“… and, well, you know the rest,” Keiko said. “We landed at Sand Island, and once you were back, weirdness kicked into high gear.”
She stretched as much as the rear seat of the F-15S/MTD allowed her. Much to her surprise, it wasn’t much different from the Wave Gundam’s seat… though it was likely the other way around.
“So, yeah, what was that thing Dad always says? ‘I get into all the messes of the multiverse’? I think I might’ve inherited that.”
Nikki laughed. “I think it is actually ‘why do I always end up in the worst messes the multiverse has to offer?’”
“I heard you,” Sergio said over the radio. “And, well, you can’t say it isn’t true. When I tried to retire, the entire multiverse just died on us.”
Nikki sighed. “Yeah…”
Keiko took a deep breath. “Same here. To be fair? I was glad my Magical Girling was done and over, and I was also actually considering resigning from the PPC. Y’know… I realized it wasn’t exactly my thing.”
Like pretty much everything else I tried.
“Yeah, PPC work is not something you’re willing to do forever if you have other options,” Sergio said. “Sure, they had the best medical care in the multiverse and you could meet your heroes, but the pay was very definitely not enough for all the danger and insanity you were throwing yourself into.”
“Yeah, you told me… will tell me… would have told me? The very same after I joined. The part-time job at the convenience store doesn’t look so bad now. Still, I’m puzzled by one thing.”
“What is it?”
“I know you were a pilot, Dad. But Mom? That’s news to me.”
“Well… It’s kind of a new development. I did do some training while we were at the PPC, but we retired before I was fully cleared for flying. Let’s say that at the place I ended up before Sergio and the others found me they didn’t think twice before literally telling me ‘good enough for us, now get in the plane or you’re gonna live in a cell for years’.”
Keiko gulped. There was no way her father would have taken that well. “I guess someone regretted it badly?”
“Believe me or not, but there was an ace squadron acting as guard dogs for us, and your father saw fit to shoot down all of them. Single-handedly, against your great-grandfather’s orders.”
“Considering his future self used to shoot down Knightmares with a Barrett when I was the one supposed to hocus pocus them down? Doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.”
“Uh… I think it’s time to focus on our current job,” Sergio said. “Skystreaker One to Pheasant Leader, do you copy? We’re over the misplaced town. Is the evacuation already underway?”
“Pheasant Leader to Skystreaker One, affirmative. Wardog Flight is already in position, operation will commence right away.”
Keiko raised an eyebrow. “Wardog? Isn’t that the guys with the mechas from a couple days ago? The three girls and the shortie guy?”
“W-WHAT DID YOU SAY?”
Great, I’ve offended him. When am I going to learn to keep my mouth shut?
“Skystreaker One to Wardog One, please calm down. You’re capslocking.”
Ai lined up the Tiger II with the runway and pulled back on the throttle.
“Good. Keep this angle and speed, you’re perfectly on course,” Johnson said from the back seat.”
“Don’t be afraid to abort the landing if you’re not confident, though. We’ve still got plenty of fuel and it will take a while before the other aircraft are back, we can try the approach as many times as you want. This isn’t exactly the proper plane for basic flight training, after all.”
“I think I can do it. I’m lowering the landing gear and the flaps.”
As she did so, the plane started slowing down more quickly. She gave some throttle and pulled up the nose a bit to keep to the proper descent angle.
“Very good, you’re getting the hang of it.”
Ai kept doing small adjustments on throttle and pitch until she reached the runway.
“OK, it’s now the time for the flare. Pull up, then throttle to idle.”
She followed his instructions, and a few seconds after she put the engines to idle she felt a kick in the back and heard the wheels skidding for a fraction of a second. She brought the nose down and braked.
“Touchdown was a bit rough, but nothing that won’t go away with a bit of practice. Not bad at all for a first landing, Second Lieutenant.”
Ai took a deep breath. She did it – she flew a fighter jet all the way from takeoff to landing.
“It’s only thanks to you and Lieutenant Tanegashima’s lessons.”
“Don’t put yourself down like that. The best lessons in the world are useless if you don’t have a good student, and from what I saw today you clearly have what it takes. If I really have to look for a fault, though, you really need more work on the checklist.”
Ai’s shoulders slumped. She had never imagined that there was such a large amount of controls to be done and switches to be flipped when preparing an aircraft for flight.
“The enemy is above us! A mixed formation of Raptors and Eagles! It’s the White Birds!”
Nikki pushed the ordinance release button and pulled up. Despite her flight helmet and the howling of her plane’s engines, she still managed to hear the explosion.
“The enemy tanks attacking our position have been wiped out! Thank the Eagle pilot for us!” someone said over the radio. Someone in the Japanese ground forces, possibly.
Nikki gritted her teeth. She had likely saved their lives, but to do so she had to take those of the Belkan tank crews.
No matter what she did, people would have died. And it would’ve been those on her side if she hadn’t acted.
I hate this. I hate this so much!
“I’m a genius!” Corolla shouted from the cockpit of the Wave Gundam, raising her arms to the sky. “I knew I would do it eventually! Take that, Makes-Things! A drive cascade with a Minovsky Particle Reactor feeding into GN Tau Drives is possible!”
“So…” Hajime peeked in the cockpit. “I take it that you hadn’t built it yet? There goes our hope of you having the manual…”
“Manual? What I build doesn’t need a manual! You put the Neuro Linker on, and go out to blast anything that dares to face you! That’s what this is for, right?”
Hajime bit her lip “Er… Keiko said it was a trainer.”
Corolla lowered her arms. “A… A… A trainer?”
“Well… if it makes you feel better, I’m sure it got some field use at some time? You know, we didn’t really have many Gundams around.”
Corolla scratched her head. “Well… this does explain why the beam rifle is, by Gundam standards, a peashooter. I had chalked it up to, y’know, the PPC being always short on material. By the way, I found it holding the rifle in the left manipulator. Are you left handed?”
“No, but I think Keiko is? She piloted it last.”
“I see. Well, I guess I should do a few adjustments then. As much as I hate to say it, it looks like future me forgot to take into account left-handed pilots when designing the control system.” She clenched a fist. “I cannot let that stand! I must fix it right now!”
Hajime took a step back. For as tiny as she was, Corolla’s flares of determination were outright scary.
“Okay, so far so good,” Ami said, leaning into the Tiger’s cockpit. “What next?”
Ai pointed at the pitch trim wheel. “Uhm… You said I only have the standard missiles, right? So trim to six degrees.”
“Seven. Six is for the clean configuration.”
Ai slumped down, head between her hands. She had barely gotten halfway through this time. “I’ll never remember all of this! I’m an utter dunce!”
“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s just a matter of time.” Ami reached to put a hand on her shoulder. “Though… I think I might have a solution.”
Ami offered Ai a small sheet. “Here, keep this in one of your flight suit’s pockets.”
Ai took it. It was a copy of the checklist, formatted and scaled to fit into a sheet small enough to fit into her pockets without having to fold it. “A cheat sheet?”
“I used it myself when I was flying the Tiger. I never had the time to properly memorize its checklist properly, after all. I know the Colonel prefers us to know it by heart, but… well… he is a bit old-fashioned.”
“I heard you, Lieutenant.”
Ami squealed in shock, her eyes wide open. “I’m sorry, sir!”
“But, taking in account Second Lieutenant Minase’s young age and inexperience, I’ll allow that. By using it over and over, it will find its way into her memory sooner or later anyway.”
“Uhm… Thank you, sir.” Ai pocketed the sheet. “Though… Is it really alright? My school teachers wouldn’t have been happy to know I’m cheating on something…”
“You’re not in school anymore, Second Lieutenant. As a commanding officer, it is my duty to make sure the men and women under my command are in the condition to give their best. If a little cheat sheet will let you master the Tiger more quickly, so be it. War isn’t waiting for anyone after all.”
Ai nodded. They took her in, and were doing everything they could to help her learn to fly despite her shortcomings. The least she could do was accept the help and give it her best shot.
“Schild Team to HQ, our vanguard is gone and we’re taking heavy losses! Requesting permission to retreat!”
“HQ to Schild Team, permission granted. All surviving units fall back at once.”
“The survivors from Tokyo were right, there’s no winning when there are White Birds in the air…”
Sergio followed the retreating tanks and Mobile Suits with his eyes. They were surely referring to the dove in Strike Dove’s insignia.
