This is the third chapter I wrote based on the script we wrote at Gametek for the N64 Robotech game. In the game dialog, this was a minor mission, but I expanded it as a story chapter so I could have some personal fun with the setting and the characters I created for the game.

The Minmei Attack

"That the RDF has not used the Minmei tactic against this threat proves that they are incapable of making the decisions necessary to ensure the survival of the human race. We have a weapon guaranteed to stop these invaders in their tracks, and yet the RDF Command is too involved in wedding plans to use it."

"The losses in this battle were completely unacceptable... the RDF should have been more prepared. Their reliance on the Minmei Attack was a tragic mistake that cost the human race over eight thousand lives."

Excerpted from speeches made by United Earth Government Senator Joseph Reymond before and after the Minmei Disaster.

- Asoya Hiroshi, Hypocritical History

"Admiral Hayes! I demand to know why you have not used the Minmei attack yet! We've lost one of our Armor Platforms, for God's sake! We can't just sit here and let the aliens slaughter us!"

Lisa forced herself to take a silent breath, shoving the black thoughts she was feeling to the background of her mind... again.

"Senator... so far the enemy has been using hit-and-run tactics against us. They fold a single ship in, hit whatever is near, and then fold back out. If we use the song attack on one of these small and quick attacks, we may be giving away our most important weapon. Once the enemy knows we have a way of disrupting their pilots, they might come up with a way of blocking us."

"I wouldn't call the destruction of one of our Platforms a small and quick attack, Admiral!" The Senator's multiple chins jiggled emphatically. "You must act to stop them now! The people of Earth are getting rather worried over your handling of this situation."

Lisa stared at the irritating man on the console in front of her, once again taking a few slow breaths. "This 'situation,' as you call it, Senator, is known as war. In war, things are rarely simple or easy. The destruction of Armor 3 proves that the enemy is increasing the scale of their attacks. We're expecting a major attack soon, and we have a plan in place to deal with it, using the music attack.

"Now, Senator, I really must get back to my command. Good day." Lisa glanced at the male tech standing at the communications board, and he cut off the signal. She slumped back into her chair, giving in to a moment of exasperation, before sitting up straight and getting back to work. She once again looked to the communications tech. "Get me the Situation Room."

A moment later, her fiance appeared on the console, in the blank space just vacated by the signal from the U.E.G.

"What's up, Admiral?" the Vice-Admiral's face said.

Lisa raised an eyebrow. "Is that all I am to you?" A faint smile ghosted across her lips. "The Admiral?"

Rick smiled. "I didn't see you complaining a few evenings ago... I know when to follow orders!" Lisa felt herself begin to blush. She heard a few snickers around her, but all the techs were industriously busy as she glanced around the Bridge. Lisa brought a small smile to her face to mirror the one on Rick's... she could tell he knew he would be punished for the comment later, but that, of course, was part of the game.

"What's the latest news, Rick?"

He sighed, and smoothed his face back to seriousness. "Several more Zentraedi Cruisers have folded into Earth orbit. We still don't know anything about where they're coming from, or how many more 'guests' we can expect."

She already knew about the destroyers, of course. Rick had informed her the instant they had detected the folds into Earth orbit, ten minutes before. "Anything we can use?"

The ghost of a smile remaining on Rick's face vanished... for several days, they had been waiting for an opportunity to use their plan. "No... its two separate ships... a Zen Scout, and a Destroyer. Armor 12 is dealing with the scout... the destroyer folded in near a supply convoy heading to Armor 7. The convoy is taking heavy losses... I don't think the squad of Veritechs I sent will get there in time. The Bou-Suketh is working out the fold coordinates of the destroyer. In about ten minutes, they should be ready to intercept it, but the convoy will be mostly destroyed by then."

"So much for our vacation. It seems like every time I plan to spend some time with you, something gets in the way!" It was a small attempt at levity, a ploy to force the grim look off Rick's face. She could tell that he knew what she was doing... the smile that appeared on his face was every bit as forced as the comment that had prompted it. Lisa abruptly noticed how strained he looked, hidden underneith the calm expression where only she, as his lover, could read it. "It's not your fault, Rick."

Even through the small video screen, she could see the frustration and guilt left behind when the forced expression crumbled. She knew he wanted to be out flying with that rescue squadron rather than being responsible for all their lives. He looked back at her for a moment before speaking again, changing the subject to another unpleasant topic. "Lisa... we may need to postpone our wedding. I hate to do it, but defending Earth comes first."

She had already figured out that their wedding plans were going to be a victim of this war, but hearing it from Rick was still painful. "I know. We'll talk about it later... if we can find the time. Keep me posted on those two ships. Hayes... out."

o o o o

For the first time in three days, Kyle once again had the SDF-3 in front of him. Though it was still nearly a hundred and fifty kilometers away, the sun lit the nearest side, making it shine like a bright star.

He felt nervous.

He knew intellectually that there was little chance that he would run in to Vala while he was on board... the ship was huge, and she spent most of her time in the War Room. It didn't change the anxiety he felt knowing he would soon be near her.

Ten minutes later, as the SDF-3 grew larger in the view out his cockpit, he heard her voice. "All local craft, prepare for incoming spacefold. Orbital coordinates are being transmitted now. Five minutes until fold."

