failure to do so would require a protracted battle to eliminate them, and it was certain that Breetai's ships would be gone for some time--if they survived at all. Though a large number of Allied Zentraedi vessels were in Earth orbit, they were gutted hulks. Cannibalized for parts and energy to restore a minute portion of Breetai's attack fleet, they were merely a facade, and served only as a feeble attempt to appear strong and give an attacking enemy a moment of pause. They were of little use otherwise. The lack of orbital assets to wage the surface battle meant more of the same for SDF-1's squadrons. Just as before, the battle fortress' weary fighter pilots were thrust into the breach in an effort to forge peace from war. From 25 June to 24 July, 2011--nearly four weeks--we spent the majority of our time scrambling to our fighters to do combat with our alien friends. A series of frontal movements cleared the low-level dust and haze away, providing excellent visibility for days at a time. The Zentraedi, lustful for combat after a protracted abstinence, took the opportunity to launch a series of attacks against the surviving members of the RDF and its Zentraedi allies, and they succeeded in throwing our tenuous network of communication and order into complete disarray. Flying in the outer BARCAP ring, most of my engagements during this period were of the long range, "fire-and-forget" variety, though, sadly enough, I had more than one fight "in the weeds." Though the emergence of these enemy forces cost us great deal in casualties and damage, it also had the advantage of exposing the locations of previously undetected or ignored Zentraedi ships. Large counter strikes were carried out against these crashed, but active, Zentraedi vessels, using terrain, clouds, and darkness as cover whenever possible. Though I spent the bulk of my time during these raids providing fighter cover for those brave aviators who pressed their attacks where the fire was hottest, I did have my fair share of duels with enemy antiaircraft batteries. The net results of these raids were impressive, and in time, despite shortages in parts, munitions, and pilots, we not only reasserted control over the narrowly defined North American protective zone, but began to expand it. As usual, our victories were anything but painless, as Zentraedi defenses for all but the most severely damaged enemy cruiser were formidable to say the least. In the end, our success, as it always had, came with a huge price tag. It was after one such raid that I lost a good friend and mentor. On 11 July, 2011, "Ogre" Sprabary scored his 207th kill while leading his squadron on a Rescue Combat Air Patrol (RESCAP) mission to protect a fighter pilot who had parachuted into the trees after taking a Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) hit. Inexplicably, Ogre's Valk lost power in the middle of that particularly ferocious dogfight and he was forced to eject over densely wooded, semi-mountainous terrain. Crowded between the ground and a heavy overcast, I arrived on the scene with five other fighters and was placed in charge of the RESCAP force while the previous on-scene commander departed with his jets for rearming. The Zentraedi fighter force of Raulon'ves retreated almost the instant I arrived on station, and if ever there was a time to pick up our comrades it was now. Nearly seven hundred miles separated us from the SDF-1, however, and repeated attempts to get an SH-85 Sea Sergeant rescue helo out to us proved utterly futile.
SH-85 "Sea Sergeant" Anti-Submarine/Cargo/Rescue Helicopter
As I orbited over the area where Sprabary went down, I talked to him on the radio. "Ogre One, Sand Pebble One. How ya' doin' Jimbo?" "Sand Pebble One, Ogre One. So far so good. I can't see a damned thing through these woods, but I hear you guys overhead. Where are the helos?" I paused, then replied, "Ogre we're working on that right now. Just hang tight, we'll get you out." The pause before his transmission told me what I already knew. "Roger, Sand Pebble One. Understand." "Hang in there Jimbo, we'll get you out. Just stay tight for a little while 'til I can get some help over to you." I switched to my Button Five frequency and called SDF-1. "Bullseye, Bullseye, this is Sand Pebble One. Where are those Eight-Fives?" "Sand Pebble One from Bullseye. Those helos will be outbound to you shortly. We are awaiting clearance." I almost choked. "Bullseye from Sand Pebble One. Awaiting clearance?! What the hell is that supposed to mean? I've got two men down on the ground right now and the sky is clear as a bell. I need those helos here right away--shortly is not good enough. Tell the PJ's to get the lead out!" The PJ's were of course, the Para-Rescue Jumpers, known far and wide for the ferocious zeal they brought to rescuing downed pilots. "Sand Pebble One, roger." I couldn't believe it. Here I was, holding over two downed comrades in clear skies, and there wasn't a way in hell to get them out. I weighed my options and found I didn't really have any. I had twenty fighters on station, of which eight had sustained combat damage. Of my entire force only five were fully armed, and the remainder were nearing exhaustion. Our alien friends would return soon with full ammo and reinforcements, and if we didn't get the rescue helos in fast, there would be no chance of ever getting Sprabary and his ground-bound squadron mate out of Harm's way. The Sea Sergeants were our only hope. There was simply no way for a Valk to pluck our guys out of the forest. Under armed escort, however, the helos could swoop in, hover over the spot where our downed pilots were located, drop a PJ into the woods with the "Jungle Penetrator" recovery device, and pluck a pilot out of there in mere moments. A chisel-shaped, sharply-edged contraption with fold out seats attached to the end of the helo's winch and cable system, the Penetrator could slice its way through the forest like a knife through butter to yank our guys out in time for a hot supper with Admiral Gloval. This was simply not to be. I begged and pleaded for our ship to send helos for nearly half an hour, all to no avail. As I cursed the controllers on the radio a warbling tone in my headset announced the return of