“Pheasant Leader to Wardog and Skystreaker. The enemy armor is retreating. Mission accomplished.” She snorted. “Looks like you mercenaries are already making a name for yourselves.”
“Mercenaries…” Nikki repeated, her voice low.
“We prefer the term ‘private military contractor’.” Sergio said. “We’re not guns for hire looking
for the highest bidder, thank you.”
“I see. Anyways, more NATO units are on the way. They’ll take over covering the evacuation of Furinkan. Skystreaker Squadron, you’re free to return to your base.”
“Skystreaker One, roger that.”
Sergio turned his aircraft around, and Nikki’s Eagle formed up with him. We’re done for today, it seems.
Commander Weisse shut down the projector and turned towards the officers in the Durandal’s briefing room. “So, this was the plan for today’s operation. Any questions?”
Chris couldn’t understand the point of such a massive operation. The target was a small, undermanned airfield in the middle of nowhere – why was there a need to outnumber the expected enemy forces fifteen to one when enemy reinforcements were unlikely?
“More of an affirmation, Commander,” her father said. “Sol Squadron won’t be taking part in this operation.”
Weisse crossed his arms. “Well, I would’ve preferred your squadron didn’t skip this one, but your contract allows that so it can’t be helped. Four aircraft less won’t change much, considering how many units we’ve stacked already, but it would’ve helped morale.”
“I’m sure having Grabacr and Ofnir alongside them will be more than enough. Now, please excuse us.”
The Professor stood up from his chair and headed out of the room, Sol Squadron in tow.
“I don’t mind missing this sortie,” Mihaly said, his expression unreadable. “This is an extermination, not an air battle. There’s nothing to be learned in that.”
The Professor kept walking without turning back. “Extermination, you say? You might be correct in a different way from the one you think…”
“Are you saying it’s our side that is going to get mauled? Then won’t they need our help?” Chris asked.
“I’m just saying victory isn’t as assured as Weisse thinks.” The Professor gave a quick look around. “Besides, how many times do I have to tell you, Nemesis? They’re not our side. For our goals, the result of this battle is irrelevant, so taking risks out there would be counterproductive.”
Sergio walked around his Raptor, looking for anything out of place. However, all the safety blanks were on firmly.
“The data from the maintenance panel is good,” Corolla said, “Looks like there isn’t much work to do on your beloved personal plane.”
“Good to know. I don’t mind flying the S/MTD, but having the Raptor’s electronic suite really helped during the last sortie since it was just me and Nikki out there.”
“Yeah, I know. The Raptors can fill in for an AWACS when Long Caster is somewhere else, but we have only two of them so that’s why they’re getting priority on repairs over the Eagles. We have enough to set up a rotation of the latter.”
Corolla closed the access hatch of the maintenance panel. “And that’s why you should treat your plane with gloves. I mean, you’re not thrashing it, but your flying is a bit rougher than-”
An alarm started blaring. “This is an emergency. All pilots, report at Hangar One. Ground crew, report to your assigned hangar. TSAB combat personnel…”
A chill went down Sergio’s spine. “This is bad.”
“Is everyone here?” Johnson asked.
“Razgriz squadron reporting for duty, sir.”
“Haro One reporting for duty.”
Sergio gave a quick look around. Nikki, Corolla and Ami were all there as well. “Skystreaker Squadron reporting for duty, sir.”
“Good. As you might have guessed by the announcement, we have an emergency on our hands. A very large Belkan formation has been spotted, heading straight towards us.”
“How large, sir?” Snow asked.
“We don’t know for sure, but by the radar returns we’re dealing with at least one hundred aircraft. It is likely a few full bomber squadrons, with fighter escorts.”
Sergio gulped. They want to raze us!
“Are any reinforcements from the NATO forces coming to help us?” Ami asked.
“They won’t make it in time. The closest Japanese forces are one hour away, but this place will become hell in twenty minutes. All TSAB personnel with enough firepower will be acting as human anti-air turrets from the ground, but in the sky It’s all on us.”
Johnson’s eyes narrowed. “It’s pretty clear that the Belkans want to get rid of us. We’re a strategic foothold of the NATO forces, and we’ve also been a thorn in their side during their operations. I know I’m asking a lot of you all, but we need to protect this place, and ourselves. Take the best aircraft you can pilot, load it to the brim with XMAAs, and show them that we might be doves but we’ve got the claws to fight back!”
Sergio started the engines of the Raptor. The turbines whirred to life, and he started setting up the aircraft for takeoff. In the distance, one of the Razgriz’s Tomcats started its takeoff run on full afterburner, flames shooting out of the engines.
“Razgriz Three, cleared for takeoff,” the tower operator said over the radio.
He prepared to release the brakes, but Nikki’s Eagle Plus in front of him hadn’t started moving yet.
“The engines aren’t starting!” Nikki shouted. “C’mon, don’t leave me down now!”
If her aircraft fails to start up, I’m stuck here as well!
“Skystreaker Leader, cleared for takeoff.”
To his relief, though, air started to ripple around the Eagle’s nozzles, and the aircraft slowly started moving forward.
“Skystreaker Three, cleared for takeoff.”
Sergio released the brakes and followed Nikki towards the runway.
“Skystreaker Two, cleared for takeoff.”
Sergio stopped at the holding line just as Nikki positioned herself on the runway. Her plane leaned forward slightly, likely due to her throttling up the engines.
“Skystreaker Four, cleared for takeoff.”
Nikki’s plane shot forward on full afterburner, and Sergio took her place on the runway. He set the brakes and brought the throttle to full afterburner, the aircraft leaning and skidding forward as soon as the turbines reached full power.
“Skystreaker One, cleared for takeoff.”
Sergio released the brakes, starting his takeoff run.
“Why did we accept Weisse’s invitation to watch the battle?” Chris asked. “You said the result was meaningless.”
The Professor kept walking. “And it still is. The Belkans put a lot of their chips in this battle – if they lose, the balance of strength between them and the Japanese-led coalition will be more even and the war will wear down both sides. On the other hand, if they do win, Strike Dove won’t be a problem for us further down the line.”
They reached the door of the command room. “Either way, watching the battle unfold will give me more data to plan our future moves.”
“Long Caster to Skystreaker, Razgriz and Haro. The enemy is still headed our way, ETA thirty seconds. You’re cleared for engagement.”
“Skystreaker Leader to Long Caster, do we have an ID on aircraft type?”
“The first wave seems to be composed mostly of Fishbeds and Lindwurms, likely drones but there’s a lot of them. An appetizer big enough to give you indigestion if you’re not careful.”
Corolla flipped the Master Arm switch and selected the XMAAs. From what she had been told of the Battle of Tokyo, those drones were perfect food for multi lock missiles.
“Skystreaker Three to Long Caster, shouldn’t we use the data link for a synchronized attack?”
“Affirmative. I’m sending the data right now. Everyone, switch to the special weapon.”
Several squares appeared on Corolla’s HUDs, with four of them blinking as her aircraft started to lock on them. Several of the other squares had tiny arrows on them, signifying that the other Strike Dove aircraft were getting their own locks too. Corolla’s own squares became red, and she moved her fingers to the ordinance release button.
“Long Caster to Skystreaker, Razgriz and Haro. I see you’ve all got locks, the saturation attack is ready. Open fire!”
Corolla pushed the button, and four missiles shot forward from under her plane, losing themselves in the dozens launched by the entire formation. Pink beams streaked forward as well – Hiro had opened fire with his Gundam’s beam rifle. There were several explosions in the distance as the enemy planes got hit by the onslaught.
“Twenty four, twenty five… twenty seven aircraft confirmed down! Keep it up!”
Corolla quickly counted the remaining squares as they started spreading out. It looked like they had downed around half of the formation – maybe it wasn’t going to be that bad after all.
“Agravain to Rot, Grau, Blau and Vampir,” someone said on the radio, the voice almost drowned by static. “Vogels and Hantels are suffering losses faster than expected. Move in and take advantage of the confusion.”
Corolla felt the urge to slap herself on the head. I should know better than to tempt the Ironic Overpower like that!
Hiro shot his beam rifle at yet another bomber, before turning around to face one of the so-called “Fishbeds”. He opened fire with the head turret CIWS, shredding the little plane apart.
