Part IX: Cruise
Chapter 45 - Pines, Pain, and PJ's
I don't recall ejecting from my crippled Valkyrie. There was a brilliant flash as the missiles hit, followed by a horrible burning sensation--and then suddenly, there I was, tumbling wildly through the air, my skin searing with pain as I tried to make sense of what had just transpired. The chute popped open with a vicious jerk an instant before I smashed through the tops of the pine trees. I bumped and skidded along, branches and pine needles extracting a terrible toll from my already painful body. After what seemed like fifteen minutes, I finally came to rest, my parachute having snagged itself in the top of one the giant conifers.
I could hear the roar of fighters, both friend and foe, doing battle in the skies all around me as muffled explosions rumbled in the distance. I couldn't see a thing, but I knew I was close to the ground. With both hands I popped the emergency release on my chute harness, and braced myself for the impact that would meet my feet. Instead, I landed square on my head and nearly broke my neck!
Time seemed to stop as I stood on wobbly legs and made my way over to the nearest tree--the sounds of explosions and jet engines had gone strangely silent. Leaning against the rough trunk, I took my helmet off and stared at it with eyes that refused to focus. It was charred and had a crack right down the middle of the back side. Now useful only as a doorstop, I tossed it over to my left where it would lie peacefully in the pine needles until discovered by a passing hiker. I wondered what they would think of it when they found it as I pulled out my emergency radio and flipped it on.
The radio came to life in my hand, startling me. "Sand Pebble One, Sand Pebble One, this is Husky One, do you read me, over?" It was Josh! His voice hollow and low, he sounded like he was in a tunnel, and it seemed incredibly funny.
I keyed the mike and started to speak, but no sound came out.
"Sand Pebble One, Sand Pebble One, this is Husky One, do you read, over?" he called again.
Once more I tried to make a call, but nothing came out of my mouth.
"Lead, I don't think he made it," another pilot's voice called into the night.
"He made it. I know he made it," Josh said with conviction. "Sand Pebble One, Sand Pebble One, this is Husky One. If you can hear me, click your radio three times, over."
I clicked the radio three times.
"Sand Pebble One, Husky One. Hot damn, you made it! I knew it. We are not getting your beeper. I say again, we are not getting your beeper. A rescue force is on the way, but we're going to need you to lead us in. Click your radio twice if you understand."
My personal emergency locator transmitter (ELT), commonly referred to as a beeper, was not working. Although the Valks had spotted the wreckage, they had no way of knowing where I was and I had no way to tell them. I clicked the radio twice.
"Okay. Hang in there, Sand Pebble One. We'll get you out of there, no sweat."
I recalled similar words spoken by me not long before and how they went unfulfilled. I was in a bad spot--within spitting distance, practically, of that alien ship--and I was in poor shape. I could feel the searing heat on my skin from the burns the explosion had given me, my head throbbed with pain, and my vision was blurred. I had a large gash on my right leg and another on my forehead, which went a long way toward explaining my woozy condition. Worse still, I couldn't speak, which meant that the rescue force wouldn't be able to confirm that it was actually me clicking my radio on and off. Without confirmation--established by asking questions only I would know the answers to--the rescue force could refuse to attempt a pickup, and I would be stuck on this godforsaken mountain until I bled to death.
Josh must have read my mind at that moment. "Sand Pebble One, Husky One. How many children do you have? Click your mike with the answer."
I clicked the radio twice.
"Good. Okay Sand Pebble One, how many times have you been married?"
I clicked the radio once.
"Okay Sand Pebble One. Standby."
It was still dark, but I knew I had to make it to higher ground if I wanted to be able to see or hear anything headed my way--friendly or otherwise. My first few attempts to stand up were laughable at best, and I had to catch my balance on the tree once I finally made it to my feet. After leaning against the rough pine bark--which smelled strangely like vanilla--I staggered off in the direction that felt most uphill. I didn't make it far before succumbing to a horrible feeling of nausea. I leaned against another tree, the roaring sound of the Valks orbiting nearby echoing off the hills and mountains all around me.
I reached down and unzipped a small compartment on my harness that contained the ELT. Pulling it out, I stared at it, bright orange, no larger than the average person's watch. Since it wasn't working and I didn't have any tools, the old fashioned "Texas Method" of repairs seemed as good as any. I smacked it hard against the tree a dozen times.
"Sand Pebble One, Sand Pebble One! Husky One, here! We have your beeper! We have your beeper! Stay put we're on the way," Josh called out excitedly.
I smiled, not believing what I had done, took a seat against the pine, and promptly passed out. It had been a long day.
I awoke to the sight of a large, gray-helmeted, PJ, staring nose to nose with me. At first I thought he was a giant bug from some alien horror film and I bolted upright, reaching for my pistol. Fortunately, the PJ had had the wherewithal to take it out of my holster and safe it before trying to wake me. I could hear the loud roar as the downwash from the rotors of the SH-85 whipped the tops of the trees into a frenzy. With the PJ's help I climbed awkwardly onto the seat of the penetrator and waited as he strapped a safety harness around me. He then climbed aboard and signaled the winch operator.
The pine needled ground shrank and twirled beneath us at a dizzying rate, and I closed my eyes tightly. We brushed through the tops of the trees as the first rays of light pierced the early morning dawn. The helo began to move before I was even safely inside. With practiced precision four hands pulled me into the cabin, offering me a helmet to combat the noise, a blanket to combat the cold, and a cup of coffee to perk me up. I didn't drink coffee, but I politely accepted it, downing it in less time than it takes to think about it.