the Raulon'ves, rearmed and ready for blood. I ordered the high cover squad to intercept them, then broke out of my orbit and accelerated out to flank them from the right side. Outnumbered by six to one, with little ammo and no help, we never stood a chance. We fought tenaciously over the rugged landscape, using our superior maneuverability over the Raulon've to our advantage. Even so, the RV's held all the cards. The dogfight swirled from the deck up to nearly eleven thousand feet as we struggled to stay alive in that deadly, scud-ridden sky, but we were dying. Rolling, turning, pitching, and straining, we battled our hearts out, and managed to take out a fairly large number of the alien fighters. Still, we were doomed to fail. I fired a burst at a pair of Yard Darts that streaked in front of my nose, then broke away to my left, my vision narrowing and turning gray as the blood drained out of my head. As I grunted against the G forces that mashed me into my seat, a series of loud thumps filled me with dread. My Valk shuddered as I rolled inverted and yanked the stick to the rear, expecting to feel the burning steel rip into my flesh at any moment. A mottled green RV flashed past me as I dove toward the trees below, pulling with all the willpower I could muster, lest I smash into the hilly ground. Time slowed to a standstill as the earth rushed up to meet me. For the briefest instant, my trusty mount resisted my command. My hand ached to release the throttle and yank the ejection lanyard, but I defied it. Slowly--agonizingly so--the nose rose toward the horizon, my vision graying and tunneling once more as I clenched all the muscles in my lower body as tightly as I could in an effort to ward of G-LOC. Scarcely a yard separated the belly of my Valkyrie from the unyielding terrain as my fighter reversed her dive and leveled out above the trees. I jinked back and forth, searching frantically over both shoulders for any RV that may have latched onto my tail, but the sky was empty. I reversed course, and charged back into the fray, which was spreading out over a larger and larger area with each moment. Missiles and cannon fire filled the sky. Death was everywhere. By pure chance, the leader of the Zentraedi force--as evidenced by the markings on its fuselage--darted in front of me, and I rolled in behind him, feeling naked and afraid as other enemy fighters flashed by me from all directions. I pressed the trigger on the stick as he broke to the left and fired my last thirty rounds just ahead of his nose, then watched my sixth kill of the day (I would officially be credited with five for the sortie) explode with a bright flash, raining molten pieces of metal into the forest below. Turing hard to the right, I flashed between a pair of hills and stole a glance behind me. The Zentraedi ships were turning for home, and I felt for the briefest instant that we had succeeded. I was wrong. The force that was leaving was only making room for the one that followed--some fifty Raulon'ves--to take over. With a lump in my throat, I ordered the eleven surviving Valks to disengage and dash for home...there was nothing else we could have done...absolutely nothing.
I landed my Guardian on the deck of the Prometheus in a blinding rage, and after ordering my fighter and those of my wingmen rearmed, stormed right up to the bridge and demanded answers. "What the hell is your problem up here?!" I roared, searching for the ship's captain. My face was bright red with anger and frustration. "What's the problem, Lieutenant?" the Air Boss asked, obviously displeased that I had stormed onto his bridge in my distinctly unmilitary manner. "I want to know what the hell is wrong with you people! I just lost nine fighters because you bastards don't know how to send a helicopter out when it is needed, and I want to know who the hell is responsible!" "You'll have to take that up with Captain Ruddman, Lieutenant. And from now on I suggest you address me as 'sir' or 'Commander,' Lieutenant." "Go fuck yourself, Commander," I hissed, turning on my heel and storming back to my airplane. As I rushed down to the flight deck, I grabbed a fighter pilot in the corridor by the collar and told him to find LCDR Plog and tell him to get every Valk pilot he could find into the air and outbound to my location without delay and regardless of orders. "We have friends on the ground that need us to help them, orders be damned--and I swear to you, if you don't tell him I will come back here and personally crush your nuts! Understand?" Two minutes later, I clambered up the boarding ladder of my Valk. My Plane Captain advised against taking my damaged fighter into the air again, but I was too focused on getting Ogre out of that forest to care. "She'll fly won't she?" I demanded. "Yes, sir, but without a chance to look her over, there's no way--" he stammered. "Get off the ladder unless you want to go with me," I ordered. My Plane Captain jumped off the fighter as if it were afire, and I blasted away from Prometheus with seven Valks in tow. The fighter director came on the horn and ordered us to return to base. We let him eat static. As we screamed toward the area where Sprabary went down, I leaned impatiently on the throttle, trying to coax a little more speed out of my fighter. She was handling fine and I prayed nothing crucial had been damaged by that mottled green Zentraedi fighter. An eternity passed before we arrived on the scene, and I began calling in the blind on Guard (the Emergency Frequency) for Ogre and his squadron mate, as well as any of the fighter pilots that ejected during the dogfight. "Sand Pebble One on Guard. Does anyone read me, over?" I paused. "Sand Pebble One on Guard. Sand Pebble One on Guard. Does anyone read me, over?" There was not a peep from the men on the ground as I circled over the forest. "Sand Pebble One, Gunfighter One. On station with nine." It was Plog's voice. I looked up and saw nine beautiful Valks begin a slow, lazy orbit over my head, awaiting my orders. Then nine more appeared. "Sand Pebble One, Husky One. High cover, on station with nine chicks." It was Josh. I allowed myself a momentary smile. Within twenty minutes, more than fifty Valks, each fully armed and ready, formed up as