Kyle glanced down at the cockpit monitors, noticing as the fold coords popped up on his radar. Wow... whatever is folding in is BIG. Given the size of the space they are clearing of traffic, it's at least as big as the SDF itself. His convoy was completely clear, though, so no course corrections were needed.

Minutes later, Kyle's thoughts were justified... a three kilometer long Zen cruiser folded in. In a flash of light and power, a Quiltra Queleual class Zentraedi cruiser appeared 23 kilometers away from his convoy. It was painted in stripes of color, marking it as the Zaketech-Quo, one of two Zen Landing Cruisers the RDF owned. Even as Kyle narrated over the footage his turret camera was filming, his reporter memory filled in more details... its captain was a sixty foot tall former Quodrono named Rodila Nifi.

"Knight-1, this is SDF-3 Flight Control... you are cleared to land in Upper Bay 2." Kyle was surprised to discover he was mildly disappointed that the voice was not Vala's. She must be handling the traffic around the fold. Then he had no time for further consideration of the feeling, as he had to concentrate on flying through the hanger bay tunnel and landing his Valkyrie.

An hour later, Kyle was finally finished settling his Veritech. By the time he was ready to launch in eight hours or so, it would have a full load of mini-cluster missiles and a new speed booster that would increase his maximum throttle by ten percent. For now, however, he just wanted to get some sleep.

He headed up to Quarters Deck Three, where the flight coordinator told him he could find a bed for a few hours. Most of the RDF pilots stationed on the SDF-3 slept in shifts... with much of the SDF interiors still under construction, there weren't enough sleeping quarters for the pilots and SDF crew. Kyle headed forward from the lift, and then turned down a second corridor, following the tech's instructions towards the block of rooms reserved for temporary pilots.

A door further down the hallway slid open, an RDF uniform topped with purple hair appearing in its wake. Uh oh... The head turned, the neutral expression on the crewmember's face turning to anger. Over three thousand people on a ship the size of a small city, and I end up in the hallway outside Vala's quarters! Kyle's steps slowed to a stop, incapable of moving him closer.

Vala glared at him a moment longer, and then spun around to stomp away. As Kyle watched her retreating back, he suddenly found his legs moving, chasing after. As she spun around to face him, he skidded to a stop again. He could feel the tension filling the two feet between them.


"How dare you! After all you have done, all the death you have caused my people, you have no right to be here! Go crawl into a bottle somewhere and stay away from those who still have a shred of honor! You dirty me." With that she once again spun around and began to stalk off.

Her words tore through him... he felt the familiar guilt and pain begin to drag him down into despair once again. He wanted to crawl into a corner and hide. He wanted a drink.

Not this time. This time, he exploded.

"You think I wanted that to happen? Do you really think I wanted to have the lives of several hundred civilians on my conscience?" His voice echoed down the corridor, halting Vala in her tracks. She didn't turn around, but he had her attention. "I was nave and made a mistake, Vala! But I was long gone when they started shelling the village... if I had known that was their target, do you really think I would have come to their aid?" Do you really think I would have risked losing you?

Kyle realized he had almost said the last thought aloud... he forced himself to calm down. "But that doesn't matter, does it? You say this is about what I did to your people, to your honor, but that isn't really true... the truth is that I hurt you, didn't I? For the first time in your life, you felt real pain... human pain. And like a human, it scared you... you ran away from the pain by blaming it all on me, by embodying all the horrors the Southern Cross committed that day in me."

Vala's shoulders were hunched... he could sense in the building tension clinching her back that she wouldn't take much more. Kyle continued anyway. "Pain is a part of life, Vala... it's the price we pay for having emotions." He then dealt the final blow, the words he knew would get a reaction from her. "If all you do is run away from being hurt, then you really are nothing but a genetically engineered machine."

It definitely got a reaction, but he was already walking past her. He could hear her yelling after him, her voice spitting out obscure Zentraedi epitaphs that he couldn't possibly translate. As the words continued to bounce off his back, Kyle gave in to a small smile. I must have hit a nerve... score one, finally, for Kyle Bartley!

o o o o

He was fast asleep when the alarms went off. With a groan, Kyle rolled over, trying to wake up enough to listen to the ship-wide announcements.

Vala's voice appeared again, sounding flat over the room's intercom speakers. "Spacefold will commence in ten minutes. Skull and Charger squadrons scramble. Jaguar Squadron is on stand-by."

Kyle felt a burst of adrenaline surge through him, forcing him fully awake. A fold? But the SDF doesn't have any fold engines yet... the Zen cruiser! Kyle was out of bed, in his flight suit, and pounding down the corridor before the announcement repeated.

o o o o

"Sir! He has no business here! He can't be trusted!"

Vice-Admiral Hunter glared at Vala until she subsided. "Lieutenant, you will follow my orders." Vala paled, and then nodded.

Rick lowered his voice, so that only Vala would hear. "This could be the most important battle of this war... the U.E.G. has been pressuring us to use this tactic, and we need an objective recording of it for them and Earth's population. I understand your feelings about him, but he's an MBS reporter, and he even happens to be on board at the moment. We need him."

Vala looked unconvinced, but she turned back to her console.

Rick turned back to the forward views, all showing a broadcast image of a three kilometer long Zentraedi Command ship, at the center of a fleet of three Zentraedi Destroyers and half a dozen Scouts. They had folded in five minutes ago, about two hundred kilometers from the Factory Satellite... the massive orbiting spaceyard was already exchanging fire with them.

