A/N - Disclaimer below. Special thanks to Wild Goose for pre-reading my drafts, and Alastor Mobius Toth for recommending him to me in the first place.
"Fairy Tales do not tell the children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy Tales tell children the dragons can be killed." - G. K. Chesterton
Hand in the air. Ring, middle and index fingers together. Thumb and pinky outstretched into a V.
That was the shape of the hand that Yuuya Bridges held up to the clear blue sky. The young man turned it sideways and moved it across his body like the point of his fingers were moving forward. Twisting his torso, the hand began to move again in several corkscrews as he allowed it to descend.
Just as it reached his waist, he angled his hand back up and allowed it to rise back into the air until his arm was completely outstretched, blocking out the noon sun from his view.
"Yuuya, this is stupid!"
The moment she'd found out about the crazy stunt he'd been about to pull, the little Gurkha had taken off looking for him. Tarisa had eventually found Yuuya near a coffee machine, where she had promptly confronted him about his proposed 'air show' at the inauguration of the 'new' XFJ Plan.
"It's stupid and reckless and could get you hurt, even killed! You almost gave us a heart attack back at Kamchatka!" Tarisa raged. Behind this anger though, was her fear. That sense of helpless despair she had felt back in Russia was still too fresh in her, and everyone's minds.
And now the fool was putting his life in jeopardy again, needlessly this time.
"You never had a problem with me going up before, 'Risa," Yuuya replied.
"Because the last time you weren't going up in that junk-heap you and Vinnie threw together in the back of an old hangar!" Tarisa pleaded. "Yuuya, please. Just because your plane is got its paint singed doesn't mean-"
"It's not the bird, 'Risa. This is something that I have to do," Yuuya whispered, his eyes doing the thousand yard stare. "For myself, for Ibrahim… and for Zhar."
Tarisa felt her anger drain away in that one instant, when she realized what was really bothering her friend. This 'airshow' wasn't about one reckless pilot wanting to fly for the hell of it or throwing some sort of temper tantrum. This was a man having a crisis of faith, and was desperately trying to find himself again the only way he knew how.
Tarisa averted her eyes, suddenly ashamed she had thought less of him when she should have known better. "What happened to Zhar was not your fault," She whispered, her heart going out to the grieving man. "I know things were… different from where you came from, but they died fighting. For Eishi, that was a good death."
"That they did so fighting doesn't change the fact they died. They shouldn't have died at all. Period," Yuuya said, his coffee not having even been touched the entire time. "Especially not after I gave the Colonel my word."
"You saved Nastassja. By our standards, that's already a fucking miracle!" Tarisa pointed out truthfully.
Somewhere in the Argos flight bunks, a single member of the 211th Zhar Battalion yet lived, but only in the physical sense. Nastassja Ivanova's heart had died with everyone she had ever known and loved, and what was left was barely a person.
Perhaps it would have been better if she had been allowed to follow the children of Zhar to the grave.
"And by mine, I'm not worthy of having these wings! Children ,Tarisa! They should have been in school!" Yuuya roared. "They should have been laughing, loving and losing! They should have been learning about life, not going out to die!"
Tarisa had known this would happen eventually. The road of cultural exchange went both ways. Yuuya's idealism, while a breadth of fresh air to this desolate world, would eventually run into something even his immense skill couldn't surmount. Something that would harm him in ways Tarisa didn't want to admit were possible. Yuuya Bridges was still just a man. It was practically a given he would get hurt eventually by the harsh reality they lived in.
It just so happened reality was a total bitch and did it in the worst possible way it could.
Ibrahim had been a friend to them all and his death was a tragedy, but the man was a soldier and his passing was to be honored. Yuuya could understand that. But by harming the one thing that Yuuya's people held sacred above all others, Yuuya's spirit, and the spirit of Argos Flight, had been broken.
"I have to go up there, Tarisa. I have to prove to myself that I can still fly," Yuuya said, his voice full of melancholy. "I don't think I can carry on with what happened just hanging over my head. I have to go up there, and it has to be that bird we built here."
'I need to know I can still change things', went unsaid.
"So there's no stopping you then?" Tarisa asked one last time.
Tarisa couldn't help but smile. Even now in the dark depths of despair, he was as stubborn and bullheaded as ever. "Then if that's the case," Tarisa began, "Don't hold back. Don't hold anything back." With that, the young Gurka turned and left, satisfied that the man who wanted to reclaim the sky for them was still alive, fighting even with battered wings to get back in the air where he belonged.
Yuuya let his hand hang against the backdrop of the sky for just a moment longer before he turned back towards the waiting hangar. He strode slowly and purposely back towards the large building, his mind still reviewing every move, every turn, every dive and climb he would need to make.
Ahead, a sleek shape of the airplane he would be flying sat beside her identical twin, the only two prototypes of their kind, waiting for a pilot to take her up for her maiden flight. Trapezoidal wings and trust vectoring engine nozzles were an oddity for airplanes of this world, having most of its technological development shunted towards other avenues. It was a dual seat fighter and could sit two, however Yuuya would be doing this alone. It wasn't as if he needed BVR weapons anyway.
Yuuya ran a gloved hand down the smooth white paint of the fuselage.
"Well, girl, let's see what you've got for me."
"Yuuya, I'm not even going to try talking to you out of this. What happened shook me up as much as you. But for god's sake, man, be careful out there!" Vincent lectured Yuuya sternly. The pair were in mechanic's coveralls running through last minute diagnostics for the tomorrow, with Yuuya sitting in the pilot's seat while Vincent was in the rear, when the engineer suddenly spoke up.
"Vin, I'm one of the best pilots in the fleet. You know this," Yuuya muttered crossly.
"Well, you've never flown a jury-rigged scrapheap like this before," Vincent grumbled. "Yuuya, this thing was put together from spare parts from all over the base and I haven't even cleared all the safety tests yet. You don't have to be an aeronautical engineer to know that this is a ridiculously bad idea."
"Well, if I so recall you were the one who came up with said idea in the first place," Yuuya chided. "So, if it's a bad idea, it's your ridiculously bad idea, Shinsei."
Despite the fact it looked like a proper airplane, any self-respecting engineer who knew the details of its construction would shake their heads in disapproval. Engines from F-15Es. Engine nacelle structure from the legs of an F-15C. Fuselage from a B-1B Bomber. Sensor suite and cannibalized head unit from an F-4D… Even their cockpit chairs came from a random F-5A they'd found in a junkyard!
Logic dictated that any attempt to use TSF components to build a fighter plane would be doomed to failure, but Yuuya and Vincent had managed to do it twice, as evidenced by the two prototypes that were sitting side by side in the hangar bay.
"I never said you couldn't take her up Yuuya, but I would have preferred it if we did some testing in a safer environment first. Like when the wheels are still on the ground," Vincent muttered darkly. "Couldn't you have used Mist instead? She's all patched up and ready to go."
"Vin, you know why I can't use Mist."
Vincent winced at the truth behind Yuuya's words. They were strangers in a strange world, and that was the crux of it. It would be infinitely easier and safer for Yuuya to go up in the bird they had arrived in. The paltry battle damage that Mist had received from all that triple-A had turned out to be been insultingly superficial and had been fixed in record time. Vincent was already in the process of modifying the 55mm gun pod to accept 36mm ammunition so Mist could remain relevant in the coming days. As far as Vinnie was concerned, bar something like this, she was good to go.
However they both knew that such a gesture would be pointless.
As powerful and advanced as Mist was, the bottom line was eventually the lack of replacement parts could render her useless. If Yuuya and Vincent wanted to truly reclaim the skies for humanity, if they truly wanted to teach mankind what it meant to fly free again, it had to be a bird they had built here. It was for this purpose they had chosen to give up their search for returning home and throw their lot in with the XFJ Plan, after all.
"What the hell. Heck knows I need the pick me up too after that mess, so do what you want!" Vincent sighed. "Just make sure you bring this thing back down in one piece, Cipher, or I will kill you."
"Ah, getting the approval of the Shinsei egghead. I never thought I'd see the day. When we get home, I'm going to let everyone on the Saratoga know. Cigars will be given out, I kid you not!" Yuuya grinned.
Vincent reached around and smacked the fool on the back of his head. Still, the grin proved infectious, and soon the pair were back to readying their bird for take-off. "I still would prefer it if you waited until I could get some variable sweep wings fitted on this thing. It's still way too much like that crap Seventeen-One that the regulars field."
"Vinnie, seriously, what is your damage man? Lilia flies a Nightmare and she's just fine. What is it with you and variable sweep wings?"
Yuuya turned around to face Yui, who had been standing in the hangar patiently, watching him in silence. She was in full UN Army service dress. Right from her neatly pressed uniform down to her regulation heeled shoes, Yui Takamura looked about as professional and impeccable as humanly possible. She had to be, for she was about to address some of the most powerful and influential people on Earth in just under the hour.
"Captain." He returned.
In contrast to her, Yuuya was in his flight-suit. It looked something like a fighter pilot or an astronaut would wear instead of an Eishi, being far more bulky and cumbersome than the usual fortified suits that it had been adapted from. However, he too would be presenting something to Yui's audience, although not in the same manner.
Yui wordlessly offered him object she had been carrying in her arms: a blue, modified helmet that was the final part of his sealed environment flight suit. Yuuya gratefully accepted the offering from Yui, to which she gave him an encouraging smile.
"Good luck, Yuuya."
"Iwaya-chuusa!" Yui exclaimed, scrambling out of her chair to give her uncle a proper salute. She had been in the middle of writing a report on justifying redirecting their funding to some of 'her' new projects when the man in question came in.
"Now, now, Yui. There's no need for formalities. We are family," the older man laughed as he entered and took a seat down on one of the guest chairs. As always, her uncle and mentor looked as strong as ever, his chiseled and scarred features looking as happy and relaxed as always.
"Eiji-ojisan, what are you doing here?" Yui asked as she sat herself back down.
"I'd like to say I was just visiting my niece, but unfortunately people like you and I can never have these luxuries," Iwaya Eiji smiled warmly. "On the other hand, I am the bearer of good news."
"I take it this means that the data on EML-99-2 and the Shiranui Second was well received?" Yui asked, excitement welling in her chest.
In the last few days, Argos Flight and the XFJ Project had been in dour spirits. Despite their success in their research ventures, the events of Kamchatka were still weighing heavily on all their minds. Yui had seen death before. As painful as it was, an entire battalion getting wiped out wasn't an uncommon occurrence in this day and age. Even losing Ibrahim Dogulu in their hurried flight from Kamchatka didn't shake them too badly.
But to have one of their own feel such pain was something no one under her command knew how to deal with. Good news was direly needed right now.