part of my impromptu rescue force. I knew my insubordination would cost me dearly this time, but I didn't care. My friends needed me, and I didn't want to die knowing I hadn't tried. Besides, what were they going to do, court martial every fighter pilot on the ship? Not a chance. My Radar Threat Display began to change colors. Two groups of more than sixty Raulon'ves, having heard my calls on the radio, came roaring in to do combat, doubtless expecting only Josh's and Plog's force of eighteen Valks. I can't imagine the surprise on their faces when they realized there were another thirty-three of us, fully armed, orbiting down low where the mountains masked us from their radar until it was too late. Angered by the loss of eleven of our friends, the Rescue Force had no problems destroying or severely damaging each and every Yard Dart sent to fight us without a single loss. I added two more to my tally that evening, then resumed the search for my fellow aviators. As the sun began to set, I sent the rescue force home one squad at a time until mine was the only one on station. My repeated calls continued to go unanswered, however, and I reluctantly decided it was time to give up the search for the day. Diving low toward the forest canopy I put my throttles into afterburner, pitched the nose up, and rolled my Valk three times in salute to my friend James "Ogre" Sprabary, the man who had taught me so much. Though we would return every day for six more days, dominating the skies over our Zentraedi adversaries, our search efforts would prove in vain. I claimed four more kills during this period, but these were of little solace, and I found renewed bitterness in what fate had wrought--and a hatred for a man I had never met, CAPT Carl T. Ruddman.
I had never seen nor even heard of CAPT Ruddman before, and despite my best efforts, I could not get him to see me. In hindsight, this was probably for the best, as I would not have wanted to go on trial for attempted murder. I laid the blame for Sprabary's loss squarely on Captain Ruddman, for it was his own policy that caused us to lose him. "Waiting for clearance." Three words that resulted in the deaths of eleven men. In short, the new policy did not allow for the dispatching of a rescue helo unless a Rescue Command (Rescom) pilot had made positive identification of the downed aviator's location. This was undoubtedly the stupidest rule ever written, as it took the authority for a rescue away from the person closest to the action--the on-scene commander. After severe objection from the fighter pilot community the rule was rescinded, but it didn't happen in time to save the RDF's 10th highest scoring ace, 1LT Kevin James "Ogre" Sprabary, his squadron mate, nor the nine others sent to save them both. This horrible--and unnecessary--loss of life would be forever remembered as "Ruddman's Folly." One would expect such foolishness to be the end of a naval career, but Ruddman had plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and regrettably, we would soon hear of him again.
A concerted, all-out effort on the part of the Allied Forces severely crippled the most organized surviving Zentraedi in the central and eastern segments of the North American continent. Faced with sudden annihilation, the bulk of these forces began an organized withdrawal into the mountain ranges off to the east and west, as well as the barren lands to the south. Some of these Zentraedi would later seek--and be unwittingly granted--food, shelter, citizenship, and protection by local governments, an oversight that would cause great suffering later. The bulk of the beleaguered Zentraedi that remained fled toward the comparative safety of South America, where the RDF was almost nonexistent. Unable to marshal up the forces to stop them, we had no choice but to let them flee, and the carnage they left in their wake was truly sickening. By the end of July, the regional conflicts that consumed North America and much of the world slowly ground to a halt. Though battles would continue to be fought, the First Robotech War was declared "officially" over. We had fought for more than two years to achieve victory, but it had come at a price never before paid in human history: billions of innocents slaughtered in the Zentraedi Rain of Death; a thriving planet reduced to little more than ash; an entire civilization brought to the brink of extinction. The magnitude of it defies any description. Some claimed they could smell the stench of burnt human flesh for months after Dolza's "Final Solution," and I don't doubt them. For our part, the history books would show the tolls paid--and collected--by the SDF-1's pilots, and a more brilliant chapter would be hard to find. LCDR Leonard "Surgeon" Plog ended the war as the RDF's highest scoring ace with 351 kills--one shy of the all-time record for aerial victories held by World War II Luftwaffe ace Erich Hartmann (a record he would soon break). Max "Igloo" Sterling was second with 329, and would doubtless have caught even the mighty Surgeon had the war continued. Roy Fokker was third with 315--an amazing number for a man who had fought for just over one year before his death. Josh rounded out the 300-Club with 307 kills, good enough for fourth place--and the Navy Cross, the highest medal awarded by the Navy for Valor. Bill Brubaker's 285 kills were good enough for the fifth spot, while Waylan's tally of 216, nearly a year old, was still good enough for eighth place. "Ogre" Sprabary took the tenth spot with 207, and I passed LCDR Carr's 185 kills for eleventh, with 193. As I looked at the list of names I allowed myself a moment of reflection. By any standard, the RDFN had done a terrific job in the conflict. Seven of the top twelve aces were Naval Aviators and RDFN pilots received more medals for valor than any other branch. The SDF-1's Air Group as a whole paid a heavy price for its efforts, however: seven out of every ten SDF-1 fighter pilots trained were killed in action. Our top scorers fared little better: of the top twenty fighter pilots, only nine were still alive. It was a striking realization that brought the devastation of the conflict into sharp focus, and reminded those of us who had forgotten that we were not invincible.