An alarm went off, and “MISSILE WARNING” appeared on the main multifunction screen. Hiro turned around to shoot the missile down, but it was too late. The missile hit, and Hiro grit his teeth as the shockwave hit him. He looked around for the aircraft that attacked him.
It was a different type of aircraft, bigger than the Fishbed, and Hiro fired a beam at it. The fuselage disintegrated, and the wings fell out from the sky.
“Vampir Seven has been hit! The Gundam blasted him apart!”
Hiro checked the battery levels. The Phase Shift armor held, but the hit caused a sizable power consumption spike.
I have to be more careful, a few more hits like that and the batteries will be depleted.
Ami chased a Eurofighter Typhoon, black with red nose.
“That’s Rot Squadron indeed! Are we going to fight every single Belkan ace squadron?”
The Typhoon turned, and Ami pulled the stick to follow it. She fired two missiles, one of which hit.
“They’re tossing everything and the kitchen sink at us, I wouldn’t be surprised!” Sergio shouted over the radio.
Ami moved her gunsight over the Typhoon and opened fire. Its engines burst out in flames, and the pilot ejected. She had no time to rejoice, though, as her own missile warning started to blare. She turned hard left, a dark blue Rafale in tow.
Alvin fired two XMAAs at a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, taking it out. It lost altitude and crashed in the sea no more than twenty miles off Sand Island’s coast. Another bomber was going straight towards the island, and he maneuvered to get on its tail.
He opened fire and destroyed it, but not before it managed to drop off a few bombs. Alvin could do nothing but watch in horror as they hit the base near the sleeping quarters.
“Damn, my rock’n’roll collection’s in there! What’s with everyone trying to destroy it?”
Luckily, the bombs didn’t seem to have done too much damage, and the fighters trying to do attack runs were being repelled by the TSAB’s improvised anti-aircraft fire. If anything, the colorful beams and orbs shooting around were one hell of a lightshow.
Alvin’s attention, though, was caught by the small aircraft taxiing towards the runway.
“Hey, who’s takin’ the Tiger out? I thought all us pilots were flyin’ already!”
“This is Second Lieutenant Minase, callsign Mermaid.” Ai said over the radio. “I cannot stand and watch, I’m taking off!”
“Long Caster to Mermaid, go back immediately! They’ll blast you before you even get to the runway!”
“Er… Keiko Turbo here. Hajime and I will be covering her with the Wave Gundam. You can berate us later, when people have stopped trying to kill us all.”
“This is insane! None of you has any combat-”
“Skystreaker One to Long Caster, leave them go. I’m taking responsibility. We need any kind of reinforcements available, and beggars can’t be choosers. Mermaid, you’ll be Skystreaker Five, flying on my wing. Keiko, Hajime, you’ll be Haro Two. I’m sure Haro One will appreciate having some help.”
Alvin shook his head. That was one hell of a deja vu.
Alvin launched a missile at the Phantom headed straight towards Sand Island. The explosion ripped its wing off, and the aircraft spiralled down towards the sea.
“Chopper, splash one.”
“Pops is taking off.” Nagase said.
Alvin looked down, and indeed Peter Beagle’s C-1 Trader cargo plane had just lifted off the runway. However, his attention was caught by a F-5E Tiger II coming out of one of the hangars.
“Look at the hangar!” He shouted. “Who the hell pulled that out?”
“This is Grimm.” someone said over the radio. “I was in the hangar helping out the mechanics. I’m taking off.”
Grimm? Alvin’s memory clicked. He was one of the guys still under training – not even cleared to fly alone yet. “The hell you are. You’re not even out of replacement pilot training yet. Aren’t there other spare pilots around?”
Grimm, however, kept taxiing towards the runway. “I didn’t see any.”
“There’s no time.” Nagase cut in. “Be careful, Grimm. I’ll cover you.”
Alvin shook his head. The guy must’ve been insane – he barely knew how the aircraft worked, there was no way he could survive a dogfight.
“Kid, Grimm’s coming up. I’m not sure he can handle this… Are we just gonna watch?”
Alvin nodded. He was still a fellow pilot after all. “Roger. Let’s give him a hand.”
Not only Grimm had managed to pull his weight that day, but he became the pilot Alvin could always entrust his back to.
“Chopper here. I’ll help keep the enemy away from the runway. Who knows, those girls might turn out to be our new aces.”
Vincent Moretto – Ace Combat 5 First Flight Metal Remix
Snow shot a missile, and the Rafale in front of him exploded. “Just how many aircraft did they send against us? It’s ridiculous!”
“I know, but the only thing we can do is take care of them!” Long Caster said. “Things aren’t so grim though, Skystreaker Four downed the last of the Lindwurms and there’s only a couple Stratofortresses left… oh my God, what’s that?”
“That what?” Alvin said. “That didn’t sound good.”
“I have three very large radar returns… yes, that’s three aerial fortresses. Looks like the main course will be pretty hard to swallow.”
“Three aerial fortresses? This is insane!” Grimm shouted.
Snow took a deep breath. “I know, but it isn’t like we didn’t deal with insane odds in the past! The Captain might no longer be with us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight anymore. Let’s make him proud of us!”
Keiko squinted her eyes. “The hell are those things? They’re huge, and leave particle trails in their wake!”
“Uhm… Oh, I know what they are! Airships from Project Wingman! You know, the game those Sicario guys are from.”
“That’s good, Hajime, but what I wanted to know is how much we’re screwed.”
“… Not too much? The one with the double wings is a Littoria class battlecruiser, and the other two look like they’re Anura class cruisers. I don’t think any have railguns.”
“… Okay. You heard that, Long Caster?”
“Affirmative. Do you know what tactics work best against them?”
“Well…” Hajime said. “Normally the hull only becomes vulnerable after they lose all turrets, but a very powerful weapon can get through right away.”
“Understood. You heard the girl, that’s the plan. I’m sending updated target data. Haro Squadron, you have the best weapons for this job. Skystreaker, Razgriz, cover them. Don’t let the airships get close to our base!”
Ai pulled the stick of the Tiger II as hard as she could to get on the tail of a Fishbed. The square on the HUD became red, and she double tapped the ordinance release button.
Two missiles shot off, hitting the Fishbed straight in the engine.
“I got one! I got one!”
“Nice shooting, but don’t get cocky,” Johnson said. “There’s many more around, and most aren’t that easy. Keep hunting Fishbeds, and leave the other ones to the experienced guys.”
“Mermaid, roger that!”
Ai raised an eyebrow. Did Johnson sound tired?
“Skystreaker Leader to Skystreaker One to Four, go on without us. I need to slow down a bit, so I’ll help Skystreaker Five clear the stragglers from the area close to Sand Island. You’re leading, Skystreaker One.”
“Long Caster to Skystreaker and Razgriz. We’ll begin with another saturation attack to clear the way for Haro.”
“Skystreaker One to Long Caster, roger that. Girls, you heard him. Switch to the special weapon and wait for the target data.”
He glanced back towards Sand Island, where Johnson and Ai were taking out the last drones. I hope Gramps is alright. It isn’t like him to stay behind like that.
More squares appeared on his HUD, stopping his train of thoughts. Wait, what…?
“Long Caster to all aircraft, there are enemy fighters hiding in the radar shadow of the aerial fortresses! Skystreaker, Razgriz, engage them and open up a way for Haro Squadron to reach the fortresses!”
Sergio sent off a volley of XMAAs as soon as he got the locks, but the enemy fighters spread out and none of the missiles hit. Easier said than done, those aren’t drones!
His blood froze as he flew past one of them. It had a Flanker-like fuselage, but the wings were long and thin. “Flappers! They sent Variable Fighters after us!”
“Not those things again!” Keiko shouted as she fired off some beams at the closest Sv-51. One of them ripped off its left wing, just before another one hit it in the fuselage making it explode.
With the Flapper out of commission, Keiko saw an opening to one of the airships and dove in, weaving through the tracers of the ship’s anti-aircraft guns.
The airship looked like a giant flying-wing aircraft, with the center fuselage extending only slightly forward and past the wings and a huge engine buried in each wing root.
According to the Wave Gundam’s HUD, there were still some operational turrets, with flames trailing from the emplacements of the destroyed ones.
Keiko fired a couple beams at the fuselage, but there was no appreciable effect.
“That won’t work, the guns aren’t damaged enough!” Hajime said.
“Ok, and exactly why?”
