Rainbow Flats was actually three different geographical locations: the first being the lower portion of the great plains north of the of the Riddleback Mountains, the second being the airfield posted there, and the third being the town that existed within the grounds of the airfield. It was not a large town, but it had a respectable population, all of which was devoted to the maintenance of the field or supporting said population with amenities and service. It was well-known for the Crystal Palace, the nickname given to Mitchell Business Park, the three central office buildings which the thinkers and planners of Osea's air defense, air development, and space flight operations met and worked. It was known as the Crystal Palace for the obvious reason, all three structures being of blindingly reflected glass exteriors. It had another nickname, though, and that was the Graveyard, on account that the buildings never really shut down.
It was why, at 2000, a meeting was beginning among several of the most important names in the military aircraft apparatus of the ADF. Two generals, three colonels, and several civilians, all with above-top-secret clearance, sitting in a comfortable conference room and enjoying a late-night snack of coffee and biscuits. On the wall was a projected image of an aircraft that they had all come to discuss. It looked like a needle, with forward swept wings and massive engine nacelles. It was supposedly the next answer in fighter-superiority, and it was called Morgan.
"The groundwork for the ADFX-02 is actually based on a combination of flight characteristics, but the most important ones come from the MiG-31 Firefox," Dr. Kozo Fuyutsuki said, flicking a slide over to a delta-winged craft that no one in the room had ever seen before.
"The MiG-31 is classified as Foxhound," . Beth Kaplan corrected.
"It is now…there was actually an aircraft intended to fill that role, but considering it's ignominious career, they reused the name for the next nominal aircraft in their production line."
"Why use design characteristics from a failed aircraft?" Cyprian Kipling, the chief of Research-and-Development with the munitions division of Lockheed, asked. Kozo glanced from his boss, Gendo Ikari, to the representative of Osea's intelligence community, a portly man from a Yuktobanian-Osean family named Lucas Byalarsk. He nodded, and stood, circling to the design.
"The MiG-31 was originally two individual aircraft termed Firefox, a high performance air-superiority fighter with stealth capability, a flight ceiling of 20,000 meters, a range of 3,000 miles…and a top speed clocked at Mach 5," he said.
"A Yuktobanian, single-seat fighter that was capable of Mach 5 flight? In the Seventies?" one of the civilians said, shocked.
"We proved it with seismic sensors, from a low-altitude test flight. We confirmed that little boast ourselves. That wasn't the most remarkable thing about the beast, though." Byalarsk waited with the patience of a master storyteller, making sure his audience was watching. "The Firefox used a first-generation form of brain-impulse technology in the flight helmet. Based upon pre-programmed electrical impulses recorded in the flight computer, the Firefox could deduce when a pilot 'thought' a missile launch, and do just that. Shave two to three seconds off of reaction time, that did."
"A…thought-operated response system? Bull," the other general, . Richter Vaas, murmured.
"Bull that was true, as far as we are concerned. Because that bull has made it into the Morgan," Kozo answered.
"I don't get it. Looking at this…super-fighter…why weren't we flooded with fleets of the things? Why not reorient their entire fighter production capability to producing a couple dozen squadrons of these fighters?" Kipling asked.
Byalarsk shrugged. "It was an issue of too advanced, too early. The Yuktobanian economy has always been quantity over quality, so the fact that it produced anything like Firefox was…impressive to say the least. Especially in terms of its thought-impulse combat computer. It's primitive now, of course, but we still have trouble replicating exactly what it was that made that system so effective. Even the Yukes have had trouble, and they built the damn thing."
"Except, of course, for the Morgan…"
"The point is," Byalarsk said, bringing the conversation back, "They couldn't produce it in large quantity, especially after Operation Twinkle-Eye."
"The reason you all have your security clearances for this meeting," Byalarsk said, smiling ruefully. "One of our dirty little secrets. There were only two Firefox aircraft produced, and that was at an airfield built expressly for the aircraft to be housed at. One of them crashed, at sea due to a mechanical failure, pushing for Mach 6. At that speed, there's not wreckage left, there's particles. As nasty as you can picture it. That's when we became aware of the aircraft, after piecing two and two together from some interesting tidbits in our spy networks in the Republics. We were able to track some of the test flights for the remaining one, and that impressed us enough to formulate Twinkle-Eye.