Rick felt a chill. Here we go...

o o o o

"Kyle Bartley, report to the Situation Room immediately." Kyle could hear the disgust in Vala's voice, even over the intercom.

As he redirected the elevator car towards the War Room, he tried to still the irritation he felt over the summons. The biggest battle in the war yet, and I'm heading in the wrong direction to watch it first hand!

The doors opened, showing the massive expanse of the Situation Room Command Balcony. Kyle stepped over the threshold, and found himself face-to-face with a glaring Vala.

"Ah, Mr. Bartley." The words came from the command chair, which turned to show Vice-Admiral Hunter. "The RDF has official need of your services." Kyle walked around Vala to face the RDF leader. "We are about to attempt the so-called 'Minmei' attack. We need you to cover the battle from here. One condition, though... your report will be recorded, not live. The enemy is most certainly scanning the Earth public transmissions." The diminutive form of Exedor, the now famous Zentraedi scholor, stood beside his chair.

Kyle smiled, and pulled his mini-cam out of his bag... as an MBS reporter, he realized this was the place to see the battle from. He attached the camera to the cloth patch on his left shoulder, and clipped the viewer over his eye.

"This is MBS correspondent Kyle Bartley aboard the SDF-3, where an important battle is about to begin." He heard Vala counting down the fold timing behind him as he panned the camera across the tech stations surrounding the massive situation board on the floor below the balcony. "In less than two minutes, the Zaketech-Quo will execute a spacefold, carrying the SDF-3 and the RDF command staff with it. Once we arrive near the enemy fleet, the RDF will begin a music attack to confuse the enemy... the now famous 'Minmei' attack."

Kyle then pointed the camera at Rick Hunter, a perfect shot showing an industrious military leader. Kyle spoke with an extra note of optimism... "This battle could be the first step to ending this conflict." He thought the words fit the video image perfectly.

Vala announced the one-minute warning. One by one, the main participants in the fleet called in their ready status. The center main viewscreen held a forward view of empty space, but the side screens displayed images from RDF recon shuttles, showing the Landing Cruiser and the slightly smaller and leaner SDF-3 floating beside it. He panned the mini-cam across the balcony consoles, filming other views of the fleet, as well as the more personal touch of the technicians efficiently at work. He closed with a shot of the Vice-Admiral talking to the bridge. He wasn't close enough to record the conversation, but it the face of Admiral Hayes on Hunter's console as Vala's countdown reached zero.

Here we go! Kyle felt his pulse speed up in anxiety. Across all the monitors, a ball of blue light expanded outward. For less than a second, the many viewscreens in the room flashed from blue to yellow as the spinning glow passed the fleet cameras. Then the fleet was encased in a yellow shell, twisting and pulsing with violent energy. An instant impression of huge speed... a disquieting feeling of separation, of being split in two, and then the massive energy field collapsed, revealing stars once again.

For a brief moment, there was silence. Then Hunter's voice rang out across the huge room. "Status?"

"SDF-3 systems nominal."
"Skull Squadron... still here."
"Zaketech-Quo systems nominal, fold engines nominal."
"Epsilon Flight okay."
"Reflex reactors on-line and ready for action."

The balcony was a flurry of action as the fleet checked in. As the reports tapered off, the Vice-Admiral spoke up. "The most important questions first... where are we?"

"Still near Earth, sir." Kyle noticed that several of the balcony consoles showed views of the familiar planet. "Factory Satellite found, 75 kilometers behind us. We made it, sir!"

"Good. Next important question... where's the enemy?"

A number of viewscreens shifted and flickered, then zoomed in on three distant Thuveral-Salon destroyers, surrounding a Command Cruiser. "64 kilometers, dead ahead, sir. The nearest pods are 23 klicks... about four minutes... away. There's a solid mass of more than a thousand pods reaching all the way back to the fleet."

Kyle's camera was glued on Hunter.

"Bring the transmitters on-line. Execute Minmei Attack." Rick, having known Minmei for years, had no doubt that she was appalled that her name graced the title of a combat tactic. "We Will Win" poured out over the Situation Room speakers before the tech in charge muted the volume. Kyle recorded a slight blink as Exedore reacted to the now familiar music.

There was a pause... the enemy ships seemed to stop their attack. For a brief moment, there was the beginnings of relief as the Minmei attack worked as it always had in the past. Kyle swept the mini-cam over the room, recording the tense postures of Hunter and Exedore, focusing once again on the massive viewscreens in front and the views they showed of the enemy capital ships.

Then both the enemy destroyers opened fire on the Bou-Rajegeth. The lightening bolt painted down the side of the RDF Thuveral Salan blackened, half a dozen small explosions appearing near the center of the ship. Within seconds, the massive hull detonated, spewing nearly three thousand Human and Zentraedi lives into space.

For two more seconds, silence reigned on the War Room balcony. Then Exedore's dispassionate voice said "You know what you must do now, Vice-Admiral."

Hunter turned to the misshapen Zentraedi scientist. "You're not surprised, are you... you expected the music to fail."

Exedore, his eyes still glued to the massive screens at the front of the War Room, calmly replied. "You humans sometimes tend to rely on the same tactics... your attitude, if I might paraphrase, is 'why fix it if it is not broken?'" He then turned to look at Hunter. "It was only a matter of time until some Zentraedi somewhere became immune to its effects. We saw hints of this during the Uprisings, though that was with T'sentraedi that had previous experience with human emotions."