When the fires cooled and the shooting stopped, bands of refugees, Zentraedi and human alike, formed up to wander across the badlands of the planet Earth in search of a safe-haven. In time, small clusters of these refugees formed near rivers, lakes, and the occasional patch of forest vegetation. It didn't take long for the populations of these lonely outposts to swell as others followed these same rivers and creeks in search of food, shelter, and their fellow kind. As has been the case throughout history the strong prey upon the weak, and the post-holocaust world was no different. Roving gangs of predators from both races used firepower and intimidation to eke out an existence upon the suffering of innocents. It was a disturbing condition, and we found ourselves in the familiar position of being outmanned and outgunned by those who sought to make their living on the death and pain of others. The population of New Macross began to grow rapidly as waves of people (Zentraedi and human) abandoned what little they had and fled the chaos that engulfed them. From the testimony of the survivors a chilling picture was painted, one of children abducted from their parents' arms, food stolen, homes destroyed, rape and torture of a kind unequaled in history. The leader of one of the small townships, his eyes filled with tears, told of how his wife was brutally gang raped and sodomized by more than two dozen armed thugs while he was forced to watch. When they finished, one of the men took an aluminum bat and broke every bone in the woman's body. That she died sometime during this event could only be termed an act of mercy. Joshua Kaufman, now married to the lovely Kristy Harris, saw firsthand the aftermath of this savagery. On 4 August, 2011, during Josh's first mission as the new Executive Officer for VF-131 "The Hell Razors," he spied a fire raging in the distance near one of the rare patches of forest that survived Dolza's assault. Swooping in to investigate, Josh found the smoldering remains of a small village, replete with dead bodies. The brutality of what he saw on his second pass defied imagination. With his wingmen providing cover, Husky landed his Guardian a safe distance from the fire and began searching for survivors on foot. Some of those he found alive were staked to fire ant beds, their eyes eaten out--the direct result of having sugar paste smeared around their eye sockets--while those he found dead where hung inverted over roaring hot camp fires so that their brains literally cooked--an unbelievably painful death to be sure. With as much care as he could muster, Josh helped the survivors over toward the shade of the forest and treated wounds as best he could with his small first aid kit. Knowing there was little he could do alone, he picked out the most critically injured survivor, carried her to the cockpit of his Valk, then blasted off in search of help. I was in the SDF-1's Operations Center when I heard Josh's agonized report of what he had seen. The horrified tone of his voice is one I have never forgotten. At least a dozen survivors were on the ground and a pair of armed helos--with fighter escort--were needed to fly out and pick them up. I ran down to the flight deck and met Josh's Guardian as it landed aboard Prometheus. In his lap was a young girl, probably no older than 16 or 17 years old, her face puffy, swollen, and red from numerous ant bites. I had never imagined such a terrible thing could happen in real life. Similar tales in high school history dealing with the Spanish conquest of the Americas were easy to toss away as an exaggeration, aberration, or inaccuracy, but this... It was enough to make one wonder why we won the First Robotech War to begin with. I helped the medical team lower the girl out of Josh's cockpit, then watched him stumble awkwardly down the boarding ladder, his eyes bloodshot, tears streaming down his cheeks. As the rotor blades from a nearby Sea Sergeant began to beat the air, blasting wind into our faces, all I could do was put my arms around my friend and tell him that it would be all right. "We have to go back there," he sobbed. "Those people..." "Okay. Okay. We'll go." I turned toward the Sea Sergeant and waved for him to stay put, then charged toward the open side door, Josh immediately behind. The crew chief handed me a helmet as I climbed aboard, and I tugged it on, plugging the chords into a com jack mounted on the ceiling. "Welcome aboard Lieutenants," the chief said as the helo lifted off the flight deck and swung around sharply in the direction of the survivors. I nodded. Josh just stared out at the city below as it shrank away from us. "How many are we sending out, Chief?" I asked the crew chief. "Six helos in all, sir. Two squads of Marines in the first two," the chief said, pointing out the left door at the two Sea Sergeants stepped up and back from us. "Two door gunners each in ours and that one," he said, pointing down out the right door behind me at the other Sea Sergeant. "Two 'Commancheros' will provide cover and a squad of Valks."
MBB AH-72 "Commanchero" Attack Helicopter
I nodded. The tandem-seat MBB AH-72 "Commanchero"--a virtual cross between the U.S.-built AH-64 "Apache" and the Soviet-built Mi-24 "Hind"--was the most advanced anti-tank/close support helicopter in the world. With more than sixty anti-tank missiles, a powerful 32mm cannon, and armor plating the thickness of a large dictionary, it was ideally suited for the task of Rescue Combat Air Patrol (RESCAP). As the two Commancheros cruised in formation on either side of the rescue force I breathed easier, secure in the knowledge they would be there if any shooting started.
