Disclaimer: I don't own either of the two intellectual properties that have been melded into one here today, those being Macross Frontier and the Fate/Stay Night franchises, and certainly don't have the intent to make money of this piece of work, only the intent to make some people smile.
I let myself through the airlock, my floating gait manoeuvring towards a feet down position before I reach the effects of the gravity field down the hallway. As my feet touch down on the floor, the familiar weight of gravity settles in my stomach and a gaudy holo informs me that the gravity is set to three quarters earth standard. Some of the other passengers on the long haul fold flight land with familiar practice like myself, while a few first timers and young children misjudge their landing and stumble a bit.
I stop to offer a hand to a young toddler on the ground next to me – him and his mother offer broad smiles, which I return before moving towards the immigration controls for Island One of the Macross Frontier colonisation fleet. Holo's light up the walkway, the majority of which are blaring out high def images of Sheryl Nome, the galactic fairy, with subtitles outlining concert dates for her scheduled tour. Some other holo's languish in the background, displaying information for several popular tourist destinations.
Within short order I'm staring politely at a balding immigration official. There was a choice to speed through using automated processing, but over the years I've found it considerably easier to fool a human mind as opposed to a computer. The chance that I'll have to actually perform such an act today is minuscule, but old habits die hard.
"What is your purpose for entering the Macross Frontier fleet?" the official asks as he eyeballs my ID and slots it into a data reader.
"I'm beginning work at a new job," I reply. He hums in a disinterested tone as my ID data is pulled up on a holo in front of him. I scan through it, reading backwards of course, out of boredom.
"What kind of work are you starting on, Mr Emiya?" He continues, pulling my name out of the file. Shirou Emiya – It had been a long time since I had the freedom to use that name. The last instance I wore it was back in the early 40's, and only recently did the electronic trail of that ID die down enough to be used again. It was odd going back to my real name, I mused to myself, but it felt nice to hear it again.
"Contract work," I replied again. Well, it technically is contract work. The stubby official nods with satisfaction, maybe he thinks I'm working in construction or some other low brow job. I do nothing to dissuade him of that as he types away at his keyboard, filling in sections of a secondary holo while he continues to study my ID data.
"You must be the first person today I've spoken to who isn't just here to see Sheryl sing live," he comments distractedly, still typing away. Perhaps it's just this person's attempt to reach a suitable level of customer service, as he clearly doesn't care if I respond or not.
"Is that so?" There's really no need to humour this guy, as he's obviously just going through the motions and doesn't really care. After another moment of silence I get approval to disembark with a nod. The official hands me back my ID and I pocket it quickly before stepping past him. Security is up next, but the checkpoint is little more than a body scanner to check for concealed weapons. I try not to grin as I walk through, knowing full well that in an instant I could arm myself with perfect replicas of several of the most powerful weapons in human history. Once through, I step past yet another swarm of holo's advertising Sheryl's tour and step into the arrival area.
A small crowd of people are hanging around at the exit, but my ride is impossible to miss. He stands head and shoulders above the majority of the crowd, his rough cut features looking bored as he holds a sign out with my name on it. The man himself is wearing what I assume to be an SMS Military Provider uniform, or at least a jacket. There's a slight bulge indicating a concealed firearm of sorts, but his stance is absent of any motivation for violence. According to the information I had gathered for me, this is unusual for the man, but to be fair – he's only coming to pick up a new recruit. I square up and stride towards him, catching his eye with my height and self assured posture.
"Major Ozma Lee I presume," I enquire, offering my hand to him. He accepts the handshake without moving a muscle on his face.
"And that would make you Shirou Emiya wouldn't it?" He turns towards the exit of the spaceport, waving me to follow him. "My car is this way. Welcome to Frontier."
After being treated to several minutes of breakneck driving, Ozma finally opened up the line of conversation I had been expecting back in the space port.
"So," he began, shouting over the loud rock he was playing over the stereo, "I've read your file. You seem to be a good pilot."
I resisted the urge to snort. I was an extremely good pilot, but the file he had read was completely fabricated; my 'record' of combat operations with the New U.N. Spacey. Truth be told, I hadn't flown under a true military record since the early 20's, a time when humanity and Earth teetered on the brink of destruction.
"Thank you," I eventually replied, giving away nothing in my facial expressions or body language that would indicate my file was nothing but the truth. Ozma, unsurprisingly, wasn't finished.
"But I can't help but wonder if you're good enough for the kind of work we'll be putting you through," he continued. Undoubtedly he was beginning the hazing that new recruits to his organisation would go through, although his tone had an undertone of true doubt that an experienced squad commander would express when replacing one of his squad. Although a new hires files will give some indication of his skills, it'll say nothing of his personality.
I appreciated that Ozma had an eye for these details – it allowed me to get a grip on his ability as a leader. Still, I had my pride to consider, and it wasn't written in the rulebook that I had to get along with my new leader, only respect him.
