The black-haired pig-tailed man approached the front gates of the U.N. Spacy base. He was dressed in the standard U.N. Spacy uniform (Male, temperate, long, casual). On the uniform's breast was the insignia of the Robotech Defense Force, opposite the name tag reading SAOTOME. On his lapel was a single silver bar.
A guard stepped out of the booth and approached him.
The young man pulled a sheaf of papers out of his duffle and handed them to the guard. The guard perused them for a moment, then nodded and handed them back to the lieutenant. "All right, sir. The shuttle departs in about half an hour. Docking Bay Five." Lieutenant Saotome had made himself quite popular with both enlisted men and officers; quite an accomplishment for such a young officer. Impulsively, the corporal bowed. "We'll miss you, sir."
"Thanks, Corporal. Take it easy."
Twenty minutes later, 2nd Lieutenant Saotome was strapped into an acceleration couch, awaiting takeoff. He grinned a bit; the old VC-37 Tunny transport aircraft had nothing like the acceleration he was used to. After a year of intensive training in the UF-14 Falcon Jet, his heavily muscled body was hardened against multiple G's.
He was looking forward to his new assignment. His basic training had been at Macross Base, as had his initial flight instruction. The last year he had spent at Kadena AFB, in OCS, dealing with foreigners and learning to fly the UF-14 Falcon. He considered the Falcon the last word in air power. Sleek and sexy, the multi-role fighter could engage in the worst furball, bomb an armoured column, conduct a supersonic recon mission, provide forward air control and serve as an ECM vehicle - all on the same warload. In his mind, no vehicle could possibly match, let alone exceed, the Falcon in versatility.
He had little idea how wrong he was shortly to be proven.
The Tunny's engines rose to a roar, and the big transport began to roll down the runway. The Tunny was capable of vertical takeoff and landing, but there was no need for such fuel-wasting manoeuvres at a full-scale airbase. Soon the Tunny lifted off and began to climb, slowly banking to the northwest.
Saotome Ranma leaned back, put his arms behind his head, and closed his eyes. He was going back to Macross. And his new assignment was exactly what he'd been hoping for - second in command of a Squadron.
Maybe he'd get a shot at command of the squadron before he was rotated out.
Saotome stepped out of the VC-37 and blinked in the harsh sunlight. The Tunny had deposited him on the far side of the Macross airbase, and he quickly jogged across the tarmac, duffel slung over his shoulder. There was a brisk wind, and he was grateful that the casual uniform did not include headgear. He'd been told he'd be met, but he saw no other officers. He didn't mind being met by an enlisted rate, but none seemed to be trying to get his attention, and anyway, fighter jocks were usually met by other fighter jocks.
He felt more than heard a pair of fighter aircraft pass overhead, and he paused as he reached the gate, looking up at them. The sounds of the engines were impossibly deep, shaking the tarmac beneath his feet. He watched the fighters pull off overhead, turning into the sun.
"Admiring the new jets?"
Saotome blinked, and looked at the man before him. Incredibly tall, lean, with blond hair rakishly pulled over one eye. A cocky grin sat naturally on his features. Two gold bars glittered on his lapel. He didn't see any wings, but he didn't have to.
This guy's a fighter jock.
"They look okay, but they seem a bit slow compared to the Falcon."
"Oh, don't worry about that, Lieutenant. You'll grow to love them." The man's voice was jaunty, and his Japanese only lightly accented.
Saotome already had his orders produced, and handed them to the Captain. U.N. Spacy used English names for the ranks, despite the fact that it was supposed to be a bilingual force. The other man glanced at them, then began paging through his own clipboard.
"Second in Command for Blue, eh? Looks like you'll be flying in Valkyries after all. You qualified for Valkyrie operations yet?"
"No. I assumed that I would be flying Falcons. They didn't tell me anything about Valkyries."
"Well, they probably wouldn't, the Valkyrie is still incredibly classified. I see you have Lieutenant Geroux listed as your flight instructor. Take my advice, file for a new instructor. Geroux is a good pilot, but his English is rotten, and his Japanese non-existent. Makes it hard to learn from him."
"Who do I see to file for a new instructor?"
"Me." The blond man extended his hand, then withdrew it quickly. "Sorry." He bowed, then said, "Captain Roy Fokker, Commander, Air Group, Macross Island. Pleased to meet you."
"Saotome Ranma, Lieutenant. Pleased to meet you." Saotome returned the bow.