Soviet-built Mi-24 "Hind"
After about forty minutes of flight over the pockmarked, crater-filled desert that was North America, we began our descent toward the village. Nestled alongside a river that flowed out from the foothills of a nearby mountain range, it would have been a paradise at any other time in life. But now... The Commancheros started their orbit over our place of intended landing--a small clearing just North of the village. After two orbits, the RESCAP commander cleared the first two helos into the Landing Zone (LZ). The two Marine-laden helos nosed over and dropped toward the clearing. As they descended, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end and a sense of unease overcame me. Something felt wrong. The Marines leapt out of the helos before they even touched down and fanned out to form an armed perimeter around the LZ. Once convinced the area was secure, the ground force commander cleared the rescue helos in. My stomach was in my throat as the pilot of our Sea Sergeant dumped the stick forward and swooped down toward the sand-colored earth below. I looked at the door gunner behind me and saw his silhouette reach up and grab a hand hold near the door opening. As our wheels neared the sand beneath us, I reached subconsciously for my shoulder rig to insure my Beretta was still there. We touched down and I yanked my headset chords from my helmet, then jumped out of the helo. Ducking as I ran--a natural, if unnecessary, reaction to the huge rotor blades spinning rapidly above my head--I charged to the edge of the clearing and the safety of the armed Marines that waited there. At Josh's direction we moved quickly toward the village as the Commancheros and Valkyries maintained their protective vigil over our heads. We broke out of the clearing where the village was located and fanned out to find the survivors. There were none. Instead, those people that Josh had gathered together in the shade were sprawled out on the ground, bullets in their backs and heads. "These people were alive when I left here!" Josh cried out. "Damn it, they were alive! Those bastards!" he spat. "Those fucking bastards!" Josh's uncharacteristic outburst was understandable. It was clear from the positions of the bodies and the location of spent bullet casings all around that the survivors had been executed. Whoever did this wanted to keep it a secret, and to insure their silence, killed everyone who could have talked about it. The Marines, finding nothing but dead bodies, reported back to their boss. "Okay, let's pull back!! Pull back!!" the Marine squad leader roared. "I'm sorry, Husky," I said, patting my friend on the shoulder. "Come on. We've gotta' get out of here now pal." Begrudgingly, we retreated back to the helos as fast as we dared run. As we climbed aboard the Sea Sergeant the crew chief gave us a perplexed look. Josh handed him a spent 5.56 mm cartridge casing, and the chief had his answer. With the Commancheros and Valks providing cover we lifted out of the clearing, the two Marine-laden Sea Sergeants right behind us. As we climbed out and turned back toward the SDF-1 it became clear that the defeat of Dolza's armada did not signal the end of bloodshed on planet Earth. Instead, a predation more sinister than any in the history of man had descended upon us, and the road to peace stretched onward a few miles further than before.
Chapter 43 -- Starting Over As our Sea Sergeant touched down on the flight deck, Josh leapt through the open door, flinging his helmet behind him, and stormed down to Sick Bay. I thanked the helo crew for taking us along then ran to catch up with my friend. I had never seen him in such a highly charged, emotional state, though I could hardly blame him. The girl had been taken to the newly constructed hospital in downtown Macross City, explained one of the enlisted orderlies, "Room 423A." Josh and I made our way to the transit shuttle station and rode down to the motor pool to his car. No sooner had I planted my butt in the seat than did Josh tear out off the parking lot and into the street, tires squealing as he made a quick beeline to the hospital. We zoomed into the parking lot and dashed right up to Room 423A where the girl Josh had saved was lying peacefully on her bed, having just returned from surgery. The chief ophthalmic surgeon had spent more than four hours reconstructing the girl's eyes, and nobody knew for sure if she would ever see again. I left Josh in the room and borrowed a phone at the nurses' desk down the hall. With a little effort I was able to track Kristy down and fill her in on what was going on. Fifteen minutes later she arrived at the hospital and I left her with Josh. I had to get back to the base. Perhaps my presence in the sky might avert future occurrences of similar events, I thought. How wrong I was.
The same scene was repeated again a few days later at a different village. Then three more times the next week. We stepped up our patrols and expanded our search area, but our over-taxed fighter force--already tasked with protecting the North American Defense Zone from surviving Zentraedi forces--was unable to curb this new violence. The outcry over Ruddman's actions and the urgent desire to do something lead to a decision making the unofficial "command by negation" rule official (and at the same time, started wheels turning in the minds of the higher-ups to increase the flexibility and effectiveness of the SDF-1's Air Group). The command by negation concept was quite simple. Previously, we were allowed to do only those things our commanders gave permission to do--strikes, patrols, fighter sweeps, etc. etc.. Although this rule was generally not strictly enforced because of the desperate situation we faced, many an unwitting pilot found himself on the wrong end of a court martial because an overzealous superior--after consulting his personal "Thou Shalt Not List"--did not approve of said aviator's actions. This new system was a welcome sigh of relief. Unless otherwise noted, ship captains, anti-aircraft officers, squadron commanders, and even squad leaders, had the flexibility to do whatever they felt necessary to accomplish the mission at hand. I used this method to full advantage. The wanton killing of innocents had to stop.