“I’m… not sure. Probably by detonating the turrets’ ammo reserves the entire hull gets weakened from inside?”
“You know what? Maybe you could show me yourself. I mean… you have fought those things already, haven’t you?”
On Keiko’s vision appeared a control swap request, and she accepted it. Before she realized it, she was back seeing with her own eyes instead of the Wave Gundam’s cameras.
“Well, I fought them only in the game, but that’s better than nothing I guess?”
Keiko kept an eye out for approaching aircraft while Hajime destroyed the remaining turrets one by one. Hajime was definitely more accurate than she was, but Keiko could feel that her flying wasn’t as smooth as her own.
Hajime blasted the last missile turret, and turned the Wave Gundam towards the airship’s fuselage. She let off a few more beams, and explosions started erupting from the fuselage.
“Wow…” Keiko said. “You definitely got Dad’s talent of blowing stuff up, sis.”
“The Tizona is going down!” Someone shouted over the radio. “It was their second Gundam!”
“Second Gundam? The briefing said they only had one!”
“Agravain to Falke Two, don’t panic. We’re still outnumbering them. Wipe them out.”
Keiko grit her teeth, and glanced at the beam rifle in the Gundam’s manipulator. “Sis, I hope we still have a lot of juice on that thing, because we’ve still got a lot of shooting to do.”
Nagase chased down a Flapper over Sand Island. There was smoke coming from several buildings – despite their efforts, there were just too many enemies to keep them all away.
And new enemies just kept coming.
“This is more than just a military operation… they don’t want to defeat us, they want us all dead! This is hate, in its purest form!”
“Lightning to Edge. We know. If you want to do something about it, philosophize less and shoot more!”
“Nagase?” Alvin interrupted her. “He kinda has a point. We all hate war, but ramblin’ about peace won’t make it magically happen!”
Nagase bit her lip. They were right – complaining was no use. She needed to focus on protecting her allies.
“Razgriz One to Long Caster, the second aerial fortress is going down!”
“I saw. Nice work, only the big turkey left. Dig in!”
Hiro flew straight towards the only surviving airship, weaving through the gunfire and letting the head turret CIWS deal with the missiles.
“This is the Pridwen! We’re under attack!”
“Grabacr One, understood. Ofnir, you deal with the ravens. I’ve got a score to settle with the demon leading the White Birds. We’ll have our revenge today.”
“Ofnir One to Grabacr One, understood. We’ll make sure the sea becomes their grave.”
Hiro readied the Arondight and dove under the airship’s front pair of wings. Whoever those two squadrons were, his friends would surely need help. He had to take care of the airship as soon as possible.
He gave full power to the anti-ship beam blade, and slashed through one of the engines. There were some explosions, and the wings on that side bent upwards, as if a giant invisible hand was closing the airship like a book.
An alarm sounded off, and “LOW BATTERY – WITHDRAW FROM COMBAT AREA” appeared at the center of the multifunction screen. Hiro gritted his teeth – the Arondight had used up most of the Destiny Gundam’s remaining energy reserves, but there was no place to withdraw to.
Sand Island is my home now… no, our home. We cannot lose here… I’ll prove to Miksa that we do have a future in this world!
He selected the head turret CIWS and dove after one of the red and black enemy fighters.
“Haro One to Long Caster, I took down the last aerial fortress but I’m low on batteries. I’ll try to help as much as I can, but my offensive options will be limited.”
“Understood. Anything helps, but don’t take too many risks. We need you all alive at the end of the day!”
Hiro opened fire with the CIWS machineguns. He was going to fight with his own nails, if he had to.
Ami did the best she could to dodge the swarm of micromissiles that had been launched towards her. What scared her the most, though, was that it came from one of Grabacr’s aircraft.
“Comet to all allied aircraft, be careful! They put micromissile pods on the Berkuts too!”
“I saw!” Grimm shouted. “And it’s Grabacr and Ofnir again! It’s a nightmare coming back to haunt us!”
“Keep calm, Archer!” Snow shouted back. “We took them down once, we can do it again! And it’s not just the four of us here!”
“That’s right! We’re fighting together!” Ami noticed a Berkut following one of the Razgriz and chased it. She fired off two missiles as soon as she got a lock, but to her horror the Berkut managed to fire off another swarm of micromissiles before being destroyed.
The Razgriz plane turned hard, but a few missiles exploded very close to it.
“Chopper, are you alright?” Long Caster asked.
“I’m not hurt, but my plane’s busted.” Alvin said. Alarms could be clearly heard under his voice.
“For the love of God, Chopper, bail out this time!” Nagase screamed.
“Don’t worry, I can ditch the plane anywhere. I’ll eject over Sand Island, so maybe I can even avoid getting my feet wet.”
Ami followed his smoking plane until she saw the ejection seat shoot off from it.
“I’m out.” Alvin said, his voice more staticky. “Let me tell ya, danglin’ up here isn’t very fun though.”
Ami sighed in relief. History hadn’t repeated. She turned her plane towards the nearest Flapper and joined the fight again.
Sergio finished off the last of the MiG-29s with a machine gun burst. With the airships out of commission, things were finally starting to look less grim.
“I found him. I’m engaging the demon.”
Sergio recognized Bernitz’s voice right away. However, he was not afraid of him.
“You again? This is the fifth time we fight!”
“And I will keep coming back, until I manage to send you to the depths of hell!”
Sergio resisted the urge of rolling his eyes. This guy’s even more obsessed than my evil clone was.
Bernitz fired a missile towards him from head on, which Sergio dodged with a barrel roll to the right. He turned the aircraft upside down and pulled the stick to quickly change direction and give chase.
At the end of the maneuver Sergio found himself right on the tail of the Berkut. He opened fire with the machine gun, but before he could get any hits in the Berkut slowed down, its nose pointing upwards. Before he realized it, Sergio went past him, and found himself on the receiving end of several machine gun bursts.
Sergio did his best to dodge the incoming gunfire, but he could hear some hits on the fuselage and wings. The hell? I never saw him pull a Cobra in the games! He… he revised his tactics!
Nikki gritted her teeth as the aircraft in front of her exploded.
The pilot surely didn’t have time to eject, and it wasn’t the first time it happened. How many had she killed?
She looked around for another target, and found a Flapper in Battroid mode opening fire on one of the Razgriz’s planes, who in turn was chasing one of the Berkuts.
She couldn’t afford to hesitate. It was them, or her friends. She turned towards it and launched all the missiles she had ready. Most of them hit the target, ripping the Variable Fighter apart.
“Thank you Starlight, I owe you one,” Grimm said.
“You’re welcome,” she said mechanically. Doing what was needed to do to protect her friends didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to hate all the killing.
She leveled up her Eagle, and right in front of her she found a Raptor chased by one of the Grabacr planes. Sergio’s in trouble!
She gave full afterburner and headed towards them. She had a very bad angle on them – they were headed roughly towards her four o’clock.
Maybe a high yo-yo? Let them fly past me, climb, turn, and then use the momentum to get on his tail.
“You’re done, demon,” Bernitz said over the radio. He was in a perfect position to shoot, and a full volley of micromissiles would mean certain death for Sergio. She only had a split second to make a choice, if she wanted to save him.
“Vanguard, set up! Protection Powered!” She shouted. Her flight suit was replaced by her Barrier Jacket, and a translucent barrier appeared around her aircraft.
Nikki aimed her Eagle straight between the Raptor and the Berkut, and steeled herself for impact.
Sergio saw the light of the explosions behind him, but no shrapnel hit his aircraft. The micromissiles missed?
“Damn it, that was one of ours!” Snow shouted.
Sergio turned back. Did we lose another of the Razgriz? Or…
He made out the shape of an F-15 Eagle, its engines in flames. He barely made out the jagged shape of one of the tails before it fell off the plane.
Blood left Sergio’s face. That was Nikki’s Eagle Plus, without a doubt. She took the hit for me?
“Starlight has been hit!” Long Caster shouted. “Are you alright?””
“I… think I’m OK.” Her voice was broken, and alarms could be heard alongside her voice. “But the plane’s… I can barely control it. I think… I have to eject.”
Sergio clenched the controls. It’s my fault. I underestimated Bernitz.
Grabacr’s leader was no longer on his tail thanks to the confusion of the blast, but it didn’t mean the battle was over.