Rick nodded as Exedore continued. "Of course, you were prepared for this as well... you brought enough firepower to handle the enemy if the music did not work."

"Yes, I did. I hoped it wouldn't..." He was interrupted by a call from one of the techs at the front of the command balcony.

"Multiple spacefold detected!" The leftmost of the forward viewscreens suddenly changed, showing the last instants of a fold that left behind a second enemy Thuveral-Salan Destroyer. The rightmost then flipped over to a massive Queadol Magdomilla cruiser and two escorting Tou-Radir scout ships, each the size of an RDF Armor Platform... there were now two of deadly Command ships facing them.

Kyle recorded Vice-Admiral Hunter mumble "oh hell..." as the tension level around him jumped. He glanced over his shoulder at Vala, who locked eyes with him briefly. In that glance he sensed a connection between them... faint and tenuous, but existing anyway. He could read the grim reality of their situation in her eyes. At that moment, they both knew what his next words would be. He knew that it didn't break any of the walls between them, but just knowing that they could still communicate so much between each other with a look meant there were a few chips in the mortar.

Ignoring the military decorum around him, Kyle spoke up. "Let me get out there, Admiral! My MBS story will be meaningless unless we win this battle! I can't do any good standing here, but I can be useful out there!"

The Vice-Admiral then half turned his head, glancing at the tense young man standing at the back of the command balcony. Rick nodded... Kyle was already racing towards the lift door before he turned his head back forward.

o o o o

Vala's eyes followed Kyle off the command balcony. He probably just wants to get some good footage of the destruction before running back to Earth. Even to herself, though, the thought tasted sour. Despite her emotionless Zentraedi heritage, she had seen both the fear and the determination in his face, his posture.

"Lieutenant Norri!"

She turned with a start, suddenly aware that it was the second time she had been called. "I'm sorry, sir!"

Vice-Admiral Hunter gazed at her in stony silence for a second before responding. Only for a second, though... Rick was keenly aware of Vala's Zentraedi heritage, as well as her innate intelligence. He saw in her eyes the confusion and guilt she felt, as well as in her posture the fact that she knew it was secondary right now. To a Zentraedi, the battle always took priority... a product of the genetic design the Robotech Masters gave the warrior race. Only the confusion of complex human emotions could have distracted a Zentraedi (or human) as intelligent and experienced as Vala, even that much.

He glanced around the command balcony, noting that everyone was focused on him. It was a disconcerting moment for Rick... it was the first time an entire fleet, even a small one, depended on him. Lisa was on the bridge, captain of her ship and head of the RDF, but the tactical decisions, like the Situation Room he stood in, were all his.

"Launch the rest of the Valkyrie squads." He then turned to Vala, and spoke the words that both excited and frightened him. "Call Professor Lang in Engineering. Tell him to start charging the main gun."

o o o o

Kyle jumped into his cockpit, the canopy closing over him even before he finished strapping in. His could feel the effects of the adrenaline pumping through his system... he knew the SDF fleet was in trouble. He belatedly recalled the active mini-cam on his shoulder. He pulled it off the velcro strip, but then realized he had left its carrying case in the Situation Room when he ran out. With a small smile of chagrin, he dropped the little camera into a compartment behind his seat.

He had to wait a minute or two for Jaguar Squadron to launch... as an independant pilot, he had lower priority than the RDF wings. It was somehow comforting to hear Vala's voice calmly directing the launching over the communications. Despite all the anger and cultural differences between them, he was glad that she was near. Though he ignored the feeling, he knew that part of the reason he was in the cockpit of this MBS Veritech right now was to protect her, as silly as that was for a woman who could still probably outfly him in space combat.

At least he was now in a cockpit, involved in the battle rather than just recording it. Finally, his Veritech was pulled into position at the edge of the launch tunnel. The voice he had been waiting for appeared over the com chatter, directed at him this time.

"Knight One... prepare to launch." There was a pause, and then the voice appeared again, in a quiet tone totally devoid of emotion. "Be careful." The whisper echoed like thunder through Kyle's mind as the acceleration of the catapult robbed him of his ability to reply. With a bone-jarring thrust, he was flung through the launch tunnel and into a battle more massive than any he had ever flown.

o o o o

"Lisa, I know that!" Rick could hear the exasperation in his voice. He took a breath, looking at his fianc's face on the console while forcing himself to calm down. "Please tell me you have a better idea... I'd love to have some options right now."

Lisa's face flickered briefly with a resigned smile. "I wish I could think of something, but unfortunately you're right. We don't have a choice."

"Now I know why I agreed to marry you. You're as insane as I am." Rick noticed Vala motioning to him with a hand gesture. "Hold on, Lisa... I'm having Lang patched in."

The enigmatic pupil-less gaze of Professor Emil Lang appeared in a second window on the console. "Ah... Admirals... the Main Gun is charging. Assuming no problems, it will be ready to fire in four and a half minutes." The heavily accented voice paused, then spoke again. "I should mention that to get this to work, we had to do some hasty patchwork of the reflex power connections over the past few days. This weapon has not been fired since it was re-built from the damaged parts of the SDF-1. It may not work at all."

Rick glanced back to Lisa's image... he could read the determination there, as well as a mirror of his own fear buried underneath... he was surprised he could see it, since he knew that to anybody who did not know Lisa like he did, it would be invisible. He turned back to Lang.