"In essence, it was a joint-op between a single Special Forces Alpha Team and a group of anti-government partisans which smashed the facility, destroyed the remaining Firefox, stole what wasn't nailed down…and killed anyone who could replicate the technology."
"Jesus," someone murmured.
"The Yukes didn't declare war over that?" That was Gen. Kaplan, her voice quiet.
"Why would they? Admit that they had a secret weapon? Admit that we learned about it? To top it off, that would also require announcing that not only did we penetrate a team of operators into the very center of their country, but that members of their own population aided them in killing government personnel. It was a punch in the nose they had to deal with, and chalk up to the board. Besides, we simply insinuated that it had to do more with a tit-for-tat in the destruction of Gazco 9." Byalarsk crossed his arms and let that sink in.
There was a buzz of conversation in the room, now. Gazco 9 was one of the greatest ecological, humanitarian, and economic disasters Osea had ever had to deal with, the destruction of one of the most profitable, heavily-occupied, and largest oil rigs in the Pacific. There was still oil slicks washing up from that tragedy. It was never once insinuated that it was an act of deliberate sabotage, but if Byalarsk just said the Yukes bombed it…then the Yukes bombed it.
"It created enough of a confusion over the issue, anyway. They comforted themselves in the idea that we didn't know what was there, and we got lucky. And truthfully, we did. The entire team made it back to friendly territory, with armfuls of research notes. They weren't of much use to us, until now, but we made do with what we could."
"You said they couldn't replicate it?"
"The research depended largely on three individuals, Dr. Pyotr Mushka, Dr. Ivan Strelneek, and Dr. Alexandra Pashna. All three of those individuals were targeted and successfully eliminated in Twinkle-Eye."
"It's taken us this long to figure out what we had," Kozo added. "And we aren't boasting when we say that our academics are head and shoulders above Yuke ones. Those three were once in a lifetime geniuses, and they just happened to get together. Our own technology has finally caught up enough to mimic what they did."
"I don't think I enjoy sitting here, listening about all the skeletons Osea has stacked in her closet," Dr. Oscar Julian said. He was a top aeronautical engineer, and was squeamish about hearing how others like him were killed for being too smart and on the wrong side of the line.
"Who would? The point is, we have their golden apples, and it gave us Morgan," Kozo said.
"So…the Morgan is built using technology that is forty years old, but still too advanced for us to understand? That's amazing." Gen. Vaas shook his head.
"Amazing and unfortunate," Byalarsk muttered, "The Firefox killed one pilot, and that wasn't just anyone…we have reason to believe it was Lt. Col. Alexei Bogudin, and that should tickle your ears right there." The intelligence man saw the lost look on one of the defense contractors faces, and leaned over. "Their best pilot too date. Part of their cosmonaut corps, top test pilot, an ace with laurels…he was a rock star. And that plane ensured there weren't even enough pieces left to bury in a paper cup."
"That had less to do with the design than with an attempt to maneuver at high speed, I imagine," Kipling said thoughtfully. "You said it was mechanical failure, right? Something they didn't anticipate?"
"From what we can tell, there were safety features in place to prevent the plane from trying to over-maneuver in multi-Mach flight. Some of those features failed, and he went from a level flight path to a ninety degree tilt at five times the sound barrier, and approaching six. It was a nasty end," Kozo murmured.
"What prevents Morgan from suffering a similar fate?" someone asked.
"Well, the engines…" Kozo clicked back to the slide of the Morgan, and pointed to the two over-sized barrels at the rear, "Are independently mobile. Thrust vectoring, which gives it more maneuverability overall, even at high speed. The design itself has been adjusted down to the inch. We can only attain Mach 4 with this design," Kozo paused to allow a scoff of disbelief at only achieving Mach 4, "But this aircraft could probably spin through the air like a top at that speed and expect to come out without too much of a problem."
"I don't believe that," someone chuckled.
"Believe it. We did it with the ADFX-o1, and that was only Mach 2. Granted, it was an advanced drone, built as a testbed for this aircraft. It is very limited in what it can and cannot do, but maneuverability is not one of those things. We had it flying backwards at one point, on momentum alone." Kozo smiled, flicking over to a slide which cued up a chase-aircraft video, demonstrating the flight of the Falken test-craft. The way it flew drew gasps and muttering from the audience. They weren't seeing flight…they were seeing black magic. Some of them still believed what they saw to be impossible, that it had to be rendered imagery.