"Now then...as to your new instructor...might as well be me." Fokker grinned. "I don't get nearly enough air-time as it is. Trust me, once you get used to the Valkyrie, you'll never go back to the Falcon."
Roy pulled the forward cockpit's service ladder down. "The first thing we'll cover is the gross motor controls."
"Gross motor controls? Hey, what about the flight manual?"
"Oh, you'll get that, but I've always held that it's better with this particular bird to get hands-on experience first."
"And if I screw up, and flame us out, or do something else stupid?"
"Don't worry, it's actually really hard to crash a Valkyrie by accident." He waved towards the ladder. "So hop in."
Ranma shrugged, and scrambled up the ladder. He sat down in the front office of the bird, and looked over the instruments. Roy climbed up after him, leaned over the edge of the canopy flaring.
"Now then, the gross motor controls. In this configuration, the right hand stick acts as your yoke, and the left hand stick as your throttle. The foot pedals act as a combination rudder control and vectored thrust control."
"Why manual control for vectoring?"
"This bird's been made deliberately computer-light. More on that shortly. You feel the trigger under your right finger? That fires the main gun. GU-11 external gun pod, fifty-five mike, fires about three thousand rounds per minute. A little on the slow side, if you ask me. But of course, they didn't. You've got about a thousand rounds in the gun, plus an additional two thousand in re-loadable clips."
"Trust me, you'll love this. Now then, see this switch? Primary arming mechanism. Selects one of nine firm points. You've got four soft points on the wings, two on the fuselage. This unit's configured light. Twelve GR-30 Jackhammer medium range missiles. So firm points three and seven - the fuselage points - are clear. Jettison button's here. If you select point four and jettison, you can kiss your gun goodbye. Select five or six and jettison, and you'll get an error message from Betty.
"Primary powerplants are two FF-2001 fusion engines. Your engine instrument clusters are here and here."
"They look just like the Falcon's."
"Yeah, the bean counters figured it would save us money. Didn't help a hell of a lot, except for training purposes. Remember, though, that the Falcon is a single-pipe bird, not a dual. So keep your eyes on both instrument clusters. Here's your third engine cluster."
"Ah...Captain, I don't recognise any of these instruments."
"It's covered in the manual. The third engine is strictly a powerplant, doesn't produce any thrust."
"Seems kind of inefficient, if you ask me."
"Again, the designers didn't ask you. Trust me, the bird needs the spare powerplant. Don't worry about it now. I'll have duplicate instruments in the back seat. Flip up that lid. Right. That's your missile pickle. It will only release when a pylon is armed. Flip up that other cover, on the throttle. That one controls the laser turret." Fokker grinned. "The turret is on the underbelly, just behind the seat. It tracks to your helmet gyro. You have to select firm point five with the Primary Arm, then pickle that left button once. That brings the laser online. There's another trigger on the throttle; that fires paired high-power laser cannon, one mounted on each engine nacelle, just below the wing glove.
"Now we come to the important part. See those three levers on the left console, just before the throttle?"
"Yeah...S, G, F. What are they for?"
"Manual configuration controls. They allow you to reconfigure the airplane in flight. Not actually necessary, but nice for a newbie. Which you are. Don't touch 'em until I say so. Here's your skull bucket."
Saotome caught the helmet Fokker pitched at him. "Uh, this isn't my helmet. Just a second and I'll grab it, it's in my duffel."
"Your old helmet will be completely worthless in this bird. That one's yours now. You can customise it later. Put these on."
Saotome caught the gloves. They seemed over-sized and bulky, and had leads trailing from the cuffs.
"Plug the gloves in here and here, on the HOTAS."
He put his gloves on, plugged them in, and was surprised to feel the faint vibration of gyros spooling up in them. He glanced at the HOTAS, and found the calibration controls for the glove gyros. He donned the new helmet, adjusted it for fit, plugged it in and calibrated its gyros as well.
"A lot of these controls are from the Falcon or the Tomcat." He glanced up, noticed Fokker strapping himself in in the back seat.
"Yeah, there's enough new tricks with this bird to keep anyone on his toes. Some of the old tricks are there to stave off helmet fire. Heads up; I'm dropping the canopy."
Two technicians completed the jet's pre-flight, and Roy powered up the jet's fusion engines.
"Okay, listen, Saotome, here's where it gets weird. This airplane is not just piloted; it's lived."