"It has to work. Keep me posted, Professor. Hunter, out." Lang's face disappeared, but Rick's eyes were on Lisa. She looked back, a short moment of communion between them before the worst of the storm hit. Her image disappeared, and he got back to work, taking strength from that shared glance.

Had Vala been watching Rick Hunter at that moment, she would have been startled to notice the similarity between the look on Rick's face at that moment and the look on Kyle's face minutes before.

o o o o

Ten kilometers ahead, explosions blossomed. Skull and Charger Squadrons had met the first line of enemy pods. Kyle kept the turret camera aimed at the distant battle automatically... his thoughts were scattered across a battlefield of ideas, all warring for his attention. Fear, calculation, duty... Vala...

Ahead, space was a light show of explosions and death. Pods and Veritechs clashed in a sea of missile trails, laser bolts, and gunpod tracers. Kyle brought up the cluster missile targeting program, letting it automatically assign the closest dozen enemy ships to the four missile racks slung underneath his wings. At five kilometers, the closest enemy pod locked in to one of the tiny missile processors. By the time he was three and a half klicks from the closest, all the missiles were locked and ready... a single pull of the stick trigger fired three cluster missiles from each launcher. A dozen smoke trails swirled away.

An explosion flashed in the near distance, then another. As he started the missile lock program for the next dozen, more detonations lit up across the sky like flashbulbs. In the view beyond, a sea of pods waited.

o o o o

"Sir! We just lost Captain Solory! Lieutenant Bilfort is trying to round up the rest of Charger Squadron, but half the squad is gone!"

Rick closed his eyes for a moment... he remembered Anton Solory from the Macross, a dedicated pilot who had flown with Roy Fokker in the Global Civil War. He had been in charge of the Chargers since before the Malcontent Uprisings. And half his squad as well... damn.

Behind him, Vala opened a small side window on her console. She felt angry... people are dying, and he just goes out to film it. She held on to that anger... it gave her the subconscious excuse she needed to keep a watch over that lone MBS Veritech.

o o o o

Rick Hunter's voice echoed out across all the RDF squadron frequencies. "All Veritechs, we will attempt to fire the main cannon in three minutes. Be prepared to move out of the firing path on my signal."

Kyle fired another dozen cluster missiles in to the void, only then glancing down to the console to find the shot path that the computer just downloaded. He was almost in the thick of the battle... he flicked the missiles back to single shot, and then transformed to Guardian for close-in gunpod combat. He could recall the turmoil his mind had been in just minutes before, but now he felt... focused. A thousand pods stretched for fifty kilometers in front of him, with several massive cruisers sitting at the other end, and yet right now he was completely calm.

He set his targeting computer to automatically load the closest enemy pod when his current target was destroyed... with the number of pods out there, he would have no time to carefully choose targets. The computer automatically picked one of several battlepods that had gotten past the Veritech squads, a little over a kilometer away. Kyle pitched forward a touch, bringing the targeting locater on his HUD into line with the gunsights. The distance was dropping quickly. Kyle dropped the sight a little more, and pulled the trigger.

He could feel the slugs fire from the GU-11 gunpod held in his Guardian's right hand. Every tenth one, about two a second, lit up the void as a tracer. The distance dropped to 0.5 Km, then 0.4... Kyle could see the distant pod, now just a spec, but growing rapidly. He continued to hold down the gunpod trigger, knowing that the GU-11 would overheat in just a few seconds more.

Suddenly, laser blasts flashed out of the emptiness in front of him. Above and below, the bolts of compacted energy flew past him. Then brightness and shaking... I'm hit! Again, the cockpit around him jerked. Oh hell. This is getting bad!

Then the battlepodpod, now easily visible in front of him, veered away trailing smoke. Kyle, his breathing heavy, pulled his finger from the trigger and swerved to the side, curving around to finish off the enemy ship. He automatically matched throttle, and pulled behind the damaged fighter, putting several more shots into its damaged thrusters.

His Valkyrie rocked from an impact. Kyle automatically jerked his control stick to the other side, going evasive. Blast! The other two pods are still out there! He dove down, flicking targeting controls, searching to find his attacker.

Another thud rocked the Veritech. Several indicators flashed on the console, and then he was thrown forward as the throttle booster he had just had installed burned out. He threw the legs of the Veritech forward, working with the sudden deceleration to change his direction of flight. Now accelerating backwards, he flipped over to missiles and locked them onto the enemy pulling in behind him, using his gunsight to aim the targeting software. A double-flick of the trigger, and he watched as two cluster missiles blasted out from under his wings. One went wide trying to track the quickly oncoming craft, but the other clipped a thruster leg and exploded, causing the pod to tumble and then explode.

Kyle hit the switch to Battloid, and began searching for the last Regult Battlepod. He ignored the red flashing lights on his console... he'd have time for that if he survived.

There! His targeting computer pulled up the pod, highlighting it on his HUD. He tried to get a missile lock, but it was evading too fast. He switched back to his GU-11, and sent a spray of depleted uranium slugs out ahead of oncoming Zentraedi fighter.

Then the pod dissolved into explosion... not from his guns, but from a missile trail that unexpectedly intersected it.

"Thought you could use some help, Knight One! I hope you don't mind some interference." The familiar face of Max Sterling was already on his cockpit display.