Kipling was not one of them, but he brought up a point of concern as soon as the video ended.
"This aircraft…which is radical in its design, to say the least…is dependent upon someone being able to pilot it. Aside from its predecessor, I see nothing to indicate this is a drone, or automatically piloted aircraft."
"No, we anticipate this being a manually piloted aircraft," Kozo replied.
"Fine, let's…" Kipling muttered. "Let's…assume it has the flight characteristics you're looking for…that it can maneuver in the way you say that it can…that it can maneuver like the Falken. Unless you have some magic bullet to lessen the strain of G-force at that speed, you have just designed a plane that, when turning, can shut down a pilot's organs, if not cause their blood to boil right through their skin!"
"We have a specialized G-suit designed specifically to prevent that kind of occurrence," Kozo countered, "We're calling it a Plug Suit, for now. Combined with a new style crash helmet, the suit itself would allow the pilot to…jack in, so to speak, and fly this aircraft with a combination of manual piloting controls, neural impulses from the brain, and sympathetic resonance from the surface of the skin, the nervous system…they'd be one with the aircraft, in essence. The Plug Suit will not only keep a pilot alive and conscious at multi-Mach maneuvering, it will also give them the control of the aircraft necessary to be successful during that maneuvering."
"That's all fine," Dr. Julian said, "But what about the pilot themselves? I've had a chance to go over your cockpit design. It's small…I know it has to be small in order to design the aircraft as you did, but…well, in order to fly it, you'd have to have a horse jockey. Someone small enough to fit into that aircraft."
"A child could," Gendo murmured. It was the first thing he had said in the meeting, and all eyes turned to him. There was a silence, palpable and visceral, at his words, partly from hearing him actually speak, and partly from what he had said.
"You…have to be out of your mind." Kipling gasped. He knew it wasn't a joke: he knew Dr. Gendo Ikari too well for that.
"A specially trained, specially prepared child, with the proper physical therapy and support network, could fly this aircraft, and fly it well," Gendo said. "And we don't anticipate sending them into combat, yes? This is only the first model of Morgan aircraft. If we can have a child run this plane through the paces, and possibly work them up to test pilot status, we can begin producing an aircraft of equivalent maneuvering capability that a healthy adult could fly."
That was a patently insane thing to say. Test pilots were not just pilots: they were an elite. They had to push aircraft well past the breaking point, often times losing their lives in the process, in order to produce the kind of aircraft that wouldn't kill the rest of the folks asked to fly them. If anything, combat might be safer for a child than being a test pilot. Everyone was too stunned to speak, but Kipling managed to ask an incredulously-toned question. "And do you have a…candidate?"
"We have one such child," Byalarsk said, "Possibly another. And I know the Belkans also have one, for what it's worth."
"The Belkans? How do you…what…?" Kipling was lost.
"The Belkans have…despite their amicable agreement not to rearm, lest we pound them into dust again…set up a sister program to the Nerv Project. The Seele Initiative, I believe," Byalarsk said, rubbing his neck. "We've made overtures to them to…share their findings with us in a manner conducive to international relations and the shared welfare of the Osean Continent."
"You threatened them to pony up," Gen. Kaplan said, her petite features conveying amusement. "Oh, I bet they loved that."
"Chancellor Keele was less than enthusiastic," Byalarsk admitted. "He called it international thuggery at it's worst. We told him that carpet bombing your own territory with nuclear weapons earns that sort of 'thuggery.' He clammed up a bit at that."
"Clammed up, nothing. That old buzzard's biding his time," Gen. Vaas grimaced, chewing on a fingernail. "If anyone had the ability to destroy the world, I'd say it'd be Keele. They ought to call him 'Ulysses in Waiting.'"
"Gently, Richter," Gen. Kaplan said, "Gently."
"Regardless, we are in the process of moving the lion's share of the Seele Initiative to this country, and this project," Gendo said. "I will be frank: you all know the situation with Yuktobania. You know how dangerous things can become, how we are all throwing ourselves into weapons design and weapons research. We are playing chess with devices that don't exist yet, but as soon as one of us thinks there is an advantage, or a slip…there will be war. That is a fact." He pointed at the blank slide, where Morgan had once sat projected.