"Well received is a gross understatement, Yui!" Eiji laughed heartily. "We're in talks with Boening right now to set up a production line for your modified railgun. With luck we'll start seeing IJA units supplied with them by December. Captain Sagiri Naoya from the 1st Armor is slated to get the first batch and is working closely with the Fuji School Brigade to expedite the implementation. He asked me to send his thanks. You've really outdone yourself, Yui."
Yui blushed under the underserved praise, but at the same time felt immense shame. As much as it warmed her heart to hear it, none of those successes could be attributed to her.
Yuuya Bridges had been the one to compile all the needed combat data. Vincent Lowell had been the one to make the changes to the EML-99X that turned it into such a monstrous weapon. Ibrahim Dogulu had been the one that had made the right call that saved their work from destruction. Yui was riding on the coattails of her supposed 'subordinates' and late superior, and she couldn't in good conscience accept this praise when it had been Dogulu's sacrifice that had truly won the day.
"It was a team effort, Uncle Eiji. I couldn't have done it without-"
"Humble as always, Yui," Eiji noted. "I hear you've been working on some very interesting projects with Stonewell and Boening. 'Micro-Missiles'? 'Energy Conversion Armor'? 'TSF scale thermonuclear engines'? Why Yui, if you hadn't completed the EML-99X in such a spectacular fashion, I'd have believed you were having me on!" Yui averted her eyes, unable to look her uncle.
"Yui, the XFJ Plan has become important enough that you've been given a separate budget by the UN High Command. You're not under Project ROMINENCE anymore, and you somehow managed to fend off the Americans when they tried assuming control. Your father would be proud!"
Yui nodded, fingers curling under her hands as she did. That had been the only thing keeping Argos Flight going: the belief that after all they had suffered, something good had come out of it. The XFJ Plan had effectively become an independent entity from PROMINENCE. With this independence came the ability to truly change things, hopefully for the better. At least, that was what Yui kept telling herself.
"I'll be addressing the UN High command and several high ranking officials at official inauguration address a few days from now," Yui said robotically. "Will you stay for it?"
"Of course, Yui," Eiji nodded. "And by the way, congratulations on your promotion, Captain. You've earned it." Eiji winked as he turned to leave, not knowing he had just sent a dagger into her heart.
Yui kept up her composure up until her uncle had left the room and was long gone. Then she locked her door, closed the blinds on her windows, and wept.
Yes she had earned it, and all it took was for Ibrahim Dogulu, one of the noblest men she had ever known, to die for it.
"The proper term to say before a performance is 'break a leg', Yui," Yuuya smirked as he pulled the helmet down over his head and engaged the environmental seal.
"This is one of your odd cultural quirks again, isn't it?" Yui frowned.
"Yeah. One the other hand, it's also common to say 'give 'em hell'. 'Sides, you're the one making the big scary speech on stage to all those fat armchair generals. All I'm doing is having fun! Break a leg, Yui!" Yuuya gave Yui a thumbs up, causing the girl to sigh aloud and palm her face at his attitude.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Yui grumbled, then she turned to look at him with a serious expression on her face. "She'll be watching, you know."
"Ivanova? Nastassja? It's me, Takamura. May I come in?"
When the answer didn't come, Yui turned the doorknob anyway and found it to be unlocked. The room beyond was musty and darkened, upturned furniture and scattered effects everywhere. Its sole occupant was huddled in a corner, knees against her chest as she stared blankly at the wall with cloudy eyes and gaunt features.
Nastassja Ivanova looked like the dead.
"Yuuya said you asked him to stop seeing you, so I have come in his stead," Yui said, slowly beginning to tidy the room as she spoke. "Yuuya was hurt, you know. He would never say it to your face, but you really hurt him by doing that. He feels like you are his responsibility."
Nastassja's head sluggishly turned to face Yui, the young girl's face still impassive.
"I wish I could tell him otherwise, but you know how he is. That man has a hero complex the size of his ego, which is incidentally the size of the moon," Yui continued, feeling some anger welling in her chest at the young girl even as she felt an equal amount of sympathy.
Three years ago, Yui had been exactly where Nastassja was. She had been about the same age too, a cadet not even out of training pressed into combat against an enemy she and her classmates were woefully unprepared for. Despite her injuries, both mental and physical, Yui had recovered and went straight back into the fire. She had found the strength to carry on.
Nastassja hadn't. Instead the young girl had bitten the hand of the man who had saved her life, even if she hadn't meant to. For Yui, that was something that she could not forgive so easily.
"Let me be frank with you, Ivanova," Yui stated firmly, moving to stand over Nastassja with her hands on her hips. "Your moping is negatively impacting the morale of the soldiers under my command. While the rest of Argos Flight may find your behavior excusable, as their commanding officer I find the current state of things unacceptable."
"He should have let me die," Nastassja replied in a croaky voice that spoke of too little water and too much disuse. "They're all dead. I should be too. Why didn't he have left me to die?"
"Well, you were in his RIO seat at the time, so there is that," Yui pointed out. "You could not really expect for him to stop and let you out, could you?"
In a desperate move to take out the Laser Class BETA, Yuuya had activated Mist's the long range 'BVR' missiles to become what he'd referred to as a 'Wild Weasel', his version of 'laserjagd', against the BETA triple A. While he could have gone on his own, Yuuya was pressed for time and had needed Zhar to give him one of their best pilots to act as his 'RIO'. Latrova sent Nastassja with him, and it had been for that reason that she had survived. It was while they were on that mission Latrova and the Zhar survivors had come under attack from an unknown assailant and by the time Yuuya had cleared the Laser Class and had circled back, all that remained of Zhar were burned out husks and dead bodies.
"The Lieutenant Colonel, Latrova, she thought of you the daughter she never had. She wouldn't want you to be like this."
"I know, Captain. Her last order to me was for me to live," Nastassja whispered, tears welling in the corners of her eyes. "I won't kill myself, if that's what worries you. But I can still see them every time I close my eyes. How am I supposed to live as I am?"
She might have been physically present, but in truth Nastassja was still in Kamchatka, weeping uncontrollably in Mist's co-pilot seat. The broken remains of Latrova's Su-37M2 Terminator and the bodies of her surrogate family lay scattered on the ground, thousands of miles below them in the ruins of Kamchatka in what used to be her home.
This was a vexing problem indeed. Yui saw so much of herself in this girl it was frankly scary. She felt like she had both a moral and professional duty to get Nastassja back on her feet, but everything they had tried thus far had failed. All her life Yui had tried to be a soldier, a dedicated and proud member of her samurai heritage. Interpersonal relations was not something Yui was good at, and in fact looking back on her earlier actions when she'd first arrived in Yukon, now that's she was a bit older and wiser, Yui realized she had been terrible at it.
This really was more of Yuuya's area of expertise. While he may have been a soldier, the man had a knack for reaching out to other people and bridging the gaps between cultures and ideologies. But as he was, no, Yuuya was in no shape to help Nastassja at all and so the responsibility fell on Yui's shoulders. All Yui could do was try to fumble her way through it and hope what limited lessons she'd learned in the past few months could help her carry out her task
Something was needed to help that girl move on.
Something that they could relate to as common ground.
And suddenly, Yui had an epiphany.
She knew how she was going to get across to Nastassja.
In fact, she knew how she was going to get across to everyone in UN High Command. Something every man, woman and child on this planet, anyone who had ever lost something or someone precious in the BETA war, could relate to.
"Two days from now, Yuuya will be helping me with my presentation to the UN High Command. I want you to be there," Yui said sternly. "I will have Stella arrange a disguise for you since you are officially KIA. This is not a request."
"… I understand, Captain," Nastassja replied sullenly.
Her job done, Yui nodded and turned to leave. But as she was halfway out the door, Yui turned back to address Nastassja one last time. "Latrova would be very happy to know you were still alive, Nastassja. Never forget that."
"So you got through to her?" Yuuya asked, eyes wide with surprise. "I've been trying to get a reaction out of her for the last few weeks! How'd you do it?"
"No, Yuuya. I did not get through to her. Not yet anyway," Yui replied with all seriousness. "I'm betting between the two of us, we will though."
"You'll see what I mean later," Yui gave him one reassuring pat on his suit's shoulder. "Well, I'd best be going. In fact, you'd best be going too for that matter. It is a big day today."
"I guess you're right," Yuuya replied. The pair parted ways, with Yui heading off to look for the transport humvee that would take her to the presentation stage, while Yuuya began to do his last minute preflight checks.
Time to put on a show.
"I don't normally see you drinking like this, Yuuya."
"Well Nats, it's been a rough few weeks for me," Yuuya admitted sadly, pouring himself another glass of cheap synthetic wine. Unlike his fellow Eishi, young man wasn't much of a drinker. In fact, Yuuya Bridges was probably the only soldier Natalie knew who abstained from alcohol, claiming it 'dulled the senses, especially in a bar-fight with those army turds'. However the rate the young pilot was drowning himself in the stuff at the bar counter was giving cause for concern.
"So I take it culture shock works both ways, huh?" Natalie said sadly, her sympathy genuinely going out to the man. They were alone in the bar, closing time having passed hours ago. However, Natalie didn't have it in her heart to kick Yuuya out.
"I never thought it would be so hard. Children, Nats. Children," Yuuya was beyond tears at that point. "How can those bastards sleep at night? There are standards goddamn it! Shoving a gun into the hands of a bunch of kids and forcing them on the front line are the actions of an animal."
"This world is twisted, Yuuya. I told you that months ago," Natalie whispered. "The people in power don't give a damn about refugees, foreigners or innocent lives. All they care about is themselves. And the same goes for the BETA. We're all just meat to them."
"Well the BETA at least have the excuse of being a race of genocidal aliens. What are the Soviets' excuse?" Yuuya scoffed, drowning another glass in one gulp. "I just saw fourteen to sixteen year olds just get offered up by the Russians to the BETA as an all you can eat buffet. Heroes of Russia, my ass, right Vin?" Vincent Lowell, passed out of the floor next to Yuuya from all their drinking, couldn't respond if he wanted to. "See? I'm right!"
Natalie was a member of the Refugee Liberation Front, a sleeper agent that had been operating under the noses of Yukon for months as a bartender and waitress near the base. Normally, she wouldn't give an ounce of pity to those high and mighty Americans when they came in to drink away their sorrows for some stupid, materialistic reason, even if she always greeted her patrons with a smile.
Not so with these two.
"I signed up with SMS to fight atrocities like this one. I have spent my entire career doing just that. Now that one happens right in front of my fucking eyes I couldn't do shit except save one girl," Yuuya swore, thumping his fist on the counter to emphasize his point. "And don't tell me it was a victory, Nats I'm sick of people telling me that. I should have brought them all home."