Kyle released a breath he hadn't even known he was holding. He rapidly checked his computer... several minor systems were damaged, though the Protoculture driven automatic repair systems were already at work. He had used nearly half of his gunpod ammo, however. He then turned to the comm.

"Thanks, Skull Leader! That was getting rough!"

Sterling replied from the console in front of Kyle. "We have less than a minute to get ourselves out the way of the cannon. Time to fly, Mr. Bartley!"

Kyle threw the throttle completely forward to rocket himself out of the shot path shown on his console computer. Without warning, his Veritech rocked from a small internal explosion and he was thrown forward as the engines shut down.

Several flashing banners appeared on his console. A control coupling near the destroyed throttle booster had burned through... his console reported that it would take the repair systems about a minute to fix, a minute he did not have.

With panic dancing at the back of him mind, Kyle saw that he didn't have enough momentum to get out of the way of the SDF-3 main cannon blast in the time left on the countdown.

o o o o

"Main cannon will fire in 30 seconds. All Veritechs, clear out NOW." The Vice-Admiral's voice once again echoed across the communication frequencies.

Vala voiced the countdown... "twenty-seven... twenty-six... twenty-five..." A part of her attention was focused on that tiny extra window on her workstation. His Veritech wasn't clear of the firing range yet.

"Fifteen...fourteen...thirteen..." What's wrong with him? MOVE!

"Five... four... three... two... one..."

Rick Hunter spoke the word, but the system was already on automatic. "Fire!"

Vala felt a sense of panic beyond anything she had felt before. He's still in the way! We can't fire yet! Damn you, Kyle... you can't do this to me!

Nothing happened. Rick glanced back at Vala, catching her eye. Within seconds, she was patching in Dr. Lang, her training luckily one step ahead of her swirling thoughts.

o o o o

Kyle heard Hunter's message with a flood of relief. "Short in the main cannon! We are attempting repairs now. Be careful out there!"

His repair systems signaled him... the throttle controls were partially fixed. The controls were a bit sluggish, but functional... he closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, trying to get his heart back into a normal rhythm. He then targeted the closest pod, heading off at the best speed possible.

o o o o

Vala felt a surge of relief, immediately followed by a flood of guilt... the main cannon had failed to fire, and they were in an even more desperate situation than before. Dr. Lang was trying to track the problem, and Vala could see the Vice-Admiral fidgeting in the command chair in front of her.

The board in front of her flashed... she called the Vice-Admiral, then fed the signal to Hunter's console, automatically splicing in the Bridge as she transferred the call.

"Ah... Admirals..." The enigmatic gaze of Professor Lang appeared on Rick's workstation, alongside the face of Lisa Hayes. "We think we have a short in the Reflex power transfer cables... we had to run some temporary lines to bypass the missing fold drives... one of them appears to not be working."

Vala watched from the periphery as Lisa's face on the console spoke up. "How long are we looking at, Emil? We don't have time to play around!"

"We should find the faulty line in a couple of minutes. I have the entire team testing connection pathways right now." Lang's pupil-less gaze stared at each of the RDF leader's faces in turn. "We are working as fast as we can." The feed from engineering vanished.

Vala heard Rick whisper "...good luck, Professor..." It disconcerted her a great deal.

o o o o

It was the most terrifying dogfight Kyle had ever been in. Explosions went off all around him. He would pump a couple of shots into a pod, and then get hit once or twice himself from another. No matter how many enemies the Veritechs around him destroyed, more were always coming. His automatic repair systems were falling behind with half a dozen important systems damaged, and it was only a matter of time before they did damage to something the repair systems couldn't fix. Of course, if one of the sporadic cannon blasts from the enemy capital ships hit him, it would be over with before he knew it. They plowed through the massive dogfight on their way towards the SDF-3 fleet and FactSat, annihilating friendly and enemy fighters alike.

His radar display was a mass of enemy blips. No matter where Kyle looked, there were ships and explosions, smoke trails and laser flashes. Two laser bolts flashed past his canopy... Kyle went into a sharp climb, forcing his thoughts back to the goal of immediate survival.

o o o o

"We've found the problem... unfortunately, it is in a section of the power connections that is not easy to access. We should have it repaired in two or three minutes." Lang's voice echoed back to Vala from the Vice-Admiral's console.

"Work fast, Professor! We don't have time to spare!" Hunter's words were punctuated by a shudder through War Room. Both Rick and Vala recognized the vibration... an enemy missile had got through the screen of Veritechs.

Lang glanced to the side, and then returned his attention forward. "We are lucky... the cannon is still charged. As soon as we have the connection repaired, we will be ready to fire."

Rick immediately got on the fleet comm channel. "Attention all ships! Repairs on the main cannon are underway. We will be ready to fire momentarily. Try to lead the enemy fighters into the path of the cannon!"

o o o o

Well, that shouldn't be a problem... Given the number of pods within a couple of kilometers of his Veritech, Kyle was sure that getting the enemy in the killing zone would be easy. The real problem was getting himself out when the time came. Kyle was still wary of his throttle system.

His cockpit suddenly brightened... Kyle turned his head (and the turret mounted MBS camera) in time to watch the Zaketech-Quo break in half, laser turret fire from the distant enemy capital ships continuing to cut through the three kilometer long ship even as it came apart into several pieces. Though its captain was Zentraedi, the now blackened colors of its hull had contained a multi-species crew from both races, most now dead or dying.