He went after the first Belkan fighter he saw. The quicker the battle ended, the sooner they would be able to fish Nikki out of the sea.
Nikki wrestled with the control stick, trying to keep the aircraft straight.
“Engine fire. Engine fire. Engine fire,” a recorded voice said among warning beeps.
Smoke was already filling the cockpit, and she reached for the canopy jettison lever. The canopy was in tatters already, but there was enough left of it to get in the way of the ejection seat.
She pulled the lever and winced from the pain in her left forearm. The sleeve of her Barrier Jacket was red with blood – some shrapnel had gotten through.
There were some small explosions, but the canopy twisted only slightly. Damn it, it’s stuck!
She tried to cast a couple Shoot Barret orbs to blast off the remaining pieces of glass, but all she got was a sharp pain in the middle of the chest.
She reached for Vanguard with her injured arm – she needed the good one on the stick to keep some control on the crippled aircraft – and brough the star-shaped gem in her view.
The crystal was cracked, the feedback from the hit had damaged it, and likely also her Linker Core.
She turned towards Sand Island. Her plane was falling apart, but trying to land it was the only option she had left.
“Starlight to Long Caster. I can’t eject, the canopy… is stuck. I have to… try landing.”
She breathed deeply. I can’t even get more than a few words out at a time… can I really make it?
“… Understood. Good luck. Skystreaker Leader, Skystreaker Five, please cover her.”
She lined up her plane with the runway the best she could and lowered the landing gear lever. She glanced at the lights on the panel just above: green, green… red. One of the landing gear struts hadn’t locked in the down position.
I don’t have the time to try again, I’m losing too much altitude already!
She reached the runway and flared up. She felt a strong kick in the back and the aircraft leaned right, skidding on the runway at the same time. The sound of screeching metal was almost deafening.
Nikki pushed the right pedal as much as she could to try to get the aircraft to stay on the runway, but it still plowed into the field on the left at more than two hundred knots. The right wing dug into the ground, and the aircraft rolled over. No, no, no!
Time seemed to slow down as the aircraft briefly got airborne again and Nikki’s life flashed in front of her eyes… half of which wasn’t even actually hers in the first place. I’m… gonna die? No, I don’t want to!
The aircraft crashed down, continuing to roll, and Nikki’s pain became outright unbearable. Her breath was cut short, and she coughed – was that blood on the screens?
She tried to focus her eyes, but everything went black instead.
“She’s crashed! Nikki crashed!” Ami screamed.
Sergio felt his heart sink. “Starlight, are you alright?”
There was no answer. Her aircraft had slid out of the runway, and its wings and control surfaces were all ripped off and strewn around. From the signs on the ground, the Eagle Plus’ fuselage had rolled over at least three times before coming to a stop.
“Nikki! Answer me!”
Was she even still alive? If she sacrificed herself for me, for my mistake, I will never forgive myself!
“Long Caster to Skystreaker Squadron, the rescue team is already on the way. I know you’re worried, but the best thing you can do for her now is to drive the enemy away!”
“Skystreaker Two, roger.”
“Skystreaker Three, roger!”
“Skystreaker Five, uh… roger?”
Why is it happening? Why her?”
“Long Caster to Skystreaker One, do you copy?”
Why is there always someone trying to harm her?
“Grabacr One to all aircraft. One of the White Birds is down. They’re not invincible after all.”
Sergio felt his blood boil. He glanced at the two switches labeled ‘V-max’ and ‘AoA Limiter’ on one of the control panels. I’m not letting them get away. Not a single one of them.
He opened the safety guards and flicked both of them, then turned hard to get on the tail of one of Grabacr’s Squadron’s Su-47s.
“I’ve got one on my tail, I’m trying to shake him off.”
The Berkut turned hard right, and Sergio did the same.
“Over G. Over G. Over G.”
Sergio ignored the warning as he brought the gunsight over the Berkut. He kept pulling the stick until the gunsight was squarely on the canopy.
He pulled the trigger, and the canopy went in pieces, the few fragments still attached to the frame splattered red. He went full afterburner and looked for another one.
A Berkut crossed his flight path, and he fired a missile. The explosion wasn’t a direct hit, but some pieces detached from the Su-47.
“Grabacr Four, I’m hit! The Mongoose hit me!”
“Grabacr One to Grabacr Four, I’ll take him out.”
Too late. Sergio aimed at the front of the plane, ripping it to shreds with a long machine gun burst.
Two down, two left.
The radar lock warning blared, and Sergio pulled up sharply. The aircraft shook as it performed a Pugachev’s Cobra, and Bernitz shot past. Sergio lowered the nose of the plane and began chasing him.
“Over G. Over G. Over G.”
Sergio felt the flight suit squeezing him as it tried to contrast the g forces.
“He’s got a lock, but he’s not shooting…?” Bernitz wondered.
Sergio slid the gunsight towards his canopy. “You should’ve taken the hint last time. Don’t mess with my family!”
He opened fire, the shells ripping the cockpit off the Berkut. There was a second explosion, and something shot off from the severed cockpit just as Sergio flew past.
He followed the object with his eyes, and a parachute opened from it. Bernitz had managed to eject.
Sergio flipped the aircraft around, and headed straight towards Bernitz. “No, you’re not getting away! Die!”
He squeezed the trigger.
“Looks like one of the Skystreakers is down, too,” Weisse said. “Losing all the aerial cruisers was a big blow, but at this rate the operation will still be a success. Strike Dove will soon be a non-factor in the war. Your concern was baseless, Professor.”
The Professor crossed his arms. “Baseless? I think this is when it will be confirmed. Which one of the Skystreakers was it?”
“From what we intercepted of their communications, it looks like it was number four.”
“Oh, my. The worst one your pilots could shoot down.”
Weisse turned towards him. “What do you mean by that?”
“Well… Let’s say that from what little intel I have about them, their top ace happens to be her boyfriend. And those who tried hurting her in the past didn’t live for long afterwards. Myself included.”
“Well, the odds are stacked so much against them that it won’t matter. They’re all dead meat.”
The Professor pointed past him with his chin. “Are you sure about that?”
Weisse turned back to the screen showing the status of the attack force. The green silhouettes of the aircraft were turning red one after another.
“I believe this battle is already lost, Commander Weisse.”
“Grabacr Two to all aircraft! He’s aiming for the pilots! He’s aiming for the pilots!”
The remaining Berkut exploded right in front of Ami’s Eagle. Sergio’s Raptor turned away with a sharp flip… too sharp.
“Comet to Robogirl, isn’t Lightning flying… strangely?”
“What were you expecting, really? They took out Starlight, of course he’s ripping them apart!”
Ami fired two missiles into a Sv-51’s tailpipes. They both connected, taking the Variable Fighter out. “That’s not what I meant! Even with a Raptor, those maneuvers shouldn’t be possible!”
“What do you… oh, I see it! That idiot must’ve disabled the limiters!”
Ami gulped. Disabling the limiters for angle of attack and engine throttle meant that Sergio could push past what both his body and his plane were able to handle – one wrong move would mean disintegrating in mid-air.
“What do we do? I don’t want him to get hurt too!”
“Then shoot down these bastards as fast as you can! He’s gonna stop if there aren’t any left, and the sooner this is over the sooner we’ll be able to check on Nikki! Make the Belkans pay for hurting them!”
Ami nodded, even if Corolla couldn’t see that, and opened fire on another fighter. For bombing their home, for shooting down Chopper, for causing Sergio to go berserk, for causing Nikki to crash, they deserved no mercy.
The fighter exploded. “Comet to Long Caster, I splashed one!”
“Robogirl here, one bastard less on my side as well!”
“Mermaid to Long Caster, I got another!”
And none of the Skystreakers was going to give them any.
“Keiko, slow down! You’re going to burn the drive!”
“Slow down? You heard the radio!” Keiko screamed. “They shot down Mom! They need us there now!”
“I know, but we lost the right arm so the GN particle loss is-”
“Hajime, how would you feel if the one inside a plane wreckage, and who we don’t even know if… we know if… was your mother?”
Hajime sighed. “Fine. But remember that if the drive goes critical, we won’t be the ones in the coffins only because there won’t be enough of us left to need one!”
Sand Island appeared in the distance. There were fires everywhere, and explosions kept appearing in the air above as the dogfight continued.
“Haro Two to Long Caster, we’re back.” Hajime said, “What are the orders?”