Josh and I had made friends with many people during our time in the Navy, and we used our relationships to help execute a strategy I had mulled over in my mind after leaving the hospital that day. With the help of LCDR "Dutch" Van Kirk in Intelligence we were soon able to uncover a modus operandi for our terrorist friends. It was clear that the attacks occurred in communities numbering less than five hundred people, all clustered in the lakes of Southern Canada and the valleys of the Northern Appalachian Mountains. Quite intelligently, our friends never attacked villages within 100 miles of each other unless at least ten days had passed (whoever it was knew that we would not be able to sustain heavy patrols much longer than that in any one area). The evidence pointed to an organized, highly coordinated, heavily armed force with access to a certain amount of intelligence gathering. Dividing the areas on the map into one-hundred-square mile "kill zones," we were unable to uncover a reason for the attacks (we suspected the acquisition of precious metals, weapons, food, fuel and things of that nature was their primary objective) but we did establish a pattern. The next day the pattern was confirmed when a small village in a particular zone was hit, just as we had predicted. The next step was to lay a quick and efficient trap, and I knew just the people to talk to.
First Lieutenant Redding, the platoon commander who helped sweep the village Josh had found, was stocky and stone-faced, with huge arms and chiseled features that belied the true compassion he held deep inside. The sight of dead women and children in the village affected him as much as anyone, and knowing how much he wanted to right that particular wrong, I asked him to help out. The plan was simple. We would send a company of armed Marines in to evacuate a village fitting the profile we had established. These Marines would then pretend to be ordinary members of said village, behaving like unarmed civilians. Two Valk fire teams--one lead by Josh, the other by me--would be hidden nearby in the forest to provide support if needed. When those responsible for the raids of late attacked this bunch they would be in for a huge surprise. I couldn't wait.
On 29 August, 2011, under cover of darkness, a dozen Sea Sergeant helos, loaded with two platoons of armed Marines, lifted off the soggy flight deck of Prometheus into the hazy and humid summer sky. Swinging around in the direction of the mountain range to the east, the helos accelerated slowly and disappeared into the night. A westerly breeze gave me a chill despite the heavy flight suit that enshrouded me, as I stood in front of the nose of my fighter. My C.O., 1LT May, and Josh's C.O., 1LT Westerbrook, had both okayed our plan, and it was satisfying to see it finally getting underway. Like a nervous expectant father I paced the flight deck, images of the girl Josh had saved flashing through my mind. The sight had given me nightmares for weeks. I saw Casey staked to a fire ant bed, screaming for her daddy to help her, then her face changed to that of Lisa Ann's, then Beki's, then back, each one calling for me to help them. I would snap upright, sweat dripping down my brow, then lunge out of bed to check on my girls. Finding them safe did not guarantee sleep, however, and I would return to my rack to toss and turn until it was time to get the girls up that morning. Josh, too, paced the deck in front of his Valk, parked hauntingly on the No. 2 bow cat. His mind was doubtless racing. The girl he had saved was almost totally blind. Although the surgeon was able to restore some sight in her right eye, the left was completely destroyed and had to be removed. The ants did serious damage to her face and not even the best plastic surgery could hide all the scars. As I watched my friend staring off to the east, I could tell that someone would pay heavily at his hands for what had happened to that poor girl and her family. I felt truly sorry for the poor bastard that found himself in front of Josh's guns today. My watch beeped its high-pitched song into the night air and I made my way to the boarding ladder. I climbed aboard and began to strap myself in with Philo's help. Plane captains don't normally follow their pilots from one squadron to the next, but for aces, exceptions to many rules are often made. It is often said that being an ace beats being an Admiral, and in many respects, that isn't far from the truth. I went through the familiar startup ritual, as did the five other pilots on the flight deck. Once everything was up and running I taxied my fighter into the catapult shuttle, ran the engines to maximum power at the direction of the cat officer, scanned the gauges and instruments--all green--turned on my navigation lights to inform the cat officer I was ready to launch, and pressed my head hard against the headrest. Whang! The cat stroke shoved me deep into the back of my seat as it fired me off the sharp end of the flight deck and into the air over the bright, pre-dawn street lights of Macross City. The airspeed read 140 knots and I smiled. Good shot, I thought to myself, raising the landing gear as I began a slow climb to clear any obstacles in my path. I banked my fighter ten degrees to the left and turned my formation lights on high, holding my speed down to two hundred knots so my wingmen could catch up. I watched over my left shoulder as they approached, one at a time. Satisfied that everything was in order, I turned toward the village and, once clear of the city, dropped down to three hundred feet, dimming the formation lights as I did so. Tuning the GAPS to the location of the village, I engaged the Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system. A green and black image of the terrain appeared on my center MFD, the horizon and the elevation of the nearest terrain shown as bright horizontal lines, and a miniature airplane symbol showing my flight path. My HUD showed similar information. By keeping the flight path at or above the terrain line I would clear any obstacle along my flight path by at least twenty feet. Bumping the throttle up, I accelerated to 350 knots and made a quick call. "Sand Pebbles, Button Eight." I clicked over and watched as my wingmen each flashed their formation lights twice to signal they had switched frequencies. All we had to do now was proceed to our holding fix until cleared in by the Marine ground force commander. We hummed along above the trees, and I began to get that childhood "hide and seek" feeling, wanting like hell to do something that I knew would call attention to me--like moving and inadvertently rattling a bush--and resisting it with all my might. As I we cruised toward our waypoint the silence was broken with a short, crisp, "Green light. Green light." That was the force commander, clearing us in to the village. I took a breath and continued inbound, the GAPS clicking off the mileage as the rivers and hills marking the base of the Appalachian Mountains passed beneath my fighter. The air was smooth and calm, patches of fog hovering over the lakes and hilltops. At five miles I slowed to two hundred knots, and at two miles switched to Guardian mode, sending my wingmen off to their designated landing areas. As I had done so many times before, I brought my Valk into a hover and descended into the blackness below, trusting my instruments and God to see me through. My faith was rewarded with a gentle bump--I was down safely. Yanking the throttles to idle I carefully moved my fighter back into the tall trees that surrounded my landing spot and shut her down. The trap was set. All that remained was for our bad boy friends to show up on schedule. I knew deep inside that they would.