Then laser shots were once again raining around his Valkyrie. He heard Max Sterling giving out commands to Skull squadron, but Kyle had no more time for consideration of anything but survival.

o o o o

The SDF-3 was shaking frequently now, as cannon blasts from the enemy fleet hit the ship. Though most were deflected by the pinpoint barrier shields run from stations on the Situation Room floor, they still imparted a sizable momentum. When a blast got through, however, the entire ship rang like an off-tune bell.

Rodila... Vala could remember many battles with Rodila Nifi at her side... years of combat and comraderie in the Quodronos. She could remember the human ceremony when Rodila had been given command of the Zakatech-Quo... it was a proud moment for all the Quodronos. Vala could still taste the champagne, the first alcohol she ever sampled.

Over the decades, Vala had lost many companions... many Quodronos died in battle, and new clones would usually replace them. Like Miriya and Vala, however, Rodila was one of the old-timers... they had survived hundreds of years of combat together. Vala felt a hole in herself, an emptiness she knew she would never have understood a few years before.

Her board lit up... engineering was calling the Admirals. Vala forced her emotions away, and channeled the call to the command console.

The instant Dr. Lang's face appeared on Rick's monitor, he spoke up. "I hope you have good news, Emil."

"Indeed I do. The coupling is repaired. We will be ready to fire in less than a minute." As usual, Dr. Lang seemed calm and objective, despite the stress of the past few minutes.

o o o o

Once again, the Vice-Admiral personally spoke across the fleet frequencies. "Attention all ships! Repairs completed! Main cannon will fire in sixty seconds. Get out of the fire zone immediately!"

Kyle transformed to Fighter mode, going to max throttle. He could feel the engines stutter a bit as they channeled more thrust... the repair systems hadn't been able to fix everything. He waited until he had gained some momentum, and then toggled the afterburners. He was thrown backwards into his seat with a satisfying grunt, as the Valkyrie kicked into overdrive.

Several enemy pods flashed by, but Kyle was moving too fast for them to catch. He felt a thud, though, as a lucky shot grazed him. Kyle watched in horror as first one, then a second, and then a flood of warning messages scrolled across his cockpit computer screen. The afterburners shut off, followed less than a second later by the main engines, throwing Kyle forward against the cockpit restraints.

Oh God... not again!

o o o o

Vala once again announced the countdown. "Thirty-seven... thirty-six..." Once again, she gave a part of her attention to that small extra window open on her console. Blast it! Can't he do anything right? Is he trying to get killed?

"Twenty-three... twenty-two... twenty-one..."

The pirated telemetry from Knight-1 showed that he was still drifting. Vala was definitely getting pissed off at him for doing this to her, not only for putting himself at risk in a way she no longer could, but mainly because she knew, deep down, that he was doing it in part for her.

o o o o

Kyle wanted to pound on the cockpit in front of him in frustration, but he knew it would do no good. Instead, he kept his eyes focused on the repair displays. With some luck, he might get some thrust back before the time was up. He quickly re-ordered the repair priorities, putting everything except the throttle controls low on the list.

The seconds passed. He could hear Vala's voice, speaking numbers across the fleet comm frequency. It was probably just his imagination, but her voice sounded a bit ragged. He wondered what she would think if she knew she was counting down his death.

At sixteen seconds left, several of the warning banners on his console flickered. At fifteen seconds, the main engines kicked in, skewing the Veritech around as Kyle got control of his ship. He floored the throttle, but a glance told him he wouldn't be clear in time. With no choices left, he once again hit the afterburners. Then the countdown reached zero, and he didn't have time to hope that the repairs would hold.

o o o o

Vala heard her own voice finish the countdown, and then heard Hunter give the order to fire. Kyle was close, but he still wasn't clear.

With a sense of unreality, Vala watched the main viewscreen showing the energy crackling across the huge beams of the main cannon at the front of the ship. The room lit up... a massive bolt of reflex energy flung itself forward. Then, with a strange shudder, all the lights and gravity went out.

o o o o

Kyle squeezed his eyes shut as the universe filled with light. Then a massive fist hit him, and everything went black.

o o o o

Kyle woke up. At first, he just lay there, trying to grab the sleeping fragments of himself together. He felt like hell. He slowly opened his eyes... from the equipment hanging above, he was obviously in a hospital bed.

He slowly turned his head on the pillow. The view out his window at first confused him... it was on a scale far beyond any expectation. The window faced a massive, brightly lit organic-like cavity. In the foreground, the entire two and a half kilometers of the SDF-3 floated. As Kyle's brain woke up a bit more, he knew where he was... there was only one place in the Solar System for a view like the one out his window. He was looking out over the seven kilometer wide enclosed shipyard of the Factory Satellite. After more than two weeks of testing far more rigorous than planned, the SDF-3 had come home. Kyle tried to sit up to get a better look, but a sharp pain stabbed him in the chest, and he fell back onto the bed.

He tried to piece together his past... he remembered the throttle controls going live again, and the count reaching zero. Then nothing... until now.

A nurse came in, obviously pleased that he was awake. From her he learned that the SDF-3 had indeed fired for part of a second, but something blew out before the entire shot was completed. The blast was enough to destroy one enemy Command ship and one of the destroyers, however, and the remaining ships had folded back to Saturn. The RDF had won the battle.