"This weapon will not push over the mountain, but it will give us an edge against our enemies when the time comes. That is also a fact. In the long run, a few children are not a great price to pay for the millions of lives spared. Can we agree on that?" No one answered him…but no one disagreed, either.
"Why not mention the LCL? Why go straight to the children?" Kozo asked, studying the airfield through the window. It's lights winked bright, easily seen from the darkened office. In the back, Gendo sat next to the mini-bar, helping himself to a drink. Kozo already had one in hand, a small luxury after a long day.
"They would have found out about the children eventually," Gendo said, swirling an ice cube around his glass. "It's better to address it and get it out of the way."
"And they all agreed," Kozo said wistfully, shaking his head. "We're going to burn for this, one way or another." Gendo studied the older man's back, quiet and musing. Perhaps they would. That's what you risked in weapons development. Weapons development and more…there were other things at stake, well beyond the trivial implications of a major conflict, even one between two superpowers. Greater things, and the Nerv Project was at the center in a way profound and dangerous. Not many knew that…but Kozo did. He wouldn't be here if he didn't.
"It seems a lot of trouble just to build a single aircraft," Kozo murmured, changing the topic in his mind. "Especially one we can't mass produce."
"That's what happens when you have a limited amount of nuclear material that can be compiled to weapons grade quality," Gendo said. "If there were more materials in quantity to produce stockpiles, then it might be different. As it is, we have to rely on the next big weapon to affect and shape our strategies. We could go the normal route…build something big and scary. A small, hyper-advanced aircraft with total domination of its airspace is just as effective. Even more so."
"As long as it can be piloted," Kozo chided.
"If this works, then we won't have to rely on children to pilot these aircraft. Just a single step, Kozo…one step after another after another."
"Do you really believe that?"
Gendo smiled in the dark. "No, not really. These children are most likely going to be at the tip of the spear, especially if things between us and Yuktobania degrade anymore."
"And they will degrade," Kozo said. "We're not on a powder keg yet, but we're filling it. Wars have begun over a lot less than what we have right now with the Yukes. A lot less. Do you honestly believe that, when it came down to it, the ADF would hold a weapon like the Morgan back?"
"Of course not. We top the Yukes in technology and training, but they top us in sheer numbers. And they have some gutsy pilots, too. It would be an ugly war, without the threat of invasion, either." That was as close to a straight answer as Kozo would get. Gendo had more or less announced his willingness to allow children into harm's way. Kozo said no more on the matter.
"Kozo," Gendo said, his voice flat.
"Would you call me an evil man?" The question surprised Kozo. If there was any man he knew who was beyond the questions associated with good or evil, it would be Gendo Ikari. Ever since his wife passed away, he had been more like a machine than a human being, existing only for his research.
"I'd say you were an amoral man…but that doesn't make you evil." He cocked his head. "Are you having a sudden crisis of conscience concerning the boy?"
Gendo said nothing, but continued to swirl the melting ice.
Notes from GobHobblin: I have made three major adjustments to Strangereal's fiction: the first being the spacing of the Morgan and Falken aircraft (in this case, I've made the Falken the experimental design predating Morgan), the flight capabilities of the Morgan, and the country of origin (Belka to Osea).
We've also moved into magic physics, here. Planes cannot do what I have described the Morgan being able to do, obviously, and that has little to do with design and more to do with physics. Any aircraft attempting to deviate from a forward flight path of that speed, especially considering the shape of a high speed aircraft (designed to go forwards and not sideways), and you get what happened to our fictional Firefox up there (good book, great movie, by the way). We can argue that the fictional Morgan (if you look at the Ace Wiki for a picture) is so shaved down in its fuselage profile that it could, theoretically, behave in said manner. It couldn't…but we'll say that it can…for many reasons yet to be revealed (cue ominous music).
That also bears a lot on the pilot. While high g-stress wouldn't have exactly the same affects I described, in all fairness I was probably understating what could happen to a human body in an aircraft maneuvering like that at Mach 4. There's a reason drone aircraft are starting to become more popular; wear and tear on human bodies is only one of them. That being said, we can assume that due to Gendo Ikari being a mad scientific genius, and other factors, the Morgan can in fact pull this off…with the right kind of pilot. There were a lot of things not said at this meeting…