I sat patiently inside my Valk as the first rays of sunlight began to creep over the hill to my right. A strong frontal system had blown through sometime during the previous evening, sweeping away the ugly gray smoke clouds that still lingered after Dolza's attack and the fires that followed it. Throughout the night the Marines worked to evacuated the people in the town--a mixed group of humans and micronized Zentraedi numbering nearly four hundred strong--though it took considerable effort to convince the townspeople that they were in fact RDF Marines and not bandits. Armed to the teeth with rocket launchers, grenades, and high-powered automatic rifles, the two Marine platoons were an extremely powerful unit that could do a great deal of damage to an attacking enemy force. Dawn came, but the bad guys showed no signs of making an appearance. The sun pierced stubbornly through the smoky overcast that seemed a permanent part of the upper atmosphere, heating the earth with its rays. It was the first sunlight any of us had seen since Dolza's attack, and I sat in my cockpit, sticky and uncomfortable with the heat as morning became noon. Even the thick forest canopy could not block out the sun, and I resisted the urge to start up my reactors to power my air conditioning system. One of the Marine squad leaders, a young Corporal named Chris Ahrens, brought me a sandwich and a bottle of "panther piss" (grape flavored Kool-Aid). I thanked him, then offered him a seat on my Valk's intake which he politely accepted. We sat and talked for more than an hour in the hot summer air. I was amazed by the intensity displayed by the young Corporal, with his strong jaw and broad shoulders set firmly with a confidence unusual for someone of his small stature. After a time the conversation died down and he politely excused himself, leaping gracefully off the intake, rifle in hand. Alone once more, I settled back and did my best to stay as comfortable as I could. The sun beating down on the earth's surface throughout the day created a lifting force that, coupled with the high humidity and unstable air, caused thunderstorms to pop up all around us. In time, one of them found its way overhead, rumbling loudly like a freight train. As the giant raindrops began to fall, I closed the canopy and listened to the roar they created as they impaled themselves on the glass. The long hours passed slowly. As the rain cooled the surface, the convective lifting action stopped, and the thunderstorms died a slow, self-induced death. The sun, already low on the horizon behind one of the nearby hills, reflected a brilliant orange off the dissipating rain clouds overhead. On another day this would have been a gorgeous sunset, I thought to myself. And then I heard it. Distant and low. A rumbling accompanied by a faint whup-whup-whup. I sat up in my seat and listened, raising the canopy to get a better idea of where the sound was coming from. On the radio I heard the Marine commander call, "Tweeties stand-by, stand-by." That was our command to stay put. I waited tensely as the whupping sound increased in intensity. Three dark shadows passed overhead. Helicopters! I heard shouting over the sound of the rotor blades and then automatic weapons fire. There was a bright flash followed by a loud explosion as the Marines unloaded on one of the bandit helos. More weapons fire intermingled with excited shouts over the radio. The Marines were making a mess of the enemy's plans! "Tweeties stand-by, stand-by! Break! They're pulling out, boys! They're pulling out!" the Marine force commander called. "Mike [ground] force stop pursuit! Mike force stop pursuit! Three helos down! Three helos down! Tweeties go! Tweeties go!" With practiced precision I flipped the appropriate switches and brought my Valkyrie to life. With deft movements of the throttle and stick I lifted my Guardian off the deck, busting through the branches of the forest roof. It was almost totally dark now and the surviving enemy helos had dispersed in different directions. I detached my wingmen to take after them, signaling them with three flashes of my formation lights to shadow the bad guys as we had briefed--we wanted to find their base, and that meant we had to follow them. Looking at the FLIR display I began to track the lead helo, matching his airspeed as he bounded over the hills at treetop level. As he ran, I scanned the sky around me for any sign of a protective fighter cover, but found none. For nearly forty minutes I shadowed the bad guy westbound until he made a sharp turn to the north. Ten minutes later, he brought his helo to a hover--from five miles away I did the same, noting the location on my kneeboard. The image on the FLIR was unmistakable--a crashed Thuverl Salan cruiser, camouflaged neatly by the mountains and trees.