Yuuya and Vincent were different. For them, honor was not measured by the number of BETA slain or the glory they brought to their nation, but the number of lives they could have saved. Despite being woefully ignorant of the world around them, a fact she was beginning to suspect was not their fault at all, the pair had soldiered on with a set of values and morals she had not seen before. To see her friends so broken like this was like a physical pain to Natalie's jaded heart, a reminder that ideals and honor had no place in this world no matter how much they willed it to.
She was a terrorist, yes, but she before even that Natalie was a human being.
"I-I thought I left shit like this behind me back at the Roundtable. Kids." Yuuya's grief was so moving that Natalie felt herself unable to help herself.
"You can't give up, Yuuya."
"I'm not going to."
"But you're thinking about it. You'd have to be or you wouldn't be here," Natalie pointed out. "Yuuya, you're the first person I've met in all of Yukon who actually believes that 'justice' and 'freedom' are more than just words."
Yuuya shook his head. "Don't be stupid, Nats, plenty of people know what those are."
"But most aren't willing to go to the same lengths you'd go to find them," Natalie pointed honestly. "Yuuya, I talked to Tarisa, Stella and V.G. No one in their right minds would have gone back for those kids, especially with the research data you had in your possession. Everyone would have put the objective first and escaped with it. You went back anyway."
"And I didn't change a thing," Yuuya muttered. He'd been just about to pour himself another drink when he'd found the wine bottle getting snatched out of his hands rudely by the bartender. "Ohy."
"Yuuya, you and Vincent are the first people I know who act on principle. Tarisa, Stealla, Valerio… they're Eishi. Soldiers. They always go on about duty, honor, and especially 'the mission'. You put the children and civilians first, and I can see that hurt you."
Natalie's voice wavered slightly as she lectured him, grabbing him by the collar and practically shouting into his face. Yuuya could only stare at her as a deer in the headlights as she let all her emotions spill out.
Somewhere along the line, Natalie had started crying.
"I know you went out of your way to get to know those kids. You wanted to let them know someone cared. You them songs, told them fairy tales, tried to be the older brother they never knew! They're not even from the same country as you and you did all that for them even after they scorned you! You put your life on the line to save them, and when you failed you grieved for them! Who does that in a world like this?"
Who cared about the little man in a world like this? Who cared about someone like her in a world like this?
Natalie cried. In this world where the measure of success was measured by how much you got done before you died, Yuuya Bridges and Vincent Lowell were probably the only two men who believed otherwise. The only two who believed that if everyone worked together and tried hard enough, humanity could not only survive, but thrive. Most could have called them naive, but somehow over the course of their patronage to the bar, Natalie come to be taken into their so called 'fantasy'.
She wanted to believe in the dream Yuuya had spoken so fondly of.
"Sorry," Yuuya said, gently taking Natalie by the shoulder and pulling her close so she could cry into his chest. "Shit, I was the one who was supposed to be depressed. Isn't the bartender supposed to be the one doing the therapy talk?"
"I'm sorry," Natalie sniffled.
"I'm not going to give up. Not like this. Not when there's still so much to do," Yuuya said firmly, his resolve returning at the tears of another. Natalie couldn't help but smile shakily through her sobs.
What a hero complex.
Well, that wasn't such a bad thing.
"Tell you what, Nats, here's what I'm going to do…"
Yui gazed out of the window of the humvee as it drove through Yukon to the parade ground. All around her, the base was in a state of pandemonium with dozens of personnel in the middle of making sure this event would go off without a hitch.
The ceremony would mark the 'rebirth' of the current XFJ Plan as an independent research entity under her stewardship, and further development of the Shiranui Second Phase 2 would be handed to another team. Yui absently wondered what the Americans must have thought about having to concede command of this new research venture to a foreign officer, especially to one as young as her. The irony was that Yui shared those very same concerns.
Was she really for this? Yui, a young girl of seventeen years, who while brilliant at her work was socially stunted and had simply gotten to where she was only by the strange whim of fate? Could she really be the leader they needed?
Well, she was about to find out.
As it traversed they base, Yui spied a gathering of the civilian and off-duty personnel gathering on a nearby hill. It wasn't a small gathering by any means and in fact was a very large one, with picnic mats and camping gear being pitched up by the spectators. Someone had told the civilians about their airshow.
It could only really have been one man.
"I'm really going to have to reign in that man, aren't I?" Yui giggled.
"Thank you for taking my call, Shirogane-taisa," Yui said to the woman whose face dominated her computer screen. For someone who outranked her uncle, Shirogane Hikaru looked exceedingly youthful for someone of her rank and posting.
Yui didn't know the full details, but the woman who was the chosen champion of the Lady Shogun had been reputed to be a true force to be reckoned with, both on and off the battlefield. From the little she had seen so far, Yui had no reason to doubt those rumors. Shirogane might have been the only person Yui knew who might be a match for Yuuya in the cockpit, no mean feat considering Yuuya's superhuman levels of combat prowess.
"Not at all, Takamura-taii," Shirogane said. "Your recent successes have made you quite the celebrity in the home islands."
"Please Colonel, you give me praise I do not deserve," Yui said politely, despite her ire. For all that she was a superior officer in the Imperial Royal Guard, in truth Yui hated the woman with a passion. Yui had only spoken to Shirogane twice before, and each time she had left with a poorer and poorer impression of the Shogun's personal bodyguard.
The first was before the arrival of Yuuya Bridges to Yukon, where Shirogane had threatened to end the XFJ Plan before it had even begun if Yui didn't produce results. The second, shortly after Yui had realized that the Yuuya Bridges who had arrived in Yukon was decidedly not the same American pilot from Area 51 she had been promised, was when Shirogane had summarily turned down her request for a new test pilot and again threatened the XFJ Plan with closure. In a way, Shirogane may have been the one that had forced Yui to accept the visitors and as such was a direct cause of her newfound success, but that didn't change the fact Yui found this woman distasteful on so many levels.
But that lead to one very important question that was the cause of her call.
"Time is precious for both you and myself, so I would like to dispense with the usual formalities and get to the point," Yui said. "I would like to know the reason you promoted me and put me in charge of the new XFJ Plan, Colonel Shirogane."
Shirogane studied her intensely for a moment before she gave a satisfied smile. "I am impressed, Takamura, although this serves to validate my faith in you. How did you find out it was me?"
"There are few with the political clout to strong-arm the UN into disregarding the calls for the Americans to appoint an American as the development head. As the Shogun's hand, you are one such person with the connections to do so."
Although it was widely believed that Yui had been the sole person to convince the UN to give her overall command of the new XFJ Plan, Yui knew she had help from somewhere. Someone as young and untested as her could never ordinarily be allowed to hold such responsibility over something so crucial to the war effort, so logically some strings had to have been pulled. It had been a simple process of elimination that had allowed Yui to arrive at the culprit.
"So? Will you dignify me with an answer? Or will you simply deflect my questions as you did four months ago?"
"I would have preferred that you not have known," Shirogane began, "But I can see that now that you do you will not take my silence as an answer this time. But before I tell you, tell me, what do you think you know about me?"
Yui knew Shirogane was baiting her in some sort of sick, twisted game. Shirogane wanted to know how much Yui actually knew, and from there how much she could decide how much she was willing to reveal. The woman was cunning as a fox. "You know Yuuya Bridges and Vincent Lowell, the ones under my command at least, are not of this world. You've known that long before they came to Yukon in fact. If I were so bold, I'd say you arranged for them to come here and for me to receive them."
Shirogane nodded in satisfaction. "And what do you plan on doing with this information?"
"Keep it secret. The more people who know about these 'visitors', the greater the chance that their technology could fall into the wrong hands," Yui said truthfully. After what happened in Kamchatka, it had become apparent that weapons research and development was more sensitive than even Yui had realized. Dogulu had deliberately kept the people aware of their 'visitors' limited to just inside the XFJ Plan as much as he could. For the longest time, Yui had disagreed on Dogulu on this.
After what happened in Kamchatka, Yui understood why Ibrahim had done so and now that she had found herself standing in his place, Yui found herself adopting many of his policies.
Not even her Uncle Eiji was aware of it. That was just how close Yui was playing it to her chest. To have someone as high up in the command chain as Shirogane aware of this secret was worrying to Yui, especially since it had seemed that Shirogane had engineered the entire thing.
"Very good, Yui," Shirogane nodded in approval. "My trust was well placed indeed."
Yui almost let her self-control slip at the casual use of her given name, but managed to hold herself in check. "So will I be getting an explanation now?"
"Only part of it," Shriogane replied, and Yui had to resist the urge to roll her eyes at the expected answer. "All I can say is that yes, I am the cause of our visitors being here. Yes I am the one who ensured your command over the XFJ Plan. Yes, I am going to keep your secrets, even from the members of Alternative IV."
Yui's eyes narrowed at the unfamiliar term. "Alternative, what?"
"None of your concern," Sirogane waved a hand lazily in the air, dismissively, before returning to the original topic. "As for 'why' I put you in charge, that is obvious. You are to be their keeper, their guide in this world. Their public face, so that they can move freely in the shadows to do their work and their shield against the political machinations of those who would undo it."
"So I am nothing but a glorified tour guide then?" Yui asked coldly, her voice tight with anger.
"You do yourself too little credit, Captain. Do not forget, they are culturally different from us. They will focus on the obvious enemy, the BETA, not the threat from hidden knives and concealed daggers. Your job is to protect them from that theat."
"And where will you be in all this?"
"I will be watching," Shirogane smiled warmly. "I am afraid this is all I am willing to say for now. Will that be all, Captain?"
Yui had so many other questions to ask, like 'how had you brought Yuuya and Vincent here' or 'what's your real agenda'? But alas, her patience was all but spent.
"That will be all, Colonel. Good day," Yui growled, ending the call.
Yui wanted nothing more at that point to punch that bitch's face. It occurred to Yui that that sentiment was a very unprofessional thing to do.
Yui decided that she didn't care.
"She wants me to be a glorified tour guide? Well, we shall see about that!"
"This is Virgin-1 to Yukon Tower, I am requesting instructions for takeoff, over," Yuuya eased the fighter out of the hangar bay, its wheels rolling slowly along the tarmac. Pre-flight didn't take that long, and now Yuuya was well on his way to giving this bird its maiden flight.
"Virgin-1, you have permission to use Runway-2. There's nothing in the air right now. The skies are clear, over."
"Virgin-1 copies," Yuuya replied, rolling along the grey paths towards the long runway as he had been directed. As he did, he spied a pair of white haired girls watching him from behind a chain fence that separated the UN quarter from the Soviet quarter. While the taller girl was as stoic as ever, the shorter one was waving rather excitedly at him.
Cryska and Inia.
"Second Lieutenant Bridges."
Cryska Barchenowa stood behind Yuuya Bridges as he turned around to face her. She tried to keep her face stoic as Yuuya's features visibly brightened as he saw her. It was taking every ounce of Cryska's discipline and will not to turn and flee from the scene as fast as her legs could carry her.