"Lt. Framton? Lt. Kaufman thought you'd be happy to know the strike force made it in and took out that ship without a single loss thanks to you," the door gunner said to me, once I was plugged into the com system. "They got the jump on those bad guys--those alien bastards didn't have a chance!" He slapped me on the back.
I smiled. The helo lifted me off the mountain top and I thought of my airplane, smashed into uncountable pieces against the rocks. The door gunner pointed to a patch of scorched earth and trees and I nodded soberly. She was a wonderful airplane and never let me down even when I pushed her too hard. Now she was gone. It made me sick to my stomach. I would rather someone else had plowed her into the ground, for then I would not have had to live with the guilt that losing her caused me.
I spent the next two weeks recovering from second and third degree burns. Twenty-seven stitches went into my right leg as well, and I found myself wondering if it wasn't prudent to find another line of work. Casey was only four months old and Lisa was a budding, curious three year old. The demands of the military did not allow me to pay attention to them as much as a parent should, and that disturbed me. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it was my responsibility to take care of them--hanging my ass out on the line every day was not being responsible. Or was it? Being responsible also entailed protecting them, and what better way to do that than to do what I was doing now?
As I pondered this thought, I heard Casey let out a wild cry. At two in the morning this usually meant she was hungry. I ambled over to the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle, then made my way down the hall to Casey's room. She wasn't crying any longer. I opened the door slowly and saw Rebeckah leaning over the crib, watching Casey as she slept. She looked up at me, leaned over and kissed Casey on the cheek, then winked at me, blew me a kiss, and disappeared. I stood there wide-eyed, part of me stunned by what I had seen, the other happy to have seen her face once more. Happy in the belief that my Case was able to visit her child, I turned back toward the living room, closing the door quietly behind me, an ear to ear grin on my face.
At least I knew why Casey had stopped crying.
I returned to flight status on September 15th, and went immediately to work on the Valkyrie Wild Weasel Project. A stopgap measure intended to suppress/destroy enemy radar defenses, the Wild Weasel Valkyrie's development was due to a number of factors, the most important being the limited range of suitable jamming platforms in the atmosphere. The power of Zentraedi radar systems necessitated equally powerful jammers to counter them. When the SDF-1's jamming systems could not be employed during our fight in space, Cat's Eyes and Valks could carry jamming pods capable of handling the job, as the size, weight, and aerodynamic of this equipment was of little to no consequence. In the atmosphere, however, where payload capacity for an aircraft is limited--and drag is all-important--this proved to be a problem.
The only airplane that could carry the equipment where it was needed--assuming the plane could be modified to utilize it and protected from attack while on station--was the mammoth VC-27 "Tunny" ("Super Tuna") VTOL transport, and we didn't have one available anywhere. This left us with Cat's Eyes, Valks, Boeing VC-33's and EC-33's. The EC-33 was dedicated to AWACS duties and wouldn't be survivable in a combat environment. The Cat's Eye and VC-33's, with their small capacities, would be easily overpowered by the strength of the enemy radar network, making it ineffective and unproductive to even try it with them.
Lockheed VC-27 "Tunny" VTOL Transport
SDF-1's jamming systems, with their tremendous range in space, were pitifully limited to "line-of-sight" range (i.e. the curvature and terrain of the earth itself restricted the range of the ship's jamming systems) in the atmosphere and were therefore not an option. A bombardment from orbit using ships from Breetai's Imperial Class fleet--which would render a radar jamming system unnecessary--was also considered, but those vessels were still busy taking care of the last remaining survivors from Dolza's Armada and couldn't be spared. Thus we were left with only one choice: a direct attack using heavily armed Valks. If we wanted to take out the large number of Zentraedi ships that had survived their re-entry into the atmosphere--and not lose every pilot aboard ship doing it--our only choice was the Wild Weasel.
Our method was simple: sucker the bad guys into turning on their radar systems and keeping them on until we could kill them. This could be done first by remaining outside the self-guidance cone for the missile in question or by jamming its onboard radar, either of which would force the Zents to continue to track the target with surface-based fire control radar. With that huge radar system lighting up the sky it would be simple to shoot a Shrike II at it and destroy it. Other radar systems in the area, for fear that they, too would be subject to an attack would go dark, leaving a nice clear path for the strike force. Of course, nothing is ever that easy, but we knew we could make it work.
We decided that even with all the automation the 21st century had to offer, two heads were better than one. We put the most powerful Electronic Warfare System we could--along with an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) to operate it--into the back seats of two modified VF-1D's, and called the variant the "Wild Weasel." Trading reaction mass tankage for equipment, we packed them as full of defensive sensors, radar discriminators, jammers, and offensive/defensive tracking systems as we could, made provisions that allowed the EWO to shift the Shrike II from one target to another "on the fly" (i.e., while the missile was in flight), and installed a complete set of defensive countermeasures. With six improved Shrike II's (with 15% more range than the missiles I had used before)--three on each wing--and a jamming pod on the centerline where the GU-11 used to be, the prototype Wild Weasels were an evil looking pair. Indeed, Gene I. Basel must have had this airplane in mind when he coined the term "Evil Weasel."