"I'll be good enough, you can count on that," I reply gruffly.
Respect is a hard thing to hand out to someone half your age.
The grilling continued all the way to SMS headquarters, and I gave nothing but the image that I was a lifer with a chip on my shoulder looking for better pay rates. The headquarters itself is an admirable set-up, combining headquarters with the docking port for their battleship, saving space in peacetime and allowing for rapid deployment when combat is expected. I was assigned a room in the barracks – surprisingly enough, I was given a single room.
As orientation was planned for tomorrow, I decided to take a shower and go to sleep. As usual, the sight of myself in the mirror still doesn't match any expectations I had for myself at the turn of century. It was nearly sixty years ago that I was introduced to the world of magic, and shortly after that competed in the life or death competition known as the Holy Grail War. Following what I thought would easily be the most brutal time of my life I had settled back into a somewhat normal routine in London with Rin Tohsaka when the unthinkable happened.
The Zentraedi came to Earth.
After a year of almost unnoticeable skirmishes, the planet was nearly obliterated in one fell swoop, eliminating a large portion of, if not all, magi. I certainly hadn't met another one since that time. It was during the Zentraedi blitz that I had a chance to save Rin from the Zentraedi but failed, barely escaping with my own life to one of the shanty towns in the European wastelands. The chance I had to save Rin had saddled me with a debt I didn't care for, which lead to me grudgingly had signing up with the UN Spacey.
It was years ago that I first learned how to pilot a Valkyrie protecting the remnants of humanity from rogue Zentraedi elements, and it was there where I learned to incorporate elements of my magic into the art of piloting. It began with simple stuff, simply introducing reinforcement to the frame in order to temporarily boost performance. However, as I had to keep it to a minimum to keep my talents a secret, I was forced to become a better pilot in order to survive.
But that was years ago, and I had better things to do than reminisce about the past in front of a mirror. I finished shaving my white stubble with a distinct lack of ceremony and made my way back to the bunk to prepare for the next few weeks of 'training.'
It was the next day that I met the rest of my squad mates, Mikhail Blanc and Luca Angelloni. It was a Tuesday morning, and I met them in the mess hall during breakfast. Despite my attempts to appear aloof and unapproachable, Luca had spotted me and came bearing down with far too much curiosity for a normal person.
"You must be the new pilot of our squadron?" He asked, oblivious to the aura I was emitting.
I eyed the kid up and down. Curly red hair, very scrawny looking and dressed up in what could only be described as possibly the least fashionable way to wear a school uniform ever, what with the long bobby socks, short brown shorts and brown leather shoes. In addition, he was very clearly below the age of majority in any culture I'd care to name. In summary, I had no idea what on earth he was doing in a place like this.
"Our squadron?" I asked, keeping my voice neutral. "You fly?"
"Oh yes," he replied cheerfully, carefully setting down his tray opposite me and settling in. "I'm Skull Three, Luca Angeloni." He offered his hand over the table for a handshake. I took it and gave it a cursory shake. I found it nearly impossible to get a bite of food for the next five minutes as the young kid peppered me with questions regarding my history, and I answered in a guarded fashion, giving tidbits from my fabricated background. My name was Shirou Emiya; yes, I was born in 2034 on Earth; no I don't remember anything about the Sharon Apple incident (hah); yes, I signed up with the Spacey as soon as I turned eighteen; no, I was not a natural pilot (that one did match up with my actual life story); you bet I worked my arse off to get to where I did; and finally, no, I joined SMS because I was getting tired of following the orders of people with heads stuck up their arses in the Spacey, but I suppose the pay increase helped as well.
And on it went. Somehow, through that rapid questioning Luca managed to finish his bowl of cereal and was halfway through a banana when he spotted the other member of our squadron. Waving his banana in the air, he called to someone over my shoulder. "Michel-sempai! Over here!" I dutifully turned my head over my shoulder and saw a young man in a superficially similar uniform to Luca. However difference in style between the two was the difference between night and day. The blonde young man definitely fell into what I would define as the pretty boy category, and had the tell-tale ear points that indicated he was at least partly Zentran. Pretty boy sat down next to me and put his tray down. He gave Luca a sideways glance and turned to me to stick his hand out.
"I'm Mikhail Blanc, Skull Two. You must be the new replacement," he said. I nodded and shook his hand, taking careful note of the different pronunciation of the name he gave me as opposed to the form Luca used. "Shirou Emiya," I replied, perhaps a bit curtly, but I had never really gotten along well with the pretty boy stereotype since school, when I had nearly been murdered by that slimy rat Shinji. "Judging by the look on your face, I'm assuming Luca has already given you a grilling," Mikhail began, and I spent the barest fraction of a second wondering how he could read that on my face before shrugging it off. I was still wearing the body language that I had hoped would keep people like Luca away in the first place. I tried to relax as Mikhail continued. "So I guess I'll get the details from him later."