"Cryska! I haven't seen you and Inia in a while and I was getting a little worried about you two," Yuuya greeted warmly. The pilot had been pacing the length of the dividing fence between the two quarters, a sure sign he was looking for them. That he was worried about them. It was only for this reason that Cryska had finally worked up the courage to approach him. "I was hoping the two of you were alright. Kamchatka was hell on everyone and I was starting to get worried when I didn't see either of you."
Cryska felt her heart clench. Yuuya's depression over Kamchatka was well known, even in among the Russian personnel. To think he had still found the time to worry about her and Inia, even in his own pain… This was a bad idea to approach him, she had known it was!
"We are fine, Yuuya Bridges. All members of Idar Flight made it back to Yukon, completely unscathed." Cryska replied. "I am sorry to hear what happened to your First Lieutenant Dogulu. He was a good man."
"I know. Ibrahim knew what he was doing. All we can do is honor his memory and make it worth something. It was what he would have wanted," Yuuya said glumly, then shook his head and gave her a wide smile. Despite herself, Cryska felt her heart give a flutter. "I'm so relieved, to see you're all right. When I didn't see you and Inia anywhere I was worried you were hurt."
Cryska turned her head away, unable to look him in the eye.
Oh mercy, he didn't even suspect them.
"Inia and I, we needed time to recover from fighting our way back to safety. We were very tired," Which was a bald faced lie. The two surrogate siblings had been actively avoiding anyone from Argos Flight like the plague, something they would have done even if First Lieutenant Sandek hadn't ordered them to do so.
"So will I be seeing Inia again soon? I did promise to teach her the last part of 'Watashi no Kare wa Pilot' the last time I saw her," Yuuya asked happily, if a little awkwardly. "I know I'm probably going to catch all kinds of hell from everyone and their mother for teaching that song to her, but a promise is a promise."
"I will ask her for you," Cryska replied, although she already knew it would be an uphill battle convincing Inia to show her face around Yuuya again.
How had this happeed? When had this stranger barged into the small world Cryska had known? Visiting them again and again, singing songs for them and telling them stories, dragging Cryska out to try and expose her more to the 'big wide world', even over Sandeck's objections, this stubborn, bullheaded idiot who wouldn't take 'no' for an answer had managed to worm his way into both their hearts in the few months they had known him.
But then a memory appeared in her mind, one that stopped her heart and made her want to run again.
Cryska and Inia were sitting inside their Su-37UB Terminator, hidden among the wreckage of the remains of Kamchatka Base. Above in the clouds, a single swept wing fighter plane circled over the battlefield again and again, like an angel of mercy searching desperately for survivors. Although Cryska and Inia had stayed silent the entire time, it was then that Cryska regretted more than ever they had been born with ESP. Yuuya may not have known they were there, but they were well aware what he had been feeling when he finally gave up and turned east, away from the monument of his failure.
They did not have to see his face to know Yuuya had been crying as he left.
Inia had always remarked that Yuuya's 'color' was a mix between compassion and regret, but grief was not one they associated with him until that day.
Sandek had forbidden Cryska and Inia from seeing him in the days to follow. Neither of them minded that order one bit. If Yuuya ever found out what she and Inia had done that day, Cryska knew he would never forgive them.
"Well, while you're at it, I wanted to tell you about this thing I was doing at the inauguration ceremony a couple of days from now," Yuuya informed her. "I don't think your or Inia have seen a real air show before."
"An air show?" Cryska furrowed her brows. She had seen 'air shows' before. Morale was important in this dark time, and such performances, rare as they were, were important to keep fighting spirit up.
Somehow Cryska didn't think that was quite what Yuuya was going for.
"Tell me more, Yuuya Bridges."
Yuuya Bridges felt the wheels of his new fighter leave the tarmac as his bird took to the air under its own power. Immediately he pulled straight up and ascended to thirty thousand feet, and then waited patiently for his cue. He hadn't wanted a rehearsal for this, out of caution that he'd spoil the surprise. He didn't need it anyway.
All Yuuya needed to do this day was something he was born to do.
Some distance away, Yui Takamura sat on a seat on the stage as she waited for her turn to take the podium. To many in the audience, she was the young and untested Japanese blue-blood officer who had gotten her post over her late superior's dead body and through her political connections. Many believed she wasn't ready for this responsibility, herself actually among them.
Today, she would break that notion.
On a green grassy hill near the base, a disguised Nastassja Ivanova sat cross-legged on the ground beside Stella Bremer and Valerio Giacosa, all watching and wondering just what Yui and Yuuya had planned. The organizer of this gathering, Natalie, wandered around the congregation making sure everyone was comfortable.
Inside the control tower, Vincent Lowell and Tarisa Manadal watched the screens with anticipation and nervousness, a feeling shared by Inia Sestina and Cryska Barchenowa who sat on the roof of their Su-37UB hangar, waiting for the show to start.
And in the clear blue skies above, a single newborn bird soared though the heavens for the first time.
Muv Luv: Do You Remember Luv
"-And now, I give you the head of the 'new' XFJ Plan, Captain Yui Takamura!"
The round of applause from the crowd below was modest as Yui Takamura stood up from where she was sitting and took the podium.
Despite all the pomp and ceremony, it was an open air event, where hundreds of chairs had been laid out in the parade field in front a raised stage. Behind her, draped over a wall that had been erected for this purpose, was the emblem of the United Nations, with the American and Japanese flags on either side of it.
Yui quickly scanned the audience with her eyes, taking in their faces. The master of ceremonies, Captain Olson, wasn't the most inspirational speaker when it came to things outside his 'eccentricities' and had not kept their attentions well. Most looked bored and disinterested. Others, mostly those in American uniforms, seemed to challenge her very presence. Thankfully, the US Secretary of Defense was not among that number, and the African-American man merely watched her with a curious, yet objective eye. Finally, her Uncle sat in the front row as one of the representatives for the Japanese, looking expectant and hopeful, if a little nervous for his niece.
"Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the UN High command, United States General Staff, Mister Secretary of Defense Anderson, and other friends. Allow me to thank you for coming here today this fine day for the official inauguration of 'Project Valkyrie', or the 'new XFJ Plan' as some like to call it," Yui began, getting the formalities out of the way.
At the spoken cue, relayed to a single man at over thirty thousand feet above sea level though the Yukon Tower, a single white line traced itself across the blue sky.
"As you all know, the XFJ Plan began as a means to modernize the Japanese Army's Type-94 Shiranui Tactical Surface Fighter using American expertise. And by American 'expertise', I don't mean Boening's engineers," Yui said, the sudden unexpected turn surprising the members of the audience.
"I'm not saying Boening doesn't have good engineers. They have excellent engineers. What I'm referring to is that insane test-pilot that the American Army decided to dump on me," She turned to give a mock glare at the US Army generals in her audience, with an over exaggerated pout. "He got results, but do you people have any idea what he did to my blood pressure? This guy's idea of fun is flying around upside down in my expensive test machine while singing rock music on an open channel! He made a pass at me twice, in and out of his machine! Culture shock doesn't even begin to describe what I got put through thanks to this maniac!"
Yui was a little afraid she was laying it on a bit thick and her sudden tirade at 'their' pilot would anger some of the Americans, but upon hearing the amused chuckles from the audience she knew she had managed to get their attention without actually offending them. The first five minutes of any presentation were absolutely crucial, and she just needed to hook them in permanently.
"Well, what matters is that he got results. That we got results. The Shiranui Second Phase Two is an excellent machine with several state of the art advances that I have been told have not even seen on the F-22A Raptor, a fact told to me from the mouth of one of the Raptor's top test pilots himself," Technically true, since 'Yuuya Bridges' was a F-22A test pilot and that internal missile bays and Energy Conversion Armor weren't features normally found in TSFs, period.
Yui made sure to stress this point, for this little tidbit that would definitely get the audience's attention. If the way the American generals were now sitting up with greater interest, it did. "It is unfortunately, one that will be leaving our care. TSF advancement is important in today's ever changing landscape of warfare. But what most of us forget is that the TSF, while our main weapon against the BETA, is not the be all and end all in the war effort."
Above her, more lines began to appear in the sky. The single small dot against the blue backdrop danced in the air like a leaf in the wind, merrily skipping across the vast expanse as if it owned the place. Nobody in the audience could hear him, but Yuuya was having a ball.
"Take the EML-99-2 for instance. In its first test firing, our test pilot, Second Lieutenant Stella Bremer from Sweden, claimed the most number of BETA kills in a single sortie by a landslide. By landslide I mean she vaporized an entire battlefield of hundreds of BETA in just under ten seconds."
Everyone knew this, it was hard not to with the waves it had made, but Yui decided to remind them anyway. The EML-99-2 basically rewrote the book on defensive action against oncoming BETA and was what brought her and the XFJ Project to the notice of the international stage in the first place.
"Feedback from the test pilots was unanimous approval of the weapon. Their only complaint was that, and I paraphrase, 'the EML-99X-2 was too effective and took all the fun out of the fight'. Second Lieutenant Manadal even asked me to send her out next time with a pair of daggers instead, preferably blunted ones," Yui made a big show of rolling her eyes, prompting a spate of laughter in the audience. "I guess that is one thing all our armies have in common. Our test pilots are all crazy."
More laughter. She had them.
In the sky the random lines were beginning to take shape. Two wings, spread apart in the air. Individual feathers were being slowly drawn in, high G-force 170 degree turns making them possible. A head of a bald eagle in the center had been completed, and the tail already had its outline marked.
While most of the audience was still focused and distracted by Yui and her 'miracle railgun', a couple of the more attentive members of the audience had noticed the 'impossible' sky drawing taking place above them. To say those few attentive members of her audience were shocked would be a gross understatement.
"Jokes aside, it is clear that TSFs on their own cannot win the war anymore. Years ago we believed second generation TSFs would turn the tide. They failed. We cannot just rely on the third generation TSFs in development," Yui stated clearly. "Our current Assault Cannon Systems are clearly no longer sufficient to get the job done. The EML-99-2 is a weapon that can. It is a weapon that comes from outside our current playbook. It is a weapon that reinvented our playbook. What I say is we need to go further."
Yui looked up and set her eyes on the audience.
"Applied Sciences, that is where the future lies. Tools that exist that could become more effective if applied differently. Weapons previously discarded that could work again with some modification. Technologies so far outside the box that not even the BETA will know how to react to them. That is what Project Valkyire seeks to find."
Yui allowed a moment of silence for her words to sink in. while she did, the ear bud speaker in her ear conveyed one radio transmission to her. "Look up."
"Ladies and gentlemen. The situation is grim. As we are, every battle fought costs more lives we can afford. The human cost of this war is staggering, with the dead numbering in the billions. As the game is currently played, these three decades will go down as the bloodiest in mankind's history. But only as the game is currently played."