Thirty-two technicians in Engineering had been killed, though, when a power coupling burned through and exploded. The nurse was thrilled to tell him that she had been charged with treating some mild burns on Doctor Lang himself. There were a number of other injuries from the following losses of power and gravity, but nothing serious.

On a more personal scale, Kyle had a couple of cracked ribs, a mild concussion, and some nasty bruises. He'd been unconscious for almost a day. He would be here another day or so, and wouldn't be able to fly for a week.

The nurse finished up, promising to return later. Kyle found the viewscreen remote and searched for news of the battle. MBS was talking about little else, and Kyle was surprised, and a bit irritated, to watch his own footage of the Zaketech-Quo breaking up. Hunter had kept his word... the RDF found all his combat footage and sent it to MBS. They had even found the shoulder mini-cam... over the course of the news stories he saw several scenes from his time in the Situation Room with the Vice-Admiral.

The damage from the battle had been major. The RDF had lost three capital ships, including the Zaketech-Quo, one of only two captured Zentraedi Quiltra Queleual class ships in the RDF fleet. Charger and Jaguar Squadrons had been decimated, and even the Skulls had taken half a dozen casualties. Nearly eight thousand humans and four and a half thousand allied Zentraedi had lost their lives during the battle.

The final important piece of news was that nearly six hundred enemy pods had been left behind by the enemy capital ships when they folded back to Saturn. A third had been killed in a furious clean-up battle, but the rest had scattered. Already, several RDF convoys had been attacked... Earth orbit was going to be a lot more dangerous now.

Later, Kyle saw movement at the hallway windows. He turned his head and saw Vala staring at him from the other side of the glass. Her expression was completely bland as she turned around and walked away.

o o o o

Three days later, Kyle was summoned aboard the SDF-3. He was at least out of bed by then, though if he moved to quickly, he would get a sharp shock of pain. He had spent the past day narrating his own version of the battle's events... according to a message from his editor at MBS, the reports had been very well received by the public. This morning he had even watched one of his own reports from the temporary quarters he had been assigned on the human scaled portion of the Factory Satellite.

As he flew over to the SDF-3 on one of the FactSat shuttle pods, Kyle wondered what he was being called for. Despite repeated questions about his Veritech, he still didn't know if it had survived. Perhaps the repair shop needed his authorization to begin repairs.

Once he checked in after landing, though, the ensign checking badges made a whispered call, and then handed Kyle a special pass. "Insert this into the elevator panel slot. It will only work once, for security reasons." Kyle was then pointed towards the hanger bay elevators. He still had no clue what was at the other end of the card he now held, however.

Kyle stepped into the elevator. The card was pulled from his hand when he slipped it into the panel, and then the doors shut and the elevator began to move. Ten seconds later, the elevator car slowed. When the doors opened, Kyle was stunned to find himself looking out across the SDF-3 bridge.

Admiral Hayes' voice floated back to him. "Come on in, Mr. Bartley."

As the chair turned to face him, Kyle found himself face-to-face with the head of the Robotech Defense Force. Though she was only five or six years older than Kyle, he could feel the weight of her experiences in her gaze. Then Vice-Admiral Hunter turned around from a nearby workstation. Kyle began to feel nervous.

"I wanted to ask you some questions, Mr. Bartley." Her voice was smooth, calm.

Kyle gave the only answer he could. "Ask away, Admiral."

"How to you feel this conflict is going, Bartley? Where does the RDF stand right now?"

Kyle thought for a moment, trying to judge whether to speak his mind or not. He decided to go ahead... the RDF leaders seemed to be interested.

"The RDF has a major problem. We still have no idea how big the enemy fleet is... there could be thousands of cruisers at Saturn right now. As far as I know, we don't even know what their goals are. Finally, the most devastating weapon we have against uncontaminated Zentraedi just failed in a big way. We won only by surprising them with the power of a currently unreliable weapon, the SDF-3 main cannon. They will be more cautious in the future."

Hayes spoke up. "We've watched your news reports over the past day or so. As a reporter, I'm surprised you haven't mentioned much of this in your stories."

Kyle took a breath. "If the public realized how desperate the situation is, we would have panic. I don't think its proper to hide the truth, but in a situation like this you have to give people something to hope for. I didn't hide our situation in my reports... I just put a positive spin on it."

Lisa Hayes stared at him thoughtfully for a moment, and then turned to Hunter for a few whispered words. She then turned back to Kyle.

"You have been very helpful to the RDF, Mr. Bartley. In recognition of your services, I have authorized you to be upgraded to a VF-1J Veritech. Your old MBS plane was heavily damaged... we are giving you a brand new J to compensate."

It was such an unexpected gift, it took Kyle a moment to force words out of his mouth. "Tha... uh, thank you, Admiral!"

"There's something else you should know." Kyle turned to look at Rick Hunter, as the Vice-Admiral continued. "While we were cleaning up from the battle, there were so many RDF casualties that none of us would have remembered to look for you. If it wasn't for Lieutenant Norri, you might still be floating out there. She not only made sure we looked for you... she even managed to give us approximate coordinates. I just thought you might find that interesting." Kyle Bartley indeed found that unexpected.

Lisa Hayes then dismissed him. With a nod from Rick Hunter, Kyle turned back to the elevator, and was soon alone with his swirling thoughts. Though he was still bruised and sore, he couldn't leave the ship until the shop-master showed him his new Valkyrie.