Mikail seemed content to listen to Luca needle me for another ten minutes or so before both kids excused themselves to apparently go to school. I almost unconsciously shook my head softly to myself as they walked away. The age of my two wing-mates was astoundingly low for this day and age. Sure, when I first joined up in the aftermath of Space War I kids were joining the Spacey left, right and centre due to the desperate need for warm bodies to fill empty cockpits, but as the human race stabilised it's population again, such recruitment practices had thankfully fallen to the wayside.
War is a terrible thing, and not something to be burdened upon ones so young in my opinion.
As I watched the pair wander off for school, I made a mental note to look into them later – the observation that half my wing were still in school certainly merited some attention. In the meantime, although I was initially worried Luca might some form of counter-intelligence agent, I had the gut feeling that he was simply naturally curious about the world around him, which for better or worse now included myself. Mikhail on the other hand definitely seemed sharper, and I could recall at least two occasions where he had brought the conversation around to a point where the overly curious Luca would ask the questions Mikhail wanted answered.
Still, for all that, any gentle probing would barely scratch the surface of my cover. Once it became clear that my facade of aloofness wouldn't work on my squadmates I had decided on playing a different tack, that of the friendly new recruit. Under normal circumstances I didn't think I could successfully pull off such a transition, but given I was the new blood and knew no-one in the building besides Ozma, it seemed a safe ploy.
Eventually I took off and made my way to the medical facility. At the door I was greeted by Ozma and a dark skinned lady in a lab coat, hands stuffed in her pockets. I straightened up upon reading her rank of First Lieutenant from the shoulder badge and saluted. It wasn't unusual for doctors in armed forces to be given higher ranks than the rank and file to make sure the 'doctor's orders' were carried out so to speak, and while we were of equal rank, I held a huge appreciation for her profession, having spent more than my fair share of time over the past 55 years in hospital beds.
"First Lieutenant Shirou Emiya, reporting for medical and EX-gear fitting," I rattled off. Ozma looked grumpy for no reason that I could fathom – maybe it was just the man's standard posture. The woman looked me up and down, then swung her head towards the door of the examination room, indicating I should enter. "I'm First Lieutenant Canaria Berstein. Let's get the medical started," she replied. We all swung into the examination room. As far as I knew this was just a standard medical, so I had no idea why Ozma was here and voiced the question. "Squad Commander, why are you here?"
Ozma looked at me, looked down at a clipboard full of paper he was carrying and then scratched his head almost sheepishly. "Briefings," he replied. "I'm not one for using the briefing room when there's only two people, so we're doing this now to save time." I nodded in response. Informal yet efficient – I could definitely learn to respect this guy. Canaria motioned to a chair and I sat down, catching a clipboard Ozma had tossed at me. While Canaria busied herself attaching a device to measure blood pressure and heart rate to my arm, I had a look at the clipboard. There was a rather thick wad of paper clamped down on the front, with the cover being a standard looking SMS letterhead and nothing else.
"So, I assume you read the basic company background before you got here," he began, and continued upon seeing my nod, "which means you're aware of our basic tactical assets. You have been chosen to replace a pilot in our Variable Fighter Skull Team, who died in test flight exercises. The purpose of this briefing is to bring you up to date with your wing and expected duties in your employment with us."
I raised an eyebrow when Ozma mentioned test flights, as nothing I had read about SMS indicated that they were engaged in that kind of activity. Indeed, it was impression that military contractors were more likely to be less well equipped than the government run military as they lacked the near unlimited budget to throw at equipment. Ozma flipped over the first page on his clipboard and I followed suit, but my line of sight to the board was immediately blocked as Canaria waved a tongue depressor in my face. "Open up," she ordered, and I promptly did so. Ozma was kind enough to stop reading and look amused as Canaria invaded my throat with the small piece of compressed wood and a torch. Apparently satisfied with the state of my throat, I was then treated to a blinding flash of light as my eyes were checked.
Blinking away the spots in my eyes I looked down at the sheet of paper that was now on the top of the clipboard as Canaria busied herself with the state of health of my ears. "That," said Ozma, with a small note of pride in his voice, "Is your new ride here at SMS." On the clipboard was simply a small scale diagram of a Variable Fighter in all three forms. I let a flash of surprise across my face. I definitely knew the shape of this fighter – The rumour mill was throwing out all sorts of (no doubt inaccurate) information from here to the Rimward Colonies.
"VF-25," the breathed, slightly in awe. My contact on Frontier had mentioned nothing about SMS being equipped with units such as this. "The military don't even have these units. How did you..." I left the question hanging.
Ozma kept grinning in reply. "We've been contracted to perform combat performance tests by the designers at L.A.I." he said, and flipped another page on the clipboard. I followed suit and stared blank eyed at a sheet of technical details. "The next 13 pages are the technical details of the unit," Ozma ploughed on, "And I'm not going to hold your hand and explain it all now. I know you've got downtime this afternoon between the hangar tour and your welcome party, so digest it then."