Yui pointed to the heavens, and the audience's attention followed her. There was an almost simultaneous gasp from the hundred or so attendees.
"That was done by a single prototype, by the way," Yui informed them, careful to keep the smugness out of her voice.
To say the audience was shocked at the sky drawing of an American bald eagle, started and completed in mere minutes of her speech, would be a gross understatement.
Then Yuuya, taking this as his cue, ripped through his sky drawing at just under Mach-2, and then nosed down and began a corkscrew dive that circled all of Yukon as he descended lower and lower, gaining speed at he went. Yui took a step back from the podium and waited patiently for the demonstration to finish.
Yuuya was up to bat now.
The fighter spiraled closer and closer to the ground until it was a mere hundred and fifty feet above the ground, at which point Yuuya straightened out, hit the brakes and rocked right over the heads over the audience, who reacted as one could expect to a crazy fighter pilot doing an unexpected low pass. Yui, having been a victim of Yuuya's constant tower buzzes, even didn't flinch.
At the last second he pulled a sudden ninety degree turn to face the heavens, and something amazing happened. The entire form of the machine transformed, metal plates shifting and changing. The engine nacelles flipped out to become legs, the directional nozzles folding out to become feet. Parts in the centerline shifted out, becoming arms and hands. The body folded in half and the fuselage was pulled inwards, forming a torso and waist.
A head appeared.
With a thump, the machine landed right over Yui in a crouch, no longer a plane but that of a fifteen meter titan in the shape of a man. It then drew itself to its full height, standing at attention, the gun pod having unfolded into a battle rifle and now resting against its shoulder in a parade stance.
Yui waited for a full minute for the crowd to get resettled. She had feared that perhaps Yuuya's plan was too audacious, too daring, and that the crowd would explode into an orgy if angry shouts and cries directed at her. Fortunately, the shock of seeing a supersonic fighter jet transform into a giant robot seemed to have rendered the assembly speechless.
"I am sure you are all aware of some of our ongoing projects with Stonewell and Boening," Yui said, stepping back up to the podium again, making sure to make no apologies for what she had done. "Many of these technologies are game changers. For instance Energy Conversion Armor will improve the strength of armor by a factor of three. Micro-Missiles will allow aircraft and TSF to carry dozens of tactical fire and forget weapons just as powerful as their full sized counterparts without sacrificing mobility or weight, opening up entirely new tactics and strategies for soldiers out in the field. Chemical lasers, TSF scale thermonuclear engines, high frequency blades, I could go on and on. But that is not what I wanted to show you here today."
Yui turned to look up at the titan and gave Yuuya a nod. In that instant, the fighter transformed again. Its body folded back forward, head sinking into the frame and the fuselage and cockpit extended back outwards. The knees bent backwards and the entire thing now looked like bizarre cross between a fighter plane with legs. The cockpit, now exposed, opened and Yuuya stood up on his seat to reveal himself.
"Second Lieutenant Yuuya Bridges, the manic from the US Army I alluded to earlier," Yui said, to which Yuuya gave a grandiose bow.
He then promptly sat back down and fired up the engines. Much like a helicopter, the machine rose straight up in the air until it was five hundred feet up, at which point it snapped back into its original fighter state and rocketed away, breaking the sound barrier as it did.
Before anyone could turn to her and start asking questions, Yui spoke up.
"The BETA control the skies. I have been told this as a fact of life. I have lost friends to this fact in the Battle of Kyoto. Anything that flies into BETA controlled airspace will get shot down, that is the first rule any Eishi learns," Yui said gravely, then slammed a closed fist down on the podium. "I cannot, will not, accept this at gospel. Not anymore."
"Some of you are aware that there have been rumors circulating around Yukon that one of my test pilots took out an entire company of Laser Class BETA during our withdrawal from Kamchatka using a never before seen machine. Those rumors are true," Yui then pointed ahead of her, where lines had started to appear on the blue canvas that was the sky again. "That ladies and gentlemen is the VTF-0(1). Variable Tactical Fighter, Model Zero, Mark One. It is a developmental prototype of a supersonic variable fighter capable of speeds in excess of Mach 3, similar to the machine we used in Kamchatka in our efforts to assist the Zhar Battalion. While we couldn't save the heroes of Zhar, and they died bravely, I can tell you we made the bastards who killed them pay."
By this point every member of the audience was staring at Yui completely dumbstruck. She had assaulted them relentlessly with impossibility after impossibility, but this one stood above all others. In every single combat doctrine worldwide, Laser Class BETA were the bane of air power. The rules of engagement had been written around TSFs because the denial of airspace by BETA triple-A rendered aircraft obsolete.
Yui had just said one of her pilots took a transformable jet plane into a company sized group of Laser Class BETA and made a fool out of them.
The best part was that, from the looks of it, she wasn't lying.
"The BETA control the skies," Yui repeated sternly. "They control the skies because we surrendered it to them. And what have they done with it? They mull on the ground, eating whatever scraps they can pick off their conquered territory. No, they do not own the skies. They simply stop us from taking it back."
"When the BETA first landed, have we forgotten how the 'conventional weapons' of the time actually held them off? How our mastery of the heavens could slaughter scores of their numbers? Yes, when the Laser Class appeared, we were forced to fall back. Yes, without air power the TSF was our only solution. But we made a crucial mistake. We gave up looking for a way to fight the BETA from the air, and concentrated on making the TSF our perfect weapon. We allowed them to dictate the terms of combat to us."
Yui paused for effect.
Yui's speech was no longer a presentation, but a fiery sermon to the shocked masses, and they were drinking it all in. Unlike those nationalist speeches given out at rallies, her appeal was to every human being, regardless of nationality, race or gender. It was something every human on the planet could relate to, something that could inspire even the most downtrodden soldier.
Unbeknownst to her, one of the technicians manning the sound system had decided to broadcast Yui's voice across not just her audience, but the people outside. Civilians and base personnel alike listened in rapt attention as this slip of a girl basically spoke with fire and zeal like they hadn't heard in a long, long time. Later, a video recording of the entire thing would find its way onto the US military network, and world there, the world.
By the end of the week, millions would know her name.
"The Valkyrie is developed as a fast attack and response raider capable of fulfilling the roles of both a fighter and a TSF as situation dictates. It may only carry limited ordinance and has light armor in comparison to a typical TSF but its speed, maneuverability and versatility with its three combat modes more than make up for it. It is designed for one purpose and one purpose only; to seek out its objective and complete it post haste. Normally this means seeking or a high value target among a BETA formation and blowing it to hell," Yui explained clearly. "Yuuya used his Valkyrie to wipe out an entire company of Laser Class BETA. He did it alone, from above, something I have been repeatedly told has been impossible since my academy days. The exact Valkyrie he used unfortunately took damage in the process and was not available for this presentation, but the point stands. If we want to win, we can no longer play by the rules. The BETA will destroy us if we do so. Much like the Valkyrie you all saw, we must change. Change or die."
In the distance, Yuuya had finished drawing a Rose in the sky and was well into his drawing the emblem of the 211th Zhar Battalion, his final way of honoring their memory. But no one saw him, or the machine he flew. He had done his job.
The eyes of the world were on Yui Takamura now.
"Project Valkyrie's objective is to find that way. This is not just a research platform. This is our way of changing the rules of combat," Yui decreed. "I am done with losing friends. I am done with watching children die. I am done with this tired old routine. Tomorrow, the sun will come up again and things will be different. Myself, and every person under my command, will not rest until the day we will have all the advantages. We will have all the cards. We will control the flow of battle. We. Will. Win."
Yui stopped and allowed the silence to hang in the air.
"This I promise you," Yui said, in a voice barely above a whisper.
It would be said, years later, that there would be no human being on the planet that did not hear those four words.
"Before I finish, I would like to say a quote from an author, an English author. A quote that I believe to be a good one for the times we live in. G.K. Chesterton, an English philosopher and writer once said this: 'Fairy Tales do not tell the children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy Tales tell children the dragons can be killed'."
Yui paused and swept her eyes across the sea of faces before her.
"We have long forgotten this lesson in this jaded world we live in. We deride Fairy Tales as something needed for a more innocent time, that children today need to grow up fast to survive, to grow up to fight," Just as the children of Zhar had to, Yui left unsaid. "No. Now is the time we need those more than ever. We need to be reminded that nothing is impossible. We need to be reminded that no enemy cannot be overcome with the right mindset. We need these 'Fairy Tales' to tell us that like the Dragons of old, the BETA can and will be beaten. We need to remember that that which we believe is impossible is simply things that we haven't discovered how to do yet."
Yui raised her head and nodded one last time.
"The BETA say to us 'retaking your shattered skies is impossible'. Proving them wrong is what Project Valkyrie intends to do. Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you."
Her presentation done, Yui turned and exited stage left, the Master of Ceremonies shakily taking over, also trying to regain his balance after hearing such an impassioned speech.
No one heard him.
No one cared.
Although there was no applause or standing ovation, for the audience was far too shocked and awed for even that, there wasn't a single person in the audience that day who did not leave Yukon with the highest respect for the girl, no, the young woman, named Yui Takamura.
The young woman who had declared war on the BETA for the right to rule the skies.
"I'll be damned," Vincent whistled in appreciation as Yui left the stage. "Just… I'll be damned."
Much like the audience below, the people inside Yukon Base's control room were sitting frozen in awed silence in the aftermath of Yui's oration. Many of these people had known Yui for months. The 'anti-social, high strung Japanese blue-blood who had come from the 'Great Empire of Japan' to grace them with her glorious presence' had long since managed to separate herself from her former reputation, but many still regarded her as something of a social dunce whose sheltered upbringing made her 'adorkable' in Vinnie's own words.
Yui Takamura had just blown that perception of her clean out of the water.
With a vengeance.
"Holy shit," Tarisa Manadal whispered, her entire body actually shaking uncontrollably from the adrenalin coursing through her veins. "What was that? Was that Yui? How did she-?"
"She channeled her feelings," Vincent explained, having much more experience than Tarisa at these things. "All the hurt, frustration, the grief, Yui-hime took it all and turned it into her strength."
The people of this world had all lost loved ones. Everyone who had ever been on the front lines would have lost at least one friend or family member to the Laser Class BETA. Yui had taken her own tragedy and used to as a common ground to get her message across to her audience. While the message wasn't one of peace, tolerance or something equally fluffy, it was one that the people of this planet direly needed.
'This bullshit stops here'.
"A 'Minmei'. Yui-hime, who would have thought?" Vincent shook his head with a smile. "Silly little love struck Yui-hime whose legs turn to jelly around Yuuya. Who could have thought she could be one of those special people capable of binding us all together?"
"I have no idea what you just said Vinnie," Tarisa said.