Boeing VC-33 "Mom's Kitchen" VTOL Transport
For five days I flew one of the prototypes along with my new EWO, 1LT Frank "Zap" Baldwin, a former Cat's Eye EWO. Tall, intellectual, and intuitive, Zap was probably the nicest guy I have ever met, and when it came to screwing up enemy radar systems, he was without peer. His ability to bring the vagaries of electronic warfare down to the simplest of terms made understanding the systems in the Weasel a snap, and showed me how little I really knew about electronic warfare.
Our test hops included more evaluations of the Shrike II's accuracy and range, as well as analysis on the effectiveness and ease of use of the jamming equipment stuffed into the modified "D"--known to us as the "Smack" (a twisted nemonic for "SAM Killer"). We fiddled with everything right down to the interface between the operator and the equipment until we got it just the way we wanted it. Although we knew we couldn't jam the alien missile guidance radar entirely, with the Shrike II we had the ability to take it out, or at the least, get it to shut down. We worked the kinks out, devised tactics to make our mission safer and more effective, trained three pilots and three back seaters in the operation of the Weasel, threw it all together, and decided that it would indeed work as advertised.
A combat test was all that was needed to prove our theory, and on the morning of 25 September we got the chance. Reconnaissance flights had discovered another alien ship in the Appalachian Mountains. Intelligence reports indicated that the ship, although crippled, was gearing up for some type of offensive action, and a strike force (led by the two Wild Weasels and two single-seat, Shrike-equipped "J's"--was assembled to destroy it. I was scheduled to fly as the lead Weasel and had to drag myself out of bed long before the sun would show itself. My kids were already safe with Kristy Kaufman (one could always tell when I had an early flight as I would take the girls to her or to my parents the night before), which made things a little easier, even if the mere thought that I might not see them again was enough to make me want to retire.
Boeing E-33B "Varuna" AWACS Aircraft
I met my wingman, 1LT Charles "Puck" Turner, in the Intelligence Center, where we grabbed a last minute update with which to help pre-plan the mission. A short, balding, round-faced man in his late-thirties, Puck Turner had considered abandoning a promising airline career for the chance to fly fighters for the RDF. Because of his age, Puck had been turned down three different times and had all but given up on his dream of flying high-performance combat aircraft. When the Zentraedi attacked Macross Island on that cloudy summer afternoon in 2009, Puck was commencing his descent into MIA (Macross International Airport) at the controls of his Boeing 777-400 airliner. It was the final fifteen minutes of an eleven hour flight from Denver, and Turner was rightfully tired.
Puck was oblivious to the chaos that was engulfing the island as he descended out of 10,000 feet, thinking the explosions from Zentraedi weaponry were instead pyrotechnics for the airshow. A firing pass by a Raulon've fighter pod stitched dozens of holes in the giant Boeing, killing his co-pilot and twenty-two others. As the fighter turned for another pass, Puck rolled the massive airliner on its back and dove for the ocean. The RV, intent on destroying the 777 as it raced toward the island just above the ocean waves, failed to judge his pullout properly and slammed into the sea. History recorded his feat as the first kill by a large transport aircraft--Turner called it something else: Divine Intervention.
With fuel streaming from his stricken jet's fuel tanks, Puck slammed it onto the cratered runway at MIA and, without brakes, ran it off the end and into a small field beyond. Thus began his journey into the world of combat aviation. The RDF's desperate need for pilots gave Turner the opportunity to fly tactical combat aircraft, and his 104 kills during Robotech War One showed that he had not squandered his chance.
The alien ship was located on the western side of the mountain range which meant that we would be well inside the kill zone of the ship's missile batteries if we came in from the east. At the same time, attacking from the west would allow us to shoot sooner, but left us with nothing to hide behind once the enemy ship fired at us. I had already learned the hard way about dodging Zentraedi surface-to-air missiles when within their kill zone. Even with the benefit of terrain, once they have an idea of where you are, they can--and often will--catch you, and are not nearly as easy to dodge in the atmosphere as they are in space.
With this in mind, I decided that we would fly in from two different directions. Using the mountains to the south as cover, I would zoom in to a position about eight miles from the ship. I would send the other team in from the west to bait the radar, and the moment it went online to track them, Puck and I would kill it. Our intel did not show any other radar sites in the area, but this did not mean they wouldn't be there. For our plan to work the path to the ship would have to be clear, if it wasn't, it would turn into a real duel.
Zentraedi Raulon've Fighter Pod
I inspected the six S-2's on my wings and climbed aboard my fighter. As we had practiced, my wingmen and I launched first and flew out ahead of the strike force, our back seaters listening and looking for enemy radar signals. As we weaved back and forth above the pine covered mountains to the south, my second team probing the air with its radar, Zap got a short nibble.
"SAM radar, 11 o'clock, twenty miles," he called out. "I didn't get a lock on him but I can steer you to him."
"Okay, let's go."
"Left heading one-niner five. That should get us close."
I banked to the left, Puck sticking right with me as we dashed toward the target, the bellies of our Valk's mere feet above the rugged hills and mountains of what was once West Virginia. We would be on him before he knew what hit him if things worked out.
As we closed on the target area my hands began to sweat. At ten miles Zap got a bigger nibble when I popped up momentarily and put my radar into active mode, then ducked back into the mountain valley. It wasn't enough to lock our missile onto the radar's location, but our S-2 could follow the residual radar signal that was cascading over the mountain tops. Since the terrain prevented the signal from being reflected back to its source we could see it, but it couldn't see us. Zap programmed the starboard S-2 to follow the enemy radar and I thumbed the button on the stick. I felt a thump as the missile dropped free, then came a bright flash as it ignited and streaked upward. I moved the stick to the left to remain in the mountain valley and waited to see what would happen.