The jet taxied to the runway, then accelerated to takeoff.
"The helmet and gloves you're wearing are studded with sensors and electrodes. It knows what you want the bird to do before you do. In addition, there's the reflex energy cells. That third powerplant. Reflex energy gives the bird the ability to bind with the pilot. But it's not something that's easily done."
The jet was now over the water. Saotome glanced at the instruments in front of him. The Valkyrie was just supersonic, and fairly close to the deck.
"If, and I mean if, you can get the bird to figure out what's going on in your puny little brain, you get a whole new level of control. You see with the Valkyrie's sensors, in addition to your own. You can feel the wind under your wings. And you can fly like you were born to it."
Ranma grinned. This sounded too good! He closed his eyes...
"No, dammit! Keep those eyes open!"
He snapped his eyes open. And tried to see, with the radar.
He had it! He could sense things further away than he could see, and he could feel the jet responding to Roy's piloting, but at a far more instinctive level. He felt the wind at his face as the jet pulled up, cutting through the clouds, reaching for altitude.
"I'm giving you control. Feel her out, Saotome."
"Front seat has the airplane."
And the jet was his. A light nudge with the yoke, and he could feel the elevons shift, sending the fighter into a light bank. He pulled it into a broad turn, monitoring his heading on the Heads-Up-Display.
He grinned, and deliberately tuned out the HUD. Instead, he simply called off the heading to himself as he turned. When he glanced up at the HUD, he was pleased to see that he had properly tracked the heading.
Roy grinned to himself. He was monitoring the kid's Delta and Alpha waves on his instruments. This kid was good! He'd already sublimated the bird to his will. Completely azended.
"You a martial artist, kid?"
"Yeah...Saotome School of Anything Goes."
"Really. Sounds neat. You martial artists tend to have an easier time merging with the plane."
"Any idea why?"
"Probably because a martial artist, of any sort, maintains a different mindset in combat than an untrained combatant. Ready to get really wild?"
"Pull the lever marked G."
Ranma reached forward, and pulled the manual reconfiguration lever. Suddenly, the aircraft lost a lot of speed. Roy glanced out the cockpit and saw the arms extending, the G-Pod held in the right hand.
"What the hell?"
Roy grinned. "You like? We call this configuration Gerwalk. It was originally designed for vertical takeoff and landing only, but we've found some nice uses for it."
"No, this is Robotechnology. Watch and learn. Back seat has control."
Under Fokker's expert hand, the now-reconfigured jet shot back towards Macross Island.
"In this configuration, the Valkyrie performs basically still like a fighter. But this is where the mental link with the pilot becomes very important. The rudders are gone, folded up on the back. Your foot-pedals now control the legs. Direct elevon control is also gone; your yoke and throttle control the arms.
"You'll note that the gun pod is in the right hand. The left hand can carry and fire the GU-11, but you have no manual controls to do so. The only way you can fire it is through direct manipulation. The G-Pod also reconfigures; it now has a trigger." Roy grinned. In fact, the yoke trigger was now disconnected. Pulling it just gave the pilot the psychosomatic reaction of pulling the GU- 11's trigger with the mecha's hand. But he wasn't about to tell a newbie that.
"So without controls, how do I fly the jet?"
"Same way you were before. Just go where you want to. You actually don't really need the gross motor controls; they just make your life easier. For fine motor controls, like the hands, you rely on your link to the bird and your sensor studded gloves."
The Valkyrie was slipping between buildings on Macross Island. Ranma noted that the buildings were obviously fake.
"This is a live-fire range. You won't be making use of it today, but I'll give you a bit of a demonstration. Armoured column at ten o'clock."
The Valkyrie's right leg leaned out, and the fighter spun on a dime. The large rifle in the right hand came up, and barked four times. Four tanks went up in flames. As the Valkyrie passed overhead, the laser turret on the underside opened up, both beams striking and destroying a fifth tank.
"All of that was done much the same way you'd do it if you were physically holding the rifle. Except the laser turret. That's a hard one to learn right away. You'll find you're really glad for those pickles. Pull the S lever."
Saotome did so, and was amazed to feel the jet shift under him again.
"Welcome to Soldier mode. In this configuration, the Valkyrie is fully humanoid and can perform as such. Your missiles and high-powered lasers are disabled, but the head lasers are still active. What do you think?"
There was no answer from the forward-now top-cockpit. Roy grinned. This boy was hooked.