"Let's just say this planet just got its first legitimate ray of hope in a very long time, and leave it at that."
For one brief but perfect moment, two people had changed the world, even if it was just in a small way. A young girl who used her emotions as a source of boundless strength to unite a fractured people, and a young man who had given her those wings that sought to fly free in the skies…
"I can't believe we managed to pull that off. I was so sure someone in the brass would have stormed up the stage and thrown both of us in the brig," Yuuya said as he lay on his back, gazing up at the stars above. He was right to be worried. Buzzing a tower would land him in hot water, but buzzing an audience full of bars and stars? He'd be lucky if they didn't lock him up and throw away the key!
"I thought you said they'd be too shocked to do anything!" Yui gaped from where she was lying right beside him.
"Uh, oops?" Yuuya admitted, causing Yui to give a groan when she'd realized it was another one of his 'calculated risks'.
They were stargazing on the roof of a TSF hangar bay, were Yui's yellow Type-00F Takemikazuchi stood dormant inside. Ever since they'd worked out their differences, it had become a habit for one or both of them to come up to the roof of the Takemikazuchi's hangar, especially on a dark night such as this one where the stars were clear.
"So, how'd the brass take it?" Yuuya asked curiously. "Surely you must have gotten some feedback from your audience?"
Yui blushed, "Well, my Uncle Eiji dropped by."
Yui had loosened her uniform tie and was now reclining in her office chair, the exhaustion from the adrenalin leaving her system finally setting in, when her door had opened without preamble. She had sat up, ready to admonish whoever had entered without permission when she froze, seeing her uncle enter the room.
"Iwaya-chuusa!" Yui exclaimed, scrambling to make herself presentable. She was stopped when she felt a gentle hand rest itself on her shoulder and turn her to face him.
"Yui, dear Yui," Lieutenant Colonel Iwaya Eiji, veteran of many battles and one of the men she admired most in the world, drew his beloved niece into a tight embrace. "Yui, your father would be very proud."
Stunned by the uncommon and sudden display of affection, Yui could only nod and say, "Thank you, Uncle."
Her Uncle released her and looked down at her with proud, teary eyes. "I will tell what has happened here to the Shogun. Lady Koubuin will be most pleased."
Although she had been given his approval before, this was the first time ever Yui had ever seen such genuine, unreserved respect come from her uncle. Yui found herself unable to speak, euphoria filling her senses.
For the first time since she had received word of her promotion, Yui felt ready.
"Tell her I won't fail."
"You won't, Yui. You won't." Eiji smiled. "You've done good child, you've done good."
"Wow, really? I thought he'd be angrier. We put together a second set of developmental machines behind his back when we were supposed to be improving the Shiranui Second," Yuuya observed thoughtfully.
"I think it is more of the fact that I was such an orator and that I also threw the Americans for a loop," Yui rolled her eyes. "Did you know I have been receiving e-mails from top US officials all night? I'm not sure what they're thinking, but every message I've gotten are offers to high postings in other U.S. backed research programs."
"Wait, wait, wait. They want you, a member of the Shogun's hereditary vassals, to defect? And they actually think they can actually succeed?"
"Pretty much," Yui sighed. "Americans."
Yuuya chucked at her frank assessment of the situation and went back to stargazing.
"So how about your air show?" Yui asked curiously.
"Well for the most part, it was overshadowed by your speech."
Yuuya rested his forehead on the bar counter.
His life sucked.
"Yui was so amazing!" Natalie sang happily, dancing around the crowded bar as she did so. All around him were patrons who did nothing but talk about the 'Japanese Warrior Princess' who had vowed before the entire world to beat the BETA. "Thank you so much for inviting us over to see her speech, Yuuya! It was awesome!"
"Well I'm happy for you, Nats," Yuuya said truthfully. Well on the upshot, everyone was happy. Even if nobody noticed all those cool sky drawings he'd broken his back doing in a crap Valkyrie.
"Thank you so much, Yuuya!" Natalie thanked him profusely. "You have no idea how much we needed this!"
Yuuya sighed again. What happened to him putting on a nice air show for the masses? Had the good old dino-bird sky painting gone out of style so fast?
If his mentor, Commander Isamu Alva Dyson, ever found out about this embarrassment, the older man would disavow Yuuya out of shame!
"Ah, screw it. Jealousy is unbecoming of me," Yuuya declared, springing to his feet and slamming a wad of cash into Natalie's chest, which the redhead accepted with a squeak. "I'm going to buy a beer for every guy in here!" Yuuya roared triumphantly. "Three cheers for Takamura Yui!"
His response was deafening.
"Oh dear," Yui said worriedly, starting to gnaw on her thumb.
"What? I thought you'd be happy," Yuuya replied in confusion. "They love you. You're an idol now!"
"Yes, but now they're going to expect more out of me than before. And I lied about us using our prototype to take out those Laser Class BETA when you did it with Mist."
"You sell yourself short," Yuuya noted happily. "After our demonstration, we've had offers for funding pouring in from every corner of the globe right?"
"Yes, but the Mark One is hardly your Excalibur. It doesn't even have that pin-point barrier system."
"We'll be working there, Yui, one step at the time." Yuuya said comfortingly.
"But you're the only test pilot! I still need the other Eishi to test out the modified Eagles," Yui insisted.
The F-15E-OT would be their other main development project. Vincent was convinced he could bring the TSF's already formidable combat ability in line with those of a 'Zentradi Battlesuit' and had set about rearming some test-bed Eagles. Yui and the other Eishi had been shocked at the result. Even Yuuya had been impressed. Vinnie's so called 'Over-Eagles' had been stuffed so full with weapons they packed as much firepower as a flight of A-10C Thunderbolt IIs while still remaining as fast and agile as the Active!
Obviously she wasn't about to put all her eggs in one basket with the Valkyrie, and the Over Eagle was shaping up to be one hell of a contender.
Poor bastards at Yukon were about to get a very, very rude shock if Yui decided that Argos Flight was to take part in Blue Flag.
Still back to the problem with the Valkyries.
Namely, no test pilots for the Valkyries.
"Arg, this would be so much simpler if we had another pilot,"Yui lamented. "I could have you retrain Tarisa or V.G. as Valkyrie pilots, but they're excellent Eishi."
The problem was that having to retain an Eishi in a Valkyrie was pretty much doing so from scratch. The time and effort it would take to retrain someone in the use of everything a Valkyrie had to offer would be a full time affair, and Tarisa, V.G. and Stella were all perfectly fine as they were. There was no need to remove them from the roster for training, not when the Over-Eagle still needed good test pilots.
"If that's what got you worried, I have some good news for you." Yuuya said.
Yuuya stumbled out the back of the service entrance, looking very winded.
"Thanks Nats," He said in between breadths, hunched over with his hands on his legs.
"You're really one of a kind, Yuuya Bridges," Natalie said with a smirk. "A non-drinker buying drinks for the entire bar. Are you really so eager to get yourself into trouble?"
"I did want to cheer you up. So I did."
"Well thank you then, Mister Knight," Natalie leaned over and gave Yuuya a peck on his cheek. "Well, I'd best be getting back then. Cheerio, Yuuya!" Natalie spun around and practically skipped back into the bar, leaving a stunned Yuuya in her wake.
Yuuya eventually straightened his back, clacked his necked and decided it was by far the time to start heading back to the base. He had all but taken a few steps when a small, childlike voice stopped him.
"Yuuya Bridges," Yuuya turned around to see a hooded girl standing in between Stella and V.G., who seemed to be watching her with mirthful smiles on their faces.
"Nastassja? What's the matter?" Yuuya asked, having deduced her identity through her two associates.
The Georgian teenager seemed to hesitate for a while, glancing to Stella and then V.G. and then back again, clearly nervous about something. Eventually the young girl gathered her resolve, looked Yuuya in the eye and said the one sentence that would forever change the course of her life.
"Lieutenant Bridges, I want you to teach me how to fly."
"Nastassja wants to learn how to fly?" Yui said questioningly.
"Yeah. She virtually begged me to teach her," Yuuya sighed. "Looks like my flying and your speech inspired her something fierce."
"That's good," Yui nodded in approval. If anything else, at least this way Nastassja would have something to live for.
"I don't know. I'm not sure she had the right mindset for it. Not yet at least."
"Mindset? You have to have a mindset to be a Valkyrie pilot?" Yui asked curiously. She could have normally dismissed it offhand, after all, who needed a mindset to fly a plane, but Yuuya was the expert on this matter.
"It's complicated, Yui," Yuuya sighed. "You can't train good Valkyrie pilots like you can train good Eishi. People like me, we're born to fly. We want to go wheels up because we love it, not because it's a job. I got the impression she wants to use the Valkyire get revenge. That sort of thinking's going to get her killed."
Valkyries were powerful weapons in the right hands, but most pilots, even ones from his home, couldn't take advantage of everything they had to offer. Becoming proficient in all three forms was difficult, let alone mastering them. Its three modes all behaved like very different animals and most Valkyrie pilots from the N.U.N.S. only stuck with one or two to save on training costs.
In a war like this, that just wasn't good enough. Truly skilled Valkyrie pilots like Yuuya, the kind needed to win wars, were experts at using them all. 'The horse and rider are one' really didn't do the level of synchronicity Yuuya had with Mist justice, and such synchronicity couldn't be taught in any school. It had to be learned in a different way, one that was very, very hard to teach.
"Well, it's your job now to break her out of that," Yui pointed out. "You owe her that much at least."
"Yeah, I guess it is," Yuuya conceded, although he briefly wondered what happened to the other person who he had invited to see his display.
"You made contact with Yuuya Bridges against my explicit orders," First Lieutenant Sandek said gravely, pacing in front of his desk. "I would have expected this out of Inia, but not from you, Second Lieutenant Barchenowa."
Cryska kept her back straight and her eyes forward, trying her hardest not to break down into hysterics. In one bout of emotionally driven insanity, all her professional training, discipline and logical thinking had melted away into nothing as she took Inia out to watch Yuuya fly. Never before had she so blatantly gone against her orders like this.
The real kicker was despite the fact every atom of her being was screaming at her for being so stupid and unprofessional, Cryska found she didn't regret her actions one bit.
"I accept full responsibility for this, First Lieutenant. It was my error. I will accept any punishment as you see fit," Cryska said stiffly, determined to ensure her mistake would not fall unjustly on Inia's shoulders.
"Indeed." Sandek nodded as he sat down on his chair, his fingers netted in front of his face ominously. "You will be relegated to mess duty for the rest of the week and have you weekend pass revoked."
For a moment Cryska thought she had heard wrong. Mess duty and revocation of a weekend pass she never used anyway? He was letting her off with a slap on the wrist?
"First Lieutenant, I'm afraid I do not understand," Cryska said dully.