Twenty-two seconds passed and the radar went silent. The S-2 had scored a direct hit. The other team, still cruising slowly at a higher altitude did not detect any other radar signals. With our radars back to standby we popped up again, and began a lazy counter-clockwise circle at a distance of twelve miles, well within the range of the ship's missile batteries. Suddenly, the radar threat display painted a series of small red cones at our ten o'clock position. The ship had launched a group of "Radar Regults" (Recon Scout Pods) to track us, no doubt to set up an intercept for another bunch of Raulon'ves to attack us.
I fired off four of our remaining five S-2's at the Radar Regults, and Puck fired off the two he was carrying, then broke away from us to provide cover. Without a GU-11 and with only six Stilettos, we were lightly armed for dogfighting.
The Radar Regults all went silent, but a tone in my headset told me that a missile was tracking us. A line descending from the top left side of the HUD to the center told me it was coming from our ten o'clock. Dumping chaff and flares, I broke hard to the left, trying to bring my fighter around so the missile would overshoot. I started to reverse my turn when Zap told to stay put.
"Hold what you've got!" he hollered.
Against my better instincts, I did what I was told. There was a flash of light to the right as the missile exploded. I glanced down at my center LCD and saw that Zap had used the head laser turret to shoot down the incoming missile!
"Good thinking, Zap!" I hollered. The man was nothing short of a genius.
The RWR went crazy again and it was time to stay alive. The Raulon'ves--about twenty of them--had found us. I barrel rolled hard to the right as tracers from cannon fire lit up the sky. I got off a quick shot as one of the Yard Darts flashed in front of me, but didn't have time to see if it hit him. My Valk was heavier and had less plasma to use in burner, thanks to all the equipment we were carrying, which really cut into our maneuverability, and left me with zero time for sightseeing. As the Raulon'ves charged in on us from all sides, I kept rolling and pulling, doing my best to turn inside of them without plowing my fighter into the ground.
"Skull Leader, Weasel force has bandits! Radar is down, but we could use some help if you can send it!" I called out.
"On the way, Weasel Leader," Hunter called out. I wasn't sure if he meant that help was on the way or just the strike force. It didn't matter.
"Two bandits, closing in at left seven, Jake!" I looked to the right and saw a pair of RV's screaming in at us. I was so busy watching the terrain that I didn't have time to look around as much as I was used to, and I was thankful for Zap's eyes in the back seat.
I broke hard left and forced the RV's to overshoot, then rolled back to the right as they reversed their turn, and fired a pair of missiles at them. I didn't have time to see if they hit, either, for the sky was full of enemy fighters.
"Puck, where are you?" I called, doing my best to sound calm and in control.
"I'm over a mountain," he replied flippantly, a missile lock tone warbling in the background.
I had to smile at that for a brief instant, as I cut inside the firing pass of yet another Zentraedi fighter. "Could you be a little more gawdamned specific, please?" I grunted against the G's that were trying to crush me.
"I'm just west of you now, northbound at about eight thousand feet."
I looked up and to my left and saw Puck's red trimmed Valk just as it unleashed a torrent of gunfire into the lead Raulon've. A second fighter had planted himself on Puck's tail just as his leader's fighter blew apart.
"Puck, check your six!" I called out, banking hard to the left in an effort to get a missile lock on the number two bad guy.
I looked behind me quickly to clear my tail, then saw Puck's Valk pitch into the tightest, most incredibly graceful loop I have ever seen, white streamers coming off the wingtips as condensation formed all over the top of his plane. I knew what would come next, but didn't have the time to watch it as another Raulon've streaked in at me from below and to the left. I stomped the left rudder and yanked the stick back and to the left, right throttle into afterburner, left to idle. My radical roll dumped me underneath and inside the bad guy, and as he skidded around behind me in a max rate left turn, I continued my roll, popped my Valk's legs forward, and sent a Stiletto up his tail pipe from less than a hundred feet. Debris thumped and tinked off my fighter as we flew through the explosion. It would be my only confirmed kill of the day.
We had made a lot of progress, Zap, Puck, and I, and the odds were slowly swinging in our direction. Zap was as busy as he could be in the back seat, looking for bad guys--and on occasion, shooting at them with the head lasers. It was one hell of a melee.
Another pair of Raulon'ves charged at us head on, cannon blazing. I broke to the right, then started back over to the left, trying like hell to be a hard target to hit. I didn't see a third Raulon've stepped down and to the right of the first pair. As I started my roll back to the left, my Valk ended up directly in the path of the third fighter.
"Jake, break right! Loo--!" Zap was hollering into my ears a split second before the third fighter rammed smack into us.
There was a huge jolt and then the sky and the ground began to trade places rapidly. Every light on my panel lit up as we tumbled out of control. I fought with the airplane for what seemed like an hour, yet was surely only seconds, then heard a loud explosion behind me. Unexpectedly, the slack reels retracted, yanking my arms and legs toward my seat, and with a kick that felt strangely familiar, I rocketed out of my crippled fighter and into the cool morning air.
The pine trees were about to get another crack at me.
Chapter 46 - Sea Changes
As I floated lazily down toward the wooded hills and mountains below, I began to take stock of my situation. Two ejections in two weeks wasn't part of the enlistment contract I had signed when I joined the service. This was not something responsible parents did to their kids, was it? It was time to pick a new career, I thought aloud.