As we flipped through the pages, the one thing that reached my mind was a big 'I.S.C.' printed up the top of page seven, no doubt a reference to the rumoured Inertia Store Converter; the device that the rumour mill asserted would allow human pilots to match the performance of unmanned Ghost vehicles by significantly reducing G force strain on pilots. I was already capable of such a feat through reinforcement of my body, but it might allow me to pull off even more insane manoeuvres. Only a full workout with the unit would tell.
Once past the technical details of the unit (and I couldn't wait to get to my free time and pore over them), the next sheet of paper contained a passport photo of Ozma and his combat service record. "So this is where I quickly give you the once over regarding your wingmates. You, uh," and at this point the Squad Commander scratched the back of head sheepishly, leant backwards against a bench and sent a bunch of bandages tumbling to the floor. As he turned around to pick them up, he continued. "May find your remaining two wingmates... unusual, for this organisation."
I nodded in reply. "Luca Angeloni and Mikhail Blanc. I met them in the mess hall this morning. Or to be more accurate, I was grilled to within an inch of my life by Luca," I said, good naturedly. "If you don't mind me asking, why are children allowed to join and fight in SMS?"
Ozma looked me in the eye. "We never accept people who don't want to join. Those two applied of their own free will and we accepted," he said. I met his gaze and smelt bullshit, so I called him on it as Canaria lead me to a set of scales. "There's more than that," I stated simply. Ozma refused to look ruffled. "They're the best at what they do. Michel is a good pilot and an incredible shot with the Dragunov sniper pod. Luca runs our technical and electronic warfare support and is our liaison with L.A.I. They're both irreplaceable members of the wing," he said, defending his wingmates. At least he seems the kind of team leader who will stick up for his crew, which may make him a very useful ally in the future.
"Still, that's not the whole story," I said flatly. I had maintained eye contact with Ozma through this entire exchange, and as Canaria lead me off the scales and to a measuring tape stretched up a wall I finally saw a flash of discomfort slide onto and then promptly off of his face. "Everyone has some skeletons in their closet," he muttered. It was a true enough statement, and I gave up on the inquisition after that – Ozma was looking ready to hurl me out into the corridor and attempt to break my legs, which would not be a good start to a working relationship. I wanted to push him a little to determine his character, but not that far. Still, after what I went through in my teenage years, I was extremely leery about children in wars. Volunteering for the duty was only slightly better that conscription as well – only a rare few entirely understood what they were getting themselves into, and the rest were usually a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Canaria motioned for me to sit down again and then began efficiently gathering up blood collection materials. Ozma allowed me a few moments of silence to read over everyone's service records. Ozma's was without question the most padded. His first actions were classified. It was suspicious, but there were a lot of possible reasons for that. He was then transferred to the Frontier UN Spacey fleet for few years before they were re-formed into the N.U.N.S. He then spent another five years serving there. His combat record consisted mostly of skirmishes against rogue Zentraedi forces, and with an unusually high number of combat occurrences for that time frame at that. After a promotion to first Lieutenant he left to accept his current position at S.M.S. two years ago and his flight time began to turn from direct combat operations to scouting and pathfinding for the fleet.
By all accounts he was a fairly skilled pilot, earning his ace status in his early (non-classified) actions with the old Spacey, and having stayed alive for eleven years in combat operations, which made me glad that I could trust him in combat at least.
As Canaria finished drawing my blood I flicked over to Michel and Luca's records. They were considerably less full, having shown about a year's worth of scouting missions and three combat missions, all in the past month. Michel's kill count was impressive, having managed to just reach ace status on his last mission. His simulation results were impressive too. Luca on the other hand had the unenviable job of hanging back and providing combat support and had no kills to his name.
"Time to fit your EX-gear," Canaria said, pulling my attention away from the clipboard, just as I was about to flip to the next section. Ozma shrugged and we followed Canaria out of the surgery and down a couple of doors. The room we entered had a metal pedestal in the middle of the room surrounded by an open modesty screen. "Jump on that and take your clothes off," Canaria ordered. "Oh, and give your clipboard back to Ozma for the time being."
I dutifully handed my clipboard over to Ozma and stepped behind the modesty screen. To be honest, I felt like doing a little dance; while I had been in possession of a civilian EX-gear since they went into production almost a decade ago, the tailor fit military suits were impossible for me to get a hold of, seeing as I wasn't a part of the N.U.N.S. By all accounts the military version had almost double the available power compared to the civilian models and built in hover units on the legs to allow for better flight control. Perhaps the only unfortunate part in all these upgrades is that the extra armour may limit my mobility when in close combat, which may necessitate a few... alterations when I get some time to myself with it. Having removed and folded my clothes neatly and reporting that fact to Canaria, she then got me to stand on two footprints in the middle of the pedestal.