"Understanding is not something you have to do, Second Lieutenant. However, I will say this much. Our priorities have changed," Sandek looked up from behind his hands, his eyes glinting dangerously in the darkened room, "Tell me, Second Lieutenant, how close did you say you were to this 'Yuuya Bridges'?"
Cryska felt her blood run cold. He couldn't, he wouldn't… not the one warm and selfless thing that had ever pierced her cold exterior! Sandeck wouldn't take that from her, would he?
"Tell me, Second Lieutenant Barchenowa, do you think you could get close enough to find out his secrets?"
"We're still a long way before we can repeat what you did at Kamchatka," Yui groused.
While it was an aged machine in the year 2061, Mist, Yuuya's beloved VF-19A Excalibur, was still several generations ahead of anything in their inventory. Even then she had barely been able to succeed. The VTF-0(1) Proto-Valkyire didn't possess its fold energy shielding or its pin point barrier system, so any further missions Yuuya undertook in the public eye would be far, far more risky.
"Didn't I just tell you we'd get there eventually just five minutes ago? I swear, Yui, you're a nag," Yuuya chuckled, before he gave a resigned sigh. "Still you are right. Nastassja notwithstanding, we need more pilots. I wish my old crew was here. Friday would have killed to have my job. She's always been a fly-girl and a maverick."
When Yuuya didn't get a response, he turned to face, who had Yui frozen with her mouth open in an 'O'. She had the face of someone who had just realized she had goofed up in a big way.
"…You did look for them when I asked you to, right?"
"So you've located Fuelner and Tatsunami," Hikaru spoke into the phone, irritation in her tone. "It's been four bloody months. Why haven't we noticed them until now?"
"Unlike Bridges, neither pilot arrived with their Valkyries and they essentially flew under the radar, so to speak," her agent explained. "Feulner was forced to punch out over Dover after failing to regain control from an uncontrolled spin. Her Sturmvogel II went down in the channel. Interference from the BETA from the mainland is hampering our local assets from assessing and recovering it. Tatsunami was much the same, except his Messiah was mostly intact when it splashed down in Tokyo bay."
"An intact VF-25F in Tokyo bay?" Hikaru sat up straight in her seat. "That's practically on our doorstep!"
"I have to say, I keep forgetting how tough these Valkyries are sometimes."
"What the hell are you waiting for? Go and get it!"
"Would that I could, ma'am. Unfortunately, Ikaruga beat me to it. I have no idea where he's keeping it now. Ikaruga is almost as good as Sakon when it comes to hiding secrets. Sorry, ma'am, it's gone."
"Ikaruga has it?" Hikaru collapsed back into her seat and ran a hand across her forehead. That madman had a VF-25F Messiah, a state of the art space superiority fighter from 2061, in his possession?
Well that wasn't good at all.
"Please tell me he doesn't know the connection between the Valkyire and its pilot."
"Ikaruga doesn't know or he doesn't care. For the time being, Tatsunami's in the clear, but it's only a matter of time before Ikaruga comes for him."
Hikaru felt a headache coming on. "Fuelner and Tatsunami, where are they now?"
"Tatsunami was picked up by the draft and is currently in training to be a TSF technician for the IJA. He's gained a reputation as a 'draft dodger' and a 'mental basket case'." The agent sounded like she pitied the poor bastard, and considering she was a pilot too, this was most likely the case. "Fuelner has been stuck in a mental hospital for four months. Her comrades in the 44th Cerberus battalion think she's gone insane with fantastical delusions from her near death experience."
"So they're both grounded? Oh wow, I thought Bridges had it rough," Hikaru murmured. Fighter pilots feared being grounded more than they feared death. Feulner and Tatsunami were probably foaming at the mouth by now. "And Kjellburg?"
"Still on the run from the CIA with her VF-171EX Nightmare Plus, last sighted engaging a CIA Capture team using F-117 Nighthawks outside Freemantle, Western Australia, approximately a week ago. If reports are to be believed, Kjellburg downed all the Nighthawks and escaped but used the last of her missiles in the process. Aside from her beam weapons, she's completely out of ordinance. She's in bad straights," the agent supplied.
"Can you locate her?"
"Not at present time. She's a former N.U.N.S. Marine, ma'am, and a half Meltran to boot. This is a woman who knows how to disappear. If I want to find her before the CIA does, I'm going to have to divert all my time to it."
"Leave her, I have a feeling she'll show herself soon."
Considering Takamura's demonstration had made such waves, Lieutenant Junior Grade Lilia Kjellburg would have to be very dense not to realize her flight lead had basically painted a neon sign over Alaska. Out of the three of Yuuya's wing mates, she was probably the only one with the freedom of movement to rush to his side. Assuming, of course, the CIA didn't catch her first, and bearing in mind they probably had noticed that very same neon sign, their efforts to capture her would probably see a step up.
It wouldn't be easy for them, but it was entirely in the possibility they could capture Kjellburg.
A calculated risk.
"Continue as you were, agent," Hikaru said sharply. "Run interference on anyone attempting undermine Project Valkyrie, but leave Kjellburg's fate in her own hands."
"Would that include Professor Kouzuki? My sources indicate that there is talk among the power players of redirecting funding from Alternative IV to Project Valkyrie. If you don't even cue Kouzuki in, you have to know…"
"That Alternative IV will be shut down. I know that, agent," Hikaru paused, her emotions conflicting with the need to do what had to be done. Duty to her mission warred against the affection she had for that woman.
Duty won, as she had been raised to believe. Alternative IV was doomed to fail anyway. All Hikaru would be doing was just be speeding up the process.
"Especially Professor Kouzuki," Hikaru nodded resolutely. "Do not allow Yuuko to get her hands on anything from Valkyrie."
"And see to it that the information about the whereabouts of Fuelner and Tatsunami find their way to Takamura. Discreetly though, I don't want them to know it came from me."
"Understood ma'am. Jenius out."
Placing the phone back on the cradle, the woman, barely into her early thirties, gave a shaky sigh. She may project an aura of invincibility in public, but it was only just an act, one that her beloved teacher had instilled into her since day one of her apprenticeship. Now that she was alone, in private, Hikaru felt like the same stupid kid who looked up at the stars and asked her grieving mother where her daddy was.
"I can't fail," Hikaru swore to herself. "Too many lives are at stake. I cannot fail."
"You… you're actually not going to do anything about that Shirogane woman?" Yui stared at Yuuya in shock. "You, the man who disobeyed direct orders and went back to save Zhar, are just going to let this slide?"
Yuuya couldn't help but laugh at her flabbergasted expression. How could he not? The one time she actually wanted him to be an insubordinate bastard, he decided to say no.
"Yui, I can be insubordinate, reckless and think I'm immortal, but I'm not stupid. She's the Shogun's right hand. Flying to Japan for the sole purpose of kicking her door down to question her at gun point is going to end badly for everyone involved, and you know it."
As much as Yui hated to admit it, Yuuya was right. Shirogane was too high up to confront directly, not when their position was still so tenuous. It was frustrating though, since Shirogane was someone who likely had all the answers to their questions.
"Then what do you propose we do?"
"We play by her rules until it no longer suits us, then we don't. Simple as that," Yuuya said. "As much as I want an explanation as to what I brought me here, we don't have the luxury of choice right now. We need her help Yui, and because of that I'm willing to allow her to string me along for a bit. You should too," Yuuya's eyes narrowed. "But I… we will get our answers. Just not now."
Yui stared at Yuuya intently and then grumbled, "Sometimes I forget you actually have a head on those shoulders."
"Yui, I'm a Lieutenant in SMS. OF-3. We may be Private Military, but even we don't just hand promotions out to random people, you know," Yuuya turned to Yui, his eyes going to her bars and gave a goofy grin. "Nice to see you've finally caught up."
"I still see 'Second Lieutenant' on your forms, Yuuya."
"You simpletons and your army ranks," Yuuya rolled his eyes.
"The world is changing isn't it?" Tarisa stated, watching her old F-15ACTV Active eagle getting rolled out of their hanger and her new F-15E-OT Over Eagle getting rolled in. All three Argos Flight Eishi were watching this happen from the sides, conflicting emotions bubbling beneath the surface.
Out with the old, in with the new.
"Change is the one true constant in history," V.G. nodded in affirmation from beside her. "We just have to hope that this change is a good one."
It was a concern they all shared. Despite all the good 'the visitors' were bringing to their world, some of those changes were scary. Before that weird swept wing fighter plane touched down on the Yukon runway and two very confused and lost looking young men stumbled out of it, the world had made sense. Now, things were different.
It just used to be just mankind and the BETA. The good guys and the bad. Kill or be killed. The rules of battle were defined, and as bleak as the future was there had always been an odd sense of comfort from the certainty that tomorrow would be more of the same.
After Yui's announcement, that certainty was gone, and they would be right in the think of that change. Despite all the hope and excitement that brought, it was a terrifying prospect to be so close to the instigator of such a monumental change. The lines between ally and enemy were no longer so clear cut, and while there was now a guiding light of hope in their lives, it has also made the shadows that stalked them all the more clearer.
"'If you want to make some enemies, try and change something'," Stella quoted. "Woodrow Wilson, once said that."
"You're right, Stella. There are people out there who will try and stop us," V.G. pointed out.
Nations seeking to capture their technology. Rival groups or organizations wanting to block the competition. Fanatics seeking to sabotage humanity's war against the BETA. All of those people would be coming for them now.
"Yuuya and Vincent, they're won't see it coming, you know. Betrayal, espionage, danger, it's around every corner just waiting for them," Stella sighed wearily. "They know it might come. They're hardly naïve. But they're not like us. They don't know this world well enough to know where to look to guard against it."
"This world operates on rules they are trying to understand," V.G. concurred. "The whole planet is operating on a different wavelength from them. No wonder why they were so lost."
"It's our job to guard them isn't it?" Tarisa said.
"Yes," V.G. nodded. "And Yui-hime too."
"Good. I wouldn't have it any other way," Tarisa said resolutely, the shadow of her new Over Eagle falling over them. Stell and V.G. nodded in agreement. It was then and there did the three Eishi of Argos Flight make a promise to themselves to support Project Valkyrie, support Yui Takamura, right up until the very end.
Change or die.
History was being written before their very eyes, and they would be a part of it.
Then Tarisa spotted something odd.
"Hey, uh, guys. What's that thing Vinnie's standing next to?" the Gurkha said, pointing a finger at where the blond engineer was standing. Vincent was talking to a couple of people from Boening next to a stripped down EML-99X rail-gun and really, really big orange bomb. The neon orange bomb was far larger than anything of its kind any of the Eishi had seen before.
"I don't know. Looks pretty big though. It looks like he wants to use that modified EML-99X as a delivery system for it." Stella squinted as she made out the markings on the side of the object. Confused she turned to her friends and asked.