Thuverl Salan Zentraedi Scout Cruiser
With most of Breetai's fleet off dealing with the survivors of Dolza's armada, we were left to our own devices when it came to the destruction of grounded, hostile Zentraedi ships. It was a dangerous and inefficient business, but it had to be done. Noting the position on my kneeboard once more, I turned and dashed for the Marines' location. I touched down and hopped out of my fighter, engines still idling. A map recovered from the wreckage of one of the helos confirmed the location I had noted. A quick call on the LPI radio was made, and a strike force was assembled in short order, armed with missiles to deal with the enemy ship. Josh returned with the four other fighters and we assembled in front of the landing lights of his fighter to brief our role in the impromptu attack. Three ES-11D "Cat's Eye" AEWACS planes would fly out with the attacking alien force to jam the enemy ship's radar network. Because I had studied the exploits of SAM killers like G.I. Basel, Leo Thorsness, and Jack Broughton--and because I had already successfully blinded a Zentraedi ship's radar (with Josh's help)--I was deemed the SDF-1's Wild Weasel (Surface to Air Missile Killer) Expert. Our efforts to take out downed Zentraedi warships necessitated that we develop effective methods in the area of SAM suppression, and after unsuccessful trial and error with various existing weapons, a new High-Velocity Anti-Radiation (HARM) missile called the "Shrike II" was produced.
ES-11D "Cat's Eye" AEWACS Air/Spacecraft
Effectively a long range Stiletto with a slightly larger warhead, the Shrike II (or "S-2" as we called it) was designed to home in on the radar emissions of an enemy radar, lock the radar's position into memory, and home in for the kill. Although not a Reflex Weapon, the S-2 was a passive missile that used the an enemy radar's own emissions to track and destroy it from long ranges. My fighter, with updated software to handle the Shrike II, was loaded with four of these weapons, two each on the outboard missile stations for just such an event. My job was to kill the cruiser's primary targeting radar and help clear the way for the strike force. We broke our huddle and blasted into the sticky night air. As the Weasel, I dashed over the hills and mountains ahead of my comrades at maximum speed, radar sweeping out in front in an attempt to bait the alien ship into turning on its radar. At fifty-five miles I got a nibble, then a bite, as I dashed in at 550 knots. "Sand Pebbles, sweeping radar twelve o'clock," I called out. My Radar Threat Display (RTD) turned a bright yellow, then to red. An unnerving whine in my ears from the Radar Warning Receiver told me I had been lit up by the alien radar net, and I cringed, for a tracking tone is one no fighter pilot enjoys hearing. At that instant, the small circle in the center of my HUD turned to a diamond and centered itself over the radar's location as a warble in my headset sounded, each an indication that one of my starboard S-2s had locked onto the radar. Range-to-Target information appeared on the right side of the HUD and began counting down rapidly in increments of one tenth of a mile. Anticipating the "In Range" cue, I pitched my nose up forty-five degrees and thumbed the button on the stick. The momentum of my pull-up helped send the missile on its way, and increased its range by a several miles (a technique developed, incidentally, by U.S. Air Force Wild Weasel Leo K. Thorsness during the Vietnam War). As my missile closed in on the target, I stayed where I was so the enemy radar would continue to follow me, increasing the chance that my missile would hit. For ten seconds I sweated it out, my rear end hanging by a thread. Having waited as long as I dared, I ducked back into the mountains, weaving in and out, to break the enemy's radar lock on my fighter. The tone fell silent in my headset and I waited for the missile to strike. Popping back over another ridge I saw that the radar had gone silent. When it did not reacquire me I smiled momentarily. My missile had hit! I continued to close on the alien vessel, now well within the sure-kill range of the ship's defensive missile batteries. A second radar acquired me, followed by a third, then a fourth. My second S-2 warbled and I fired it off. Toggling the target select button on the throttle, I directed the other two missiles at the remaining radar sites and fired them off in quick succession. Breaking to the right and down into a mountain valley, throttles into afterburner, I dashed for safety. Too low to effectively use chaff or flares, I thumbed some off any way, hoping to spoof the incoming volley that was screaming after me. Our Zentraedi allies had taught us a thing or two about the limitations of their shipboard defense missiles, and I was trying my damnedest to put this knowledge to good use. If the missiles came over the top of the mountain before I increased my angle-off (the angle between the missile tracker/seeker head and my fighter) to more than thirty degrees, I was a dead man. I was terrified now--more scared than I had ever been in my entire life--as I calculated in my mind the distance needed to travel in the time allotted to clear the seeker cone. Ship-defense missiles were much harder to dodge in the atmosphere, and if you're timing wasn't just right... It was going to be tight. My Groupwars began to talk to me in its seductive female voice as I accelerated. "Altitude. Altitude. BWOOP! BWOOP! Pull up. Pull up." The RWR whined in my headset once more. I had violated the unbreakable rule--"Never turn your back on a SAM"--and I wasn't going to make it. With all the willpower I could muster, I yanked the stick hard to the right and back, eight and a half G's crushing me into my seat as I tried desperately to force an overshoot. I thumbed the chaff and flare buttons as I turned, bracing subconsciously for the impact I knew would follow. There was a bright flash--as if the sun had suddenly appeared in the sky behind me--and a concussion louder than anything I had ever felt in my life. My mind cried out to me hysterically, "Now you've done it, idiot!" I tasted blood, and I was burning. A surreal, unexpected peacefulness washed over me at that moment, and I thought to myself, So this is what it is like to die>. The missiles had caught me.
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: 29 October, 1998