"This should only take a few minutes," her voice informed me over the screen, "So just stand as still as possible." A trio of scanning lasers extended on mechanical arms and began sizing my body up, and I fell into a state of mediation for the purposes of keeping my body still. Sure enough, barely two minutes had passed when the lasers folded back down and Canaria allowed me to put my uniform back on. Once out of the screen the red haired medic marked a tick on her clipboard. "We're done here, your EX-gear should be complete by the end of the week."
"Thank you," I replied with a small bow. Canaria responded by walking out the door, offering a small wave as she disappeared around the corner. I turned to Ozma who handed me my clipboard back. "I guess we'll finish this in one of the briefing rooms then. There isn't much left to cover anyway, so follow me," he said.
We launched ourselves into a series of seemingly empty corridors. As we took a right turn, Ozma came to a sudden stop right in front of me, almost causing me to slam straight into his back. "Why heeeello there Ozma," called a disconcertingly crooning male voice. "Hey Bobby," was his reply, seemingly unruffled by whoever had managed to pitch his voice to the worst kind of mix between Illya and her Servant. "What're you up to?" the Squad Commander continued. "I'm off today," the voice positively crooned, "so I'm going shopping. Want to come play?"
"No thanks Bobby," the Squad Commander replied, "I'm showing the new guy the ropes." At this point the mysterious being on the other side of Ozma must have realised that the greying Squad Commander wasn't alone. So far I had been trying not to imagine what being could possibly make such a voice, and I was slightly disappointed when an afro head popped out followed by a calculating face. As he gave me a once over, I could not help but feel almost naked somehow, and managed to suppress a shudder.
"Uh, hi," I managed to weakly offer as Ozma stepped aside and I got a full view of the man the Squad Commander was conversing with. How was it possible for a man to show that much skin? He was planning to go shopping like that? The being known as Bobby ignored me completely.
"Oooh, he's a ruggedly handsome one isn't he," he said to Ozma, who looked amused. Surely I wasn't wearing my thoughts on my face like some kind of kid, was I? I raised my hands to my face and used my fingertips to probe. Open mouth, wide eyes. Damnit.
Ozma began the introductions. "First Lieutenant Shirou Emiya, meet the Helmsman of the Quarter, Captain Bobby Margot." Bobby waved. I recovered enough to throw a salute, even though it wasn't necessary seeing as Bobby was off-duty. Bobby waved it off with an airy hand wave and a rather creepy smile that I read as no need for salutes among my friends. I could almost imagine the wink! "Bobby, this is Shirou." The afro offered a hand out and without a trace of the playfulness he was showing earlier and shook mine firmly. "Pleased to meet you," he said, "We're glad to have you here with us."
With that, he turned back to Ozma and wound the playfulness up again with a wink. "Well if you fine gentlemen won't join me, I guess I'd better be on my way." With that he sauntered off with a wave, and I was left mentally scratching my head. Ozma looked at me with a knowing grin on his face.
"Yeah, Bobby can be like that. Don't let the act fool you, he's a first class helmsman and not that bad of a guy. He just likes stirring up the new people."
With that, Ozma took off again and three corridors later we were in a briefing room, looking at the clipboard. What I was looking at was something that made the command for me to come the Frontier fleet a lot more sense.
"These," Ozma said, without a hint of emotion in his voice, "are beings we call Vajra."
This was something I already knew. Part of my job description was to maintain tabs on any and all threats to humanity, and the Vajra ranked pretty highly on that list. Ozma launched off on a spiel regarding everything known about the Vajra, while I listened with only half an ear – I was fairly certain my knowledge on the topic was a bit broader than his. First officially encountered nearly two decades ago in 2040, the Vajra were a race of insectoids who had a tendency to wipe out the Spacey's scouts, although I had a sneaking (but unverifiable) suspicion that the Vajra were behind the disappearance of the SDF-2 Megaroad way back in 2016.
Currently the most significant contact with the Vajra that I was aware of was the destruction of the 117th Large-Scale Research Fleet. If I could recall correctly, the fleet was researching all manner of alien diseases and virii when the Vajra seemingly dropped in out of no-where, blew the living hell out of it and set back research in that field by five years.
"This stuff is classified information, which explains why you haven't heard of them before," Ozma continued, looking me in the eyes. Damn straight it was classified, I thought to myself. Getting information from my contacts in N.U.N.S. about Vajra attacks usually required a bit more palm greasing than usual and was a sore point for me. At least it looked like I'd be able to get some first hand combat information sometime soon.
"As you can see, there are two observed combat types," said Ozma, and I scanned both forms on the clipboard in front of me. They matched up with my knowledge on the Vajra, a smaller, yellow bug and a larger red shelled version. Included was also a scale diagram of a VF-25 in battloid mode for size comparison purposes. There were no marks indicating weak spots or preferred targeting areas, nor a list of known weaponry. Instead of a list of known weaponry for both insectoids, there were a number of postulates tagged to various portions of the Vajra diagrams. One particularly interesting one was attached to a large rod that appeared to be connected to the larger Vajra's back. 'Possible anti-ship beam weapon?' read the tag. I really hoped it wasn't. That kind of firepower on a fighter sized enemy would make it very difficult to defend fleet ships.