Hanging in my parachute harness, I was totally defenseless--with only my two handguns for protection, I might as well have been a giant bullseye for all the alien fighters nearby. My recent string of bad luck didn't appear to be over, either, as one of the Raulon'ves that was knifing through the air began to pay more than a little attention to me. First the ugly green fighter flew slowly by to get a good look at me, then he turned and headed toward me on a firing pass. I grabbed the risers with both hands and began dumping air out of my chute to make me fall faster. I was about two thousand feet above the trees, now, and assuming I was somehow able to spoil this guy's attempt to kill me, I might reach the ground before he could make a second run.
The RV's nose winked in the distance as he hurtled toward me. The sight and sound of tracers whizzing within inches of my head is not something I will soon forget. He flashed past me like rocket, and I peered over my left shoulder following him closely. Deliberately--methodically--the green fighter turned around and headed after me again. I knew this time he would not miss and I began to frantically spill air out of my chute. It wasn't like I had much of a chance to change my fate, but I had to try. The ground rose up to meet me at a snail's pace as the alien fighter closed. The thought of releasing my harness and dropping the final five hundred feet crossed my mind, and I searched maddeningly for a lake, pond, steep snow bank--anything to break my fall. There was nothing to be found. The RV's nose flashed and I closed my eyes, knowing that this was how I would meet my end.
The report of gunfire filled my ears, then a loud explosion. I looked up to see Puck's Valkyrie flash over the top of my parachute, his engines roaring in the cool mountain air, a fiery explosion in his wake. The Raulon've that had been so intent on hunting me was no more, and I had gained a new lease on life.
I touched down softly on the wet soil and popped my chute harness loose. It was a perfect, stand-up landing of which I was very proud. With practiced precision I scooped up the giant silk canopy and ran for cover beneath some pine trees that were about a hundred yards from me. I rolled my parachute into a ball and threw a few large gray rocks on top of it, then snatched up my survival radio. Flipping it on I made a call in the blind on Guard.
"Sand Pebble One on Guard. Anybody read me?" I called out.
"Hello Sand Pebble One. This is Sand Pebble One Dash One. Read you loud and clear." It was Zap's voice! He had made it!
"Hey Zap! Where are you?" I asked, looking around.
"Right behind you, about fifty yards. Hanging in a tree!" he called out with a chuckle.
I spun around and peered through the green pine needles. I spotted the tall EWO waving at me from his perch about twenty feet up a large Mountain Pine.
"I see ya'. I'm on the way," I called.
"You two love birds need to knock off the chatter so we can get a rescue force out to you." It was Puck.
I turned back to my right in time to see his red trimmed Valk scream over the tops of the trees at about 400 knots, as the roar of his engines boomed off the hillsides that surrounded me. I waved, knowing full well he couldn't see me, then jogged over to Zap and helped cut him out of the tree. His chute harness had gotten tangled up crazily and he couldn't quite reach the webbing to cut himself loose. After about ten minutes of wrestling with branches and nylon, we finally got him unsnared.
The sun was obscured by a dark gray overcast as we hiked over to the edge of the clearing and had a seat against one of the large conifers. I looked around and realized that this area had not even been touched by Dolza's bombardment (even if 95% of the planet had). I marveled at the beauty of my surroundings, something I had been unable to do both times I had flown over it.
Zap and I sat and chatted as Puck's Valk orbited overhead in its protective vigil. Two hours later, a Navy SH-85 dropped into the clearing and plucked us out of the forest. The enemy cruiser had been destroyed. Our losses: five pilots killed, five wounded, twelve planes damaged or destroyed--none to SAM's or Triple-A (Anti-Aircraft Artillery). The Wild Weasel had proven its value.
An interesting discovery by a small group of RDF intelligence officers at a remote jungle outpost in Central America shed some light on the terrorist attacks from previous months. These intelligence operatives had been holed up in the mountains near Lake Nicaragua (notable for containing the only freshwater sharks in the world, and a truly fascinating example of adaptation due to climactic geological change) for many months, decoding encrypted radio traffic and conducting numerous other forms of clandestine spy operations. In the days immediately following our first anti-terrorist mission, radio traffic in the South American region reached something akin to a crescendo, and the operatives garnered a wealth of information.
The reason behind the assaults was a sort of twisted "racial purification" movement aimed at preventing interbreeding and cooperation between humans and micronized Zentraedi sympathetic to the RDF. The abuses seen in North America were nothing compared to those to our south, as the "Purificationists" here were not nearly as organized. Indeed, once the operatives managed to relay this information to us, our intelligence people uncovered a clear pattern in the attacks. Only those villages with mixed human/Zentraedi populations had been hit. The others had been left alone.
The irony was that the very groups attempting to prevent human/Zentraedi cohabitation were doing that very thing themselves. It was rather Hitleresque in its hypocrisy, but their objective was clear: by keeping Allied Zentraedi and humans from cooperating, domination of the planet by the Purificationists would be much simpler.
Still, the information garnered from the South American sector helped us to ferret out and destroy similar outposts in our own area, and by Christmas, these attacks would be almost completely stopped.
After long and careful deliberation, I had decided somewhat reluctantly, to stay in the Navy. Although I could always find a new life in some other line of work, there was little I enjoyed doing more than flying. Sometimes, in moments of solitude, an irrational bitterness toward the Zentraedi for my wife's death would linger in the air. Protecting others from a similar fate was an outlet that helped to ease these unhealthy feelings. Something deep down told me that if I stopped, I would become a bitter, spiteful man. Lastly, I realized that the best way to protect my children was to proactively defend them. Selling insurance, working at a bank, and flying airliners were each a necessary part of the newly developing economy that was beginning to unite the North American continent, but they did little in the way of proactively protecting others from harm.