“Long Caster to Haro Two, provide anti-air cover for the rescue teams.”
Keiko landed near the Eagle Plus’s wreckage and shot several beams at a Flapper, obliterating it. “I’m already on it.”
She gave just a quick glance at her mother’s aircraft. There was a pale green magic circle under what remained of the cockpit.
“Shamal? Is that you down there?”
“… Keiko? Yes, it’s me.”
“Is Mom OK?”
It was a stupid question and she knew it.
“She’s alive, but she’s injured badly. I’m trying to stabilize her, but the firefighters need some cover to be able to get her out.”
Another Sv-51 attempted to land on the runway in Gerwalk Mode, and Keiko opened fire on it. “That’s why I’m here! She’ll make it, right…?”
“… I’ll do my best.”
The beam rifle’s power pack ran out, and Keiko started running towards the Flapper. It was transitioning into Battroid mode, and Keiko switched to the beam saber.
“I won’t let you hurt her more!”
She stabbed the Sv-51 straight in the chest and an explosion erupted from its back.
“Over G. Engine Overheat. Over G. Engine Overheat.”
Sergio opened fire with the machine gun, destroying another aircraft. What type was it? How many had he taken down? The only thing he cared about was that their numbers were finally starting to dwindle.
“Grau One to Agravain, Grau Squadron is withdrawing.”
“Agravain to Grau One, negative. The enemy must be weary, continue the attack!”
If that guy calls for reinforcements, it’s over.
“Don’t you see? There’s a mongoose thirsty for blood here. I’m not letting him drink my wingmen’s.”
Sergio put his aircraft in a climb. The voice of their AWACS plane was too clear, it was close.
If he took that out, not only there would be no reinforcements but killing the rest would become a turkey shoot.
The altimeter shot past thirty thousand feet. I’m at the right height, it should be here.
Indeed, on his left there was an E-767 which his IFF identified as hostile.
“Skystreaker One to Long Caster, I’ve found the enemy AWACS. I’m taking the bastard out.”
He opened fire without even waiting for Long Caster’s answer. The two missiles hit the E-767 in the middle of the fuselage, shearing the tail section off. The aircraft spiralled out of the sky, continuing to break apart in the process.
“Enemy AWACS confirmed down,” Long Caster said. “Seems that the enemy forces are starting to withdraw.”
Sergio descended back towards Sand Island. There were planes heading away, and he couldn’t see any dogfights ongoing, or any mecha on the ground aside from the Wave Gundam. It was over.
Sand Island, though, was a sorry sight. There were fires and columns of smoke dotted around, and several buildings had collapsed, including some of the hangars.
“Long Caster to Skystreaker, Razgriz and Haro squadrons. We’ve driven the enemy away.” There was a pause. “Even if they still hit us hard, it was only thanks to you that we weren’t completely wiped out. Thank you.”
On the Raptor’s multifunction displays there were a multitude of warnings. Anything that could overheat was doing so, and there were also some failures.
“Guys, do you mind if I land first? My plane is in pretty bad shape, and I want to check on Starlight ASAP.”
“Robogirl to Lightning. Are you even asking? Go!”
Chris blinked her eyes. The holographic screen showing the status of the attack force was now glowing mostly red, and the data link with AWACS Agravain had been lost. Of over one hundred and fifty aircraft, less than ten were making it back.
“My God…” Commander Weisse wiped his forehead. “What… What the fuck happened out there? We were outnumbering them fifteen to one!”
“You’ve awoken a demon. Or, perhaps, even more than one.” The Professor got up from his chair, and started walking out of the commanding room. “Let’s go, Nemesis. This battle is over.”
Chris got up as well. In the split second before her father was past her, though, she noticed something weird on his face. He was smiling proudly, but not in the way of someone who had just been proven right.
He looked more like a father who had just seen his son score a home run for his baseball team.
Sergio stopped his Raptor on the grass surrounding the runway, not far from the wreck of Nikki’s Eagle Plus. He shut down the engines and opened the canopy before jumping down. There was no time to wait for a ladder, after all.
He saw Keiko, Shamal and a few other TSAB personnel raising a stretcher – Nikki. He ran towards them just as they began pushing her towards the main base building.
“How is she?”
Shamal checked some parameters in a holographic window. “She’s in critical condition. We’re bringing her to the emergency room, we need to operate on her right away.”
Sergio glanced at Nikki, and gagged. Her Barrier Jacket was completely soaked in blood, and there were several pieces of metal stuck in her body.
“Blood pressure is dropping quickly, she’ll need a transfusion as soon as possible,” one of the other paramedics said.
Shamal nodded. “What is her blood type?”
“A+,” Keiko said. “I can give her some, I’m 0+. She’ll be alright, won’t she?”
An alarm went off, and Shamal’s window became red.
“She’s in cardiac arrest!”
Shamal set up a magic circle over Nikki’s chest. “Stay clear!”
There was a crackling sound, and Nikki’s chest bumped up.
“Mom!” Keiko shrieked. “Stay strong! Don’t leave us… please…”
Shamal prepared another shock. “Ducato, prepare everything for the transfusion. Even if I restart her heart now, she’s just going to enter cardiac arrest again if we don’t give her some blood.”
Sergio gulped. “My blood is compatible too, I’m 0+ like Keiko. Bleed me dry if you have to, but please, save her!”
Nikki found herself floating in a place she didn’t recognize. It felt like being underwater in an endless ocean, but she could breathe with no issue.
Where am I? What is this place?
She blinked a couple of times to try to get rid of her drowsiness, but to no avail. That strange place felt really cozy, and sinking in it felt good. No more war, no more pain.
She noticed the surface above her, and heard some distant voices coming from it. She couldn’t understand what they were saying, but they sounded familiar.
“… alright, won’t she…. Mom!… don’t leave…”
Was that Keiko? It must’ve been her.
“… bleed me dry, if… save her…”
That was definitely Sergio’s voice.
Oh, right. I crashed while trying to land my damaged Eagle. Am I… Dying?
She tried to listen in, but the voices had become more distant. Sergio’s sounded pretty desperate, he was surely trying anything he could to save her. Just like usual.
Is that right? I always end up needing to be saved by him. Would letting me go now mean he wouldn’t have to do it again and again and again anymore?
She closed her eyes. Would her death mean he was going to be free?
If Hajime’s timeline is anything to go by, he’s going to be alright even without me. Ami will surely take care of him. And Keiko is a strong girl, she’ll be fine.
“Are you going to be that selfish?”
Nikki opened her eyes. That last voice was perfectly clear, but she couldn’t make out who had said it. It wasn’t coming from where her family and friends were, and there was no one else with her in the limbo. Was it her subconscious?
Whoever that was, though, they were right. If she gave up, there would be a lot of people mourning her. And she would be abandoning them just when they needed her the most.
She flipped over, and swam towards the surface.
“Kathleen? The gauze.”
Kathleen shook her head and passed the roll of gauze to Faith. They were doing what they could to tend to the injured people, with Faith now tending to a gash in the arm of one of the ground crew.
Kathleen noticed some more cuts, and focused her eyes on them. They slowly shrank down until nothing was left of them, intact skin taking their place.
“And done. Thank you for your patience.” Faith smiled.
“No, I should be the one thanking you…” the man said, his voice weak.
The two girls got away from the stretcher, and Faith grabbed Kathleen by the arm. “Are you alright? You spaced out.”
“Don’t worry, everything’s fine. I just had to tell my sister-in-law that dying on us is forbidden.”
Sergio kept pacing up and down in the corridor in front of the emergency room.
Corolla sighed. “Sergio, we know how you feel. But, please, sit down. You need to rest, and you’re also giving everyone a headache.”
“I know! But…. I can’t. Nikki is in there, she might be dying, and there’s nothing I can do about it!”
Corolla got up from her chair and grabbed his arms. “Shamal is operating on her, right? Then she’s in the best hands in the world.”
The sign over the door went off, and Shamal came out of the room. She looked weary.
Sergio froze. Was she coming with good or bad news?
Shamal brought out a tired smile. “She’s out of danger.”
The tension waned, and Sergio felt all the fatigue hit him at once. He stumbled to a chair, and sat down. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
His eyes watered up. She had made it. It was over.
Having lost her prime target, Corolla tackled Keiko in a bear hug. “Yay!”