I interrupted at this point so as not to let on that I was already in the know regarding the Vajra. "Squad Commander, is there no other information on the specs of the enemy?" Ozma sighed and looked forlorn for a second before he recovered. "We have no concrete data on the Vajra. Our only information comes from recovered flight recorders from downed VF's or the anecdotal evidence from surviving pilots. If we come up against Vajra I would expect one of our highest priorities would be to obtain a sample, living or otherwise for the eggheads in xenobiology," he replied, and I nodded in understanding.
"We are moving into areas where we are expecting to run into these damn insects, so I'd be expecting you'll get a chance to find out first hand what these things are like," the grey haired Squad Commander continued. "Apart from the Vajra, our other duties typically involve engaging rogue Zentraedi forces and scouting the fleet path. Now, I think that just about covers the briefing," he finished up, flipping the papers on his clipboard back to the first page and extending his arm to take my own board.
"Excuse me," I began politely as I handed the clipboard back, "but you implied there that I would be the one getting first hand experience, not both of us. Wouldn't you also be getting that experience?"
The Squad Commander sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I was a pilot with the Spacey at the 117th Research Fleet," he said in a soft voice. He sounded almost regretful, an odd emotion to have unless he lost something or someone he cherished there. "I've already gotten my first hand experience." He straightened up and began to walk out the door. "So it's time to deal out some payback," he stated loudly, as if trying to make up for his sudden character change two seconds ago. "Take it easy Shirou," he said with a backhanded wave as he walked out the door, leaving me in the briefing room.
The next two days were a flurry of simulations, as neither my EX-gear nor my bird were ready. The VF-25 that was to be my unit (which by then I had found out wore the official moniker of Messiah) was still in the process of being delivered by L.A.I. and there was not a whole lot I could do to speed up the process, despite the fact that the mere thought of wanting to give this bird a good shakedown was making me slightly weak at the knees. I was informed by Luca that the model coming for me was the VF-25F model, with a small modification to test a new modular cockpit design. Likewise, the EX-gear wouldn't get here any faster by me metaphorically hanging around the post box, but my civilian suit was compatible with the system and as such allowed me to hit the simulators.
And wow, was I impressed.
The I.S.C. was definitely the highlight of the system. While I had long been used to manoeuvring VF's at higher G's than they'd been rated for, the VF-25 had far exceeded the current VF-171 Nightmare's in terms of agility. After flight training in the simulators I had been pitching myself against high numbers of Nightmares, Quadluuns and old school Regults, which I still believed to be the pinnacle of Zentraedi weaponry for their men. The only difficulty posed by VF-25 was toning down my abilities so I would seem simply the above average 25 year old pilot I was posing as.
The transformation system was a wonderful improvement over the Nightmare as well. A series of electromagnetic locks and actuators cut the transformation time down from four seconds to just over one, a concept that was giving me all sort of ideas for new tricks, especially against the powered suits.
And so it was that I had just stepped out of the simulator box after a two hour session with Ozma (the man was good, but I was certain had this not been formation practice my extra forty years of skill would have done him in) and found myself staring at a uniformed maintenance chief. He looked upbeat as he introduced himself. "First Lieutenant Emiya, I'm Steve Robbs, the crew chief in charge of maintenance on your unit," he explained, "and I'm pleased to report that we've received the final parts and put her together. Thought you might like a look."
Robbs seemed like an earnest man as he began chatting on the way back to the hangars. Good crew chiefs were a valuable commodity for me and I liked to try and get along with mine as much as possible. If the pilot respected his crew and got to know them well, that friendship could mean the difference between an extremely tight frame and well tuned engines or a few loose screws and a shoddy job. Seems as though Robbs had been transferred from being second in command of Ozma's crew and was excited about being charge of his own bird. The rest of my crew were apparently a mixture of new hires and transfers from other crews, so hopefully a modicum of experience would blend into the newbies. We rounded the blue nose cone of Michel's sniper variant VF-25G and there, in all her resplendent glory, was my new ride.
Despite the myriad monitoring equipment being attached to what seemed like every possible digital connection port, she was beautiful.
"There she is," said Robbs, almost reverently, "beautiful, isn't she?" Apparently the crew chief and I were on the same wavelength at that point in time. I strode over to the bird, introducing myself to two of the crew as I passed them, and put my hand on the underside of the nosecone.
"Trace on," I murmured, allowing my odo to thrum through a single circuit. "I'm sorry," said Robbs, who'd been two steps behind me, "I didn't catch that."