As I climbed out of my jeep at the sky lift parking lot, I had no way of knowing that I should have calculated the cumulative effect of all the toes I'd stepped on before making my decision. I had teed off a lot of people in my time, and they were going to do their best to make my life miserable.
I had been doing a fine job as Executive Officer. My fitness reports were all outstanding, my squadron mates seemed to like me pretty well, and my combat record spoke volumes about the type of warrior I truly was. When I strolled into CDR Hunter's office for my new assignment, I was sure that I was going to finally get my own squadron.
The possibility of a future attack from space--not to mention the more immediate threat posed by conventional armies around the globe flexing their muscles--prompted the still shaky UEG to pump more resources into an already intensive force buildup. The North American Sector now comprised an area that was roughly east of a line from Alaska, south through the Rocky Mountains down to Texas, and west of a line from Texas up to the Great Lakes. There were still hot spots, with accompanying high levels of Zentraedi activity, but for the most part, the RDF had positive control of this area.
The force buildup had involved intensive production of mecha at the Robotech Production facilities at New Macross, and a newly built plant in Dallas, Texas. Fleet Replacement Squadrons were being formed down at Corpus Christi, Texas and the Prometheus-Class Submersible Carriers--twelve of which had survived Dolza's bombardment by diving deep--along with their Air Groups (now called "Air Wings"), would be rotated out of the port there until additional ports could be secured. Training squadrons at New Macross, Kingsville, Texas, and Corpus Christi were also hard at work training pilots, with new training squadrons being added weekly. Lastly, a Fighter Weapons school was being formed at a base in Albuquerque, New Mexico to hone air-to-air, air-to-ground, and Wild Weasel suppression tactics.
With all this activity going on, it seemed a sure thing that I would get my first command. You'll never know the shock that greeted me when I discovered I was being reassigned to the Instrument Training Wing in Kingsville as an instructor. I loved Texas with all my heart, but of all the places to go, Kingsville was one of the worst. Down in the southernmost region of the state, it was marvelous cattle country. Hot, dry, and full of a thorny, messy, hardwood tree called Mesquite (there is no better barbecue wood in the world), this region of the state was almost as lifeless as the moon. There would be no way to take my kids with me either, as the facilities there were not built to handle families.
I was devastated. Suddenly, my decision to stay in the military seemed like the dumbest move I had ever made in my life. I was to report for duty by 0600, 1 October--two days away.
I feigned enthusiasm for the assignment. If the bastards upstairs wanted to play hardball, then fine. If they wanted to make my life miserable, so be it. If it was their goal to demoralize and humiliate me, that was great. I wasn't about to let them know they had succeeded.
The two days I spent with my children and friends went by far too quickly, but the lack of time wasn't the only negative aspect of my last days in New Macross. The young girl who had been blinded by the terrorists, tormented emotionally and mentally by the brutality she suffered, slashed her own throat with a kitchen knife on the evening of September 30th. She was found in a dried up pool of blood on the living room floor by the live-in nurse who helped care for her. Josh Kaufman, having taken to the young girl as if she was his own daughter, was utterly devastated by this tragedy. Though those of us close to him tried, no amount of consoling could ease his pain.
The bitterness and frustration was indelibly etched in his face, and I could see that his heart had truly broken. The poor girl had come so far in such a short period of time. There was nothing in her behavior to suggest she was even remotely considering doing such a thing. It was a great shock to all of us, and Josh seemed to blame himself for her death, even though there was nothing more he could have done for her.
I was tempted to say "screw it" and stay against orders to be with my friend in his time of need--and with my children from that day forward. In the end, I decided it was best to do as I was told--I wouldn't be much of a friend (or parent) busting rocks in the brig. I did what I could to support my best friend, but when it came time for me to go, I had little choice but to do so.
At 2200 on the night of 30 September, I said goodbye to my sleeping children, my mother, father, and brother, threw my belongings into the back of a military jeep, and drove to New Macross Airport. Still under construction after three months, the airport was also the site of a brand new Veritech Aircraft Factory. My trip down to Texas was to serve the dual purpose of getting me there as well as to deliver a brand new VF-1D operational trainer to one of the newly formed training squadrons there.
Saying goodbye to my kids was the hardest thing I had ever done. The pain of trying to explain to Lisa why I was leaving (she had already lost one father, to lose another was truly unfair) hurt me more than anything I had yet experienced. Holding her in my lap as she cried ripped me apart inside--I resisted with all my being the urge to rush over to the SDF-1 and throttle Maistroff, Ruddman, and the others responsible for this insane transfer.
The cold air chilled me to the bone as I drove down the darkened highway toward the airport. I reached the guard shack and flashed my I.D. card to the Marine guarding the entrance to the factory parking lot. With a crisp salute, he waved me through, and I headed down the curved road that led to the giant factory. The parking lot was full of factory employees' cars so I parked my jeep toward the back. As I began to unload my stuff, a factory courtesy van drove up and offered me a lift to the entrance. The van driver took my name and said he would deliver my things to the aircraft. I thanked him and turned to walk inside.