"V.G., Tarisa, do either of you have any idea what M.O.A.B. stands for?"
"Did you look up at the stars very much before you met me?"
"Not really," Yui replied. Her reasoning was simple; there really wasn't much to see up there. Humanity had long since stopped looking up at those little bright dots in the night sky as something to strive for. For most of her life, looking up at the stars was pointless since all those stars held was the certainty of more extraterrestrial life lying in wait to kill them, just waiting for them to come.
Yuuya's people thought differently of course. His people saw the stars as a sea of endless possibilities, just waiting to be seized by those who dared. She knew they recognized the risks in going out there. If the overwhelming power of his VF-19A Excalibur, apparently an old model Valkyrie from what he had told her, was any indication, they had encountered such dangers.
Still they went.
From there, they prospered.
An empire that spanned the Galaxy, held together by the ideals of peace through mutual understanding, created hand in hand with alien races they'd befriended. It was like something out of a storybook, and yet somehow it was their reality. Yui couldn't even picture the true splendor it must have held.
Could such a dream work here? Could they finally reach for those same stars? Making peace with the BETA was something Yui knew was impossible, but Yuuya remained unconvinced. There was so much she didn't know it, so many possibilities, it all made her head swim.
She wanted to believe, yet logic, like gravity, still dragged her down.
"You did good today, Yui," Yuuya said while Yui went over those thoughts. "I don't think this place has seen someone as insane and determined as you were in a very, very long time."
"You're the insane one!" Yui shot back with a huff.
"Who was on the stage declaring to the whole world she wanted to reclaim the skies?" Yuuya replied with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, it's still your fault. You were the one who got me into this mess!" Yui muttered, folding her hands under her chest and turning her head away. But even as she did, she couldn't stop the smile that fought its way past her defenses and made its way onto her mouth.
Yes it was his fault she was like this.
Yui wouldn't have it any other way.
"That song from the musical. The one that you have saved on your Valkyrie. The last one at the very end. I think I've gotten it down," Yui sat up and allowed herself to stretch. "Do you want to hear it?"
"No time like the present," Yuuya gave her a thumbs up.
"I… I've been only been able to memorize the Japanese version though," Yui sighed with embarrassment. "I know it sounds best in English, but-"
"Yui," Yui gave her a reassuring smile. "I have that entire musical in thirty different languages on my Valkyrie. There is no such thing as 'it sounds best'. Stop worrying, and just sing."
Tomorrow the sun would rise over Alaska. For the men and women of the newly inaugurated 'Project Valkyrie', it would be the start of a journey, an adventure that could take them to places beyond their wildest dreams. They had started something grand, on a scale that they could not even begin to fathom. They had promised to regain the skies, no small feat considering the odds arrayed against them.
Outside this small base in the Alaskan cold, the desperate war against the BETA raged on, the same as always. People fought. People suffered. People died. For most, change had yet to come, but surely as the dawn of the new day it would.
But that would be for tomorrow. On this cold August night, change had yet to come.
One day more.
Tarisa, Valerio and Stella lay in their beds unable to sleep, thinking on the warrior's vow they together had made to see this war through to the end.
Cryska held a sleeping Inia in her arms, her heart and mind at war with each other. She dreaded her next, now inevitable meeting with Yuuya Bridges, yet at the same time she yearned for him.
Iwaya Eiji journeyed back to Japan, his overflowing pride at his niece having not yet abated as he thought about how he would report this to the Shogun.
Natalie cleaned the bar, her conflicting loyalties warring with the newfound hope that Yuuya and Yui had kindled in her heart. Could even someone like her, a spy and a terrorist, find change?
Vincent Lowell worked tirelessly behind his desk, trying to use his knowledge to give the people of this Earth a fighting chance against their foes.
All of these people waited for tomorrow. One day more.
And on the roof of the Type-00F's hangar, a slow song drifted through the night sky. It was a song, from a young woman hoping for a better future, a song that spoke of the most sacred of all dreams, one that transcended all boundaries and languages to spread it's simple, yet important message.
Nastassja Ivanova had been wandering near the hangar, her mind in turmoil at the life changing decision she had just made when she heard it. The young girl paused in mid step as she heard this soft yet familiar song reach her ears. Though the language was unfamiliar, Nastassja knew the song, the very one she and the rest of Zhar had sung together the night before she lost them all.
Unable to help herself, Nastassja joined in. As she did, felt the ghosts that had haunted her for so long finally start to relent.
Two voices, singing the same song in different languages. Different words, different lyrics, different languages, yet the spirit of the message remained true.
Although only their voices would be heard, and entire was even singing in the same language, if you could just listen hard enough, you could almost hear a miracle.
They weren't alone.
"Wakamono tachi no uta ga kikoeru ka,
Hikari motome takamaru uta no koe ga,
Yo ni kurushimi no honoo kienai ga,
Donna yami yo mo yagate asa ga,
Karera shu no kuni de jiyuu ni ikiru,
Suki ya kuwa wo tori? tsurugi wo suteru,
Kusari wa kirete mina sukuwareru~"
"Slyš tu píseň zástupů,
Ze země dávno slíbené,
Ó, pane, dík, tyś nám už světlo dal,
A tam těm ještě ne!
Víme jen, že mlýny tvé,
Začnou zaśmlít, až přijde čas,
Bídníky svlékneš z pout,
A bude se dýchat snáz~"
"Retsu ni haire yo warera no mikata ni,
Toride no mukou ni akogare no sekai,
Mina kikoeru DORAMU no hibiki ga,
Karera yume mita asu ga kuru yo,
Retsu ni haire yo warera no mikata ni,
Toride no mukou ni akogare no sekai,
Mina kikoeru ka DORAMU no hibiki ga,
Karera yume mita asu ga kuru yo,
Aa ashita wa~"
"Símě lásky máte sít!
Za všechny nás, co nežijem!
Na radost Óda příště má tu znít
A ne už Rekviem!
Blízko vás chcem zítra stát
Až budou léta zlá ta tam
Až pravda zvítězí
A svoboda příjde k vám!"
"Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!"
In the early twentieth century mankind found itself in a war against an unstoppable alien foe. This was an enemy force of arms could not defeat. Outnumbered, outgunned and with seemingly no possibility of victory, humanity was pushed to the very edge of extinction.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, mankind rebuilt what had been lost, and then rose to even greater heights than before. Built on the principles of mutual understanding and cooperation, their civilization spread across the sea of stars in a golden age of exploration and expansionism. It was a dangerous age, for in those stars where countless other adversaries that challenged mankind's fledging empire time and time again. But each time humanity prevailed and grew stronger as a result, often with new friends at their side.
This empire is the New United Nations, the heirs to the Protoculture civilization that preceded them.
In the year 2061, a team of elite Strategic Military Service pilots from the SVF-118 Mobius Squadron performed a test on an experimental new fold engine. In the resulting accident, they found themselves stranded in an alternate universe with seemingly no way to return home.
It is once again the early twentieth century, and mankind is embroiled in a war against an unstoppable alien foe. They are outnumbered, outgunned and pushed to the very edge of extinction.
But this time, there is no hope.
In this world, the enemy cannot be reasoned with, the thought process of the enemy too alien to even comprehend or communicate with. In this world, mutual understanding cannot be found even among the disparate factions of humanity. In this world, the sky, and all the freedoms and possibilities it promises, is seemingly forevermore denied to man.
This travesty, above all others, is the one that the four wings of Mobius Squadron will not accept.
Disclaimer - The Muv Luv and the Macross Franchises are the respective copyright of their creators, Kouki Uchiyama and Shouji Kawamori, and I do not own the characters, storyline or respective settings of either franchise in any shape or form. The song 'Finale' is from the musical Les Misérables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo with lyrics adapted into English by Herbert Kretzmer.
The translations for the song were taken from Cloudy This Morning's live-jorunal for Czech, and sakerebaii's lyrics from the Green Cast for Japanese.
Macross and Muv Luv are on total opposites despite being very similar in a lot of ways, which is precisely why I thought it was high time that someone went and wrote a crossover about the two. Both or 'real robot' settings where humanity is beset upon alien invaders in the early 21st century, and fight back using 'fighter plane inspired mecha'. Several of their core themes, like love, courage and the need for unity against a common foe are similar. Their respective protagonists even have love problems.
However, that's where the myriad of polar opposite differences begin. Macross and Muv Luv are on opposite ends of the idealism/cynicism spectrum. Macross has an almost Star Trek 'to boldly go, wonder of the galaxy' feel to it, whereas Muv Luv is pretty much New Battlestar Galatica 'kill or be killed, everybody has an agenda' mentality. Macross has drama heavy love triangles, whereas Muv Luv has harem comedy. Macross governments, while having their fair share of corrupt or subversive elements, and much more transparent and reasonable than Muv Luv governments. Hell, NUNS and SMS are primarily space navies, whereas the IJA, UN Army, etc… of Muv Luv are planet-side land-based armies(I should write an omake about an American football game between these two. That'll be fun). I could probably write an essay about this, but you get my point.
So while they're both very much similar, they are also polar opposites at the same time. The average person, and I use 'person' because NUNS in 2061 encompasses more than just the human race, from Macross will be culturally different from the average human being in Muv Luv. Macross is a world where humanity survived their Judgment Day and went on to seize their manifest destiny, and this is despite having just been through a very bad case of orbital bombardment that made is comparable to the devastation from the Second Impact.
Muv Luv humanity? They got pushed so far into a corner that 'Alternative V' and 'Operation Babylon' were actually carried out in the Unlimited world. They got so desperate they actually bombed themselves trying to take out the BETA. Where it not for Takeru Shirogane and his time loops, humanity was screwed.
So what would happen if some people from the Macross universe, at the very height of their golden age, ended up smack bang in the middle of BETA-ville? I got this little dabble.
'Try Again' is likely the first in a series of one-shots and very short stories exploring this setting. There are plenty of crossovers with Muv Luv that focus on 'cool robots from X-series blowing up BETA and saving the day'. This is not what ML;DYRL is all about. This fic is about how someone who, culturally, has been raised all their life to believe that the sky is something to strive for is dropped in a world with enforced altitude restrictions. These men and women can and will alter the very world and the people around them though simple cultural exchange, not just from bigger guns and more powerful mechs, and how that same would could change them in return. For all their focus on cool robots, Macross and Muv Luv are and always have been stories about the people, the men and women on the ground, fighting to change their world. ML:DYRL is meant to reflect that.
In any case, dear readers, thank you for reading this story. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it. Please leave a review if you can.
And as for my GSG readers, I am still working on Hope's Two Daughters albeit slowly. I actually have a working draft of Chapter 3 and about an eighth of Chapter 4, but I have no idea when it will be ready for publishing. Fingers crossed.
EDIT 2012/02/12 - made some spelling corrections and added some minor content.