Keiko reciprocated the hug. “Is Mom awake?”
Shamal shook her head. “The damage on her body was quite severe. We managed to take out all the shrapnel, but it will likely take several days, maybe weeks before she wakes up.”
Chris sat crosslegged on a table in her father’s laboratory. “Don’t tell me… you knew this would happen, didn’t you?”
The Professor replaced some images on his planning board. “Let’s say that I gave this scenario, a narrow victory by Strike Dove with a near complete annihilation of the Belkan forces, an 85% chance of happening. It was pretty likely that Skystreaker Squadron would suffer at least one loss but, as I told you, that made Skystreaker One show his true potential as a war machine. The desire of vengeance got rid of his self-imposed restrictions, and everything that got in his sights became dead meat. That is why I kept Sol Squadron out of this battle, any of you would’ve been taking a very high risk of being shot down for little to no reason.”
Chris opened her mouth, at loss for words. It was true, he had warned her that shooting down his teammates was a death sentence, but accurately predicting the course of a battle thanks to that? Just how well did her father know him?
And what kind of monster am I supposed to fight?
The Professor took the photo of a young girl out of the planning board and replaced it with one of what looked like the same person, but in her 20s and wearing a gray uniform.
“Hey, how did you get those photos?”
“I have some friends in Japan. Useful people for our goals, but we have to be careful to not get too close to them. I got burned pretty badly when I did, in a few timelines.”
Chris inspected the photo more closely. She was an Asian girl with green eyes and long brown hair, the top of which had two ridiculous air intake-like bangs. “Hmm… Skystreaker Four? Isn’t this the one that got shot down today?”
“And it is best for us if she survives the ordeal.” The Professor replaced the “Sakura Kinomoto” tag with one that read “Nikki Cherryflower”.
“Otherwise, we will be dealing with the full wrath of Sergio Turbo, the man who single-handedly ended the Black Organization War.”
Corolla walked inside the only intact hangar. The other ones had been reduced to rubble – alongside the aircraft that were housed inside.
In front of her there were the surviving aircraft – those that were flown that day and made it back, and the few that lucked out and were already in that hangar during the battle, all squeezed together.
She noticed some people working on one of the Tomcats, and walked towards them. The aircraft was badly damaged, its right wing in tatters and the fuselage on that side thoroughly thrashed. That must be Nagase’s. Whoa, I can’t believe she managed to keep fighting until the end of the battle. It’s literally falling apart!
Grimm noticed her and waved his hand.
“What’s up with Tomcat 007, Grimm?”
He shook his head. “It’s done. We found cracks on some of the frames and wing spars, especially the ones around the actuators and hinges of the variable sweep system. There’s no way we can repair it.”
Corolla nodded. “I see. Well, I guess we can push it out for now. Cover it with a tarp, though, we might still be able to salvage some parts from it. I’ll go have a look at Raptor 001 in the meanwhile, I think that’s pretty knacked too.”
She waved bye and walked past the ruined Tomcat. Sergio’s Raptor was just behind it, and as soon as she got close Corolla felt the smell of the kerosene leaking from the holes in the wings mixed with that of burnt metal coming from the engines.
She inspected the nozzle vanes of the left engine, and there was no mistake: the edges were no longer straight. I can’t believe it… he pushed the engines so hard even the nozzles started warping under the heat!
She then walked over to the maintenance panel’s access door and opened it. She pushed a few buttons before setting up a spell to control it remotely and download the data.
She switched to Unison Device form and floated towards the cockpit. The canopy had been left open, and she took that opportunity to sit on the seat.
She frowned as she realized that the switches deactivating the angle of attack limiter and the engine governors had been used. I was right, he disabled the limiters.
“Now, let’s have a look at how badly you trashed it…”
She turned on the avionics, and was greeted right away with a multitude of red and yellow warning messages on the main multifunction display. It took Corolla several seconds to parse them all. It will take ages to fix all this stuff!
She then glanced at the secondary display showing the amount of ammunition left. If it wasn’t going to fly anytime soon, it was a good idea to take off any ordinance to make it available to other aircraft. And make it safer to work on, too.
However, according to the display, there wasn’t even a single gun shell or missile left on the plane. It’s completely empty, did Sergio throw everything he had left at that AWACS? Or…
She opened a holographic window and had a quick look at the aircraft log she had just downloaded. I’ve seen a lot of nonsense logged in burnt-out CADs, but this… this beats them all!
Aside from the extreme amount of G forces the plane apparently survived, the actuator logs did not add up at all with what the plane’s flight control system actually told them to do. She set up a quick animation on another window, hoping to get some sense out of that mess.
She studied how the control surfaces on the small 3D model of the Raptor moved compared to the inputs. This makes no sense! The flaps should move together, and instead here they’re moving independently, as if they were working together with the ailerons… I mean, it could help in doing quicker rolls, but the stress on the wing would be too much.
Realization struck her. This Raptor wasn’t responding to Sergio’s inputs… it was doing whatever it took to go where he wanted it to go!
She jumped out, and flew toward the main base building. There was something she needed to check.
Corolla entered the emergency room. There was only Shamal inside, who was putting something away.
“Corolla, you shouldn’t enter here. If you needed me you could-”
Corolla ignored her and took a pair of surgical gloves from the nearest box, before going straight to the hazardous waste bin. She rummaged in it until she found what she was looking for – an empty blood bag with Sergio’s name and blood type scribbled on it.
She took it out, and put it under a lamp. The red droplets left in it glistened under the light, and Corolla’s own blood froze.
This is not how his blood should look… and that’s what I was afraid of.
Corolla set up one of her holographic windows in the briefing room. There was no electricity, most of the windows were broken, and dust was still lingering in the air. The silence was interrupted only by the occasional sneeze.
“Alright, I know you’re all tired, but I need to brief you on our current situation,” Johnson said. He was sitting on a chair, and was showing every bit of his age and then more. “First of all, First Lieutenant Cherryflower is out of danger, which means Strike Dove has taken no losses. However, the same can’t be said for our friends of the TSAB.”
Several photos and names appeared in Corolla’s window, and Sergio gritted his teeth recognizing Lucino in the list.
“These twenty-three people didn’t make it. As for the injured, I don’t have a detailed report yet but Commander Yagami estimated that they have around 60 or 70 people who required medical attention. Combined with the heavy damage sustained by the base, and our aircraft losses, it unfortunately means Sand Island is no longer defensible.”
Corolla switched her window to an overview of their aircraft. “Eagle 006 and Tomcat 008 were lost during the battle, and unfortunately we have to write off Tomcat 007 as well due to excessive damage. Raptor 001 might be still usable, but it will require a full structural integrity check before it can be deemed worthy to repair. On top of that, most of the Eagles on the ground were damaged beyond repair or outright destroyed during the attack.”
Corolla highlighted several of the aircraft in red, and removed them from the overview. “Our ground crew is already doing maintenance and repairs on the remaining flyable planes, which are: Eagle 002, 010 and 012, Tomcat 024 and 221, Raptor 003, Tiger 027 and Phantom 364.”
“As you can guess,” Johnson continued, “we’re basically out of flyable aircraft. That is why Commander Yagami and I, in accord with the Self-Defence Forces, have decided to relocate to the Japanese mainland. As such, all personnel that are not assigned to medical or housekeeping duties will be assigned to help with emergency repairs on the Wolfram. We need to get her in the air as soon as possible, even if it means flying with the engines still not completely repaired.
“During the flight, the Wolfram will be escorted by all of our available aircraft and pilots. That’s how much of a desperate situation we’re in. Until then, you will be on alert at all times, with the following aircraft.”
Corolla rearranged the aircraft under the squadron names. “Eagle 010 and 012 will be assigned to Razgriz Squadron, in particular to Captain Nagase and Captain Davenport, to replace their lost Tomcats. Lieutenant Tanegashima will be flying Eagle 002, and I will be flying Raptor 003 as usual.”
“I’ll take it from here,” Johnson said, “Second Lieutenant Minase?”
Ai straightened up in her seat. “What is it, sir?”
“Normally, I should be chastising you for taking off without authorization. However, that turned out to be the right decision. Your three air-to-air kills might not sound much compared to the others’, but that’s three enemies less trying to kill us. You likely saved lives, and you’ve shown that your flying skills are ready for active duty.” He smiled. “Congratulations for your promotion, First Lieutenant Minase. You’re now a full fledged pilot. However, I’m afraid you’ll have to keep flying Tiger 027. Not only is it the aircraft you’re familiar with, but we don’t really have anything else to give you at the moment.”