With my magic circuit activated, I split my attention between what I was doing with the VF-25 and replying to Robbs. "Nothing, just talking to myself," I replied softly. As I kept my hand on the VF, it began to form up in my head as a wireframe model, simple parts interconnecting to become engine lines, control avionics, weapons systems and hundreds of other complex components, which in turn began combining to become the entire unit. I began walking around the frame, under the wings, around to the engines, keeping my hand on the VF at all times. I could vaguely feel Robbs follow me around as I built the image up in my head, taking special note of the stress points that would be the most effective targets for Reinforcement. These tended to concentrate around the wings and tailplane, although there was a curious weakness under the engine at the leg joint that I guessed was simply a manufacturing error. Correct application of Reinforcement there could provide significant acceleration gains while in GERWALK mode. As I trailed around to the other side of the plane and under the other wing, my Structural Grasp completed.
"Oh yeah," I said to Robbs as I left my hand drop from the VF, no doubt looking all for the world as though I was in awe from a simple once over of the plane, "she's one marvellous piece of machinery."
"Want to jump in the cockpit for a few minutes?" he asked me, and I didn't waste any time scrambling into the cockpit. As I sat down, my civilian EX-gear interfaced with the cockpit controls, locking the exo-skeleton into place in the cockpit and freeing my arms and legs to play with the controls. The simulator was remarkably accurate in replicating the controls found in the cockpit, and I whistled with appreciation as the unit gave me power to test the avionics.
"Stand clear guys, I'm going to give the avionics a quick run through," I stated over the external speakers. After using the external cameras to confirm my maintenance crew had backed away, I checked the ailerons, flaps, rudder and trim controls in quick order. Satisfied, I opened the cockpit and jumped out to be greeted with broad smiles across the faces of the maintenance crew. Looks like I wasn't the only one excited by my new unit arriving. I busied myself with introductions and had just finished up as Ozma wandered over..
"How's the VF-25?," Ozma asked me amiably as he wandered up, nodding to Robbs.
"Seems pretty much like the simulators," I replied with a grin on my face, "can't wait to give it a spin."
Ozma's face widened into a grin as well. Maybe there was some unknown feature or bounded field attached to the Messiah that caused everyone nearby to break into smiles and see the awesome side of everything. Something for me to document later, maybe.
"Speaking of simulators," Ozma began, as his grin became strikingly predatory, "we've still got another two hours to go!" He swiped to grab my arm, which I deftly side-stepped, throwing him slightly off balance. I quickly turned to Robbs, who was still waiting around for any last minute instructions before getting back to work. "Robbs, could you double check the thruster line through the left wing?" I asked, aware that my time in the cockpit did not extend to checking the fuel line. It was something I had picked up while performing the Structural Grasp earlier. It was only a loose connection in the line near the fuselage, but it would drop thruster power to that wing by five percent, and I liked my VF's to run at (or preferably above) their listed specs.
Robbs nodded and turned away with a wave, and I finally allowed Ozma to land a vengeful hand on my arm and drag me back towards the simulators.
The initial test flight for my VF-25 was a series of shakedown tests performed once my EX-gear had been delivered to me. Robbs and his boys had done a wonderful job with the unit, making the shakedown a mere formality with no obvious faults to report. After the landing the crew had swarmed the VF, hooking up computers to external digital connection ports to check for any issues that may have developed during the flight, and I left them to it.
The next day I received the all clear from the bridge to perform stress testing on the new frame. This was the testing I was really looking forwards to. As I jumped in the cockpit, Robbs offered me a piece of encouragement. "Give it hell Shirou, we've tuned it to perform at one hundred and ten percent!" I flashed him a thumbs up in acknowledgement and was soon out in the vacuum, powering towards the designated testing area. The test involved performing a number of high G manoeuvres while measuring the stress on both my body (through what I assumed were data collectors in my flight suit) and on the frame itself.
"Trace on," I murmured to myself, opening a few of my circuits to provide a flow of odo. Previous experience had taught me that it was always better to be prepared when entering combat situations, as there might not be enough time between opening circuits and applying Reinforcement before I blacked out. With that, I pushed power away from the main drive engine into the required vector thrusters to pull into a tight loop. Perhaps the toughest part of this stress test was continually stringing together high G moves without exceeding the maximum rated velocity of VF-25, but a number of repeating split-S turns seemed to fit the bill. By the sixth turn I'd reached 20G - the effect on myself wasn't noticeable, as the I.S.C. was feeding me a steady 2G's of force and storing the remaining forces. Out of the corner of my eye I could read the capacity of the storage system filling up fast, which I countered by applying Reinforcement to my whole body and overriding the system to feed me 4G's of constant force, which I could barely feel under my Reinforcement.
"Skull-4, you're operating above the safety threshold," came the no-nonsense voice of Monica Lang, one of the Quarter's operators, courtesy of a holo popping up on my H.U.D.
"Noted," was my simple reply. If they weren't going to order me to stop it though, then I was going to push it. After all, this was a stress testing, and one of the best opportunities to determine the limits of this VF outside of combat.