I reached the entrance and made my way down the brightly lit hallway. Glass windows on the left side of the hallway provided an excellent view of the factory floor, and I marveled at the speed with which the Veritechs were being produced there. I reached the elevator that led to the offices upstairs. I noted casually that, as the head of the Robotech Research Group's (RRG) Aircraft Development Division, my father had an office up there somewhere. I followed the corridor to the right and made my way down to the Flight Operations Center, which handled everything related to the numerous test and delivery flights conducted on a daily basis here.
I said hello to the pretty brunette dispatcher behind the counter and glanced up at the magnet board above her head, searching for my airplane. I saw my name and the airplane I would be flying scribbled on a rectangular magnet. 22390 was my transportation this evening. I filled out the necessary paperwork and received the aircraft's "can" containing all the information dealing with this Valk's production history, maintenance history, weight and balance information, etc.. I scanned the contents of the can and found nothing of interest.
Snatching up my flight bag, I made my way out the door and to the flight line. As I preflighted the newly minted Valkyrie, my flashlight cutting the darkness, I couldn't ignore the overwhelming feeling of despair that enveloped me. I was leaving my family, my friends--everything I cared about--and for what? Try as I might, I couldn't answer the question. Perhaps I joined the military for purely selfish reasons, after all.
"It was your ticket to flying jets, and you punched it at the first opportunity," I thought aloud. "You didn't do it for the noble reasons of God, family, and country, you did it for yourself. You should be ashamed." Hearing those words made me feel terrible--and defensive.
"No, you bastard, I did it for more than just myself," I said, more loudly now. "You bet I did it to fly jets, but I didn't go out and risk my life every day just because they were letting me fly. No. I did it for my friends and loved ones."
"Then why are you whining now?"
I paused at that thought. It was a question that would become my mantra. "Why are you whining now?"
My preflight inspection was interrupted by the arrival of the courtesy van. The driver, a bald, cherubic fellow who had flown helicopters for the Army some twenty years before, began unloading my bags. I continued my preflight, inspecting the cargo pod on the starboard inboard pylon, then turned and began loading my bags into it. It seemed rather funny that everything I owned would fit in this long, F/A-18E "Hornet" drop tank-styled pod. I searched for a metaphor in this fact but didn't see one.
With the last bag securely in place and the cargo hatch sealed, I thanked the van driver for his help.
"Have a safe flight, Lieutenant," he said, shaking my hand.
I smiled. "Thanks. Take care of yourself."
"I will. So long." He turned, made his way back to the van, and drove off into the night, the lights of the airport glowing in the distance.
I finished my preflight inspection, and with a company ground crewman waiting atop the port side intake, climbed aboard my fighter. From my sleeve pocket I retrieved a photo of my friends and family--Josh, Kristy, my mother, father, brother, and two girls--smiling happily at the foot of the Robotech War Memorial (a large statue of a battle damaged Battloid standing vigil over the city park), and placed it on the instrument panel so I could see it. I secured my harness with the ground crewman's help, and felt a familiar pat on my shoulder.
"You're all set, boss."
I turned and saw Philo Rorbough's face. "Philo!" My face lit up with surprise.
"What are you doing here, Sarge?" I asked him, referencing his recent promotion.
"Just wanted to make sure everything was okay with this airplane before you left, sir."
I was touched. "Thank you. Thank you my friend," I reached out and, in a strikingly unmilitary gesture, hugged my plane captain.
He patted my back. "Oh! By the way," he exclaimed, turning and motioning for the company ground crewman to retrieve something for him. The crewman handed him a twenty inch long rectangular box, which he, in turn, handed to me. "The guys wanted you to have this," he said, pointing to the archway in front of the operations building entrance. Josh, Kristy, "The Surgeon," and a cadre of other pilots stood in the yellow glow of the archway flood lights. Philo waved them over.
Josh was the first one up the ladder. "Don't worry about your babies. I'll take care of them. I promise." He hugged me, and said, "I'll see you again soon, Jake."
Kristy was next. "I love you, you handsome devil," she said, kissing my cheek. "You just do a good job down there and hurry back."
Plog, "The Surgeon," was next. "I feel like I'm losing one of my own children. You do what they tell you and keep your ass out of trouble, you hear me?" he said, grabbing the back of my neck and shaking it with mock seriousness.
"I will, sir."
He raised an eyebrow, shook my hand, and stepped off the ladder. "Don't open that box until you get to Corpus Christi," he ordered.
"Aye, aye, sir."
Others came up to say goodbye as well: new friends like "Zap" Baldwin and "Puck" Turner; friends and old squadron mates I had not seen for far too long like "Beowulf" Andresen and "Roach" Cochran. I noticed that "Igloo" Sterling was not among them, and I felt a twinge of regret that I had not done more to repair our relationship.
Philo patted me on the back, and jumped off the ladder. Feeling a bit choked up by the evening's events--leaving my children, the outpouring of kindness from my friends, and Max's absence--I donned my helmet and refocused my attention on getting my airplane started. Master arm, off. Generators, on. Gear, down. Boost pumps, on. Radar and avionics, off. Flaps, down. Master switch, on. Throttles, cracked. Clear aft. Left engine starter, engaged.
A dull boom cascaded through the air as the reactor turbine began to spool up. Through the revelations of Exedore, Zentraedi Minister of Affairs, we learned that the reason for the Zentraedi's relentless pursuit of the SDF-1 was to retrieve the mysterious fuel source that made these very engines work. Termed by some as a form of "organic fusion," the secrets behind this puzzling, efficient, and highly volatile fuel--or perhaps more accurately, highly volatile process--called "Protoculture" were thought to be contained inside the SDF-1.