Sergio rubbed his chin. He wasn’t mentioned yet, and there were basically no aircraft left..
“The same applies to my great-granddaughters over there. Keiko, Hajime, I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I say that without you we couldn’t have stopped the enemy aerial warships in time, and you also destroyed a sizable amount of Flappers.. As such, I’d like you to join Haro Squadron permanently as Haro 2, with the rank of First Lieutenant for both of you.”
“Yes, sir!” Hajime gave a salute enthusiastically.
Keiko cracked her knuckles. “Of course it’s a yes. I’ve got a few things to explain to those Belkans.”
The aircraft overview was replaced by a map. The projected route, however, split into two over Japan.
“Unfortunately, the JSDF requested our forces to be split. The Wolfram will still need its repairs to be completed, and her crew is down to 50% availability, so she will proceed to the Osaka Space Port in order to receive overhauls and let her crew heal. Razgriz Squadron will follow her, and will pass under direct TSAB command to protect the ship and also complement the JSDF forces stationed in the area.”
Snow gave a quick nod. “Understood, sir.”
“As for AWACS Long Caster, Skystreaker Squadron and Haro squadron, they will remain under my direct command. We’ll be making our new base in a small disused airfield near Tomoeda, in the Tokyo area. It’s not very big, but our forces aren’t either, and it’s close to First Lieutenant Cherryflower’s family.”
Ami raised her hand. “Uhm… What about me, sir? I feel like I belong to Skystreaker Squadron, but technically I’m still a TSAB officer.”
“Commander Yagami and I actually discussed this, as well. We agreed it is something that is best left to you to decide, so if that’s what you want you can become a Strike Dove officer again.”
“Yes, sir! I’d really like to!”
“Of course, your rank of Dimensional Navy Lieutenant will be converted to the equivalent rank of Strike Dove Captain. I’d like to apply the same to you as well, Lieutenant Shirogane, as that will make paperwork a bit easier.”
“No objections, sir.”
Sergio waited for everyone else to leave the room before approaching his grandfather and Corolla. “Guys, I think you’ve forgotten about me?”
Johnson shook his head. “No, Captain. For the time being you’re out of the pilot rotation.”
Sergio felt like someone had punched him in the gut. “What?”
Johnson grabbed his shoulder. “Sergio, you’re in no shape to fight now. The amount of g forces you pushed on yourself could have very well killed you, you just came out of what’s basically berserk rage, and your girlfriend is in intensive care right now. You might not realize it, but both your mind and your body need rest, and badly. On top of that, I need to pretend you’re being investigated.”
Another punch in the gut. “Why?”
“You killed a pilot after he bailed out. The guy was a bastard, all right, and he’s the one who sent Nikki to the emergency room, but I think you’re aware that’s still a war crime. If word of this gets out, you risk spending a lot of time in jail, son.”
“I think trying to exterminate us all with a carpet bombing is even worse!” Sergio snapped back at him.
“Unfortunately, a war tribunal isn’t going to agree with you. Bombing an enemy air base that is capable of fighting back is a war operation. Shooting someone hanging defenseless from the silk umbrella is murder, plain and simple.”
“And risk him getting back to bite us in the ass yet again? Sorry, I took the chance in the past and people paid for it, I’m not gonna let this happen again. If there’s something I should’ve done differently, it was putting some twenty millimeter shells in him the first time we met him. Nikki would not be in a hospital bed now!”
Sergio breathed deeply, feeling his anger surge again. He did what he had to do. If Kathleen got away with killing one hundred thousand civilians, why was one single military pilot such an issue?
“There was no need to, Sergio. He would’ve either drowned at sea, or been picked up by our forces and made a prisoner of war. And, considering what I’m told he did in his world, he wouldn’t have gotten out of jail anytime soon even after the end of the hostilities.”
Sergio had to concede that point. Bernitz was done, either way.
“I gave you a chance the other time, but now you really need some time off-duty to cool your head off.” Johnson gripped his shoulder tighter. “I know you care about Nikki more than your own life, but you can’t go around killing everything in sight for her sake.”
“Besides…” Corolla tugged at Sergio’s sleeve. “I think you need to take a look at this.”
She was offering him a small vial, and he took it. It contained a dark red liquid, with a faint shiny texture. “What’s this?”
“Your blood. The last drops left in the blood bag Shamal used for Nikki’s transfusion, to be exact.”
Sergio felt a cold shiver go down his spine. He turned the vial in his hand, and the shiny particles started swirling. Oh, fuck no. Not this.
His hand began to shake as he turned towards Corolla. “Is that… what I’m afraid it is?”
Corolla nodded slowly. “Yes, it is. It’s glitter. I really don’t want to be telling you this, but… you’re having one hell of a relapse.”
“Maybe it’s just the stress?” Sergio said tentatively. However, he already knew that was not it. Goddamnit. I’m becoming a monster like the other me did.
“Well, we’re all very stressed now, no point denying that. But the problem is another really. You’re pushing yourself to the limit to protect everyone… and your body is relapsing since it’s looking for a way to extend those limits.”
She opened a holographic window. “Here’s the data I downloaded from your Raptor. I went looking for a sample of your blood because… well, they made no sense to me.”
Sergio gulped, and looked at the window.
Machine gun shell capacity: 800 rounds. Shells fired: 1243.
Standard missile capacity: 82 missiles. Missiles fired: 133.
XMAA capacity: 16 missiles. Missiles fired: 36
“Maybe you forgot to reset the counters after we rearmed it? We were in a hurry after all.”
I cannot go back to being a Gary Stu. Not now. Not now!
Corolla shook her head. “No, the g force values are all over the place too. The design limits of the Raptor are nine positive and three negative. In the last three minutes of the fight, you averaged fifteen positive, with the highest value recorded being fifty-four. Put plain and simple, your internal organs should’ve been turned into mush and your plane should be little itsy bits spread throughout all of Sand Island now. And let’s not go into the control surface logs because those don’t make any sense at all.”
Sergio’s knees gave out, and he fell on all fours. The vial bounced on the floor, and rolled away. It’s too late. I’m already a reality-warping monster again!
“Sergio? Are you alright?”
“… it’s alright. I guess it’s time for me to be decommissioned.”
He took his Beretta 92 out of its holster, and handed it to Corolla.
“Uhm, what? Why are you giving me your beloved Beretta?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Captain. I’m giving you some time to think, not laying you off. I still trust-”
Sergio’s eyes started watering up. They hadn’t understood it yet.“Do it, Corolla. Gramps, tell everyone else I loved them.”
“Sergio, what the hell are you talking about? You’re talking like you want me to… kill you?”
“Trust me. It’s better that way. I’m back being the same kind of reality-warping abomination Vera was. I cannot allow myself to become such a liability. You need to neutralyze me, for everyone’s sake.”
Sergio closed his eyes. Forgive me, Nikki. You’ll wake up when I’ll already be gone, but it’s for the better. I’m too dangerous.
He steeled himself for the bullet, only to receive a couple of hard slaps on the face instead. By the time he opened his eyes, Corolla had already grabbed him by the collar of his flight suit.
“Are you for real? Don’t give me that “I’m a weapon” or “I’m a monster” angsty crap all over again! You’re much better than that, I know it, and you know it too!”
Sergio gulped. It took a lot to get Corolla pissed off, and he had just managed to do that.
“I was telling you to take care, not to take yourself out, Sankt-Kaiser-damnit! Yes, you’re back to being a Gary Stu. So what? There’s a chance you going into hyper-badass mode saved all of our asses today, and Nikki might still be with us because your glittery blood refused to let her die. Take it easy, and let the glitter levels go down because they will. You’ve reformed once, you’ll reform again. And it’s not like there’s canon worlds left for you to warp anyways.”
“We need you. And not because you’re our badass top ace, but because we’re all a big family and you’re part of it.” She hugged him tight. “So we’re not letting you go.”
“She has one goddamn good point, Sergio. You’ve got one big burden on your shoulders, I’m aware of it. But you’re very wrong if you think we’ll let you be crushed by it.”
Sergio nodded, tears running again. They were right, what he was taking was the coward’s way out. “Thank you.”