I had no problems maintaining that level of force however, and within another three minutes of continuing turns the force storage system reached it's limits. I could feel the G's begin to unceremoniously dump themselves upon me, and although I could easily up my self-Reinforcement to take some more punishment, it might provoke some interesting questions from the flight support crew later. With a last yank on the stick I levelled out and cut main engine power. I used the vector thrusters to flip the VF a half rotation and set the engines to provide a 2G burn back towards the fleet. Not that this was taking me any closer – the velocity I had achieved while looping was throwing me further away from the fleet than the engines could instantly counter. As I watched, the stored forces bled away from the indicator bar.
"Skull-4 to Quarter. Requesting permission to repeat the previous manoeuvre with the intent of testing airframe stress."
The reply was not quite instantaneous, but it did come. "Permission granted Skull-4, don't throw a hip joint!"
"Thanks Lam, I'll try to avoid that," I replied dryly. At that point the I.S.C. hit the zero mark and once again I found myself turning the airframe into a tight turn. I pushed past 20G's in the first turn and was up to the rated operating limit of 27.5G halfway through the second turn. At that point I flooded my odo into the Messiah's frame, concentrating around the weak points I noted almost a week earlier.
"Disengaging limiters," I reported back the Quarter, and down they went. I kept pushing power into the thrusters to tighten the loop.
"Alright Shirou," came Robbs voice, by way of holo, "we're monitoring frame stress now. Stop when we tell you to."
"Roger," I replied and pushed past 30G's. I was wary now and increasing the forces much more steadily than before, as I didn't have the time or concentration to spare to monitor the VF myself, so I had to give myself enough room to respond to Robbs command.
I was told to stop once I'd touched 35G, a definite record for any VF I had flown. I loosened the loop a little and then dropped the battloid legs to provide heavy counter-thrust to arrest the manoeuvre.
The rest of the stress test wasn't quite as exciting to me now that I had determined the effective limits for the VF-25. By the time I was on my way back to the fleet I had lost count of the number of high acceleration transformations and high G evasive manoeuvres I had performed. I left the VF-25 in the hand of Robbs' crew, who by now I had judged as extremely proficient in looking after the unit. I jumped out of the cockpit and chatted amicably with the crew for a few minutes about the test as they set up their equipment. It was definitely good to get along with these guys, the VF-25 had been a smooth ride from start to finish today.
Eventually I excused myself and emerged from the showers in a fresh uniform. I was supposed to attend a debriefing was Ozma and Luca so I headed in the direction of the briefing rooms. Near the second common area I ran into a green haired girl dressed in civvies. If I had to guess her age, I would put it at fifteen, maybe fourteen. In any case, she definitely wasn't a member of S.M.S., nor did she appear like a prospective client, which immediately put me on guard.
"Can I help you?" I offered warily, eyeing her from top to bottom. Maybe the girl was lost, looking for another business nearby.
Or maybe that's what she wanted me to think.
"You," she said accusingly, flinging a finger so close to my eyes I could make out the fingerprint, "You're new here aren't you?"
That threw me off guard slightly. That would imply she was familiar with a good proportion of the staff here at S.M.S., so maybe she was the daughter of someone who worked here. I had not yet had the chance to put together decent information on the families of the staff, so it would be a reasonable assumption for anyone who would run into her.
Damn, this girl was good. Who was she working for?
"Yes," I replied guardedly, giving away no information. "Who are you? Is there anything I can help with?" My offer of help would seem innocent enough to a bystander, but in the business of clandestine meetings and information gathering there were certain niceties to be observed provided the agents involved weren't trying to actively murder each other.
I curled my hands around invisible hilts. I opened my magic circuits. It could still come to that.
The girl smiled brightly, retracting her hand to behind her yellow dress and leaned forward slightly. No doubt I was going to get a fake name and a request for directions to another building close by. Behind me my heightened senses allowed me to hear a door creak open far down the corridor.
"I'm Ranka Lee," she said. I was barely listening. I knew where to cameras in here to disable were and was preparing an assault. "Have you seen my brother recently? His name is Ozma Lee."
Behind me I could hear boots tromping heavily down the corridor as someone carried themselves with great pace towards this confrontation. Something then clicked in my head.
"Wait," I somehow managed to get out after a second or two of shock. "You're the Squad Comman-"
That's as far as I got before I felt someone barrel into the small of my back, knocking the words from my mouth and bearing me to the ground.
So, probably like quite a number of people who read Gabriel Blessing's work, the thought of dropping Shirou into some other work seemed to appeal to my sense of awesome. So here we are. I plan to roughly take it as one episode of Macross Frontier = one chapter, but figured I needed a small bit of exposition to explain how Shirou fit into the shoes of the character I decided to replace for him. Three weeks and a lot of words later, said chapter decided it was not going to be small and had to be put to a halt somewhere, so here it is.
I guess the only thing to say here is to expect a slow-ish pace because I'm fairly busy, but hopefully no every chapter will run into 8.5k+ word count!