I watched the computer as it went through its self-test, and monitored the engine gauges. Satisfied that everything was copasetic, I went through the right engine startup sequence, then went around the cockpit configuring my aircraft for the pre-taxi check.
At Philo's direction I went through the usual pre-taxi inspection litany, checking everything from the lights to the flight controls to ensure they worked. Boards, flaps, spoilers, slats. Three up. Three down. Forward, aft, left, right. Rudder left, rudder right. Formation lights on. Okay. Anti-collision strobe lights on. Check. Off. Landing light, on. Okay. Off. Pre-taxi check complete.
Philo stepped out from underneath my Valk and held up the red flag that was attached to my landing gear safety pin, which would prevent an inadvertent gear retraction if the squat switch failed. With a crisp salute and a thumbs up, he signaled that everything was good to go. I returned his salute with a sharp one of my own, placed the box he had given me behind my ejection seat, and dialed up the ATIS on my number one radio.
In its pre-recorded, staccato voice, the ASOS ran down the numbers. "New Macross International Airport. Automated weather observation. Zero...three...one...five...Zulu. Weather...wind....one-one-zero at...five. Visibility...one-zero. Sky condition...no clouds below....one two...thousand. Temperature...one...niner...Celsius. Dew point...one...five...Celsius. Altimeter: two, niner, niner, five. Remarks: density altitude information...not available." Then the on-duty controller's voice followed.
"New Macross Tower, information Juliet, at zero-three-one-five Zulu. ILS runway niner right approach is in use. Landing and departing runway niner left and runway niner right. Notice to airmen: unlighted tower, five hundred feet high, two miles from the departure end of runway niner right. Contact tower one-two-zero-point-three. Advise on initial contact you have information...Juliet!" This controller had clearly had too much caffeine.
I clicked over to ground frequency and keyed the mike. "Macross Ground, Navy Three Niner Zero is at the Robotech Ramp, IFR to Corpus Christi, ready to copy."
There was a brief pause as the controller set down his coffee mug. "Navy Three Niner Zero, Macross Ground, taxi to runway niner left, I'll have your clearance for you momentarily."
"Three Niner Zero to niner left."
I flashed my taxi light on and off three times, waved to my friends, and advanced the throttles to taxi slowly out of my parking space. I could see them waving goodbye, and it made me feel very sad. "Why are you whining, now?" I shook my head, clenched my teeth, and forced the sadness to go away.
"Navy Three Niner Zero, Macross Tower, I have your clearance."
"Navy Three Niner Zero. Go ahead," I called back.
"Navy Three Niner Zero is cleared to Navy Corpus Christi as filed. Fly runway heading. Maintain two thousand. Expect one two thousand ten minutes after departure. Departure frequency will be 121.1, squawk zero-five-one-three."
I jotted the clearance down in shorthand on my kneeboard, then keyed the mike. "Cleared as filed. Runway heading, two thousand, three in ten. One-twenty-one point one. Zero-five-one-three, for Three Niner Zero."
"Navy Three Niner Zero readback is correct."
The cool wind rushed over me as I rolled, canopy open, down the wide taxiway. Two long, parallel lines of blue lights on either side marked the way. I watched the lights sweeping one by one beneath my right wing and I admired the beauty of it. I remembered a question once posed in biology class--I believe we were studying algae--that asked what color the taxiway lights were at an airport. I amazed everyone in my class when I casually gave the answer as if it were common knowledge. I smiled at the memory, and the image of the beautiful, shy, dark-haired girl I had met that day.
I reached the threshold line of niner left and stopped there. A pair of navy ordnance handlers were waiting there in a jeep to remove the safety pins for the GU-11 on the centerline, and the three Stilettos on the left wing's inboard pylon that I was carrying for self-defense. I did a quick lineup check, changed over to the tower frequency, and told them I was ready to go after a short delay.
"Navy Three Niner Zero, delay approved. Cleared for takeoff, runway niner left."
"Cleared for takeoff, Three Niner Zero. Would you ask Center if I can have a Viking Departure to twelve thousand, please?"
"Three Niner Zero, standby."
I taxied into position on the runway and brought my big jet to a stop. The controller, a very cheerful fellow, called back with approval for my Viking Departure. As the ordnance handlers pulled the pins, I placed my hands on the canopy sill so they could be seen. Once they were clear, I closed the canopy, pressurized the cockpit, popped my ears, and sealed my mask. "Lights, camera, action," I said to myself. I flipped on my anti-collision and landing lights, put my radar transponder into "Altitude Reporting Mode," and with my left hand, smoothly advanced the power on both engines.
As we started to roll, I ignited the afterburners and was pressed slowly into my seat. I tracked down the centerline, runway lights whizzing past me at an increasingly fast pace. At rotation speed I pulled lightly on the stick and the airplane flew itself off the runway. I flipped the gear handle up, and as the airspeed began to build, pulled hard back on the stick, and rocketed into the sky at an 85 degree angle. I rolled the big trainer to the left four times as I climbed, knowing my friends would see it.
"Navy Three Niner Zero, contact Macross Center, 121.1. Have a good flight."
"Three Niner Zero to Center, see ya'."
And with that, a new phase in my life began--one that would prove in many ways to be more challenging than combat itself.
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.HTML by Robert Morgenstern
Copyright © 1996 Robert Morgenstern
Version Last Updated: 29 October 1998